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The Singing Fire by Lilian Nattel

The Singing Fire

by Lilian Nattel

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1144105,887 (3.47)2



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I've started this twice, didn't get far either time. Nattel's first novel, The River Midnight, is one of my favorites. I think this one suffers from the "second novel syndrome." I mean to try it again, but I absolutely agree with the review by "chndlrs"--this one just didn't grab me even though I really wanted to like it.

I'm going to refrain from giving it a starred rating until or unless I finish the book.
  labwriter | Jan 9, 2010 |
This novel follows the lives of two women from the time they are young children. Each is Jewish, and leaves her home, alone, to come to London and make a better life. From there, we have to decide what a better life really is. The two women's lives intersect, briefly, and then come apart again, though they are linked together for the rest of their lives, even without meeting again.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, though by the end I was starting to get a bit bored. Both women were likable despite their flaws, and I found myself rooting for both of them. The descriptions of late 19th-century London were powerful. Each woman is also haunted/influenced by her grandmother, and these two ghosts add some wisdom, and some humour, to the story. ( )
  jtho | Oct 14, 2008 |
Recently I read The Singing Fire: A Novel by Lillian Nattel. I had very much enjoyed her first novel, The River Midnight, but this one didn't grab me.

Set in the Yiddish ghetto of Victorian London, the novel traces the lives of two immigrant women, both victims of oppressive male dominance, sometimes in the form of a friendship-feigning pimp, sometimes in the form of a cruel step-father, or the usurious tutor. Children are conceived, miscarried, abandoned, claimed and cherished. One woman escapes the ghetto into a cold marriage, one escapes a cold marriage, but not the ghetto.

Nattel carefully draws the setting and details it richly. I may have read too much Anne Perry to fully appreciate the care with which Nattel presents Victorian-era poverty. Or perhaps I am weary of the 'most men are bad' theme. Nattel is a good author and I am disposed to like her work, this one just didn't do it for me.

Have you read it? What do you think? ( )
2 vote chndlrs | Oct 11, 2008 |
There is an area of London often ignored in popular history. “This was the high road of the ghetto, the one square mile where Yiddish was spoken, the irritating pimple on the backside of London, the subject of parliamentary debate, the hundred thousand newcomers among the millions, ready to take fog as their mother’s milk here in the East End, where all the noisy, dirty, and stinking industries were exiled from the city.�?

Canadian author Lilian Nattel is trying something different for her sophomore effort. Her first novel, the award-winning The River Midnight, was an exercise in magical realism, a plainly fictional conglomeration of men endowed with the power of transmogrification, angels and demons manipulating mankind to their heart’s content, and even the Angel of Death itself, all weaving throughout a late 19th century Polish-Jewish hamlet.

In Nattel’s follow-up novel, the fantastic co-mingles with realism in a far more muted fashion. Ghosts of grandmothers and wives flit about in the background, providing minor commentary, but more content to stand mutely by, watching as the tragedy of life unfolds about them, tut-tutting to themselves all the while. Nattel is more focused on the human element this time around, resulting in a story that, if more traditional in form than the predecessor, has greater depth and resonance.

The Singing Fire, a notably fine novel, continues Nattel’s exploration of Jewish identity, this time in turn-of-the-century London. Amidst the peddlers and thieves lining the streets and doorways, Nattel drops Nehama, an innocent Polish runaway dreaming of independence. Ignorant and confused, she finds herself literally sold into prostitution, beginning a chain of misfortune and adversity made all the more painful by her stubborn refusal to give up her dreams.

Nattel parallels Nehama’s hardships with those of Emilia’s, a pregnant Russian runaway who finds shelter with Nehama. Determined to make a finer life for herself, Emilia flees the “half-Yiddish, half-Cockney English of the alley.�? Abandoning her baby with Nehama, she creates a new image for herself as a gentile in London’s West End.

Alongside Nattel’s vivid descriptions of the hardscrabble lives of her women, Nattel delves into the spiritual and moral heritage of the Jewish experience in England. Her London is a vast cultural landscape divided between the East End traditionalists, and the assimilated English Jews of the West End. The poor of the East End find themselves derided by the population, while the upper-class Jews are “edgy, sitting as they did on a spiked fence between their Englishness and their Jewishness, wanting to prove one and too often reminded of the other, whether by their own hearts or by the distrust of the English-English.�?

Nattel, while not a particularly remarkable stylist, is an absolutely natural storyteller. Her London is boldly alive, a vibrant universe of pain and stereotypes that she tweaks slightly with her own sensibilities, bringing fresh insight to an atmosphere that has grown lyrically stale since the days of Charles Dickens.

Yet Nattel’s London would be nothing but window-dressing without her characters. Nehama and Emilia provide sterling examples of the survival of insanity. Nehama experiences all the brutality and indifference a Jewish woman can expect of the times, while Emilia undergoes the extreme crisis of conscience in her determined efforts to deny her heritage. Many books have been penned on the Hebrew life, but rarely has such commentary received the compassion Nattel brings to her writing.

The Singing Fire has no great meaning behind its story. There are “no great needs, only necessary ones.�? Lilian Nattel wants to bring voice to those who have not been allowed to speak, and she succeeds wonderfully. ( )
2 vote ShelfMonkey | Jul 8, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743249674, Paperback)

Lilian Nattel has written another remarkable novel set in a historic Jewish community -- the bustling alleys of London's East End in the late nineteenth century. In stunningly vivid prose, and with a touch of her trademark magical realism, Nattel brings the fin de siécle city to life -- whores and rabbis, street vendors and artists, sweatshops and Yiddish theatre.

Nehama and Emilia each arrive in London alone, naïve and full of dreams of independence. Each struggles to overcome her past and build a new life, Nehama in the Jewish ghetto and Emilia in the privileged West End. The Singing Fire is the tale of these two unforgettable women and the child that unites them. Nattel writes with immense compassion about points of human connection -- the kindness of strangers, the power of women's friendships, the bonds between mothers and daughters, and the importance of families -- the ones you are born to, the ones you discover, and the ones that you begin.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:15 -0400)

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"Lilian Nattel brings to life a vanished world - the lanes boiling with the steam from kettles of laundry, the smokestacks belching coal dust, the chatter of tailors, piemen, and thieves. This is where Nehama arrives with her dreams of independence, not realizing the dangers that a girl on her own must face. Tricked into prostitution and with only the whispers of her deceased grandmother to guide her, she escapes into the alleys of the East End, where bustling market stalls and penny seats at the theater are just a handsbreadth away from the criminal warrens. In the Jewish ghetto Nehama makes a new life, remembering the lessons of the street to help another runaway, Emilia, pregnant and unwed. But Emilia refuses a hardscrabble life and, relinquishing her baby to Nehama, re-creates herself in the chic streets of the West End. Nattel intertwines the stories of these women as they build their lives in two sides of the city." "Nattel writes of the chaos of this rich city life; she tells the stories of whores and rabbis, street vendors and artists, sweatshops and Yiddish theater, and she renders the courage of mothers and sisters navigating dangerous realms."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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