7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Slow Start - Powerful Finish (3.5 Stars),
This review is from: By Blood: A Novel (Hardcover)
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The first half of this book took a LONG time to get through. The nameless narrator was too much of a mystery to me - the intrigue about who this was and why he was telling the story soon faded. My interest piqued a bit once we met the also nameless "patient" who becomes one of the objects of his obsession...but until the story of her heritage begins to unfold, there was very little in "By Blood" to hold my interest. There was so little life in the narrator prior to his discovery of "the patient" that I began to doubt his existence. "My presence in the hallway, my body before the door so close to hers, would force upon her the very fact of my existence, my face and physique giving visual form to any sound she might hear. Yet she must not imagine a body in Room 807; she must believe the room holds nothing but air."
And THEN (while on a long plane ride - perfect timing) - I was all in. The story of the patient's mother(s) and her conception was fascinating. This young woman, frustrated with her inability to connect with the mother she's always known, reaches out to the birth mother she never knew. And her frustration only increases. "I knew she was lying, that I did have another name, one she gave me, or intended to, a name she carried around in her mind all these years - or one she wanted to forget. In any case, I was angry. I felt my names belonged to me, and that I should have them, know them. I couldn't stand being a person dealt out in little pieces, different people owning parts of me, different ideas of me." "I wanted to gather up all the pieces and own myself."
This story deals with characters that are missing pieces of themselves. Pieces of their history, pieces of their heritage, pieces of their soul - taken from them through monstrous acts of others...and pieces of their sanity as evidenced by the narrator. (I still haven't decided if I believe that he existed at all, but he certainly did not exist in the fashion he believed himself to. Which probably doesn't make any sense...but so goes this story.)
This story also deals with love. Messy, frustrating, flawed and incredibly strong human love. Most powerfully, it reminds the reader of the horrors that humans can inflict on one another - as evidenced by the Holocaust.
"You will see this in all the stories of us survivors: improbable moments like the one I just described, events that turn on luck, on nonsensical holes in the fabric of logic, tears in reality itself. Otherwise if we had followed the inevitability of normal events, one thing expected to follow another, the way the world works most of the time, we would be dead. There would not be that moment when the guard hesitates. The disgusting tenderness the tormentor feels for the object of his evil deeds - it could not exist."
There are few names in this story. Some omitted, some only temporary. Maybe that is because these stories represent so many names, so many lives. It becomes increasingly important that we remember them not only as individual lives, but as a group. A group of fellow human beings that experienced what no person should, and certainly no person should experience again. The impact of their individual lives matters, as does the impact of their lives as a group, and what that scope of loss of life means.
"The dead were buried in mass graves - tossed in with bulldozers - just as everyone has seen in the magazine pictures. But if you have never seen anything like it before, you can search the depth and breadth of all you have ever learned about language, and you will not find a word or a figure of speech, or a form of rhetoric, to help you pronounce in your own mind what you are seeing."
This is a vague review, I know. But this book is unlike any I have read before. The reader knows so little of what might be true, what might be lies. What (or who) might exist and what might be delusion. Yet at the heart of "By Blood" there beats a heart of pain and loss...and a very human desire to be loved.