Tag: Historical Fiction

by Ella Cara Deloria

Slice-of-life novel about Sioux people in the nineteenth century, when encroaching white men were just a rumor on the land. It is a very detailed look at their lifestyle, from the women’s perspective. Most of the story is about the duties of relationships, how the children were raised, how a woman’s life was shaped by the relatives that surrounded her, and how that shifted when she married. The narrative is rather dry in style, but not without some tenderness, humor and tragedy- though sometimes you have to read between the lines to pick it up. The central character is Waterlily- from her birth while the camp is relocating, through her years growing up, to her own marriage and finally having her first child. Her personality is contrasted by that of various other young girls- cousins and friends (some of whose behavior is frowned upon). She is conscious of always striving to honor her family by doing the right thing, giving gifts when it is expected, showing deference to men and elders. An important aspect of their society was the gift giving, so that goods did not belong to any one person for long, but made the rounds continually through the community. She listens to stories of her people’s past, watches ceremonies from the sidelines (including the Sun Dance, that was interesting as I had only vaguely heard of it before), and tends the younger children.

Then a certain young man catches her eye, but it’s not proper for a young woman to chase after a man, she has to indicate her interest subtly, if at all. Meanwhile she’s expected to accept a different young man from another group who asked for her in marriage, because it will enable her parents to honor someone else they’re indebted to. She does what is expected of her and moves to the other camp, where she doesn’t know anyone at all. They are kind and welcoming, but she always feels constricted by formalities among them. Waterlily is relatively content though, and looks forward to building a life with her new husband. Then someone brings blankets into camp, that foreign soldiers had dropped on a path. The blankets are coveted as a novelty item, and in the traditional gift-giving are passed around from family to family. Then many of them start to fall sick, with what sounds like smallpox. There are many deaths, in spite of their efforts to slow the spread of the disease (which they realized too late). Waterlily is soon bereft of her husband, afterwards feels even more alone in the camp. She finds means to travel back to her parents’ camp, where to her surprise, another man soon approaches her with thoughts of marriage. In this second match she is more at ease, and finds contentment and gradually, a secure feeling of joy.

I thought some of the most interesting parts in the story were when Waterlily and her companions first heard of the white men. They were fascinated with the curiosity of men having pale hair and blue eyes, and shocked when they heard that white parents yelled and hit their children to make them behave (this was from someone observing a few white families that lived in a fort). Another episode that really struck me happened when Waterlily was a small child. She was alone in the tipi in the care of her blind grandfather, stealthily got out some very rich food that was kept hidden, and ate way too much of it which made her sick. When the family found her semi-conscious they seriously feared for her life (thinking that fainting would bring on death). She recovered the next day and they made an elaborate ceremony to celebrate how her life had been spared! They really treasured their children, and worked very hard to live in harmony with everyone around them.

This book in tone is rather like Once Upon an Eskimo Time. It’s not the easiest read, doesn’t have a lot of plot or exciting events, mainly being just a detailed account of everyday life. The author was part Sioux- her father was a Yankton Dakota and her mother was of French, German and English heritage. She grew up on the Standing Rock reservation and became a linguist and educator, spent much of her life working to record Native American legends, oral history and language. So none of the accuracy issues here that I had with the previous read. Far from it!

Rating: 3/5
244 pages, 1988

More opinions: Dear Author
anyone else?

by Margaret Mitchell

It’s kind of intimidating to sit down and write thoughts about Gone with the Wind. A hefty novel, but close on the heels of the beast that was Tom Jones, I actually enjoyed this one! Very readable. The story carried me through the pages much quicker than I expected. All the conversations felt quite natural, the historical bits were interesting, wow I learned so much about the Civil War and Georgia in particular. Although when it got into politics my attention faltered, but that never lasted for more than a few pages, as Scarlett herself was bored by politics, so her mind skittered on to other things, too, ha.

This deeply felt saga all swirls around Scarlett O’Hara, daughter of an Irish immigrant father and mother from a refined family. Scarlett grows up in comfort, surrounded by beauty and prosperity, never thinking of much except commanding the attention of boys, or who’s got nicer clothes. Exactly the kind of person I would never get along with in real life, but so intriguing to read about. She shrugs off rumors of war at first, but when it finally happens, everything falls apart around her. Gradually, at first. Men discussing and arguing the maneuvers. Young men leaving, some never return. Material goods in short supply or very expensive. Older men enlisted when casualties deplete numbers in the ranks. Horrific stories of the ugliness of war. Scarlett loves the plantation her father owned but moves to Atlanta, for a long visit that becomes an extended stay that turns into years of living there. She helps with the war effort, resenting it but feeling obliged. Descriptions of nursing soldiers in the war hospital- more horrors. When Atlanta is besieged, she flees back to Tara with a handful of companions- to find the land razed, houses around her burnt to the ground, animals stolen or driven off, nothing left to live on. She literally faces starvation and is desperate to find a way to survive, no matter what the cost.

