Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Long Silence of Mario Salviati by Etienne Van Heerden

This book has a rating of three, four, or five stars. To say this reader is conflicted is a massive understatement. The story is interesting – five stars. The characters are mildly interesting – four stars. The story is confusing, along with unexplained and unconnected shifts in time – three stars. The structure of some sentences – three stars; others rate four, and a few, very few, rate at five.

A member of my book club selected Long Silence, so I had a certain obligation to continue reading. Something did keep me going – so many mysteries were buried in the rumors and gossip that constituted the life-blood of Yearsonend, I had to keep going to figure them out. A couple of quotes helped me do just that.

The story mixes past and present, reality and magical realism, and the “…tangled relationships, the married couples and families who shared so many branches it was difficult to separate one family from another, or the present from the past” (213). Fortunately, a helpful family tree showing all these tangled webs is at the beginning of the book. I would have liked a map, and some indication of when the main members of the family lived. I frequently referred to the tree, but it really only made complete sense after I finished the novel.

One of the most ironic lines occurs in Chapter Two of Part Three, “Mannequin’s Plume.” The narrator explains that Big Karl Berg, aka Karl Thin Air knew “While he was still in his mother’s womb,…that keeping your head afloat in this country depends on what you have in your hand” (258). Numerous references to hands – and what is in them – permeate the book.

I guess I will give The Long Silence of Mario Salviati four-and-one-half stars simply because of these minor flaws, including the numerous names and nicknames some of the characters had.

All in all, it was a good story and a good read. Like Big Karl’s rushing water, I raced to the end gathering speed and enthusiasm. Unlike his water, I could not “refuse” and give up the ghost. 4 & 1/2 stars

--Chiron, 1/20/09

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