The Patriots: A Novel by Sana Krasikov

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“Baba Flora didn’t regret her life. And neither do I. She had a front seat on history.”

I thought my jaw might drop. “Is that what she called it?”

“She always said, ‘The only way to learn who you are is to leave home’.”

Rich is characters and history, the reader watches the strange twists and turns of fate for one family. As Florence Fein falls in with left leaning student groups at her city college in Brooklyn in the 1930’s, she is driven to leave her free American middle class life on a cloud of idealism. The Russia she finds changes through the years, and the girlish ideals she had dies along with her future. When she finds love and has a child with a fellow American expat, too she finds herself in trouble and soon, sent to a work camp. The novel follows Florence from her girlish beginnings and her reasons for going to Russia, and everything that leads up to her troubles. Too the reader is dropped into her son Julian’s time in the orphanage, her emigration to America and his return as a successful businessman as he tries to research his mother’s past. Julian’s son Lenny has a different vision of Russia and his opportunistic there.  Just as idealistic as his Baba Flora once was, Julian and his son clash- as each of their understandings of Russia differ drastically.

Early on in the orphanage Julian thinks he can save his mother through a ‘redeeming future.’ “I’d never bought the line my parents were enemies, a word I could associate only with German fascists. Yet I also knew they were not true Russians.”  It was easier to imagine they had made mistakes, ones Russian born people never would. He wants nothing more than to be the best Russian he can, to salvage any dignity lost through his parents carelessness. Julian goes on to work hard, to join in, but will it all be for not?  Just how great can he be, if there is a cap on greatness due to his American, Jewish heritage? Just what is a real “Muscovite”? These are things he will discover as he grows up. Is his mother an enemy of Russia or not? It is the not knowing that so confuses Julian and sets the stage for his future.

What of Florence? Are all her friends, husband just co-conspirators or is it a narrative that is convenient to fictionalize in order to imprison the innocent? Were the very things Flora commit her heart to, abandon her own American comfort and family for her own undoing? “Suppressions and omissions were an unshakable habit of hers, as they are of so many who carry on unreciprocated romances with doomed causes.”  The story of each character is tragic and doomed from the start. I spent a lot of time cringing at Florence’s naivete about her place in Russia. Florence starts with her head in the clouds and ends it broken and without hope. What a heck of a way to wake up to yourself, and the country you are in.

How easily the life of her son, and future grandson are shaped by choices she made before either were thought of. Florence ends up costing her loved ones so very much, the most for her son Julian. People turn on each other, eyes and ears are everywhere and before long one has to wonder if they are guilty, and of what? Culture shock, what exactly freedom means from one place to another, how countries are different, how they are the same, at 560 pages the reader is taken through a changing Russia. It’s easy to see how a young impressionable person can be caught up in a fight that isn’t quite their own, how a hunger to be a part of changing history can hook someone. When  betraying others is the only way to save yourself, and your family- how far do you go? Do you dig your own grave in throwing dirt on others?  This novel is staggering, I felt the push and pull of each character’s emotional state and it isn’t an easy novel. Half the time, just like the characters, you don’t know who to trust or where you stand. With The Patriots, the reader is able to sneak into Russia and live under the radar during changing times without capture, unlike our poor family within. I won’t ruin this with any spoilers. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: January 24, 2017

Random House Publishing Group- Random House

Spiegal and Grau

 

The House of Silence by Blanca Busquets

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“Everything changed when I found the violin. Look what I found, I said, triumphantly lifting the instrument in one hand and the bow in the other. And as I lifted it, I brushed my hand over the strings without meaning to, and they made a rending, high-pitched sound that tore at my soul.” 

This is a story not just about the musically gifted but about the jealousies and hungers that push and pull each of the characters through the years. Mr. Karl is the link, he is music in a sense- living and breathing it, shut up composing. When Karl is gone a tribute to memorialize him will pull each character once again into each other’s orbit. His son Mark is with Anna (selfish and damaged) and wishes to be finished with her toxic ways. Teresa came from humble beginnings and was immediately recognized as a raw talent, playing from the depths of her being, a true artist. Anna is her student, but her playing is cold, mechanical as much as her heart. Anna’s mother had left her and it affects her for a long time. She finds her father, who falls for Teresa and everything goes sour. Teresa just wants happiness, love, and has hopes things can work out. That’s the thing about people though, you cannot make someone who is spiteful  open their heart nor warm their change the direction of their dark path.  Maria, moves in and becomes more than just a live in maid to Mr. Karl. She is as much a part of his life as a family member. The two grow intensely close, different worlds converging, learning from one another. Mr. Karl is free with women as well, never seeing a problem with loving where you will when passion moves you. Is it the gift he sees in students, women that seduce him? Mr. Karl is tied to both Teresa and Anna, how could jealousies not be born?  Maria seems to be a constant in his life and has her hand in where the real violin ends up. In fact, Maria might just be inside Mr. Karl’s heart more than anyone.

