We Trade Our Night for Someone Else’s Day: A Novel by Ivana Bodrožić, Translation by Ellen-Elias Bursac

“The worst part is realizing you can’t open the door from the inside,” was the first thing she said.

War, displacement, emigration, ethnic cleansing… Vukovar, a city in Croatia, saw one of the biggest battles since 1945 in Europe with the siege by the (JNA) with support by paramilitary from Serbia. Croatian soldiers and citizens were outnumbered but defended against the Serbians, the battle was bloody and ended in people being killed or thrown out of Vukovar. You can go further back in history with the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, the tensions didn’t simply begin with the Yugoslav Wars. Ivana Bodrožić was born in Vukovar, lived there until her own father disappeared then she and her family moved to a refugee hotel in Kumrovec. Though this is a fictional story of an unnamed city, the events within are based on actual historical events that touched the author’s own life. I asked my father, who escaped his homeland of Hungary as a young child during communist occupation, a lot of questions about the creation and history of Yugoslavia. He knows a lot more than me about the division between people there than I can even comprehend. This novel deals with the aftermath from nationalism and those who wanted independence, the splitting apart of Yugoslavia and how it effected the next generation. It is what remains after children grew up segregated, Serbian and Croatian, what happened during ‘peaceful reintegration’ when the rubble was cleared away and what clearly remains are the ruins within the hearts and souls of the people. Can you simply unite after the bones of your family has been cleared away? People long for a reckoning after every horror and humiliation has been committed against them and their loved ones. The anger stays after being expelled, imprisoned… What happens to rumored criminal networks? When “gangsters gain legal footing” for their businesses? Money, blood, and power. The people were left to suffer from political and economical damage long after the war ended.

In the middle, always, are the children trying to move forward into a future where division has been set by the adults. Dejan is a perfect example of cultural identity and who you claim allegiance to.

Nora Kirin is a journalist chasing a story, and a juicy one at that, at least for those hungry for tabloid fodder. It began with a sordid affair that ended in a murder, but it is a political fire too. Kristiana is a Croatian- language teacher at the general and vocational high school working with ethnic Serbian students. Her Croat husband Ante (a war veteran, formerly in a prison camp) has been murdered by her lover, seventeen-year-old Dejan. Dejan is a Serbian, whose Grandfather was one of the Chetnik leaders. The salacious story is already making the rounds, a woman seducing a teen to kill for her, “one of theirs”. Nora would far rather expose the system, like the dirty Mayor but is resolved to do her best with her current assignment. What she wants is to tell the woman’s (now a prisoner) side of the story, not just continue to smear her. Her work and this city is taking her back to the past, remembering what she’d rather forget, like the disappearing children from her heavy youth. She must seek out people to interview, despite her discomfort moving through the city streets and every memory it evokes. In interviewing the victim mother, one can grasp the sentiment behind “one of ours” and “one of theirs” that isn’t erased, despite the push for unity, integration. When the war ended, new battles would eventually ensue amongst the people, often through political manipulations , of course. Children of all ages are divided at daycare and school by fencing, Serbs one side Croats on the other. Brigita is the high school principal with bigger ambitions also tied to Kristina’s story, the corrupt mayor and bribery. There are singers who ‘toy with politics’, a PTA president who is a ‘self-appointed guardian of ethnic identity’, a friendly taxi driver Marko-whose story about life in the city during the war engages Nora, a philosophical poet, and many people who have dabbled in the war with no “proof” of any crimes committed. Those in power do not take kindly to being publicly disgraced. The love triangle murder she is covering may well become an “interethnic conflict”. But it is the pursuit of truth, for her father, she is most concerned with.

This is a place where their entire world, for all the people involved, has collapsed even down to their very language. Nora is warned to stay away from dangerous men, who destroy everything, but she has to know why her father was murdered, who did it, regardless of her own well being. Not even the light of blossoming love can stop her from getting justice. What she doesn’t know is so much worse than she can imagine. Everyone is strangely intertwined. A turn of fate, helping someone can lead to more suffering. Unimaginable suffering. “Everything is linked to everything else,” even things that seem inconsequential and so much of it is a part of the war.

