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The River Midnight by Lilian Nattel
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The River Midnight (1999)

by Lilian Nattel

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357843,598 (4.06)19
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    Day After Night by Anita Diamant (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: While The River Midnight occurs immediately prior to WWII and Day After Night immediately after, both are emotional stories of Jewish women struggling with their situations; both also depict a sense of female community within a larger group of outsiders.… (more)
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"This beautiful, multi-layered novel set in late 19th-century Poland is a stunning debut from a major new writer that 'brings to mind such diverse writers as Isabel Allende, E.L. Doctorow, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, though Ms. Nattel's sensibility is uniquely hers' - Julie Salamon, author of NET OF DREAMS "
  MerrittGibsonLibrary | Jun 30, 2016 |
Set in a shtetl in Russian occupied Poland during the late 1800s, this is a story told multiple times. The action takes place over a year’s time (with both flashbacks and glimpses of the future, too); first it’s told from the viewpoint of the women of the village, then again from the men’s POV, then finally from the view of the main character, Misha, the shtetl midwife and herbalist. While the whole village is part of the story, the backbone of it follows the pregnancy of Misha, ended with her giving birth.

The story focuses on four women. As young girls, they were nicknamed the vilda hayas, the wild creatures, because they ran wild through the forest and the village. They had great plans. But in the end, one emigrated to America and died, leaving two children; one ran her husband’s business brilliantly but never had a child; one had too many children; and the fourth was Misha, who did not have a husband but was pregnant, had one divorce, still wore her hair loose, and knew all the secrets of the shtetl.

Each telling brings the story and the people more into focus, like watching an old interlaced GIF download years ago. While we find out what happened in the first telling, by the end of the third telling we know *why* the things happened. Hard things happen; children are orphaned, a young girl goes to jail, an unspeakable crime takes place. But it’s still a story of joy; their sect of Judaism asks them to look for joy, to help each other, to let no one starve.

Nattel brings the shtetl to life with her writing. From the houses with the chickens roosting in the hallways, to the herbs that Misha gathers and stores, to the way that religion permeates every aspect of the villager’s lives, it’s all described in loving prose. The love and friendship that binds them together is warm and alive; the story is like a tapestry with a million details. While the pace is moderate to slow, I love this book. It has a touch of magical realism and a lot of life. ( )
  lauriebrown54 | Jun 9, 2016 |
The River Midnight tells the story of a Shtetl in Poland using 4 women friends, the "Vilda Chayas" (wild animals, a nickname they received as children because they were mischievous) as the main characters. Easy to see this novel as a play with a number of acts in which each main character and sub-characters move the simple plot forward.

Hard to believe a poor Jewish hamlet could contain so much depth and wisdom about women's strengths, hidden or otherwise, spirituality and belief in G-d, loyalty, innocence, anger and violence, birth and death, education and ignorance. These 4 women care deeply about their families, neighbors, the town and do everything in their power to help each other whether giving charity to those without enough to eat, praying, herbal preparations, advice or love. They are not perfect but understand how they all need each other.

I love Nattel's capable use of magical realism, the river as purifier, gossip and humor to create a wonder of a world fraught with danger but filled with life and fulfillment.

Well done! ( )
  Bookish59 | Aug 11, 2015 |
As much a look into history as it is a piece of transporting entertainment, Nattel's The River Midnight brings to life the men and women of a shtetl northwest of Warsaw. Weaving small-town gossip with frightening politics, the concerns of a small town with individuals in hope and in mourning, and half-dreamt magical realism with hard-pressed reality, the novel is a layered masterpiece, and well worth reading.

In Blaszka, this fictional village of Polish Jews, everything is paramount. Meticulously detailed, the novel moves effortlessly between characters, teaching history even as it entertains. On some level, there's a pregnant midwife named Misha who is at the center of everything. On another level, she is less important than the village community, and only as important as the young men and women who are around her, accepting or rebelling against changing politics and a seemingly shrinking village.

