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The Summer of the Bear: A Novel Hardcover – June 7, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Fleming family, having lost father and husband Nicky, a cold war-era British diplomat, in a mysterious accident early in this satisfying novel (after Midnight Cactus), leaves the embassy at Bonn for refuge in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. There they begin parallel lives, dealing with their grief separately and stumblingly as a number of threats to the family slowly mount. Of the children, Jamie, the youngest, wildly imaginative and cosseted by grownups, is forced to make his own sense of his father's disappearance; acerbic Alba is overcome with anger; and quiet, dutiful Georgie is simply set adrift. Then there's Letty, their mother, who retreats almost entirely as her grief becomes increasingly painful and she is forced to confront new and disturbing possibilities about her husband, namely, that he may have been involved in treasonous activities. The drama intensifies as an escaped bear haunts the narrative periphery and the Flemings' home becomes threatened by government development projects. Everything comes together, perhaps too neatly, but the real draw is Pollen's show-stealing, fantastic portrayal of the underparented children. (June)
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—An O Magazine Summer Reading Pick

"Affecting . . . Riveting . . . A thrilling tale that unravels mysteries of the human heart, The Summer of the Bear is spine-tingling."—People (4.5 stars)

“There’s magic at the margins of The Summer of the Bear. . . . The novel has a bit of the style of Lemony Snicket and a smidgeon of The Secret of Roan Inish. Pollen’s writing is clean and clear enough that you can really smell the peat smoke and feel the wind.”—Los Angeles Times

"What's real and what's imagined is at the heart of this gem of a novel, which is one part fairy tale, one part international thriller, and all-parts engrossing family drama. . . . Pollen's lyrical and often witty prose makes this a stirring tale of loss and self-discovery."—More

"Pollen's vivid descriptions of nature have the power to transport even the most harried city-bound reader to a cool, secluded, distant island."—O Magazine

"Pollen creates magic in The Summer of the Bear."—Vanity Fair

“Full of vivid detail . . . Pollen is an acute observer of people and places . . . a skilled dissector of the subtleties of sibling warfare.”—The Washington Post

“García Márquez meets le Carré meets A.A. Milne at times, with hints of William Golding at others . . . Moving, beautifully written . . . A sensitive and literate story told on several levels, all of them believable.”—Kirkus (starred review)

“Imaginative . . . A story with the spark of the unexpected . . . Readers will be captivated by Pollen’s characters and the warmth with which her magical tale unfolds.”—Bookpage

“A haunting, unsentimental look at estranged families and hidden secrets . . . Magically melancholy . . . Tender and wistful, Pollen doesn’t shy away from harsh truths, but at the heart of her story there’s an unquenchable belief in love and redemption.”—Marie Claire (UK)

"Pollen delivers a potent narrative about a family gripped by grief."—Chicago Post-Tribune

“I devoured Bella Pollen’s The Summer of the Bear and found it to be the perfect escape.”—Sadie Stein, The Paris Review

“Part fairy tale, part suspense thriller, this magical book grips hold of you, almost creating the sensation of an out-of-body experience—one that’ll keep you holding your breath until the very last minute.”—Easy Living (UK)

“[A] show-stealing, fantastic portrayal of under-parented children.”—Publishers Weekly

“Pollen sensitively and intricately takes each family member through painful stages of grief and longing.”—Booklist

“A sweet, affecting, well-wrought tale of a family torn apart and then reunited . . . will charm most fiction readers.”—Library Journal

“Bewitching . . . A heartfelt novel.”—Glamour (UK)

“The plotting is lucid, the dialogue crisp, and the characterization first class. It is a pleasure to spend time in the company of such a relaxed, polished, storyteller.”—Mail On Sunday

"The Summer of the Bear is a heartbreaking story about a family stranded on a Scottish island, shrouded in mystery."—In Style

"A gently absorbing tale which smoothly splices poignant family drama with suspenseful Cold War thriller."—Daily Mail

"Pollen is brilliant at portraying the bewilderment of the Fleming children. . . . This is a gentle, haunting tale that stayed with me long after I finished reading."—Daily Express

"The story of Jamie and siblings is heartbreaking but interspersed with a knowing humour as Pollen captures the subtle witticisms of the islanders as they bend and twist the story of the bear until it takes on a sort of mythical status."—Scotsman Magazine

"Part spy thriller and part ghost story, this book will keep you enthralled to the last page."—The Sunday Post

"Engaging . . . The Cold War mystery steals the show."—Veronique de Turenne, Barnes & Noble Review

"[An] unusual novel . . . [Pollen] excels in her portrait of East Berlin, a tense and paranoid regime of nefarious intent. Also evocative is her portrayal of the Outer Hebrides, always soft and gauzy with mist. The novel revels in the residue of dreams. . . . Touching and emotional."—Curled Up With a Good Book (blog)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; First American Edition, 1st Printing edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802119743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802119742
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,420,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Raised in New York , Bella Pollen is a writer and journalist who has contributed to a variety of publications, including American Vogue, The Spectator, The Times & The Sunday Telegraph.

Author of four previous novels, Midnight Cactus, Hunting Unicorns, Daydream Girl and All About Men, Pollen has tackled a broad spectrum of subjects from the decline of the British Aristocracy to the immigration issues of the US/Mexican Border.

