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February 19, 2021

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, by Cherie Jones

Do not let the beautiful cover fool you, or the setting in paradise: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, by Cherie Jones, is a brutal book, violent and disturbing, but there’s nothing gratuitous about the violence, and the storytelling is absolutely stunning.

It’s a story told in pieces about a group of people on a beach in Barbados, away from the pretty tourist snapshots. The night Lala gives birth to her daughter, her husband kills a white man in a botched robbery at one of those big houses on the beach, and so begins the story, but it also stretches back years and generations before it, with Lala’s mother and her grandmother Wilma, who’d been the one to warn Lala away from the caves on the beach “where bad man go when they die…men that are too bad to rest easy in their graves down in those tunnels harvesting souls for the Devil.” The sister in the story goes exploring anyway, because “what is the use of a tunnel if you don’t get to see where it lead?” And she narrowly escapes with her life, but she loses her arm, and Lala scoffs at that:

“Well I bet it not so bad having one arm,” says Lala. “She can still do things like everybody else, she can still get a husband and some children and a house.” / “Stupid girl,” says Wilma, “how she’s she going to sweep it?”

Sweeping a house is important when you live by a beach, for keeping up appearances, but it’s also a metaphor for the practical matters of day-to-day life, those things that provide safety and security, for taking care of oneself. And the women in this novel have all started out with disadvantages, as we discover as the story gets put together, piece-by-piece. What caused Wilma, her daughter Esme, and then Lala to be the way they are, the violence and trauma in their pasts which meant that they’ve never been able to count on anybody really, that their lives are tough and hardscrabble, and they’d take any avenue out of it, except that none of the avenues really tend to lead anywhere at all.

Take Lala, for instance, who ends up with Adan, who dotes on their baby, but beats her—he was her getaway from Wilma and her husband who’d preyed on Esme and driven her to her own sorry fate. And her connection to Adan’s friend Tone, which stretched back years, when she first discovered him working in the garden at the house her grandmother was cleaning, Tone suffering from something we don’t know what until the end of the book. Breadcrumbs, are what Jones offers her reader, clues and hints. The book is a mystery, but not in the conventional way, because we know who did it from the novel’s first pages. It was Adan in the big house with a handgun. But what happens next? And the way the rest of the story unfolds is tragic, mesmerizing, twisty and surprising, Jones managing a complex and nuanced treatment of even the most despicable characters (and her most sympathetic characters get to behave despicably).

There’s also the wife of the dead man in the big house, herself from the island and her husband had been her getaway, but now he’s been murdered and here she is, right back where she started. The police officer with the digestive issues who thinks he’s putting the pieces together, but the pieces are all wrong. The sex worker who’s fed up with the cop who’s been threatening to arrest her since she stopped sleeping with him. Tone, who’s been running his whole life and can’t catch a break, and it doesn’t look like his fate’s due to change anytime soon.

The ending of this book is devastating, but perfect. Literally uplifting, and I’d say spiritually as well, and it’s hardly heartwarming, but instead heartsoaring, propelled by the power of story, the magic of Cherie Jones’ characters and prose.

February 3, 2021

And This is the Cure, by Annette Lapointe

So you could pitch it like this: imagine every Miram Toews book you have ever read—A Complicated Kindness, Irma Voth, The Flying Troutmans, All My Puny Sorrows, Women Talking, Summer of My Amazing Luck, Swing Low, I mean everything—all packed together in a single volume. Which is only misleading, because it makes it sound derivative, which it isn’t. So how about this instead: former cult member turned riot grrrl writes a tell-all memoir and finds fame as house of a Canadian broadcasting culture flagship pop culture radio show after its former host (a noted sexual predator) flames out in disgrace, but then her past life comes back to haunt her when her ex-husband is murdered and her estranged 11 year-old daughter is returned to her care, which means she’s forced to confront her ex’s conservative, religious family and their disdain for her, all the while she’s trying to stay on her meds and keep as stable as possible as she avoids confronting the trauma buried in her past, which does not necessary lie where she thinks it does…and then her band goes on tour in Japan.

