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Tell by Frances Itani
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Tell (2014)

by Frances Itani

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949196,973 (3.79)19
The international debut sensation Deafening launched the story of Grania, deaf from the age of five, and her sister Tress, who helped to create their secret language. Tell picks up from the return of the sisters' husbands from the war, and follows Tress's partner Kenan, a young shell-shocked soldier who confines himself indoors, venturing outside only at night to visit the frozen bay where he skated as a boy. Saddened by her altered marriage, Tress seeks advice from her Aunt Maggie. But Maggie and her husband, Am, have problems of their own. Maggie finds joy singing in the town's newly created choral society. Am, troubled by the widening gulf in his marriage, spends more and more time in the clock tower above their apartment. As the second decade of the twentieth century draws to a close, the lives of the two couples become increasingly entwined. Startling revelations surface as layers of silence begin to crumble. Told with Itani's signature power and grace, Tell is both a deeply moving story about the burdens of the past, and a beautifully rendered reminder of how the secrets we bury to protect ourselves can also be the cause of our undoing.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
It's lovely to read a book set in a town you know well, especially when that town is as small as Deseronto, Ontario. So I can't pretend that this is an unbiased review and I won't!

This story follows up on four of the supporting characters from [b:Deafening|312881|Deafening|Frances Itani|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328822293s/312881.jpg|1289949] and explores what happens to them after the First World War is over. The war-fatigue of the time is well drawn, and I found the 'empty chair' metaphor particularly poignant:
Imagine if we had placed a chair in no man's land for every loss. Such a ritual would have stopped the war. No one would have been able to move through the mountains of lumber.Frances Itani has done a skillful job of mixing facts and fiction in the novel, which explores themes of secrecy and recovery. It's an absorbing story.
( )
  AJBraithwaite | Aug 14, 2017 |
Tell is the book chosen for 2016 SDG Reads so I read it in anticipation of the author event this evening.

Tell is a follow-up to Deafening, Itani’s best-known, award-winning novel. I read this latter book about a dozen years ago when it was first published; at that time I was not writing reviews, but I do remember enjoying it very much. Tell I did not find as emotionally compelling.

This novel focuses on Tress (the sister of Grania, the protagonist in Deafening) and her husband Kenan; their story is interwoven with that of Maggie and Am (Tress and Grania’s aunt and uncle). Kenan has returned from fighting in World War I; he has been wounded body, heart and soul and has difficulty adjusting to civilian life, and he and Tress seem to be drifting apart. Maggie and Am are also experiencing marital problems; a tragedy in their past, which they refuse to discuss, is resulting in emotional distancing and Maggie finds herself drawn to Lukas, a European musician who has recently moved to Deseronto.

The theme of the novel is the harm that is caused by secrets, the stories we should tell but don’t. The epigraph hints at this theme: “But isn’t that why we fall in love anyway, to be able to say the secret, dangerous words that are in our heads?” Kenan is unable to speak when he first returns from the front, and even when he begins to speak, he doesn’t open up about his war experiences. Maggie and Am do not speak of their sorrow and their marriage is fracturing as a consequence; Am says, “’we made the mistake of living with the sorrow pushed under like a deadhead, a hidden threat under water. We did that instead of dragging it up into views so we could talk about it, try to make ourselves better.’” Kenan’s adoptive father never spoke of Kenan’s biological mother and Kenan knows nothing about her.

The book is very slow-moving at the beginning, and I kept wanting something to happen. At times the plot seems more like a series of disjointed anecdotes, some of which seem just to emphasize Itani’s research of the time period. Do we really need to know all the details of making grape jelly or building an outdoor skating rink? When the revelations do come, they come quickly. Is it logical that both Am and Maggie choose to speak on the same day?

There are a couple of other issues with the book. I grew up in a small town so I know how everyone knows everyone’s business, so I find it difficult to believe that everyone in the community never spoke of Kenan’s adoption by a single man or Am and Maggie’s secret, a secret which is not risqué, just sad. Even Kenan asks, “How was it possible for an entire community to maintain silence? . . . The community had created a grim kind of solidarity. . . . Still it was almost impossible to believe that no one had ever spoken . . . ” The author does try to convince, however; the snow wall near the rink to keep skaters from venturing unto risky, uncertain ice symbolizes the townspeople’s silence; when Kenan and Am attack that wall, community members become upset. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced an entire town would collude in keeping a secret for decades; there are always town gossips.

Then there’s the ending. After the slow pacing, everything happens too quickly. An entire year is skipped, and though the reader has known Maggie’s thoughts intimately, all of a sudden we learn of her actions secondhand. Considering Maggie’s secret, her devastating loss, her decision at the end seems unrealistic.

The upshot is that I did not find this novel as interesting or emotionally impactful as I remember Deafening being.

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Oct 19, 2016 |
3.5 stars

It's 1919. Kenan fought in the war, was wounded, and has come home to a small town in Ontario. However, he hasn't left the house since he got back and getting used to regular life again is hard on both him and his wife, Tress. Tress's Aunt Maggie is in a somewhat strained relationship with her husband, Am, and is finding solace in music. She has always been a good singer, but has never wanted to sing in public. Am is one of the few people Kenan feels comfortable talking to.

It's not a fast paced book, but it was good. It was a “continuation” of the author's book, Deafening, which focused on Tress's deaf sister, Grania. This book has a completely different focus, however, and can be read without having read Deafening (though I liked Deafening better). Overall, though, it was good and definitely worth the read. ( )
  LibraryCin | Nov 6, 2015 |
War was about defending and protecting. About allegiance, alliance, seizing and grasping territory. War was about death. A mass of lives, a tangle of human lives, young lives, had been clumped together to form exactly that, a mass. Millions of empty chairs. But couldn't the mass be disentangled, looked at as one life, and another, and another? Each with a story, a photograph, a history, a family to love and who loved? No one person ever stood alone. Page 237

The town of Deseronto is like so many other Canadian towns of the time where the young men have left for war, some never to return, and others to return, neither whole in mind or body. Kenan is one of the lucky few who is able to come back from the war to his family and his young wife, but what he endured, what he has seen and heard will never be undone. Some stories are meant to be shared and others are forever trapped inside. A self imprisonment inside his own home, Kenan is unable to process what he has experienced and his inability to communicate the words that were lost on the fields of war leaves him paralyzed and separated from a community that has its own share of grief and secrets.

I have never read anything by Itani before and in fact I've never even heard of this author, but the Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist placed her on my radar and there she will stay. Her writing is both effortless and cutting. Her story of the effects that war has on a community, the futility of it, the hopelessness, but at the same time, the redemptive power of love is fully orchestrated through her writing and the lives of her characters. Beautifully written and wholeheartedly recommended. ( )
2 vote jolerie | May 11, 2015 |
This novel is beautifully written. However, that is not enough to save it for me. I found it quite dull. I struggled to hold my attention and could only read it when alone and quiet and I could concentrate on launguage. It took me most of the novel to keep who was who straight.
I greatly prefered "deafening". ( )
  Smits | Mar 31, 2015 |
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