I’ve been trying for some time to sum up how I reacted to this book. How do you review something when you have a reaction to something so moving and powerful. Someone recently asked me what the literary themes of the novel would be.
My mind drew a blank. Not because Anna’s Teas is a forgettable book. Quite the opposite, in fact; but how do you sum up such a literary jewel in a few words? I had to take a moment to think about that. However, before we begin, here’s the book blurb:
How deep do the scars on one family run, and can the wounded dare hope for healing?
Anna’s Tears, the stirring, starkly honest work of fiction by Nathalie M. Holmes, mines the inherited anguish of one family, which spans generations and countries. Throughout, the road to redemption is as hard-won as its matriarch Anna’s painfully absent tears. This elegant, hard-edged work is certain to resonate with readers seeking a masterfully written journey deep into the heart, which illuminates the tender mercies that emerge from the long-hidden damages of life.
In a cold stretch of Canada, Helene desperately tries to both overcome and suppress a childhood of trauma, alcoholism and sexual abuse. Through booze-fueled, foggy nights of high risk and deep regret, Helene leers through her early adulthood, fighting flashes of early memories that are too horrible to bear, and instead inflicting her own fresh pain. Beyond the painful miasma of her childhood, Helene is convinced that there is something even more disturbing in her family’s furtive past.
Helene seeks cold comfort in her paternal grandmother, Anna, whose taciturn, inarticulate sadness offers her a curious refuge. Anna’s tragic story starts before the Second World War in Holland and ends when she moves to Canada after having endured some of the most unimaginable ravages of war. Ernst, who is Helene’s father, is tormented by his own legacy of ghosts, which manifest themselves in a dysfunctional marriage to his wife Jolie, whose blatant narcissism and alcoholism submerge her own self-hatred. The die is cast to propagate an inherited despair, which only the fiercest of reckonings can combat.
A visceral, gripping foray into rough psychological terrain, Anna’s Tears travels to the heart of a family’s darkness to find its way toward the light of hope. With evocative detail of events both past and present, this stunning work guides readers through time and psyche, and ensures they emerge with transformative hope.
I should say two things before I forget: The book blurb doesn’t even come CLOSE to describing how amazing this book is; it doesn’t capture the realness of the characters or the beauty of the story. It also describes the story better than I could ever dream possible. I don’t have enough words to describe how incredible this book is.
If I were to come close, I would describe it as a patchwork quilt of time and secrets. However, that doesn’t talk about the depth of the characters, the quality of the novel nor the talent of first time author Nathalie M. Holmes.
I find it difficult to believe that it is her first book; she paints with words, rather than write with them; the result is a lovely kind of liquid poetry that plays with time, shadow and shared grief. Holmes has covered some dark territory in her novel, but ends up writing with an aplomb that many writers achieve. Time flows like water over the page and all you can do is keep reading, needing to know what happens.
I think that’s pretty close, but it does little to encapsulate my emotional response to Anna’s Tears. Anna may have not cried any tears, but I sure did. With grace and stark honesty, Holmes pens a story that will touch everyone that reads it and haunt them long after the last page has been turned.
Though the plights of Anna, Helen, Jolie and Ernst and their connections to each other, are difficult to read at times, it is only because the people that fill these pages are so real. You feel as if you know them (or at least I did) and grow to know them as you fall into their lives.
Anna’s Tears is a moving, emotionally provoking tale that is right up there with Ordinary People by Judith Guest, In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Stark, brilliant and honest, Holmes uses multiple narrators and multiple times to weave her story.
The results are absolutely amazing. I only hope it’s not too long till the release of Holme’s next novel.
I can hardly wait to take another journey with her.