Women Writers Wednesday 7/22/15

Today’s review of some gripping historical fiction comes to us from Natasha Claire Orme. The book she has chosen is The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff.

THE KOMMANDANT'S GIRL

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I settled myself down over the weekend and decided to read The Kommandant’s Girl. It had been recommended to me by a friend, and because I had nothing else to do, I thought it would be a good idea. It’s not my usual kettle of fish. In fact, recently I’d gotten myself in a bit of a rut. So I started out a little sceptical, but perhaps thought it was time to change my ways.

A page or two in, I wasn’t really feeling it and I was finding it hard to focus on the story. Hours later, though, I closed the book and put it down, finished. I think this was one of the very first times I had sat and read a whole book in one sitting. And do you know what happened the next day? I went and found the sequel, sat down, and read that in one sitting, too.

The Kommandant’s Girl is the spellbinding story of Emma Bau, a Jewish girl in the Polish city Krakow during the Second World War. Forced to live in the Jewish Ghetto outside the city, Emma is eventually smuggled out by the Resistance to live with her absent husband’s cousin, Krysia. Under the pretence of caring for an orphaned Jewish boy, Emma, now Anna Lipowski, is given an offer she can’t refuse. She becomes the personal assistant to the Kommandant, the most powerful man in the city, and finds herself facing conflicting emotions.

This book is truly outstanding. Jenoff has a natural gift for storytelling and conveying human emotion. I loved Emma and how real she felt to me. The book, told through her eyes in the present tense, feels very real. The relationship that blossoms between Emma and the Kommandant is one of heartache.

Jenoff attacks the traditional issues of the holocaust and is even able to avoid the clichés associated with this period of history. She takes a hard look at the prejudices and injustices of the holocaust as well as the suffering and the helplessness. But these aren’t at the forefront of the story; instead they float around in the subplot and contribute to the overall atmosphere. The conflict and tension apparent throughout the novel is one of its main driving forces and will have you, as a reader, sitting on the edge of your seat. Each new chapter, each new page brings with it more chaos, more problems, and a greater amount of heartache as things go from bad to worse in Emma’s struggle to survive.

I was completely captivated by Jenoff’s style of storytelling and her detailed descriptions, an attribute to her experience as a historian. I loved the sense of adventure that she creates and the romance. For me, it was this forbidden romance that had the biggest impact. I loved the tenderness and the gentleness of the characters, particularly the Kommandant. He gave the impression of this dark and mysterious man who was worthy of admiration as well as fear. The dynamic between the couple felt electric and had me reading each page more quickly than the last.

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Natasha Claire Orme is a German-born Brit with a love for the unusual and a thirst for culture. She loves to explore in her writing and experiment with different styles. Her blog is full of insightful writing trips, food for thought, and encouraging tidbits from the best and brightest. She focuses her efforts on helping others better their writing and unlocking the mysteries of a novelist. She loves what she does and can’t stop writing. Her adventures and romances are what keep the day going! She’s a book addict and a petrol head.

www.natashaorme.com

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To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

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Women Writers Wednesday 7/8/15

Every now and then, we have a WWW guest post from a female writer who isn’t a published author in the traditional sense (that is, she doesn’t have a book out) but who does have a thriving and regular blog which she writes for. And even though it’s true that almost anyone can have a blog and slap some content up into the Interwebz, cultivating and producing a quality blog takes work, creativity, dedication, and skill. It’s not easy, no matter how easy it might look to someone else.

Today’s review comes to us from Nerija, whose blog Postcards from La-La Land is worth checking out. When I saw her review of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl there, I asked her to share it with the Women Writers Wednesday series, and she graciously obliged. What follows here is a longer/modified version of her review, which was originally posted here.

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I first discovered Fanfiction.net in early high school, while searching for evidence that Continue reading “Women Writers Wednesday 7/8/15”

Women Writers Wednesday 7/1/15

You’ve heard from Christa Forster on this blog before: during National Poetry Month she contributes to the Poem-A-Day series (in 2014 and 2015), and she’s done a WWW review before too.

