How do three sisters write a single suicide note?
In the waning days of 1999, the Alter sisters—Lady, Vee, and Delph—finalize their plans to end their lives. Their reasons are not theirs alone; they are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a 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. The chemist himself, their son Richard, and Richard’s children all followed suit.
The childless sisters also define themselves by their own bad luck. Lady, the oldest, never really resumed living after her divorce. Vee is facing cancer’s return. And Delph, the youngest, is resigned to a spinster’s life of stifled dreams. But despite their pain they love each other fiercely, and share a darkly brilliant sense of humor.
As they gather in the ancestral Upper West Side apartment to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic story about four generations of one family—inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of chlorine gas—unfolds. A Reunion of Ghosts is a magnificent tale of fate and blood, sin and absolution; partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century
I know how depressing this sounds. There are certainly some sad parts, and some very sad parts. They each have this kind of terrible legacy that hangs over them, at it kind of dictates their lives. We find out so much about these sisters and then farther and farther back in their family which is full of extraordinary characters.
Distant cousin Rudi is my favorite. I'd love a whole spin off book about him.
But these women have this wonderful dry humor, and sometimes a gallows humor. One of them even works at a bookstore!
There's also at least one graphic account of what poisoned gas did too the unsuspecting soldiers that it was unleashed upon. It's horrible.
What makes these people come to life is the really lovely writing and the great sentences that the author crafts.
Like when two people are talking about tragedies in their lives and one is thinking: "I'll see your butchery and raise you my carnage".
Or when they talk about making brightly colored cocktails: "We are,after all, the descendants not only of a mass murderer, but also a dye maker. We, too, like batches of liquid color".
I'm totally rambling, but I'll try to wrap it up with some coherency. This book is love and loss and full of interesting back stories and great writing. If any of that sounds appealing, pick it up. Or at least find a review from someone who can verbalize what makes it so good better than I can. 4 stars out of 5!
The wonderful Katie over at Doing Dewey had a much more put together review than I did. She said that she found the plot a little lacking, and I do agree with her on that. I think the great writing and interesting people make up for it!
|Also, this cover! Love!|