Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Belief in Angels


Author: J. Dylan Yates
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book ARC
Source: Directly from author
Publisher: She Writes Press
First Published: April 28, 2014
First Lines: "Sometimes in order to tell a story well, so it's truly understood, you have to tell it out of order."

Book Description from GoodReadsJules Finn and Szaja Trautman know that sorrow can sink deeply—so deeply it can drown the soul.

Growing up in her parents’ crazy hippie household on a tiny island off the coast of Boston, Jules’s imaginative sense of humor is the weapon she wields as a defense against the chaos of her family’s household. Somewhere between routine discipline with horsewhips, gun-waving gambling debt collectors, and LSD-laced breakfast cereal adventures, tragedy strikes with the death of her younger brother.

Jules’s story alternates with that of her grandfather, Szaja, an orthodox Jew who survives the murderous Ukranian pogroms of the 1920s, the Majdanek death camp, and the torpedoing of the Mefkura, a ship carrying refugees to Palestine. Unable to deal with the horrors he endures at the camp, Szaja develops a dissociative disorder and takes on the persona of a dead soldier from a burial ditch, using that man’s thoughts to devise a plan to escape to America.

While Szaja’s and Jules’s sorrows are different on the surface, adversity requires them both to find the will to live despite the suffering in their lives—and both encounter, in their darkest moments, what could be explained as serendipity or divine intervention. For Jules and Szaja, these experiences offer the hope the need in order to come to the rescue of their own fractured lives.


Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to the author for providing me with an e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: This was an impressive debut novel that showcases the strength and resilience of the human spirit despite some of the horrible things that can occur in life. The story alternates between Jules' and her grandfather Szaja's stories that showcase their personal struggles and what they had to do in order to survive.

My favourite part of the book was definitely Jules' story.  It was raw, heartbreaking and riveting as her life with neglectful parents unfolds for the reader.  It was easy to get behind her as she struggles to care for her brothers and keep her family life from the prying eyes of her small town.  At the beginning of the book I felt that Jules voice felt too mature for such a young child (especially when she was quoting Edgar Allen Poe) and couldn't see a child of her age dealing with such hardships on a daily basis.  Poe quoting aside, it quickly became evident that Jules' wasn't a typical child and that her life experiences had irrevocably changed her and made her grow up much too fast.

While this was an impressively written novel, it wasn't an easy read.  It was full of unfit, neglectful and abusive parenting, drug use and immense familial loss but it was worth the read because I could see a glimmer of hope within Jules.  As a parent this book touched me, broke my heart and made me so angry at what Jules' and her brothers had to endure.  To the author's credit, I was quickly invested into Jules' story and wanted so much for her to succeed and overcome the horrible lot life had handed her.

The other story in this book described Szaja's early life as he survived WWII and the pogroms the devastated his homeland.  Typically, the WWII-era genre is one of my favourites which is why it surprised me that I didn't find Szaja's story as interesting as Jules'.  His story was touching but I didn't feel as emotionally connected to him and I kept finding myself wanting to get back to Jules' story. 

Overall I enjoyed this book.  It shows the reader that even though life may seem bleak the old adage 'what doesn't kill us makes us stronger' truly can come into play.  This is a dark, haunting story but is a very impressive and compelling debut novel.

Favourite Quote“What I understand now about survival is that something in you dies. You don’t become a survivor intact. Survival’s cost is always loss. This is my mourning book.”

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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