So, this book is on the New York Times Bestseller list. Sarah and I (my sister-in-law who read it aloud to me) are still trying to figure out why. There are parts of it I really, really liked, sure. The writing is brilliant and hilarious at times.
But I came out of it with so many questions. Also, it wasn’t at all what I expected from the start. Here’s this guy, Leo, who fell in love in Slonem, Poland right before the Holocaust. The girl got pregnant, was sent to New York City by her father, and had to marry another man to be able to feed herself and the baby. Eventually, Leo gets to NYC, too. So it’s the story of how they find each other 60 years later, right? Wrong. You find out pretty fast that she has already died. (I don’t consider this a spoiler, since it happens so soon in the story. I’m not spoiling; I’m helping you go in with better expectations!)
But I digress. Back to my questions: At the end Leo says that one of his friends, who he’s been talking about and interacting with pretty often, died in 1941. So… for the past 60 years he’s been imaginary? Or was he always imaginary? And what ever happens with Misha and Alma? At the end of the book, they still aren’t speaking to each other. And why doesn’t anyone care about clearing things up for Alma’s brother, Bird, who is extremely confused about everything? I realize he’s only a minor character, but really, it would have taken only a small paragraph to wrap that up.
And, of all things, since the whole point of the book is weaving all these characters’ lives together in amazing ways, why doesn’t the author have two characters recognize each other when they both went to the same art class at the beginning of the book (or so we’re led, hand-held, spoon-fed to infer)? Otherwise, what was the point of going to all the trouble to point out that both of them were there?
It just… didn’t make sense to me why so many of these things were left un-wrapped-up. There’s this thing called resolution. And stories need it.
Also, there was a lot of sexual stuff in this book. Not in-depth description; more the way little kids and teenagers think about those body parts because they’re curious and don’t understand. And the way old people do because… well, I don’t know why. But either way, it could have used a lot less of that. A majorly-lot less.
But, there was also a lot to love. Like all of the following quotes:
- “I tried to write about real things. I wanted to describe the world, because to live in an undescribed world was too lonely.”
- “…my eyebrows took on a life of their own, for a brief period achieving all anyone could have hoped for them, and then surpassing those hopes and approaching Neanderthal.” (I laughed for quite a while at this one.)
- “Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”
- “He learned to live with the truth [that his family had been killed in the Holocaust]. Not to accept it, but to live with it. It was like living with an elephant. His room was tiny, and every morning he had to squeeze around the truth just to get to the bathroom. To reach the armoire to get a pair of underpants he had to crawl under the truth, praying it wouldn’t choose that moment to sit on his face.” (Brilliant and hilarious narration, that.)
- “Sometimes I thought about nothing and sometimes I thought about my life. At least I made a living. What kind of living? A living. I lived. It wasn’t easy. And yet. I found out how little is unbearable.”
- “There are so many ways to be alive, but only one way to be dead.”
- “Now that mine is almost over, I can say that the thing that struck me most about life is the capacity for change.”
So, there was a lot to like, too. I really enjoyed the humor and those serious bits that made me think. But, overall… this is not a favorite of mine.