'What if the man who invented chemical weapons was also a grandfather, and what if his great-grandchildren grew up to be three hilarious, introverted, deeply-haunted sisters? And what if those sisters co-wrote a fascinating, funny, and deeply sad 350-page suicide note? Then you'd have A REUNION OF GHOSTS.' Anthony Doerr Meet the Alter sisters: Lady, Vee and Delph. These three mordantly witty, complex women share their family's apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. They love each other fiercely, but being an Alter isn't easy. Bad luck is in their genes, passed down through the generations. Yet no matter what life throws at these siblings, they always have a wisecrack - and each other. In the waning days of 1999, the sisters decide it's time to close the circle of the Alter curse. But first, as the world counts down to the dawn of a new millennium, Lady, Vee and Delph must write the final chapter of a saga generations in the making - one that is inexorably intertwined with that of the twentieth century itself. Unspooling threads of history, personal memory and family lore, they weave a mesmerising account of their lives that stretches back decades to their great-grandfather, a brilliant scientist whose professional triumph became the sinister legacy that defines them. Magnificent and heartbreaking, A REUNION OF GHOSTS is an epic novel about three unforgettable women, bound to each other and their remarkable family through the blessings and the burdens bestowed by blood.
A Reunion of Ghosts 3
- Contemporary fiction
- Publication Date:
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Country of origin:
- United Kingdom
- Dimensions (mm):
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A Reunion of Ghosts
I found Judith Claire Mitchell’s ‘A Reunion of Ghosts’ a bit depressing. It is a mix between a suicide note of three sisters, and the history of some of their family members. The book was too long for my liking and the characters weren’t at all relatable. Especially the history had too many characters and too many eras to keep track of. I felt as though you only really got to know and feel empathy for the sisters towards the very end and even then the whole story just appeared to be somewhat pointless. What I did find interesting was the narration in first person plural, which you rarely come across. I’d recommend this novel if you like black humour- there are funny parts in the story but they all seemed quite dark to me. Anthony Doerr describes ‘A Reunion of Ghosts’ as ‘triumphant, beautiful and devastating’, and while I was reading it I could see some similarity between the writing styles of Doerr and Mitchell. So if you enjoy Doerr’s writing you might enjoy this as well. In my opinion however Mitchell’s novel was quite morbid and a very slow read.
'A Reunion of Ghosts' is like a shared suicide note between three sisters who believe they are doomed (their great-grandmother's husband was the Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the first poison gas used in World War I and the lethal agent used in Third Reich gas chambers) and decide to simultaneously commit suicide before the turn of the 20th century. Sounds depressing, and while this book is undoubtedly dark it is also insightful, evocative and beautifully written.
I found the opening to be one of the most enticing I've read in a number of years. In fact, I'll end my review with it. I'm sure it'll hook you like it hooked me!
"From a distance the tattoo wrapped around Delph's calf looks like a serpentine chain, but stand closer and it's actually sixty-seven tiny letters and symbols that form a sentence - a curse:
the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the 3rd & 4th generations
We are that fourth generation: Lady, Vee, and Delph Alter ..."
And so it the story goes...
A unique conversation-starter!
We meet many interesting characters over multiple generations of the Alter family in A Reunion of Ghosts. Three eccentric and self-conscious sisters, Lady, Vee and Delph document their family’s history, dating back to their great-grandfather Lenz Alter (who is based on the German-Jewish scientist, Fritz Haber). Detailing not only the ‘sins of their fathers (and mothers)’ the sisters also identify how Lenz’s research continues to impact future Alter’s. But their memoir is not just about relating their family’s history. They are creating their family’s ultimate suicide note.
Mitchell identifies her characters as a mixture of historically-inspired and fictional, adding an interesting element to the story. References to Einstein and his family made me look further afield for information and it was an added bonus to learn more about the personal life of this well-known scientist.
Although the stories of the Alter family were far removed from my personal experience, I was propelled through this unique and engaging story. As there is so much happening in the narrative I found that it was a great book to sit and read for extended periods of time as this helped me to immerse myself in each tale and better understand the connections between characters. It could also be re-read, as there were so many connections to be made between characters and events. Although this is a story with many events, issues and themes, and the conclusion is virtually predestined, I was driven to continue to the end for my own closure!
This is definitely a unique book that would be great to share with friends or for Book Clubs. One that would spark great conversations!