With Summer of the Bear, Pollen returns to a place beloved of childhood holidays, an isolated and wind swept island off the west coast of Scotland where a young boy believes an escaped bear may hold the key to his diplomatic father's sudden death. Part mystery, part ghost story, part family drama, Pollen has delivered a riveting and magical story about a family rocked by loss and bereavement. Pollen is married with four children and divides her time between London and the American mid-west.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Tina Says VINE VOICE on June 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Bella Pollen's newest book, The Summer of the Bear, was my first introduction to Pollen's work. Set in 1980, Letty Fleming and her children are moving to a Scottish island after the death of Letty's husband, an embassy worker who died accidentally.

When questions about her husband's work come up, it is difficult for the family to continue to defend the man they thought they knew. Especially struggling is Jamie, Letty's young son, who refuses to believe his father is dead. Now in his new home, Jamie has decided that a bear that is on the loose is really his father, and Jamie looks for this bear wherever he goes. His older sisters, Georgie and Alba are struggling in their own way as is their mother.

I enjoyed the storyline of this novel, and also the Scottish setting, a locale I rarely read of in books. While this is not a mystery, there is a bit of suspense and the unknown as Letty and Tom, her husband's good friend, try to understand Nicky's death that came so unexpectedly. Georgie, the oldest daughter may be able to shed some light on things, as she and her father took a trip to East Berlin shortly before his death. Georgie is worried that what she reveals may implicate her father in something, so tries to keep what she knows to herself.

While I am normally not someone who enjoys any narration by animals, there are brief chapters narrated by the bear in this story. And, despite the fact that I don't much believe that Nicky became the bear- like Jamie believed- I could almost hear Nicky's voice in those chapters, and it seemed entirely believable.

The Summer of the Bear will make a nice summer read.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia on June 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a whimsical coming of age story of three siblings growing up on a far northern Scottish Island. They've just lost their diplomatist father in a horrible accident (or was it suicide?) and their mother has emotionally checked out of their lives. The two oldest Georgie, 17 and Alba, 14 are negotiating puberty with more or less success but the girls' 9 year old brother Jamie is floundering but then he's always been on the odd. He can't accept that his much loved dad is gone forever and becomes convinced that he has returned in the guise of a grizzly bear that's been lost on their island having slipped away from his wrestling bear owner. This honors the beliefs of the local fishermen who legend has it can return to life as seagulls. Mom's drinking becomes worse as she sits up nights rereading her husband's apparent suicide note and rehashing their life together searching for truth and some meaning. The kids are left alone to raise themselves and one another. There is a non-cloying sweetness to this book. It's filled with nostalgia (it's set in the 1970's), the Hebrides island a remote but beautiful place and there's the magical thinking of childhood that never quite tips over into the fantastical. Finally there's optimism and love that leads to honesty and a remerging and renewing within this family. Another juicy tidbit are the snippets of the father's diplomatic work concerning the cold war as it played out in Germany in the decades post World War II.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on June 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Summer of the Bear tries to be many things at once: a mystery (involving possible espionage), a family saga, a children's adventure, a comedy, at least two love stories, a bit of a political/environmental story, and maybe a fantasy (the last could also be read as a story of spirituality). It succeeds at some of those ambitions more than others.

Bella Pollen's novel tells an odd but (mostly) charming story that focuses on young Jamie Fleming and his family. Jamie's father, Nicky Fleming, is a diplomat. When Nicky dies in Bonn after falling from the embassy's roof, he is widely believed to have committed suicide. Jamie's mother, Letty, doesn't quite have the heart to tell Jamie, substituting "he's gone" and "he's not coming back" for the stark language of death. Mildly irritated that his father won't be taking him to the circus to see the performing bear, Jamie becomes convinced that his father is away on a secret mission worthy of James Bond. Jamie's spoken belief that his father is a spy is unfortunately misunderstood; rumors are already afoot that Nicky was actually working for East Germany against the interests of the UK. The rumors stem from a partially written letter to Letty -- found crumpled on Nicky's desk after his death -- that mentions a secret he's been keeping from her. Embassy officials view the letter as a confessional suicide note. At some point Letty starts to wonder whether her husband's death was neither accidental nor a suicide, while at the same time fighting doubts about whether the man she loved did (as some additional evidence suggests) engage in an act of treason.

Nicky's death forces the family to return home to the Outer Hebrides.
Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mimbelina on November 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Transitioning smoothly between the present and past and among the lives of the main characters, Bella Pollen recounts a heart-rending tale of loyalty, loss, and the hurt and hope that comes with being a part of a family. Leticia Fleming is stunned by the death of her husband, a diplomat in Bonn during the Cold War, and the ensuing rumors and accusations that he was a traitor and his death a suicide. Betrayed by those nearest her, she flees with her young family to an isolated island in the Scottish Outer Hebrides'. On the island, surrounded by stark and bleak surroundings and by people sheltered from the modern world and entrenched in old beliefs and values, she and her young children are forced to confront their loss and grapple to uncover the truth behind it. They tear each other apart in their individual struggles and with the secrets they keep, creating tiny rifts in the family that only intensify the pain that each faces. As they work through their grief, Letty and her two daughters Georgie and Alba become slowly convinced of their husband and fathers' guilt. Jamie, the youngest son who suffers with communication and physical ability, is the only one of the four who remains convinced of his fathers' loyalty and his continued presence in their lives. Jamie's father promised him that he would return and Jamie refuses to forget that promise. As he settles into the island, he slowly comes to believe that his father has taken the form of an escaped grizzly bear that is loose somewhere along the coastline and he sets about to find the bear and see his father once more.Read more ›
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