Wow, the narrator in this audiobook is awful. I like the story, though, so it's a good thing I have it in ebook format as well. But for now, it goes b...moreWow, the narrator in this audiobook is awful. I like the story, though, so it's a good thing I have it in ebook format as well. But for now, it goes back into the to-read pile.(less)
I'm a little torn on how to review this book. There were parts I loved, parts I hated, and parts that were just average. I guess that's why I gave it...moreI'm a little torn on how to review this book. There were parts I loved, parts I hated, and parts that were just average. I guess that's why I gave it three stars. That's right in the middle. But it took me ten months to get through this, and that's the longest it's taken me to read a book in recent memory. At first, I read it deliberately slowly. Then, in the middle, I wasn't interested enough to keep it going. By the end, I just couldn't wait to be done with it that I didn't much care what happened.
1. The Prose. The prose started out so gorgeous and lyrical that I just wanted to savor every word, to read it slowly and linger in it the way one lingers in a warm bath. I'm a big fan of first paragraphs, because I think they can set the tone for the whole book. Fail to grab my attention on the first page, and you'll have to work a lot harder for the rest of the book to win me over. The first paragraph of this book is gorgeous:
If you were a spirit, and could fly and alight as you wished, and time did not bind you, and patience and love were all you knew, then you might rise to enter an open window high above the park, in the New York of almost a lifetime ago, early in November of 1947.
Sometimes, though, a first paragraph is a little like a gorgeous man. All pretty and sexy at first sight, but once you go a little deeper, you find that the pretty face is all there is there. As the book went on, there were other moments of lyricism and poetry (Manhattan and its vassal boroughs tirelessly generated images. Even smoke and steam rose beautifully, slowly unfurling in the play of wind and light like a silent song to redeem the memory of forgotten souls), but mostly it just seemed to be trying way too hard to be deep:
Now, on the shadowed slope of a dune that was the last wall of land to face the sea, on silken cold sand, they sat together, thinking that the way they felt would last forever. Far out on the water, a distant sail glided silently, true to the spread of the wind and heading into the horizon. Tranquil, remote, and, above all, silent, it moved toward a great open space. "If that's death," Harry said, "then I look forward to it, I confess that when I see a sail shining in white, moving in the distance toward the shadows as if from this world to the next, I want to follow."
2. The almost too-perfect love between Catherine and Harry. It's love at first sight, and it's so consuming and total that in a more passionate book, it would be exciting. In this slow-paced, overly wordy tome, it comes across cheesy:
He was in love with every part of her body, every stray hair, every plane or curve as much as he loved each individual part of every word she spoke or sang, and he was sorry for the years he had spent in the grip of lesser enthusiasms.
Or And yet her fingers never existed in relation to each other except beautifully... The thing that made me roll my eyes the most was the oft-repeated line about Harry seeing her blouse flutter with the beat of her heart. I don't think anyone's heart so strong or clothes so flimsy that the cloth would actually move from the sheer force of the heart beating beneath the ribcage.
And then what's the point in writing a story about a high society woman who falls in love with a Jew if (view spoiler)[you're just going to conveniently have her find out that her grandmother was Jewish (hide spoiler)]? Too convenient and unnecessary.
3. Harry's other women. We're supposed to be really invested in this love story between Catherine and Harry, and yet the book takes us on multiple trips through Harry's reverie, where he remembers every other woman he's fallen in love with. There's the seamstress, with whom Harry had been madly in love during college. There's Claire, the New Zealand woman at the London dinner party during the war. There's the woman he meets who was surfing in the lake. None of these interactions really seem to have anything to do with anything.
4. The audiobook. I read the first 20% and the last 10% on my Kindle, but for the most part, I listened to this on audio. The narrator is just awful. He has a weird, hollow sort of whistle in his S sounds, and the way his voice rises at the beginning of each sentence and falls at the end makes him sound like he's in a lemonade commercial. I may have enjoyed the prose more had I been reading it with my own inflection. The audiobook made it sound so corny.
