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on April 10, 2013 :
This book has a lot going on. It’s an historical mystery and modern crime story. The past affects the present and the characters have to solve both mysteries. The historical backdrop is Boston in 1880 and its communities of Jewish immigrants and former American slaves. It’s an interesting story and setting, and not one we typically think of with historical Boston.
The characters are awesome. I especially liked the Jewish grandmother who’s into Japanese cooking, Ming the Chinese-Israeli grad student who fences and swears in Yiddish, and Delilah the seeing-eye dog who guides people into potted plants and passes gas in public. The story is told in the first perspective of a blind person – Joanna - a researcher of Jewish history who investigates these mysteries.
The first 150 or so pages of this book were really well written and engaging. The characters and events were believable; the story continuously developed, and was well paced. The ending fell short though and I suspect the author isn’t finished writing it yet. It seems rushed and the resolution to the modern crime story was fairly predictable. I wanted to know more about the historical aspects – like what’s really going on with the Gostynin group and their inscription, what really happened in 1880, etc. Those parts seemed to get lost in the crime action at the end, whereas this is what first drew me into the book.
Even unfinished, this book is a good read. I would love to see a revision and find out how the author resolves some of the unfinished business. Thanks for posting this.
(review of free book)
on Nov. 20, 2012 :
I got a quarter of the way into the book before I came up for air, so, this deserves a look from other readers. The central character is compelling, she makes sense in her environment, the conflict unfolds in such a way as to pique my interest, the writing is professional, flows well and is free of errors. A solid piece of work: much better than most of the other books I've picked up here.
Two criticisms, both easily fixed. You have the novice writer's habit of introducing a character by having them come up and say something, then telling us who they are and what their relationship to the narrator is. I get like one line of dialogue and then a wordy introduction to them. It breaks the willing suspension of disbelief that the narrator is experiencing events instead of telling me a story. Ming is a good example of this. I don't need to know all the detail about her background right away: piece it out to me when it's relevant. All I need to know right away is that she's the narrator's assistant, she's competent, her name is Ming and she can swear in Yiddish. If you don't give me her backstory, then I will *want* to know more about her, and be intrigued as you piece it out to me; all at once, the background is a little hard to buy into. It would be much more compelling if you just let her be herself--and much funnier if she actually used Yiddish when she swore. Yiddish is automatically funny because it's so close to English. Have the narrator fill in the translations when necessary.
The second issue is how you introduce Joanna. Yes, her blindness is compelling to US, but to HER it's everyday life. She's more or less adjusted to it. Someone in her position wouldn't start off her narrative with her blindness. I think it might make for a rather more compelling introduction if you had her walk into the institute, faithful dog with her, greet the various people that she knows, have an awkward moment with the docent, make it to her office--all without mentioning her blindness. Because these are the things she does every day: her handicap isn't much of a factor therein. Describe everything in non-visual terms, but do it subtly, so that once she stabs herself with the piece of glass, you reveal that she's blind, and why she has a shard of glass, and your reader will slap themself upside the head and say "D'oh! I shoulda figured it out from the dog and the way she described how people smelled." NOW that reader has been pulled into the story rather than pushed into it.
But on the whole, this is something if I picked up and flipped through, I'd keep going. So, kudos.
(review of free book)