You have to pay attention, there are connections you will miss if you don’t read closely. It might help you to research about the wars in the 1990’s in what was once Yugoslavia. Some wanted to keep it a country, others wished to become separate countries. Reading different sides is truly only going to give you a basic understanding as an outsider. The line I quoted is brilliant too, ‘you can’t open the door from the inside’, because it’s hard to comprehend war at all, or even ourselves and everything that happens when we are in the midst of it. Those who are in the war have far more experience, but may not necessarily be able to make much sense of it either. A whole generation can be destroyed by bloodshed. Childhood, community, family, innocence, the future- all of it swept from beneath your feet. War makes prisoners of us all. Yet there are still things worth fighting for, aren’t there? For Nora at least.

Publication Date: April 20, 2021

Seven Stories Press

When in Vanuatu: A Novel by Nicki Chen

Snap out of it. Lately, she’d been having these little spells of expatriate ennui.

Diana is living in Manilla with her husband Jay, after being swayed by the freedom to finally start a family and take time off. This move was Jay’s chance at his dream job, everything would line up for them both, even if it meant giving up American luxuries. It has been 4 years and Diana is still yearning to get pregnant and nearing the age of 35, she knows time is of the essence. Both are perfectly healthy, so why is she unable to conceive? Is it the stress of the Philippines? Truly when they were newly arrived, they were happy to join their friends on trips to vacation spots on the beach or in the mountains, but that was before the dangerous coup attempts after the People Power Revolution. Is it the mounting tensions they have no control over or is that just an excuse to explain away the fading charm of the island? With Diana’s fertility doctor assuring her there isn’t anything wrong, that she just needs to relax considering stress has a negative impact on conception, Diana is resolved to be the most relaxed person her friends know. She starts with her own little aquarium of fish. Anything to keep her mind off of anti-American demonstrations, the strain between she and Jay, and her longings for a child. Maybe the prescription of yoga and meditation will be the cure, but how is one meant to truly “relax” when they are consumed with the need to relax or when Diana can’t stop thinking about getting pregnant? Too, there is Jay’s constant worry and caring watchful eyes, deeply rooted in the tragic loss of his first wife. How is a woman meant to let things happen naturally when nature isn’t taking it’s course in a timely manner? How is a wife to enjoy herself when she has to sneak around just to get out of her own head?

When Diana’s best friend Abby learns of her own husband’s job opportunity it means a move to Vanuatu, an island country located in the South Pacific. Diana is sad to be losing her companion and Abby is adamant she won’t go, sick of conceding her own desires In the end, she and the children follow her husband. Diana is surprised when Abby’s angry letters change to happier missives, reminding Diana about how she once felt about discovering all the new delights of Manilla. It gets her thinking that after four years of living Jay’s dream, it’s time for her own. She wants to move to Vanuatu, even if it means putting her foot down with her husband.

Vanuatu might just be the place where she can feel joy again, soothed by the beauty of their surroundings and an escape from the dangers of Manilla, but nothing ever goes to plan. She finds herself thinking about Jay’s first wife, wondering if she is competing with her memory. Then she is threatened in an unusual incident. Just when it seems like things are finally happening for she and Jay, hard times hit. Will they be able to move past their sorrows together here in paradise? Is happiness about one’s location? Will she ever escape her own worries and losses?

The novel is about the things we want in life and the things life wants from us. When In Vanuatu is quiet story about the expat life, what we take with us despite the places we leave behind and how it changes a marriage. It is about the pressures of a woman’s body, her own power over it when the clock is ticking and the conflict between going with the flow and fighting the tide through our desires.

Publication Date: April 27, 2021

SheWritesPress

Cormorant Lake: A Novel by Faith Merino

“I just want my girls to grow up right,” Evelyn said.

Nan looked at her, a sharp edge in her stare, like she’d heard something familiar.

Evelyn said, “They’re mine.”

