”Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife.
Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.
Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.”
Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for an early digital copy in exchange for an honest review.
“Numbers floated round my head like stars.”
If you enjoy books about books, then you’ll absolutely adore this one. It’s all about the American Library in Paris, which is still up and running to this day. I enjoyed the female power and determination that takes place in the story. We love strong female roles. The writing is no doubt beautiful and well done. I believe that the author spends quite a bit of time in Paris, so I’d say it’s pretty accurate, if I had to guess. It’s overall a great novel, but it just didn’t keep my attention. Historical fiction typically captures my attention, but I never wanted to pick this one back up. It was honestly a two-star read up until the last 50-ish pages.
I didn’t really care for any of the characters even though I could recognize how tough they were. There’s a strong community and family dynamic that I think a lot of people would enjoy. It’s more of family by choice type of situation. I can appreciate all of that.
I think the main thing that caused me to give it three stars was that it felt too long. Whenever I thought the story was about to come to a close, there was quite a bit left in the story. I’m sure no one else felt that way, but when you’re already not enjoying a book, that’s something that makes it feel even longer.
I know this author has written one other novel, so I’m interested in seeing if it’s something I’m interested in. I’d definitely give her a second chance. I really thought I’d fall in love with this one. It’s such a wonderful read, but I couldn’t get myself to give it more than a three-star rating. I would still recommend this since it’s a beloved book to many readers out there.
Janet Skeslien Charles divides her time between Paris and Montana. She enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with family.
The backdrop of her debut novel MOONLIGHT IN ODESSA is the booming business of email-order brides, an industry where love and marriage meet sex and commerce.
Her second novel THE PARIS LIBRARY is based on the true story of the courageous librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II. Janet learned about the story when she worked at the Library.
“Alaska, 1974. Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed. For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.
Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.
At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.
But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.
In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.”
“That spring, rain fell in great sweeping gusts that rattled the rooftops.”
Content warning: PTSD, Abuse (physical, verbal, emotional), murder, death, grieving (loss of loved one / parent), cancer, description of broken bones / wounds, toxic family relationships.
As a first time reader of Kristin Hannah, I can safely say that this won’t be the last book I read from her. She seems like a good fiction author and storyteller. This was hard-hitting, but it wasn’t anything I haven’t read before in other books. Just be cautious going into it, and make sure to read the content warnings if you’re unsure.
Meet the Allbrights: Ernt, Cora, and Lenora “Leni”
Ernt, the father of this story, is a Vietnam veteran with PTSD. He watched a lot of bad things happen, and in return they’re impacting his present day life. He has moved his family five times in four years because he just wants the next best thing. The problem, he’s a toxic man who is feared by his wife and daughter. They’re afraid to speak up.
He receives a letter from the father of the man he watched die, and it states that his son wanted him to have his land in Alaska. Ernt doesn’t hesitate and drags his family to “The Great Alone.”
“Alaska isn’t about who you were when you headed this way. It’s about who you become.”
Even before they moved to Alaska, you can tell that Ernt isn’t a nice man. He’s very finicky and becomes upset easily. His actions in this book are very inexcusable regardless of his condition. I absolutely hated him. I almost put the book down because of how he treats people. I’m not sure of another way to tell you I hate him lol.
Leni and Matthew Walker’s relationship is honestly goals. They both have traumatic things going on in their lives, but they never judge one another. They help each other through it. They’re precious gems that should be protected at all times! They are also very smart kids. They can see the reality of any situation they’re in.
Cora. Cora, Cora, Cora. I know she is married to an abusive man, and hindsight is 20/20, but I just wanted to shake her! I wanted to tell her that she needs to get her and her daughter out of there. All she did was smoke and agree with Ernt. The occasional motherly scold came from her mouth, but nothing that would change Ernt’s mind. I know I shouldn’t hate her for anything, but her daughter should have been the first person she protected in their situation. I guess it’s one of those “easier said than done” situations.
The only problem I had with this was the transitions between events. Most of the time there was no warning, things just happened. I’m not going to spoil what made me drop the star rating, but I’m sure you probably have some inkling of what I’m talking about. Maybe I’m the only one with the problem. Either way, it wasn’t a five-star read for me. It was good but not that good.
