This is not a book for the faint of heart. It depicts real struggle with mental illness, as well as real struggle with one’s own life and history and background. Narrated by the father of a young girl recently diagnosed as bipolar, it shows the struggle of her loved ones to accept her fate, her struggle to acknowledge it, and what happens when it becomes too much for anyone to bear. Woven throughout the father’s narration are letters written by the daughter, Vera, to her boyfriend, Fang, as well as diary like documents she writes. Threaded throughout the story of the father and daughter’s journey to his grandmother’s ancestral home are reminders of other great losses the world has suffered, mainly the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania.
This book didn’t pull any punches. It’s brutal, it’s honest, and it’s realistic. It shows grief, denial, and begrudging acceptance. I’ll admit I didn’t really love any of the characters. They all made mistakes, but they were all SO human, and that I loved about them. It also showed me some cultures I’m not familiar with, which interested me by providing perspective I’m not usually reading from. Vera’s mother is Russian, while her father’s family hails from Lithuania. Her boyfriend is Tongan, though we are less exposed to that culture than to the others. The book is a bit of a slow read, given the subject matter, the language it’s written in, and the amount of history worked into the pages. It never really felt like it dragged for very long, though, and I kept reading because I felt the story was headed to an inevitable conclusion, but I wanted to know for sure. I like that it’s an honest portrayal of the struggle of living with mental illness (or at least seems more realistic to me than most “feel-good” stories of folks getting cured for life–if you disagree, please let me know). It’s also about the struggle to understand your own personal history, and that of your family, and how it’s gotten you to where you are now, whether for good or ill. There are so many levels of personal discovery in this book, and they all feel so true to life. For this, and for the writing style, I really enjoyed it. Though, if you’re looking for an uplifiting read, you might want to add this to your TBR and look for something a little lighter for now.
Recommendation: Yes, especially fans of literary fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 (mainly because it was a bit slow at times)