Sol is a highly gifted six-year-old; his adoring mother believes he is destined for greatness. Yet he is also unsettling, chillingly un-childlike. He bears the same birthmark as his father, grandmoth- er and great-grandmother had before him. When Sol and his family make an unexpected trip to Germany, terrible secrets start to emerge.Narrated by children in each generation of the family, "Fault Lines" traces their history back through the years, from California to New York, from Haifa to Toronto and Munich. As dormant family secrets are awakened, shock waves reverberate from a hidden past into a fragile present.Domestic in focus and epic in scope, "Fault Lines" is a vibrant, richly drawn and captivating piece of storytelling. It shows what can happen when past and present collide. Birthmarks are not all that can be passed down through a family line.
The year is 2004 and six year old Sol, who is wise beyond his years, is pontificating about the state of the human species, among other things. He is the first of four related characters who tell the story of their childhood in Nancy Huston’s brilliant 2008 Orange Prize short listed novel, Fault Lines. Huston uses a variety of literary devices to tell the story of four generations of this California family. She very effectively tells the story backwards chronologically, taking us from present day California to 1980’s Hiafa, to 1960’s Toronto, to 1944 Germany. Along the way the author slowly reveals the family’s secret, by planting clues in each narrative and weaving the story together in a way that exposes the mystery as you peel away the narrative layers. Each character telling the story is about six years of age and very intelligent. Almost too intelligent; like the smartest kids I’ve ever heard of with language skills beyond belief. But if you can suspend disbelief here, you’re in for a very enjoyable read.
If I say much more I will give away the secret. So let me just say that if you like a mystery, if you enjoy peeling away layers of intrigue, if unexpected developments are right up your alley, if you like the charm of literary devices and smooth, poetic writing and excellent historical fiction, this may be the book for you.
Lost identity and the destructive fault lines that run through families are the twin themes that run through this novel. Four successive generations of six-year-old children narrate the story; each is the son or daughter of the next narrator. Each separate narration forms its own approximately 75-page novella. The stories intertwine like the tangled roots of a family tree to form a mysterious whole. We follow these children backwards in time, from California, to Canada, to Israel, and ultimately to Nazi Germany. Far before we get to the last narrator, we know that she was a victim of the Nazi Lebensborn program—one of thousands of Aryan-looking children who were kidnapped from their parents and taken to Germany to be raised as Germans. As the story progresses backwards in time, we pick up many pieces of a puzzle. Finally, in the end, they all come together and form a stark picture of truth.
In the beginning, we are introduced to Sol, an outlandishly disturbing young narrator. Sol is a six-year-old, one-of-a-kind 21st-century bad seed—a child with an IQ in the stratosphere, an obsession for hard-core pornography, and a personality that is edging as close to a sociopath as any normal kid can get and still have the outside chance of maturing into a psychologically stable adult. Sol is a kid who can run circles around his parents—an Arab-hating, beer-swigging, bigot of a father, and a clueless mother who caters to Sol's every whim. Sol sees himself as the all-powerful center of his own universe. But if Sol's a monster, he's as crazy as he is amusing…and, at least to this reader, wickedly endearing.
The structure of the novel is compelling, moving us backwards in time from child to parent through four generations. At first this feels awkward—to move backwards—but getting at the truth in this manner ultimately proves wholly authentic. In real life we generally stumble upon difficult questions and solve them by working backwards until we finally get at the source and uncover the truth. We know we've arrived at the truth where all the crucial pieces of the puzzle fit together and make sense.
As I write this review in mid-August 2008, Fault Lines is scheduled for its U.S. publication debut in a few weeks. Personally, I would be delighted to see this quiet intriguing literary mystery novel hit the American book market with the same rumbling earthquake that its publication produced in France…but the publisher and the author don't see it that way. They fear American readers will be turned off by the distinct anti-American shadow cast by Sol and his parents…and they have a point. Certainly some of the other reviews on this site have proven them right. The same odd character traits that caught the attention of the French and made them smile, will probably cause Americans to become uncomfortable and angry. This book will probably not be an American bestseller; however, I'm confident that literary readers will discover this book and it should sell well in that niche.
Over a year ago, there was quite a hullabaloo when the press got word that the American publisher was encouraging the author to modify her U.S. version in order to improve its marketability. I'm pleased to report that the author chose the path of literary integrity and did not take this advice.
That being said, I did enjoy the successive narratives, and I thought that the remaining charachters were interesting and well portrayed.
All the other girls are smug and competent and quick. They calmly snip away at paper snowflakes while I sweat and fret because my scissors are too dull. In the locker room they change smoothly into and out of their gym clothes while I struggle and blush. Their clothes are cooperative and neat, mine are rebellious: buttons jump off, stains blossom and hems surreptitiously unstitch themselves.
However, the first section is really bad. It proceeds with an angry cleverness but no heart. It's a parody that pokes fun at the characters without understanding them. The mother is a bundle of contradictions, simultaneously over-protective and oddly negligent, conflicted and stubborn, but we never discover why because the next segment concerns the passive husband. The structure means that this is really a collection of four novellas, each (except for the first) which could have been a compelling book, but remained too short, each chapter closed as I became involved in their story. Too much remained unrevealed, unspoken, unresolved.
