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The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien

The Little Red Chairs (2015)

by Edna O'Brien

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3972726,945 (3.56)80

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O'Brien beautifully weaves a tale filled with love, tenderness, horror and tragedy, at first focused on the duplicitous butcher of Sarajevo but ultimately highlighting the lives of war refugees all over the world. (In the prologue, O'Brien begins by describing how 11,541 red chairs set out on the streets of Sarajevo on the 20th anniversary of the Siege of Sarajevo represent each person in Sarajevo who was killed by Bosnian Serb forces during the siege that lasted for nearly four years.) The setting is in Ireland and the descriptions of the rolling green landscapes make you feel as though you are there. Somehow, many refugees end up in the small town there.

We are at first enraptured by the heroine Fidelma's love story although sensing something is not quite right, and then deeply moved by her guilt, disgusted by her penance and the horror of it, and tearful at her forgiveness of herself and other's forgiveness of her. Fidelma's experience transforms her from a rather materialistic woman living in a narrow world to a worldly woman with a social conscience.

We ultimately come to believe that although there are bad people in the world who cannot be changed and will never show remorse, the world is filled with good people and peace is possible. The is a particularly compelling book at this point in time with the plight of refugees from Syria and Arab countries. ( )
  ErinDenver | Jun 12, 2017 |
Harrowing. At times, very tough read.
  marlizzy | Jun 2, 2017 |
This is a powerful book, dealing with a difficult event in our history. There is certainly much to discuss here, making this a good book club choice. However, as a novel, I struggled with it. In the first part of the book, there are many small-town, quirky characters. The book has the feeling of the movie, Waking Ned Devine. It raises issues of whether we can really know someone; about how we are vulnerable when someone seems to be the answer to our deepest needs. This is a strong story line, but we lose track of it in the second part of the book when Fidelma moves to the England. Here, the author seems to be exploring the immigrant/refugee experience and the way victims are often punished and isolated. Then, Fidelma attends the war crimes tribunal hearing of her former lover and the author seems to be talking about forgiveness and closure. A lot of different themes that make the reading of this book somewhat disjointed. I think the character development could have been stronger -- I don't know what (if anything) Fidelma has learned from her experience and how she has changed as a result. Or if she has. ( )
  LynnB | Apr 25, 2017 |
I liked the book well enough, though I found it a bit over the top in mixed themes. Bludgeoning was brutal, and final reconciliation forced. Kudos for 85 yr old writer! ( )
  KymmAC | Apr 15, 2017 |
I had a job getting into this; when I finally sat down to 'blitz' it, I found it intriguing, very different in structure to anything else I'd read ... but I couldn't summon up any feeling for our lead character, Fidelma.
The narrative opens in a little Irish town, where a mysterious alternative healer has arrived - Dr Vlad. Local woman Fidelma McBride, childless, married to a much older husband, falls in love - and sees an opportunity to have a much longed-for child. But only later does it come out that Dr Vlad is a war criminal, on the run from the former Yugoslavia, where he orchestrated horrific genocide...

(spoiler alert) As a consequence of her actions, Fidelma too becomes a migrant. Cast off by her husband and community, she finds herself living a very different life in London, working in menial jobs, sleeping in others' spare rooms, mixing with other immigrants at a local centre, where they tell their stories...

The author certainly brings home the horrors of genocide, war and brutality, but she writes from such a broad spectrum, characters whom we only meet briefly describing their experiences, that it somehow dilutes the emotion aroused in the reader. ( )
  starbox | Feb 12, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
"It's simply a remarkable novel....Yet if “The Little Red Chairs” is obviously about displacement and immigration, obviously about the toll of war and its murderers and victims, it is also about how the tentacles of globalization reach everywhere, even into the corners of provincial Ireland."
"This is a spectacular piece of work, massive and ferocious and far-reaching, yet also at times excruciatingly, almost unbearably, intimate. Holding you in its clutches from first page to last, it dares to address some of the darkest moral questions of our times while never once losing sight of the sliver of humanity at their core."
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With thanks; Zrinka Bralo, Ed Vulliamy, Mary Martin (aged six)
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The town takes its name from the river.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316378232, Hardcover)

A woman discovers that the foreigner she thinks will redeem her life is a notorious war criminal.

Vlad, a stranger from Eastern Europe masquerading as a healer, settles in a small Irish village where the locals fall under his spell. One woman, Fidelma McBride, becomes so enamored that she begs him for a child. All that world is shattered when Vlad is arrested, and his identity as a war criminal is revealed.

Fidelma, disgraced, flees to England and seeks work among the other migrants displaced by wars and persecution. But it is not until she confronts him-her nemesis-at the tribunal in The Hague, that her physical and emotional journey reaches its breathtaking climax.

THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS is a book about love, and the endless search for it. It is also a book about mankind's fascination with evil, and how long, how crooked, is the road towards Home.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 20 Oct 2015 09:48:54 -0400)

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