Who knew a magical violin could hold so much drama. Jealousy, love, music, passion, tragedy, it is all here. Some people you just can’t win over, some people are in their own way and destroy their own happiness by blackening others. Manipulations never turn out the way you hope, and Anna learns that it can have downright disastrous results. You don’t have to play an instrument to feel moved by this novel. Beyond playing a few songs on a piano, I lack talent, raw or otherwise and yet I could feel the fire that drives musicians. By turns crushingly sad and sweetly uplifting, a strange combination and yet it works here.

Publication Date: October 4, 2016  Regan Arts

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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“She’s not exactly ill. Your only duty will be to watch her.”

A curious verb. That awful nurse in Jane Eyre, charged with keeping the lunatic hidden away in the attic. “I’ve been brought here to …stand guard?” 

“No, no, simply to observe.”

When veteran nurse of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, Lib Wright is chosen to observe eleven year old Anna O’Donnell, a miracle girl in an Irish village living off manna from heaven, her nursing instincts kick in. Is it a miracle from God? How is it possible that this young girl’s body is surviving without food? It goes against science, and a nurse knows that in a sense the body is a well oiled machine that needs nourishment to work, regardless of whether there is a soul God is moving through or not. Is Lib just a heathen, blind to the miraculous and mysterious ways God moves? Is everyone being had, are the adults creating a miracle with manipulation?  Is Anna a liar, using this ‘miracle’ to get attention children always seem hungry for? As Lib observes Anna, she starts to question everything and begins to care for her patient, whom she is only meant to observe.

As the author herself states, this book was born out of the curious incidents of the fasting girls during the 16th and 20th century in the British Isles, Western Europe and North America. I read a book in 2008 that I was reminded of called The Fasting Girl: A True Victorian Medical Mystery by Michelle Stacey, and with everything happening in  The Wonder the characters are all wonderfully genuine. What is driving Anna to turn away food, taking in only water by the spoonful? The ‘miracle or hoax’ is coming from a pure place in the little girl’s soul regardless of science, God, or all the adults mixed in the confusion. I loved the ending, it was disturbing, heart-breaking and full of hope. Wonderful story, original take on such a strange history. What is more miraculous than the strange workings of the human mind, the reasoning for why we do the things we do- holy or sinful?

Publication Date: September 20, 2016

Little, Brown and Company

Forthcoming Books On My Radar

Novels by women I can’t wait to read. Check them out yourselves and read the full blurbs etc on goodreads or wherever your fingers take you. The following sound delicious and the waiting feels so long….

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Magical, Russian… you’ve got my attention.

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A new Fannie Flagg? Yes, at the tail end of November 2016. Author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe among  many other novels. The Whole Town’s Talking is about Elmwood Springs, Missouri and strange happenings in the cemetery “Still Meadows”  Very excited!

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Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett, I’ve yet to set my hungry eyes on this arc, but I’m hoping.  12 year old Elivs Babbit searches for answers about her mother’s death in Freedom, Alabama. This novel sounds precious, I just know readers will fall in love with Elvis. 

The following novels don’t seem to have covers yet- but as soon as they do I will share

The Forbidden Garden: A Novel by Ellen Herrick An English country garden that seems to be digging it’s hungry roots into a woman, her destiny tied to the place, an ‘enigmatic’ man- forthcoming in April 2017 from the author of The Sparrow Sisters

The Leavers by Lisa Ko sounds breathtakingly beautiful.  When his undocumented mother disappears, Deming is adopted by a white couple and renamed Daniel Wilkinson as to  turn him into an american boy, on goodreads said to be about borders and belonging. I can’t wait for this arc.  May 2017

The Crooked Road by Sarah Creech  A musical talent on the verge of stardom, old love, small towns, the past…  sounds fantastic  but won’t be out until June 2017 from the  author of Season of the Dragonflies

