Monday, November 21, 2011

Josh Reviews Between Two Seas

Between Two Seas is the second work by Carmine Abate I have read this year, the first being The Homecoming Party. Perhaps it was the mixed feelings I had about the earlier book, but I felt that Between Two Seas was a far superior book. The book is told through the perspective of Florian, the grandchild of two extraordinary men whose lives took divergent paths, and discusses themes of emigration, family, culture and pride. I enjoyed Abate's flowing descriptions and lush, detailed settings particularly. As fall has descended upon Washington DC I had a few days of oppressive Southern Italian heat to keep me warm.

I find that the trickiest part of writing a convincing family saga is bringing the reader 100% on board. Sure, some novels need and thus use a more detached observer's distance to show the bigger picture the author is creating. Novels such as Between Two Seas, conversely, need the reader right up as close as they can be, to feel invested in the characters and the family. What I loved about this book is the way Abate incorporates so much of the environment and landscapes of Calabria, Italy and Hamburg, Germany into the mood and structure of the plot. Characters unto themselves, the two locales exert a push and pull upon the characters so forceful the reader cannot help but feel it as well. Combined with the expert way his characters evolve, react and engage one another I quite honestly found myself more involved than I had expected to be with Between Two Seas.

The transformation of Florian from child to adult, full of confusion, revelation, disappointment, freedom and responsibility to both himself and his family powers the plot forward. This does not mean it is an altogether linear work. Flashbacks and tangents abound. For those invested, these serve as nuggets of gold revealing more about individual characters and their motivations. For those not yet hooked, I can see where the asides and back story could serve as distractions. In a similar vein, if the reader is one who favors proof over faith the relationship between Giorgio Bellusci and Hans Heumann may come off as contrived and there merely to place the other characters into the same universe. It is a friendship where little is required or given yet much is gained, an odd arrangement to be sure. Yet, how many of us have that one friend that we could hear from out of the blue after years of quiet and pick up right where we left off?

I recommend this for your holiday travel. As we head home or host our respective family and friends, Between Two Seas is a great reminder of the joys, pains, freedoms and responsibilities we all receive from those closest to us.

I'm finished my reading for Amante! I just need to post my reviews for A Novel Bookstore & The Companion, hopefully both to come this week- two of my favorites I've read since July....