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The River Midnight

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  687 ratings  ·  105 reviews
In her stunning debut novel, Lilian Nattel brilliantly brings to life the richness of shtetl culture through the story of an imagined village: Blaszka, Poland. Myth meets history and characters come to life through the stories of women's lives and prayers, their secrets, and the intimate details of everyday life.
When they were young, four friends were known as the vilda
Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 28th 1999 by Scribner (first published November 5th 1998)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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 ·  687 ratings  ·  105 reviews

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Dawn (& Ron)
Apr 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in Jewish life, lost cultures, early 20th century
I really didn't know what to expect with this read, but found myself swept away to a different time and place and enchanted by the lost shtetl culture. It had a feeling that I can only describe as a realistic fairytale, blending real life with folk lore, history with spirituality, connecting the past with the future, and mixing it all together with warmth, humor, love and a touch of magic. I can only imagine how it would resonate with those whose ancestors may have come from a shtetl community.

BAM The Bibliomaniac
May 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, traded
3 Stars until the final section which may rate a 4 on its own

The River Midnight tells the story of four women who were childhood friends in a village in Poland during the times of the pograms of Russian rule. However, their stories are not only told from their points of view, but also their husbands, their children, their neighbors. The story is an enriched tale of life's celebration and the coming together in support of family in the big picture reminiscent of "It takes a village".
The same
Sonia Gomes
Apr 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
As a young person I have read books about Jews in Europe during WWII, their lives filled me with such sorrow, it still does, but did I ever think of them as 'people'. No, never, I only thought of them as victims of a terrible war.
And then comes Nattel, with her beautiful book, a tiny village with each character a special person, each character narrating their life in a special voice. Was it boring that every person told the same story? No chance, there are so many layers to each episode, so
Nov 18, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: feminists, those interested in Jewish history
I really liked this book. Wonderful character pieces all set in the same village (or shtetl-- a new word I learned) in a common time period. It was neat to read about various quotidian events from the perspectives of a variety of characters. Loved Misha the midwife!
Sep 15, 2016 rated it liked it
2.5 stars. The setting of "The River Midnight," a Polish shetl in the late 1800s, appealed to me. Nattel did a nice job evoking the daily life of the villagers and clearly did extensive research. But she didn't go much further - focusing on the daily drudgery of her characters and skimming over more interesting conflicts. A tangled thicket of a novel that was a chore to read and yielded few rewards.
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a book I found a bit slow to start, could very well have been my state of mind. However, when I finished the book I actually missed the characters. If you find it slow, don't give up!!!
Lora Shouse
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The River Midnight takes a unique approach to telling a story. It is the history of approximately a year in the life of a Jewish shetl in Poland in approximately the year 1895. We go through the year over and over, each time from the viewpoint of a different person. It is enlightening to see in this way not only how each of them views the same events the same or differently depending on their point of view, but how some events are known only to one person or a few people but not to most of the ...more
Linda Robinson
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Complicated read. In a discussion at a book signing with author Steve Craig at Bookman in Grand Haven, MI, an attendee asked about 1st person POV, and talked about a recently read book that didn't get it right. Craig said the best book he'd read was The River Midnight. It was Lilian Nattel's debut about a shtetl in Poland in the 19th century. Four women - friends since girlhood - share their stories in Part One: The Women, each told from the POV of that vilda haya (wild one). Hanna-Leah, Misha, ...more
Georgene Bramlage
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent first novel of a time and place that I've heard about too little. Although I am not Jewish, this book portrays a time and place from which my grandparents escaped. It was like hearing my grandfather speak of the countryside, political situation, and schooling. Now, I understand why he could read and write four languages (and church Latin!). A criticism I've read is that some of the characters are not fully developed. However, isn't this the way with "real" life? A part of us always ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-finds, hf
Sometimes a random pick from the library uncovers an unknown treasure. This historical fiction narrative mixed with elements reminiscent of fairy tale is set in a small fictional community in Poland called Blaszka. Set in the late nineteenth century we are told the story of about a year in the life of four Jewish women who were once childhood friends. It is almost like interconnected stories except each narrative adds a new look at a tale we should already know. It is not easy to write a story ...more
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was slow to grab my much so that I put it aside for awhile. I finally picked it up again last week, and I was captivated. The book tells the story of a small Jewish village in Poland...but it tells the story several times over from different points of view - first of three women in the village and then of three men and finishing with the incredible midwife’s perspective. You would think that it would get repetitive after awhile, but it was actually a fascinating look at ...more
Jul 14, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: judaism
I really enjoyed the characters and the way the story was sort of braided together. I'm a little confused because there were elements that didn't fit with Judaism as I understand it, but I also understand that this could be different understandings of Judaism or me misunderstanding something. The almost-casual mix of mundane reality and the supernatural was more interesting than I would've guessed I'd find it.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a brilliant, beautiful book. Nattel presents the stories of the villagers in turn, each covering the same time period, so that readers can see the village and its residents from multiple perspectives, gradually uncovering the meaning behind events that occurred in passing in previous chapters.
Jane Glen
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Rarely would I use the word brilliant for an author, but there is no other way to describe this author. seamlessly written with the intertwining of lives, times and situations. It was also a fascinating look at Jewish life in a small Polish village. A debut novel? Wow- give us more.
Susan Beecher
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I loved this novel about some of the inhabitants of a shtetl (Jewish village in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust) in Poland in the late 1800s. Beautifully written.
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good story. Well written and imagined of life in a Polish shtetl. It felt so familiar as it will with others of Jewish Polish background.
Robynne Eagan
May 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of my favourites. A brilliant book that has stayed with me over the years.
Jun 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Set in a shtetl in Russian occupied Poland during the late 1800s, this is a story told multiple times. The action takes place over a year’s time (with both flashbacks and glimpses of the future, too); first it’s told from the viewpoint of the women of the village, then again from the men’s POV, then finally from the view of the main character, Misha, the shtetl midwife and herbalist. While the whole village is part of the story, the backbone of it follows the pregnancy of Misha, ended with her ...more
Jennifer Collins
As much a look into history as it is a piece of transporting entertainment, Nattel's The River Midnight brings to life the men and women of a shtetl northwest of Warsaw. Weaving small-town gossip with frightening politics, the concerns of a small town with individuals in hope and in mourning, and half-dreamt magical realism with hard-pressed reality, the novel is a layered masterpiece, and well worth reading.