Also in June of 2017 is a novel from Katherine Heiny  author of  Single, Carefree, Mellow: Stories . The novel is titled  Standard Deviation and seems to be about the imperfect realities of family, love and relationships. On goodreads it’s said to be perfect for fans of Nick Hornby, here’s hoping for arcs.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin about  a traveling psychic, destiny, choices, magic, blurred reality… I haven’t seen a cover yet and it’s not going to be out for a while, but I am excited! I saw one review that said it’s incredible. I have a love of the supernatural and magical, psychics, gypsies you name it.  Author of The Anatomy of Dreams

 

small great things by Jodi Picoult

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“It just goes to show you: every baby is born beautiful. It’s what we project on them that makes them ugly.”

That is what poisons so many of us, the rotten untrue things projected unto us by even those who love us. An experienced, veteran labor and delivery nurse Ruth Jefferson’s life is going to be ripped from her when she tries to save a baby she was told not to touch, because of her skin color. When a white supremacist couple deliver a baby that has complications, her mistake to go with instinct and try to give the baby CPR only to have the child die will be the catalyst for losing her job as the hospital doesn’t side with her. But the story is about race, and how both black and white people don’t trust each other. We see extremes on both sides, but not randomly. Each has a reason for their narrow minded beliefs. Without race, it’s easy to see as well that someone had to take the blame for the fate of the baby. What else can we do with terrible loss, tragedy than to find someone else to take the fall? With the racist beliefs Turk and Brittany Bauer have ingrained, could there have been any other outcome than to focus all their rage on Ruth?
The twist, well well well…. a beautiful one. This story can open a lot of discussion about race, which is just as vital today as it was decades ago. I think about the world, I don’t care what continent you are on, what color you are- racism exists everywhere and isn’t just a black and white topic. Take any country and you will find racism, reduce it to any room and you will find people creating an us vs them. What is it about the human race that finds it so necessary to turn against each other? It isn’t all doom and gloom, as much as we turn away we can come together too and chose not to embrace the things we’re told are true. Everyone in this story has their reasoning for their beliefs, some grow and become better. Some of it is predictable, but what Small Great Things does is start conversations for everyone.
Ruth, strong career woman, single black mother quickly sees her life, the one built on hard-work fall apart, and when her son Edison (a college bound honor student) is pulled into it by a stupid act, trying to expose Turk for who he really is, we can’t help but feel his pain. With the decision Kennedy (Ruth’s lawyer) makes about race during the trial, it’s interesting how the very thing Kennedy wants to avoid bringing up in Ruth’s case is the very thing that could nail Edison! Picoult doesn’t point fingers herself here. She exposes each side for feeling the way they do. Hate doesn’t happen in a bubble, not for any of us. Kennedy is an interesting character, one many are familiar with, people of privileged backgrounds that live removed from what the rest of us ‘common folk’ deal with on a daily basis. She may work to help the unfortunates, but she isn’t really submerged in their realities. Ruth changes that for her. I will say as well that the views Turk has, you have to wonder how and why it happens. People are not born with these thoughts and feelings, for all the angry, spitting racists of any color you have to wonder how did they arrive at that place. Is it being spoon fed, or having encountered some terrible situation that tells them ‘see, it’s true, this one thing happened so everyone of this color or ethnic background IS bad’ ? Is it taught, again take any place in the world and watch how one group is maligned and children learn from their parent’s example.
The case itself, even without race as an open wound, would be a nightmare for anyone. Being accused of something horrible- how to defend yourself when the very people who should be standing up for you make you take the fall. This isn’t fiction for some, it does happen.
This is quite the novel, and open for a lot of discussion. We think we are forward thinking, but hop online, turn on the news, the world is hot right now with people wanting to expose the quiet discrimination they face just as much as the loud. Are we listening?

Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine

Public release date: October 11, 2016

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

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‘Shame. Such a worrywart I am. I miss miracles blooming before my eyes: I concentrate on a fading star and miss the constellation.’

 

Having just reviewed his forthcoming novel, The Angel of History- I wanted to add my review of this wonderful novel to my blog. I will be playing catch up and posting reviews of novels past that I reviewed on goodreads.

