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The Dictionary of Animal Languages by Heidi…
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The Dictionary of Animal Languages

by Heidi Sopinka

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» See also 14 mentions

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TOB 2019--This was my last TOB for the year. Although I didn't finish Milkman which I really disliked. This book was almost not understandable. It was overwritten. I'm tired of long sentences with obscure words that don't truly explain what the author is trying to get across. Unless the author is trying to be vague and mysterious. ( )
  kayanelson | Mar 28, 2019 |
Ivory Frame is an elderly woman who has been working for decades on The Dictionary of Animal Languages, a compendium of the various noises animals make to communicate, from the clicking of insects to bird songs to the howls of wolves. Ivory has had an eventful life, attending art school in Paris, where she falls in love with another artist until the Second Word War drives them apart. She finds her true calling with the dictionary, and even though she is in her nineties, she continues to work on it.

This is an odd novel about a strong and determined woman. Heidi Sopinka tells the story from a very close first person, so much that there is no clear way to tell the difference between what Ivory is thinking and what she is saying aloud. The novel is set in two time frames; her life in France and her years after the war, as she finds her vocation. Sopinka's prose is not written with clarity in mind, there's a ornate and poetic feel to the writing that I found got in the way more than it gave greater illumination to the story. The best part of the novel was the character of Lev, a Tortured Artist with a truly fascinating and harrowing past in Ukraine and while he is the great love of Ivory's life, there are many hints that she's just the next girl in a sequence that exists somewhere below his art. There was a lot interesting going on and I wanted to like it more than I did. In the end, it was just too opaquely written and the central conflict shouldn't even exist, the solution being so obvious and predictable. ( )
  RidgewayGirl | Mar 12, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Lyrical, poetic prose. For lovers of literary fiction. ( )
  GermaineShames | Jan 8, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received a copy of this book through a LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
My advice to readers is "give this book a chance." Other reviews have noted that it is not a "light" read, and that the author's approach to punctuation and frequent switches in time frame can be confusing. I read the first five or so pages over and over SEVERAL times before I felt as though I knew enough about who was "speaking" and what the context was to move on with the story. So, my first impression was "uh oh." BUT, if a reader is patient, and gives the book time to develop -- ah, what a wonderful read! You will have to pay attention... to the language, to the character development (like peeling layers away to get to know them), and to the changes from time/place to another, as the story switches about in Ivory's life. It is well worth the initial work of figuring out how to read this book. It is inventive, it is interesting, and it's an utterly new approach to a historical period we've all read about. We are experiencing it as the characters did -- in an intensely personal (and biased and blind) way. As if living through it, not as if it's an "historical" education.
I recommend this book highly, unless you're looking for a boilerplate, quick, easy, "beach read" sort of book. ( )
  LisbethE | Dec 29, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Dictionary of Animal Languages by Heidi Soponka is a captivating literary fiction novel that is also historical fiction. The prose is lovely and lyrical and connected me to the main character in an unexpected way.

The story tells the tragic tale of the life of famous artist Ivory Frame. At the beginning we meet Ivory at the end of her life as she is trying to finish her life’s work of studying animal languages that will be a dictionary of sorts. As she is working on completing the dictionary, she receives a message that she has a granddaughter; yet, she never had children. This message is the catalyst to a flood of memories. We see Ivory as a young girl who never fit into various schools she is sent to and later expelled from. Finally as a young woman, disowned by family, she arrives in Paris where she studies painting.

For Ivory this is where her life truly starts and in some ways ends. It is the time between the Great Wars and Paris is alive with creative people. Not only does she discover her place in the world among the artists and other creative people living in Paris at the time, she finds the love of her life in Lev. Lev is a Russian artist, and an enigma, and Ivory loves him passionately even though he is married. Then in a dreadful and tragic turn of events Ivory loses everything.

This is truly a heart breaking story told with such thoughtfulness and the beautiful prose just took me away. I did think the plot was rather slow; however, it fit the prose and the mood to perfection. If the story had been written any other way it would not have had the same effect on the reader.

The only negative thing I can say it that I felt the granddaughter connection did not fit as well into the story as it could have. To ultimately be so important, the revelation did not get the attention it should have.

This is a tricky book to recommend because not everyone is going to like the slow pace or appreciate the prose. Though I enjoyed reading it, I recognize that it is not what I would call a “commercial novel”. Yet, for those readers that can truly appreciate it as the art form it is, I think you will love it.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. For more of my reviews, and author interviews, see my blog at www.thespineview.com ( )
  purpledog | Dec 19, 2018 |
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Epigraph
When you dream of a savage bull, or a lion, or a wolf pursuing you, this means: it wants to come to you. You would like to split it off, you experience it as someting alien -- but it just becomes all the more dangerous.

Carl Jung, Children's Dreams
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For JL
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My eyes became her eyes, the eyes of someone who died young.
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Born into a wealthy family in northern England and sent to boarding school to be educated by nuns, Ivory Frame rebels. She escapes to inter-war Paris, where she finds herself through art, and falls in with the most brilliantly bohemian set: the surrealists. Torn between an intoxicating love affair with a married Russian painter and her soaring ambition to create, Ivory ́s life is violently interrupted by the Second World War. She flees from Europe, leaving behind her friends, her art, and her love. Now over ninety, Ivory labours defiantly in the frozen north on her last, greatest work a vast account of animal languages alone except for her sharp research assistant, Skeet. And then unexpected news from the past arrives: this magnificently fervent, complex woman is told that she has a grandchild, despite never having had a child of her own.

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