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Etta and Otto and Russell and James
     

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

4.0 9
by Emma Hooper
 

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A gorgeous literary debut about unlikely heroes, lifelong promises, and last great adventures.

Otto,

The letter began, in blue ink,

I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry, I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.

Yours

Overview

A gorgeous literary debut about unlikely heroes, lifelong promises, and last great adventures.

Otto,

The letter began, in blue ink,

I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry, I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.

Yours (always),

Etta.

Otto finds the note left by his wife in the kitchen of their farmhouse in windswept Saskatchewan. Eighty-three-year-old Etta will be walking 3,200 kilometers to see the ocean, but somehow, Otto understands. He took his own journey once before, to fight in a faraway land.

With Etta gone, Otto struggles with his demons of war, while their friend Russell initially pursues the woman he has loved from afar.

And James—well, James you have to meet on the page.

Moving from the hot and dry present of a quiet Canadian farm to a dusty, burnt past of hunger, war, and passion, from trying to remember to trying to forget, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is an astounding literary debut about friendship and love, hope and honor, and the romance of last—great—adventures.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Regina Marler
Hooper…has more or less nailed the Amélie charm with this sweet, disarming story of lasting love…Hooper shows great restraint in balancing the quirky with the universal, blurring the lines between them…[Her] steady hand creates the perfect setup for the unexpected.
Publishers Weekly
★ 09/22/2014
Hooper’s arresting debut novel, with its spare, evocative prose, seamlessly interweaves accounts of the present-day lives of its eponymous main characters with the stories of their pasts and how they first connected with each other. The book starts with a note that Etta leaves for her husband: “Otto, I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry, I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.” Thus begins elderly Etta’s journey from Saskatchewan to the coast, and the same ocean that once took her dear husband overseas to fight in WWII. She is armed with minor provisions, some clothes, and a sheet of paper with names on it, starting with “You: Etta Gloria Kinnick of Deerdale farm. 83 years old in August.” Along the way, Etta meets a coyote she names James; she considers him her friend and they have many long conversations as they travel together. As Etta walks thousands of miles to her destination, three touching stories unfold: those of Otto, from a family of 14 brothers and sisters; Russell, the abandoned boy who lived next door to Otto and becomes a de facto part of his family; and Etta, who lost her sister at a young age. Hooper, with great insight, explores the interactions and connections between spouses and friends—the rivalries, the camaraderie, the joys and tragedies—and reveals the extraordinary lengths to which people will go in the name of love. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME Entertainment. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Etta and Otto and Russell and James is incredibly moving, beautifully written and luminous with wisdom. It is a book that restores one's faith in life even as it deepens its mystery. Wonderful!” —Chris Cleave, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of Little Bee

“[A] sweet, disarming story of lasting love… Hooper’s steady hand creates the perfect setup for the unexpected.”

—The New York Times Book Review

“Quirky, offbeat... Modern life is full of people spouting rubbish about spurious emotional and spiritual ‘journeys.’ Etta’s trek as she comes to the end of her life and reckons with the past, has, in contrast, a real and worthwhile dignity to it.”

—The Financial Times

“In this haunting debut, set in a starkly beautiful landscape, Hooper delineates the stories of Etta and the men she loved (Otto and Russell) as they intertwine through youth and wartime and into old age. It’s a lovely book you’ll want to linger over.”
—People

“Heartfelt… In simple, graceful prose, Hooper has woven a tale of deep longing, for reinvention and self-discovery, as well as for the past and for love and for the boundless unknown.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“[Hooper’s] crisp, unadorned prose beautifully captures her characters' sentiments, and conveys with compassion but also a degree of distance their experiences of love and pain, longing and loss… this novel pulsates with an energy that can best be described as raw but also highly restrained. “
—Chicago Tribune

“Hooper has conjured a character who is a gift… As the lines blur between Etta’s and Otto’s memories, and even between their physical bodies, readers emerge with a deeper appreciation for life and for its suffering against its backdrop of majesty.”

—Dallas Morning News

“A bit like a fairy tale, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is whimsical, even magical. A bit like the Canadian prairie, it is spare, yet beautiful.”

—Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“A poetic, poignant tale.”

—US Weekly

“Fictional journeys toward enlightenment and self-discovery fill miles of book shelves, but few are as freshly told as the road trip traced in Etta and Otto and Russell and James…It’s filled with magical realism, whimsy and the idea that you’re never too old to take risks.”