When Evelyn Van Pelt decides to abduct her roommate’s little girls from California, it is a rescue mission and one that forces her to return to Cormorant Lake and Nan, a place she fled years ago. This time, she plans to hunker down in the mountain and protect the love starved children who will now be her own. “Nan liked stories about defiant women”, surely she would understand this fight for survival. It started with the little girls’ neglectful mother and her vanishing acts. Evelyn knows all too well about bottomless hunger and unfit mothers, there is not a chance she can ignore the dangers Lila and Mora are drowning in even if it means giving up her freedom. Jube, Evelyn’s own mother, had raised her to wander and fend for herself, until Nan came along and fostered her. What is a mother really? Is mothering in the blood or the heart? This isn’t something Evelyn dreamed of, never having much experience with nurturing, a lonely child with little expectations until Nan came long, but in the girls’ she sees something of herself, a fierce love is born.

With winter settling in around Cormorant Lake, the protection of the mountains and the land could serve as the perfect place to hide and defend them, but against who or what? Unquestionably the little girls’ mother will come looking for them, all mother’s fight for what is their own don’t they? What if people start asking questions, prying into their business? Even Nan is aware of the threat, having been subject to meddling locals all her life. Too, Evelyn must confront Jubliee, with the way news travels. Evelyn’s mother Jubilee is the same as always despite years of wear and tear. Everyone has a history, is it possible Jube didn’t know better, that she herself wasn’t mothered either? Ever present is the lake itself and it’s peculiar tragedy involving a derailed train haunting the place still. Something seems to exist alongside the natural world, a sort of veil that Nan senses. All these things are merging, much bigger than Evelyn’s struggles, but the past is crackling to life with her return.

Nan is often between then and now, seeing things that remind her of the betrayal she is responsible for, a terrible thing that can never be undone, no matter how long she lives. It is about friendship and the heart’s poor choices. Her tale is full of sorrow and the pain of never being able to make amends. Atmospheric and haunting, Cormorant Lake is about the wreckage of mothers, shame and regrets that shadow our choices. It is the things that pulse in unseen places and what caring for others asks us to sacrifice. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Blackstone Publishing

The Drowning Kind: A Novel by Jennifer McMahon

I was on my hands and knees, whispering my secret, watching my reflection, and feeling with deep certainty that there was something down in that water. Something listening, waiting, watching.

Something I’m sure I caught a glimpse of.

Something that I’m also sure caught a glimpse of me.

Jennifer McMahon has written a Mystery/Thriller that has the eerie, gothic feel that other novels lay claim to and fail to deliver. All those things you imagine beneath the surface might truly be there, waiting to pull you down to your watery grave. I love the water, as much a fish all my life as the doomed character Lexie and reading this novel over the summer as I did gave me pause walking by the pool at night. Loneliness, births, deaths, family bonds, mystery, and a haunting touch of the supernatural, McMahon has written another engaging, creepy, haunted tale.

As girls who grew up enjoying summer visits at their grandmother’s estate in Vermont, Jax and Lexie often plunged into her large, spring-fed pool surrounded by carved granite and creeping moss. Filled with a darkness of water that Jax hated to disappear in and her sister Lexie lived for, delighting in treading its cool depths, Jax loyally followed suit. Jax always followed where Lexie led, even eschewing friendships with other girls, whether she wanted to or not. Lexie had always been the favorite, ‘excelled at everything’, but it was hard to be jealous of her even when she demanded so much oxygen and an audience for her dramas. In adulthood, Jax is finally able to build a life ‘outside of Lexie’s orbit’, and has learned to set up boundaries, particularly when Lexie is off her meds and in the throes of a manic episode. It is for self-preservation that Jax has been ignoring her sister’s needy, pressing phone calls, especially when Lexie herself has been distant the entire year. Concerned when she listens to the frenzied, confusing messages Lexie left, Jax is ashamed for ignoring her, though everyone agreed that Lexie had to learn to manage without her. By the time Jax returns the calls, there is no answer, she reaches out to her aunt who lives close to Sparrow Crest, their grandmother’s estate and Lexie’s inheritance since her passing. It’s too late, Lexie is discovered dead, having drowned in the very pool she loved so much and it is now Jax’s turn to drown in grief and regrets.

