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Stella Bain Hardcover – November 12, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Shreve's 17th novel is a tragic yet hopeful story of love, memory, loss, and rebuilding. A young woman wakes up with amnesia in a battlefield hospital tent in Marne, France, in 1916. She thinks her name is Stella Bain, and she thinks she knows how to nurse and drive an ambulance. As she recovers, she returns to duty in this new environment, caring for the wounded and dying. When she arrives in the city exhausted and destitute, she's discovered in a park by a doctor's wife, who takes her in. The doctor, Augustus Bridge, is a cranial surgeon with an interest in psychiatry. Stella becomes a €œquasi-patient€; he finds a way to get her into the Admiralty, and, when a former friend recognizes her by name, her memories return, including the fact that she has children—and the reason why she left them. The amnesia and its cause are only part of the story; the lack of understanding at the time of the consequences of witnessing the horrors of war, for both men and women, also plays a key role. The novel is both tender and harsh, and the only false note is the use of present tense, which prevents the reader from being pulled in more closely. Shreve's thoughtful, provocative, historical tale has modern resonance. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, WME Entertainment. (Nov.)


"Touching, heartbreaking, sometimes so vivid you can almost feel the fear." ---Karen Campbell, Boston Globe

"Spare, elegant....Shreve's fans will appreciate her keen understanding of women's struggles to live life on their own terms." ---Helen Rogan, People

"A must-read." ---Steph Opitz, Marie Claire

"Astonishing....Brilliant and unexpected....Shreve is a versatile writer, depicting the brutality of battle just as compellingly as she does the early stages of love. She had me rooting for Stella's happiness the whole way through and left me completely satisfied at the end." ---Diane Colvard, Real Simple

"Vivid prose.... The true power of Stella Bain lies not in what is said, but in what is left unsaid. The silences are complex: silences within relationship and silences that come from misunderstanding the complicated mental and emotional consequences of war. And though the story is dark, its resolution is hopeful and nostalgic." ---Natalie Bakopoulos, San Francisco Chronicle

"An intriguing character study that delivers compelling mystery without melodrama. Shreve offers a fresh, feminine twist on a topic that's much in vogue lately-World War I.... Shreve cleverly and movingly shifts between Stella's two lives, as we learn who she really is. A custody battle, a horrible case of wartime disfigurement, and even questions of women's rights emerge in this spare but involving novel....Those who read Shreve's 2003 novel, All He Ever Wanted, will get an unexpected thrill when they put the pieces together." ---Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today

"Stella Bain Shreve returns to what she does best-describing the thoughts, actions, and feelings of an unconventional woman....As Shreve peels back the layers of memory and exposes the real woman in Stella, she creates a compulsively readable novel....In Stella Bain, Shreve's writing is spare and luminous, much like her protagonist. She can evoke an intense feeling in just a few words....The extensive dialogue and courtroom testimony move the story along swiftly, and in sections the book reads like a play. Although the story takes place in, variously, the late 19th Century and the first decades of the 20th Century, Shreve has woven in themes that readers in this century will have no trouble recognizing as worthy and current." ---Laura Eggertson, Toronto Star

"As always, master storyteller Anita Shreve spins a spell-binding web of a tale, guaranteed to snare her readers into turning pages until three in the morning." ---Terry Miller Shannon, Book Reporter

"Compelling....Shreve infuses Stella Bain with a warmth and intelligence that has been a hallmark of her 17 previous novels." ---Carol Iaciofano, NPR

"The gripping, touching tale of a shell-shocked American in post-WWI London." ---Good Housekeeping

"Shreve writes tightly plotted page-turners." ---Catherine Elsworth, Goodreads

"An exemplary addition to Shreve's already impressive oeuvre." ---Kirkus Reviews

"A tragic yet hopeful story of love, memory, loss, and rebuilding.... Shreve's thoughtful, provocative historical tale has modern resonance." ---Publishers Weekly

"Stella's journey of self-discovery allows us to encounter the horrors of the first World War, groundbreaking treatments in psychotherapy, early acknowledgments of domestic violence, and the glimmer of first-wave feminism....An improbably woman of mystery." ---Alice Short, Los Angeles Times

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (November 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316098868
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316098861
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (383 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #599,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anita Shreve grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts (just outside Boston), the eldest of three daughters. Early literary influences include having read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton when she was a junior in high school (a short novel she still claims as one of her favorites) and everything Eugene O'Neill ever wrote while she was a senior (to which she attributes a somewhat dark streak in her own work). After graduating from Tufts University, she taught high school for a number of years in and around Boston. In the middle of her last year, she quit (something that, as a parent, she finds appalling now) to start writing. "I had this panicky sensation that it was now or never."

Joking that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejections from magazines for her short stories ("I really could have," she says), she published her early work in literary journals. One of these stories, "Past the Island, Drifting," won an O. Henry prize. Despite this accolade, she quickly learned that one couldn't make a living writing short fiction. Switching to journalism, Shreve traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, where she lived for three years, working as a journalist for an African magazine. One of her novels, The Last Time They Met, contains bits and pieces from her time in Africa.