And This is the Cure is the third novel by Annette Lapointe, whose first book Stolen was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2006. I also really appreciated her second White Tail Shooting Gallery in 2013, writing in a blog post that the book, “baffled me throughout, disturbed and troubled me, but it also intrigued me, continually surprised me, never stopped me wondering what would happen next…” And the same stands for her latest, which I loved. A book that ostensibly should be too much—how can a person fit so many things into a single novel?—but which works, is eminently readable. Mostly because of Allison Winter, Lapointe’s stunning fictional creation, a woman who is shattered and still standing, flawed and perfect, terrified and brave, smart and ridiculous, loving and fierce, damaged and whole, missing and present. A singular creation: regarding her daughter as a baby, she says, “I’d happily have killed things for her, but I would have preferred her to stay at home, in someone else’s custody, while I did it… I’d have made a decent, if absent, father.”

She’s the trickiest narrator, withholding information about her story until the present drags it out of her. She’s also unapologetic with a ferocity that never wavers, and I love that. Her unreliability turns the novel into the most fascinating, many-sided shape, but her perspective is still a steady one, the compass point that guides the reader through so much stuff. A lesser writer would have had this whole book come off its rails, but Lapointe nails it, unbelievably. I loved it.

January 5, 2021

Our Darkest Night, by Jennifer Robson

In her first four novels, Jennifer Robson proven herself as a master of popular historical fiction, her books about strong independent women’s self-discovery against a backdrop of World Wars 1 and 2, weaving fascinating historical detail (Robson holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford) with scintillating narrative. Her books are huge bestsellers, and many writers, having achieved that kind of success, might determine that they’d found their formula and should probably stick to it, but not Robson, whose smash hit fifth novel The Gown did something a little different, set in 1947 as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, bringing to light stories of craftspeople who’d worked the embroidery on the wedding dress and posing vital questions about the devaluing of craft and art in general that tends to be created and appreciated by women.

And now, two years on, Robson—who: full disclosure, is a friend of mine!—has continued to demand more of herself as a writer and also of her readers, releasing Our Darkest Night, which I read on New Year’s Day and think is her finest novel yet. Set in World War Two Italy as Nina, a secular Jew, leaves her home in Venice to hide in the countryside, disguised as a the wife of Nico, a Catholic farmer, as Italy’s fascist government continues to escalate deadly laws targeting the country’s Jewish population—her father has already lost his medical practice, she is not permitted to study, local Jewish associations are being called on supply officials with lists of people they’re connected with.

And so Nina agrees to go, desperately missing home and her family, and Robson does a wonderful job of creating a beautiful dynamic between them of respect and friendship…that has the potential to blossom into something more. The goodness of both these characters and the relationship between them creating a necessary balance to the backdrop of their story, the cruel and brutal reality of racism, persecution, and genocide. Robson doing nothing to blur the sharp edges of the truth of these matters, their violence and devastation. This is not an easy read, but to make it so would be to dishonour the stories of the real people who lived through and were victims of the Holocaust. And how does a writer whose novels feature plucky heroines and smoochy covers manage to do justice to the weight of the history she is telling? But Robson does, deftly, gorgeously.

Nina isn’t plucky—she’s a survivor. And I was trying to think of what the distinction might be exactly, which perhaps is that she comes to the story without naivete and with such a profound sense of who she is and where she comes from—there is a gravitas to her boldness that makes her absolutely unpluckable. She’s a remarkable fictional creation, and Our Darkest Night is a masterpiece.

December 11, 2020

Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste is one of the smartest, most illuminating and important books I’ve read this year—or ever. A rich, engaging and fascinating text that draws a connection between India’s caste system, the Nazis’ plans for Germany’s Jews, and America’s racial hierarchy—matter-of-factly, she shows that India and America’s hierarchies are parallel, and also how the Nazis drew on America’s example for their own purposes, though there were certain examples where the Nazis wouldn’t go that far (one instance: the one-drop rule.) And just think of it—when the Nazis think you’ve gone too far.

Americans are not widely known for using examples of other cultures to better understand or even benefit themselves—see: the reasons people come up with as to how measures to fight Covid all over the world couldn’t work in a place like Nebraska; or how while public healthcare functions just fine in Canada, in Florida it would be impossible (I SPEND TOO MUCH TIME READING SOCIAL MEDIA COMMENTS)—and so what Wilkerson is doing here is really radical and profound.