I will definitely continue on reading Hannah’s other novels. I think if you read the content warnings about this one and are still interested, then go ahead and give it a go. It’s not perfect, but it’s fast-paced, action-packed, and the characters are well done. If you do pick it up or have already read it, let me know your thoughts.
“Kristin Hannah is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, which was named Goodreads Best Historical fiction novel for 2015 and won the coveted People’s Choice award for best fiction in the same year. Additionally, it was named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, iTunes, Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal, Paste, and The Week. Her novel, The Great Alone, was also voted as Goodreads best historical novel of the year in 2018.”
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“A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence.
Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony.
With a lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Robert Jones, Jr. fiercely summons the voices of slaver and the enslaved alike to tell the story of these two men; from Amos the preacher to the calculating slave-master himself to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries—of ancestors and future generations to come—culminate in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.”
Triggers: Rape, abuse (physical, mental, emotional), lynching, death / murder (adult and child), animal sacrifice, slavery, racism, manipulation, loss of a loved one. Proceed with caution.
This was a difficult book for me to rate, not that the rating of a book like this is important. The importance comes from the incredible messages this story delivers. The main issue, and probably the only issue, I had with this book was the confusion I felt after finishing a few of the chapters. I’m not a critical reader, and sometimes I feel like because of that I shouldn’t review books. There’s always a little bit of impostor syndrome in me. Regardless of what kind of reader I am, I couldn’t give this five stars due to the reason mentioned. I couldn’t quite catch on to the concept. I don’t know if I should know more biblical references to understand it, but this book didn’t really do anything to ease the confusion. But, it’s incredible other than that.
There are a lot of characters to follow with this one, so taking notes couldn’t hurt the reading experience. I didn’t get them confused at any point, which I can always appreciate with a story of this stature. I will note that you don’t only follow the slaves. Following the whites of the story is very cringe and rightfully so. It’s also hard to read as far as content. There were points where I wanted to put it down for good, but not in a “I hated the book” way. It’s just so heartbreaking that these events happened/still happen. If I could snap a finger and make it go away, I would.
I don’t want to forget to mention the highlight of the book, the LGBTQ+ representation. That’s mainly what the story is about—Samuel and Isaiah (The Two of Them). I don’t think we got to see enough of them and their relationship because there are so many characters, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t deeply care for them. They didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but the love and admiration they had for each other was commendable. Oh, the ending will get to you if you end up loving these characters. It’s a tragedy, for sure. I was actually prepared for that, and I hope that I can prepare you for that if you haven’t read this yet.
This won’t be a book that everyone will enjoy based on how it’s written, and the fact that it’s character-driven. Sometimes character-driven books aren’t for me, but this one was well done. It wasn’t my favorite part of this novel just because there were so many characters. I just appreciate the message and the honesty. It’s heartbreaking, harrowing, brutal, admirable, and powerful.
Is it revolutionary?
I would think that’s also based on preference. It’s not for me but it’s damn near. It just seemed so original from anything I’ve read. The writing itself isn’t hard to understand. There’s great description and dialogue. I read that some people thought it was slow, but I was flipping pages like a madman. The relationships between the characters are incredibly fleshed out. I think it’s an important novel for our modern day, and whether or not you enjoy it subjectively, it undoubtedly packs a punch.
My favorite quotes:
“She knew that they purchased everything except mercy.”
“The scars lined them the way bark lined trees. But those weren’t the worst ones. The ones you couldn’t see: those were the ones that streaked the mind, squeezed the spirit, and left you standing outside in the rain naked as birth, demanding that the drops stop touching you.”
“Water done wore away at her stone, and the next thing she knew, she was a damn river when she could have sworn she was a mountain.”
“Whenever and wherever nothing encounters something, conflict is inevitable.”
“But how? How could they not need more of everything: more love, more life, more time?”
“How dare nature continue on as though his suffering didn’t even make a dent, like the bloodshed and the bodies laid were ordinary, to be reduced to fertilizer by insects and sucked up by crops. No more than cow dung in the grand scheme. Same color, too.”
