The Absolutist by John Boyne – Book Review

The Absolutist by John Boyne
Published by Other Press

It is 1919 and Tristan has survived WWI – at least bodily.

“I may not be buried in a French field but I linger there. My spirit does, anyway. I think I’m just breathing, that’s all. And there’s a difference between breathing and being alive.” -p. 137

Now that he is physically safe and has had some time regain his bearings in life outside of war, Tristan is on a mission to meet with the sister of a man he once served with. Ostensibly he wishes to return to her the letters she sent Will while he was enlisted, but in reality there is more to it than that; Tristan has a secret that he can no longer keep entirely to himself.

I actually believe that it is better not to know too much about The Absolutist going into it. Tristan’s story unfolds gradually, alternating between his trip to see Will’s sister and his time in training and on the battlefield. The Absolutist is about Tristan and Will’s relationship, the horrors of war, and the attempt to recover mentally from what one sees in war.

Boyne’s writing is beautiful, and he drags the reader immediately into Tristan’s world and life. The Absolutist is mesmerizing and difficult to put down, the reader can feel Tristan’s pain and the secret he harbors almost bodily, but Boyne still manages to keep The Absolutist from turning into  a morass of sorrow and pain.

The Absolutist is an absolutely beautiful, painful, and moving novel of war and humanity and I very highly recommend it.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source:Publisher, for BOOK CLUB .
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau – Audiobook Review

The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau, narrated by Simon Vance
Published in audio by Tantor Audio; published in print by Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin

Synopsis:

After the destruction of his home and death of his family by a rogue U.S. military operation, Jonas leaves his unnamed Muslim country to start a new life in the United States. Only fifteen when he first moves, Jonas has a fair amount of anxiety stemming both from trying to adjust to living in a new place, and from what he went through in the time immediately after the attack. Mandated by his school to see a counselor, after beating up another boy who was giving him a hard time, Jonas begins to open up, although slowly. A story comes to light about a soldier, Christopher, who saved his life after the attack, a soldier who never made it home and whose body was never found. After Jonas spends time with Christopher’s mother, a woman who has created a support group for families of missing soldiers, the reality of what happened begins to fester inside him, until he cannot help but let it out.

Thoughts on the story:

The story Dau is telling is particularly affecting. Interestingly, Jonas, the main character, is held at somewhat more a reserve than Christopher, whose words come to us only from a journal he left. Jonas is clearly damaged by what happened to him before he was brought to the United States as a refugee, it shows in his behavior both in high school and college and with his girlfriend. Christopher, too, was damaged by his time in the war. His journal shows a man who knows that much of what he has done is wrong, but can’t see that he might have acted any other way, due to the psychological pressures of dealing with an unhappy occupied populace. Their damage and experiences make their time together after the attack particularly unusual and poignant.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I tend to really enjoy Simon Vance’s narration, but I’m not entirely sure that The Book of Jonas was his best work. For one thing, he seemed to rush the story a bit, many sections would have been better served had he simply slowed down, and the American characters were not always easy to distinguish from one another. Of course, Vance being not at the top of his game is still much better than many narrators, but I did find his performance slightly disappointing because I felt that he could have done better. An additional hurdle for the audiobook listener is the addition of what I believe was Christopher’s journal woven throughout the story. Although Vance’s narration of Christopher’s point of view is easily recognized, it isn’t entirely clear for much of the book where this perspective is coming from, which may bother some (although certainly not all) listeners.

Overall:

This is definitely a book worth experiencing. It may be a bit more challenging in audio than it is in print because of the challenges conveying some of the book’s structure orally, but it can definitely work either way.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Home Front by Kristin Hannah – Book Review

Home Front by Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

Things have been difficult between Michael and Joleen Zarkades since the death of Michael’s father some months ago. Joleen knows what it is like to lose her parents, even before they died when she was 17 they were essentially gone, caught up in their own world with little time or energy left for Joleen. In her strength, Joleen chose to be happy, but that exhortation does not work for Michael, and her constant platitudes after his father’s death has left him feeling disconnected from and even resentful of her. For her part, Joleen is frustrated with Michael’s apparent lack of interest in her and their daughters. Things finally come to a  head when Michael tells Joleen that he is no longer in love with her. Before the Zarkades can decide to either work things out or end their relationship, Joleen receives word that her National Guard Unit – she is a former army helicopter pilot – is shipping out to Iraq for a year-long tour of duty.

