Amaryllis in Blueberry

Amaryllis in Blueberry

3.5 24
by Christina Meldrum
     
 

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In the tradition of Sue Monk Kidd and Julia Glass comes a stirring and soulful novel about an American woman accused of murdering her husband in Africa and the series of events that led her to that point, compellingly told via the alternating perspectives of her four teenage daughters.
Christina Meldrum has already won praise from critics and fans with her young… See more details below

Overview

In the tradition of Sue Monk Kidd and Julia Glass comes a stirring and soulful novel about an American woman accused of murdering her husband in Africa and the series of events that led her to that point, compellingly told via the alternating perspectives of her four teenage daughters.
Christina Meldrum has already won praise from critics and fans with her young adult novel Madapple, which was an ALA Best Book for Young Readers in 2009 and earned starred reviews across the board. Now, in Amaryllis in Blueberry, her first adult novel, she tells the gripping story of the seemingly ordinary Slepy family—who fled their Midwestern town to do missionary work in a small village Africa. Meldrum has been an aid worker in Africa, bringing an authenticity to this richly atmospheric novel which explores many universal themes including family, religion, and culture.
Meet Dick, his wife Seena, and their four daughters, each named Mary: Mary Catherine, Mary Grace, Mary Tessa, and their youngest Amaryllis (aMARYillis). Seena has felt unloved and unvalued most of her adult life, so she escapes into her books, particularly Greek mythology, to satisfy her desire to find meaning. Her life has been built on secrets and lies and she wants to protect her daughters from the truth she knows will destroy their happy home. Mary Catherine seems to be the strong, faithful one, who in deference to St. Catherine, cuts off all of her hair, but she’s also a lost soul who desperately needs love and attention. Mary Grace is the eldest and the most beautiful—the one who easily seduces but is also easily seduced, especially when she’s faced with an exotic and fascinating culture so unlike her own. Mary Tessa is the inquisitive one who claims to be the most reliable when it comes to the facts of her mother’s case, and then there’s Amaryllis, who was born with an extrasensory gift of seeing things other can’t see, of knowing when bad things are about to happen, and of telling when those who profess to know the truth are the biggest liars of them all….
Opening with the dramatic scene of Seena on trial for murdering her husband Dick, this engrossing and lyrical novel flashes back to the year before her family left for missionary work in Africa—and how the buried secrets of their past came back to haunt and heal them all.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Meldrum's intoxicating first adult novel (after 2010's Madapple) a family undertakes West African missionary work only to find its members profoundly transformed. Polish-American pathologist Dick Slepy lives with his bohemian wife, Christina "Seena," in Danish Landing, Mich. They have four daughters, each following the other by two years. There's pretty Mary Grace, now 18. Mary Catherine is "always-obedient" and pious, whereas Mary Tessa is a "trouble-maker-in-training," and the precocious Amaryllis, their youngest at 11, is an"emotional synesthete," who tastes, smells, and otherwise "consumes" the pain, rage, love, or joy of others, and is suspiciously dark-featured. Fearing that his wife is having an affair, Dick seeks the council of his local priest, Father Amadi, who suggests the Slepys take a mission to West Africa to help his nephew, Mawuli, run an aid organization. They go, but the mission is anything but the salve Dick had hoped for, and one event after another—including unplanned pregnancies, accusations of molestation, the discovery of affairs, attempted murder, and Seena being tried in a local court—shove the family into deep crisis. With every chapter, Meldrum jumps viewpoints and shifts time and space (between Michigan and West Africa in the summer and fall of 1976), creating a momentum that masks a lack of imagination. Yet her combination of coming-of-age and culture clash narratives has a seductive intensity. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“A gripping and satisfying read. First you'll race to the end, then you'll tell everyone you know to read it—partly for their benefit, partly so you'll be able to talk about it with someone.” —Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay It Forward, Becoming Chloe, Jumpstart the World

"Intoxicating... [Meldrum's] combination of coming-of-age and culture clash narratives has a seductive intensity." — Publisher's Weekly

"With Amaryllis in Blueberry, Christina Meldrum has woven a beautifully layered, intensely emotional story, with unforgettable characters whose voices will remain with you long after their secrets have been revealed." —Michelle Richmond, author of the New York Times and international bestseller The Year of Fog

"Christina Meldrum pierces the facade of a middle American family, exposing the heart of each individual through the unflinching voices of the others. Her keen, distinct prose pulls you into a world both mystical and recognizable. A uniquely memorable read that will stay with you long after you turn the last page." — Carol Cassella, national bestselling author of Oxygen and Healer

“Meldrum keeps the reader wanting to know more about the family through carefully intertwined story lines . . . Readers will compare this work to Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible—and that is OK. It involves a different family in a different set of circumstances but with the same satisfying result.” – Library Journal

Library Journal
This introspective novel by YA author Meldrum (Madapple) tells the story of Dr. Dick Slepy, his wife, and four daughters who move from Michigan to West Africa in 1976 to continue his family's medical missionary heritage. It is the reasoning behind this trip that pulls the reader into questioning the motivation and conviction of each of the characters. Meldrum's plot, chapter by chapter, delves into the self-centered beliefs of the Slepys as they find themselves in a remote, dusty community full of ritual and tradition. Amaryllis, the youngest daughter, has the best insight thanks to her synesthesia. Meldrum keeps the reader wanting to know more about the family through carefully intertwined story lines. VERDICT Readers will compare this work to Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible—and that is OK. It involves a different family in a different set of circumstances but with the same satisfying result.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL
Kirkus Reviews

Meldrum's story about an anything-but-ordinary family in crisis stretches from the shores of a Michigan lake to the heart of West Africa.