“There could never be peace, only moments in which war wasn’t overwhelming.”
“I ain’t rotten fruit; I a man.”
“No one would remember her name, but she had become a larger spirit now: head bigger, hips wider, and whatever the hurt. All the ones who had come before her simply pumping through her heart and they had found a place to be in the caverns of her throat. There, she recalled her voice.”
“Only one question: What to do when the cavalry arrives? Only one thing to do: With every drop of blood: Rebel!”
“Robert Jones, Jr., was born and raised in New York City. He received his BFA in creative writing with honors and MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Essence, OkayAfrica, The Feminist Wire, and The Grio. He is the creator of the social justice social media community Son of Baldwin. Jones was recently featured in T Magazine‘s cover story, “Black Male Writers of Our Time.” The Prophets is his debut novel.”
As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is a high school senior about to start classes at a local college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors. Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.
The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision with repercussions that will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.
The book is based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children.
Throw us in jail, and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities after midnight hours, and drag us out onto some wayside road, and beat us and leave us half-dead, and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom.“
I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time, but I hesitated to pick it up because I had never read anything by Whitehead. I had heard reviews about The Underground Railroad on YouTube that weren’t great. Honestly, I still don’t feel the need to pick up that specific book. This one drew me in because of the topic. I researched it before I jumped into the novel. If you don’t want to read a novel about it, please go read a few articles about the topic. This place was open for over 100 years. Think about how many kids were abused and traumatized. It’s awful, and if any of that is triggering to you, then maybe don’t pick this one up.
If you think that this is going to have a happy ending, you are wrong. It’s heartbreaking all the way through. One of the main issues I had with this book was not feeling attached to the characters. I felt bad for them, obviously, but they all fell very flat. Not sure if that’s how it was supposed to be, but I really wanted to know Elwood. I wonder what the novel would be like if it was just a bit longer.
That doesn’t mean that Whitehead isn’t a phenomenal writer. I was sucked in from the first line: “Even in death the boys were trouble.”
He also had a way of hinting to the reader that something more is going on behind the scenes. When Elwood arrives at Nickel, he mentions that it doesn’t seem too bad. As time goes on, however, he notices that boys have bruises and chunks taken out of their ears, etc. It all happens so fast, though. So don’t blink when you read this.
It wasn’t the perfect book, but it does what it’s supposed to. I find that it might be too short to convey the full story. Other than that and the flat characters, this is worth a read.
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Poland, 1941. When the soldiers come to round up the Jewish men for labor duty, only half of them return. Róża knows that she must take her daughter Shira—already full of joy and music—away. The two find shelter in the hay loft of a farmer’s barn, where Shira struggles to stay still and quiet. Notes and melodies pulse inside the young girl, and it’s hard for her to resist the temptation to tap them out with her fingers and her feet. To pass the time, Róża tells Shira a story. There is a little girl who, with the help of her yellow bird, tends an enchanted garden.
With this game of make believe, Róża soothes Shira and shields her from the horrors around them. But then the day comes when their haven is no longer safe and Róża must face an impossible choice: whether to keep Shira by her side, or give her the chance to survive apart.
Inspired by the true stories of children hidden during World War II, THE YELLOW BIRD SINGS is a novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter, the power of storytelling, and the triumph of hope in even the darkest of times.
Thank you to Flatiron Books for an early physical copy as well as allowing me to participate in the blog tour! I also received an early digital copy on NetGalley, so thank you to them too.
The reader follows a Jewish mother and daughter—Roza and Shira—in Poland during WWII. They hide in the loft of a farmer’s barn, but Roza has to pay a disgusting price. Henryk, the farmer, comes up to the loft every night and takes advantage of Roza, even though he is already married to a woman named Krystyna. They are able to feed her daughter and that’s all that matters. Shira is a musical prodigy, and that just might reveal their whereabouts, so Roza tells her stories about a yellow bird that can sing ANY song Shira can think of.
