Let me start by saying that I am a Kingsolver fan. I'm not bothered by her liberal leanings and tendency to tackle social issues - in fact, it is part of what I love about her writing. Kingsolver is able to articulate some of the most important issues of our day in ways that are multifaceted. Furthermore, she explores them through characters we come to care about, that give the issues relevancy to lives, not just abstract theoretical value.
So, does this book hammer home the need to pay attention to and try to do something to address and ameliorate the effects of climate change? Yes. But it is done in a way that calls up deep societal divides and differences regarding what that means - the cultural territories staked out by various sides - with empathy for the passion and urgencies of each faction.
More importantly, it is a good story with compelling characters that pushes the reader/listener to reflect on her/his own position in the cultural ecology.
I love listening to Kingsolver read her own work. I think her voice is perfect for the main character - although I think the few characters that required unusual accents stretched her skills a bit. It was not enough of a problem to distract me from the story.
As other reviewers have said, this is kaleidoscopic in that it has several loosely (and sometimes surprisingly) linked stories - incredibly imaginative, very deep, unpredictable, fascinating and beautifully written.
Do not read/listen to this expecting anything like a straightforward story or even, necessarily, a point. You immerse yourself in the experience, and just try to take it all in, while your jaw drops periodically b/c of an amazing bit of writing or way of exploring an idea. Being inside this book (like with Cloud Atlas) creates a kind of awe, and amazement that someone's mind works this way.
If you like Mitchell's writing, you will love this. If you are looking for lighter entertainment, a neat story or anything like closure at the end, this may not be your cup of tea.
The performance is remarkable, with the reader taking on and giving voice to a wide range of characters with precision and grace.
I read this book years ago when it was first published, and I loved it then, and I love it now. Elana Dykewoman captures something essential about the immigrant experience - the cultural and political and emotional worlds they experienced, including unbearable trauma and tremendous joy. At the same time, her main characters are navigating the dynamics of belonging and exile and making new home in relation to learning how to be women-loving-women in a world where there is hardly even language and only the barest beginnings of community for them. It is about family and loyalty and being true to yourself in a changing world. And beautifully written.
That said... having an author-read book is always a bit risky. Elana Dykewoman gets some things absolutely right. She has the Yiddish inflection and expressions and pronunciation that are absolutely required for the characters' voices to feel authentic. What she doesn't have is voice acting ability to create characters whose voices sound different on the recording. So there were times when dialogue that would be clear visually on the page became confusing when listing - hard to know who was speaking. Especially where there are changes in who is narrating. Also, there were far more than the usual number of editing glitches - not a huge deal, but noticeable.
Because this book is probably thought of as "niche", I imagine there may not have been a substantial budget for hiring voice talent - so I'm glad Dykewoman made it happen anyway. Revisiting this story in a new way was wonderful, despite the less-than-ideal recording.
It is a very moving and difficult and beautiful story. Well worth it.
I loved this book - I appreciated the beautifully interwoven stories, which seemed to reflect how people bounce off of each others' lives, especially in a small town. I also love how the author shows all of these people in their messy imperfections - shaped and scarred by their own formative experiences and traumas and tendencies. Unlike some reviewers, I really liked Olive - yes, she's difficult, but also deeply caring and somewhat misunderstood. Imperfect, beautiful and awful and infuriating and full of grace all at the same time. As different angles of the same situation are shown, the reader is invited to have empathy for all the disparate characters' perspectives.
I also really liked the reader. The only parts I found annoying were sometimes the voices she used for younger women were too childish sounding. But I loved the growly Maine accents and the crusty New Englandish presentation seemed pretty authentic to me.
The characters linger with me, especially Olive and Henry.
I really like Jon Stewart, but this didn't stand up to my expectations of his wit and humor. Loosely organized as an American History class - the humor is geared at the lowest common denominator (e.g. adolescent and young adult males). While it does have some very funny moments, there was way too much casual sexism - with the assumption that the listener is a young male ready to nudge-nudge-wink-wink away the fact that what was just said was offensive. Add to that other phallocentric remarks, fart jokes (and other similarly sophisticated remarks) - and it was just not worth sticking with it for the funny moments.
I was very disappointed. Stewart is a smart and talented man who can and should do better. But I will be returning this book.
I love Gaiman's stories. And I love how he reads them. And this was very much in line with his other work - in the same category for me as Coraline or The Graveyard Book. Imaginative story and beautiful prose. I thoroughly enjoyed it in that way. But...and here's the reason for 4 instead of 5 stars... it's almost too much like those other stories only not quite as good for coming after them.
So - for the Gaiman enthusiast, you will get another great Gaiman experience, but don't expect anything really new.
Honestly, I keep hoping for something more like Stardust with the intertwining plot lines that make for a really beautifully crafted story.
But this isn't a criticism of THIS story, more of a hope for deeper stuff from Gaiman himself.
I read this book as a child in the 70s, and loved it. So many things about it stuck with me - in particular, some of the lapine language, characters, and rabbit trickster stories. All these years later, I revisited this book as an audio book and was not disappointed. The story is as good as I remember. I hear it differently now, through my adult sensibilities. I find myself disappointed in the lack of substantive female characters despite the fact that this was developed out of stories he told his daughters, and it was his daughters who encouraged him to write the book. But the story is engaging, with some brilliant parts. It's a bit long on description of the British flora and fauna, but hey-- that's the rabbits' world. The reader does a very nice job - he does not make the characters as distinct as they might be... but I appreciate that he didn't force them into different British dialects. The way he reads it is true to the way it is written.
If you read the synopsis, it is hard to imagine how engaging this story is. But it is. The premise is odd, but results is a fascinating interplay among characters you don't expect to find in the same place. Beautifully written with language to savor. The performance is exceptional - with the narrator giving life to many characters with a wide variety of nationalities, dialects and personalities.
This has become one of my favorite audio books, and I will be looking for more by this author and this narrator, for certain.
I "read" this for my book group--- would not have thought to read it otherwise-- and that's what good book groups are good for! This was a fascinating story, nicely rendered. I did actually read part of it, and found I was very glad for the audio version, as the story is written in the Australian dialect of its time period. Kind of hard to read, visually. But easy to hear. The characters and story are engaging... FYI, this is historical fiction. So it's based on real people and situations, and thoroughly researched, but is still fiction.
I felt like I learned a lot and enjoyed the ride.
First, let me say that I read this book once before listening to it. It is a magnificent work, elegant in its concepts and construction. I had already read Mitchell's "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" and that propelled me to pick up Cloud Atlas. I agree with other reviewers that the first section is the hardest to get through, but it is well worth the effort to do so (as I tell everyone I recommend this book to). Everything hinges on the centerpiece section (the 6th story).
Each story is written in its own distinctive voice and style. The connections between the stories are myriad and sometimes subtle. The first half of the book can feel like everything is going wrong with everyone and the characters you care about are not likely to survive - the second half of the book is about redemption, as piece by piece, things are stitched together.
I think the casting and reading of the different stories for audio was done brilliantly. Like other reviewers, I especially appreciate the performance of the centerpiece story which has the most unusual and compelling language. This has become one of my all time favorites-- both the book and the audiobook.
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