The thriller intensifies when Jax returns to Sparrow Crest to make sense of what happened in the final days leading to her sister’s tragedy, only to be met with a deepening mystery. Lexie was obsessively researching the land’s past as well as their family history, which has its own dark tragedies. It’s not so easy to dismiss her sister’s discoveries as hallucinations nor the result of a decline in madness, though there are signs she wasn’t well. Truth be told, it wasn’t outside the norm for Lexie, in a manic state, to be uncannily focused on something. She was never one to do anything in half measures, but had she lost touch with reality? Jax soon begins to uncover the strange history of the land her grandmother’s estate was built upon, the estate her grandmother could never seem to leave. Her sister’s journal entries are full of facts, questions and implications, and odder still the letters and numbers written in crayon on the surface of stones by the pool. What was she studying or tracking? Alone in the big, dark house Jax senses something, could it be a ghost? Is Lexie still trying to grab her attention, despite her death? There really may be something sinister beneath the surface of time, something that took her sister away, something waiting for Jax to join her. Either that, or Jax is losing her sanity.

1929: Newlywed Ethel Monroe longs to have a baby with her husband Will and she is desperate enough to try anything, even blind faith in a natural spring at the new hotel handsome Will has booked for a surprise getaway. On the grounds is a spring that might grants wishes and possibly has healing powers. Her hunger for a child surpasses the warnings of locals they meet on their way that it is a ‘dark place’, best avoided. She and Will chalk it up to ‘foolish stories’, nothing more, never imagining that even water can hunger for life. Once at the hotel they meet the owner Mr. Harding. Ethel becomes fast friends with Mr. Harding’s wife, maintaining a correspondence with her new  confidante after Eliza and Will return home. As blessings rain on Ethel and all her hopes are met, she feels conflicted, troubled even by dreams but happy letters from Mrs. Harding reach her about former guests, and their small miracles. Their future is suddenly full of promise, all things bright and happy. Eliza doesn’t yet realize that nature has a mind of it’s own, that is has desires too. Can it be bargained with?

The past is always alive in the present, in the walls, in the shadows and sometimes in the ripples on the water. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Gallery Books

Gallery/Scout Press

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

For under the joy, a storm was gaining speed, a roiling sense of foreboding, some wet, starless savagery unfolding beneath my skin.

Suleika Jaouad had just graduated from college, was living in New York City having scored a summer internship, and dreamed of a career as a foreign correspondent. The internship isn’t supporting her, and her exhaustion has returned, telling her a change in scenery could be the cure. A position for a paralegal at an American law firm in Paris catches her eye one hot summer day and soon she is off to the start of a new career in the beauty of France, escape from drudgery but not before she meets a man named Will.

With her fresh start, romance kicks up when she begins to correspond with Will through text messages, emails and long letters. Soon, he arrives in Paris to be with Suleika and just as love is blossoming, a fog descends, her health spirals out of control. An itch, extreme exhaustion that gets worse and worse, all harbingers of something sinister, easy enough to ignore until “burn out syndrome” isn’t enough to explain away why her red blood cells are dropping. Before she can wake up from this nightmare, she is rushed back home to New York and diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an extremely aggressive form of cancer. There is a line in this riveting, raw memoir that many women who have suffered illness will relate to, “I wasn’t a hypochondriac, after all, making up symptoms.” Someone could write a book with that title alone and fill it with true horror stories about women and illnesses ignored. With the horror of the diagnosis comes strange relief, to finally have a solid explanation for the symptoms, but this is just the beginning of a long, painful journey. Cancer is indiscriminate, even educated young women with promising futures, careers waiting for them get reeled in by it’s mean hook.

Between Two Kingdoms is an apt title, particularly to those with one foot in the land of the living and the other in the land of the dead (dying). With her revelations on the road of cancer, all the people she meets, the pull and push between her love for Will, her family’s worries, the self-transformations, the grasp for survival and the rewriting of the life she imagined for herself the readers get close to wisdom and suffering. You can never truly know how it feels, not even as a caretaker, until it is your body that has turned against you. To be sick is to live in a world alongside the healthy who sees, at times, to have nothing to do with you. To feel blessed by those willing to stick by your side and resent that you have to feel thankful is beautifully expressed in her fledging, romantic relationship and complicated feelings for Will. Unlike Hollywood movies where the sick glow like saints from their hospital bed, reality is nothing like that. Diagnosis is grave and terrifying for everyone involved but it is the patient that can never put the mantle of their disease down. The failing body will make itself known, and juggling the emotional reaction of others (well intentioned family and friends) is often yet another cross to bear. It is a flood of advice, naturally from people who don’t have medical degrees, advice you didn’t solicit raining down on you like bullets. It’s time no longer being your own, privacy, and humility thrown to the wind. You begin to feel more of a thing, a body pinned under a microscope. It is a suspension of one’s life, with no guarantee it will continue. It is never being out of the woods, not even if you are cured. Illness has a way of cancelling out all the other pressing issues that felt so vital before.