This was probably the hardest and saddest part of the novel to get through. They stay in the barn from 1941 to 1942, eating what the farmer is able to provide, going to the bathroom in a bucket, having to stay quiet and still for TWO years. There is a lot of tension between Roza and Shira. Roza wants them to be safe, but she has a young daughter who struggles to accept and understand what is going on around them. I can’t imagine how hard that would be.
What I liked most about the first part of the novel is how raw and real it is. Roza started to get upset with Shira. Roza became numb to what happens with Henryk. The novel isn’t shy when it comes to showing the reader emotion. The saddest part is when Roza has to let go of Shira. I almost cried in Starbucks while reading that part.
Eventually, Shira is taken away to a convent since Nazis are planning to commandeer Henryk’s barn. The convent renames her Zosia so nobody knows she’s Jewish. Here is where she learns to play the violin. She can finally become that musical prodigy we all knew she’d become.
This may sound heartless, but I really didn’t care for Zosia’s parts in the book. This was one of the main reasons I bumped the rating down to four-stars.
Meanwhile, Roza is forced to roam around the forest to hide from Nazis. She makes it a point to change the direction of her footsteps. When she runs into sisters, Chana and Miri, she begins to question if letting her daughter go was the right thing to do.
In this case, it was the right thing to do. She saved her daughter from a life full of misery and horror. Her daughter went on to be successful, and that’s truly all a mother could ask for.
The ending is very bittersweet. It didn’t end how I expected it to, but I was definitely satisfied with it.I want you all to go read this, so I won’t spoil anything!
Don’t go into this expecting a war novel. It’s the relationship between a mother and a daughter who are trying to escape from the horrors of WWII. It’s life or death, and it’s Roza’s responsibility to decide what’s best for her daughter. I thought the imaginary yellow bird was adorable, and it managed to help Shira/Zosia through many tough situations.
There are quite a few side characters, but none of them really stick. This book truly is about the mother and daughter.
Roza is a trooper to say the least. There are so many smart yet devastating decisions she has to make throughout the novel. She is aware of her surroundings, and her only goal is to get back to her daughter. I’m sure there are reasons someone might not like her, but I would tell them to put themselves in her shoes. Would you rather save your daughter at ALL costs, or risk her dying in the forest because you couldn’t provide enough food/water?
Shira/Zosia was interesting, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t care for her parts of the novel as much. I loved that she was finally able to become that musical prodigy, but I have no interest/knowledge about that. She’s tough and smart for a young girl during this time period. Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say about her.
The writing style can be easily digested. Simple and straightforward. I liked that it wasn’t convoluted, but I wish it had a little more “oomph”. It did have its whimsical/lyrical moments that I absolutely loved. I can appreciate the writing is what I’m trying to say. It was able to tell a beautiful story.
I would highly recommend this! It has its gritty, heartbreaking moments, but in the end, you won’t be disappointed. The mother/daughter relationship is interesting to watch while under that kind of strain. There are moments that Roza breaks—she’s not a robot. Shira just wants to be a kid. There is so much tension and fear that comes from these two characters, but there is also A LOT of love. It’s pretty incredible, and I’m telling you right now to read it when it comes out.
About the Author |
Jennifer Rosner is the author the memoir If A Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard. Her children’s book, The Mitten String, is a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable. Jennifer’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Massachusetts Review, The Forward, Good Housekeeping, and elsewhere. She lives in western Massachusetts with her family.
A captivating, beautiful, and stunningly accomplished debut novel that opens in 1918 Australia – the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife who make one devastating choice that forever changes two worlds.
All is fair in love and war: Read a wartime novel.
A stirring tale of brotherhood, coming-of-age, and survival, that was inspired by the author’s own family history, this novel evokes a time when Czechs, Slovaks, Austrians, and Germans fought on the same side while divided by language, ethnicity, and social class in the most brutal war to date.
Back to the future: Read a classic or a retelling of a favorite.
Girl with a Pearl Earring centers on Vermeer’s prosperous Delft household during the 1660s. When Griet, the novel’s quietly perceptive heroine, is hired as a servant, turmoil follows. First, the 16-year-old narrator becomes increasingly intimate with her master. Then Vermeer employs her as his assistant–and ultimately has Griet sit for him as a model.