I didn't like or dislike this book. I suspect that it won't stay with me long, despite the agile writing and the many shocking revelations.
In the first story Sol tells of his parents, who have praised him so often and extremely that he now considers himself to be a new messiah. While his mother is concerned with pampering him and making sure he only watches G rated movies, he waits for an unobserved moment to sneak onto her computer and google unbelievably horrific images. The result is an extremely disturbed child totally lacking in empathy, told consistently he is perfect in every way. A generation before, Randall tells how his parents decide to move to Israel so his mother can work on her passion project, researching a dark family secret. During this time the religious tensions are rising and eventually come to a tragic conclusion. His mother Sadie then takes over the story, relating how she is raised by her grandparents to be perfect, which she can never quite attain. Sadie waits impatiently for the sporadic, fantastic visits by her mother, a rising star in the world of singing, whose carefree life is such a contrast to her own. Lastly, the family matriarch, Kristina, recounts her life in World War II Germany, in a family waiting for the the war to end with increasing desperation. Meanwhile, the family is hiding a secret which will come back to impact future generations.
Quote: "Listen, darling, it's important to me to find out as much as I can about this. It's for your sake, too, you know? I mean, how can we build a future together if we don't know the truth about our past, right?"
I have really mixed feelings about this book. At the beginning I did not care for it at all - Sol's story is somehow both uninteresting and disturbing. It seemed to constantly look to shock and disgust, but for no other reason than to be shocking and disgusting - it does not advance the story or the character. Additionally, it was difficult to believe it was the thought process of a six year old, even an extremely advanced, warped six year old. However, I am glad I persevered through the first narrative, because I found it increasingly more enjoyable as the book progressed. The end of Sol's chapter features a family reunion which is very interesting, and each successive chapter improves after that. The reverse format of the book was unique, and puts the reader in the position of going back to the beginning to discover the fate of characters or the outcomes of events mentioned in the current section. However, some big holes are still left in the story which aren't resolved in any of the discourses.
Although the character at the center of the story, Erra, is in each of the stories, that is where the connection between the characters and narratives stops. The stories are disjointed from each other, and the narrative voice in each is muddled and unbelievable. As I read this novel I couldn't help wondering if I was missing something that was lost in the translation of the novel from the original French to English. The last two stories, about Sadie and her mother Erra, were the best, and by the end of Erra's story I was emotionally involved--and the novel finally revealed the twist promised on the book jacket. The first story about Sol, the young boy in modern California, was downright disturbing. I certainly hope six year olds don't think like that, and that the French realize all Americans aren't like Sol!
I was disappointed by this book--it was not what I expected it to be. I thought the book would be more about the effect Erra's secret had on the generations of her family, but it didn't really explore those issues in a deep way, rather it brushed the surface of what could have been a much deeper and more interesting exploration.
I would encourage others to read this book, because like all literature, they might get something more out of it than I did. But overall, "Fault Lines" just was not for me.
This method of narration was interesting, but had the limitation that just as you got to know a character they disappeared from the book altogether, as the story moved back in time to before they were born. It wasn't so much that I liked and missed the characters (it wasn't really that sort of book), but the precocious child of the first section was so gloriously obnoxious and so desperately in need of a good kicking that it was disappointing not to know whether he ended up getting one.
Huston unfolded the narrative, the pacing and gradual revelations, masterfully, and the reverse development of her characters was fascinating. In the first section, you meet the youngest member, his father, grandmother, and great-grandmother, and get an idea of their personalities, and then in the next section, you meet the older three when the third generation is only six and the older two that much younger. Etc.
It is hard enough to write one six-year-old's point of view for an adult novel. It staggers me that she wrote four.
As I said before, there were parts I found incredibly frustrating, but once I moved past them I found the rest to be intriguing, touching, and highly entertaining. It was as if once I got past the breakers I could swim on in the pages forever. There are a lot of reviews that talk about the subject of the book, but don't quite review the story as a whole, but that is a hard thing to do, since it is so unique. It is really a series of short stories, told in the first person, each taking you farther back in time as you move to the end. There are times I felt some parts of the story wanted to reveal much more, but stopped short, leaving me wanting more in more ways than one.
This book was shortlisted for the Orange/Women's Prize and it is very easy to see why. There are secrets hidden in this family, but it is no secret that this is a book many will enjoy.
I chose this book because of the nomination as a short list for the Orange Prize and wanted to read the short list of three novels. I had truly enjoyed the winner of this particular year ('The Road Home' by Rose Tremain) - this one unfortunately didn't compare.
they were chosen for placement with German families, particularly those who had lost children in the war. One thing that is heartbreaking about this book is that Kristina was placed as a baby with a kind and loving German family, particularly a loving mother. She is torn away at age 6 and eventually placed with a Ukrainan couple in Canada. (Her background was Ukrainian) Her new parents are cold and unloving and Kristina, later "Effie" has a difficult life as do her descendants. Shock waves continue down the generations to 2004, the 6 year old Sol.