Suleika will watch others, like her, fight and lose their own battles and come close to the edge of death herself. Hope is a demon of it’s own. With her creative mind, Suleika starts a blog that reaches young adults like her, an anchor in the storm of cancer. A blog that lands her an opportunity during her darkest days. In her own words, she expresses the pain of needing people, the pressure of playing the part of patient (how one should suffer, usually with grace), displaced anger, the battle against the clock, mortality, and the horrors of the hospital. Body, mind and life a disaster- this is the ruins of cancer.

What happens when light shines again, when a patient is told they are better but they still feel trapped in the land of the dying? How do you learn to dance with fear without allowing it to lead you? We are all struggling with something, Suleika knows this better than most. This is a gorgeous, biting, brave, honest memoir about a young woman’s life interrupted by cancer and everything that happens in the aftermath. Yes, read it.

Publication Date: February 9, 2021

Random House

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job: by Kikuko Tsumura

I’d quit my previous job after I developed burnout syndrome, and had gone back to living with my parents in order to recuperate.

After burnout syndrome, a job that requires very little of her energy seems to be our narrator’s goal, the problem is ‘There Is No Such Thing As An Easy Job.’ With her unemployment insurance running out, she has no choice but to seek the help of a job recruiter. Surprisingly, she has the perfect posting of overseeing (surveilling) one Mr. Yamae Yamamoto, a seemingly ‘cushy assignment’- until it isn’t. Jobs send people like her ‘funny in the head’. How do others maintain their sanity, their very energy without becoming limp humans themselves in any job? How can she possibly find a profession with the right pace, that asks little of her? Could creating audio adverts be the solution, for businesses that come and go, places that seem to exist on the fringe of the bustling cities? Places she never paid mind to before, that leave her with an unsettled feeling?

Is it possible not to get too emotionally involved in one’s job? Maybe if she can concern herself with ‘cracker packets’, try as she might, she just doesn’t feel well suited to any job and yet she begins to feel something like a sense of attachment with a desire to quit at the same time. Just what exactly does she want in career? Working for parks maintenance should be an easy desk job, even if it’s in a hut ‘amid the quietude’ of the forest. Even if she is left with an uneasy feeling and strange, inexplicable things happen. It takes five jobs to discover that fulfillment is never a given, jobs are just like everything else in life, open to interpretation but never void of meaning. For people struggling with indifference in their career or stripped to the bone with exhaustion, this is a thoughtful detour. Not exactly life altering depth, more a meditation on the search for fulfillment. It was a decent read whose narrator has a certain appeal. It’s amusing to think that anyone imagines there exists a job without hardship. Though translated from Japanese, work bonds us all.

Publication Date: March 23, 2021

Bloomsbury USA

Your Story, My Story: A Novel by Connie Palmen

I loved her- I’ve loved her ever since. If her suicide was the trap she used to catch me, to swallow me, to absorb me, to become one body, she succeeded.

I believe the first time I was drawn into the Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath dynamic was when I read Yehuda Koren’s Lover of Unreason. I wasn’t one of those girls who grew up reading Plath, I became for more interested in her as an adult. I didn’t romanticize her depression and suicide, I felt the weight of her death as a mother with young children does, thinking it couldn’t possibly have been an act of revenge over her broken heart. Certainly, there was more going on with her mind than the devastation of infidelity, something physiological. In fact, it was while reading Anaïs Nin’s journals that I even picked up Koren’s book by chance because the bookstore didn’t have Nin’s volume and I was hungry for something good to read. Curiosity bit me, I knew very little about Assia Wevill, Plath’s rival for Ted’s affections. Since then, I have been fascinated by Ted Hughes and Plath’s entire relationship. How much can any of us really know about a couple’s love life? Do I think he is free of blame? Of course not, but neither is she a helpless victim of cruelty, though he could be cruel. Plath had her dark days, her depressions and Ted’s betrayal left her in turmoil, caring for their small children, struggling to find her feet again, humiliated. No one will ever know what was going through her mind, her very soul, when she took her life. I put a lot of weight in words, but I don’t think there are enough sentences to explain such all consuming pain, to express the ache of the mind. Certainly her final act went on to haunt Ted’s new lover but more, Ted himself and paint him as villain long after. Do I feel that was her scheme? No… maybe she hoped someone would finally rescue her from herself. Maybe she just wanted to silence the grip of suffering.