Caste, Wilkerson writes, is like grammar. Not explicitly taught, but absorbed, until it becomes part of the atmosphere, or perhaps foundation is a better metaphor, because everything else is built upon it, and she shares her observations for being able to tell what caste Indians are from by watching their interactions, the natural superiority one might assume to another, even somebody with very good intentions.

I found this book useful in a way that not all books on race and anti-racism have been to me. For the way it illuminating the questions I’ve been having for the last five years (why does the white working class keep voting against their interest? Because perpetuating the hierarchy is in their interest, even if they have to suffer for it.)

This is the kind of book whose reading only deepened the furrows on my brow, because I spent the whole time reading and wondering, “What the fuck?” Did you know that lynchings were once commemorating with wildly popular postcards? And when the postal service finally got wise and banned these, people just stuck the images in envelopes. People who threw glass into pools to keep Black people from swimming in them, and the district that just did without public schools altogether instead of segregating. Bull Connor paying a Black man to shake hands with the mayoral candidate he did not support, and a photographer to capture the moment, because it was unacceptable for a white man to shake hands with a Black man. And the legacy of Robert E. Lee, for whom schools across the nations are named, who got to become a university president after the Civil War (Wilkerson compares this to how Nazi Generals were NOT remembered after World War Two) and Wilkerson recounts a story of his torture of three of the people he enslaved: “Had these and even more gruesome atrocities occurred in another country, at another time, to another set of people other than the lowest caste, they would have been considered crimes against humanity… But the slaveholders…were not only not punished but were celebrated as pillars of society.”

And that this is the culture we are steeped in. (I am not American, but we are still steeped in American culture AND the history of my nation is not so vastly different even if we weren’t). It just seems like such a powerful way to explain the situation, and also to explain why racism is so hard to tackle, which is that racism is underlined by a caste system upon which not only institutions are built but which also informs our sense of self. Racism is just a symptom of a deeper and more insidious problem, which Wilkerson illuminates through a blend of anthropology, history, cultural studies, memoir, and reporting. A framework that has so long been invisible, but once you see it there, you realize it’s everywhere. You realize why the backlash to America’s first Black President, say, has been so awful and vicious, because of how so many are willing to gamble everything to keep that hierarchy intact.

Identifying a problem is the first step toward finding a solution, no matter how difficult finding that solution might be, and to that end, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wilkerson has done something so powerful with this, her second book after the acclaimed The Warmth of Other Suns. This is a book that continues to shift our understanding of race and white supremacy in a moment where we’ve never needed it more.

December 2, 2020

Butter Honey Pig Bread, by Francesca Ekwuyasi

One more title that I am glad I got to before the year was out was the debut novel by Francesca Ekwuyasi, Butter Honey Pig Bread, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It was fantastic, a debut that was so polished and assured, hugely ambitious in its reach and just as successful in execution…and by page 19 it was clear I’d be baking the cake Taiye makes to celebrate the occasion of her twin sister’s homecoming, salted caramel chocolate. Which was baked before the day was out.

It’s a hugely evocative novel, gorgeous and sensual, rich with foods and cooking, and also with sex. Although it begins with something more unearthly, the birth of Kambirinachi, a Nigerian woman presented as an Ogbanje, “a spirit that plagues a family with grief by dying repeatedly in childhood and being reborn.” Except that Kambirinachi cheats the system and clings to her life, but she will pay a price for this. Which is how she explains tragedies that befall her when she loses her parents, and her husband dies, and then something terrible and traumatic is suffered by her twin daughters that tears the rest of their family apart.

The three strands of this novel belong to Kambirinachi and her daughters, Taiye and Kehinde, who grow up estranged from each other and head out into the world apart. Taiye goes to London, and then studies cooking in France, and eventually arrives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before returning home to care for her ailing mother. Meanwhile, Kehinde is left behind when her sister moved to London, and makes her own way to study in Montreal and build a life there.

At the beginning of the novel, Kehinde is arriving home to Lagos with her new husband, meeting her mother and sister again for the first time in years. We learn her story in the first person, seeking to make sense of her traumatic past and move forward in her life. Similarly, Taiye’s tells a story that blends the present day experience with what she’s been through in her life, and finally their mother’s story is told chronologically, adding necessary context to the twins’ experience—for the twins themselves and the reader alike.

