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What Is Left the Daughter Hardcover – July 6, 2010
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2010: On a stormy Nova Scotia night in 1967, the loner Wyatt Hillyer has come to terms with his life's choices and self-imposed separation from his daughter Marlais. Realizing that one of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is an honest picture of himself, Wyatt has decided to write his memoirs in the form of a letter on the occasion of Marlais' twenty-first birthday. With great clarity and economy he slowly discloses the events of his parents’ scandalous deaths in 1941, his teenage years living with his aunt and uncle, the joys of fatherhood, and what led to his abandoning his only daughter and her mother. Returning to Canada's Maritime provinces in his latest novel, What Is Left the Daughter, acclaimed author Howard Norman has created an unpredictable and absorbing story of an imperfect and tragic life at a turning point. This short and potent novel will leave readers replaying events and reconsidering Wyatt and the other unique characters long after reading the final pages. --Lauren Nemroff
Howard Norman, widely regarded as one of this country's finest novelists, returns to the mesmerizing fictional terrain of his major books--The Bird Artist, The Museum Guard, and The Haunting of L--in this erotically charged and morally complex story.
Seventeen-year-old Wyatt Hillyer is suddenly orphaned when his parents, within hours of each other, jump off two different bridges--the result of their separate involvements with the same compelling neighbor, a Halifax switchboard operator and aspiring actress. The suicides cause Wyatt to move to small-town Middle Economy to live with his uncle, aunt, and ravishing cousin Tilda.
Setting in motion the novel's chain of life-altering passions and the wartime perfidy at its core is the arrival of the German student Hans Mohring, carrying only a satchel. Actual historical incidents--including a German U-boat's sinking of the Nova Scotia-Newfoundland ferry Caribou, on which Aunt Constance Hillyer might or might not be traveling--lend intense narrative power to Norman's uncannily layered story.Wyatt's account of the astonishing--not least to him--events leading up to his fathering of a beloved daughter spills out twenty-one years later. It's a confession that speaks profoundly of the mysteries of human character in wartime and is directed, with both despair and hope, to an audience of one.
An utterly stirring novel. This is Howard Norman at his celebrated best.
Amazon Exclusive: Howard Frank Mosher Reviews What Is Left the Daughter
Howard Frank Mosher is the author of 10 novels, his most recent book is Walking to Gatlinburg. Mosher's novel A Stranger in the Kingdom won the New England Book Award for Fiction and was made into a movie, as were his novels Disappearances and Where the Rivers Flow North. Read his guest review of What Is Left the Daughter:
As my sainted grandmother used to say, with a hard look right straight at 12-year-old, misbehaving me, let's not mince words here. Okay, let's not: Howard Norman's new novel, What Is Left the Daughter, is the best story of love in the time of war I've ever read. And yes, that includes Cold Mountain and A Farewell To Arms.
It's the early 1940s in Halifax, Nova Scotia. World War II, in all its fury, has come to Canada, as the dreaded German U-boats are sinking ferries and passenger ships just off the coast. In the meantime, 17-year-old Wyatt Hillyer's parents, caught up in a love triangle in which they've both fallen for a local switchboard operator and aspiring actress, have without warning leapt to their deaths "from separate bridges in Halifax on the same evening." Bereft and adrift, Wyatt soon moves to the tiny Bay of Fundy outport of Middle Economy, to work in his uncle's sled and toboggan shop.
It will come as no surprise to Norman's readers to learn that, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's jungle-village of Macondo, Middle Economy is a universe unto itself. What's more, its residents are every bit as strange and wondrous. For starters, there's kindly, plain-spoken Cornelia Tell, a one-woman Greek chorus of information and assessments. The town's aspiring stenographer, Lenore Teachout, takes down every conversation she overhears, and even transcribes the most awful war news over the radio. The casualty reports so distress Wyatt's eccentric uncle that he's papered the side of his toboggan shop with newspaper accounts of ships sunk by U-boats. Wyatt's beautiful, adopted cousin, Tilda, is obsessed by obituaries. Her dream in life is to become a "professional mourner" at the funerals of people who die without family or friends.
When Hans Mohring, a likable young refugee from Hitler's Germany, visits Middle Economy and falls in love with Tilda, all hell breaks loose in the village, including the bloodiest and most shocking murder in recent fiction, the strangest (and, in places, funniest) courtroom sequence I've ever read, and the unspeakably sorrowful, total dissolution of the Hillyer family.
Or does Wyatt's beloved family come totally unraveled in the onslaught of the war and its madness? Suffice it to say that What Is Left the Daughter, which is structured as a long letter from Wyatt, written in 1967 to his 21-year-old daughter, just may hold out the prospect of a transcendent love so powerful and enduring that it affirms the value and meaning of our lives even in the worst of times and despite all of our tragic flaws.
What Is Left the Daughter affirms what many of Howard Norman's readers have known since he published his magical first novel, The Northern Lights. Norman is most certainly one of America's three or four best novelists, with a uniquely wise and tolerant vision of his characters and all human beings everywhere. So let's not mince words. What Is Left the Daughter is a literary masterpiece that will, I guarantee it, live on in your heart, and mine, forever.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Set on the Atlantic coast of Canada during WWII, Norman's latest (after Devotion) is an expertly crafted tale of love during wartime. Wyatt Hillyer loses both his parents on the same day when they jump from different bridges in Halifax, Nova Scotia, after they discover they are both having affairs with the woman next door. Wyatt's aunt and uncle take him in, and Wyatt becomes his uncle's apprentice in his sled and toboggan business and, despite the circumstances, soon falls in love with his adopted cousin, Tilda. Yet he must resign himself to loving from a distance when Tilda brings home Hans Moehring, a German university student. The two begin a courtship harshly complicated by reports of U-boat attacks on Canadian ships, and Tilda's father becoming increasingly uneasy about this potential enemy in their midst. Norman's writing is effortless, and his plot is grand in scope but studded with moments of tenderness and intimacy that help crystallize the anxiety and weariness of life on the home front. That Norman is able to achieve so much in 250 pages is a testament to his mastery of the craft. (July)
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Top customer reviews
I first read "What is Left the Daughter" when it came out in 2010. I was a senior in high school, and I had randomly added it to my Christmas list. The story involves a double suicide, an unrequited love, and war, but manages not to be depressing or contrived.
Because this book is written so beautifully and frankly, and because it offers such believable characters and vivid scenes from Nova Scotia, this books was the perfect "escape" read for a lonely teen. It helped me though the stresses of my senior year, family problems, and my first real heartbreak.
Now I'm 24 and reading it again. Its helping me through a bout of depression and anxiety, and I'm also finding that at this age - as someone who has now studied WWII and experienced a little bit more of life/relationships - it makes even more sense to me, and means more to me.
I'll probably read it again when I'm in my 30's or 40's, etc. and I'm sure it will mean something different to me then. Overall, I'm thankful to have discovered this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes a readable, well told, unusual story.
Like all of his books, "What Is Left the Daughter" is beautifully written. It's a book full of incredibly rich dualities and symbolism, yet I'm sure it could be just as effective read by someone who chooses not to analyse it.
Written as a letter from an older Wyatt Hillyer to his 21-year-old daughter, the book opens with the suicides of both of Wyatt's parents, who jump from different bridges at about the same time. He is taken in by an aunt and uncle who live nearby in tiny Middle Economy. His uncle is a sled- and toboggan-maker, and he teaches Wyatt the craft. They have an adopted daughter, Tilda, a book-loving woman trying to become a professional mourner, with whom Wyatt falls in unrequited love. She is in love with a young German emigre studying philology (words) at a nearby university. German U-boats are sinking Canadian craft, bringing the huge war to the tiny town.
"I believe if you sully the sea it will come back at you ten fold," Wyatt's uncle says early on. And the water, the library, the bakery are the canvas in which Norman paints his characters with a precision that amounts to a kind of literary pointillism. The novel takes on the mysteries of love and death and war with lovely subtlety.
It's a book that may stay with you forever. I hope I've done it, and Mr. Norman, justice, because they matter to me.
When 17 year old Wyatt Hillyer is suddenly orphaned one night in 1941, his entire life changes. He goes to live with his Aunt Constance, Uncle Donald, and their adopted daughter Tilda in Middle Economy, Nova Scotia. Wyatt falls deeply in love with Tilda, while she falls just as deeply in love with Hans Mohring, a German student studying at the local college. WWII is raging and German U-boats are prowling the coast of Canada making everyone uneasy, especially Donald who becomes more and more obsessed with news of the U-boats whereabouts and the Canadian ships that have been lost. He spend hours listening to his radio for any news, and he tacks newspaper clipping in the workshop he shares with Wyatt. He is extremely un-trusting of his daughters new love interest, and after a terrible loss to his family, he takes all his pent up rage and loss out on young Hans...forever altering the lives of everyone close to him.
My heart just went out for Wyatt. He's a simple teenager who grows to become a simple man. After getting dragged down by his uncle's hatred and having to give up almost 3 years of his life, he settles into a lonely yet hardworking existence. He has a few very close friends, but mainly he's just left to think on all he's lost in his young life: both his parents, both his Aunt and Uncle, the woman he loves and the daughter they share. This entire book is Wyatt's letter to his daughter Marlais. It explains to her everything that happened between himself, her mother Tilda, Hans, and the reasons for the complete destruction of their family. He tells her how much he loves her, and why he's been absent almost all the years of her life. He tells her his thoughts and feelings of the 20+ years since his life was forever changed in 1941. It's a sweet and heartbreaking story.
I absolutely recommend this. It is a war-time love story that is simple, yet powerful. I've never read previous works by Mr. Norman, but I'll definitely have to look into some of his other novels. He's a wonderful storyteller who has a beautiful way with words. I'm so glad I stepped out of my box and gave this book a try. It was an absolute pleasure to read.