Rabih Alameddine is a celebrated writer in the middle east and I feel ridiculous because the entire time I was reading this through netgalley I thought it was written by a woman. I mean that as a compliment, I felt I knew the women, all at varying times and ages. The story was nothing like I expected it to be from reading the blurb. After reading An Unnecessary Woman I understand why the blurb doesn’t do it justice, it is a hard book to describe because there is a lot going on. It’s about far more than an obsessive, introverted, childless, sixty something year old book translator.
Aaliya Saleh lives alone in her apartment in Beirut, an unwanted widowed daughter in her family seen as selfish and ‘unnecessary.’ We learn all about her life through her musings, reminiscing, and her wonderful quoting of literary classics. As Aaliya’s memory goes from past to present the reader is witness to the ravages of war, of time on an aging body, the pull of memory, and how literature shapes and saves some of us. Aaliya has a love affair with literature as much as another woman could have with a man. Don’t be fooled into thinking Aaliya is a dusty character, as ‘women of a certain age’ are often overlooked in life and literature, because she is sharp, funny, weary and wise.
There is heartbreak here, but not of the romantic kind. An important person to Aaliya in the novel suddenly sees the reality of what she built her life upon and it changes everything. There are many kinds of love- for books, family, friends.
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‘Shame. Such a worrywart I am. I miss miracles blooming before my eyes: I concentrate on a fading star and miss the constellation.’

‘My soul is fate’s chew toy. My destiny pursues me like an experienced tracker, like a malevolent hunter, bites me and won’t let go.’

and on the humorous side ‘..You’re just as loud and inappropriate as she is. What happened to your manners?’
‘They aged,’ Fadia says. ‘They grew old to keep me young.’

“There must be a word in some language that describes the anguish you experience upon suddenly coming face-to-face with your terrifying future.’

There are many beautiful sentences, paragraphs I could share but it would rob others of the pleasure reading the book gives. I learned things I hadn’t known about Lebanon, I looked at classics differently, I enjoyed how the famous quotes related to Aaliya’s life. I was in agreement to her distaste in epiphanies in literature and the need the western world has for psychology in novels, because it is true. What I loved most of all was her contrariness and the possibility that she has her own epiphanies. This novel is not for the light reader, but for a thinking one. I devoured it in a day but I know it will remain with me longer. I recognize Aaliya and all of the women in the story as those I already know, will meet or may one day be. This is a really good book.

The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine

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“Since I began to drop the pail in the well of my memories, I’ve had no rest, no slack for that rope. Whoosh fell the bucket and up came salty recollections.”

Memory is a monstrous beast, biting- forcing us to remember things better forgotten. Satan wants him to remember all the ugly things, death pushes the black, vast emptiness of forgetting as they play with Jacob. Jacob, poet, son of an Egyptian whore, a gay Arab man devastated by the AIDS epidemic later in life. Surrounded by saints, from Cairo to San Francisco- some of the story breaks your heart. “Me, through and through, from skin to soul, I am sullied and soiled.”   With tremendous loss, Jacob can no longer write, a wordless poet is  madman. “I stopped writing for a while after you died, my inkpot dried, not just my tears.”  Everything that has happened has brought him to this devastation, this crossroads. Embrace Satan, or Death- the 14 saints?  Is memory concrete? Can we trust it? Is forgetting healthier, is remembering the heart of every moment of our lives? This is a unique journey, I can’t think of another book I have read about a gay Arab. Is being the only one left a punishment, it certainly seems at times to be a curse to lose so many, to be stranded with punishing memories while watching so many die from a brutal illness. There were terrible memories, abuses, the whorehouse upbringing was at times a stone sinking my heart particularly his mother’s hopes and devastation. There is a war with his mind, with loss, grief, his own country, his desires and urges. It is funny and cruel, confusing, distracting, everything a life is made of.

This is an original novel, I absolutely devoured An Unnecessary Woman- Alameddine writes like no other, the characters in this particular story are incredibly difficult for just any author to tackle. The memories of his experience in the Christian boarding school was brutal for me to read, not all writers can take you into the sludge of someone’s most horrible moments and drown you with the character, leaving the story under your skin for days as The Angel of History is beneath mine.

As with An Unnecessary Woman, the reader plunges into a life foreign from their own and yet can’t help but find connections. This is a vastly different world from my own, and yet it isn’t, because at heart- gay, straight, ill, healthy, american, Arab- in the end recollection is cruel and kind to us all.Hashing over your past is a bit like fighting with Satan and Death… We are all sullied and pure depending on what we remember of the moments in a life.

Publication Date: October 4, 2016   Grove Atlantic, Atlantic Monthly Press