Yet another book read due to the “raving reviews” everywhere! Why do I put myself through this when I know I do not synchronise with the world, when it comes to book loving? A question I may never answer. However, will this also be a review that coaxes you into reading this book? Read on to know.
The edition I read, had a black background—perhaps the sky with stars adorning it. A beautiful tree with multicoloured leaves branches out of it, which is woven with the title of the book and the name of the Author. I really liked this cover, and at that point did not understand its relevance. But now when I think of it, maybe it denotes the growth of the family—each child branching out in their own direction, with a different shade of personality. But if you really look- the colours of the leaves are all mixed up, again, a possible representation that each sibling’s character influenced the growth of the others.
Saul and Gertie are devoted Jews who live in America. Their children, Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon also live with them—a picture of a perfect family. As the story progresses, there is Klara’s husband and daughter, Simon’s love interests, Daniel’s partner and Varya’s choices. The book revolves around the lives of the four siblings.
A fortune teller has come to town, four inquisitive kids who want to know when they will die, visit her with all their savings. This is how the story begins. A silly visit, just innocent curiosity—but it stays with them all their life.
Klara and Simon move away from home, Daniel pursues medicine and Klara’s life shifts between taking care of her mother and devoting her life to research on life and ways to live longer. Each of the siblings chooses a way of life and pursues it. But somewhere, the constant knowledge of knowing exactly when they are going to die lives with them.
Simon embraces his sexuality, goes on to become a ballet dancer—a Simon much different to what he was when with his family. Klara has always been drawn to magic. She wants to become a magician like her grandmother, but bills and responsibilities get in the way. She ploughs on, and does become a magician after all. Daniel aims to become a doctor and becomes a doctor for the army. Varya aims to study and become successful, but the loss of her dear family members forces her to change her decision and come back to her mother. This does not stop her from pursuing her dream of going into research.
They are all different, bound together by the blood running in them. Each adopts a course of life they see fit. Were their choices influenced by their knowledge of their inevitable end? Or is that how life is? Are we truly responsible for the way life is, or are we just puppets in the hands of destiny. This book explores choices, decisions and life itself.
It is divided into different parts dedicated to each sibling. The language is simple and peppered with some Jewish terms which I failed to understand. The writing is very organic, it doesn’t take sides. It doesn’t manipulate your mind into taking sides. It just presents the story as it is.
It left me with too many questions. And to me, that’s a good thing. While on one hand, I kept thinking it’s their own choices that lead them to their end, another part of me was torn into thinking, is it truly so? Are we actually writing our own fate? Did they lead their lives the way they did because of the knowledge of their death, or was everything just meant to be so—leading them to the point of their demise? A debate I still think about.
I somehow had an image of four people who know of the date of their death and do something remarkable with their lives. But I was annoyed and surprised that there was nothing overwhelming. It was real, and raw and just how life is. This is no extra ordinary tale.
The first two parts of the book left me very irritated. I felt it was filled with immature choices, rash decisions and just lives led without much contemplation. However, isn’t that how youth is? The second and third parts were more mature and really brought the book together. I felt I did not enjoy the book as much; a few parts were dull maybe because they were just too plain and real. But overall, it was a book that made me think.
Who do I recommend this to?
While it wasn’t a mind-blowing read, it is real and very thought-provoking. There are four different approaches to life, and they give one a peek into different ways of leading life. While you may relate to one thing, and not relate to others, you still get to experience them. So if you want to walk a little in different shoes, read this book maybe?
In New York, he would live for them, but in San Francisco, he could live for himself. And though he does not like to think about it, though he in fact avoids the subject pathologically, he allows himself to think it now: What if the woman on Hester Street is right, and the next few years are his last? The mere thought turns his life a different color; it makes everything feel urgent, glittering, precious.
The power of words. They weaseled under door crevices and through keyholes. They hooked into invididuals and wormed through generations.
The cost of loneliness is high, she knows, but the cost of loss is higher.
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