Monday, March 25, 2013

Tour Book Review: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, by Rita Leganski

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
Rita Leganski
Trade Paperback, 400 pages
Harper Collins Publishers
February 26, 2013
Christianity, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Magic Realism, Pro-Life Fiction, Religion,

(Note: I received a copy of this book through TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.)

Meaning is rooted in silence, the silence of true listening.  This is one of the themes of this beautifully-written novel.  Leganski's protagonist, Bonaventure Arrow, listens with every fiber of his being, even while he does not speak.  He hears sounds no human being should be able to hear, such as the sounds of faraway stars....  His gift is described in beautiful, rhythmic sentences that astonish with their beauty, that seize the heart and soul, making it necessary to pause, making it necessary to listen....  This is exactly what I did at the beginning of this luminous book -- I paused in my reading to sound the words out in my mind.  Then I sounded them out loud.  In the process, I was transported to a richly magical universe, seen through the eyes of a true poet. 

Here's an example of the literary gold to be encountered in this novel.

"Nor did they know that Bonaventure's silence was full of sound that came to him in the same way it had come to the universe when space expanded to form nebulae and novas and all things celestial out of a divine and loving pulse."

The plot itself seems simple enough -- on the surface, at least.  William Arrow and Dancy Roman meet in May of 1949, fall gloriously in love, and immediately marry.  They begin their married life as they did their courtship, with a contagious, giddy excitement.

Until William is killed -- shot at close range by someone nobody knows, at an A & P where his wife had asked him to pick up a few things for her....

It was not easy for me to keep on reading after that, so I picked up and put down the book many times, reading in spurts.  Leganski let me feel the depths of Dancy's sorrow, as well as William's own at being so suddenly separated from his wife and unborn son.  His spirit could not leave them, and indeed, stayed near them throughout most of the novel. 

And only Bonaventure could hear him, so the two communicated through their minds, in secret...

This story is full of secrets, too, and there's one, the biggest one of all, haunting Letice Arrow, William's mother.  In fact, this secret is the one mysterious underpinning of the novel.  Letice is sure that there's some connection to William's murder.  She is determined to find out just what it might be.

Leganski's novel is not the typical, action-filled book that tops bestseller lists, although it definitely deserves to be a bestseller.  It's more like a smoothly flowing river, with strong currents and undertows.  It is a page-turner in its own way, ensnaring the reader in its silken prose, moving along, from one apparently insignificant event to another, until the climax, the reason behind all the events, is reached. 

The characters are totally unforgettable.  Aside from Bonaventure himself, whose innocence hides a certain deep wisdom, there's his father William, who is totally devoted to his wife and son, so much so that he can't move on to heaven, Letice, his paternal grandmother, who attempts to educate him in the Catholic faith, and loves him unconditionally.   His mother Dancy treasures him as a gift from her late husband, and knows how very special he is.  And Trinidad Prefontaine, a hoodoo practitioner and compassionate healer who is wise in the ways of the soul, understands Bonaventure much more than anyone ever could.  Then there's Adelaide Roman, Dancy's mother and Bonaventure's other grandmother, who harbors a couple of dark secrets of her own... Gabriel, Bonaventure's gentle, sign-language teacher, is memorable as well, although he only becomes more important to the story as the plot approaches resolution.

The most mysterious of all the characters is known simply as "The Wanderer"...a man driven half-mad by the demons of his past, a man who doesn't really know who he is anymore...

In the midst of all this praise, I must mention something that did bother me about this novel: the characterizations of Letice Arrow and Adelaide Roman, the two grandmothers.   Letice comes across as a flawed, but very real human being.  Adelaide, in contrast, is merely a stereotype, a caricature of a Fundamentalist Christian.  

I can't help but feel a bit uncomfortable with this, especially after loving so many of the book's other aspects. 

Having stated the above, I can still say that I love this novel!  Reading it was a truly wonderful, if at times heart-wrenching, experience!

The story moves from the fictional town of Bayou Cymbaline to the very real, yet magically recreated city of New Orleans, back and forth, as the present fades into the past, and then returns again.  This creates an easy, flowing rhythm, an inescapably hypnotic one that effectively carries the reader into a world in which everything is, paradoxically, more real, more vibrantly alive. 

In 1957, when Bonaventure celebrates his seventh birthday, everything finds its place, everything is finally revealed.  Everyone, including his tormented parents, find peace.

At bottom, the overarching themes of this novel are the beauty and sacredness of life, of nature, and of how redemption and forgiveness are attained in the end, and thus, everything is set right, although things will never be quite the same again. 

Through its magical, mystical prose, its sorrow-filled characters, and its apparently senseless tragedies, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow unabashedly presents the magic and wonder present in the world, even in the midst of any suffering, if only we are willing to open our hearts and souls to it.

Purchase Links

Rita Leganski

Author Bio
(from Harper Collins Publishers)

Rita Leganski holds an MA in writing and publishing and a BA in literary studies and creative writing from DePaul University. She teaches a writing workshop at DePaul's School for New Learning and was a recipient of the Arthur Weinberg Memorial Prize for a work of historical fiction.

Rita Leganski Online

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  1. This sounds great and I will be putting it on my TBR.

    Co incidentally I have gotten into a couple of discussions regarding the literary use and meaning of silence lately. Over at Lucy's blog she has a a post up on it.

    I am currently rereading Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. In it he portrays silence as representing death and meaninglessness. Obviously the opposite of how it is presented here.

  2. Hey, Brian!

    I know you will enjoy this book! It's beautifully written, for one thing. If you don't mind all the mystical/spiritual stuff, it will be a great reading experience for you!

    As for Philip K. Dick's book, I've never read it, but I HAVE seen the movie based on it, "Blade Runner", which I confess I hate... It was so depressing. I might try reading the book, though. It's usually the case that the book is better than the movie.

    Thanks for your great comment!! :)

  3. Hi Maria- Just a note about Blade Runner. This is one case where the film was radically different from the book in many ways. Among other things things the book certainly highlights the darkness and despair but it opposes this with a positive force in the universe. I will have commentary up on it in about a month.

  4. Hi, again, Brian!

    Yup, I had a feeling the book would be better. That's usually the case!

    I'll be looking forward to your review of the novel next month!

    Thanks for commenting again!! :)

  5. Wow, sounds like this was an almost perfect read for you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  6. Hi, Heather!

    Oh, thank you so much for your lovely comment!! Yes, I enjoyed this book immensely! Some of it was pretty hard to get through, emotionally speaking, but that's how it is with great literature.

    You're more than welcome for my participation! And thanks for featuring my review on the TLC Facebook page!! I'm very honored!! :)


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