Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Can This Marriage Be Saved? Let's Go To The Video Tape

There is good news for those of us who care about the health of marriages in this country! Ladies Home Jornal is taking their peerless monthly column Can This Marriage Be Saved to the web. For 57 years LHJ has been working their relationship magic in print and now they are bringing it to the illiterare, to that part of the populace too cheap to buy the magazine and to all those people who should be working at work instead of surfing the net.

My Mom subscribed to roughly 700 magazines while I was growing up. She would have one of us read her something from one of them while she folded laundry or made dinner or did any of the other millions of things that the Mother of eleven needs to get done in a day. Sister A's and my favorite thing to read to her was Can This Marriage Be Saved. The articles were divided into three parts: the wife's turn, the husband's turn and the counselor's turn. We used to fight over who got to read the wife's part. They always started the same way.
   " I don't know what went wrong for Tim and I ", said Janet a slim 41 year old, "It's as though we don't know each other any more." Janet sighed and wiped a quick tear from her hazel eyes.

To A and I that column was the ultimate in adult. It was racy. Married people were discussing  their sex life! It was  enlightening. Married people don't always like their stepchildren, not having enough money can make you fight, Mothers in law can be annoying, some people drink until they pass out, no one likes whiners, etc.

According to the magazine's editor, Sally Lee:
   We like to think of "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" as the original reality entertainment - a 'he said/she said' that lets spouses tell their stories to a therapist, who gives them advice and then reveals how the marriage turned out. It continues to be our best-read column, and we think the time is right to bring this modern, relevant concept to the web and other new-media outlets.

The first three webisodes are: Our Dog Is Coming Between Us (Feel free to supply the punchline on that one yourself), We Never Have Sex Anymore and His Mother Is Tearing Us Apart.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Favorite Flavia?

Oh Flower our Flavia is back!

Is that not lovely news? The first Flavia de Luce mystery, The Sweetness at The Bottom of the Pie was such a charm-fest. It was entertainment from end to end. Agatha Christie meets Are You There God? It's me, Madame Currie.

So the new Flavia mystery? It's called The String That Holds The Hangman's Bag. Another wordy, curious title. It's almost a paragraph on it's own. Interesting and you know there is a clue in there somewhere. Such a wonderful change from the usual three word mystery titles. Things like: The Vengeful Village, The Suicide Scones, Death for Debutantes, The Gardener's Grave, The Vicar's Victim, The Maiden's Murder, When Widows Weep or Next Stop... Death

This time around Flavia meets the teary eyed wife of Great Britian's premiere TV puppeteer. How they ended up in Bishop's Lacey and who ends up dead and why there's a Bronte obsessed German prisoner of war roaming around and more, more and more mysteries will all be taken care of for us by Flavia. Just relax and enjoy. Maybe have yourself a few of Flavia's favorite horehound candies. That's certainly what Inspector Hewitt should do given that Flavia is ahead of him at every turn even while she takes time to revenge herself on her tormenting sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. The older sisters try and convince Flavia that she is a foundling which is exactly what myself and my brothers and sisters did to our brother V. His birth certificate was a different color than the rest of ours so it seemed the natural thing to do.

One of the added treats of this new book is the fleshing out of the local village, Bishop's Lacey. Author
Alan Bradley introduces more of the eccentric and barely two steps ahead of Victorian times citizens. The population of Sweetness was quite small and though Hangman's is larger Bradley has maintained the feeling of intimacy even while giving us the start of a community. Very exciting. There is even a map!

As usual I see no point in going into the plot especially since this is a mystery. Eleven year old chemistry genius and sleuth Flavia is the star of this show and everything else including plot is secondary but still engaging. Flavia is one of the most original and likable characters I have seen in years. You and I, Flower, love her and so does fourteen year old niece O. Yet despite Flavia's and O's ages and the Nancy Drew trim size of the book I never feel as though I am reading a trussed up YA novel. That says a lot about Bradley's skills I think. To write something as well worn as a cozy mystery and have it appeal to such a wide age range (with no wizards or vampires in sight) without dumbing it down is incredibly uncommon.

I want at least 30 more of these fresh faced old school mysteries please. And by the way? On the Bradley's website the next 4 Flavia mysteries are listed! They are: Seeds of Antiquity, A Red Herring Without Mustard, Death in Camera and The Nasty Light of Day, I would like to wiggle my nose and have them all out tomorrow, but I'll pull my patience out of my pocket and wait instead.


P.S. The packaging? It's hardcover with a dust jacket. The illustration, the color choices, the typeface is all perfect but I was disappointed that the designers went with a jacket and no imprint of the cover on the book itself as they had done with Sweetness. The design of the first book added a lot to the post war feel of the book in my opinion. Oh well obviously those things did not effect my being mad about the book, right?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jonathan, Mr. Norrell and my old friend Sneelock

Let's see, if I were to tell you that a novel is Dickensian or Potteresque or fabulous would you read it? Is my word enough? Are those adjectives tempting enough? Incredibly Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell  is all of those things and more. Jonathan is a reader's joyride through magic, alternative history and pure leave your worries on the doorstep entertainment. It's true I have my word and the lab results to prove it. I read Jonathan back in the day when it first came out in 2004 and loved it, handsold hundreds of it and prayed for a sequel. Those prayers have yet to be answered, but I still hope.

Fast forward six years. I have yet again placed Jonathan into willing hands. Lovely and smart niece O (age 14) was the recipient. One of the best things about O (and there are many) is that she trusts my book recommendations. This did not happen by accident. This was My Plan. It has taken years or from birth really of my wheedling, nagging, cajoling and reading If I Ran The Circus (O truly is my old friend Sneelock. She wouldn't mind having a circus behind either.) 1,400 times in a two year period to make this all come about. Now all I have to do is to say to O, "I think you would like this", put the book in her hands and the deed is done. Said book will be placed on the To Read pile on her night stand. it is a blessing on mankind that I use my powers for good not evil.

O/Sneelock love, love, loved Jonathan. As well she should. While she was reading it she asked me lots of questions about what was going to happen that I refused to answered. Instead I asked her what she thought was going to happen and she had much to say. How lucky am I? I have this wonderful reader in my life. And. I was right, bonus #2. I had held onto my ARC of Jonathan (despite buying many copies of it over the years and gifting it to others) knowing that one day my little O would read it and relish it as much as her pushy Aunt. That ARC will be passed onto O's reading group (She and 5 friends have a reading group! Again, how lucky am I?) as their July choice. I'll let you know how that goes.

Being a participant to O's fulsome delight when reading Jonathan gave me the opportunity to relive my own enjoyment of the novel. Jonathan is one of those books that you wish that you could read again for the first time. I guess having O read it is as close as I am ever going to come to that wish.

The suspense of discovery that the author Susanna Clarke is able to squeeze into this book is remarkably intense. I am loathe to steal any of that away by detailing any the plot. All you need to know is that you will not want to put Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell down once you begin. So block out a nice chunk of time and settle in.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Ah Flower!

I love it when an old favorite of mine gets a new look and is brought back into print. This means I get to buy it again. I can't help myself. I need to have any book  that I adore in all forms with all different covers. If  this includes the chewable, chunky book I will buy that when available too.. Then my happiness continues because  I get to force the book into other people's hands. Force might be the wrong word, maybe I really nag it into new hands. Nag, force...tomatoes, tomaaatoes as long as the job gets done.

Recently Bloomsbury U.S.A. re-issuedThe Brontes Went To Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson. Originally published in 1931 to good reviews and good sales it's been around ever since in different editions. The edition I first read was the one Virago had available in the 80's. I bought it off a sale table and was thrilled. I had gotten a good deal on a new book and the book had Bronte in the title. I had never heard of the book before and I certainly didn't bother to read the synopsis on the back cover before I purchased it, why would I? Bronte is a magical word.

Funny. As it turns out The Brontes Went To Wollworths is not about the Brontes at all. Who knew? It didn't matter. I was enchanted with it anyway. It's a lovely, picturesque, warm hearted novel set in London. The three Carne sisters. Innocents Deirdre, Katrine and Sheil have always had a vivid fantasy life. They live a bohemian chic life with their parent-ally absent Mother. When Mother gets jury duty Judge Toddington enters their games and stories. The sisters are delighted by the idea of the court and Toddington. However real life finally intrudes on the girls in the shape of Mrs Toddington. Will they grow up after all?

It sounds pretty slim doesn't it? It is but it is also charming and imaginative in the same way that I Capture The Castle is and the Betsy-Tacy novels are. Brontes is a coming of age novel in an age that probably never really existed, but that doesn't diminish your enjoyment of it. I can't tell you how many times over the years I've thought about Deirde's summing up of her least favorite type of book, “How I loathe that kind of novel which is about a lot of sisters. It is usually called They Were Sisters, of Three-Not Out, and one spends one’s entire time trying to sort them all, and muttering ‘Was it Isobel who drank, or Gertie? And which was it who ran away with the gigolo, Amy or Pauline? And which of their separated husbands was Lionel, Isobel’s or Amy’s?’” and laughing. I have thought of it when reading and ---sorry to say--- when being told a tale of woe by a girlfriend.

