Life has a way of surprising us. When we think we are defeated, we find a way to rise from the ashes.
Natasha Solomons’s 2015 novel, The Song of Hartgrove Hall is set in two different time periods and is told through the eyes of one character. Harry Fox-Talbot is the youngest son of a family that has resided in an aristocratic home in Dorset, England for centuries. But the world around him has changed. Though he and his brothers have returned from fighting for King and country in World War II in one piece, the home they grew up in is not so lucky.
A year after the war ends, a new woman enters Harry’s (known to his family and peers as Fox) life. She is Edie Rose, a Jewish woman who became known all over the country for her wartime songs. Her presence in his life changes everything. Fifty years later, Edie has recently passed away. Fox is unable to move on from his grief, until he starts to spend time with his grandson. Though the boy is very young, his musical abilities are obvious. Through the time with his grandson, Fox not only starts to come back to life, but to heal the wounds of the past.
The ability to jump between time periods and narratives, as a writer, is a skill that for many writers does not come easy. Many writers who are unable to do this seamlessly often lose readers who are unable to follow the narrative and character arcs. Natasha Solomons is not one of those writers. But while the book is well written and a good read, I thought that this was not one of Ms. Solomons’s better books. I cannot put my finger on the exact reason, but I just prefer her other novels.
Do I recommend it? Maybe.
War has a way of forever changing the world as we know it to be.
Natasha Solomons 2011 book, The House at Tyneford starts just as World War II is engulfing Europe. in 1938, Elise Landau is 19 and up to this point has known a comfortable life. But life for Jews in Vienna, as it is in all parts of Europe, is becoming uncomfortable and unsafe very quickly. For her safety, she is sent to a rural English estate entitled Tyneford, where she has to work for her living as a member of the household staff. Then she meets Kit, the son and only heir to the estate. Their relationship is not only unorthodox and looked down upon, but it will change the fates of both the estate and Elise forever.
I loved this book. I loved it not because of my knowledge of that world and the period, but because I understood Elise and her journey. When one is thrown from the lap of luxury and have to earn their daily bread, they have two options. They can either shrink, complain and become a burden on others. Or, they can rise to the occasion, grow and learn something about themselves in the process.
I absolutely recommend it.
I’ve read quite a few books in 2018. Below is the list of the best books of 2018, at least from my perspective.
- Becoming by Michelle Obama: Mrs Obama’s autobiography is insightful, down to earth and one of the best autobiographies that I have read in a long time.
- House of Gold by Natasha Solomons: House of Gold was described by another reviewer as a Jewish version of Downton Abbey. I couldn’t think of another description if I made it up myself.
- Pride by Ibi Zoboi: A modern-day Pride and Prejudice set in New York City, this Jane Austen adaptation feels old and new at the same time.
- We Are Going to Be Lucky A World War II Love Story in Letters by Elizabeth L. Fox: The story of a marriage during World War II told in a series of letter that will make you believe in love.
- My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie by Todd Fisher: When Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds departed this world two years ago, no one knew them better than their brother and son. The book is a love letter to them by one of the people who knew and loved them best.
- The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: A young girl growing up in the wilds of Alaska learns some hard truths about life, love and marriage.
- American Tantrum: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Archives by Anthony Atamanuik and Neil Casey: Based on the character created by Anthony Atamanuik on The President Show, it is a what if story in regards to the fictional Presidential library of you know who.
- Not Out Kind: A Novel by Kitty Zeldis: Just after the end of World War II, two women from vastly different worlds meet in New York City and forever change each other’s lives in the process.
- Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux: 150 years after the publication of Little Women, the book still resonates with readers across the globe and across the cultural landscape.
- The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict: Behind every genius is a supportive and loving spouse. But what happens when the spouse is denied her own genius because she is a woman?
That’s my list, what are your favorite books of 2018?
There is an old Chinese proverb:
“May you live in interesting times”
Natasha Solomons’s new book, House of Gold starts a few years before World War I. The Goldbaum family is one of the wealthiest and most powerful Jewish families in Europe. Everyone within the family knows their place and their responsibilities. The men go into the family business. The women marry their cousins and produce the next generation of Goldbaums. The main character in House of Gold is Greta Goldbaum. A member of the Austrian branch of the family, Greta is independent and intelligent. She would love to live by her own rules, but she also knows that she is going to do her duty, one way or another.
She marries Albert, a distant cousin from English branch of the family. Like many arranged marriages, their relationship is slow to take off. When Greta is made mistress of the family garden, she begins to see that things are not so bad. She may even start to get to know her husband in the process.
Then war breaks out. World War I consumes all of the Europe. There is no amount of influence or money that can shield the Goldbaums from the horrors of war. As the war rages on, the family is torn apart and Greta must make a decision. She must choose the family she left in Austria or the new family she has come to love in England.
This book is amazing. While the beginning of the narrative is a little slow, it takes off about a third of the way in and does not let go until the very end. What hooked me most is the main character. While Greta is certainly a woman of her time, she is not one to automatically submit to her husband. She is intelligent, a little defiant when she needs to be, and has a backbone.
Another reviewer compared House of Gold to Downton Abbey. The comparison is spot on and this book is amazing.
I absolutely recommend it.