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Book 17 Completed

March 17, 2010

I don’t think this book is for everyone — even me, Speedreader McSpeedinstein, couldn’t really fly through the prose. There are two reasons I think people should read this with caution. 1) It’s depressing beyond all depressing things. I’m not sure if it’s the most depressing thing I’ve read, but it might be. And you all know that I have read some depressing stuff. 2) It takes some serious effort to muddle through the multiple story lines and characters. So much so that at the end, I was genuinely confused when a bad guy turns out to be a good guy. I actually needed the “Character Map” in the front of the book to guide me through the lengthy list of people (complete with aliases (yes plural), German names, Italian names, nicknames).

BUT this book is for me — it did remind me of those books I fell in love with in junior high and I was riveted with the story until the last page.  It’s a densely plotted character driven historical fiction; the tapestry rich, the developing story equally poetic and heartbreaking. Some critics say that the story is bland. I didn’t think that at all. I think the story is purposeful. It’s not presenting a hyped-up fictionalized account of the war-resisters in Italy. This book is reality.  

Mary Doria Russell admits that she literally flipped a coin to decide the fates of her characters — live or die. I don’t know which side of the coin she picked for “die”…but if she could somehow harness those odds, I’d say she has a fine future in gambling. This is not a “feel-good” World War II novel. This is not a “Well a few Minor Characters will Die, but We’ll Keep Most of Your Favorites Around” novel. This is a war novel. This is a book that displays in potent clarity the gruesomeness and dangers of evil — it puts guns in the hands of children, it shoots pregnant women in the back with machine guns, it leaves children orphaned, young brides widowed. 

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about the first time I watched “Schindler’s List” — this might be a repeat story, but forgive me, I’m forgetful like that — but I had the same feeling during this book that I did while watching that movie: I was curled up into a ball, my hands over my face, fingers splayed ever-so-slightly. Every time I saw a gun, my body would go rigid and I would anticipate death. You can’t walk out of “Schinder’s List” without feeling spent, used, emotionally exhausted. I would put A Thread of Grace and Spielberg’s movie together — what happens in war? What will people do to save others? 

And the most powerful thing to do once you finish a book like this is to reflect upon your own life: What would I do? What would I have done? And what can we do to help the victims currently trying to survive against persecution and genocide?

This book made an indelible impression on me. I intend to hand my copy to someone soon and say, “Read this book. Experience these stories.”

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