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Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other–if only he can come out of the war alive.
“The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.”
There are a ton of characters in this novel, but not all of them make a big enough impression to review, unfortunately. I’m just going to go through a list of the ones I noted, and the role they played.
Paul Baumer | Narrator—German. Nineteen when him and a group of schoolmates volunteer to go to war. Baumer is placed in the No. 9 platoon with Kropp, Muller, and Kemmerich, and they’re placed under Corporal Himmelstoss. Paul is such a strong yet flawed main character. There are many instances in the novel where he wants to take back something he did. I’m sure that not a lot of people thought that during wartime. I enjoyed seeing that side of him. He had a good head on his shoulders.
Albert Kropp | Nineteen-years old. The clear thinker of the group. He has a lot of thoughts about the war and why it even exists. Kropp believes that the ministers and generals should duke it out with each other, and whoever survives wins the war.
“That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting.”
Albert is one of my favorites out of the group of boys. He has a strong opinion—although a little stubborn at times—he sticks up for what he thinks is right and wrong. I’m happy he wasn’t just a robot who was only there to kill and shoot guns.
Leer | Nineteen-years old. Part of the group of volunteered boys.
Muller | Nineteen-years old. He carries around his textbooks and speaks physics while at war.
Tjaden | The skinny locksmith and biggest eater. This boy never stops talking about food or trying to eat all the food. I honestly didn’t have many thoughts about Tjaden throughout the book. I
Franz Kemmorich | He is another comrade in the war. His leg is amputated, and right from the start the reader understands that there is no hope for him. He has boots stored under his bed because he’s in denial. Paul keeps telling him that he’ll make it home all the way up to his dying breath. Before he dies, Franz tells Paul that he always wanted to be a head-forester, and he can take the boots to Muller.
Haie Westhus | He used to be a peat-digger before going to war.
Joseph Behm | He is the one boy who didn’t want to go to war, but the fear of being a coward pushed him to go. He is hit in the eye during an attack and left for dead. He actually survives and tries to crawl through No Man’s Land and is shot down.
“The whole world ought to pass by this bed and say: “That is Franz Kemmerich, nineteen and a half years old, he doesn’t want to die. Let him not die!”
This happened in the beginning of the book, and I immediately knew that it was only going to become more heart-breaking as the plot progressed.
Corporal Himmelstoss | Leader of platoon No. 9. Has the reputation of being a strict disciplinarian. He has seen twelve years of service, and quite frankly he isn’t fond of Kropp, Tjaden, Paul, or Westhus. That’s okay though, he eventually wants to make friends with them later in the novel. He finally experiences the trenches, and it completely changes him. The kids are no longer swine after his views are flipped.
“To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier.”
The group of boys were trained for ten weeks before going out to the front lines. One kid actually dies from inflammation of the lung.
Things remain pretty quiet on the front lines until the first bombardment. The first one actually changed their view of the war completely. It killed five men and wounded eight.
They need more men, so recruits start showing up, and most of them are two-years younger than the main group.
The Company Commander pulls Paul out to tell him that he will have 17 days to go back home to his family, then he will come back and train for a few weeks. So, Paul goes back to visit his ill mother, eldest sister—Erna, and his father. It doesn’t really go as planned. Everyone wants him to talk about the war and wear his uniform. Tram cars sound like the shriek of a shell. He would much rather be with his comrades—his best friends. It feels wrong to even wear civilian clothes again. I’m not sure if PTSD was even a thing back in 1917.
When Paul goes back into the front lines, he is all alone. He’s lost and in a hole, and it’s quite possibly an enemy hole. He ends up killing an enemy, but he immediately regrets it because he realizes that he just killed a human. The next quote is quite long, but it hit me sohard in the feels:
“Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, and abstraction that lived in mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was the abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life, comrade, and stand up—take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now.”
This scene is so hard to read. Paul doesn’t want to die, but he doesn’t want to kill anyone either. Seeing the enemy in person is different compared to just shooting into the distance. He tries to save the man with no luck. Baumer has such a big heart that is not made for war, but he tries SO hard to do the best he can. He is my favorite person in the story.