This is a fictional account of Ted’s side of the story, which won’t be popular with many hardcore Plath fans. No one wants to forgive the philanderer, there is nothing more repulsive than a loving, faithful, devoted wife and caring mother discarded for another woman, worse by someone who befriended her. It’s an old story, it’s become all too common, infidelity certainly doesn’t shock people today. It was a different time then, Sylvia was wounded, somehow both strong as steel and fragile as glass. A brilliant woman, who maybe put too much faith in her beloved. Instability and public humiliation, having your nose rubbed in your raw, festering pain and a husband who comes and goes lighting the torch of hope for reconciliation… well, it’s no wonder he made it so easy for women hate him, fans of Plath or not. She truly became the saint and he, the sinful monster.

Nature is a funny thing, in this beautifully written story, the very intensity of the fire that burned within Plath becomes for Ted the thing he later fears, one he can’t contain. The love too much for him, this man who thrived on his freedom. She scared him and seduced him at the same time, his ‘resurrected goddess’. Ted Hughes was not the cause of Sylvia’s mental health struggles, for she had attempted suicide long before he came along anymore than he could take credit for her talent, her poetry but his actions surely were a catalyst. Knowing the facts, everything that followed after Plath’s suicide, how new lover Assia followed in Plath’s footsteps… well, it makes it that much harder to think of Ted as a victim, yet wasn’t he? Weren’t they all? They were victims of passions, selfishness, and mental instability. With the carelessness of a lover’s hands upon your heart, it’s hard to not label it criminal.

How can you explain the horror of your own choices, the recklessness of your desires? I don’t think this is about excusing shameless behavior, it’s a man trying to make sense of the ruin of his betrayal. He paid for it, he pays even in death, a marked man, ever the bad guy in the story. Weren’t both he and Sylvia reacting to events true to their own natures? One just seemed to hold all the cards… we will never know what was waiting in the blind corners of their relationship. Not their biggest fan nor closest friend can speak the truth about the spoils of their fiery love, everything is just speculation. We demand nothing more than facts and attempt to make sense of the world by classifying things, and people, as good or bad- love doesn’t quite work that way. We can only play what ifs, and wonder, would Sylvia have taken her life if they reconciled? If he didn’t leave and humiliate her, abandon her in such a fragile state of mind? Who can say?

Their love was a knot, and this book serves to tighten it further, giving Hughes a voice. The end of their relationship was incomprehensible and so it will forever remain. Gorgeously written, loved it!

Publication Date: January 1, 2021

AmazonCrossing

Zorrie: A Novel by Laird Hunt

Her aunt had disparaged the concept of hope with such caustic efficiency that Zorrie had naturally learned to discount what had ever been an important part of her nature.

Zorrie, orphaned when her parents die from diphtheria, raised by her bitter, elderly aunt who holds no stock with emotional displays (like tears the child sheds for her mother and father) comes of age tough as nails. In rural Indiana, “the dirt she bloomed up out of”, her life isn’t made for dreaming but constant hard- work that her Lutheran driven aunt puts all faith in. When Zorrie isn’t at school, she is tending to animals, aching from shoveling, endless sewing or forced to be the audience to her aunt’s memories about her own ruined marriage. No kind words to be found, zero praise and even less comfort and love, only slaps to weed out the weakness of tears, she is taught not to hope. It isn’t until her aunt passes away that Zorrie is finally free and yet in the terrifying position of desperately needing to find work. It is the 1930’s and there is none to be had with the Depression, so she takes what she can and makes her way to Ottawa (while fighting off advances of men) and lands on the doorstep of the Radium Dial Company.

