Sometimes a story leaps off the page and resonates far after it is read, even years later.
The three following novels all share this trait in common.
All the Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr is a story of grace and beauty that illuminates the ways, against all odds, people strive to be good to one another.
This Pulitzer prize-winning work is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose fates intersect in occupied France in connection with the radio – a means of resistance for the Allies and just one more avenue of annihilation for the Nazis.
It is a magnificent novel that deftly interweaves the lives of Marie-Laurie and Werner as they endure crushing losses and struggle to survive with dignity amid the devastation and cruelty of the Second World War.
The Baron in the Trees (1959) by Italo Calvino is an enchanting tale about a young 18th-century Italian nobleman who chooses to scamper into an oak on his family’s Ligurian estate to escape his culinary sister’s meal of snails and refuses to come down. Ever.
Instead, the stubborn Baron Cosimo Piovasco di Rondo pledges allegiance to an arboreal existence and manages to lead a surprisingly full and satisfying life in his domain, flanked by his mostly loyal dachshund Emilio Battista.
Always on the watch, the eccentric, girl-chasing baron witnesses the ebb and flow of Freemasons, Jacobins, Jesuits, the French Revolution, as well as the collapse of the Republic of Genoa, Napoleon’s visitations, Cossack hordes and the dawn of hot air balloons.
The Baron in the Trees is ironically the author’s most grounded work, a life-and-times story akin to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
Cosimo does not renounce his species but he lives a life of growth unencumbered by the surface fickleness of the world below.
The Luminaries (2013) by Eleanor Catton is a dazzling novel of lust, love, murder and greed set in the heady days of New Zealand’s Gold Rush in 1886.
Three unsolved crimes – the disappearance of the town’s wealthiest man, the discovery of an enormous fortune in gold in the home of a luckless drunk and a prostitute’s attempt to end her life – link the fates and fortunes of 12 men.
The tale begins when Walter Moody, the central figure in a story with more than 20 intertwined characters, lands in a gold-mining frontier town on the west coast of New Zealand to make his fortune and forever leave behind a family scandal back in Scotland.
Moody stumbles upon a tense clandestine gathering of 12 local men who are secretly investigating the three crimes. But nothing is quite what it seems in this gripping page-turner, as an intricate network of alliances and betrayals and lies is laid bare.
– Peter Critchley is a reference librarian at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library. All novels in his column are available at your Okanagan Regional Library, www.orl.bc.ca.