All together, it's difficult to say anything at all about this work. More than any historical fiction I've read in recent years, this book manages to balance daily life with historical care while still treating issues of the time which go beyond the day-to-day, and there's something magical about the way it all comes together.

Simply, this is one of those novels that is worth reading. Call it literary fiction or magical realism or historical fiction or whatever you like--it tells a wonderful story, with both grace and humor, and it is, very simply, powerful.

Absolutely recommended. ( )
  whitewavedarling | May 25, 2015 |
Midnight River, by Lillian Nattel. Toronto : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 1999.

A gentle, masterfully told novel about a Polish shtetl at the end of the nineteenth century with different women and men recounting their own perspectives of happenings and their own secrets.

When we were discussing historical fiction a couple of months ago, I was impressed by the comments of Lillian Nattel. I found her blog and this book, and I am thrilled that I did. Her historical fiction meets all my expectations and all those suggested by others.

Nattel is simply a fine writer. Her text is smooth and appealing, and while her characters differed from people I know personally, they are utterly believable. Her depiction of shtetl life is never nostalgic or sentimental because she shows us the all-too-frequent obstacles and pains the villager’s experienced. As a historian, I was particularly impressed with how thoroughly she had researched her topic and how well she conveyed what she had learned. Nattel didn’t just accumulate information and throw it at readers. She seems to have immersed herself in her historical setting so deeply that details about it flow gracefully in and out of her story, never heavy or boring as historical data can be in novels. Her glossary and bibliography are very helpful.

Read more...http://wp.me/p24OK2-pM
2 vote mdbrady | Aug 25, 2012 |
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Time grows short at the end of a century, like winter days when night falls too soon.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
In her stunning debut novel, Lilian Nattel brilliantly brings to life the richness of shtetl culture through the story of an imagined village: Blaszka, Poland. Myth meets history and characters come to life through the stories of women's lives and prayers, their secrets, and the intimate details of everyday life. When they were young, four friends were known as the vilda bayas, the wild creatures. But their adult lives have taken them in different directions, and they've grown apart. One woman, Misha, is now the local midwife. In a world where strict rules govern most activities, Misha, an unmarried, independent spirit becomes the wayward heart of Blaszka and the keeper of town secrets. But when Misha becomes pregnant and refuses to divulge the identity of her baby's father, hers becomes the biggest secret of all, and the village must decide how they will react to Misha's scandalous ways. Nattel's magical novel explores the tension between men and women, and celebrates the wordless and kinetic bond of friendship.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684853043, Paperback)

Like the mythical Polish shtetl of Blaszka in which it is set, The River Midnight is boisterous, tangled with secrets, and startlingly generous. Told more as nine interwoven stories, Lilian Nattel's debut novel portrays Jewish village life in the 19th century as both dense and wondrous, something akin to Gabriel García Márquez's Macondo--with similar touches of magic realism. The novel uses a roughly nine-month period in 1894 as its framework, each chapter recounting many of the same events through the eyes of successive characters. Along the way we encounter the pettiness, charity, gossip, and customs that sustain the village, making its cramped life both full and frustrating. At the center of this whirl is Misha, the midwife, whose own pregnancy is one of the book's abiding mysteries, and who, despite her inscrutability, elicits a resolute affection from her fellow villagers: the men who have loved or admired her, and the women she has befriended, provoked, and, ultimately, redeemed. "I have to hold the secrets of the whole village," Misha explains, and as we learn of her girlhood friendships and adult loves, the twined network of those secrets becomes increasingly apparent.

The novel's ambitious fragmentation, while it may occasionally lead us down the same stretch of road, is undeniably effective--revealing the bottomless texture of mingled lives. And while the story's magic realism is a bit intermittent and tangential, Nattel more than compensates with lush, scrupulous detail and an unerring eye for the tension between self-interest and benevolence. In The River Midnight, she has created a world where flesh and prayer, accident and magic, coincide. --Ben Guterson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:19 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A novel on a Jewish community in 19th century Poland. It is centered on four women--one is barren, another gives birth to a child out of wedlock, a third emigrates to America, a fourth has a son arrested for revolutionary activity. A first novel.

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