House of Meetings [NOOK Book]

Overview

An extraordinary, harrowing, endlessly surprising novel from a literary master.

In 1946, two brothers and a Jewish girl fall into alignment in pogrom-poised Moscow. The fraternal conflict then marinates in Norlag, a slave-labor camp above the Arctic Circle, where a tryst in the coveted House of Meetings ...
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House of Meetings

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Overview

An extraordinary, harrowing, endlessly surprising novel from a literary master.

In 1946, two brothers and a Jewish girl fall into alignment in pogrom-poised Moscow. The fraternal conflict then marinates in Norlag, a slave-labor camp above the Arctic Circle, where a tryst in the coveted House of Meetings will haunt all three lovers long after the brothers are released. And for the narrator, the sole survivor, the reverberations continue into the new century.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
House of Meetings is a powerful, unrelenting and deeply affecting performance: a bullet train of a novel that barrels deep into the heart of darkness that was the Soviet gulag and takes the reader along on an unnerving journey into one of history’s most harrowing chapters.
— The New York Times
Thomas Mallon
… e book gnaws at one's memory. Amis tries to imagine history with the intimacy and specificity that the greatest historical novelists, including Tolstoy, have always presumed to seek for it. History is the element that Soviet citizens were encouraged to see themselves living in and moving through, always forward; it is the element from which Americans tend to see themselves, even now, as being exempt. For Amis's narrator, it is the swirl in which we swim and sink, a poison that lays waste to millions of lives and sullies even a kiss.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
A unnamed former gulag inmate in Amis's disappointing latest is now a rich, 84-year-old expatriate Russian taking a tour of the former gulags in 2004. The narrator chronicles his current and past experiences in a book-length letter to his American "stepdaughter," Venus. Wry remarks on contemporary Russia and the U.S. run up against gulag reminiscences, which tell of the years 1948 through 1956, when the narrator and his brother Lev suffered in the Norlag concentration camp. The letter contains another letter, from the dying Lev, dated 1982, which was the year Lev's son Artem died in Afghanistan. Lev's first wife-and the narrator's first love-was Zoya, a Jewish Russian beauty who by 1982 was an alcoholic married to a Soviet apparatchik. The narrator's own feeling of debasement, when, after Lev's death, he finally meets Zoya again in Norlag's conjugal cabin (the House of Meetings), is complicated to the point of impaction. Amis's trademark riffs are all too muffled in his obvious research. And Venus, the narrator's supposedly beloved stepdaughter, is such a negative space filled with trite clich s about affluent young Americans, and such irritating second guesses about her reactions, that it lends a distinctly bullying tone to the book. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The title of this latest from best-selling novelist Amis (Night Train) refers to a cabin in a Siberian slave-labor camp where, during the Stalin years, some of the state's prisoners could have conjugal visits. The text takes the form of a memoir written by an elderly and now prosperous camp survivor to his American stepdaughter, Venus, whose pampered and sheltered life stands in stark contrast to the appalling atrocities the old Russian has seen and sometimes participated in during the war and after. He scoffs at her idea of closure, saying that nobody ever gets over anything. Described as the story of a love triangle-the narrator and his brother, Lev, are both in love with a bold Jewish girl named Zoya-Amis's novel is more a parable about the crushing evils visited on the Russian people throughout the 20th century and still continuing today. Although Amis writes as brilliantly as ever, squeamish readers may find the graphic scenes of life in the gulag difficult to get through. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/06.]-Leslie Patterson, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A novel that doesn't read like any other, ranking as this renowned British author's best. Inside the provocative, philosophical, acerbic Amis (Yellow Dog, 2003, etc.), there has long seemed to be a Russian novelist straining to break out. Here, then, is Amis's contemporary version of a classic Russian novel, with references to Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy (as well as a totalitarian allegory along the lines of Orwell's Animal Farm). Though not epic in length, the narrative sees World War II, its dictatorial aftermath and the distinctions between East and West, and good and evil, through the memory of an 86-year-old Russian whose life was transformed by his 14-year enslavement in the Gulag. He feels that he must make a pilgrimage to the camp, for it was there that he was reunited with his brother and learned that his brother had married the woman they both loved (or at least lusted after). As described by the narrator, this Jewish woman, Zoya, is so great a caricature of such sexual abundance that she seems the literary equivalent of Jessica Rabbit, though it's one of the narrator's peculiarities that he is more prone to objectifying rather than humanizing, and not only in his relationships with women. The first-person memoir (or confession) confirms Amis's mastery of tone and the ambiguities of character, as the narrator addresses his recollection to his thoroughly Westernized daughter, revealing secrets a father should never share. (It's telling that the narrator and his daughter both have ties to Chicago, which serves as a backdrop and is so strongly associated with Amis's literary mentor, Saul Bellow.) Though the novel never succumbs to overbearing polemics, it nevertheless provides asocio-cultural critique of the past six decades, as dehumanized violence and subverted desires threaten to crush the human spirit and the emergence of a "Fourth World" throws everything up for grabs. In the process, the novel sustains the narrative momentum of a mystery, though it seems that some mysteries can never be solved. The most compelling fiction from Amis in more than a decade. First printing of 40,000
From the Publisher
“Vivid and scarifying. . . . The book gnaws at one’s memory. Amis tries to imagine history with the intimacy and specificity that the greatest historical novelists, including Tolstoy, have always presumed to seek for it.” —The Washington Post Book World“Arguably his most powerful book yet. . . . A[n] unrelenting and deeply affecting performance: A bullet train of a novel that barrels deep into the heart of darkness that was the Soviet gulag and takes the reader along on an unnerving journey into one of history’s most harrowing chapters.” —The New York TimesHouse of Meetings reminds us of Dostoyevsky. . . . A whole dome of meanings, a specific emotional world–hunger, desire, disgust, rottenness–rises around us.” —The New Yorker“Very fine, very moving and easily Amis’ most accessible fiction since The Information.”—The Seattle Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307267306
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/16/2007
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 414,352
  • File size: 283 KB

Meet the Author

Martin Amis's best sellers include the novels Money, London Fields, and The Information, as well his memoir, Experience. He lives in London.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Biography

The son of legendary English writer Kingley Amis, Martin Amis was born in Oxford in 1949 and attended a number of schools in Great Britain, Spain, and America. By his own admission he was a lackluster student. He spent much of his youth reading comic books, until his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, took him under her wing, introducing him to literature and encouraging him to study for university entrance. After months of furious cramming, he was accepted into Exeter College in Oxford, graduating with First Class Honors in English.

After graduation, Amis went to work as an editorial assistant at The Times Literary Supplement. In 1973, at the tender of age of 24, he published his award-winning debut novel, The Rachel Papers. Rife with the mordant black humor that would characterize all his fiction, this comic coming-of-age tale was a fitting debut for a career that would be fixated on sex, drugs, and the seamier aspects of modern culture. It also proved to be the first in a long string of bestsellers.

Amis is often grouped with the generation of British-based novelists that emerged during the 1980s and included Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and Julian Barnes; but it is safe to say he has generated more controversy than his esteemed colleagues. No one feels neutral about Amis's novels. In a 1999 profile in Esquire, Sven Birkerts put it this way: "He is seen either as a cynically chugging bubble machine, way overrated for his hammy turns, or else as a dazzler, the next real thing."

In addition to his provocative fiction, Amis has grabbed more than his fair share of attention for antics off the page. Graced with youthful good looks, he enjoyed a reputation as a notorious womanizer (not unlike his famous father). Much photographed and buzzed about, he was dubbed early on the "enfant terrible" of English literature -- two parts writer, one part rock star. He attracted headlines like a magnet when he left his wife and children for a younger woman; when he fired his longtime literary agent, the wife of his good friend Julian Barnes; and when his new agent (unaffectionately nicknamed "the Jackal) secured for him an advance of 500,000 pounds, 20,000 pounds of which Amis spent on expensive American dental surgery.

Although reviewers are divided over Amis's long-range literary legacy, even his harshest critics begrudgingly acknowledge his stylistic genius, verbal agility, and biting, satirical wit. The novels for which he is best known (and most respected) comprise an informal trilogy: Money (1984), London Fields (1989), and The Information (1995). In addition, he has written short stories, essays, a nonfiction work on 20th-century communism, and an acclaimed memoir, Experience, detailing his relationship with his father, his writing career, and his convoluted family life. He also contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines, and journals.

Good To Know

Amis attended more than 13 schools while growing up in Great Britain, Spain and the United States.

He was named the "rock star of English literature" by the London Daily Telegraph in 1996.

Amis was profoundly shocked and grieved to discover that his long-lost, beloved cousin Lucy Partington, thought to have simply disappeared in 1973, had fallen victim to Fred West, one of England's most notorious serial killers.

In a much-publicized reunion in 1996, Amis met for the first time a young woman named Delilah Seale who was his daughter from a brief 1970s affair.

Amis has been influenced by several American novelists, including Philip Roth and John Updike, but none so profoundly as Saul Bellow, who became a mentor and something of a father figure.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Martin Louis Amis (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      Oxford, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 25, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oxford, England
    1. Education:
      B.A., Exeter College, Oxford

Read an Excerpt

House of Meetings


By Martin Amis

Knopf

Copyright © 2007 Martin Amis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781400044559

1.

The Yenisei, September 1, 2004

My little brother came to camp in 1948 (I was already there), at the height of the war between the brutes and the bitches . . .