5. The ending. Screw you, ending. (view spoiler)[Harry's moral highground won't allow him to take any money from his wealthy father-in-law to save the business, and he won't think of selling the business, but instead he'll plan to murder a bunch of gangsters? And what does Harry get for his trouble? A bullet in the belly. So all of the preceding 700+ pages are for naught. And then the book, even in the epilogue, never tells us what happens to Copeland Leather. Does it survive? Does Harry's child end up running it? Who knows? (hide spoiler)] Ugh. Thanks for nothing, book. If I wasn't so glad to see this book end, I would be really upset.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The easiest way to write what I thought about this book would be to quote from the book itself:
Over the years, people I've met have often asked me wha...moreThe easiest way to write what I thought about this book would be to quote from the book itself:
Over the years, people I've met have often asked me what I'm working on, and I've usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden. I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, "Is it an anti-war book?" "Yes," I said. "I guess." "You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?" "No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?" "I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?'" What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too. And even if wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.
Like the characters in this book, I knew nothing about the Vel' d'Hiv roundup, where thousands of Jewish families were arrested by French police and s...moreLike the characters in this book, I knew nothing about the Vel' d'Hiv roundup, where thousands of Jewish families were arrested by French police and sent to internment camps, and eventually to Auschwitz to the gas chambers. I never learned about this particular piece of world history in school. The people Julia speaks to in the book say they don't want to remember, it was a long time ago, they just want to forget it. I'm sure that attitude truly exists, and I say shame on them! If we allow ourselves to forget that this kind of thing really happens, then we open ourselves to the possibility that it could happen again.
This reminded me a lot of the Japanese internment that took place in our own country. American citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up by American police and FBI and sent to internment camps. While these camps were not death camps like Auschwitz, the conditions were still horrible and something no American citizen should have had to endure at the hands of their own countrymen. And, like the Vel' d'Hiv, I did not learn about the Japanese internment in school. No one wants to think about it. No one wants to remember it. Not even my own grandfather, who was interned when he was a child. He hardly ever talks about it.
As for the book, it was very good. It was a fast-paced, gripping read. I didn't really care for the ending, however. I thought it was a little too neat. But I'm glad I read it and learned something about what humans are capable of.(less)
I would give this book 4 1/2 stars, but for GR purposes I lean more toward 5 than 4. This book is meticulously researched, extremely compelling and we...moreI would give this book 4 1/2 stars, but for GR purposes I lean more toward 5 than 4. This book is meticulously researched, extremely compelling and well-written, and very thought-provoking. Also recommended: Not Me by Michael Lavigne. (less)
**spoiler alert** As a Christian, I have always felt a little uneasy with the idea of Christians marrying Jews (or Muslims, or Atheists, or Pagans, et...more**spoiler alert** As a Christian, I have always felt a little uneasy with the idea of Christians marrying Jews (or Muslims, or Atheists, or Pagans, etc.). Not with being friends with or even dating Jews, but with marriage in particular. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation, and so I have never been able to reconcile the idea of sharing a life with someone who did not share that belief. To me, it is a far, far different thing than a difference in religion. It is a difference in a core, fundamental belief that shapes a person's values and has a profound effect on their eternity.
So it was with this belief that I sat down to read The Invisible Wall. And I found myself saddened by the divide on Harry's street, with the Christians on one side and the Jews on the other. And yet the extent of the divide to be not what I expected: I expected hate and antisemitism to be the main reason the Christians and Jews did not mix, but found it to be more because of the Jewish traditions and superstitions that did not allow them to mingle with the Christians. Of course there were some scenes of slurs being flung about and of the Jewish children being attacked on their way home from school. But what really stuck out to me were other things: the Christian Forshaws inviting little Harry to sit on their stoop and listen to their gramophone; the Christian "fire goys" who would go over the the Jewish homes and tend their fires on Fridays and Saturdays when it was forbidden for the Jews to do so; the interest the headmaster took in Lily's education. The "fire goys" especially stood out to me. For a Gentile to help a Jewish person in that way, in order to help the Jews maintain their religious tradition, in the 1910s was extraordinary. I also thought it interesting that the Christian Forshaws were more willing to accept Lily and her relationship with Arthur than Lily's Jewish family.
I was moved by the descriptions of the poverty surrounding the street, with such things standing out like Harry's mother cutting up her best dress to make a new suit for Harry and the depiction of Harry and his two brothers all three sharing a bed, even as they grow bigger and taller, and Harry's mother scrounging for bruised fruit and cutting out the bad parts and reselling them.
