This is a dark and tragic novella about lonely souls and the wounds caused by hatred and pride. I guess it’s not technically a novella because it’s 25This is a dark and tragic novella about lonely souls and the wounds caused by hatred and pride. I guess it’s not technically a novella because it’s 255 pages (although, where is the cut-off between novella and novel?) but it has the feel of one. It is a small and focused story with a condensed plotline that gives a full feel for all the major characters. It is very masterfully done, although I think it could have been fifty pages shorter and just as powerful.
In the last days of World War I, Laurel Shelton is waiting for her life to begin. She lives in the Cove, a place that the superstitious townsfolk think is evil. Between her parents’ early deaths and her birthmark, she has been viewed with suspicion and ostracized by everyone, accused of being a witch (or at least cursed). She’s a very smart, very pretty girl, but she feels trapped and hopeless. Her only support is a kindly old man and her brother Hank. Hank is viewed more favorably by the townsfolk since he lost his hand serving in WWI. Hank does his best to provide for and protect Laurel, but he also wants to begin his own life – and that might mean partly leaving Laurel behind while he moves on.
Two other major players are Walter, a mute musician with a secret that Laurel discovers and falls for, and Chauncey Feith, a pompous army recruiter – a rich kid with an inferiority complex, who sees himself as a hero and pretends that he is as brave as any fighting soldier and that he is not actually hiding behind his position to stay out of the war. Chauncey Feith is a clear villain in the story – a bully and a coward, trying to prove himself by going on a witchhunt after anyone with any connection to a German. What makes him fascinating is that he is one of the narrators, and is a terribly unreliable one. It is horrifying to hear what he thinks of himself and how he justifies his actions – but he is a type of narrator I love to read, just because his headspace is so very messed-up.
Walter and Laurel are sweet but confusing. It is unclear whether they actually love each other, or if they are both fulfilling a need. Walter needs a place of safety and refuge, and a friend, which Laurel provides. Laurel needs a means of escape and someone to care about her, which Walter provides. But it doesn’t feel like love. Maybe because their situations are so desperate and isolated, they don’t really have much choice but to turn to each other. And in this book they are never tested with another choice. Also, they only know each other for maybe a few weeks, so it’s hard to know whether they’d last.
The ending of this, when it comes, is short and fast and brutal. Ron Rash does not pull punches. ...more
This book is one very slow, meandering message about how war is horrible, horrible, horrible and wounds everyone it touches. IOne long miserable slog.
This book is one very slow, meandering message about how war is horrible, horrible, horrible and wounds everyone it touches. In the Korean War you’ve got Hector (already scarred by the death of his father), the American veteran, and June, the Korean war orphan who had her entire family brutally taken from her. Even seemingly perfect pastor’s wife Sylvie has heavy damage from the Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s, where her parents were missionaries. War is brutal, it is horrific and it is devastating.
I can appreciate the book’s message but I can’t enjoy the actual story. I didn’t like anyone. Terrible things were happening to everyone and I just feel numb. They’re paper dolls re-enacting scenes. And the main characters felt like types I’d seen better played before. Especially the Tanners: charitable, driven Ames and his beautiful, gentle wife Sylvie. Of course the pastor and his wife seem like a golden couple, perfectly suited to their missionary work but who are actually two very good but damaged people with rifts in their marriage. It’s practically a trope. Especially the fact that one half doesn’t feel like they can live up to the other’s goodness.
Also, I find it disturbing that so many women in this book are portrayed as so sexually aggressive. It always feels like the women are seducing the men. Hector is endlessly becoming interested in women who then pounce on him, looking to use sex to mask their loneliness or neediness. And the poor men - getting jumped by school girls and pastor’s wives and war widows (in case it didn't come across - that is sarcasm). It’s always the women who somehow force the men into situations that they are hesitant to enter. While sexually empowered women are good, here it comes off as a way to blame the women for any consequences and let the men off the hook, because they are just victims of female sexual aggression. ...more
It's hard for me to write reviews of books I truly love. Books I hate? Easy. I just let my snark flag fly. I feel like Tolstoy's famous line from AnnaIt's hard for me to write reviews of books I truly love. Books I hate? Easy. I just let my snark flag fly. I feel like Tolstoy's famous line from Anna Karenina ("Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way") applies. Great books are all alike and it's hard to say "I love this, you should read this, it was great" in creative ways. Whereas describing ranting about what makes a crappy book crappy is easy. What makes a great book? Characters that touch you, a plot that moves you, writing that enthralls you and a can't-put-down-and-can't-forget quality. And for me, this book has all of that.