The progress of the novel is these three strands becoming re-woven together, braided tighter and tighter throughout the narrative. It’s a novel that in many ways reminded me of Saleema Nawaz’s Bone and Bread, for themes of family estrangement, loss and mystery, and also food, and I would definitely recommend it for anyone who enjoyed that book.

I also appreciated its treatment of Black communities among the diaspora, Nigerian Taiye in Halifax visiting the Africville museum commemorating that city’s historic Black community, and the other Africans she meets in London. And that a novel creates such a powerful sense of place in so many different places—Lagos, London, Montreal, Halifax—is also a remarkable achievement.

Butter Honey Pig Break is a standout debut, and as much as it will make you hungry, it will also more than satisfy.

November 19, 2020

Two Trees Make a Forest, by Jessica J. Lee

Yesterday, just the day after I’d finished reading it, Jessica J. Lee’s second memoir, Two Trees Make a Forest: In Search of My Family’s Past Among Taiwan’s Mountains and Coasts, was awarded the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize. Lee is also author of Turning: A Year in the Water, a book that literally changed my life (after reading about her breaking ice with a hammer to swim in the dead of winter, how can I ever not just plunge into summer water ever again? There are no more excuses…) and which is distinguished by being one of the few books I’ve ever gotten rid of to regret. I have lots of books and live in an apartment, so I pass along most of my books once I’ve finished with them, but it turned out that I wasn’t finished with Turning after all. One of these days I’ll be replacing my copy, but in the meantime, there is Two Trees… which I’m never giving up. I learned my lesson the first time.

Lee’s work is an entrancing blend of nature writing and memoir, her stories grafted onto the landscape in a way that illuminates everything. And she’s got an eye for metaphor, or maybe it’s obvious. The book begins with the idea of “island,” which in English is defined by its relationship to water, but in Chinese (a civilization grown inland from the sea) the character for island includes a bird sitting on a mountain. Taiwan, from which her mother came (her parents fleeing there from mainland China after World War Two, an island that had always seemed particularly remote and distant to Lee, who felt more connected to her father’s culture in the United Kingdom, and was unsure of her own relationship to Taiwan and its culture.

The book braids together the story of Lee’s grandparents, which she discovers from a letter written by her grandfather and recordings she’d made of her grandmother before she died, along with a travelogue of Lee’s own discovery of Taiwan during trips during her 20s and 30s (including one with her mother, and another longer stay to improve her Mandarin), and the natural landscape of Taiwan, with mountains, and forests, rivers and coast. The land is fraught, prone to earthquakes and landslides, exacerbated by deforestation in Taiwan during its period of martial law until the 1990s. (In those years, Lee writes, conservation was suspect. Binoculars could be a tool of espionage…)

I know always nothing nothing about Taiwan, and its complicated history. I knew a bit about the Sino-Japanese War of 1937, which prompted a ceasefire in China’s civil war between the Communists and Nationalists and pushed mass populations westward and the Japanese invaded, because I’d read Janie Chang’s The Library of Legends in the spring. I’d been accustomed lately to thinking of Taiwan as “the good guys,” and had no idea about its oppressive history throughout the second half of the 20th century, its own kind fraughtness in addition to the earthquakes and landslides.

Lee’s eye for detail, her beautiful prose, and broad depth of knowledge (underlined by her remarkable curiosity) about the natural world make Two Trees Make a Forest a remarkable read. Her ability to see and weave patterns from disparate materials make the story surprising and engaging, and results in a book with considerable depth, a book fascinating in its specificity but also rich with general knowledge.

This is a book for anyone who ever wondered where they belong, who feels detached from stories of family, who revels in natural spaces and the stories they tell, and the incredible illuminations these spaces can grant us as we yearn for connection in the world.

November 12, 2020

Monogamy, by Sue Miller

Sue Miller is one of those ubiquitous American older woman writers I know nothing specific about, occupying the same part of my brain that Anita Shreve does, very 1990s’ Oprah’s Book Club. I read and reviewed her The Senator’s Wife in 2008, early on my book blogging career, although I don’t remember anything about the book or my review, but looking back, I’m proud of the young reviewer who provided the following insight: “Revelation more often does come in a glance, in a breeze, the turn of a head and the expression on one’s face. The sort of thing you can hardly put your finger on, and certainly cannot explain.”