The neglect and abuse from Harry's father was another thing that touched me. My own grandfather has little to no relationship with his children. Though (to my knowledge) they suffered none of the physical or verbal abuse that Harry and his siblings endured, there were still some similarities in Harry's father and my grandfather. He showed no interest in them when they were growing up. He too stayed out of the house until after his children went to bed and he preferred gambling and drinking to staying home and getting to know his family. To this day, only one out of his six children (my mother) will have anything to do with him. It is sad to me to think that a man can be so disinterested in his own offspring. It makes me feel lucky to have such a wonderful, loving father.
And finally, I was moved to tears by the struggle of Lily and Arthur to have their love accepted by their families. I still have trouble reconciling the idea of sharing a life with someone whose beliefs so differ from your own (how would you raise your children, for example? To believe as you do? How strong can your belief be if you don't desire for your children to share it?), that was not the case with Arthur and Lily. Lily didn't put so much stock in her religion and in fact stopped attending synagogue. And my heart ached for them when Lily's family sat shivah for her after her marriage to Arthur, and I wept during her reunion with her mother.(less)
This is a definite four-and-a-half star book. It really probably should be five, but I feel like I've been too generous with stars lately so I'm tryin...moreThis is a definite four-and-a-half star book. It really probably should be five, but I feel like I've been too generous with stars lately so I'm trying to cut back. Is that silly? Maybe so, but there it is.
Juliet, the book's main character, writes "It was amazing to me then, and still is, that so many people who wander into bookshops don't really know what they're after--they only want to look around and hope to see a book that will strike their fancy. And then, being bright enough not to trust the publisher's blurb, they will ask the book clerk the three questions: (1) What is it about? (2) Have you read it? (3) Was it any good? Real dyed-in-the-wool booksellers -- like Sophie and me -- can't lie. Our faces are always a dead giveaway. A lifted brow or curled lip reveals that it's a poor excuse for a book, and the clever customers ask for a recommendation instead, whereupon we frog-march them over to a particular volume and command them to read it. If they read it and despise it, they'll never come back. But if they like it, they're customers for life."
That is almost precisely how I came upon this little gem of a novel. I was at Barnes and Noble looking at The Wednesday Sisters A Novel when I saw that the blurb on the back compared it to The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which I did not care for, and so I asked the customer service rep if she'd read it. She hadn't, but recommended Guernsey to me instead. I am ever so grateful that she did.
The cast of characters in this book are delightful. Their stories are both hilarious and harrowing. During WWII, German soldiers occupied the Channel Islands between England and France, Guernsey being one of them. I've read stories of people in the camps and of people on the home front but I never even thought about the people in occupied villages and towns. It was beautiful to read about how hope can survive even the bleakest of situations, how kindness can be found even from those amongst the enemy, and how life goes on after war.(less)
Sometimes beautiful, sometimes harrowing, but always intriguing, this novel asks questions that can't be easily answered: Can sixty years of good deed...moreSometimes beautiful, sometimes harrowing, but always intriguing, this novel asks questions that can't be easily answered: Can sixty years of good deeds atone for a past in which a person committed the worst crimes imaginable? Can people truly change who they are, and if they do, does it matter anymore who they were? Can a person be excused from wrongdoing if they really believed it was right? Is there anything you wouldn't forgive the people you love the most?(less)
I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality.
I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and i...moreI wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality.
I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant."
On the last page of The Book Thief, Zusak's narrator speaks these words about the world and the human race. But he could also be talking about the book itself, because that's exactly how it made me feel. This book was beautiful, and it was brutal. It was ugly, and it was glorious. It was damning, and it was brilliant.
I read this on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust remembrance day). And I realized I am a coward. Had I been in Weisel's place, I could not have survived. I don't...moreI read this on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust remembrance day). And I realized I am a coward. Had I been in Weisel's place, I could not have survived. I don't know that I would have wanted to. I wouldn't want to live with the memory of the children being thrown into the crematoria. I wouldn't want to live with the daily fear and cold and hunger and illness and pain. I am a coward.(less)