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East of the Mountains by David Guterson
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East of the Mountains (1999)

by David Guterson

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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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» See also 25 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Absolutely loved the journey we take with Ben, the main character in this novel, a widower doctor who has terminal cancer and decides to take one last journey to his childhood home... and end his life on his terms. There is a certain beauty to author Guterson's prose, and I found the story engaging and powerful. It was an added bonus that the story takes place in Washington state, and home is the apple capitol of Wenatchee. ( )
  Randall.Hansen | Mar 19, 2014 |
Dr. Ben Givens, retired heart surgeon, is dying. With his beloved wife already dead and the cancer in his colon--a carefully kept secret--growing intolerably painful, he decides on a suicide that will spare his family the burden and himself the suffering of a lingering death. He will go bird hunting with his dogs, traveling from his adult home in Seattle to the Eastern Washington sageland of his youth, and there stage a fatal accident. Life intervenes. It intervenes most tellingly in a migrant worker's trailer at the farthest point in his journey, where Givens must perform a harrowing delivery, resurrecting skills learned decades ago and never practiced. Leaving the trailer at first light, he is struck by the change wrought in the last few hours. "Things looked different now," he realizes, and he returns home not to fight his cancer, but to endure it and to accept his death. It is an acceptance that seems fully earned because Guterson has traced its unsteady progress with extraordinary honesty, skill, and understanding.Summary HPL

A engrossing tale about how life keeps on happening, despite our plans. Like Odysseus, Ben meets strange characters on his way "home" who star in mini-episodes of the journey. Dialogue is Hemingway-style--spare and elliptical. Details are convincing, characters act in true and meaningful ways that impact Ben's trajectory.
Guterson remains objective; no preaching here. I feel that the story could have ended differently; it seemed that to be true to his nature, Ben himself decided to remain "east of the mountains", where the sun rises.

9 out of 10 Highly recommended to all! ( )
  julie10reads | Feb 9, 2014 |
Not as powerful as Snow Falling on Cedars, but a quiet enjoyable read with a wonderfully drawn protagonist. ( )
  Michael-Murphy | Feb 3, 2014 |
Highly recommended.



14/03/13 1 of 19 books for $10 ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
In East of the mountains, Ben Givens a retired doctor from Eastern Wa transplanted to Seattle, He goes on quite an unexpected journey to end his life, but with the many trials and tribulations he currently faces it seem that somehow everything he so carefully planned to end his life is thwarted. He ends up doing a bit of his doctoring again along his way helping people unknown to him, all the while reminiscing about his life from teenager till then mostly due to the hannibis a drifter gave him that he reluctantly didn't want to use at first because he was a doctor. He comes across good people and a rogue bad guy. Ben deals with loss, resolution, love, compassion and many more feelings. ( )
1 vote redheadish | Apr 12, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
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David Gutersonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boomsma, GraaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
There were ten thousand fruits to touch,/
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

Robert Frost, 'After Apple Picking'
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:51 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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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