Title: The Light of Amsterdam
Author: David Park
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: November 13, 2012 (UK edition published April 1, 2012)
Source: copy provided by the publisher for an honest review
Summary from Goodreads:
It is December; Christmas is approaching and the magic of one of Europe's most beautiful cities beckons. A father looks for himself in the past, struggling to deal with a recent divorce, his teenage son in tow. A single, selfless mother accompanies her only daughter and friends for a weekend-long bachelorette party. And a husband treats his wife to a birthday weekend away, somehow heightening her anxieties and insecurities about age, desire, and motherhood. During their brief stay in the city, the confusions and contradictions inherent in their relationships assert themselves in unexpected ways, forcing each couple into a sometimes painful reassessment and a new awareness of the price that love demands. As these people brush against each other in the squares, museums, and parks of Amsterdam, their lives are transfigured in the winter light as they encounter the complexities of love in a city that challenges what has gone before.
"Let them all come to Amsterdam, let it be compulsory for every citizen to temporarily sojourn there and imbibe the knowledge that race and religion, colour and gender mattered little in the pursuit of happiness." (p 137)
While perusing NetGalley, my curiosity was immediately piqued when I saw "Amsterdam" in the title of this novel. In our pre-baby life, the Hubs and I were big travelers, and one of our last overseas trips was to the Netherlands and Belgium in 2010. Two days of this trip were spent in Amsterdam, a truly unique city. It has so many different faces to it--rich with history, vibrant with a youthful population, but also with the seedy nightlife that everyone hears so much about. The premise of this book intrigued me, because I liked the idea of three very different people/families encountering Amsterdam from unique perspectives, with a variety of goals in mind. You need a very eclectic setting for that to work, and I think Park was spot-on in choosing Amsterdam.
As I started reading, the first thing I had to get used to was Park's writing style. He tends to write each character almost from a stream-of-consciousness perspective, so that you follow their thoughts from one subject to the next without much break in between. This means his prose is very dense and prone to run-on sentences, which is disorienting at first. Each paragraph gives you a lot to take in all at once. However, once you get a feel for it, you start to appreciate the rich narrative of each character's life. By the halfway point of the novel, I felt like I had a real understanding of each person's weaknesses and desires.
Of the three protagonists, I think Marion (the wife being treated to the birthday getaway) was most interesting for me. Her motives are hard to pin down--is she a control freak? Is she lacking self esteem? Would she flourish more on her own, rather than with her husband? I enjoyed trying to figure her out. By the end, I didn't have a solid answer, but I didn't expect to, given the complexity of her character.
Essentially, all of these people are dealing with a bit of mid-life crisis; facing big changes in their lives (a daughter's marriage, a recent divorce, marital instability), they are looking for a new sense of self. Even as a younger-than-middle-age reader, I was impressed by Park's ability to portray the sense of confusion and disorientation that goes along with this type of self-discovery. We've all had moments in life where we feel an emotional change deep within us, but we have a hard time expressing it to others, and that is what these characters are going through.
A few other notes: I didn't love the ending (its abruptness seemed a bit unfitting vs the rest of the novel). Amsterdam is a wonderful character in itself--the book will make you want to check it out, if you haven't already! Overall, this is a character-driven novel; don't expect action and adventure. It's more character study than melodrama. But if you enjoy getting into the heads of your protagonists, this one will leave you with much to mull over.
Sound good? Well, lucky you--I have a copy to pass on!
Bloomsbury USA was kind enough to send me 2 copies of the book, so I have 1 unread, mint-condition copy of The Light of Amsterdam to gift to a lucky blog reader.
Just fill out the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win. Entries close on November 25, and the winner will be notified by November 27. US/Canada only please. Good luck!
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