Excerpt from Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Before You Know Kindness

by Chris Bohjalian

Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian X
Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 448 pages
    Aug 2005, 448 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


"Hi, Nan. It's Marguerite."

"I'm making the girls breakfast."

"Oh, I'll just be a minute. Do you remember how you noticed at the club yesterday that Walter Durnip's color wasn't very good?"

"Vaguely. He looked a little gray."

"He did, he did. Well, he died."

She sat on the wooden stool by the phone, and nodded to herself.


"In his sleep."

"That's how I want to go. What was it? A heart attack? A stroke?"

"I don't know. But when he went to bed, he didn't say anything to Elizabeth about how he felt. He just went to sleep, and when Elizabeth woke up this morning she knew right away he was dead."

"He was eighty-four, wasn't he?"

"Something like that."

"He wasn't even ill."

"At least not visibly."

"Oh, we would have known if Walter was ill. He wasn't particularly stoic."

Nan heard her friend laugh, but she hadn't meant this as a joke. It was, in her mind, a simple reiteration of an obvious fact: Walter Durnip was a man, and men were notoriously unwilling to keep pain to themselves—which was where, more times than not, it belonged. As a general rule, old people who talked about their ailments made Nan Seton uncomfortable. Too much... body.

"Elizabeth doesn't know for sure when she's going to have the funeral yet, but it will probably be the day after tomorrow. Saturday."

"Saturday? Too bad. Oh, well. At least by then I'll have a houseful, so the girls won't have to go. John and Catherine arrive tomorrow," she said, referring not to a husband and a wife but to her son and her daughter. Nan knew from years of conversations exactly like this one with her friend Marguerite that she did not need to explain that when she said Catherine she meant Catherine and her husband, Spencer, and when she said John she meant John, his wife, Sara, and—now—their infant son, Patrick.

"How long are they staying?"

"Catherine and Spencer are both taking next week off. Isn't that nice? They'll be here for nine days—"

"And John and Sara are bringing the baby, right?"

"Of course."

"You will have a houseful."

"John and Sara will only be here for the weekend. Till Monday morning. Still, it will be good fun. I'm sure the girls miss their parents. The only hard part is going to be dinner because Spencer is just so difficult."

"Being a vegetarian is no big deal, Nan. Lots of people are!"

"There are degrees. And most people don't obsess about it the way he does or lecture their dinner companions the way he does. Soy milk. Soy hot dogs on the grill. Tofu. Yuck. It just makes things so complicated because I never know what to buy."

"Make him cook!"

"He does. Sometimes that's worse. Everything always seems to have lentils in it."

Upstairs in the bedroom above the dining room she heard a colossal thud and then she heard the girls laughing hysterically. Charlotte, she knew from experience, always woke up in a foul mood but tended to cheer up as the morning progressed. By lunchtime, she would be charming. Willow, on the other hand, seemed to grow tired as the day wore on and if she was going to be cranky (and it was generally rare for the younger cousin to grow irritable) it was likely to be at the very end of the day. Late afternoon, just before dinner. After they had returned from the club, where she had the children in a regimen of swimming, tennis, golf, and junior bridge lessons.

"How is Elizabeth doing?" Nan asked, referring back to her and Marguerite's mutual friend, a woman who—like her and Marguerite—was now a widow.

"Oh, I believe she's fine," Marguerite told her, her voice as light as a dandelion puffball in May.

Excerpted from Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian Bestselling author of Midwives Copyright© 2004 by Chris Bohjalian. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Winter
    by Ali Smith
    "God was dead; to begin with." This first sentence of Winter perfectly sets up the dreamy journey ...
  • Book Jacket: A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    by Atia Abawi

    When you're a refugee, everyone has lost, at least for the time being... And the journey ...

  • Book Jacket: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano

    A charming, bighearted novel starring Auntie Poldi, Sicily's newest amateur sleuth.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One N U G

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.