The Slepys seem like a perfect family: Dad, Dick, is a pathologist who fell in love with Christina, who prefers to be called Seena, when he sat behind her in a college class. Their daughters, Mary Grace, Mary Catherine, Mary Tessa and Amaryllis, are both as similar and as different as siblings can be. The three Marys are blond and beautiful, as ephemeral as their Scandinavian-looking parents. But Amaryllis, known simply as Yllis, is not. Birthed in a blueberry field, she is dark, with blue eyes, and has a special gift that allows her to taste emotions and see souls. Dick, who rightly suspects he is not the father of his youngest child, suddenly decides he wants to move the family to West Africa. Seena argues against it, but Yllis detects that she really wants to go. Grace, who carries a secret with her, gives up college, and the entire family, including the devoutly religious Catherine, mean-to-the-bone Tessa and the family dog, packs up and goes. Soon they are caught up in odd dramas that include a pending marriage with a strange man, Catherine's dive into anorexia and the growing chasm between Dick and Seena. Meldrum writes beautifully, but the characters are hard to like and care about. Dick and Seena are so caught up in their own personal dramas that they fail to intervene as the family falls apart. Yllis, who has sensed she is not Dick's child, watches as her aloof, self-absorbed parents disintegrate in spectacular fashion in an inhospitable setting. But the family's move to West Africa, the story of Clara, an old woman back in Michigan, and the trajectory of all their intersecting destinies make for some confusing, though interesting, storytelling.

The book opens with Seena on trial in a native African court for Dick's murder and works its way back to that point in a colorful tale about people who don't know how to communicate with one another.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439195369
Publisher:
Gallery Books
Publication date:
02/08/2011
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
1,231,465
File size:
3 MB

Read an Excerpt


THE END

West Africa

Dick is dead. Seena knows this, of course: her husband is dead. Yet she keeps expecting him to barrel in, his enormous, gangling self plodding along, a spectacle unaware that he is one. Was one, she thinks. Was one. Still, she finds herself waiting for him to call out, make some pointless point, make it clear to everyone that he just doesn’t get it. She anticipates the annoyance she so often would feel around him. She almost longs for it—this longing he’d disappear, shut up, let her be. Because he has disappeared, shut up, let her be. He is dust from dust. Ashes from ashes. As dead as a doornail.

And she has the devil to pay.

Like Dick would say, “The devil take the hindmost.”

Dick’s moved on, and she’s left to pay. Alone.

Because he did get it, more than she did—she knows this. But the recognition came only after the trigger was pulled, so to speak, after the poison went flying, when it pierced his pale chest, when it was long past too late. Now she understands she was the spectacle unaware: she was the fool.

And she wonders, How can you live with someone for years—know the softening ring around his still-thin waist, the changed texture of his graying stubble, the scent in the hollow beneath his Adam’s apple—and see only your imagination reflected?

Seena is on trial in a village in West Africa, in a “customary court.” The courthouse is the schoolhouse, transformed. The village elders—one a witch doctor, one a queen—are her accusers, judge and jury. She was indignant when she learned this, sure it couldn’t be. She’s an American, she’d said. She’s entitled to due process. “These customary courts, they must be illegal. There are laws—aren’t there?—even here, even in this hell?”

But she’s a murderer, the elders said: she’s entitled to nothing. “Our courts are based on our traditions, which are different from yours. Americans think they alone make laws, but we have our own rule.”

They have their own rule.

“Christina Slepy?” the witch doctor, this so called “wise man,” says. He speaks to Seena, and watches her. Every person in the crowded room watches her; she feels this. And she knows if she were to look up at them, she would see only the whites of their eyes, and perhaps a shock of color from clothes that now seem mocking. They’ve told her the reasons women kill, and they’ve told her no matter her reason, she had no right. Still, they demand to know her reason, and she wonders which to choose. Which would they believe, or not? Which would solicit less loathing?

Even as she ponders these questions, she is aware she has no idea what they would believe, or not—no idea of the seed of their loathing, the fruit of their pity, whether they ever would feel pity for her. This is a world of rules turned inside out, a world where all she took for granted has been stripped away. She is a carcass, ripped clean of flesh. A skeleton of holes. No longer can her mind set her apart, give her that private space where the real world could seem a dream. No longer can she fill her holes with assumptions: that rationality wins in the end, that humans have rights, that white humans have rights. She never appreciated this distinction before—appreciated that she made this distinction. She never thought of herself as racist. Dick was a racist, she knew. Not a malicious racist. A do-good kind of racist. A feel-sorry-for kind of racist. A thank-God-I’m-white kind of racist: there but for the grace of God go I. But not her. Not her. How could she be racist, given the only man she’d ever loved?

Yet she set foot in this dusty African world never believing its dust and rules would apply to her, her children, her mind. But why wouldn’t they apply? Because she’s white, she thought, that’s why. Only, she didn’t really think this, she knew this. It was in her flesh—what made her feel whole. She never had to think it; it just was. She never had to come to terms with being racist; she just was. As she sits here condemned, she knows this. And she knows she should be condemned, if for this reason alone—especially given her child of light.

“Do you have anything to say?” asks the elder, who is not even old. He is forty perhaps. At max. And Seena thinks, He is neither wise nor old, yet he has the power of Zeus, here. He and the queen of this village—Avone—are the gods of this universe, painting this African sky. Painting me, the African version of Clytemnestra.

“What don’t I have to say?” she would like to say. “You want me to admit guilt? I’ll admit it. I came here having little respect for your beliefs and laws and I flouted them willingly. You want me to say I hated my husband—that I wanted him dead so I could be free to love my lover? I’ll say it. You want me to tell you I committed adultery and squandered the welfare of my children for the sake of lust while I spit in God’s face. It’s all true.”

“No,” she says. “I have nothing to say.”

© 2011 Christina Meldrum

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