That deep fear never leaves her, even when things get better and the South starts to recover. Recover, but things will never be the same. I didn’t know, before, how much of this story would be about the rebuilding, the reforming of people’s lives when so much had been broken by the war. About how the economy was affected, how the rich people of society now lived in poverty but were proud of the sacrifices they had made, how newcomers came in to profit off the rebuilding, and so on. Scarlett grabs opportunities and is seriously frowned upon by others because her actions are “unladylike”. I had to admire her determination to never feel want again, to have security and even prosperity once more. I also felt some sympathy for her constant misunderstanding of other people, her bafflement at what society deemed proper behavior or how other people’s assumptions did not at all match hers (even those closest to her). But at the same time I did not like her very much. She did mean things to people who trusted her, just to get her way.

That’s the biggest part of the story, this tangled bitter love affair. From the very beginning, Scarlett has her heart set on a young gentleman named Ashley, who is a very bookish man. He struggles when times get hard, because he doesn’t know how to actually make a living, to work a trade, and he never really adjusts. Scarlett seems to admire him simply because he seems unreachable, she can’t really understand him and obstinately wants what she can’t have. When Ashley marries Melanie (because he’s far more perceptive than Scarlett and realizes they wouldn’t be good together) she actually ends up living in their household for years! I found that very strange. Meanwhile there’s this other guy, Rhett Butler, who is a rouge but an honest man for all that. Like Scarlett, he does what he pleases, but he makes no excuses and doesn’t care what society thinks of him. Honest to himself, I guess you would say. He can see right through Scarlett and bides his time until she will accept him- but Scarlett makes a mess of that, too. (It’s also appalling how much she ignores her own children, but that’s another topic altogether!)

Really it was fascinating seeing how well-drawn these characters were, how complicated their interactions, how curious their motives, what a commentary on the society that shunned or accepted them by turns. Then there’s all the stuff about slavery. This book is so romanticized in that regard. Protests all over the place that slave owners took good care of their “darkies” who were like children and needed them. Claimed that stories of runaway slaves being hunted by bloodhounds or savagely beaten were exaggerated. No qualms about separating married couples, or selling parents / children separate from each other though. Really it made me grit my teeth and think: they were treated like animals. And even when the text was trying to make it sound like this system that made the profits of huge plantations possible was okay, the degrading language, racial comments and insulting ways black people were described- just shameful.

If anything, at least it did give me an idea of how Southerners came about their viewpoint. I was able to see another perspective, even if I don’t agree with it, or even think it was depicted accurately. Again, so much I could say about this book, so much I’m not even hinting at, but I’m getting over a headcold and don’t have a lot of energy to write more. It did make me want to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that’s next on my list of chunksters to attempt. (I wonder if Gone with the Wind was written in reaction to it- the characters mention Uncle Tom’s Cabin and criticize its negative portrayal of slavery!)

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
960 pages, 1936

More opinions: the Worm Hole
anyone else?

by Barbara Kingsolver

This book has literally sat on my shelf for years, even though it’s by one of my favorite authors. I was so intimidated by it. Historical fiction can get heavy, and this one especially has significant events and looming figures- from revolutionary times in 1920’s Mexico to McCarthyism era America. The viewpoint is an ordinary man (but one I slowly came to respect and admire so much). As a young man he was dragged around Mexico by his flamboyant flapper mother who chased after a string of wealthy boyfriends after separating from his father back in America. Petty much ignored, he spends time swimming in the ocean, enthralled by the beautiful fishes and hidden underground caves- and hanging out in the kitchens where he learns culinary skills. Later as a young man on his own, he becomes employed in the house of Rivera- at first mixing plaster for Diego Rivera’s murals, then working as a cook, eventually becoming a secretary and finally, overseeing shipment of paintings for Frida Kahlo. Who strikes up a kind of friendship with him. He is there when Trotsky takes refuge in exile, and witnesses firsthand violence against the man. In fact it is so traumatic the entire household disbands, he ends up back in the States, suffering probably from post-tramuatic stress disorder, often afraid to leave his home, uncomfortable around other people. Builds a new life for himself as a writer- he always was a writer, keeping diaries and sending letters- now he writes historical novels about ancient peoples from Mexico- the Aztecs, the Maya. They sound fantastically thrilling! and reading about how popularity swamped him, how amusing the reviews of these books that don’t really exist- I loved that part.

