Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Angel Makers, Jessica Gregson

The Angel MakersSari is fourteen years old when they carry her father out, carry him through the village lanes, his face bare and blank to the wide sky, carry him through the summer wildflowers that bloom alongside the river, carry him to the cemetery. 

"When the men of a remote Hungarian village go off to war in 1916, the women left behind realize their lives are much better without them. Suddenly, they are not being beaten; they have time for friendships; they even find romance with the injured Italian soldiers staying just outside of town.  For Sari, an intelligent girl who's always been an outcast (her fellow villagers suspect her of being a witch because of her medical knowledge), it's the first time in her life she's had friends. When the men return at war's end, the freedom Sari and the others have enjoyed is suddenly snatched from them, and they realize they need to do whatever it takes to hold onto it. Sari puts her medical knowledge to use to off her husband. Then she helps one of her friends. And another. When the word spreads, she realizes her problems are only beginning. This creeping and hugely readable first novel is based on a true story."

The Angel Makers is a fairly well-narrated work of historical fiction, although it is a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, being based on a true story but with lots of changes made by the author. I'd be curious to read a summary of what actually happened, although not a full-length nonfiction book; this story isn't that interesting. I checked The Angel Makers out of the library, and was glad that I did so; it's not a book I would reread or anything. However, it is pretty entertaining and somewhat thought-provoking. It makes one think about the repression of women in rural areas in Europe even in the twentieth century. And such things were still going on in more populous and educated regions. 

There were some parts of this book that felt a bit off; the cursing, for example. The women in this small village use a lot of curse words that don't seem realistic. I don't know. I'm just not sure I liked that choice of the author. It's just a little hard to take the historical setting seriously when the women are using the f-word. But it might be historically accurate in terms of the language; I really have no idea. That was a minor criticism: my more major one was that the story took a long time getting off the ground. Sixty pages in, a fair amount has happened, but it doesn't feel like anything has happened really, even though Sari's father has died, the men have gone off to war, and the Italian prisoners have arrived. (Incidentally, Sari isn't really a very Germanic name, is it?) I suppose that's a lot that has happened, but it still felt very much like the earliest development of the novel. 

Despite the slowness of the novel, I enjoyed The Angel Makers, which was a fairly intriguing story. As I read more though, the cursing got more and more distracting and annoying. There was just something off about The Angel Makers: historically and the way it was written. It was certainly very different than what I was expecting. I didn't dislike it, but I certainly didn't love it. 

I did think Sari was an interesting character, even if most of the secondary characters were thinly developed. Sari, however, is a very intelligent and interesting young woman; feared by the community before the war, once it begins they all being to develop a grudging respect for her, and at least tolerance. Really, Sari was the only character who felt well developed to me, although I did enjoy reading about some of the other people in the story. 

There's a description of Italian in the book that I really liked: "a language that sounds like bubbles blown underwater." (pg. 66). It was a nice simile. At another point Italian is compared to "smooth, round pebbles dropping into still water." (pg. 103). Both of these have to do with water, and indeed Italian has a very liquid, flowing sound to it. It's a beautiful language, and it's no wonder that traditional operas were all sung in Italian. 

The Angel Makers wasn't bad, but I would recommend checking it out of the library, as it's not a great book. 

340 pages.

Rating: ***

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