Less than two weeks into the New Year, and I've already discovered my first one star review. I'm actually surprised because halfway through I thought there were still enough redeeming qualities for two stars, but the more it went on, and the more I wanted it to end, the further my rating went down. I admit it doesn't help the novel at all that I kept having to force myself to read a few chapters between books I actually wanted to read instead of reading it a shorter period of time, but it was so boring.
Now there are quite a few interesting and good ideas and premises dispersed throughout this novel; unfortunately they are not executed in a way that appeals to me. Now a lot of the critiques of this book on Goodreads focus on certain small details, and while I agree that those details can be a bit uncomfortable, they didn't bother me or at least weren't the reasons I rated the novel so low. I think it is entirely believable that a family would give up a child to a couple that didn't have any, though maybe not in the circumstances described. After all, as Ausubel explains later, parts of the story were inspired by real life - her great grandmother was given up by her parents to a richer aunt and uncle because they couldn't afford all their children. However this happened before World War I, while Ausubel shifts this action to World War II for her story. I also think the idea of a village hearing about the atrocities of the Nazis and responding by simply disconnecting from the world is intriguing. While it wouldn't work in most cases, couldn't it work if a village is isolated enough, and already had minimal contact with the world? If they decide to cut all ties, could they just be forgotten?
Unfortunately, it didn't work for me because the novel is too dreamlike or fairy tale like, and not in a good way. Just because the prose is lyrical or poetic doesn't mean it's actually saying anything. Instead, it kept me disconnected and, honestly, irritated with the characters. They don't just decide to ignore the world but recreate the world, living in this otherworldly daze. Even this could have worked if the writing style had changed distinctly when the village is finally confronted with reality, thus jarring the village and the reader back into reality. However, even when bad things come, the novel retains this disconnected, "it's all a dream" quality so that I didn't even really care. I feel like she just took it too far, and instead of wondering how the village could stay hidden, I just kept wondering "are these people fucking idiots"? They just married off a twelve year old, she now has her own kids, and her husband is really good at sleeping? Seriously, he spends the majority of the novel asleep even though he started out as a likable enough character before becoming completely useless.
I mean, I get the messages she is trying to go for - the Holocaust is so unreal, how couldn't it have been a dream etc etc, but it was so heavy handed. There's also a whole Rapunzel like sequence with one character wandering through the wilds with her children, completely clueless. Or another fun part, the narrator decides to write down everything she knows, which is a list of words. Oh my god, stop trying to be deep.
Anyway, I think if Ausubel had told a straightforward historical fiction story with her family's past as a stepping point, it could have worked for me. However, she said she tried doing that and it didn't work, so instead she wrote this mess.