I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know how to convey how rich and thoughtful and surprising this story was- even when I had trouble keeping track of what was going on with the politics and history- the strength of Kingsolver’s words kept pulling me onward through the pages, to a startlingly hopeful conclusion, when I thought all had gone to crap.

This book is kind of overwhelming. It’s about humanity, and art, and kindness- even when cruelty and ignorance are rampant. Mostly it’s about a quiet man, who seems hardly present in his own story, seeking to find a place where he belongs. I was not expecting to read (once again!) a novel with a gay character, and I appreciate how subtly that was handled. I was enthralled with the portrayal of culture, art, music, wonderful food in Mexico, and the contrast when the story moved to America. How servants were treated in Mexican households- as people regardless of their employment status- compared to segregation and racism in the States. The clear look at the revolutionaries he lived with in Mexico, in contrast to the political furor in the States, a place full of strangers pointing fingers. I feel like there was a strong message there for me that I’m not quite picking up on. This was a very compelling book, and it’s one I’m definitely going to have to read again someday, I think I’ll get so much more out of it a second or third time around.

It helped that not so long ago I saw the 2002 movie Frida. A lot more would have gone over my head otherwise. I kept visualizing how she was depicted in the film, right down to the voice, and I think it fit well.

Rating: 4/5
507 pages, 2009

by Helen Griffiths

This is the story of two young people in Spain, who fall in love just as unrest broils into civil war. When the first pages unfold, laying down a detailed setting of their lives in neighboring villages, their greatest obstacle is the local conflict. For generations there’s been friction between the two villages, intermarriages seriously frowned upon. I connected with these characters easily, so perceptive and adroit is the author’s description of their thoughts, feelings and intentions. Bernardo, from the smaller village, is a gentle soul, a dreamer who loves books especially poetry, and is content to work with his hands. His brother is the opposite- ambitious, uncaring towards his family, in the end full of fire for one thing- a political ideal. The brothers part ways early, but later their stories intertwine in dismaying fashion. Elvira, daughter of a prosperous shopkeeper in the larger village, is high-spirited and vivacious. She catches Bernardo’s eye at a festival the two villages jointly participate in, and he sets his heart on marrying her. First there is a long, constrained courtship- not only because their families would disapprove, but also because Elvira is held back by her religious upbringing, and harbors doubts (asks herself, does she really love him, or is she just overwhelmed by new emotions?). While Bernardo isn’t as deeply ingrained by tradition, his sole focus is her, and he’s willing to grasp the opportunity presented by a new law: they could have a civil marriage, without their parents’ blessing. A hugely controversial thing back then. As Bernardo grows increasingly impatient waiting for Elvira’s consent, they start planning how to get around the circumstances and be together.

But civil war sweeps over the country. Unlike his older brother, Bernardo has no interest in politics. In attempting to put together a future for himself and Elvira though, his choices go awry and he gets caught up in the turbulence. At first his only thought is to reunite with his love, but then it becomes a matter of just staying alive. Elvira also leaves her village for the city, attempting to find Bernardo, even though she knows it will be risky and dangerous. She has no idea what she’s stepping into. The ending, though so realistic- is tragic. I wish I hadn’t known a crucial piece of it beforehand. The story was gripping enough that I had trouble putting this book down at all over the past two days, but it would have been even more so without a bit of quoted praise in the frontispiece telling me a main characters dies. I guess they had leeway to do so, as the preface written by the author reveals this to the reader. It’s the only criticism I hold about the whole book!

Such a touchingly deep, bitterly heartfelt story. So alive and nuanced. I should have expected it, but I’m amazed at how well this author writes people– the delicate and unspoken connections in relationships. Not only the depth of feeling the two young lovers have for each other, but the disparity between the brothers, the parents’ hopes and fears for their children on both sides, the caution they hold from years of own experience, yet unable to dissuade their grown sons and daughters from forging their own paths, making their own mistakes in the name of love. And the great irony, that those in this story who live in more or less arranged marriages, had some stability, contentment and ease of existence. Whereas Bernardo and Elvira, full of passion for each other, a depth of emotion and loyalty the others don’t understand, could not attain a place to call their own and live together. So sad. Especially how the furious insanity of war rolls over them, catching all these innocent lives up and senselessly destroying them. Some make it through alive, but none are without scars and sorrow. I was reminded so much of a recent read, The Cat I Never Named– different place and circumstance, but the suffering of innocent civilians in warfare so very much the same.