As a hardworking Radium girl, she sits in a converted high school and paints numbers on clock faces “with luminous paint”; a job with “a greater cause”, one that helps soldiers. Glowing in the dark together, she soon becomes friends with other ‘ghost girls’ and finally lets loose and enjoys herself, despite sleeping in barns. Just like everything in her life up until then, the good times and laughter don’t last. Zorrie heeds the call of Indiana and leaves the “ghost girls” behind, remembering fondly her friend’s warmth, and that of the radium powder she carries with her. Zorrie doesn’t plant herself in one place for long, thinking to lay claim on her aunt’s property. But the place she left behind isn’t the same, people are gone and again she is forced to find work where and when she can. Through the kindness of an old couple, she finds a room and possibly even love. Could this be the place she can root herself, start a family?

Life seems to rush by, taking unexpected turns, hardships and blessings alike. One thing remains, Zorrie’s resilience. It is not, however, a life without loneliness, and one often plagued by terrible loss. Just when it seems her life is going to be fruitful, she is tested again by more turns of misfortune. Her husband enlists, and when she finds love with another man he seems to have his own crosses to bear. Will her hard-work ever pay off? Will she ever be able to rest her tired bones and bask in the glow of love? And what about that radium that was all the rage and toted as healthy stuff? Mental illness, grief, wars, hunger… this novel is told in a straight-forward manner, there aren’t pauses for pity and yet one can ache for the characters.

This tale is, at heart, about survival. It is a reminder of much harsher times and what it took to make a life with shattered remains, to keep pushing foreword despite the endless blows. It is about the yearning and longing that creeps into one’s heart even in the midst of constant struggle and how historical circumstances alter the lives of the people. No one is untouched, Zorrie isn’t the only one carry the burdens of the times. It is an emotional read but not one that wallows in misery and neither do the characters collapse into helplessness, the times wouldn’t allow it. It is a glimpse into one woman’s life, who dares to hope despite all evidence against it. It is finding pleasure where one can in the darkest of times, before shutting her eyes for good. A solid read!

Publication Date: February 9, 2021

Bloomsbury USA

What Could Be Saved: A Novel by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

“But Bea, if it is him,” she said. “What if it is?”

“It isn’t,” said her sister. “It never is.”

Take an American family 1972, living in their own private paradise in Bangkok, it’s not long before the threats of the country they are in soil their own perfect little world, unraveling the family for decades to come. What violence lies dormant in one’s own heart, until you are truly tested? Robert Preston has brought his wife Genevieve and their three children (Laura, Bea and Phillip) with him to Thailand while he helps his firm build a dam, with Maxwell Dawson in charge. A dam, she notices, that seems to be taking longer than it should. Missing the comforts of their life back home, they do their best to maintain structure with ballet and riding classes, parties, servants and drivers whose lives are full of hard work and crisis. Noi accompanies the girls, never knowing the joys and freedoms afforded the Preston’s children, her character serves to show the divide between their worlds, as too does the driver. Phillip wants nothing more than to take Judo, but fitting in with the boys isn’t what he expected. Genevieve doesn’t realize that her husband works for American Intelligence, never deeply questioning Robert’s cover story, and her mind is distracted by her own affairs, particularly with his boss. In this illicit affair, she isn’t paying attention, neither of them are, when their son Phillip fails to come home.

Washing DC, 2019 Laura and Bea never knew what really happened to Phillip. Their father has passed away, their mother is declining from dementia, and in the forty years since Phillip’s vanishing there has been no answers. The happy family they had been, the one Laura remembers, feels as real as fantasy. Escaping the world through her art, she is surprised to learn emails she hasn’t checked are from a stranger named Claude Bossert claiming to have found her brother. Immediately she calls her big sister Bea, who tries to convince her to delete it, that it is likely just a scam for money, something they knew all too well about with their mother’s endless quests to find him. Laura wonders if it could be possible, after all this time, with a Skype call she sees the grown man who, she later tells her partner Edward, “looked like daddy.” Bea isn’t as convinced but Laura finds herself on a flight back to Bangkok that will shed light on all the deep, dark secrets, the lies of her parent’s past and the truth about what happened to Phillip. Her partner thinks this is just an excuse to escape his pressing question about their future together, but the past is unsettled, if it is Phillip, it changes everything.

