I'm over 50% done with this book and I'm surprised with the twist. Sophie and the others are characters in a story read by Hilde. It reminds of the twist with The Lego Movie.
I'm over 50% done with this book and I'm surprised with the twist. Sophie and the others are characters in a story read by Hilde. It reminds of the twist with The Lego Movie.
This is an interesting memoir by a former New York financial analyst who moved to the newly-formed Slovenia in 1993 for love. I read it because it’s set primarily in Slovenia, and in that respect was rewarded: it provides not just a vibrant snapshot of a particular place and time, but information about culture and language and history. I learned more about the most recent war in the Balkans from this book than from any other that I’ve read. As a memoir and especially as a love story, though, I found this a bit lacking.
This book is mostly about Erica Johnson Debeljak’s first year in Slovenia, but it begins by tracing her relationship with her future husband, Aleš, in New York, and the final chapter, set in 2008, puts her experiences in context and reflects on how dramatically the country has changed. An outsider’s perspective gives her a sharp eye for detail, but being married to a local and living in a country that was not a destination for westerners at the time means the author isn’t a typical expat: her in-laws, who grew up in a small village and lived most of their lives under communism, are involved in her life, and she lives in a working-class area and spends time with Aleš’s rural extended family. She even gives birth at a local hospital, where the judgment of whether a childbirth is successful seems to depend mostly on the mother’s making no noise (epidurals aren’t even mentioned, though surely they must have been common in New York by 1993?).
But the book is rather lacking in emotion for the first 2/3 or so, up until the author’s decision to have a child. Perhaps she really did take moving to a newly-formed country bordered by war in stride, but this doesn’t let readers get to know her very well. The emotion snaps into focus toward the end, as pregnancy and childbirth put her in conflict with traditional Slovenian beliefs and practices (this is apparently a country where people wouldn’t open car windows in the hot summer because All Drafts Are Deadly), and as having a child brings home the fact that her decision is permanent.
There was something oddly unsatisfying about the author’s personal story, though, because her depiction of her relationship with her husband is so charmless. He’s a renowned womanizer, and their early relationship seems to revolve entirely around sex. While she’s clearly pleased with the sex and seems to find him excitingly exotic, that doesn’t explain why she would keep pursuing – ultimately across an ocean – a man who routinely pushes her away, insisting the relationship won’t work out. A few months into their marriage, she’s pleasantly surprised that he’s been a good husband, because it turns out her greatest fear in moving to Slovenia was that he’d cheat on her within a few months. I’ve seen memoirists depict relationships with exes with more charm and sweetness than this author brings to the marriage for which she gave up a career and moved across the world. In the end I wasn’t sure whether to attribute the lack of romance to secret unhappiness on the author’s part, or simply to her storytelling: perhaps she was afraid of seeming sentimental or felt the romance was self-evident. But she didn’t provide enough to make me root for them as a couple or understand what drew either of them so strongly to the other and to this relationship.
At any rate, I did enjoy book for the author’s depiction of her life in Slovenia, and even looked forward to reading it. It’s accessible and interesting and I learned from it. It is a good choice for anyone interested in Slovenia, though perhaps not ideal for those seeking a love story.
The Reviewer’s Preface.
“And at that time your people shall be delivered,
Everyone who is found written in the book.
And many of those who sleep in the dust
of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed,
rather than having two hands, to go to hell,
into the fire that shall never be quenched—
‘Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.’
Hereto lies the judgement of the accursed: those who have not fallen asleep in Christ, but in their sins have they fallen asleep.
For the recipient of eternal life is only returned unto the Earth in the glory and blessedness of his indestructible resurrection, while even the inheritor of eternal damnation is returned unto the Earth in the Divine ordinance of his destruction: his decomposition and his spoil.
For no human soul sown in righteousness can be an heir to otherworldly ruination upon the physical death—which is the first death.
But the human soul sown in unrighteousness is already doomed to the corruption of otherworldly ruination upon the physical death—which is the second death.
A human soul, still equipped with its five senses but dwelling within the form of a condemned physical being, would account for the second death. And because such a combined spiritual and physical condemnation is truly beyond the scope of Mankind’s imagination, most tend to refer to such doom by the traditional usage of one ghastly word: Zombie.
The Reviewer’s Critique.
Athens, Ohio—The world is forever changed, no thanks to a deadly parasite known as the Vaca Beber, or Vaca B, which has somehow found its way into the entire U.S. water supply. Some say that the fault lies with American cattle ranchers who had been cutting into the Amazon where the parasite originated; others agree that the U.S. government is actually to blame after it allowed imports from Brazil at the nation’s borders. Of course, those who argue the strain’s cause are those few who have merely survived it. At least for now.