I became interested in her latest novel Monogamy after reading Richard Russo’s review in The New York Times, and I bought the book with my ticket to the Book Drunkard Festival (tonight!). Reading the novel over the last couple of days, and it was one of those books I was disappointed to get to the end of. It was wonderful. Why have I not been reading everything Sue Miller has ever written in the years since The Senator’s Wife? (And why was I waiting for permission from Richard Russo to find her work interesting?)

The novel presents as realism, so real that certain moments are excruciating in that way (it seems) that only real life can be. Misunderstandings, and miscommunications, secrets brought to the surface, words that should never have been said but can’t be taken back. And heartbreak, and heartache, the devastation of grief, the unease of a life’s foundation beginning to crumble.

The ways in which characters are never truly known to each, or—even worse—the inexpressible things we know about the people we love and wish we didn’t.

But in a way, the novel is not realism at all, at least not in a literary sense. Beginning, middle and end. Climax and denouement. Central protagonist and secondary characters. A narrative line you could draw on the page.

When if you started to draw the narrative of Monogamy, the lines would turn to swirls intersecting with swirls, an abstract creation, a web. Strange and dazzling.

At the centre of the web, purportedly, is Graham, a man of large character and appetites, a character whose absence we understand after his sudden death because we’ve been following his point of view intermittently through the first third of book. But the centre shifts as the story proceeds, from character to character—Graham’s first wife, his son and his wife, and Graham’s daughter with his second wife, Annie, and it is is Annie to whom this story mostly belongs. But not entirely—from the other characters, we learn perspectives (including perspectives about Annie herself) that Annie has no idea about. And perhaps it’s the reader who is the centre of the novel after all.

They are recognizable, so many of these moments. “The sort of thing you can hardly put your finger on, and certainly cannot explain.” This is a novel about marriage, and family, and gender, and art-making, and generation gaps, and mother-rage, and friendship, and aging, and widowhood, and independence. About loyalty and betrayal, and love and forgiveness…but never is the story one-dimensional enough to be about just one of these. A many sided object catching the light in different places every time, strange and dazzling, like I said. Like life itself is.

Which is just an illusion, of course. Miller writes about Graham once explaining that the appeal of fiction is that it suggests our lives have shape after all, sequence and consequence, and that there is meaning in the randomness, the unfathomableness. And that this book manages to critique art as life, and then be art as life at once, and my mind is spinning, and what a testament to the novel is that.

November 5, 2020

Fake It So Real, by Susan Sanford Blades

One day I’m going to write a list of all my CanLit aversions (among them, the notion of “CanLit” at all), and near the top of the rankings will be Alice Munro as a lazy and meaningless cultural shorthand. Sometimes, though, the comparison fits, and Susan Sanford Blades’ debut, Fake It So Real, is a case where the comparison might be apt.

First, because the book is a novel/story collection hybrid ala Lives of Girls and Women, moving between first and third-person narration. The city of Victoria setting too, and the book’s complicated and messy depiction of motherhood and womanhood, women who chafe at the limits of “wife” and transgress them. Alice Munro, but make it punk? Beginning in the 1980s, as Gwen gets together with a charismatic musician and has kids before he blows out of their life altogether. She struggles to keep it together and mainly doesn’t, unable to quit drinking and wracked with social anxiety. This is not a story of happily ever after, but instead one of hardscrabble and losing, fucking up over and over again. Which doesn’t make for the most compelling argument to read this book, I realize, but it’s also just really really good, crafted with care and precision.

I felt this way when I fell in love with Leona Theis’s If Sylvie Had Nine Lives in September, a book whose effort never shows, whose seams and joints are invisible. It just works, and as a reader, it’s such a pleasure to submit to a book that’s so well constructed. To let it take you where it goes, and this one goes through the decades as Gwen’s daughters, Sara and Meg, make their own way into the world, try to account for their parents’ failures, attempt to make their own families in different ways, inevitably failing to live up to ideals, as one might expect, but I appreciate the way that Blades interrogates motherhood while not evoking the usual cliches. Her characters’ experiences are singular and interesting, and rich and fraught with complication.