This is a story that proves you can’t remain untouched by the country you live in, that even when you’re trying to make a difference, it’s the things you aren’t protecting against that take you down. Much like the Thai proverb the author shared before the start of the novel, “Bad seven times, good seven times,” so too are the characters within this enthralling tale. Who are the bad guys? There is no end to abuses in Bangkok, adults and children alike, things that would make the devil blush. Justice is a double edged sword, their father is well aware of that. How much do we accept the whole truth, when it mars the beliefs about those we cherish and love most? One thing is certain, what happened to Phillip is nothing like they imagined but will the hard truth change anything, in the end?

A riveting tale about one family’s descent into tragedy that changes their future forever. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: January 12, 2021

Atria Books

Gerta: A Novel by Kateřina Tučková

The war was long. It began inconspicuously, with Gerta barely noticing, and then spread until by the end, it had infiltrated every corner of their lives.

After World War II, over 20,000 ethnic Germans were expelled from the city of Brno, Czechoslovakia to Austria, an expulsion known as ‘the death march’. Many of these Germans had lived in the country for centuries and were now facing death from starvation, illness (typhus and dysentery) , and execution. Women and men, elderly, children witnessing atrocities, rapes, if they survived the march they were forced into labor camps. Many never made it beyond the border. This was retaliation for German occupation, now subjected to similar treatment, inhumanity the Jews faced by the Nazis.

The novel begins with young Gerta and her best friend Janinka, their friendship slowly splintering when Gerta is forced to attend the League of German Girls, where her mother belives she’ll be brainwashed and Janinka’s family would never allow their daughter to spend time with her if they knew. With a German father, she is more blind to the Reich than one would imagine, just waiting for liberation with her dear friend Janinka, not realizing she is the enemy. Gerta has always been more like her Czech mother, as a girl her father had no plans to involve her in politics, he has her brother for that. Protected in a bubble from the brutal realities and threats brewing, she can’t imagine that the coldness that crept into her father through his support of Hitler, his shaming of all things Czech would cost her everything. Her dream of a future in art quickly becomes instead a fight for survival, a place where there is no time for dreaming. Her brother is sent to the front, her mother’s health declines and soon it is Gerta alone with her harsh, commanding, cruel father whose sole purpose seems to be indoctrinating her with blind faith for the Führer. Life is dismal…

Then she delivers a child, Barbora, “into a time of poverty” and fear, always the presence of fear. Air raids, bomb shelters and the wait, half-crazed until the arrival of the Russians. Now, she is the enemy, both German and Czech but it doesn’t matter, for all Germans living in the district of Brno (women, children- men under fourteen and over sixty, as well as those who are infirm or invalids are to be expelled from the city and may only take a few belongings (excluding jewelry and savings books). The Germans will be punished!

So begins the real heart and horror of the novel. It is survival in the bleakest of circumstances, humanity at their worst and best. Death shadows every moment of the march and long after, poisoning the future with stains of past generations. Displaced people, many enemies due to the actions of others, full of helpless rage and endless humiliations, degradation. Gerta survives with nothing but the thought to keep her child alive. As her child comes of age, so too grows a distance between them. If only her child’s future won’t be a dire one, as Gerta’s has been. How to make a child understand one can’t enjoy a life when they are just trying to survive it and later, the fear, anger, bitterness, guilt, shame and pain are ghosts that never leave?

A story about dark history and the shrouded secrets of the past, tormenting a family for generations to come. This is not a light read, it is complicated and tragic. The horrors of war (the aftermath, retribution) cannot be denied, that hearts close in or turn hard, cold is a defense mechanism for anyone lucky enough to survive. Raising her child haunted by violence, it’s no wonder she can’t speak about the things Barbora longs to know, about her family. Who can blame Barbora either for giving up on her mother? Sometimes it takes the clarity of distance, time and a third generation to understand and bridge the gap. Brace yourself, it’s a tough read.

Publication Date: February 21, 2021

Amazon Crossing