My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Time taken to read - 19 days
Publisher - Harper Perennal
Pages - 582
Blurb from Goodreads
In 1936 the Schwarts, an immigrant family desperate to escape Nazi Germany, settle in a small town in upstate New York, where the father, a former high school teacher, is demeaned by the only job he can get: gravedigger and cemetery caretaker. After local prejudice and the family's own emotional frailty result in unspeakable tragedy, the gravedigger's daughter, Rebecca, begins her astonishing pilgrimage into America, an odyssey of erotic risk and imaginative daring, ingenious self-invention, and, in the end, a bittersweet - but very "American" - triumph. "You are born here, they will not hurt you" - so the gravedigger has predicted for his daughter, which will turn out to be true.
Rebecca Schwart aka Hazel Jones aka Hazel Gallagher is our main character. We open up with Rebecca reflecting 10 years post her fathers death. Then we skip to New York, Rebecca has another name and is living a working married lady who encounters a man following her and mistaking her for another woman. We follow this time in her life briefly before heading into her childhood and her life as the Gravedigger's daughter. Here we get a view of Rebecca's life and her journey into early adulthood. The story then goes to her life as an adult and the tale follows from there.
I don't know what I expected from this book however it wasn't what I got. The main theme is really just about Rebecca the individual, who progresses in her life and becomes Hazel. She goes through a lot of hardship, loss and hurt, we follow the life of her, her husband and her son. It then, I felt, abruptly changes, leaves you hanging although in the letters at the end it hints at the sons outcome. The chapters are quite short in length which I really did appreciate and generally like in a story and a warning that there is some bad language throughout. There are many themes touched upon within the story, Nazi's, war, grief, murder, suicide, violence, love, abuse to name just some that are covered.
I found the character of Rebecca/Hazel very different although she is shaped by things that happen to her, there isn't a clear cut reason to why the big change. The relationship with the men in her life is so different, this could be reflective of the time and past male influences. Some people have loved this book, I just found it really hard to get through. I can honestly say I think this is the longest I have read a book as I had to keep putting it down to try something else as my interest would drop. Some of it is quite interesting, the decline of her fathers mental health during and after the war, how her brother reacts to the town despising them. Rebecca's personal growth and changes, in between there was a lot I really didn't like and found it didn't hold my attention. Your left with questions and the ending, whilst is can be perceived as cleverly done and well thought out, it is also rather abrupt which I personally am not a fan of. 2/5 for me this time, this was my first time reading this author and I am not sure I would read her again. Her writing style just didn't engage me however, as I have said, some people really loved this book so I would suggest giving it a bash.
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