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Top of my list!
I approached this novel with a bit of apprehension, since Mary Doria Russell's previous books are among my favorites, and I knew this one was a huge departure from both The Sparrow and Children of God. Well, A Thread of Grace not only measures up, but surpasses these novels in writing skill and depth. It's one of the best books I've read in a long time, and I'm sure some of the scenes and characters will remain with me for years to come. Ms. Russell's writing is beautiful and descriptive, but her strength is in her ability to create three-dimensional characters you feel you "know." She is very adept at not only describing these characters, but juggling their stories as her characters' lives intersect. The plot is by turns harrowing, heart-breaking and inspiring. This is one book I'll definitely be recommending to my reading friends. I would caution that it might not appeal to everyone, as there are a huge number of people to keep track of (it helps that a list of characters appears in the beginning of the book). The plot also takes some alarming jumps (e.g., in one chapter someone is alive & well, the next time they're mentioned, people are reminiscing about their lives over that person's grave.) Several times I found myself thinking, "What?!? Did they just say..." and having to re-read the paragraph; the event portrayed seemingly came out of nowhere. Those minor gripes aside, I still found this book to be Russell's strongest and most moving so far. I almost always pass my books along to others. Not this one. This one stays on my shelf so I can read it again! 5+++.
A Thread of Grace
I read about a book or more a week and have a 50 page rule - 100 pages, if I think there might be a chance for redemption. I therefore don't read much of what I don't like. But it is rare for me to find a book that I love. For me, a book I love, is one I go back to the beginning once I've finished the book and re-read parts to get a better understanding, stay with the book longer, not let go. A Thread of Grace is such a book. Being Jewish and having had the Holocaust thrust at me throughout my childhood, I have come reluctantly to that theme as an adult. This book is different. It is not so much about the suffering of the Jews and the hideousness of the Nazi - although it is about that - but about people, trying to survive in times of war - a war fought in a way in which they don't agree. There are many stories told, many interwoven - it can get difficult to follow at times - but the courage, the tenacity and the resiliancy of the characters, makes it worth working through the more difficult parts of the novel. I can't help but believe that there is truth behind the fiction; I can't help but believe that the characters that I came to care about were based on real people. This was an amazing book. A rare find.
About once a year I read a book that touches my heart and soul with captivating characters, a compelling plot and worthy dialogue; this is my pick of the year!! Mary Doria Russell's newest historical fiction details how a network of citizens (Italian and disguised European Jews--peasants and upstanding 'neutral' Catholics--young and old--disenfranchised Italian and German military deserters) shelter Hebrew refugees in mountainous Northern Italy while resisting and sabatoging the German occupiers. Russell's excellent foreshadowing warns of retribution, but I was wholly unprepared for the depth and breadth of sorrow. The aptly titled novel is derived from the Hebrew saying, "No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there's always a thread of grace" and is quoted post-war by a survivor.
I was initially intimidated by the lengthy cast of characters listed at the front of the book. However, each of their interwoven stories was so well developed, I had no difficulty following the plot and became immersed in their lives. The maps were useful in the beginning. This one kept me up until 3:00 a.m. and I can't recommend it highly enough.