This month I have been taking part in a read along of Anna Funder’s award-winning novel, All That I Am. To put you in the picture, here’s the blurb:
Ruth Becker, defiant and cantankerous, is living out her days in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. She has made an uneasy peace with the ghosts of her past – and a part of history that has been all but forgotten.
Another lifetime away, it’s 1939 and the world is going to war. Ernst Toller, self-doubting revolutionary and poet, sits in a New York hotel room settling up the account of his life.
When Toller’s story arrives on Ruth’s doorstep their shared past slips under her defences, and she’s right back among them – those friends who predicted the brutality of the Nazis and gave everything they had to stop them. Those who were tested – and in some cases found wanting – in the face of hatred, of art, of love, and of history.
Although the novel and discussion has been split into three parts, I have found that time has been against me this month, with other priorities rising to the fore. For that reason, my comments will be more sparing this time (hopefully, that means less waffling!).
For Week 1 we were asked to read pages 1-124.
My comments on the first section are brief:
I am finding this one harder to read than I thought it would be – it is hard going and I too am reading it very slowly. It’s not one I’ve been able to dive in and read fast…and then say, where did that go? The writing is beautiful, but I’m finding the storyline hard to get my teeth into, probably because there are so many ideas at once. Past, present, this war, that war…
I have been limping along and because I’ve had lots of other things going on, it hasn’t been my first choice of book to pick up. So far it’s been very dry. I’m in a mood for something a little lighter at the moment, so that is probably impacting on my early impressions too.
Told you I would be brief!
Some books grab you right from the start, pulling you along into their world. This one does not have that same effect. It’s rather distant, really – I agree that the book seems to lack “heart”. There is passion, certainly, but for ideals and politics rather than people. Since political themes don’t attract me much, that is one factor holding me back from enjoying this book. Heart is what I look for most of all.
I also find that at different times, different books appeal. This one, being more distant/political, is probably not a book I would choose to read right now. I am in the mood for something more escapist, I think.
For Week 3 we are reading pages 241 to the end. I’ve already finished the book – see the review on Write Note Reviews.
I’m glad I read this book through to the end because I would have missed some of the more gripping aspects – as the book moved to its conclusion (though it was only the beginning for some things), events fitted into place and some of the characters’ motivations made more sense to me. The ending was shocking and sad and left me pondering the book for a while. There was a lingering unease, much like I expect it would have been after the war.
Did I enjoy it? It’s hard for me to enjoy a book about war and politics. I don’t have the same passion for ideals to feel what the characters felt, to really understand them. The title is apt though – All That I Am – the characters’ ideals really are all that they are. And they give all that they are to what they believe, becoming frustrated when they are prevented from doing so. Sadly, their narrow focus opened them up to betrayal.
I’m not going to add spoilers this time – I think the book needs to be read with an open mind. Let me know what you think.