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The Language of Good-bye Paperback – March 26, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Loss and new beginnings are the burdens of essayist Fischer's courageous, gently affirmative first novel. Annie Helverson has recently abandoned the safety of a marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Carter, for the uncertainty of an affair with Will Sullivan, who has left his own long marriage and beloved five-year-old daughter, Brooke. Annie finds herself empathizing with the recently arrived immigrants in the English class she teaches, as she too is alternately bewildered and delighted by her new life and surroundings. Will's wife, Kayla, is devastated by his betrayal, but she also senses his ambivalence, while Carter seems mired in anguish, self-doubt and obsession. Their spouses' reactions profoundly affect Will and Annie, as the new couple discovers that living with the decision to leave can be as devastating as being left. Their struggle is reflected in Sungae Oh--one of Annie's students and, coincidentally, an employee in Kayla's bakery--a Korean-born painter who has lived in the States for 17 years without learning English. She is afraid to articulate the pain she feels over her lost homeland, her own loves and infidelities and the daughter she left behind. As Annie encourages her to speak and to paint her past, Sungae taps into a rich talent, finding self-forgiveness and her way back to a marriage she had thought beyond repair. The story is told from all five of the main characters' viewpoints, and sometimes their internal monologues tend to bog things down. But it is Annie's grief--over the pain she's caused Carter, the untrustworthiness of her emotions, Will's ongoing relationship with his family and her own infertility--that dominates the narrative, and her growth that drives the story. Fischer is a strong new voice in women's fiction, and her book should rise above its unfortunate jacket to find a receptive audience.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

It is difficult to know when reading this artfully realized first novel whether language is a metaphor for love or love a metaphor for language. The two are that tightly entwined. Faithfulness, commitment, truth; adjectives, agreement, prepositions are pieces of the life that Annie leads. She and Will have left their spouses for each other and the overwhelming passion that has swept them away. As an ESL teacher at a local college, she endeavors to infuse her students with the essence of language, while her life is enriched by their stories. Sungae, a Korean student in Annie's class, struggles with the nuances of language and the delicate balance of sorrows and duties. She works for Will's ex-wife and can observe the damage caused by her teacher's choices, choices that echo events from Sungae's Korean past. A painter, Sungae records, examines, and comes to closure through her art, although the words of Annie's lessons are the conduit of her revelations. Great happiness is punctuated with betrayal, loss, and grieving but leads to peace and self-knowledge. There are no pat answers or easy endings in this excellent novel of real people and strong emotions. Danise Hoover
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (March 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452283094
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452283091
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,303,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Maribeth Fischer's, The Language of Good-bye, is a work of art. Sungae, a Korean-born woman who has left her great love behind to honor family duty is an artist. She paints her memories of Korea with great detail as she studies art and learns to speak English. Annie, Sungae's English teacher; Carter, Annie's ex-husband and childhood friend; Will, Annie's great love; and Kayla, the wife Will leaves for Annie, are characters that you will in turn love and understand as you get into each one's thoughts and desires. Sungae explains, "Duty is like an ancient tree which has survived many seasons. Love is only the blossom."
Fischer is a beautiful writer. Language swept me into it with characters that are so alive I missed them when I finished. Her detailed writing creates a world that made feel like I could not only see the motivations of her characters, but that I was a part of the story; I felt as though I were a player in this compelling world: I could see it, smell it, and taste it. I could taste the hazelnut coffee Will doesn't like, feel the chill of the autumn air I shared with the Trick-or Treaters, and I understood Annie's need to be loved and that she must endure her sadness: an inability to bear her own child. And her resentment toward Will, father of five-year old Brooke, the child he adores.
Often when literature is beautifully written, I am impressed by the skill and art of the writer, but still, I cannot wait for the book to be finished; there is a dryness when a writer loves words more than characters. As I read Language, I found myself wishing that it wouldn't end. The losses, passions, and joys of these people became my losses, passions, and joys as well.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Valecia M McDowell on June 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I stumbled upon this novel and despite its melancholy title, I brought it home. This was a great decision.
Fischer examines her characters by employing equal parts affection, empathy, and what can only be described as prickly honesty. In so doing, she manages to avoid smarmy stereotypes and clean resolutions.
I was very sad to see it end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This novel is a must-read - I finished it in less than twenty-four hours. The powerful emotions and conflicting desires of the main characters, Carter, Annie, Will, Kayla, and Sungae, actually brought tears to my eyes. The detail is incredible, using specifics to bring the characters to life. Carter remembers the smell of Annie's vanilla conditioner, Will buys Annie cherry Pop-Tarts because that's what her mother had done for her when she was little. Will has dry salt on his neck after bicycling and as summer turns to fall, Sungae suspects infidelity when Will doesn't protest when Kayla brings him hazelnut rather than amaretto decaf coffee. It is the emotion of grief that brings the characters of the novel together - Annie's Palestinian ESL student who writes about his friend being shot by Israelis in every assignment; Sungae, a Korean student, who avoids learning English for seventeen years to avoid remembering her past. Carter's inability to let go of Annie that brings him to stalk her, ordering pizzas because the delivery boy is in her class and Will's doubts about leaving his five-year-old daughter. The insights that the characters find, from Annie's observation that her students write about past tragedy in to present tense to Annie and Will's lesson that leaving is as hard as being left, leave a reader a little wiser.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The kind of accident-scene voyeurism that draws people to a car wreck will draw some people to this book on the shelf, but if they are looking for tabloid sensationalism, they won't find it here. Maribeth Fischer's intelligent exploration of the complexities of marital commitment and fidelity transcends not only what you might find on the racks at the checkout stand, but even the therapeutic guidance of a psychologist. The reader learns early that the affair in this story is a bilateral morass of pain for the four principal spouses, decent people all, who because of their own frailties find themselves enmeshed in the agonies of love lost and love gained. More importantly, Fisher explores the slippery slope of infidelity by weaving in the powerful evolution of language from cognition to action. Annie and Will depersonalize their spouses by their choice of words; in conversation Kayla and Carter later become "she" and "he". All of us, presidents and paupers, remain vulnerable to the vagaries of infidelity whether in thought or deed and Maribeth Fischer masterfully tells us why in this story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By totallyweezul on July 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Oddly enough I picked up this book while on vacation in California. From reading the flap, I had no clue that the story took place in (pretty much) my backyard of Richmond, VA. What a pleasant surprise! Going through a divorce myself, the character of Annie and her disallusionment of marriage really hit me - hard. I found myself underlining sentences in the story, so that I could find them again easily, to re-read over and over. These thoughts, and feelings that I had been feeling for months...were on paper in front of me. The author had found a way to put them in words for me.
The international students storylines were an added bonus. It was wonderful for her to touch base on some of their beliefs and customs. I know this is the kiss of death...but I would love to see this adapted for the screen.
In addition, Fischer seems to have a way of pulling in awesome references with music: Sarah Mac, a line from a Ben Folds Five song, etc. The wonderful point to this journey....what is your telling line? What sentence...would tell the story of your life up til now?
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