I was very excited to read this book, I can’t tell you how much. Even though historical fiction is not my usual thing, and romance even less so. In the past, I’d always hoped to come across one or the other of this author’s books secondhand- as they were long out of print and hard to find. What was my surprise and delight about a year ago, to be contacted by a publisher who is reprinting all of Helen Griffith’s works. I’m so thrilled at the opportunity to be able to read her books as ARC’s- and very grateful to the publisher who sent this copy to me.

Rating: 4/5
256 pages, 1966

the Story of an Indian Pony

by Forrestine C. Hooker

From the viewpoint of a pony, this tells about the lives of Native Americans in the Comanche tribe, when white settlers were starting to encroach on their land. The young pony Star belongs to the daughter of the chief, and his mother likewise is the chief’s favorite pony. The ponies are well aware of their owners’ status, and feel keenly the importance of proving themselves brave and capable. When the story begins, the tribe is upset by approach of European settlers in a covered wagon caravan, protected by a troop of soldiers on white horses. Unsettling stories abound of how the white men not only kill their people and take captives, but also kill all the game, and they see firsthand how large numbers of bison are slaughtered and left to rot. Alarmed that their land is being ruined and overrun, they set out to fight, sweeping into the invader’s camp at night to take their horses, thus crippling their mobility. The pony Star is part of these engagements, sometimes well aware of what’s going on, other times confused and just trying to stay with his familiar people, or fellow ponies. He meets the soldiers’ horses that are mingled with the pony herd afterwards, and talks eagerly to them, hearing of strange things. Some of the Native ponies shun the white men’s horses, others are companionable realizing they have no conflict, even if their owners do. For the most part the horses don’t understand why the humans fight when the land seems big enough for all.

After the first bout of fighting, all is peaceful for a while and the story falls into describing daily life of the tribe. Then the chief has to go confront dangers again, leaving behind his daughter and the pony Star. The girl misses her father and wants to fight too, stoutly claiming that she can shoot arrows as well as any of the young men. She sneaks out in the middle of the night with Star to join the fighters, but gets lost and there’s several chapters of survival story as girl and pony traverse a desert region, return alone to find the camp deserted, fight off coyotes, and then track down the tribe at their new location. I found the ending a disappointment- it made it seem like there was now peace between the Comanches and the white men. The tribe was relocated close to a fort for protection, the people now happy they could trade for new goods, that their children would learn the same things as white children, etc. It seemed too simple and optimistic to me.

This is one of those books I would have probably loved as a child- but I’m just too critical a reader as an adult. Not sure how accurate the cultural depictions of the Comanches are (they call themselves Quahada), but I feel like some of the animal behavior is off the mark. I liked reading about the wildlife the tribe lived among- the pronghorn antelope, the horned toads and birds. The chief’s daughter had a pet fawn and a captive bison calf. But did coyotes really hunt their prey in packs hundreds strong? Even as an exaggeration that seems extreme. The ponies all lie down on the ground to sleep at night, and when threatened the horses, antelope and deer all made circles to protect their young in the center- like musk-oxen. I’ve never read elsewhere of horses doing this. Don’t they usually just flee. I could be wrong though! but it was little things like this that kind of threw off the reading experience for me. That and the slightly stilted prose- I’m not sure if because it was written for children, or because the author was imitating how the Native Americans spoke English. And as always, I don’t mind when animals talk in stories, but it does annoy me when their understanding goes beyond reasonable. This one was uneven in that regard. Sometimes it made sense what the horses could comprehend, other times it didn’t.