The Brontes Went To Woolworths is part of a new publishing program that Bloomsbury is calling its Bloomsbury Group. These are out of print books recommended for re-issue by readers. This link is from the U.K. site, I couldn't find a comparable U.S. site that would show all of the titles on one page but these titles are available in the U.S. Take a peak. They all look interesting and there is an address where you can suggest other titles for this program so as long as I am nagging let me tell you to do that too! Of course it's even easier to have your local, independent bookstore get them for you.

Happy to push my opinion.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

See You In December...

We know how much I heart the historical novel, correct? So what am I to do when one of my favorite historical novelists decides to enter the twenty-first century? The book in question takes place in 2007, but even I cannot count that as historical. I have to trust. But. What if this means that Sebastian Faulks has given up historical for contemporary? traded in his fountain pen for a Bic? I don't want to borrow trouble. Maybe I should focus on  my hearting A Week in December and  move on.

A Week in December is an ambitious state of the state novel. Faulks uses desperate characters to gage modern, 2007 Great Britain. There are investors, lawyers, a young Scottish Muslim terrorist in training and his Horatio Alger Father, a subway driver with a secret identity, a book reviewer out to destroy a colleague, a stoner whose second addiction is reality TV, the wife of the youngest MP, a professional soccer player, ---deep breath---and more. The more being all the people that the main people have in their own lives. You may need to keep a chart going or if you have recently read any Trollope your name memory will be already at it's peak and you'll be good to go. Faulks goes back and forth between the characters giving each equal weight. Keeping the reader in flux like this also adds to the tension for even the most passive character. Trying to anticipate how all of these plots will finally dovetail and play out is exciting.

The amount of research that went into Week shows. Sometimes a little too much as with the control hungry financier, Veals. This part of the novel had as much information in it about how markets work as The Wall Street Journal. The subway lawsuit had all the bells, whistles, health and safety issues in play but in a more integrated into the storyline manner. So too the seamy side of book reviews is exposed. I have to say having worked with books forever Tranter's career of negative reviews and his wrecking ball pursuit of the posh, up and coming, old school Sedley had me laughing. The seduction of the young student into extremism was very interesting. There were endearing characters as well. For instance the pickle king, Farooq al-Rashid is a joy. His preparing for his investiture with the OBE and wanting to be a worthwhile conversationalist for the Queen was a very sweet crack up. Faulks gives you enough history in the characters to be well invested in their futures.

At it's heart A Week In December is a contemporary version of the 1932 classic play, Dinner at 8 by   George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. In both works we follow characters that are specific to their careers, stations and time periods in life until at last they all collide at a pretentious dinner party. Week is no worse for having such strong roots. Sebastion Faulks may not have met every single ambition he had for this novel squarely on the head, but he hit most and with good writing, an enlightening perspective and humor. As much as I hate to admit that Faulks has done well in a modern day setting I am forced too. Oh well. There are worse things than being pleasurably absorbed by what you are reading, right?


P.S. Why waste this oppertunity to tell you that as well as reading A Week In December you should also  see the 1934 movie version of Dinner At 8 . It is a wonderful movie. It could not have been better cast.  Of course the dialog is great, not one wasted word. Everyone in it is a joy to watch and professional scene stealers. The one person who stands out the most for me every time I see the movie is   Billie Burke. She does an amazing job of going from frantic, self centered society hostess to loving wife beautifully, Love it.

Thank you Doubleday for the reader's copy of  A Week In December!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Angels and Free Men


I have an issue. My issue is if a novel is about a war between angels and humans isn't that a super natural novel or horror or fantasy novel? It certainly isn't a regular boy meets girl or family builds business or pioneers settle in Kansas or parent loses child or spy verses cabal or allies verses Nazis fiction, correct? The fantastical element of angels on Earth takes this novel away from the realistic wouldn't you say? I would and I do and yet there is no mention of this description in any of the information coming from the publisher. Why I wonder? Is this another instance of Atwood-itis? We aren't supposed to acknowledge that Margret Atwood writes science fiction occasionally because that wouldn't be literary. The snobby side of this is off my chest and that makes me feel better and ready to discuss Angelology by Danielle Trussoni.

