Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Book Buzz: Carry Me

Book Buzz: Carry Me

They say that history is bound to repeat itself. I once thought that true evil, the kind that happened in Nazi Germany, could not. The atrocities seemed so remote, so other-worldly that surely this era would live on only in the annals of history.  “Never again” has always been the refrain, a phrase that perhaps over time has lost its meaning.

Because we never imagined that things would be like they are today. 

Book Buzz: Carry Me

I’m not sure Peter Behrens knew when he was writing his devastating and gorgeous novel, Carry Me, that the story would resonate even more keenly in our changed political climate. For me, the parallels were too close to ignore.

Life hums along with its normal highs and lows. You discount the random occurrences of hate mongering. The racism, the violence against marginalized groups. It can’t get an worse, you tell yourself.

And then it does.

Carry Me

Based on a true story (which makes me love it even more), Carry Me is the love story and adventure of Karin and Billy, set in pre-World War II.  The book opens before the outset of World War I. Karin is the daughter of wealthy German-Jewish industrialist Baron von Weinbrenner, and Billy is the son of Buck Lange, employed by the baron as the captain of his yacht. Karin and Billy meet a small children at the baron’s summer house in the Isle of Wight. Billy’s parents serve as caretakers and the two families are close friends.

Behrens skillfully captures the idyllic life enjoyed by these families that is upended by the wretchedness of World War I. The families are separated. Buck is arrested under suspicion of spying for Germany and imprisoned for four years. Billy and his mother Eilin find a room nearby and struggle to survive as they wait for his release. Luckily, he does come home.

After the war, the two families are reunited in Frankfurt. The baron invites Buck to come live with and work for him again on the vast Walden estate as manager of his thoroughbred racehorses. Life settles into a calm routine. Karin attends boarding school and Billy studies locally. They see each other sporadically, just as friends, as kindred spirits.

Billy gets a good job at a firm in town and Karin is happily employed in the film industry in Berlin amidst the rumblings of anti-Semitism. But then … the sporadic skirmishes become more frequent, the harassment of Jews silently tolerated if not endorsed, neighbors’ backs are turned, doors are closed, and finally a full-blown reign of terror ensues.

Jews are stripped of their livelihoods and possessions. Karin’s job is taken away. The baron is targeted as an enemy. His house is ransacked and he is left with nothing. Jews are thrown into prison and taken to concentration camps. Those who are left are frantically trying to book passage on one of the ships departing for America or Israel.

In the mist of the tumult, Karin turns to her childhood friend Billy for comfort. They fall into a romantic relationship and he urges her to leave Germany with him before it is too late. Together they will explore the plains of Texas and New Mexico that have tantalized both of them growing up, he tells her, and then settle in Canada where they will live out their lives in peace.

I won’t tell you what happens, but the ending is an emotional, dramatic conclusion to this utterly captivating story. Kudos to Behrens for the detail and sensitivity with which his tale is spun. A remarkable achievement.

NPR has called Carry Me one of the best books of the year. I completely agree.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Carry Me. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected.

 I received a copy of Carry Me from Knopf Doubleday for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Leopard at the Door

January weather has been cold and a bit frightful, so snuggling up with my dogs (and my husband) and a good book has my activity of choice. With a fire roaring the fireplace (okay, it was gas) and the dogs curled up next to me, I happily attacked the looming stack of books next to my bed, one of which was Leopard at the Door, a novel so thought-provoking and timely I can’t wait to recommend it to my book group.

Book Buzz: Leopard at the Door

Written by Jennifer McVeigh (who you might recognize as the author of The Fever Tree), Leopard at the Door takes place in a British colony in Kenya in the mid-twentieth century. Across the magnificent and sweeping landscape of East Africa festered political and social tensions as the Africans came into conflict with the British colonists infiltrating their country.

Leopard at the Door

The protagonist is Rachel Fullsmith, a young girl whose British family settled in Kenya. When her mother died in a car accident, twelve year-old Rachel was sent back  to England to be raised by her grandparents, who imposed a strict and unaffectionate lifestyle. She yearned to go back to Kenya, and following her high school graduation, she returned.

