BBAW: You should read this book!

This week (September 13-17, 2010) is Book Blogger Appreciation Week! BBAW is a week long festival celebrating the community of book bloggers and their contribution to preserving a culture of literacy through book reviews and recommendations, reading reflections, and general bookish chat.  Events include daily blogging topics, blogger interview swaps, special guest posts, and so much more!

Today’s blogging topic is “Forgotten Treasure”, and is explained like this:

Sure we’ve all read about Freedom and Mockingjay but we likely have a book we wish would get more attention by book bloggers, whether it’s a forgotten classic or under marketed contemporary fiction.  This is your chance to tell the community why they should consider reading this book!

For my grade eleven English course, I had to choose a book to study for a report, off of a list provided by the teacher. I wasn’t sure what to pick, so my mother and I made a trip to the local Chapters and bought a few of them so that I could read them all and decide which one to use. I read them all, and loved them, but didn’t end up using any of them for the report: instead, I ended up reading a book that the teacher lent me that was also on the list.

One of those books, though, has stuck with me for a long time, and is something that I plan on re-reading fairly soon. (I actually lent it to the person who is now my roommate almost 10 years ago, and just got it back when we moved in together.) This book is from the late ’90s, so I’m not sure how much attention it received in the book blogosphere. Thus, I am sharing it with all of you today!

Fall On Your Knees

Author: Ann-Marie MacDonald

Published: 1996 (Random House)

Pages: 576

“What a wild ride — I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough,” Oprah Winfrey told her viewers as she announced Fall on Your Knees as her February 2002 Book Club selection. Set largely in a Cape Breton coal mining community called New Waterford, ranging through four generations, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s dark, insightful and hilarious first novel focuses on the Piper sisters and their troubled relationship with their father, James. Winner of the 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, it was a national bestseller in Canada for two years, and it has been translated into 17 languages.

At the start of the 20th century, James Piper sets fire to his dead mother’s piano and heads out across Cape Breton Island to find a new place to live, eventually eloping with 13-year-old Materia Mahmoud, the daughter of wealthy, traditional Lebanese parents. And so, from early on, Ann-Marie MacDonald establishes some major themes: racial tension, isolation, passion and forbidden love, which will gradually lead to incest, death in childbirth, and even murder. At the centre of this epic story is the nature of family love, beginning with the Piper sister who depend on one another for survival. Their development as characters — beautiful Kathleen, the promising diva; saintly Mercedes; Frances, the mischievous bad girl, who tries to bear the family’s burden; and disabled Lily, everyone’s favourite — forms the heart of the novel. And then there is James, their flawed father.

Moving from Cape Breton Island to the battlefields of World War I, to Harlem in New York’s Jazz Age and the Depression, the tense and enthralling plot of Fall on Your Knees contains love, pain, death, joy, and triumph. The structure of the narrative is multi-faceted, richly layered, and shifts back and forth through time as it approaches the story from different angles, “giving it a mythic quality that allows dark, half buried secrets to be gracefully and chillingly revealed” (The New York Times Book Review). As the details of the labyrinthine plot are pulled together, the question of whether it is possible to escape one’s family history gradually raises itself.

The book’s epigraph, taken from Wuthering Heights, seems appropriate to a novel concerned with the different, often violent, forms that love can take. On the inexorable journey towards tragedy we encounter dark yet vivid images of neglect and violence, yet the novel radiates an unquenchable life-force, and yet the novel radiates an unquenchable life-force, shimmering with emotional depth, sensual with virtuoso descriptions of the power of music. It is a saga haunted by ghosts and saints, religious fanaticism and magic. MacDonald gives the most ordinary lives extraordinarily dramatic dimensions.

The Sunday Times wrote, “It is the unpredictability of this huge book that is its greatest joy.” With allusions ranging from Hollywood stars to religious tracts, Fall on Your Knees simmers with vibrancy and crackling, effervescent, breathtaking language.

14 thoughts on “BBAW: You should read this book!”

  1. This is one of my favorite books and I am so glad that you picked it! I never see it mentioned around the blogs. Maybe because it is older. It is certainly time for a reread!

    1. Yup, I think most people in general haven’t heard of it – Canadian fiction doesn’t always have much of a reach. I’m thinking of hosting a read-a-long soon!

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