Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Review: Amaryllis in Blueberry

Summary: In the stirring tradition of The Secret Life of Bees and The Poisonwood Bible, Amaryllis in Blueberry explores the complexity of human relationships set against an unforgettable backdrop. Told through the haunting voices of Dick and Seena Slepy and their four daughters, Christina Meldrum's soulful novel weaves together the past and the present of a family harmed—and healed—by buried secrets.

"Maybe, unlike hope, truth couldn't be contained in a jar. . . ."

Meet the Slepys: Dick, the stern doctor, the naÏve husband, a man devoted to both facts and faith; Seena, the storyteller, the restless wife, a mother of four, a lover of myth. And their children, the Marys: Mary Grace, the devastating beauty; Mary Tessa, the insistent inquisitor; Mary Catherine, the saintly, lost soul; and finally, Amaryllis, Seena's unspoken favorite, born with the mystifying ability to sense the future, touch the past, and distinguish the truth tellers from the most convincing liar of all.

When Dick insists his family move from Michigan to the unfamiliar world of Africa for missionary work, he can't possibly foresee how this new land and its people will entrance and change his daughters—and himself—forever.

Nor can he predict how Africa will spur his wife Seena toward an old but unforgotten obsession. In fact, Seena may be falling into a trance of her own. . . . -- Gallery

The first thing that attracted me to AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY by Christina Meldrum was the gorgeous cover. I just adore it! But it didn't take me long to realize that this novel was more than just a "pretty face." AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY is an incredible story about a dysfunctional family and the effect that a move to Africa had on each of their lives. It was a complicated read for me but so worth it.

I need to preface my review by saying that I definitely enjoyed AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY, but I'm not entirely sure that I fully understood this book. What that probably means is that I won't do a very good job articulating some of the truly special things about this novel. There are so many amazing things about this book -- from the story, to the characters, to Ms. Meldrum's presentation of the story; and I am still reeling from the eloquence of Ms. Meldrum's writing. What I really need to do is bounce some of my thoughts and ideas off some other readers!

I enjoyed AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY a great deal, but I also felt as if the book was a bit odd. There is no doubt that the family was rather different; and their behavior did make me uncomfortable at times. However, I think it might have been the presentation of the story that threw me for a loop. The story moved between quite a few narrators, and it also went back and forth between the present and the past. At times, I felt as if the book was kind of disjointed and I wasn't sure if it was going to work. However, after completing the novel, I realized how good of a writer Ms. Meldrum is. In fact, I really appreciated how the story unfolded and how the characters evolved; and I loved how everything came together at the end -- I even loved the twists and surprises.

One thing that really stuck out to me about AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY was the character development. While I didn't necessarily find  myself relating to any particular character, I did think Yllis was fascinating and she definitely captured my heart with her insight and honest. All of the characters were extremely complex and certainly had their fare share of flaws, but they deeply affected me and got under my skin. These characters (and their stories) have remained in my thoughts for a long time after I completed the last page of this book, and I think that's a huge testament to the power of this story.

AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY is the first novel that I've read by Christina Meldrum, and I was extremely impressed. I won't hesitate to pick up her earlier novel MADAPPLE in the near future. Ms. Meldrum's story and writing style were so original, and I especially loved how she tied together so many of the themes. I can't imagine that this novel was an easy one to write, and I was blown away by her ability to capture each of the various characters' voices as well as how she well she managed to weave the plot and all of the symbols between the different characters and chapters.

There is no doubt that AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY warrants some further discussion and would make a great book club selection for those of you who appreciate literary fiction. In fact, I wanted to discuss it with someone both while I was reading it and after I was finished. There is a reading guide available for this book that I think is fantastic. Not only are there twenty(!) discussion questions, but there are also suggestions to enhance your club's experience as well as an interesting interview with the author. Some of the topics that you might want to think about include family dynamics, sibling rivalry, love, secrets, marriage, adultery, passion, Greek and African myths, faith, nourishment, African culture, and the meaning of names to name just a few. In addition, all of the characters are fascinating in their own right and would be fun to analyze. And finally, many of the techniques that Ms. Meldrum used to tell this story are quite interesting -- i.e. the various narrators/voices, the switch between present and past, the use of symbolism and myth, etc.

AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY is a worthwhile and thought-provoking read, and I definitely recommend it to fans of literary fiction.

Thanks to InkWell Management for sending me an ARC of this novel.

11 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

Wow. You would never know that such a complex story would have come from such a simple and gentle cover. The plot does sound a bit like Poisonwood Bible, which I loved. Excellent review!

bermudaonion said...

My book club is reading this book this month and I can't wait! It will be the next book I pick up.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love that about the book being "more than just a pretty face." The cover really is compelling!

iwriteinbooks said...

Oh that IS suuuuch a pretty cover! I love when books turn out to be as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Though, I think that often our astehtic leanings in picking and deisnging covers reflect the true beauty of the book inside.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

This cover is truly gorgeous! I'm excited to read it!

Beth Hoffman said...

I have this book in my towering pile. It sounds fascinating. Terrific review, Julie!

marthalama said...

Oh my gosh, I have wanted to read this since I first started reading about it. I'm glad to see a good review. And I love the cover.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Wow, Julie, there's a LOT more to this book than I would have guessed from that cover (yeah, I know, don't judge a book by its cover :) )

I haven't yet picked this up ... I'll have to flip thru it in the store before I decide ...

Amy said...

I thought the characterization was outstanding as well!

Beth Kephart said...

You always manage to be extremely kind and extremely honest. That takes a very special reader.

Beth F said...

Had to skip to the bottom -- cause I haven't read it yet. Sounds like this will make a great book club discussion.