Two star review originally posted here on March 9, 2017.
Let’s start with the good! (which there was plenty of despite my star rating)… This book had some absolutely beautiful passages. Seriously, often the page was alive with poetry (Ochsner would have found a more creatively moving and less clichéd way of saying that). Ochsner also does a fabulous job conveying the personalities of her various characters, which was lovely. And it was pretty cool reading a Western author’s novel about my ancestral home. I have no complaints there; lady did her research and I think she did a solid job, though I’ve never actually lived in Latvia, let alone during the time period in question, so I guess she may have mischaracterized the vibe of that time and place and I wouldn’t really know.
All that being said, while the beautiful passages and unique characters caused me to teeter on the edge of scoring this 3 stars (neutral), the truth is I still just didn’t like this book, despite really wanting to. Maybe my brain is just getting lazier as I get older, but honestly, I just found it really confusing. I assume that someone who doesn’t know much about Latvia (so, almost everyone in the world) would be infinitely more confused. At times it was tough to figure out what the hell was going on. The narrator is supposedly telling a story to her son from her deathbed, but there wasn’t actually any story that I could pick out. Also, for a character who is supposed to be too dumb to get into school, she sure is damn articulate! Her son apparently has some sort of superpowers, I think might even be the second coming of the Latvian folk hero Lacplesis (which, again, the majority of people reading will totally not get), but this whole concept just seems half-baked and I couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to be going with it. The whole book may have worked better is we just stuck with a single timeline, or if it was clearer who/what in the story we are supposed to be caring about, or what the main conflict is.
It hurts me to pan this book because you can tell that the author is quite gifted and put a lot of love into researching and crafting these characters and their world. But I just could not get into it. 😦