I finished another one of Chris Bohjalian’s books, “Before You Know Kindness” (2004). I again sing praises of Bohjalian’s writing – intellectual, suspenseful, thrilling, and full of strong literary elements. Bohjalian provides the ultimate reading experience for deep thinkers and readers who appreciate psychological connections with characters. Bohjalian hasn’t failed my reading tastes yet!

“Before You Know Kindness” starts with a prologue that outlines the crux of the story – an accidental shooting with some rage involved. Sound compelling? The story weaves the tale of a preteen filled with the angst that is strong among those teenage years. This particular tween wants to grow up faster than her natural birthdays allow. She experiments with things that no 12 year old should have to even worry about! Is this real life? Probably, in some cases, at least. To make the angst worse, the tween’s father is a bit nutty; an overzealous, animal rights activist, a vegan who doesn’t mind soy-flavored everything. The father is a compelling character who you want to really dislike, but the story exposes an individual who just wants to do something right and make a difference. Along the way, he becomes blinded by his over-engagement in his work and his family life suffers. After the shooting, he changes, softens, listens to life and his family and learns to really make a difference.

Bohjalian’s novels are well written, well researched, and combine literary, psychological, medical, and scientific themes. His weaves his stories around some type of classic novel or quote. In this case, he incorporated Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” with the story involving a theatrical adaptation of “The Secret Garden” and with quotes from this classic. There are also unstated connections with Bohjalian’s novel and “The Secret Garden.” Readers will stop and think about their memories of “The Secret Garden” and may also have personal memory experiences of gardening and working with the earth. So, I now have in my stack of books “The Secret Garden” of course, and I’m looking forward to revisiting this classic. It is a favorite of mine.

The book begins with this quote:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must loose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
~Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness”

This quote says so much both for the novel and prepares the reader for what is to come, and also on a personal level. Read and reread this quote before, during, and after reading the novel. Poignant. Restful.  

This novel is filled with despair, drama, angst, insight, and ultimately, hope and peace. For more on Bohjalian, visit www.chrisbohjalian.com.  His newest work, “Skeletons at the Feast” is due out in early May. I will be waiting in full anticipation!  Here’s the review from Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly
In his 12th novel, Bohjalian (The Double Bind) paints the brutal landscape of Nazi Germany as German refugees struggle westward ahead of the advancing Russian army. Inspired by the unpublished diary of a Prussian woman who fled west in 1945, the novel exhumes the ruin of spirit, flesh and faith that accompanied thousands of such desperate journeys. Prussian aristocrat Rolf Emmerich and his two elder sons are sent into battle, while his wife flees with their other children and a Scottish POW who has been working on their estate. Before long, they meet up with Uri Singer, a Jewish escapee from an Auschwitz-bound train, who becomes the group’s protector. In a parallel story line, hundreds of Jewish women shuffle west on a gruesome death march from a concentration camp. Bohjalian presents the difficulties confronting both sets of travelers with carefully researched detail and an unflinching eye, but he blinks when creating the Emmerichs, painting them as untainted by either their privileged status, their indoctrination by the Nazi Party or their adoration of Hitler. Although most of the characters lack complexity, Bohjalian’s well-chosen descriptions capture the anguish of a tragic era and the dehumanizing desolation wrought by war. (May)
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Wishing all an inspiring, thoughtful, and insightful reading experience!

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