Monday, February 24, 2020

A Bend in the Stars - Rachel Barenbaum

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Summary: This is at once an epic love story and a heart-pounding journey across WWI-era Russia, about an ambitious young doctor and her scientist brother in a race against Einstein to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.

In Russia, in the summer of 1914, as war with Germany looms and the Czar's army tightens its grip on the local Jewish community, Miri Abramov and her brilliant physicist brother, Vanya, are facing an impossible decision. Since their parents drowned fleeing to America, Miri and Vanya have been raised by their babushka, a famous matchmaker who has taught them to protect themselves at all costs: to fight, to kill if necessary, and always to have an escape plan. Can they bear to leave the homeland that has given them so much?

Before they have time to make their choice, war is declared and Vanya goes missing, along with Miri's fiancé. Miri braves the firing squad to go looking for them both. As the eclipse that will change history darkens skies across Russia, not only the safety of Miri's own family but the future of science itself hangs in the balance. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I think we’ve all read quite a bit of historical fiction from the two world wars. It’s a big thing in historical fiction right now, as it should be. I think we should be very aware of history, especially history that is so recent. I’ve read quite a bit from World War II. I feel like although I don’t know All the Things of WWII (and who could ever really know that? It was so complex), I’ve read quite a bit. I haven’t read nearly as much from WWI. I can see that a lot of popular books are now starting to be more about WWI, and I find it fascinating because although it happened relatively close to WWII, it was completely different. I mean, they were still fighting with horses in WWI! Although there were some similarities, there were a lot of differences and a lot of technological advances that completed changed how the war was fought.

This was an interesting WWI book because it had a lot to do with the war, but it also had another really important main topic—the race against Einstein and the proof for the theory of relativity. Although this is a fictional race and the characters were fictional, I enjoyed the idea that there were other scientists working on proving relativity along with Einstein. There has always been competition in science, and it wasn’t far-fetched to think of relativity as also being a sort of competition and race to the proverbial finish line. Because of the nature of the scientist involved, it made for a completely different outlook on the war. Although I have always found many of the historical fiction books about the wars to be deeply personal and providing a great way to connect to those who were involved in the war, it was also nice to read about a different sort of person who was almost oblivious to the war, even though he was fighting it and involved in it. It is heartbreaking and also heartening to think that people didn’t lose themselves during war—they still had interests and distractions and things that kept them alive while they fought in the worst circumstances. I feel like this is just such a story—of people who did what they had to do and became what they had to in order to survive, but were still obsessed with the things they were interested in and what made them who they were.

I thought this book was well-written for the most part and interesting in that I haven’t heard a lot about the Russian Jews during the time of WWI. I think there could be countless books written about this, just as countless people were involved in different ways. At times it seemed a bit improbable, but I feel that way about a lot of war books—both those that are true and those that are fiction. There are just a lot of crazy things that happen during war. Sometimes the stars just align (pun intended per the title) and things go perfectly, as if they were basically orchestrated such, and sometimes they don’t. Although this book had a good dose of reality, there were also some “stars aligning” situations that I think were a little contrived. That’s okay, though. It’s war. War is crazy. There is no rhyme or reason and I would like to hope that some people were given some lucky breaks. The writing was often beautiful; sometimes it felt a little over-dramatic. Again—war. I’m willing to forgive a lot just because of the topic (and this is not to say that I don’t feel like historical fiction writers who write about war shouldn’t write well, I just think that war is unpredictable and overly dramatic and warrants more than just normal language).

Overall, I would say that if you are into historical fiction, especially if you are into reading about the world wars, you should check this book out. I enjoyed the facts mixed with historical fiction; I always do love when different parts of history are put together to make a cohesive whole i.e. Einstein working on the Theory of Relatively during WWI. This just is a mind-bendingly interesting way to learn history and be able to put different historical events into context.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has war violence and some language, it also has some minor love scenes. I would say it is very typical of others in the genre.

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