Rating: 2/5
166 pages, 1964

A Novel of Australia 

by Nancy Cato 

Story of two women, mother and daughter, who worked as nurses in the far Outback during the late 1800\’s and early 1900\’s. The first woman, Alix MacFarlane, was eager to study nursing even though her well-to-do parents frowned on it- nursing wasn\’t considered a proper occupation for a lady then. She worked where she was needed in a few different remote areas, until fell in love and married. Then went to live with her husband\’s family on the father-in-law\’s cattle station. Where the livestock did poorly because of harsh conditions but the old man never wanted to give up. Still very much invested in nursing even though she didn\’t have a post, Alix started holding a clinic for the Aborignal people who lived or worked around the station- especially the children- which her mother-in-law really disapproved of. The second half of the book is mostly about Alix\’s daughter Caro (short for Caroline) who grows up on the cattle station then goes away to school and also becomes a nurse. And a pilot, when planes were new, relatively fragile things and women weren\’t expected to do such dangerous jobs. She becomes part of the Flying Doctor service, travelling back and forth across Australia to get medical care to injured and sick people living remotely. Reading about all that, and the medical cases (although they were very briefly detailed) was interesting. I also learned quite a bit about Australia and its landscape, how badly Aboriginal peoples were treated, and the country\’s involvement in wartime. The story overlaps both World Wars- affecting the characters very personally. This novel has a lot- medical crises, wartime, some romance, plane crashes, adventures, and just plain living. I was surprised at how common it seemed in this book for married couples to live apart- doctors living away from their wives for years on end, or how Alix traveled from the cattle station to a proper town when it was time for Caro to be born (so the father first saw his baby when it was several months old). I liked this book- and yet I just didn\’t care much about the characters. Some were nice decent people, others quirky or interesting, but the writing was just rather plain- lots of tell instead of show- so even when on occasion someone in the book died, I felt very little reaction. I\’m glad I read it but don\’t think it will merit a repeat.

Rating: 3/5              478 pages, 1989

by Tatiana de Rosnay

     This novel has two overlapping storylines, in alternating chapters (until near the end, when it drops to one perspective). The first is about a young Jewish girl who lives in Paris. It\’s 1942, and when French police come in the middle of the night collecting Jewish families on orders of the Germans, Sarah\’s terrified four-year-old brother hides in a secret cupboard in the wall of their bedroom. She locks him in and pockets the key, promising to come back when the police let them go. But of course, they never do let them go. Sarah ends up in a camp, eventually separated from her parents, suffering from hunger, deplorable conditions, and horrific sights. All the while desperate to escape and return to the apartment where her little brother is waiting in the dark. It\’s such a sad story. The other storyline is modern time, about an American-born woman Julia, who lives in Paris working as a journalist. She is writing an article for the anniversary recognizing the day over 10,000 Parisian Jews were taken from their homes, an event which most locals around her seem to want to forget. She has a hard time finding people who remember the day and will actually talk to her. Her research leads her to the names of Sarah\’s family, and then it turns out she has a personal connection to the apartment where the little boy was left in the cupboard. As the two stories continue to dovetail, Sarah trying to find out what happened to her brother, and Julia attempting to track down the remnant\’s of Sarah\’s family, there\’s also a lot about how Julia\’s marriage is slowly unraveling, and how her life is changed by her research into the events of sixty years ago.

I thought I wasn\’t going to like this one, honestly- I had the impression it was over-hyped back in the day when it was all over the book blogs. Actually, it\’s a good read, very heartfelt, and I\’m glad that the ending didn\’t have the final pat coincidence I thought I saw coming. It\’s been a long while since I read a Holocaust story. They\’re often hard for me to get through. This one was a fairly easy read and worth it.
Rating: 3/5              293 pages, 2007
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by Banjamin Capps 

     Story of a man who helped build the West. As a young man he was a sergeant in the Confederate Army in Georgia, saw nothing there for himself when it was over. Left his girlfriend in Tennessee and traveled West with a buddy to see if he could make a success of something. Ended up in the vast land of Texas (at least, it seemed endless at the time). Started out catching wild cattle and taming them for use, selling some, eventually hiring a crew of men and breeding cattle. Follows his endeavors through the years as he gradually took ownership of more land, improved his cattle stock (quite a few breeding experiments, one with imported beef cattle and another with bison) and eventually brought his sweetheart out to live with him. Must have been a rough life for her (not much from her perspective). Eventually Chance became known around the region as a cattle baron- but he always felt indignant at those who challenged his use of the land, owing to all the work he\’d done to build his ranch up from absolute nothing. As the book closes he\’s an old man, having watched the world change, a town grow up around him, the native americans and bison disappear. He\’s not apologetic for his part in that, either. There\’s some rough and brutal parts, a lot about the hard choices he has to make as a rancher, always trying to decide what\’s best for his animals and the land, even if others don\’t see it that way. 

