Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Pieces of Happiness

Title:  Pieces of Happiness
Author:  Anne Ostby
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2017. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0385542801 / 978-0385542807

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My dear friend - Can I still call you that?"

Favorite Quote:  "Power lies in knowledge. Especially in deciding whether to use it."

From Norway to a cocoa plantation in Fiji. That is the path Kat's life has traveled in the forty years since she left high school, her family, her friends, and her home. She and her husband Niklas traveled the world from project to projects and in their sixties finally settled on the island of Fiji. Sadly, Niklas drowned, leaving Kat to carry on alone.

Now comes the improbable premise of this book. Kat reaches out to four girlfriends from high school - Ingrid, Lisbeth, Maya, and Sina. She has not seen these women since high school, and even at that time, not all friendships were stable. After all, it was high school. Anyways, Kat reaches out and invites the women to Fiji, not for a visit to reconnect but to live with her on her cocoa plantation. The premise stems from the fact that Kat spent the intervening forty years wandering the world and, other than her husband, formed no other lasting friendship. So, these high school friends still represent her core of friends.

Now comes the even more improbable aspect of this book. All four women say yes. All four remained in Norway after  high school, never venturing far from the homes they grew up in. All four created lives with careers, families, and friends. Yet, enough sadness exists in their lives for each one to say yes to such an invitation and to say yes to an opportunity to almost begin again.

Believable or not, you decide. Or suspend disbelief and go along to see what the story brings.

Beyond the unlikely premise, the story proceeds as you might expect. Each woman, including Kat, herself, brings all their baggage with them - the secrets, the successes, the fears, and the love accumulated over their sixty some years of life. Gradually, of course, the secrets old and new emerge, and paths forward emerge. Throughout this process, Kat's housekeeper Ateca serves as the "Greek chorus" of this book, offering commentary and clarification on how the reader should view the five women.

 What I expected to see explored further was the beautiful setting of Fiji. The book really does not paint a picture of the backdrop; the only point to be made is that it is so completely different from Norway. For its beautiful setting, the book is not a visual story; it is all about the characters, relationships, and emotions. The book does attempt to capture some of the culture of Fiji, particularly through Ateca's commentary as she attempts to help these newcomers traverse the traditions. At times, the commentary seems just that - commentary - rather than an integral part of the story; however, it is still fascinating to learn about a culture I don't know much about.

What I do enjoy about the book is that it focuses on some of the issues of aging - physical constraints, the need for companionship, the joy and struggle of children growing up, and the vital role of friendship. This books becomes about the past we carry with us, what we choose to hang on to, what we let go of for our own benefit, and what deserts us. That is the memory of this book that will stay with me.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment