Sunday, May 21, 2017

There Your Heart Lies

Title:  Their Your Heart Lies
Author:  Mary Gordon
Publication Information:  Pantheon. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0307907945 / 978-0307907943

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "He offers her a coat."

Favorite Quote:  "I learned a very long time ago that if you wait for the perfect action, you'll never act. In a situation like this, all you can do is the least bad thing. And be truthful about the cost of what you've done, of what's been brought about, or allowed to come about, for which, you must also understand, you are responsible."

Here is another book that takes what is by now a very familiar approach - two time periods, two women, a granddaughter trying to uncover all that she does not know about her grandmother's life. The broader context of the past is a history of Spanish civil war. It is a history about which I know very little, hence my interest in the book. This is one of the things I love about historical fiction; it introduces me to history I might not otherwise read. Fiction prompts me to research and learn the actual history that underlies the book.

The Spanish Civil War took place between 1936 and 1939, right before the start of World War II. This is the war that brought the conservative General Francisco Franco to power. Franco then ruled Spain for over thirty-five years until his death in 1975. The idealism of this war drew volunteers from around the world; the international brigades came with the idealistic notion of joining a fight against fascism to protect the world. Sadly, what they found was that the atrocities of war were perpetrated on all sides, and that war became about self-interest not idealism.

The fictional story of this book is of one such volunteer from the United States. Marian is born into a wealthy, privileged, conservative American family. This life of privilege has embedded in it all kinds of prejudice - race, religion, gender, sexual orientation - that Marian wants no part of. Her beliefs and ideal lead far away from most of her family except for her brother Johnny. Johnny's untimely and tragic death pushes Marian further away and on a path that leads to the war in Spain. Her life in Spain shatters her idealism and leads in directions she could never have imagined.

Fast forward many decades later, Marian leads a quiet life in Rhode Island. Her granddaughter Amelia is a source of joy, and finally, Marian decides to talk about the past and tell Amelia the story of her life, from her brother's death to her life in Spain and then back in the United States.

The two time period structure is not quite successful in this book for a couple of reasons. First, Amelia is not really developed as a character and does not really have a story of her own. This book is Marion's story and only hers. The book starts off strongly as it begins with Marian in the 1930s, and the reader lives Marian's life with her. Once the present day story kicks in, the book switches to Marian now telling the story of her life. The history of the war is fascinating, and everything Marian endures is dramatic. However, the story seems removed because at this point the reader is being told a story rather than living that story. Later in the book, the book switches to Amelia's perspective, removing the story even further from Marian's story.

I wish the book had stayed with Marian's story from the 1930s such that as a reader, I lived it through her. That would make for a much more compelling book set against this turbulent history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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