In Blaszka, this fictional village of Polish Jews, everything is paramount. Meticulously
Erika Schmid
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
I expected a tale filled with myth and magic. This story did not deliver as such, not in the least bit. Not only was this story told once, but it was actually told three time throughout. Granted, each time was from a somewhat different perspective and yet I will argue that I grew incredibly bored halfway through when I found whole passages being repeated. It was also entirely confusing concerning the mythical elements. Angels appeared to be involved in this small town in Poland in the late ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Deserves a 3.5, I think. Nattel paints a moving portrait of the lives of Polish Jews in the 19th century, with every character beautifully fleshed out and fully human. Nattel has beautiful wisdom to share about our relationships to each other, to the world, and to God.

Unfortunately, she drags an otherwise wonderful novel down by repeating every event at least three times. The book is split into three parts, one for the women of the village, one for the men, and on for the midwife, Misha: the
Jan 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
After 80 pages: The characters come across as real; the setting is solid; and the culture is well-portrayed. However, the reading isn't smooth. The author moves from one point of view to another, from one time period to another, sometimes changing from paragraph-to-paragraph.

150 pages. That's how long it took before I decided that I was enjoying the story. The first chapter is okay -- characters are introduced, the setting described, the plot introduced. The second chapter tells the same story
Avida Reada
Feb 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Though compelling, nattel tells the story from so many different perspectives that it becomes rather repetetive, which is a pity.
Aug 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Before starting this review I read a few other reviews that shared my feelings. I was charmed by this book of Polish shtettle life in the nineteenth century. What I loved most about this tale was the way the story is woven together from the perspectives of the various characters. Sometimes events are retold, each time from the point of view of the different shtettle character. This gives the work greater depth and allows the reader to understand the events more fully than would have been ...more
Aug 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an unusual book. First it is set in 1893. Second it is set in a small Jewish village in Poland. Add to this that the story is told multiple times from various perspectives and you have a very interesting tale. This book is a work of historical fiction set in a non-existent village along a non-existent river but it is based on the history Poland in the late 19th century.

This writer has the gift of tone and setting much like Laura Ingalls Wilder. By the time you have read the first page
Dec 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book.
A magical, but not white washed tale of life in a Jewish village in the old country. I would compare the combination of the everyday and the magical to the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Salaman Rushdie. The ever changing narration of the story gives the book kaleidoscopic effect with each person and event in this the book creating a whole new picture with each turn of the authors wrist.
Well researched, and only a few facts about Jewish life were incorrect such as the
Jan 27, 2017 rated it liked it
To read this book, the reader needs to have a bit of patience to allow the story to unravel. Like the way a river meanders through rock and hill, the story unfolds through one person until the next character picks up the thread, rewinds, reviews and adds detail and another point of view to the same incident. As each villager tells their story, they also tell the story of the Polish Jew in the late 1800's. The traditions are respectfully told with historical significance added in. As each story ...more
Jun 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-read
I loved this book! It is beautiful and human and completely enchanting. Each chapter follows a different character's life over the same period of time. While this could result in a tedious re-telling of the same events over and over again, each person's life is so unique that the overlapping moments are subtle and often brilliant. Even a major event which affects the entire shtetl looks different each time depending on how it impacts an individual's life. Conversations between two characters can ...more
Dec 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was a great debut novel by Nattel. It takes place in the late 19th century in a small Jewish shtetl in Poland. The story was thought provoking, as most of my experience in that genre was during the World War II era. There is a lengthy glossary which helps with many of the Yiddish workds, although you can follow the story easily through the word's context.

This is a story of the friendship of 4 strong women and how they grew up and apart from each other (in some ways.) It is the kind of story
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Lilian Nattel's latest book is Girl at the Edge of Sky, a historical novel about real life heroine Lily Litvyak, who was a WW2 fighter pilot. Like her, Lilian was called "Lily" and was shorter than the other kids. Lilian was born in Montreal and decided to be a writer at the age of 10 when she realized that not all writers were dead. Later, she lived in a Toronto garret and temporarily became an ...more