I’ve always been drawn, in my reading and writing, to stories set in the middle of tumult and to characters who manage to create their identies between battling forces. Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities was a favorite in adolescence, and Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller, which I reviewed recently here is another. These are tales of survival, and if you share my love of such stories, here are a few must reads.
Sweet Song, by Terry Persun
This compelling story of a mixed-race boy’s struggle to find identity in post-Civil War America explores the heart of our racial past and speaks truths that resonate with the undercurrents of our present. Because Persun reaches deep into the character of the boy and those he meets on his journey, avoiding stereotypes, we experience powerfully both the brutality and the compassion that shape Leon’s path. A deeply absorbing exploration of our national character. We live Leon’s struggles, and the people he meets are us.
Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean
As the aging Marina’s mind slips from present to past and back again, we move from present, where her children who know nothing of her past to a woman surviving the siege of Leningrad. We move from her children’s lives as they urge Marina and their father, Dimitri, toward a nursing home—or a “death camp” in Dimitri’s words, to the starving woman on the roof of the art museum whose treasures she has helped to save and whose world she enters as she watches for German planes. Alternating between a harrowing story of survival and inevitable final ends, this story stays with us.
Stones From the River, by Ursula Hegi
The protagonist of this story, set in the early days of Hitler’s Germany, is a dwarf. Both outsider and German in a village drawn into Hitler’s dream of Germany, she takes us deep into German character and makes their destiny all too human.
In my next blog, I’ll give a sample chapter from these books.