Saturday, November 22, 2008

Review: Who By Fire

Summary: Bits and Ash were children when the kidnapping of their younger sister, Alena—an incident for which Ash blames himself—caused an irreparable family rift. Thirteen years later, Ash is living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, cutting himself off from his mother, Ellie, and his wild-child sister, Bits. But soon he may have to face them again; Alena's remains have finally been uncovered. Now Bits is traveling across the world in a bold and desperate attempt to bring her brother home and salvage what's left of their family.

Sharp and captivating, Who by Fire deftly explores what happens when people try to rescue one another. -- Harper Perennial

When Book Club Girl announced that her Blog Talk Radio show guest for November would be Diana Spechler, author of WHO BY FIRE, I was so excited. Based on the description of this novel, I thought it sounded exactly like something I would like. I am always drawn to stories about families and how they cope with loss. It's probably because the feeling of loss is something that I haven't experienced very often or in a major way -- I guess I'm lucky in that aspect. All I know is that I love reading these types of books and seeing how different families cope.

I found WHO BY FIRE to be a wonderful novel. I love how the author chose to write this story -- each chapter was told in first person narrative by three different family members. I thought Ms. Spechler did a great job making each voice distinct, and I felt as if I got to know (and understand) each character. She also did an amazing job of showing how a family tragedy affects each and every family member not only in the short term, but the effect it has on them for the rest of their lives. In my opinion, the way she wrote about each person's grief and guilt just seemed so realistic.

I was just completely absorbed in this novel from the time I picked it up. Ms. Spechler's prose is very smooth and easy-to-read, yet very powerful. The characters were so interesting to me as were their interactions (or lack thereof.) I think another reason I enjoyed this book so much was because it was about a new subject matter for me -- the Orthodox Jewish religion. I found Ash's chapters to be fascinating, especially when he described his prayer rituals and his beliefs. It's apparent that Ms. Spechler did a huge amount of research to get these chapters "just right."

I thought WHO BY FIRE had a terrific premise for a book, and I was very drawn into the characters' feelings and their stories. Based on those things, I would have thought that WHO BY FIRE was a wonderful book; however, this novel had a few twists and turns that made me really appreciate it. I take pride in being a pretty perceptive reader, but I have to admit that I was totally caught off guard by a couple of things. That the author was able to write a book with such a great storyline and rich characters, and then on top of that have a surprise ending, made this book a very entertaining and thought-provoking read.

Thursday night's radio show was so much fun. Once again, Book Club Girl did an amazing job of moderating the interview. If you aren't familiar with her radio shows, you really need to tune in. I have found that they really enhance my reading experience; and the discussion with Ms. Spechler was no exception -- Ms. Spechler was so interesting and open about her novel. As part of her research for writing this book, she traveled to Israel and even visited some yeshivas. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy listening to her talk about the Jewish faith, but I also found it interesting to hear her discuss her writing process and her characters. Make sure you take a listen, but I have to warn you that you might want to read the book first (there is a little spoiler.)

You should definitely consider WHO BY FIRE for a future book club discussion. I think any talk around this novel would be fascinating. There are so many wonderful themes to talk about such as dysfunctional families, the effects a tragedy has on individual family members, religious preferences, and especially guilt and redemption. There is a reading guide available which offers some great talking points.

Come back tomorrow because Ms. Spechler will be stopping by with a great guest post!


bermudaonion said...

I got this book this week and can't wait to read it. Your review is fantastic!

softdrink said...

Wonderful review! Mine will post on Monday, with a guest post on Tuesday. :-)

Michele said...

Sounds like a great book! I'll have to add to my book club list and my own personal list! Thanks for the review Julie!

Serena said...

I would love to read this novel.

Sandra said...

I got my copy from BCG too and was listening to that broadcast. It was a lot of fun and I loved the story too. Here's my link: