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East of the Mountains by David Guterson

East of the Mountains (1999)

by David Guterson

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1,494224,962 (3.42)35
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    The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (silva_44)
    silva_44: This book reminds me of much of Barbara Kingsolver's fiction, in that it focuses, in part, on the plight of illegal immigrants, or other politically charged topics.

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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
A poignant tale of Ben, a retired doctor with colon cancer who sets out on a hunting expedition with the intention of committing suicide. However, things do not go according to plan and Ben's encounters change his outlook. ( )
  sianpr | Sep 3, 2015 |
Very good. An old M.D. plans to kill himself in the mountains looking like an accident. He has cancer. Coincidences stop him. ( )
  juniperSun | Dec 6, 2014 |
East of the Mountains by David Guterson; (5*)

Like the author's Snow Falling on Cedars, I enjoyed this book tremendously. I have read many books in which I have become immersed and this is definitely one of them. It is not to be quickly forgotten. This story is so real and so profound that I became surrounded by the novel and found it interesting for many reasons. One of which is that I am from the state of Washington which is the locale of this tale. I found so many of the places in the book to be very familiar to me.
Ben Givens' past memories of the simple but hard life, however loved and valued by him, reminded me somewhat of my own. I found the war and his feelings and experiences of it horrifyingly graphic and real. His nonjudmental attitude of other people and his physical vulnerability was also very realistic. As a human being, this story depicts the soul that does not age even as our bodies do. The eternal questions about death and dying were achingly apparent in this story. For a young author to understand humanity in this way, that life is fragile but the human spirit inherently courageous, is refreshing.
David Guterson is a treat to read. His writing is simply beautiful. The story is so sad and contains all of the elements of life along with being realistic on the points of dying. His prose brings to the reader some wonderfully vivid mental pictures and the feel of apple country in the eastern part of Washington State. The horrors of the transient fruit pickers and the protagonist's illness I did find very distressing but necessary to the narrative and I felt more hopeful at the end of the book than at the beginning.
This book is one that will be read by me many times. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Oct 30, 2014 |
OK, it has been a great summer and I have been busy, but for reasons that are as illusive as a certain mole in my yard I couldn't get excited about this book. Ben seemed rather flat, the dialogue forced, and the details sometimes didn't contribute to the flow of the story. ( )
  addunn3 | Jul 29, 2014 |
What will be the fate of East of the Mountains, the new David Guterson book that follows his huge bestseller Snow Falling on Cedars? The expectations for a book following a "monster bestseller" always seem to be driven by the marketing and promotional hype that surround the new title. My advice is to clear your mind ... sit down with the book ... and read.

The connection with the land that Guterson gives his main character, Ben Givens, is one of the best depictions of a love of nature in a work of fiction that I've ever read. What sends Ben off on the story's journey is the cold hard news that he has terminal cancer. Ben Givens is a good man in a hard place. This aged doctor and recent widower makes an important decision. He heads off into the American West with his two hunting dogs. This is to be the trio's last hunting trip. The beautiful descriptions of the different landscapes that they move through are only rivaled by the blunt and thoughtful way that the author writes of Ben's feelings.

I was sick for a few days while reading this book. When I feel sick, I tend to wear my favorite shirt and eat my comfort foods; East of the Mountains filled the bill as a very comfortable place (a disturbingly comfortable place) for my mind to be traveling. While there are several disturbing things that happen in the novel, it was the writing that just captured me. Some reviewers have said that the story is just a small little tale--ignore these people. There are many strong emotions very close to the surface all through this book. This book had everything that I expect from a strong novel.

(6/99) ( )
  jphamilton | Jul 27, 2014 |
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David Gutersonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boomsma, GraaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There were ten thousand fruits to touch,/
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

Robert Frost, 'After Apple Picking'
To Robin, always, and for Henry Shain - he loved the mountains
First words
On the night he had appointed his last among the living, Dr. Ben Givens did not dream, for his sleep was restless and visited by phantoms who guarded the portal to the world of dreams by speaking relentlessly of this world.
If he seized the shotgun in this way, wholly willingly, embracing it, allowing the metal to prod his mouth, he could blow the top of his skull off without logistical difficulty. The knowledge that this was indeed possible, that such an act was not out of reach, suffused Dr. Givens with a glandular fear that washed through him like a wave.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0151002290, Hardcover)

David Guterson's first novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, was a true ensemble piece, in which even a high-stakes murder trial seemed like a judgment passed on the community at large. In his eloquent second novel, however, the author swings dramatically in the opposite direction. East of the Mountains is the tale of a solitary, 73-year-old Seattle widower. A retired heart surgeon, Ben Givens is an old hand at turning isolation to his advantage, both professionally and personally: "When everything human was erased from existence except that narrow antiseptic window through which another's heart could be manipulated--few were as adroit as Dr. Givens."

Now, however, Ben has been dealt a problem entirely beyond his powers of manipulation: a diagnosis of terminal cancer. With just a few months to live, he sets out across the Cascades for a hunting trip, planning to take his own life once he reaches the high desert. A car crash en route puts an initial crimp in this suicide mission. But the ailing surgeon presses onward--and begins a simultaneous journey into the past. Between present-tense episodes, which demonstrate Ben's cranky commitment to his own extinction, we learn about his boyhood in Washington's apple country, his traumatic war experience in the Italian Alps, and the beginning of his vocation.

Guterson narrates the apple-scented idyll of Ben's childhood in a typically low-key manner--and orchards, of course, are seldom the stuff of melodrama. Still, many of his ambling sentences offer miniature lessons in patience and perception: "They rode back all day to the Columbia, traversed it on the Colockum Ferry, and at dusk came into their orchard tired, on empty stomachs, their hats tipped back, to walk the horses between the rows of trees in a silent kind of processional, and Aidan ran his hands over limbs as he passed them with his horse behind him, the limbs trembling in the wake of his passing, and on, then, to the barn." The wartime episodes, however, are less satisfactory. Clearly Guterson has done his research down to the last stray bullet, but there's a second-hand feeling to the material, which seems less a token of Ben's detachment than the author's.

There is, alas, an additional problem. Begin a story with a planned suicide, and there are exactly two possible outcomes. It would be unfair to reveal Ben's fate. But as the forces of life and death yank him one way, then another, Guterson tends to stack the deck--particularly during a bus ride toward the end of the novel, when Ben's fellow passengers appear to have wandered in from a Frank Capra film. Yet East of the Mountains remains a beautifully imagined work, in which the landscape reflects both Ben's desperation and his intermittent delight. And Guterson knows from the start what his protagonist learns in painful increments: that "a neat, uncomplicated end" doesn't exist on either side of the mountains. --James Marcus

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:11 -0400)

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In Washington State, a widowed doctor suffering from cancer takes a hunting trip, the real purpose of which is to commit suicide, but his resolve is tested by several events which reaffirm the joy of living.

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