Thursday, April 20, 2017

At the Water’s Edge By Sara Gruen

At the Water’s Edge visits the time of World War II, as does Lilac Girls, about which I posted yesterday, but Sara Gruen’s novel explores the wartime journey of a young Philadelphia socialite on the home front and then on the edge of Loch Ness in the Scottish highlands, looking for its reputed monster.  Well, that’s what Ellis and Hank are doing—or what they say they are doing, to redeem Ellis in the eyes of the father who has disowned him.  Maddie, Ellis’s wife, has come along for the ride, but the men’s quest and their decidedly upper-crust prejudices begin to wear thin for her as they collide with the values of the people of the Scottish village.  As Maddie, essentially stranded in this backwater by her husband, experiences the effects of the war and forms new friendships, her eyes gradually open to new truths about her life so far and her prospects for the future.  With Maddie as narrator and skillful portrayals of the characters she has grown up with and those she now meets, Gruen makes real the deepening of Maddie’s journey into herself as she gradually discovers that she does have choices she can make—and that she must make.  And the Loch Ness monster is the least of her worries.

I guess I’m on a World War II kick.  I’m currently reading another historical fiction with an otherworldly element, Above the East China Sea by Sarah Bird.  If “East China Sea” brings Okinawa to mind, you’ve probably been stationed there or know of the decisive battle of the Pacific war.  One plotline of Above the East China Sea follows a 21st-century “military brat” (her words) whose life has been shattered after holding together tenuously through one military move after another and finally to Okinawa.  The other thread has to do with a schoolgirl living through the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.  I was there for the very moving 50th anniversary commemorations of the horrendous 3-month battle, but this book reveals disparate views of Okinawans that I was not aware of:  some were committed to the unique Okinawan culture—really a combination of cultures due to the island’s location on key Pacific shipping lanes for centuries—but some fully supported the Emperor of Japan, who in the end sacrificed Okinawa and its people to dig in for a last stand against the allies.  The two storylines converge in a way that appears (so far in my reading) to bring hope to two teen girls feeling very lost. 

If you like the kinds of reading we’ve been talking about, this gives me an opportunity to plug a favorite of mine, the Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon.  Many people are now familiar with the Outlander TV series on Starz, available on DVD through Virginia Beach Public Library.  Like the show, the book series starts just after World War II when a British army nurse is suddenly transported through a circle of standing stones in Scotland back to 1743 and the lead-up to a Scottish rising against the British.  Gabaldon combines historical fiction with military history, medical mystery, adventure, romance, and a bit of fantasy thrown in to make it all work.  With eight major books so far, along with innumerable shorter side stories, Outlander takes Claire and her Scottish highlander Jamie through history from Scotland to France to the American colonies.  Naturally, there is much more depth to the novels than can be encapsulated in a TV show or movie.  There are even two Outlandish Companion guides to the series, written by Gabaldon herself!

Review by Lynn

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