Angelology is not about good angels. Don't read this title and imagine Raphael's adorable cherubs pondering the world  or picture those cute little Fiorucci angels--with or without the sun glasses. Neither of them is going to show up in this read.
  Genesis 6:5 it says "There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them." That seems to be the spiritual starting point for what we are asked to believe in Angelology. That there are angels that mated with humans (and are still doing so) creating a race of Nephilim. For centuries these creatures have sought to dominate mankind and perpetuate war. Now however their numbers are dwindling and the commitment to the goals of their ancestors is weakening One family among them is determined to reignite the Nephilim's power over man and regain the purity of their race.

The Nepilim have been hunted by angelologists desperate to stop them for as long as they have existed. Into the fray comes Sister Evangeline. She is a convent raised (having unknown to her lost her parents in this struggel) 23 year old nun at St. Rose convent in upstate New York. Tusssomi spends a lot of time establishing the maturity, devotion and trustworthiness of Sister Evangeline but despite all that It happens. Evangeline, upon finding an intruder in the convent, experiences the not very inspired but classic Out Of Character Moment to which many thrillers fall pray. She does nothing to stop the intruder. Rather she helps him by giving him the vital information he seeks and that she promised a much respected elderly nun mere pages before not to reveal. ~~~Insert organ music here~~~Now the bond between hero and heroine is established and said heroine can join the fight. Despite this one lackluster moment for Evangeline and the author, Evangeline is an intelligent and compelling heroine worthy of our loyalty and reading devotion.

Trussoni does an terrific job in creating a complete mythology for Angelology. The writing is assured and controlled. The good guys and bad guys have fully realized histories, understandable motives and a great deal of charisma. The plot runs steadily along in spite of frequent stops for the back stories that add richness to the novel. Angelology is an exceptionally strong super natural thriller wrapped up in a very interesting epic. It has the ancient secrets of Catholic Church interest of The Name of the Rose and Da Vinci Code, the determination of the Innocent to understand her parents and family as in The Historian and the suspense of La Carre but it is no weak sister to those creations. Angeloloy has an inventiveness and attitude all it's own. DanielleTrussoni can write beautifully whether describing the life within a convent or a battle between titans. Bravo!


What Flower?

What's that you hear? Oh I know. It's more accolades for my girl Hilary! Wolf Hall ~~contented sigh~~ has won the National Book Critics Cricle Prize for Fiction. Another award? How boring---for all the non-winners! Congrats to my Hilary!

And? I just visited her U.S. publisher's website and what do you think? No mention of her having won the award. Shocking. Yet another reason she needs to change publishers. I would hope that the sales reps for that publisher (Henry Holt by the way distributed by Macmillan) are reaching out to their stores with the good news. I know my old rep Ellen would be, but sometimes or most of the time publishers just cannot get out of their own way.

Happy for Hilary

P.S. I still don't think much of this cover. We'll see how they do with the paperback cover.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What A Wonderful, Wonderful Book

Flower, my old chum.

Are you a re-reader? I am and I'm not. I do periodically re-read classics with a capitol C novels, but books written in the last one hundred years? Not so much. Maybe one or two titles? One of them recentlywas AYear of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I read Year when it first came out in 2002 but not since. I have been pairing down on my books recently dividing my home into keepers and library fair donations. So when I found Year in between a book on tapestry weaving (keeper) and Barbara Walkers Treasury of Knitted Stitches volume 2 (Keeper!) my first instinct was to keep it but I decided to have a re-read to be sure.

Insert loud and heart felt DUH here. How could I have doubted?

Year is magnificent. Simple as that. It's based on a true story. At the height of the Bubonic Plague an English village lead by a charismatic minister quarantine's itself in an effort to keep the plague from spreading to other villages. Brooks tells the story from the point of view of the maid to that minister, Anna. Anna is an eighteen year old widow with two sons. When she takes in a tailor as a lodger it is his flea infected fabrics that begins the infection in the village. At first a follower through education from the Minister's wife and her own bravery Anna becomes a savior for the village when others have abandoned the ideals of the quarantine. What starts out as a kind of act of heroism by creating the quarantine ends as an extraordinary test of self will and sacrifice.

Crammed with detail and intelligent writing, Year is also a page turner and moving. re-reading it I was reminded of how much I loved the first time I read it. It's definatley a Keeper until I find someone to force it on to. Year of Wonders is too good not to share.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Major League


I am boring. Not boring as in when H pointed to the local hospital and told his twin S that he was "boring there". To which S replied, "I know. I was boring there too and I saw you." I mean staid boring. I like convention. I like good storytelling written in words not in pictures. I like good writing that allows me to discover and doesn't tell me everything. Sometimes this means that a large, big questions kind of novel like The Surrendered is what I am reading and adoring and sometimes it is a small scale slice of a kind of life that never really was charmer like Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

Major Pettigrew has retired to Edgecombe St. Mary. He is an upright, do the right thing, lover of literature and widower. To the village he is all that is good about the green and pleasant land incarnate and he's a catch. In a vulnerable moment after the sudden death of his younger brother Bertie he receives the help of Mrs Ali. She is the owner of the local food shop, a lover of literature and a widow. Their friendship starts to bloom into love. Alas there are problems. Problems with relatives, inheritances and the village. Although the Major was born in Pakistan and Mrs Ali was born in Cambridge the village sees color and class and a romance just isn't going to fly. between their Major and the outsider.

This book is convention from end to end and I loved it. Major is packed to the gills with charm, doing the right thing, humor and wonderful storytelling. First time author Helen Simonson has written a fresh as a daisy old fashioned novel. Fans of Alexander McCall Smith, Barbara Pym, John Mortimer and The Sweetness At The Bottom of the Pie will delight in  The Major's Last Stand. I want Ms Simon's next book to be done tomorrow and in my hands the next day.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Long Song Is Not Long Enough

Flower, do you know that Andrea Levy's novel Small Island has been dramatized for Masterpiece Theater? It will be on, check your local listings, in April. How great is that? Did you further know that not only did Small Island win the Orange Prize but it was also the book voted the best book to ever win the Orange Prize. The old Double Whammy.

Levy's new book is Long Song. It's out already out in the UK--where my copy came from via friend Simon--and it's due out here in April. I am predicting that it will outsell Small Island and why shouldn't it? It's an even better book. This is Levy's fourth novel and with each one her writing gets more powerful and more assured. Her imagery is stronger and her plots tighter.

According to the foreword Long Song is the story of the Mother of the book's editor. That touch of fiction creates a faux authenticity to the novel that works perfectly. Long Song is set in early nineteenth century Jamaica in the years just before and after slavery was abolished. July is a slave on the sugar cane plantation, Amity. She was born to work herself to an early grave in the sugar fields, one of anonymous hundreds of thousands doomed to the same fate. That fate is thwarted by the plantation owner's deceptively dizzy sister, Caroline. She is given July and makes her a part of the upper crust of slavery, a house slave. This promotion does not mean that July is no longer in a brutal and merciless environment with no hope of escape. She is treated how ever the whims of her owners dictate. One day she's a pet the next day she's a victim but she is always human and far from a saint When Caroline marries a charismatic English abolitionist long on looks and short on ideals the dynamic between July and Caroline becomes even more interesting.

Levy is traveling on well worn ground with a slavery story. There are gargantuan shoes to fill or at least get measured up against. There is Beloved, Roots, Gone With The Wind, Jubilee and Sacred Hunger to name just a few. More often novels about slavery are salacious, exploitative cheese fests.  Long Song has the commanding literary power of the best slavery fiction but it also has Levy's humor. She is able (especially in July's scenes with her son the "editor" of this book) to give her characters a sense of humor without trivializing their experiences or minimizing the relationships between slave and master. In fact the moments of life affirming levity underscore the sufferings of the slaves.

Long Song could not be more impressive. The daily life, the blight of slavery, the caprice and cruelty of the slave owners, the tiny seconds of happiness, the Baptist War and the incredibly solid characterizations-- everything is pitch perfect. Andrea Levy will be short listed for everything this year and have the grattitude of any reader who steps into her remarkable novel.


P.S. The cover of the UK edition of Long Song is very similar to the US edition. The both have an Art Nouveau feel to them that is attracktive, but doesn't tie into the time period of the novel. The UK edition was released jacket-less which I like.a great deal.

And! Don't forget that Small Island is available now and Long Song will be available in April and you can get both at your local and serving the community independent bookstore.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Losing Nelson


Blame it on Chang-Rae Lee. If I hadn't read the perfection that is The Surrendered my reading choices would have been more varied. If Surrendered was less than it was I could have picked and started anything after finishing it, but was that good and you can't follow a future prize winning novel with just any old thing. If you do you get caught up in the nothing-is-as-good-so-let's-not-finish-this-book-and-try-another-instead cycle. You do not bust out of that one until you get another pearl beyond price and how can you count on that happening any time soon? You can't. The odds are against it happening.

So what's a reader to do? Fall back on a book by a beloved author that you have not read yet. This is the kind of problem solving that I do Flower. What author saved the day? Barry (my secret crush) Unsworth. The author of my dreams to my rescue. I had saved Losing Nelson for just such an occasion. When an author reaches the If He/She Re-Wrote The Phone Book I Would Buy It And Read status I have to save one of their books, unread, for an emergency or their death reading purposes. In this case it was an emergency but the in case of death situation is something I plan for. There is also the author is already dead so keep one of their titles virginity intact for later reading. A good example of this for me is Charles Dickens. He's been dead for longer than I've been reading so when I went full on into Dickens in my teens I saved Barnaby Rudge as my un-read Dickens. It is still ready for me to read when I get to the point that I cannot stand not having read a new novel by Charles Dickens to read. So far I'm ok since I re-read the other novels of Charles so often.

In Losing Nelson, Charles Cleasby leads a completely orderly life. It is a life where "...habit is safety, without habit we would all just flop around and die". His most constant habit is Lord Horatio Nelson. Cleasby is a knowledgeable but loony wanna be Nelson biographer. Everyday Cleasby relives Nelson's life. The battles, events and non-events of Nelson's history govern his own. He has constructed a calendar of Nelson's life and follows it, even takes holidays on the days of Nelson's greatest victories, religiously.

There are, occasionally, intrusions on Cleasby's obsession. Miss Lily, Cleasby's assistant, refuses to see Nelson as the perfect hero.Then there are the members of the Nelson Club who are more interested in drinks and two hundred year old gossip than the perfect man. There is fabulous humor in the Club scenes and in Charles' imaginings of Emma Hamilton. Cleasby himself cannot get past a particularly savage moment in Nelson's history. This has stymied the progress of his glorious biography. The biography where suddenly references to Nelson are becoming "I" and "we" instead of Nelson or him. This is were you realize that Losing Nelson is a part historical fiction part intense thriller.

Barry Unsworth has a shelf of brilliant novels behind him. In all of them history, static already written history is what will undo the living. Immersed headlong into intelligent writing you're never allowed to be sure whether or not it will be Cleasby's undoing. This is another exceptionally impressive novel by Unsworth. He is a gift.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An All Ready High Bar Has Been Raised

Hello Flower.

I think I have read one of the novels that will be on everyone's top ten list next fall,  The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee. Are you thinking that given Lee's track record: Native Speaker, A Gesture Life and Aloft that I am going out on a tiny, tiny limb? Well I would agree with you if The Surrendered was the spare, wonderful portraits that those novels were, but it is not. Surrenderd is a Grand Scale novel. It is a quest for redemption, a search for survivors looking for forgiveness..

The novel is told in flashback and that works perfectly for this book. As you meet the characters you are charmed by their imperfections. You fall in love and dread the revelations to come. June is a Korean War survivor. At age 11 she and her family were forced by the War to abandon their home. They struggled to make it to safety at a relatives house but along the way June lost her family one by one Hector is also a survivor of the Korean War. He was an American GI immersed in the carnage until discharged. Blaming himself for the death of his Father back home and not having anywhere to go he stayed in Korea. June and Hector's lives intersect for the first time at a Korean orphanage. There they meet Sylvie. She and her minister husband run the orphanage. Sylvie has her own tortured past having witnessed the Japanese kill her missionary parents in 1934 Manchuria. All three people have already survived horrendous experiences leaving them more damaged then they realize. This leads to a time bomb relationship between the three characters.

I am not going to go beyond this small explanation of plot. This has given you the most basic of starting points. I could go on to describe more of the storyline but that list would do nothing to convey the vivid intensity of those same events written by Lee's elegant pen and broad range. My list would come off as melodrama whereas that kind of storytelling is completely removed from this novel.

I have been a fan of Chang-Rae Lee for years and from the moment I heard he had a new book coming out I was excited (thank you Penguin USA for the reader's copy!) to read it. The Surrendered is a whole new start to Lee's already accolade filled career. He has produced something with all the masterful control of his earlier introspective novels and added the complex and universal themes of survival, heroism and the psychological destruction's of war. Lee has taken his character's 30 year heartbreaking road to redemption and created an engrossing and affecting book. The Surrendered is a big, ambitious and triumphantly well written novel.