Oh, the sobbing involved in reading Home Front! Hannah has crafted a story that is rife with emotion, and some particularly painful emotion at that: a marriage on the verge of breaking up, a mother leaving her children, children confused and scared by their mother going to war, a father trying to learn how to be a true parent to his daughters, and a woman facing the uncertainty of war. Some may find this surfeit of sadness to be emotionally manipulative – and this is somewhat hard to argue, as I cried intermittently for the first half and sobbed silently for essentially the entire second half. Still, I would tend to say that this is simply a story of a troubled marriage whose crisis point comes at a particularly inopportune time, combined with the real emotions of a family sending a parent to war. Hannah brings Michael and Joleen to life to an extent that their pain is incredibly easy to empathize with, and thus very emotional for the reader. What is particularly impressive about this is the fact that Hannah has created a story in which it is equally easy to commiserate with both Joleen and Michael.

This was my first experience with Hannah and it was a good, if draining, one. This is not a book to read in public (or perhaps in front of small children, Daniel was somewhat distressed about my tears), but it is definitely a book worth reading. Recommended.

If you have read Home Front, come and join the SheKnows Book Club discussion with author Kristin Hannah on Thursday, March 1 from 8 to 11 pm Eastern/5 to 8 pm Pacific.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for the SheKnows Book Club.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Damascus by Joshua Mohr – Book Review

Damascus by Joshua Mohr
Published by Two Dollar Radio

Love, sex, cancer, war, protest, and identity collide in a dingy bar located in San Francisco’s Mission District in Joshua Mohr’s Damascus. There is a surprisingly large and well-drawn cast of characters for such a short book. The lynchpin is Owen, the owner of the bar, whose livelihood makes the interactions of all of the other characters possible, and whose life is made somewhat miserable by the Hitler mustache-esque birthmark on his upper lip until he dons a used Santa costume to hide it from the world. Among the rest of the ragtag bunch is a divorced barfly nicknamed Shambles who has an unexpected connection with the unnamed man – referred to only as No Eyebrows for most of the book – who is dying from cancer. Rounding out the bunch are Owen’s niece Daphne and her protesting artist friend Syl, and Byron, the drunk Iraq War veteran Owen takes in temporarily.

It is impressive how vividly Mohr paints his characters, and how richly he weaves their stories in a book just slightly over 200 pages. Many of them have immense pain and anger in their lives, and have made non-conventional decisions, but even so they are beautifully alive, with enough humanity that readers in vastly different circumstances will still be able to understand where the characters are coming from.

Full of pain, anguish, and beautiful writing, Damascus may not be for the faint of heart, but it is perfect for readers who don’t mind having their heart torn out.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Author.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon – Book Review

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of Harper Collins

Always a strong and opinionated young woman, Kamila Sidiqi is not entirely sure what to do with herself once the Taliban overruns her home city of Kabul. She can no longer go to school, or indeed go outside with any freedom whatsoever. To make matters worse, Kamila’s older brother and father must flee to avoid being conscripted or punished by the Taliban and Kamila’s mother leaves with her father, leaving her five youngest children – nearly all in their teens – at home alone rather than risk their lives on a dangerous trip. As the oldest of the children left behind, Kamila is determined to do whatever it takes to care for her siblings, but to ensure that they are materially comfortable, she needs to find a way to make money, not an easy task since the Taliban will generally not let women work outside the home, or go anywhere without a male relative as an escort. Kamila is a resourceful young girl, however, and it is not long before she comes up with a plan: she and her sisters will become seamstresses, taught by their accomplished older sister who is married, but still lives in Kabul. All of the girls will work together to create the dresses, and Kamila will sell them to tailor shops in the market place. Clothing is, after all, one of the few items which people are still in Kabul.

I love portraits of people, particularly women, around the world, particularly when they show the strength of the human spirit through adversity. Looking at “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana” in that light, it was a fascinating book; Kamila and her sisters were incredibly brave and resourceful, finding a way to not only maintain their own household, but to provide work for numerous local girls and women as well.

Unfortunately, Lemmon’s writing and storytelling failed to captivate me. Everything seemed very flat. The danger inherent in their lives was stated, but never felt particularly urgent, nor was the political situation explored with much complexity, which disappointed me. The writing was very straightforward, but to the point where it, too, seemed to lack complexity.

“The Dressmaker of Khair Khana” failed to challenge me and, as such, I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly for adults, although people with particular interest in the lives of women in the Muslim world may find interesting. I do, however, think that this would be an inspiring and completely appropriate book for younger teens who wish to explore the realities of people in war-torn areas of the world.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher, via Net Galley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.