Archive for the ‘National Book Award’ Tag

Life’s Joys and Sorrows   Leave a comment

Zorrie is the title character in Laird Hunt’s novel about a woman whose life is defined by loss, love and the tenacity to keep moving forward.

Following the death of her parents, Zorrie lives with a joyless aunt until the age of 21 when she leaves her hometown in rural Indiana to find her place in the world. She’s undaunted traveling alone and sleeping under the stars. She gets to Illinois where she eventually finds employment at a radium factory painting the numbers on clock faces. The townspeople call the young women who work there “ghost girls” thanks to the radioactive material that makes them glow – something that is haunting. Although she makes enduring friendships with other young women, Zorri makes her way back to Indiana.

This is a terse novel with little embellishment, much like Zorri’s life. Despite this, the descriptions of the community, farms and hardscrabble existence of Zorri and her neighbors are vivid. She’s a no-nonsense, kind and hardworking person.

Soon after returning to Indiana, she marries Harold, the son of the older couple with a spare room to let. Hunt’s adroit narrative leaves the reader as surprised as Zorri by the depth of her relationship with Harold.

The depression, World War II and other events of the mid-20th century impact Zorri’s life in profound ways. Still, her resiliency and Hunt’s ability to highlight beauty among mundane daily routines make for an engaging novel. Zorri may not articulate appreciation for what she has, but it’s evident nonetheless.

Zorri

Almost-four bookmarks

Bloomsbury Books, 2021

161 pages

Insights   4 comments

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Although I read a lot, it’s been a while since I held a book I didn’t want to put down. Even at 500-plus pages, I hated to turn the final one of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Doerr is garnering a lot of well-deserved attention including being named a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award and  #1 New York Times bestseller.

This story is about hope and connections, those that are tangible and those we simply know exist. Marie-Laure, a young girl in Paris, is blind. Her story is told in turns with that of Werner, a German mining town orphan with an aptitude for science and gadgets. The novel jumps around the years just before WWII and during the August 1944 bombing of Saint-Malo on the French coast.

From the onset, there’s a sense the two youths will meet, but how and when leave much to the imagination. Werner builds a small, crude radio from scrap parts. This ability ultimately earns him a spot in Hitler’s army. Marie-Laure relies on her father who builds small models to recreate, first, their Parisian neighborhood and later Saint-Malo where they flee. The hand-crafted items are meant to aid communication with good intentions in a world rife with evil.

Doerr’s work is easy to embrace for its vivid descriptions of the kindness and fear individuals extended or induced during the war. Mostly, though, the characters are so finely fashioned that they come alive in the mind’s eye.

Five Bookmarks
All the Light We Cannot See
Scribner, 2014
530 pages