Now that wouldn't be a bad opening sentence for the narrative proper, and I am impatient to write it. But not yet. "Not yet, not yet, my precious!" This is what the poet Auden used to say to the lyrics, the sprawling epistles, that seemed to be lobbying him for premature birth. It is too early, now, for the war between the brutes and the bitches. There will be war in these pages, inevitably: I fought in fifteen battles, and, in the seventh, I was almost castrated by a secondary missile (a three-pound iron bolt), which lodged itself in my inner thigh. When you get a wound as bad as that, for the first hour you don't know whether you're a man or a woman (or whether you're old or young, or who your father was or what your name is). Even so, an inch or two further up, as they say, and there would have been no story to tell--because this is a love story. All right, Russian love. But still love.

The love story is triangular in shape, and the triangle is not equilateral. I sometimes like to think that the triangle is isosceles: it certainly comes to a very sharp point. Let's be honest, though, and admit that the triangle remains brutally scalene. I trust, my dear, that you have a dictionary nearby? You never needed muchencouragement in your respect for dictionaries. Scalene, from the Greek, skalenos: unequal.

It's a love story. So of course I must begin with the House of Meetings.

I'm sitting in the prow-shaped dining room of a tourist steamer, the Georgi Zhukov, on the Yenisei River, which flows from the foothills of Mongolia to the Arctic Ocean, thus cleaving the northern Eurasian plain--a distance of some two and a half thousand versts. Given Russian distances, and the general arduousness of Russian life, you'd expect a verst to be the equivalent of--I don't know--thirty-nine miles. In fact it's barely more than a kilometer. But that's still a very long ride. The brochure describes the cruise as "a journey to the destination of a lifetime"--a phrase that carries a somewhat unwelcome resonance. Bear in mind, please, that I was born in 1919.

Unlike almost everywhere else, over here, the --is neither one thing nor the other: neither futuristically plutocratic nor futuristically stark. It is a picture of elderly, practically tsarist Komfortismus. Below the waterline, where the staff and crew slumber and carouse, the ship is of course a fetid ruin--but look at the dining room, with its honey-gold drapes, its brothelly red velvets. And our load is light. I have a four-berth cabin all to myself. The Gulag Tour, so the purser tells me, never quite caught on . . . Moscow is impressive--grimly fantastic in its pelf. And Petersburg, too, no doubt, after its billion-dollar birthday: a tercentenary for the slave-built city "stolen from the sea." It's everywhere else that is now below the waterline.

My peripheral vision is ringed by crouching waiters, ready to pounce. There are two reasons for this. First, we have reached the penultimate day of our voyage, and by now it is massively established, aboard the Georgi Zhukov, that I am a vile-tempered and foul-mouthed old man--huge and shaggy, my hair not the downy white of the unprotesting dotard but a jagged and bitter gray. They also know, by now, that I am a psychotic overtipper. I don't know why. I was from the start, I suppose, a twenty-percenter rather than a ten, and it's climbed steadily since; but this is ridiculous. I always had a lot of spare cash, even in the USSR. But now I'm rich. For the record (and this is my record), just one patent, but with wide applications: a mechanism that significantly improves the "give" of prosthetic extremities . . . So all the waiters know that if they survive my cloacal frenzies, then a competence awaits them at the end of every meal. Propped up before me, a book of poems. Not Mikhail Lermontov or Marina Tsvetaeva. Samuel Coleridge. The bookmark I use is a plump envelope with a long letter in it. It's been in my possession for twenty-two years. An old Russian, coming home, must have his significant keepsake--his deus ex machina. I haven't read the letter yet, but I will. I will, if it's the last thing I do.

Yes, yes, I know--the old shouldn't swear. You and your mother were quite right to roll your eyes at it. It is indeed a charmless and pitiful spectacle, the effing and blinding of an ancient mouth, the teeth false or dropped, the lips licked half away. And pitiful because it is such a transparent protest against failing powers: saying fuck is the only dirty thing we can still get up to. But I would like to emphasize the therapeutic properties of the four-letter word. All those who have truly grieved know the relief it eventually brings, to dip your head and, for hour upon hour, to weep and swear... Christ, look at my hands. The size of cheeseboards, no, cheeses, whole cheeses, with their pocks and ripples, their spread, their verdigris. I have hurt many men and women with these hands.

On August 29 we crossed the Arctic Circle, and there was a very comprehensive celebration aboard the Georgi Zhukov. An accordion, a violin, a much-bejeweled guitar, girls in wenchy blouses, a jodhpured drunk who tried to fake the Cossack dance and kept falling off his stool. I now have a hangover which, two days later, is still getting steadily worse. And at my age, in the "high" eighties, as they now say (in preference to the "late," with its unfortunate connotations), there just isn't room for a hangover. Dear oh dear ... Oh dear oh dear oh dear. I didn't think I was still capable of polluting myself quite so thoroughly. Worse, I succumbed. You know very well what I mean. I joined in all the toasts (a miniature dumpster had been provided for us to smash our glasses into), and I sang all the songs; I wept for Russia, and staunched my tears on her flag. I talked a very great deal about camp--about Norlag, about Predposylov. Around dawn, I started physically preventing certain people from leaving the bar. Later on I did a fair amount of damage to my cabin and had to be moved the next day, in a blizzard of swearwords and twenty-dollar bills.

