Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos

In Sing Them Home, Larken, Gaelen and Bonnie are called home after the death of their father and face the task of not only coming to terms with his death but also with the disappearance of their mother Hope, a tragedy that happened many years ago. Larken, the oldest, is an art history professor with an obsession with food. Gaelen, the only son, is a handsome weatherman who keeps one eye on the skies and another on women. Bonnie, the youngest, is the oddest of the bunch. She's sort of a nomad and scavenger looking for pieces of her missing mother's life and a place of her own. Each one of them needs a release from grief's hold while they stumble upon the road to recovery.

Awesome book! Kallos has created a magnificent story with eccentric, yet endearing and lovable, characters. The story is told with humour and compassion and grabbed me from the very first page. You'd think with such a dire story line, the book would be sad and depressing. Of course, there were sad parts, but the story was also funny and uplifting.

I love the way Kallos drops little hints throughout the story and unravels the mystery of Hope's disappearance subtly. You really have to be paying attention. I also loved how the story was interspersed with Hope's diary. It was sad reading the entries, especially as she started deteriorating from her illness. I was surprised that Llewellyn (a doctor and Hope's husband) chose to keep Hope's illness a secret from her. I think I'd want to know if I had a debilitating illness. Anyway, it was great to be able to get to know Hope through these entries.

Kallos's depiction of the dead in the graveyard and Bonnie's interaction with them was a little eerie at first, but after awhile I found it a little amusing and strangely comforting.

I was fascinated by the Welsh traditions presented in the book. I'm a huge believer in singing to soothe the soul. I honestly think the world would be a better place if we had public gatherings where singing was included for all, not just for those gifted with wonderful voices. Anyway, that explains why I was surprised and awed by the Gymanfa (see new words below). The funeral rituals and the language were also interesting. The explanation on pages 144-145 perfectly explain the language:
People unaccustomed to seeing written Welsh fear they’re hallucinating, or suffering a transient ischemic attack. A cat making haste across a computer keyboard could produce these non-word-looking forms, or an insensible typist with misaligned hands (page 144).
My one complaint is that there were a couple of Welsh conversations where no translation was offered. I love being exposed to new languages, but I get frustrated when I don't know what is being said.

With 540 pages, this book could have been trouble for me. My attention span can be short and I sometimes have trouble finishing chunky books (or chunksters as I've heard them called). Usually towards the last half of the book, I start wondering how much is left, why it couldn't be shorter, why the author had to drone on and on or why the editor didn't cut more. This one was different, though. I could have read another few hundred pages easily.

Favourite quote (along with the one above regarding the Welsh language):
The more restricted one’s view, the more one is compelled to give meaning to what is available. It’s how we rise to the challenge. We elevate the mundane. We sanctify the ordinary (page 191).

There were plenty of words I was unfamiliar with in this book. I won't list them all, but here's a sampling:
- plein air (page 15) - style of the French impressionist painters who completed their work out of doors to capture light and atmosphere
- Solfege (page 116) - the teaching of the essentials of music theory
- Gymanfa (page 118) - literal translation is a gathering or assembly for the purpose of singing (source: Ontario Welsh Festival)
- Elegiac (page 177) - synonyms: mournful, sad
- Catafalque (page 141) - platform for a coffin
- Cleave (page 323) - synonyms: slice, cut
- Introit (page 390) - part of a mass when the priest first approaches the altar (or when the minister enters the church).

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

For more information about the author and other interesting stuff, please visit Stephanie Kallos's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos, HarperCollins, ©2008. ISBN 9781554684359(Trade Paperback), 540p.

1 comment:

  1. not only does it sound like a good book, but it has an intriguing cover picture.


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