What she found was a different Kenya from the one she had known six years before, both personally and politically. A new woman, Sarah, had come into her father’s life and taken over the household, with an imperious style that was shocking to Rachel. Her mother had always treated the Africans who worked for the family with kindness and respect. Under Sarah’s dominion, there was disdain and suspicion. Rachel’s father seemed powerless to go against Sarah’s wishes to get rid of servants who had been with the family for years. Rachel did not understand what had come over her father, and how he seemed to have given his soul to this woman so unlike her late mother.

Still struggling with that loss and confused about her place in this new constellation, Rachel felt her world crashing around her, unprepared for the tough decisions about family, loyalty and justice.

McVeigh does a superb job of creating the scene. You can feel the intense heat of the African sun, the screech of the monkeys, the rustling of the underbrush as a herd of zebras emerged. There was a palpable sense of danger, not just from the possible attack of a lion, but from political uncertainty and the threat of violence and betrayal.

The last twenty pages kept my eyes glued and provided an unexpected twist.

In her many travels to this area of the world, McVeigh researched the history of the Mau Mau Rebellion, a brutal uprising that took place from 1952-1960 and resulted in the deaths of thousands of Africans. I confess not knowing about this conflict until now. It is a terrible chapter of African history that should be told so that our understanding of international human rights violations can grow.

And with her gift of story-telling, McVeigh does exactly that.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Leopard at the Door. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of Leopard at the Door from Putnam for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Get Me Rewrite! Starting the Third Draft

Get Me Rewrite! Starting the Third Draft

I am writing a novel.

These five words have become my mantra, something I repeat silently to convince myself it is real. Not a dream, not a figment of my imagination. Not something I began and never finished.

This time I am getting ‘er done.

By putting it out there I am also making myself accountable. When “How is the book coming along?” is asked I don’t have to flounder around for a lame excuse.

It’s coming. I’m getting there. It’s moving forward.

“So after the second draft,” a friend asked me the other day, “your book is pretty much done, right?”

If only. But not by a long shot.

Get me rewrite.

Last fall I attended BinderCon, a writing conference for women. Among the many valuable sessions was a panel of four freelance editors, each of whom had worked in publishing for years. I was impressed with their knowledge and approach to helping writers make their book the best it can be. So after the conference I contacted one of them and I am working with her now.

I submitted my second draft to her and waited anxiously for feedback. Would she love it? Hate it? Biting fingernails, chewing the inside of my mouth, binge snacking: I engaged in every nervous habit I could think of.

Well, we had a phone call last week to discuss the book. There was good news and bad news.

Good news: she liked the story, thought the characters were well drawn, enjoyed the historical setting of the novel, and thought it would ultimately fare well with readers.

Bad news: a major rewrite is necessary.

Good news again: The rewrite is going to make it SO much better.

Before this feedback, I was having trouble seeing the forest for the trees. I was too close to the content. It was impossible for me to be objective.

With a few brushstrokes of her vision, she gave me clarity that I was unable to find on my own.  As I rewrite the second draft, I will:

  • Take a swipe at the number of characters. There were too many. “Beyond four or five major characters,” the editor told me, “people start getting confused. And it is really hard to make their voices unique.”
  • Narrow the time frame. The expanse was too wide, too Belva Plain. Instead of 50 or so years, now it will be five. And that’s enough.
  • Focus on the motivations of the characters. This has to be credible.
  • Intensify the drama. Make the precipice higher. This will make the reader want to keep turning the pages.
  • Be careful with the historical events. This is not a history lesson. Make the events part of the narrative but only in the context of their impact on the characters.
  • In each chapter, define where we are in time, what is going on with the family, and what significant event takes place that propels the story forward

These simple suggestions will eliminate many of the problems I had with the plot line and the development of the main characters. Instead of feeling angst, I feel a huge sense of relief – and excitement.

I will be deleting a huge chunk of my work, maybe even 50%. Perhaps some of it will return in another novel another time. A sequel, perhaps. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Onward.

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