So many man start to fall as the story comes to a close. I don’t want to spoil anything about what happens to who, but eventually it just ends up being little ole Paul. He’s the last of the seven from his class. His comrades have all fallen, and there’s not much else he can do.
Paul dies in October 1918. If I’m not mistaken, WWI actually ends in November of that same year. He almost made it. I think that was the most frustrating part of the ending. He never got to see the peace that was mentioned so often throughout the novel.
“He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.”
I was heartbroken but also relieved. It was brutal, and I’m sure a month in a war feels like an eternity. I’m sad he didn’t get to witness any peace, but he found some relief anyway.
This novel is translated by A.W. Wheen and can get a little convoluted at times. It mostly happens when there is a lot of description or some form of internal thought. The dialogue is pretty easy to follow, for the most part.
I just loved this so much that I didn’t even care if it took me five minutes to read a paragraph.
This is definitely a new all-time favorite read for me. The characters are complex, compelling, and smart. It’s heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, and insightful. I learned so much about what WWI was like. I know that it doesn’t really compare to actually being there. I’m sure there are grittier novels, but I think this focused a lot more on the mindset of these young boys who were pressured to go to war. PTSD isn’t ever mentioned because I’m sure no one knew what that was. It’s one you just have to pick up and read without much thought. I’m sure it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I just like to rave about good books.
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I decided to stick my neck out one day and ask Atria Books if William Kent Krueger would be willing to answer some questions about his new novel This Tender Land for my blog. I woke up at 6 AM one morning to an email back from the author himself, accepting. I was so excited that I woke my boyfriend up from a deep slumber.
Thank you to Atria Books for forwarding the request. Thank you to William Kent Krueger for taking time out of his day to answer my questions and for being a kind person overall. I will remember this forever.
I hope you all enjoy learning about this incredible novel and the mastermind behind it! I had a lot of fun. I even bought myself a signed B&N exclusive edition of This Tender Land, and I’m excited to display it on my shelves.
1. I read on your website that you researched childhood development at the University of Minnesota. All the children in This Tender Land are very well developed, but I was curious to know if you learned anything new from creating characters like Odie and Mose?
WKK: I learn something new with every character I create in any story I write. For me, it’s like running into someone new and getting to know them. They have much to offer as characters, not just as elements of the story. In creating the Four Vagabonds, I learned lessons in forgiveness, lessons about grief, lessons about family and friendship. I have a lot of input on my own, of course, but the characters themselves dictate so much, and I try to give them plenty of room to breathe and act and grow.
2. I work at a library and have noticed an increase in books involving Native American characters/culture. What inspired you to write about white brothers in an all Indian school?
WKK: For more than twenty years, in my Cork O’Connor mystery series, I’ve dealt with issues that are significant to the Native community. The tragic history of the Native American boarding school system is something I’ve been aware of for a very long time. In the early stages of conceiving the story for This Tender Land, I knew that I wanted the orphans to be running from a horrific environment. I couldn’t think of anything more horrific than life in one of these boarding schools. And because I knew from the beginning that one of the kids on the odyssey the Vagabonds were going take would be Native American, it all fit together nicely.
3. Was there a specific building/place that gave you inspiration for the Lincoln Indian Training School?
WKK: I drew a lot of inspiration from the Pipestone Indian Training School, which was situated in southwestern Minnesota, but is no longer in existence. The physical layout and many of the specific elements, however, were an amalgam of elements I gleaned from my research involving many other boarding schools.
4. This novel discusses a lot about the land and the environment around these children as they make their long arduous journey to St. Louis. Is there a deeper meaning behind that?
WKK: Any good story, I believe, ought to be a doorway to a consideration of ideas and themes that have universal appeal and application. So, in my conception of the novel and what it might be, I saw the river journey representing all kinds of odysseys—spiritual, emotional, even physical. And I also believe that any good story ought to leave itself open to multiple interpretations. Readers ought to be able to read into it whatever their own lives and perceptions direct them to see. It’s not unusual for readers to point out to me something they found of significance that went completely over my head in the actual writing of the story. But once they bring it to my attention, I can see where they’re coming from.
