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Book Review by Karin J
Don’t be put off by the size of this book! Its thickness looks daunting, but the story, which is fictionalized, but based on the life of a real person, is well worth your time. The story is told in short chapters and these make the novel eminently readable.
Olga Tokarczuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018 and she really is a masterful writer. The story revolves around Jacob Frank, an 18th century Jew who, in an effort to facilitate the coming of the Messiah, founds a sect of Jews who become baptized Catholics (all historically true). The fascinating story of how this comes about is brought to life so engagingly, the reader gets caught up in the myriad events. Every time I looked up something that sounded so fabulous I thought it couldn’t possibly have been real, was!
This is an interesting psychological study of cult attraction, of why people follow a leader, of the leader’s charisma, but also of his quirks and foibles, and his fervent belief in himself, as dangerous and ultimately as ridiculous as some of his pronouncements become.
Tokarczuk, born in 1972, combines historical research with a novelist’s emphasis on fleshing out her characters and brings 18th century eastern Europe history and culture to vibrant life.
I was thoroughly engaged throughout and my interest never flagged. A great novel to dive into during the summer!
This novel is Barbara Kingsolver’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, contemporary rendition of Dickens’ classic, David Copperfield. Its plot lines and character arcs all parallel Dickens’ and many people have re-read that novel as a prelude to this book. I hadn’t and nevertheless was easily immersed in the community Kingsolver devises.
Set in Lee County, Virginia, this is the story of the hard-scrabble life of a boy who never seems to get a break. Demon is smart, unapologetic, funny, fallible, and very perceptive. He and the people around him do what they think they need to do to get by in today’s world: cheat the welfare system, resort to drugs and alcohol, seek revenge on people who have wronged them, but they also work hard and care deeply about their relatives, neighbors, and friends. They are clear-eyed, fiercely loving, calculating, despairing, exuberant, and depressed all at the same time.
What is most marvelous about Demon is the author’s ability to evoke a clear and idiosyncratic voice. Like Dickens’ David, Kingsolver’s Demon is a complete person, one the reader can’t help but pull for amid his sea of troubles. Demon always has hope, and in the end, so do we.
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