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The River Midnight

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  723 ratings  ·  109 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  · 
Rating details
 ·  723 ratings  ·  109 reviews

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BAM Endlessly Booked
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 ba
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 man
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.

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!
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hf, library-finds
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 i ...more
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read this in 1999, and remember it as a warm and emotional story, in spite of the background horrors.
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 o ...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
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
May 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
almost of 5 star, so enjoyed stories told by different characters. even though some was a bit confusing, going back and forth as well as 'spiritual flashes' which actually made me slow down reading which isn't a bad thing. just wish the glossary would have been footnotes, as I found myself going back and forth to the glossary as I was reading so I would have an understanding at that time.
Fascinated by Jewish well as other cultures/ beliefs would possibly made this a more succinct reading.

It is
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.
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.
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.
So, so wonderful, but not for everyone. I will be contemplating this novel for a long time.
candis horowitz
Oct 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
I could not get through this book. While it was written well. It just seemed like there was nothing to keep me interested.
Dec 01, 2020 is currently reading it
Beautiful, from cover to cover. Rich descriptions, subtle, humble, and just great.
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 g ...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 1800' ...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 wil
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 b
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 otherwi ...more
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.
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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 a ...more

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