Fake It So Real manages to be not a glorification of counterculture or a condemnation of it either. This is not a book that comes with an agenda, except to tell a story of love and family that is achingly real.

November 2, 2020

Santa Monica, by Cassidy Lucas

Oh, what would you give for a thriller that isn’t stupid?

Do you know what I mean? To be able to get lost in a book that is fluffy and silly, but doesn’t jump the shark to become completely preposterous. A book that is delectable as a hot fudge sundae, but whose characters are well drawn and real, with plausible dialogue, and who make sense as human beings? For a plot that is genuinely gripping and surprises you completely at least twice? Where “enjoyable” is not synonymous with “bad?”

I was expecting to have fun reading Santa Monica, by Cassidy Lucas, but that the book was so excellently crafted turned out to be the most amazing surprise. Beginning with the end, the much revered fitness coach found dead in his studio, and whodunnit? Cassidy Lucas (the pen name for writers Julia Fierro and Caeli Wolfson Widger) going back to the start to show how everyone has a motive: the woman he was sleeping with, her husband, the woman who was helping him steal from the fitness studio, and her husband, and his sister, and any of the nubile women of Santa Monica with whom Zack had been sleeping. Plus there’s a transplanted Brooklynite who is having trouble fitting in with her new California lifestyle, the perfect mom whose family is looming on the edge of terrifying debt, the housekeeper hoping to evade ICE authorities and raise her son in America, and more.

I loved it. Such a pleasure, and not a guilty one at all.

October 16, 2020

Petra, by Shaena Lambert

I keep imagining the opportunity to interview Shaena Lambert, and the inevitable question: “So why HAVE you chosen to tell the story of Petra Kelly, German Activist and leading force in the creation of The Green Party in the 1980s?” Though I think I already know the answer, and it’s mainly to do with the expansive possibilities of fiction, and how it can shine a light into dark corners that no archive could hope to illuminate. The limits of nonfiction too for a figure whose mythology was almost as important as the facts of her character. And yet that forty years after her fame and three decades after her death that she’s become an unknown, another woman cast aside under the pounding waves of history. So what does it mean then for me to be encountering Petra Kelly for the first time through Lambert’s fictional lens as I have done while reading her novel Petra? It’s destabilizing, a fictional biography, though perhaps in a way that Petra Kelly herself might have appreciated. Or so I can speculate…

While Petra herself was real, all the other characters in the book are invented, or created as composites of actual figures. The story told from the point of view of a Manfred Schwartz, once Petra’s lover, and then her colleague in government as the Greens are elected to office in 1983 on a rising tide of popularity. Manfred never really gets over Petra, but then Lambert’s Petra is the type you don’t. A German who grew up in America in the 1960s and brings that same idealism to the divided Germany in what would turn out to be the last days of the Cold War—but nobody knew that then. Idealistic, uncompromising, seeing the world and its issues as interconnected as her Marxist colleagues never would.

Defying expectation at every turn, Kelly falls in love with an ex-NATO General, a love story with a sorry end. Which also might be part of the reason why Lambert imagines up the figure of Kelly’s General lover from scratch in her novel, for the unfathomability of his actions. Fiction permitting the author more latitude for the fathoming, imagining this figure who’d grown up in Nazi German, fought for the Germans in World War Two, the atrocities that he would have been party to, and how a person lives with that.

The novel takes the form of a historical record created by Manfred, who is still under Petra’s spell after all these years, and is trying to make sense of what happened between them and of her character in general. A proxy for the author herself, I suppose, and the answer the question I was pondering at the beginning of this review comes with a line near the end of the book, delivered by Manfred’s wife: “Maybe you simply can’t make sense of it all…I mean, maybe it—the past—doesn’t take the form of a thesis.” Which is where the art comes in, the role of literature, to make a sense out of something that doesn’t make sense at all.

By the end of the book, Petra has become a full-fledged spy novel, as we learn who among the Greens had been acting as Soviet agents, this information offering some illumination to Manfred about what had gone on decades before. Petra herself, however, remains somewhat in the shadows, the reader feeling the same frustration experienced by Manfred at how elusive her true nature remains, at how many of her secrets would die with her.

But that she is known through this book, if not actually understood, doesn’t lessen the novel’s impact, and in fact makes it all the more engaging, and in accordance with what actually happens in the world.

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