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Fall On Your Knees (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – January 24, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

A sprawling saga about five generations of a family from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Fall on Your Knees is the impressive first fiction from Canadian playwright and actor Ann-Marie MacDonald. This epic tale of family history, family secrets, and music centers on four sisters and their relationships with each other and with their father. Set in the coal-mining communities of Nova Scotia in the early part of this century, the story also shifts to the battlefields of World War I and the jazz scene of New York City in the 1920s.

From Booklist

A family pays the wages of lust in this memorable first novel, for it is most often lust that leads to unsuitable if not unholy couplings in the Piper family of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, in the early part of this century. Eighteen-year-old piano tuner James Piper is so smitten with 12-year-old Materia Mahmoud that he entices her from her traditional Lebanese family to marry him. Before she's 14 the untutored Materia gives birth to Kathleen, the beautiful and gifted child whom she is unable to love but whom James takes to his heart. There are more daughters: Mercedes, the good girl who becomes the little mother; Other Lily, who dies unbaptized when one day old; Frances, the bad girl who becomes a bawdy entertainer and worse; and Kathleen's daughter, Lily, the saintly crippled girl who will learn the secrets and find resolution and redemption. Actress-playwright MacDonald is a talented storyteller with a crisp yet lilting prose style that captures equally well the atmospheres of World War I trenches and Harlem jazz clubs. Michele Leber

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; 1st Scribner Paperback Fiction Ed edition (January 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743237188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743237185
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (691 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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149 of 154 people found the following review helpful By Sandra Mitchell on February 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
The only way that I can describe Fall on Your Knees is to compare it to a car accident. You don't want to look, but you can't stop yourself. The story of the Piper family is one of sadness, perversion, and well kept secrets. The writing is excellent, though the reader may find themselves confused at times. Some things are written like riddles, that leave you wondering if what you read means what you think it means. Keep the story unfolds, answers are revealed and things clarified. This is definitely a dark book, so prepare yourself, but it also is a page turner. This book is hard to put down, because you will want to know where is it going, why? What does this all mean? After completing it, I'm still trying to figure out if I liked it? But there is no question, the writing is supreme and the characters are still with me. That's good writing.
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86 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Perry on January 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book, recommended to me by one of my college students, is one of those novels you can simply dive into and lose yourself in. Although I also read, and enjoy, punchy, sardonic, razor-edge writing like "The Corrections" (Franzen) and "White Noise" (DeLillo), this book is far from those styles. It's an old-fashioned "good read," focusing deeply on each character and twisting them around one another in endless ways.
There is obsession here, the darkest kind, and yet the book is also, in places, heartbreaking in its compassion for the characters. The most interesting of the four sisters, to me, was Frances. Mostly because her spinning out of control was unlike any I've read before. Her longing and misery, and her many idiosyncrasies, make her an unforgettable character.
The story of the parents in this story is so dismal in spots, that it brought to mind "Angela's Ashes," though the plot is nothing close.
I think that what makes this book stand apart from other good reads is the feeling that the author truly came to love her characters. And the story is so multi-faceted and surprising that it fully earns its 500-plus pages.
Great book. I haven't read many of "Oprah's" book club choices, but I applaud her on this choice.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Debbie in Seattle on January 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
I just finished this book last night. Rarely do I read a book that I am unable to put down. But immediately upon reading the first chapter, I found myself submerged in the world of Cape Breton and the Piper family. It wasn't the plot that kept me reading (until the last 2 sections); it was the writing, the language, the sheer intensity, passion and power of the book.
This is not an easy book to read. People do horrible things to each other - and to themselves - in this book. But, unlike some modern novels I have read and DISLIKED (e.g. Book of Ruth), there is redemption at the end. And I think that is important.
I see the heart of this novel as being about what it means to be a family. It's about the stories that families create, and how those stories define a family. And, in the end, how it is love that creates a family. Not marriage, not birth, not religion. Love, with all its messiness and selfishness, purity and desire and hope.
Other reviewers have described the language of this story. I do not find it overdone. It seems to me that MacDonald uses it carefully, expertly, respectful of its power, unleashing its intensity when appropriate.
If you are disturbed by stories about dysfunctional families or unconventional relationships, don't read this book. If you are willing to leave your body for a few days and immerse yourself in another world, if you are willing to be angered, amused, and touched to your core, then buy this book, and read it soon.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
First of all, since I grew up in the area described in the book, it was of special interest to me: I could actually picture the scenes. The story is gripping - couldn't put it down until I finished every page. It's representative of what we don't want to know is out there: family dysfunction, pain, anguish and dispair. But let's be fair: one review mentioned that this was a portrait of the darknes of Nova Scotia. It's a portrait of a hard lifestyle: whether it be coal mining communities in Cape Breton or steel workers in industrial centres in the U.S. These people don't choose these jobs because they're enjoyable - they choose them because they're there, and they have families to support. And it's not just the miners who struggle: it's the whole community. And beyond it all, along with the nice families who all get along and have nice Christmas dinners together, are the families such as portrayed in this novel: the ties that bind are blood, and there's a terrible ambivilance between love and hate; need to be a family and need to destroy each other. The institutions we're supposed to see as the foundation for our lives,such as family, church and community, are sometimes our destruction. Anne-Marie MacDonald makes you live all emotions in her eloquent portrayal of this symphony of discord. I'm not sure I liked how I felt at the end of the novel, but therein lies the talent of the artist. Life is sometimes ugly, and quite frankly, this book left me feeling pretty damned good about my own life. A book that will stand the test of time. But prepare yourself for the voyage.
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