Returning to the United States, Shreve was a writer and editor for a number of magazines in New York. Later, when she began her family, she turned to freelancing, publishing in the New York Times Magazine, New York magazine and dozens of others. In 1989, she published her first novel, Eden Close. Since then she has written 14 other novels, among them The Weight of Water, The Pilot's Wife, The Last Time They Met, A Wedding in December, Body Surfing, Testimony,and A Change in Altitude.

In 1998, Shreve received the PEN/L. L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction. In 1999, she received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey, and The Pilot's Wife became the 25th selection of Oprah's Book Club and an international bestseller. In April 2002, CBS aired the film version of The Pilot's Wife, starring Christine Lahti, and in fall 2002, The Weight of Water, starring Elizabeth Hurley and Sean Penn, was released in movie theaters.

Still in love with the novel form, Shreve writes only in that genre. "The best analogy I can give to describe writing for me is daydreaming," she says. "A certain amount of craft is brought to bear, but the experience feels very dreamlike."

Shreve is married to a man she met when she was 13. She has two children and three stepchildren, and in the last eight years has made tuition payments to seven colleges and universities.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A woman awakens inside a casualty tent in France in 1916. She cannot remember who she is or how she came to be there. Wounded in body and spirit, she chooses the name Stella Bain for herself as she resumes familiar duties as nurse aide and ambulance driver. For some reason she is driven to London to seek out Admiralty House where she believes she will figure out some answers to her situation. She leaves France and is found in desperate circumstances outside a lovely home owned by Dr. August Bridge and his wife, Lily. Stella falls ill with pneumonia and is nursed back to health by the Bridges. Finally, upon visiting Admiralty House after her convalescence, she is recognized and called by her real name. It is then that she begins to recover her memories and to remember what drove her from her home and to the battlefields far away. She begins a course of "talk therapy" with Dr. Bridge who has developed an interest in psychiatry and her reawakened artistic abilities help her make decisions about how to return to claim what is hers and to make amends for her mistakes.

Through the course of what is sometimes a bit of a disjointed narrative, Stella (Etna) moves steadily toward forgiveness of herself and others as well as to achieve her independence and seek the love she was denied. An interesting topic in the book was that of shell shock, seen in so many returning soldiers after the war.

I'd recommend this to any fan of Anita Shreve and to a book club group wanting a novel dealing with the human side of the effects of war in a time when women were not allowed much freedom in their personal lives.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for the e-book ARC to review.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By The Curious Dame on November 21, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
In the novel, Stella Bain, author Anita Shreve takes us back into the turbulence of World War I, the declining Edwardian era, and the gender restrictions imposed on women. This absorbing story is about a young woman who worked as an ambulance driver in France. She is discovered shell-shocked and suffering from amnesia; all she can tell anyone is that her name is Stella Bain. But is it? Day by day, as Stella begins to heal, tiny recollections of memories, of locations, of names, flash into her mind. Determined to answer the questions of her past, she is compelled to unravel the secrets of her past, who she really is, and where she came from. What follows is a compelling, engrossing mystery.

The novel embraces strong topics such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, especially as it affected women at the time, the rights of women and societal expectations and norms, while delivering a poignant love story of pain and loss and healing.

Anita Shreve excels at drilling down deep into the human spirit, of unleashing great emotion, and all while telling a riveting story. This is very much a character driven novel, but it also has a touching mystery at its roots that definitely keeps the reader turning the pages. I highly recommend this novel for anyone wishing to cozy up to a deep, insightful story of ultimate triumph.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Erin Davies on November 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I'm not altogether sure how to describe Anita Shreve's Stella Bain. The book touches on some absolutely fascinating subject matter, but I think the telling leaves something to be desired.

Though not as powerful as Peter Yeldham's Barbed Wire and Roses, I appreciated Shreve's exploration of shell shock and how she uses Stella to show both the impact it has on the individual and how it was viewed in a society with little to no understanding of the condition. Her presentation pulls at the heartstrings while offering a really nice portrait of the values of this particular era. Unfortunately, I don't think every aspect of this book was as well thought out.

I understand the decision to write this piece in the present tense. Stella is frustrated and confused at not being able to assemble the pieces of her own history and the reader get a very real sense of her dismay seeing the world as she herself does, accepting each moment without a greater sense or understanding of where her story began or where it is going. But that being said, I think this approach creates more empathy for her situation than her character and makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to truly understand the woman Stella is.

My other concern regards the custody battle. I think it is great material and that it showcases an interesting contrast when compared to our contemporary family court system, but I think this sequence strayed too far from the themes Shreve explores in the rest of her narrative. Again, great content, but it wasn't as fluid as the rest of the novel and sticks out as being something of an add-on to the greater story.

An emotionally driven fiction of life on the home front. A subtle narrative sure to be appreciated by those who enjoy less confrontational war stories.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Ann on November 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I looked forward to this new Anita Shreve book as I have loved her previous ones. What happened? I read it on my Kindle and actually went back to see if it malfunctioned and I skipped a large part of her story. I felt like she got bored with it, as I did, and just decided to skip to 1930, give a summary and quit. Too bad. Too bad. I hope she gets her groove back.
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