Today she gives us a review of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, a book people seem to either love or hate (but mostly love) from an author who makes a walloping impression. I read Tartt’s The Secret History when I was in college and was profoundly affected. I read it many years later when I was teaching and was impressed it held up. It remains to this day one of my favorite novels. (Plus I can empathize with someone who takes a decade to write a book…)

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Donna Tartt has written one of the first great American novels of the 21st century: The Goldfinch. Her aptly-named main character — Theo Decker — alludes to the Nietzschean idea that not only is God dead, not only have we killed him, but we’ve wasted him, blown him away, stuffed any remaining shreds of sacredness into a padded bubble mailer and not even noticed when someone switched out our only miracle while we were zonked on drugs or booze or gambling or relationships or Facebook or whatever has enthralled us. With The Goldfinch, Tartt holds up a mirror to nature that is so cracked it is hard to keep looking: it’s especially alarming, because we don’t want to believe that we’ve doomed ourselves to the extent that we have.

 

THE GOLDFINCH cover

 

It is not a novel about climate change. It’s a novel about a boy who loses everything. Near the story’s end, Theo admits that “Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean that we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open.” The paradoxical tone of the novel — this bleak open-heartedness — divides people into two distinct groups: those who love it and those who cannot tolerate it. Lukewarm reports from people who “sorta liked” The Goldfinch are hard to find, maybe because the novel, at 771 pages, requires a hearty investment of time. Readers either finish the book and love it, or they don’t immediately love it and therefore don’t finish it.

 

The basic plot is this: Theo Decker’s life is devastated early on by a bomb attack on an art museum, wherein he and his mother seek shelter from a rainstorm and kill time before a scheduled conference with Theo’s school principal. The explosion suggests the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and although Theo walks away from the catastrophe physically unscathed, his soul forever after suffers from what the explosion steals from him (his mother, his sense that the world is an okay place). In addition to leaving with all his limbs, he also escapes the wreck with “The Goldfinch,” a small painting by the obscure Dutch master, Carel Fabritius. Unsure of why he’s taken the painting (described alluringly by Tartt), he frets about how to return it, taking so much time that he fears what will happen if he does return it. So he avoids returning it, but he cannot unknow that he has not returned it; thereby, he unwittingly commits one of the great art heists of the century, a fact which haunts him epically, but not enough to motivate him to return the painting. Tartt uses Fabritius’ painting as a MacGuffin to move the plot along and to complicate the conflict in the plot. However, as with all great stories, the characters keep the reader turning the pages. Along with Theo, an ensemble of major characters dominate the scene: Boris (Theo’s hardcore best friend, son of a Russian mobster); Theo’s duplicitous, rattled father and his skeezy girlfriend, Xandra; the blueblood, seemingly inbred Upper East Side Barbour family; the evil villain Lucius Reeve; the uber-mensch Hobie and his niece, the ethereal Pippa.

 

Certainly, The Goldfinch can be categorized as a dark novel, but also one that is certainly steeped in light. Anyone whose life has been touched by addiction — her own or someone’s close to hers —  will be amazed at Tartt’s knowledge of the subject matter. The main characters in this book abuse a LOT of illegal substances. One might even wonder if the twelve-year radio silence between the publications of The LIttle Friend and The Goldfinch wasn’t caused by Tartt’s own journey through a dark night of the soul. Regardless, Tartt has turned whatever baggage she’s carrying into a true treasure with The Goldfinch. This is literary fiction of the highest order (remember, it won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, the highest accolade a work of fiction can receive in America), which means that the characters are complex, conflicted, and psychologically profound; the settings (New York and Las Vegas) are saturated with symbolism; the atmosphere and mood are dense and tense, rendered with exquisitely-tuned concrete, sensory detail. As all classics are, Tartt’s The Goldfinch is a must-read for any writer — aspiring or seasoned — to learn or remember how and why the objective correlative matters, why and when the first-person/past tense point of view works best, what a MacGuffin is and how it advances a story’s plot.

 

Even a potential design-flaw, like the overabundance of times that Tartt’s characters wipe their foreheads with the backs of their hands, is absorbed by the gratifying experience of finishing the novel and the memory one has of the story and of reading the story. And perhaps, for those readers who persevere long and read closely enough to notice it, this ubiquitous brow-wiping is another example of the objective correlative at work in this novel:  Whew! Made it through the wreck this time. Hopefully, the next generation, and the next, will make it through, too.

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Christa Forster: Writer, Teacher, Performer whose goal is to make life more meaningful for herself and others through Education and Art. Follow her on Twitter @xtaforster.

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To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.