5. I love that Odie is a storyteller. When you were brainstorming ideas for the book, did you already know he would be a storyteller? If not, was there something else he was going to be known for?
WKK: I knew all along that Odie would narrate the story, but that he was also a storyteller was something I only discovered once I began the actual writing. It seemed a natural part of his being. In the same way, I discovered the nature of Albert and Mose and all the complexity that is Emmy. Composing this story was just as much a journey for me as it was for any of the Four Vagabonds.
6. There are a ton of diverse characters throughout the book. My favorite being Herman Volz. He truly was an upstanding guy. Do you have a favorite character? Did it change while writing the book?
WKK: I always identified with Odie. There’s so much of who I am in that wonderful kid. Although I adored all the Vagabonds (and I understand your appreciation of Herman Volz), my favorite, start to finish, was Odie.
William Kent Krueger is the author of This Tender Land, published on September 3rd, 2019. He also wrote a stand-alone novel called Ordinary Grace, published March 23rd, 2013, winner of the Edgar Award. His Cork O’Connor mystery series is also a winner of many awards, including the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, the Minnesota Book Award, the Anthony Award, the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award, and the Friends of American Writer’s Prize. Krueger briefly studied at Stanford University, then dabbled in numerous jobs—freelance journalism, construction, and logging timber—before becoming a writer. He even studied childhood development at the University of Minnesota. Krueger makes his living as a full-time author and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his lovely wife Diane, a retired attorney. You can learn more about him and his novels on his website: https://williamkentkrueger.com/
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I’m sure this has been done a thousand times, but I wanted to start a little series on my blog where I talk about some of my favorite genres to read. I don’t really know how many of these I’ll do, but I thought it would be fun! I hope you enjoy it too.
I never talk about my favorite genres that much, and I figured now is the time. My all-time favorite genre is historical fiction. It always seems to get me out of reading slumps. This post will give you a few reasons why I love it, and why you should at least give it a shot.
There are so many different perspectives that an author can write from.
I can go into most historical fiction novels and expect a new perspective. I can learn about another little percentage of a different era. Think about all the people who aren’t talked about to this day. We could all write a novel about someone different. Isn’t that super cool to think about? Learning about what they did, and how they impacted the future—our grandparents’ generation, our parents’ generation, and our generation. Just take a second and think about that.
If you choose the correct author, you can learn so much from just a single novel.
There are wonderful authors that do their research (e.g. Ken Follett, Philippa Gregory, etc…). I haven’t read from either of them, but I have heard such great things that they are definitely on my list. I have learned a lot from other books not written by those authors. Love and Ruin by Paula McLain taught me a little about the Spanish Civil War. I Googled a lot while reading that novel. There was so much I didn’t even know, and now I do!
I find the dialogue to be more complex and interesting.
There is nothing worse than boring dialogue! That’s all I really have to say about that. Some books can pull off simple dialogue, but it’s pretty rare. That’s all I really have to say about that.
Lives of ordinary people are brought to light.
This is one of my favorite aspects of historical fiction. There are so many characters based on real people from the past. I know that not a lot of people enjoy that, but I definitely do. A few good examples: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain (Martha Gellhorn) and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Sarah Grimke). Love and Ruin is one of my favorite books to date.
I never would have learned about these interesting people of history if it weren’t for my love of historical fiction. I can’t thank the genre enough for that.
Conflicts during that time are different compared to today.
The twenty-first century has its own conflicts, but that past was especially different, and dare I say, more compelling. WWI and WWII were such substantial fragments of history that are perhaps overrated at this point, but I still love reading about it. There is so much to discuss, and so much light to shed on that generation! It’s also fun to see how far we have come, or ways we have fallen backward. I think a lot of it is my urge to learn something new. Books are my favorite way to do that!
– Disclaimer –
I’m not saying that all historical fiction novels are amazing. Yes, there are a ton out there that misrepresent the genre, but you just can’t focus on those. I know this genre won’t be for everyone, but I think it’s worth a shot. These are my opinions, so if you hate historical fiction, then that is 100% okay.
What’s your favorite genre?
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