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The Winter Vault Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 21, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Intrusion: A Novel
A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives. Learn More
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Profound loss, desolation and rebuilding are the literal and metaphoric themes of Michaels's exquisite second novel (after Fugitive Pieces). Avery Escher is a Canadian engineer recently moved to a houseboat on the Nile with his new wife, Jean, in 1964. Avery's part of a team of engineers trying to salvage Abu Simbel, which is about to be flooded by the new Aswan dam. His wife, Jean, meanwhile, carries with her childhood memories of flooded villages and the heavy absence of her mother, who died when she was young. Now, the sight of the entire Nubian nation being evacuated from their native land before it's flooded affects both Avery and Jean intensely. Jean's pregnancy seems a possible redemption, but their daughter is stillborn, and Jean falls into despair, shunning the former intimacy of her marriage. When the couple returns to Canada, they set up separate lives and another man enters the picture. Michaels is especially impressive at making a rundown of construction materials or the contents of a market as evocative as the shared moments between two young lovers. A tender love story set against an intriguing bit of history is handled with uncommon skill. (May)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Anne Michaels has published several acclaimed poetry collections, including The Weight of Oranges and Miner’s Pond. Her background as a poet shines through in The Winter Vault, which awed critics with its many elegant, vibrant, and luminous passages and Michaels’s endless curiosity about science, engineering, and architecture. Unfortunately, many of these same critics were conflicted in their overall reviews: they reluctantly felt hampered by rolling monologues, pedantic segments, uninspiring characters, and an awkward story structure. The San Francisco Chronicle even remarked: “[T]hese long recitations of memory and conjecture, while exquisite, grow exhausting.” Overall, critics cited this latest from Michaels as a beautiful, important novel, but they were skeptical of its widespread appeal.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (April 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307270823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307270825
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.3 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #669,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Eleven years after the publication of Fugitive Pieces: A Novel, her only other novel, Anne Michaels has published a monumental philosophical novel which is also exciting to read for its characters and their conflicts. Complex and fully integrated themes form the superstructure of the novel in which seemingly ordinary people deal with issues of life and death, love and death, the primacy of memory, the search for spiritual solace, and man's relationships with earth and water--huge themes and huge scope, reflecting huge literary goals. And Michaels is successful, not just in dealing with the big issues and themes affecting mankind itself, but in bringing them to life through individuals who muddle along, seeking some level of personal connection with the world while trying to appreciate life's mysteries.

Avery Escher is a young engineer in 1964 when he and his wife Jean travel to Egypt's Abu Simbel site, where he is charged with the task of helping to remove the Great Temple and reconstruct it in the cliff sixty feet higher. Gushing water, which will be released when the Aswan Dam is finished, will flood the area where the temple lies, and the new Lake Nasser will cover all the land downstream. As he works on the site, Avery feels that "Holiness was escaping under the [workers'] drills," and he comes to believe that "the reconstruction was a further desecration, as false as redemption without repentance."

All the Nubian people who have lived in the area below the dam for tens of generations have been relocated, but they are bereft of their roots, their memories, and their dead.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Readers will doubtless encounter rave reviews of this book, and indeed it deserves them for its greatness of scope, generally fine writing, and thematic resonance. But compared to Anne Michaels' previous novel, FUGITIVE PIECES, this is less a story than a poetic meditation, a collection of evocative images and pregnant thoughts, tied to characters who seldom spring into independent life. Most people will admire Michaels' ideas, which certainly have an integrity of their own, but those looking for narrative consistency may well be disappointed.

The start is promising. The setting is Egypt in 1964, during the construction of the Aswan High Dam that will hold back the Nile, creating the huge Lake Nasser, and displacing thousands of Nubian villages. One of the engineers supervising the removal of the temples of Abu Simbel to higher ground is Avery Escher, who lives on a small houseboat with his new wife, Jean. The story of their courtship and marriage in Canada is interwoven with their year in Egypt, as both Avery and Jean are affected by the human tragedies that they see around them, and by a loss that touches them more personally. Something of Anne Michaels' evocative scale of reference, together with a poesy that can veer into silliness, can be seen from the following:

"When Avery lay next to his wife, waiting for sleep, listening to the river, it was as if the whole long Nile was their bed. [...] The river, he felt, heard every word, wove every sigh into itself, until it was filled with dreaming, swelled with the last breath of kings, with the hard breathing of labourers from three thousand years ago to that very moment.
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Format: Hardcover
Not many authors would have the boldness to connect three completely unrelated examples of engineering ingenuity in three different continents under one thematic arc, however complex and multilayered. Anne Michaels has done just that in her new, long awaited second novel, THE WINTER VAULT. Michaels' passion is, however, less focused on the impressive visible results of these engineering achievements - the Aswan Dam in Egypt, the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada and the post-World War II reconstruction of Warsaw's Old City - and centred more on the people who have been involved in these constructions or those who have been impacted by the resulting changes. In rich poetic prose, the author interweaves the intimate experiences and musings of her protagonists with broad societal questions and her own philosophical reflections.

The story begins in 1964 when the ancient Abu Simbel temple complex in Upper Egypt needed to be carved up and moved block by block, through a complicated process, to higher ground, to protect it from the impending flood waters of the dam. Avery Escher, a British engineer, is overseeing this delicate operation. His relevant experience stems from his training through his father during the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Avery is a practical, forward looking man, who can only imagine positive change emerging from such major redesigning efforts. His young wife Jean, having grown up in this region of Canada, had a different perspective on the project, and as a result is less convinced of the potential benefits of change for the affected people. She is also concerned with the need to preserve what was there, such as the local flora and fauna.

What brought those two very different people together, other than some parallel aspects in their personal lives?
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