On Saturday, August 12, 1989, our star protagonist, a morbidly obese and miserably unpopular young man named Eric, would celebrate his seventeenth year of life surrounded by his single mother and four of his closest (and only) friends. On Monday, May 14, 1990, Eric’s single mother and his four closest (and only) friends would be dead, succumbed to the Vaca B, leaving the devastated and defenseless Eric to fend for himself and to make his own way in the ultimate struggle for survival.
Everything you thought you knew about the Apocalypse, the end of the world, if you will, is to be considered frivolity. Not until you’ve been held—as if in a Zombie-like death grip—by the momentous post-apocalyptic storyline currently under review will you come to a genuine knowledge of what it really means to be rattled to the marrow of your bones . . . with grievous anguish and mind-altering fear. For Ben Lyle Bedard’s The World Without Crows does not suffer the faint-hearted gladly.
The Long Journey.
After burning down his childhood home containing the infected remains of his mother, Eric sets out to travel on foot to the beautiful coastal state of Maine. Believing that a certain island along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean will be his salvation—and protection—from a cracked Zombie population and murderous gangs formed by snapped survivors, Eric, following a survival guide that he lifted from the now desolate Athens branch library, as well as his trusty map, begins the toilsome 800-mile trek north from Wolf Creek Wilderness through many a state park, national forest, and mountain region on a grueling quest to reach his coveted destination.
But our leading man’s passage through God’s great gardens and landscapes—in search of saftey—will be anything but safe as he is to undergo one horrendously inhumane tribulation after another along his route, including a detestable trial in the human form of a blood-coagulating American Patriot named Carl Doyle.
For a work of fiction with a pagination of only 216, The World Without Crows incorporates a substantial—and surprisingly gifted—cast whose performances on said pages are nothing short of superior. Guaranteed to emboss an imprint of their memory on the reader’s intellect, these supporting players stream into the scenes of Bedard’s deftly composed script—and Eric’s radically changed life—as follows:
• Charlie, a grizzled old man and former librarian with a safe cabin, plenty of preserved books, fresh water, and hot meals to spare Eric. That is, until the venomous Snakes slither in.
• Birdie, an orphaned African American girl of six years with whom Eric falls head over heels in a sort of parental love after nearly shooting her to death during a scavenge for food. Immediately taking her under his guardianship, Eric and Birdie form a sturdy, deeply emotional, and unbreakable bond that will propel her to Eric’s right side as his top-billed supporting lead.
• Sarah, a twenty-something pretty blonde and fellow survivor with a penchant for fishing and cooking. After meeting and conversing with Eric and Birdie, Sarah quickly decides to join them on their journey to Maine.
• Brad, Sarah’s boyfriend and a pistol of a former gang member who, despite his machismo and low blow taunts about Eric’s hefty weight, ultimately concurs to join Eric, Birdie, and Sarah—Maine or bust.
• Cecile, Sharif, Katie, Van, David, Mark, Mary, and Sharon all consist of a small set of survivalists who dwell on a large farm in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and call themselves the “Slow Society.” Taking in Eric, Birdie, Sarah, and Brad after the quartet chance upon the Slow Society camp while diligently trying to escape a madman stalker, it is Cecile who offers the hungry and famished youngsters a dwelling place in the camp, so long as they contribute to manual labor around the farm. A generous gesture indeed were it not for Old Scratch.
• John Martin, a tall and powerfully built African American man from Cleveland, Ohio who encounters Eric while traveling—on foot—to New York. But John Martin is not making the passage alone. In his warm company are two redoubtable individuals who can do nothing short of adding even more sublime appeal to an already breathtaking prose.
• Lucia and Sergio are those two redoubtable individuals. The Hispanic siblings are traveling with their lifesaver John Martin when they, too, meet Eric’s small group, join with them all on their excursion, and skyrocket to stardom status by way of their supreme performances.
• Daniel Sullivan, a green-eyed monster of a religious fanatic, and macabre Shepherd of a demented flock.
• Carl Doyle, an all-American chauvinist, a repulsive race baiter, a Land Rover driver, and a bearish being who will for a surety grant the reader a nightmare. Carl Doyle, a most harrowing dead man walking.
• Kaye Cornplanter and Ms. Good Prince Billy also make cameo appearances: Cornplanter as a Seneca Warrior vowing to take back the Red Man’s land; and Good Prince Billy as a hoary, but tough matron striving to maintain order amongst humanity from the confines of a long ago abandoned Church.
The Reviewer’s Postface.
Mankind’s greatest fears are those of death and destruction. And we, as humans, never know what we’re truly made of until we are faced with those fears. Speaking of which, here, on the shook up pages of Ben Lyle Bedard’s marvelous post-apocalyptic chiller The World Without Crows, Death gallops in on his pale horse. And Hades follows with him.
