You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Jade Cat

I received Suzanne Brøgger's The Jade Cat as a review copy from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. It is a novel translated from Danish, concerning the lives of three generations of the Løvin family. Katze and Tobias are a Danish couple who get married after World War I when Katze becomes pregnant with their son Balder. They go on to have two daughters, Liane and Rebekka, despite Tobias's philandering. They live in Riga for a while before World War II breaks out, and despite Tobias's attempts to keep his business going they are forced to return to Denmark without many business prospects. Due to Tobias being nominally a Jew, he and two of their children spend much of the war in Sweden, while Katze and Liane stay in Denmark to watch over their home and their meager business affairs.

Here is the first of a series of role reversals in the novel. While Tobias fritters away his inheritance in Sweden, Katze keeps the family's affairs going in Denmark while always under the threat of the Nazis. Liane marries a young man to prevent her half-Jewish heritage from becoming a problem with the Nazis. When the war is over Tobias and all the other relatives return and must rebuild their lives. But his and Katze's relationship continues to worsen as he cannot stay away from other women.

Liane's relationships also sour. After having two daughters, she and her husband divorce and she marries a more exciting man. Li and Rejn have a passionate marriage, but it is based on sex and can't withstand hardship. Rejn's career takes them to Ceylon, Thailand, and Afghanistan. Li regresses into a sort of childhood and madness, going through suicide attempts and stays at an asylum. In another role reversal, her daughters Zeste and Myren take over the management of the household and help raise their brothers Orm and Tor.

Neither of the boys flourish growing up in Ceylon and Thailand. Their strange situation leaves them empty of any schooling or any direction in life. Orm's diary shows him descending into madness, drug abuse, and depression. From the wealthy high-class Løvin family of the early Twentieth century, through Li's regression into childhood, the family has withered away into low-class irrelevance.

There is a strong sense of class throughout the novel. Katze and the others of her generation are always aware of their circumstances and maintaining respectability. The story is broad, reaching from the family's ancestors in the mid-1800's through the early 1990's. Yet the narration is distant, and we rarely get a solid visual scene or hear the characters own voices. Sometimes I got the feeling that the plot was being summarized. Still, the story of the family does stay interesting.

This is a novel of characters; the force of Katze's hardness and misanthropy (she declares, "Men are riff, women are raff. Human beings are riffraff.") echoes around the family. Though the Løvin family survives the war and its hardships, it never quite comes to its previous wealth and status. B


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