by Frances Itani
In its own quiet way, Tell, by Frances Itani, is one of the most deeply satisfying books I've read in a long time. The author's ability to describe any situation life throws at us, in beautiful, understated language, is downright amazing.
The novel is a kind of sequel to Deafening, taking place in the same small town in Canada just after the First World War, yet it concentrates on several characters who were not the main ones in the first book.
Two couples are at the center—Am and Maggie and Kenan and Tress. Their lives, as most lives, are seemingly simple, yet complex. How they live, work, and adjust to the ravages of the war (Kenan is quite disfigured as a result) makes up the bulk of the story.
Place is a character in the book. Itani's descriptions of winter are rendered in such lyrical prose that I found myself almost literally feeling the cold, the quiet, the snow. The theme of loss is pervasive throughout the book: losses from the war, from dreams deferred and almost forgotten, from loved ones moving far away.
All of this is portrayed so deftly that, although I'm far removed from small-town Canada in 1919, I was there. I know and like these people.
The only negative comment refers to the ending. The utter sadness of it, although somewhat predictable, struck an unsettling note in an otherwise truly lovely work.
Frances Itani is a celebrated Canadian author with sixteen books to her credit and many major awards received.
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