Yet another wonderful piece from the author of “Chocolat“. I enjoyed reading both. Harris’ pen manages to touch my inner chords by her distinguished touch to all that makes us human: our fears, our hopes, our pain, our aspirations. Her characters feel alive. And the scenery is vivid as we glance through the pages of the book, even on a Kindle. I could easily relate to the characters of this novel, especially Boise (i.e. Framboise).
The story, told by Boise, develops on a small farm run by a widow battling mental health issues, while raising her three children, against the WWII background in rural France. I loved that Harris chose to narrate events through the eyes of a nine year old. War, violence, relationships, food, housework – they all look different to children and adults need to learn to respect that. The story line is on rewind and forward, from Boise’s childhood to her adulthood, to remind us not to judge by appearances, as we never fully know what others went through.
Realism is what Tyler is known for. This novel is infused with such a realism that I felt as if I was in the same room with its characters. So, if you a looking for a escapist reading, look somewhere else. Unless you want to escape to Baltimore of 1988, when the novel was published.
The story line has Maggie and Ira as main characters, whose marriage seems impossible yet lasting. In all they do, “Ira [is] forever so righteous and Maggie so willing to be wrong.” Other characters – their son, daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughter – seem all to come into play just to testify to that. Tyler manages to make you pissed of with Maggie’ constant intrusion in other people’s lives, just to redeem the character towards the end, by revealing her sweet vulnerability and pure desire to help. Maggie and Ira’s quarrels throughout the novel made me smile at the thought about how much energy we spend on minor things in life, at the expense of what’s important: love, respect, empathy, courage to speak up and courage to shut up, sometimes.
The book picked my interest as I knew nothing about life in Malaysia. I absorbed its 476 pages in about ten evenings and was delighted by the richness of the story. The author invested two years in researching for and writing the book and she deserves acclaim for such a rigorous and respectful approach to her culture and inheritance. It also reinforces my belief that if history books would have been written by young women or ordinary elderly of those times, we would be reading something quite different.
In times of constantly changing circumstances, books like this help relativizing and reframing. The story of a widowed mother of 10, who succeeds as an entrepreneur in the turmoil of events of the first half of the 20th century, is a great reminder of the human phoenix power. “We each had power, if only we could harness it” is a highlight of the novel I’ll take with me.
This is the kind of book review which starts with “hm, where do I start?” The plot? Characters? Story line? Or all of them mixed, shaped and projected into a cinema room with several movies screened in parallel? That was my impression of the book.
I loved the merciless writing style. At times it was as if Kundera worked with a scalpel on the human mind. You cannot but wonder how deep can the human mind’s illusions and delusions go. Kundera shows us quite some shades of these: “The old duality of body and soul has become shrouded in scientific terminology, and we can laugh at it as merely an obsolete prejudice. But just make someone who has fallen in love listen to his stomach rumble, and the unity of body and soul, that lyrical illusion of the age of science, instantly fades away.”
Those interested in the history of the Soviet invasion of the Czech land in 1968 might find some eye opening perspectives in the book. The novel was after all prohibited in his home country until 1989. Probably, these lines would have sufficed to ban it: « Anyone who thinks that the Communist regimes of Central Europe are exclusively the work of criminals is overlooking a basic truth: the criminal regimes were made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they had discovered the only road to paradise. »