Rating: 3/5                 261 pages, 1965

by Pearl S. Buck

I think this book may have sat longest unread on my shelves, and it\’s actually been there twice. I had a different copy and tried it a few times when I was in high school, didn\’t get far, re-shelved it. Weeded it out once, then after finding that I liked Peony, decided to give this a second chance when I came across another copy. 

This is about the Wang family, in China. When the story begins Wang Lung is a young farmer on his way to get married. It\’s an arranged marriage, with a woman who has been a slave in a wealthy household in the town. She\’s not beautiful but he\’s satisfied because she\’s a faithful wife, a hard worker, and bears him many children (promptly going straight back to work in the fields after each birth, without complaint!) The family survives through floods, drought, and locust plague. Every handful of years one or the other natural cause results in a famine and people around them starve. During one famine (so bad that people are literally eating dirt) Wang Lung takes his family south to a big city where they live in deplorable conditions, beg, and work at hard physical labor for very little pay. There\’s no way to get ahead, until unrest sweeps through the city. The homes of the rich are broken into, Wang is swept up with the mob and intimidates a terrified wealthy man into giving him handfuls of silver. Then they flee the chaos and return to the countryside. Wang uses the money to rebuild his house, and eventually buy more land. Soon he needs help with the harvest, eventually finds himself as a landowner instead of a farmer- with hired help and overseers, never actually working the fields himself anymore. He moves his family into the town. Being frequently idle now, he starts to explore the pleasures of the wealthy class- and dissatisfied with his wife\’s appearance, takes as second wife a much younger woman. He thinks that having success and money will ease all his troubles, but new problems arise instead- unpleasant relatives connive him into letting them live in his household, there\’s constant friction between his two wives, and his growing sons have their own interests- none of them really want to keep or work the land as he did. As the book closes, Wang is an old man and his sons are inspecting the fields, talking among themselves of selling the land that Wang had worked so hard for, and built the security of his family upon.
I can well see why The Good Earth is a classic. It\’s not very descriptive, the writing style is kind of plain- in the manner of he-said-this and they-did-that which usually bores me. But this was compelling nevertheless- I read it straight through in just a few days. In the end, I didn\’t like the main character Wang much- I felt like he sometimes made selfish or poor decisions, thinking of prestige and appearances more than I expected, when he came into wealth. In particular I felt bad for his first wife. Overall women are not treated well in this story. It\’s simply a fact that in the era and culture it depicts, girls were not valued and if the family was in need, they were often sold as very young children to be slaves or prostitutes. During the famine times some poor families quietly performed infanticide rather than see their babies suffer and starve. In this case I was glad of how sparse the prose is, reading about such hardships and terrible things people did to survive. 
The story really shows a broad spectrum of human character. It wasn\’t only what people stooped to when their survival was at stake, but also what they indulged in or did with their money when fortunes changed, that seemed to demonstrate what they were really made of. Or what they cared most about. I think that\’s why I liked and felt most for Wang\’s first wife. She was steadfast, never asked much for herself, saw and did the work required in hard times as well as good. Wang really was unkind to her in the end.
There\’s a sequel called Sons. I\’ll probably read it at some point. But I\’d have to be in the right mindset, this one takes a particular kind of mood to appreciate it.
Rating: 3/5                357 pages, 1931
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by Amor Towles

I tried very hard to like this book, because it was highly recommended to me by two family members, but I just can\’t get into it. I did read as far as the first passage my dad or sister marked (p. 96) and flipped through to read the other marked passages. It\’s full of elegant language, insightful and clever remarks, unflappable characters who meet awkward circumstances with dignity. It\’s about a gentleman who is placed under house arrest by the Bolsheviks in 1922. His crime -as far as I could tell- is writing some revolutionary poetry so he is spared being shot and instead condemned to live in a grand fancy hotel. For some thirty years. So he watches a lot of history pass by, gets to know the various hotel staff intimately, and some of the other guests, including a nine-year-old who first shows him the rooms in the basement and where to sneak to spy on meetings in the old ballroom. The story wanders all over the place, in past reminiscences and current musings to stories told and heard by others. All very rich and fine and sometimes amusing or insightful, but somehow boring too. I\’m sorry to say I was relieved to give up on it. Could just be wrong timing for the reader. It\’s popular enough I\’ll always be able to find a library copy if I want to give it another try someday.

Borrowed from a family member.

Abandoned                             462 pages, 2016

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