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.Writing
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.
The writing in this book is just stunning. It's my favorite kind of literary/historical/family saga mashup. I'd certainly lean towards the side of literary, but it also has the aspects of historical fiction and family saga that I truly love. The characters themselves are the show-stealers, particularly Lady, Vee, and Delph. I particularly love their sister relationship and the way they care for each other in such unique and different ways. The plotting is good and I was definitely into the story, but the characters are the main draw. I love the way the author uses the "we" voice, so we're not jumping from sister to sister as narrator, or just getting to know one sister intimately and hearing about the others through her eyes.
I couldn't put it down. It took me three days to read it and during those three days I carried it everywhere with me, just in case I wound up with a few extra seconds to spare. As I mentioned above, the plot is entertaining and I love seeing the various family members and their histories, especially during the first and second World Wars, but what kept me reading was the relationship I felt like I developed with Lady, Vee, and Delph. I really cared about each of them and couldn't wait to find out if they would really go through with their suicide plan.
I absolutely loved this one. I think it has the best of all worlds - it's beautifully written, contains fascinating and complex characters, has historical touches and family drama, and keeps the reader entertained every step of the way. I'd compare it to novels like Middlesex and The History of Love. It also has touches of John Irving, which is never a bad thing to say about a book.
Thanks to TLC for having me on the book tour. Click here for a link to all the tour stops.