—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Hooper’s debut is a novel of memory and longing and desires too long denied…To a Cormac McCarthy–like narrative—sans quotation marks, featuring crisp, concise conversations—Hooper adds magical realism…. The book ends with sheer poetry…A masterful near homage to Pilgrim’s Progress: souls redeemed through struggle.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Hooper’s spare, evocative prose dips in and out of reality and travels between past and present creating what Etta tells Otto is “just a long loop.” This is a quietly powerful story whose dreamlike quality lingers long after the last page is turned."
Library Journal (starred review)

"Hooper, with great insight, explores the interactions and connections between spouses and friends—the rivalries, the camaraderie, the joys and tragedies—and reveals the extraordinary lengths to which people will go in the name of love."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Drawing on wisdom and whimsy of astonishing grace and maturity, Hooper has written an irresistibly enchanting debut novel that explores mysteries of love old and new, the loyalty of animals and dependency of humans, the horrors of war and perils of loneliness, and the tenacity of time and fragility of memory."
Booklist (starred review)

“A delicate hymn to the natural landscape and an elegy to a dwindling generation.”
The New Yorker

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-07-23
Hooper's debut is a novel of memory and longing and desires too long denied. On Saskatchewan's Great Plains grew 15 Vogel children. When Otto Vogel was still a child, half-orphaned Russell joined the brood. The Great Depression burned on, crops failed, and schooling was casual. One of the teachers was Etta, no older than Otto and Russell. World War II came. Otto left. Russell, broken leg improperly mended, could not. As Hooper's shifting narrative opens, now-83-year-old Etta awakens, intending to walk to Canada's east coast, leaving a brief note for her husband, Otto. She carries a bit of food, a rifle, and a note of her identity and home. To a Cormac McCarthy-like narrative—sans quotation marks, featuring crisp, concise conversations—Hooper adds magical realism: Etta's joined by a talking coyote she names James, who serves as guide and sounding board. With Etta absent, Otto begins baking from her recipes, his companion a guinea pig, always silent. Soon Otto becomes obsessed with constructing a menagerie of papier-mâché wildlife. Russell, shy lifelong bachelor and Etta's wartime lover, follows her, finds her, only to hear her urge him to seek his own quest "because you want to and you're allowed to and you can. You could have if you wanted to enough"—the novel's thematic heart. Russell disappears into flashbacks. Hooper reveals more of Etta and Otto in letters exchanged during World War II, where Otto by turns is terrified, sickened and enthralled. Otto marries Etta on return, a less than perfect union shadowed by damaged Otto striking out at Etta. With beautifully crafted descriptions—derelict farm machinery as "gently stagnant machines"—Hooper immerses herself in characters, each shaped by the Depression. The book ends with sheer poetry, stunning and powerful, multiple short chapters where identities and dreams, longings and memories shift and cling to one character and then another within the "long loop of existence." A masterful near homage to Pilgrim's Progress: souls redeemed through struggle.
Library Journal
★ 09/15/2014
Eighty-three-year-old Etta embarks on a 3,200-kilometer journey walking from Saskatchewan to Halifax in order to see the ocean for the first time. Along the way, she befriends a talking coyote named James, a reporter who decides she'd rather walk with Etta than report, and throngs of fans who follow her progress from town to town. Her husband, Otto, passes the time until her return by writing Etta letters he never mails, learning to bake from her ancient recipe cards, and creating papier-mâché animal sculptures. Russell, who lives on the neighboring farm, goes after Etta, and, in the process, decides that it's time to begin his own journey. Each character carries heavy memories: tragic pregnancies, the horrors of World War II, a broken heart, an injured limb. And over all, the dust of drought settles, the lack of water a constant pall, the search for water a means of redemption. VERDICT Debut novelist Hooper's spare, evocative prose dips in and out of reality and travels between past and present creating what Etta tells Otto is "just a long loop." This is a quietly powerful story whose dreamlike quality lingers long after the last page is turned. For literary fiction fans. [See Prepub Alert, 4/14/14.]—Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781476755670
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
01/20/2015
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
981,041
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

  • 1

    Otto,

    The letter began, in blue ink,

    I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry, I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.

    Yours (always),

    Etta.

    Underneath the letter she had left a pile of recipe cards. All the things she had always made. Also in blue ink. So he would know what and how to eat while she was away. Otto sat down at the table and arranged them so no two were overlapping. Columns and rows. He thought about putting on his coat and shoes and going out to try and find her, maybe asking neighbors if they had seen which way she went, but he didn’t. He just sat at the table with the letter and the cards. His hands trembled. He laid one on top of the other to calm them.

    After a while Otto stood and went to get their globe. It had a light in the middle, on the inside, that shone through the latitude and longitude lines. He turned it on and turned off the regular kitchen lights. He put it on the far side of the table, away from the letter and cards, and traced a path with his finger. Halifax. If she went east, Etta would have three thousand, two hundred and thirty-two kilometers to cross. If west, to Vancouver, twelve hundred and one kilometers. But she would go east, Otto knew. He could feel the tightness in the skin across his chest pulling that way. He noticed his rifle was missing from the front closet. It would still be an hour or so until the sun rose.