Georgi Zhukov, General Zhukov, Marshal Zhukov: I served in one of his armies (he commanded a whole front) in 1944 and 1945. He also played a part in saving my life--eight years later, in the summer of 1953. Georgi Zhukov was the man who won the Second World War.

Our ship groans, as if shouldering yet more burdens and cares. I like this sound. But when the doors to the galley blat open I hear the music from the boombox (four beats to the bar, with some seventeen-year-old yelling about self- discovery), and it comes to my ears as pain. Naturally, at a single flicker of my eyelid, the waiters take the kitchen by storm. When you are old, noise comes to you as pain. Cold comes to you as pain. When I go up on deck tonight, which I will do, I expect the wet snow to come to me as pain. It wasn't like that when I was young. The wake-up: that hurt, and went on hurting more and more. But the cold didn't hurt. By the way, try crying and swearing above the Arctic Circle, in winter. All your tears will freeze fast, and even your obscenities will turn to droplets of ice and tinkle to your feet. It weakened us, it profoundly undermined us, but it didn't come to us as pain. It answered something. It was like a searchlight playing over the universe of our hate.

Now the boombox has been supplanted by a radio. I hold up a hand. This is permitted. Today saw the beginning of the siege of Middle School Number One, in North Ossetia. Some of the children happened to be watching when the gunmen and gunwomen came over the railway track in their black balaclavas--and they laughed and pointed, thinking it was a game or an exercise. Then the van pulled up and out he climbed, the killer with the enormous orange beard: "Russians, Russians, don't be afraid. Come. Come . . ." The authorities are saying three or four hundred, but in fact there are well over a thousand hostages--children, parents, teachers. And why is it that we are already preparing ourselves for something close to the worst possible outcome? Why is it that we are already preparing ourselves for the phenomenon understood by all the world--Russian heavy-handedness? For what reason are our hands so heavy? What weighs them down?

Another cup of coffee, another cigarette, and I'll go up on deck. The Siberian expanse, the olive-green immensity--it would frighten you, I think; but it makes Russians feel important. The mass of the land, of the country, the size of the stake in the planet: it is this that haunts us, and it is this that overthrows the sanity of the state . . . We are cruising north, but downriver. Which feels anomalous. Up on deck, it's as if the ship is motionless and the facing riverbanks are on the move. We are still; the riverbanks bob and undulate. You are borne forward by a power that is traveling the other way. You have a sense, too, that you are looming up over the shoulder of the world and heading toward an infinite waterfall. Here be monsters.

My eyes, in the Conradian sense, have stopped being Western and started being Eastern. I am back in the bosom of a vast slum family. Now it has to fend for itself. All the money has been divided up between the felons and the state.

It is curious. To type the word "Kansas" still seems reassuringly banal. And to type the word "Krasnoyarsk" still seems wholly grotesque. I could of course type "K----," like a writer from another age. "He journeyed to M----, the capital of R----." But you're a big girl now. "Moscow," "Russia": nothing you haven't seen before. My mother tongue--I find I want to use it as little as possible. If Russia is going, then Russian is already gone. We were very late, you see, to develop a language of feeling; the process was arrested after barely a century, and now all the implied associations and resonances are lost. I must just say that it does feel consistently euphemistic--telling my story in English, and in old-style English English, what's more. My story would be even worse in Russian. For it is truly a tale of gutturals and nasals and whistling sibilants.

The rest of me, even so, is becoming Eastern--re-Russifying, all over again. So keep a lookout, hereafter, for other national traits: the freedom from all responsibility and scruple, the energetic championship of views and beliefs that are not only irreconcilable but also mutually exclusive, the weakness for a humor of squalor and cynicism, the tendency to speak most passionately when being most insincere, and the thirst for abstract argument (abstract to the point of pretension) at unlikely moments--say, in the middle of a prison stampede, at the climax of a cholera riot, or in the most sepulchral phase of a terror-famine.

Oh, and just to get this out of the way. It's not the USSR I don't like. What I don't like is the northern Eurasian plain. I don't like the "directed democracy," and I don't like Soviet power, and I don't like the tsars, and I don't like the Mongol overlords, and I don't like the theocratic dynasts of old Moscow and old Kiev. I don't like the multi-ethnic, twelve-time-zone land empire. I don't like the northern Eurasian plain.

Please indulge the slight eccentricity in my use of dialogue. I'm not being Russian. I'm being "English." I feel it's bad form to quote oneself. