Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: Rose Under Fire

Sometimes a fictional world is too rich to want to give up. I adored Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, the story of a female British spy captured by the Nazis in World War II France, so completely that I reread most of it as soon as I had finished the book. Fast forward to this summer, when I managed to get my grubby hands on a copy of its not-quite-sequel Rose Under Fire, and I cried the same stupid-ugly tears (although maybe not quite as many) that I had for Code Name Verity. Ultimately, though, I found Rose to be lacking when held up alongside Verity,

Rose is an American who has volunteered to fly for the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying damaged or recently repaired planes around England (yes, the same ATA that Maddie flies for). Through a variety of events, she ends up captured by the Nazis and taken to Ravensbruck, a women's concentration camp in Germany. She is housed with a variety of women, mostly Polish and Russian political prisoners. This is notable because there are so many Holocaust novels out there, and there are relatively fewer about the people who were put in camps because of things other than being Jewish.

Rose certainly doesn't have the worst time at Ravensbruck, but its not like its a cakewalk either. A rather important character from Code Name Verity shows up at the camp, and Rose talks about her without knowing a fraction of the things she's done. But while Code Name Verity left you wondering what was going to happen to Verity, you know fairly early that Rose is fine because of the way she's writing her story. All in all, this is just another World War II book, but it also happens to have links to the wonderful Code Name Verity that make it interesting to those who have already read the first book.

Rose Under Fire could be read as a stand-alone book, but you'd get so much more out of it as a companion. If you only have time for one WWII book in your life right now, opt for Code Name Verity, which is much more inventive and emotional.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Donna Tartt and The Goldfinch

When I say I was excited for Donna Tartt's new book, The Goldfinch, that's something of an understatement. I'd been dying to get my hands on the book since the moment I heard about it. Her first book, The Secret History, is probably the book I've read the most times (well, adult book. Madeleine L'Engle probably has more rereads for me.), and I end up rereading it every few years.

So I was also a little worried about getting my hands on the new book. I still haven't read her second book, The Little Friend; I had heard such abysmal things about it that I didn't want it to ruin The Secret History for me. That's how much I love The Secret History.

The Goldfinch, however, does not disappoint. It is still VERY different from Tartt's first book, but the fluid prose is still there, painting gorgeous pictures with every sentence. The Goldfinch follows Theo, a boy living in New York City, as he deals with profound loss and inescapable confusion. The title of the book refers to a painting that Theo sees on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the beginning of the book, and the painting itself is as much a character throughout the story as any other.

With this novel, there have been countless comparisons to Dickens for Tartt, and deservedly so. This reminded me specifically of Great Expectations, where minor characters from the beginning show up near the end, having moved things in much more important ways than you could ever have guessed. The cast of characters is large and varied, and Tartt deserves accolades just for keeping all their voices straight in such a spectacular way.

Now, did I really enjoy this book? I'm not sure if I can say yes to that. I felt like I was slogging through it at times, and I definitely felt it could have been pared down a bit. Of course, any book with almost 800 pages will feel a bit like that.

However, I am left thinking about this book. It hasn't left me in the weeks since I read it, which is rare for me. I don't think I'll be able to shake the mood of this book for a long time.

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear Donna Tartt speak at Wellesley Books. I was in a pretty terrible mood when I got there, and some comments one of the booksellers made and the fact that Ms. Tartt wouldn't sign any backlist (ie The Secret History) left me in an even grumpier mood. However, hearing Donna Tartt read a passage from the book and talk about her writing process was wonderful. She knows the book so well that it was almost like watching a one-person play. It was also clear why it takes her 10 years to write a book, as her speech does not have the clarity or fluidity that her prose does. But she spoke at length about loving writing from a young age, and it is clear to anyone who has read her books that she absolutely does love writing.

The Goldfinch may seem like a challenging book to many, but I would definitely recommend it. The quality of the prose is superb, and like I said, it's a book that will stick with you for a while.