Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious and powerful, 8 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Twice Born (Hardcover)
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The Amazon blurb outlines the plot so I won't repeat that: it would also spoil the book for new readers to give away too much. I liked much of this book but thought that it lost its way somewhat as the two main plot strands - motherhood and war - are developed separately, diverge and then blend back together.

On the plus side, the `present' narrative is done well: the sense of return to a place from the past as Gemma revisits Sarajevo after sixteen years; the city itself and its inhabitants, both scarred and fragile as they attempt to regain some kind of normality.

The run-up to, and outbreak of, the war in the `past' narrative is also vivid and chilling: the small beginnings that no-one expects to turn into such a conflagration, the snipers, the casual savagery, the camps.

However, in between these two there is an extended story of Gemma's obsessive quest for a baby and motherhood, most of which is set in her home country of Italy. This is personal taste, but I found this whole section a distraction from the main narrative which feels like it's been put on hold to get this bit out on paper.

I also found the style a bit irritating as it feels like the author is artificially reaching for a pseudo-poetic style with tangled up similes and metaphors: a boy's eyelashes like `a row of bare trees in the snow, earth cut in two by a trench'; Sarajevo as a `pita bread stuffed full of the dead'; regret as `a tired old man who can't climb over the gates we build'. This might be a flaw in the translation, maybe these work in the original Italian, but they created a barrier between me and the story.

So overall my reaction to this book is a little mixed: there are some very powerful aspects to the story and overall I liked it a lot. The whole thing could have been made tauter and more robust at points, especially the middle section. The last third, however, really comes together brilliantly leaving the story lingering hauntingly in my mind. Recommended.
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