In the age of many a trendy dystopian narrative, it would perhaps be safe to assume that very few can actually project the world’s end and the total obliteration of nearly all humankind in quite the same way that the consummate Bedard does with The World Without Crows.
An intensely poignant effort, no reader—be he or she Jew or Gentile—will be allowed to follow this clenching plot from beginning to end and then separate from it emotionally unaffected. No, not even one. For the tear duct of the human eye will not resist to shed a salted stream; and the human heart—in all of its life-pumping pomp—will not resist the heavy temptaion of an embittered ache.
Desperation, dark and poetic, is to be the reader’s guide. For the souls of men are to be required of them—regardless of fleshly hue or societal status. Extraordinary is The World Without Crows.
Five . . . let the dead bury their own dead stars.
• It is my kindly pleasure to thank Bedard Publishing, as well as Ben Lyle Bedard himself, for the author-issued copy of The World Without Crows in exchange for my honest review.
Analysis of The World Without Crows by Ben Lyle Bedard is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington: https://catellingtonblog.wordpress.com
Date of Review: Thursday, April 19, 2018
It’s hard to rate books of folklore; it seems odd to judge another culture’s traditional stories on my standards for literature or entertainment. But I can only rate from my own perspective, which is affected by factors out of the author’s control. One, I’ve read several books of folklore lately, and may have begun to tire of it a bit; I can say this is neither the best nor the worst such book I’ve recently encountered. Perhaps I imbibed too many somewhat similar, very short stories in too little time, and my interest has waned. Two, I had this through Interlibrary Loan on a tight schedule, which left me feeling obligated to pick it up at times I would otherwise have chosen something else.
That said, this is a perfectly readable collection of folklore that made sense to me as a foreign reader. Which makes sense, because the stories were told to a foreign (Hawai’i-based) author/dramaturge who collected them. The book is sized to fit in with textbooks, and has ultra-wide margins in which definitions and pronunciations are sometimes included. But with large font and illustrations, it is still a quick read. It includes brief biographical sketches (and sometimes photographs) of the storytellers, but to me these were too brief: the barest of bare-bones, without room to for the storytellers’ personalities or life experiences to come alive.
Overall, there’s nothing here that would make me hesitate to recommend the book to those who enjoy folklore. But I prefer books from which I can learn more directly about what people’s lives are like.
Captain Jefferson Kidd travels around from small town to small town, like Cyrano de Bergerac, reading from newspapers and sharing the news of the world with those who pay a dime for the privilege of listening to him read it. Newspapers were scarce then and not everyone could read. For some it was a social event, and for some it was a time to raise a ruckus. Once, the captain had his own printing press, but the wars during his lifetime had taken their toll. He had lived seven decades, and he missed both his deceased wife and his former newsman’s life. His two daughters lived in Georgia, where the Civil War had also altered their lifestyles. They did not have the money to rejoin him in his home town in Texas, but he hoped they would some day soon.
During his travels, he arrived in a town and noticed the same man he had seen at his last couple of readings. He wondered why he had been following him. The man, soon revealed his reason. Britt Johnson*, asked the captain to take a child back to her German relatives. He offered him the $50 gold coin he was given for the task, because he said the child was belligerent and white. He did not think, as a black man, that he could guarantee her safety or his own. The child had been kidnapped at the age of six. She witnessed the death of both her parents and her younger sister who were murdered by the Kiowa. Now, after four years, she had forgotten her past and fully identified with the Indian tribe more than with her own true biological background. The captain agreed to take Johanna home to an aunt and uncle because, although he was old and the journey would be hard, he felt it was the right thing to do. How he managed to get Johanna to her relatives and what he learned about them, was the crux of the novel.
As they traveled together, they both learned more about life from each other. Just as the captain tried to help Johanna adjust to the more civilized world, this precocious child showed him how comfortable it was to live in the more savage world of her last four years. She was a survivor and she became a great help to him. She was resourceful, intuitive, precocious and far more mature than her years.
Soon, although the child and the captain were burdened with their memories, they learned how to comfort each other and fulfill each other’s need for affection and someone to trust. The story of their travels and relationship was both interesting and exciting to read as the lawlessness and danger of the territories began to surface on each page. The author’s description of the time and place made the reader feel right in the thick of it. How they survived and moved off into the future was simply a good story. However, the writing style was unusual because no quotations were used to delineate speech from pure narrative which sometimes led to confusion. Also, it was difficult to tell which parts of the story were based on real history and which were based on the author’s imagination.
*Britt Johnson is the stuff of legends. A hero, Johnson was the slave of Moses Johnson who freed him and gave him money enabling him to rescue his own family from the Indians.