  • Meet the Author

    Raised in Alberta, Canada, Emma Hooper brought her love of music and literature to the UK, where she received a doctorate in Musico-Literary studies at the University of East-Anglia and currently lectures at Bath Spa University. A musician, Emma performs as the solo artist Waitress for the Bees and plays with a number of bands. She lives in Bath, UK, but goes home to Canada to cross-country ski whenever she can. Etta and Otto and Russell and James is her first novel.

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    Etta and Otto and Russell and James: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
    Caroles_Random_Life More than 1 year ago
    2 Stars This book didn't work for me. I read a lot of books because I enjoy reading. I love connecting with a story, falling in love with characters, and everything involved with being told a really great story. When I come to the end of a book, I love the feeling of satisfaction that I get with most stories. This book left me feeling completely underwhelmed and quite confused. I liked the idea behind this book and decided to read it because it is different than what I would normally chose to read. I thought that this book was very easy to read and I liked the fact that the letters between Etta and Otto helped tell the story. I am a huge fan of quirky characters but the characters in this book just seemed overly odd I had some issues with quite a few things in this book. First of all, I didn't like the fact that not a single quotation mark was used in the book. There was a lot of dialog but not a single quotation mark. I know that the author choose to omit quotation marks for some purpose but I found it confusing overall. I thought that the writing style was a bit oversimplified and vague for my tastes. I really have no problems in just going along with an unrealistic story. I do it all the time and it doesn't bother me and I usually enjoy that type of story. When a story crosses over the threshold from unrealistic into ridiculous as it did in this book, I start having a hard time. This story is about a woman in her 80's, Etta, who decides to walk thousands of kilometers across Canada so that she can see the ocean. Etta has trouble remembering things but she promises in the letter to her husband, Otto, that she will try to remember to come back. What does Otto do when he sees this letter from his wife? He doesn't try to find her. Instead, he learns to cook and starts making paper mache animals. I did like the parts of the book that took place in the past much better than those set in the present day. Even with all of that background information, I just never really understood Etta and Otto's love story. I felt a little bad for Russell because he always seemed to be on the sidelines but I don't think that his character added much to the story. Etta's companion on her walk, James, is a coyote that talks to Etta. The magical realism didn't add anything to this story in my opinion. As I read the book, I hoped that the ending would make everything worthwhile. I thought that the ending of this book was horrible and pointless. I would recommend this book to others. I received a copy of this book from Simon & Schuster via Net Galley for the purpose of providing an honest review.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Unique, clever, beautiful and unforgettable. Not like anything I've read before, finishing EORJ left me with a deep sense of understanding and love. Each word seems perfectly chosen, each sentence carefully constructed. Not sure I can go back to just-normal books after this one... If you like books that are both very easy to read and change how you look at writing and the world: Read this! Otherwise: Still read this! 
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Graceful prose that kept me reading and wondering what would happen next to the characters on their separate but intertwined journeys. A bit magical.
    Palegirl More than 1 year ago
    I adored this many-layered novel about aging and relationships. It starts out whimsically, with a cast of lovely characters you want to sit and chat with. As the layers peel away and reveal more back story, this magical novel takes darker turns.  It looks at the ways we think of and treat the elderly among us. It looks at dementia.  It looks at the things that tie us to others. It looks at wishes and hopes and dreams.  This one left me with all the feels, from anxious to elated, from happy to sad. I very much look forward to more from this talented author.
    claire7390 More than 1 year ago
    This is one of the hardest reviews I have had to write in a while, and if I'm honest I don't really know where to start. There was something about this book that kept you reading and turning the page. the flashbacks to the past were brilliant and it was great to read the back story of Ella and Otto and Russell.  However I found the lack of quotation marks rather annoying, and it made it hard to read in places. The book also seemed to have a strange ending and some parts I struggled to make sense of. Overall it was a fascinating book, but one i may need to read again to pick up on bits i missed. I couldn't put it down but at the same time didn't always understand it! 
    Anonymous 10 days ago
    A lovely, lovely book
    Luckygranadma More than 1 year ago
    I totally agree with "Caroles" it is book that's beautifully written, little bit to far of the wall in places (just bumping to the reporter in a pitch dark tunnel, just like that). But what I did not like at all was the ending. I got that Otto died, but did Etta? Maybe I can't think that deeply, can somebody tell me what they thing happened to her and to Russell as well? Thanks, enjoy
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    So iff you have