This book is set in WWII Italy. Just from that, you know this story will break your heart. WWII/Holocaust books are easy to do poorly. Nazi is shorthand nowadays for "bad guy" and if you want to make it as simple as Nazis v. The Resistance/Jews/Allies, you can. But stories, like people, should never be that simplistic. And Russell succeeds partly because she makes everyone human. Which I think is all the better and all the scarier, because it wasn't monsters that committed the atrocities of the Holocaust. It was people. This book, along with The Book Thief are the two WWII novels I think everyone should read (though I could also make a case for Number the Stars because that book taught me everything I knew about the Holocaust in elementary school).
I do notice that Russell has a tendency to do her killing all at once. It's like she can't bear to part with her characters until the very end. Even though you know everyone will die (I mean, not everyone dies, but this is a Holocaust book. In circumstances like these, my mindset is that all the characters will die until proven otherwise). This happened in The Sparrow, too (not really a spoiler, you're told beforehand there's only one survivor of the mission). There are a couple of scattered deaths beforehand, but I was starting to wonder how everyone had survived when I hit the 3/4 mark and basically everyone was still alive. And then...they weren't.
My one complaint with this book was that I had trouble keeping track of all the characters (especially Renzo, who is generally very memorable but keeps changing his name!). There's a guide in front, but there's a lot of characters to keep track of.
Other than that, Russell, as always, creates a brilliant book. She can give more depth to a character in a paragraph than most people manage to do in an entire book (or in some authors' cases, entire series). She's not afraid of tackling the hard issues and approaches them with grace and feeling. She creates characters and scenes that feel so real you almost feel as if you lived through them. ...more
I'm not sure if I can take anymore WWII books. They always feel like a punch in the gut.
This is one powerful graphic novel, and the visualizations juI'm not sure if I can take anymore WWII books. They always feel like a punch in the gut.
This is one powerful graphic novel, and the visualizations just make the entire story even more haunting. This is not only a story about the horrors of the Holocaust, but also the story of a son's troubled relationship with his difficult father.
The subject matter makes it hard to read, but it is worth the sadness....more
**spoiler alert** This book pissed me off. Maybe partly to blame were my expectations. This was THE book. Bestseller! Prize winner! Critical darling!**spoiler alert** This book pissed me off. Maybe partly to blame were my expectations. This was THE book. Bestseller! Prize winner! Critical darling! But most important of all, people whose literary taste I deeply respect love it to pieces and kept telling me that it was the book. Turns out it was the book that was the most frustrating to read all summer, but that's it
Mostly, it was boring. Chabon liked describing way, way, way too much. So many useless details and RANDOM background details on minor characters and oh my God I just didn’t freakin’ CARE. There were pages where the entire page was THE SAME PARAGRAPH!!! Paragraphs shouldn’t take up pages! They just shouldn’t!
The only really interesting part was when Josef was so angry over what was happening to his family and felt so helpless to help them that he dealt with his anger and powerlessness by getting into fights with random Germans (I mean, it was a petty and stupid thing to do but it was very human and very emotional). And it was kind of cool that this stupid behavior came back to bite him in the ass when one of his random victims kept trying to kill him (but was a useless enough villain that he kept failing). But after that highlight it quickly went downhill. Plus, I didn’t like any of the characters. I liked Josef when he was a teen and escaping from the Nazis and doing everything in his limited power to save his family and feeling useless and helpless. But then his brother died and he flipped the frick out and ABANDONED ALL THE FAMILY HE HAD LEFT!!!!! And then I hated him and didn’t care if he came back. And Sammy was always kind of annoying but then his storyline just got weird and dull and he turned into a cliché ("I’m a ‘50s father/husband and realize that I never got what I expected in my youth and I’m all depressed and bored!"). And Rosa! I never liked her. And I kept feeling like I should like her once she developed a kind of personality but I never warmed up to her. Plus, she hooked up with Josef back when I still liked him and I never felt she was good enough for him (of course, when I started hating him too, so I turned out to be wrong. They were perfect for each other).
So, boring writing + unlikeable characters + high expectations that fell far short = hated this book. ...more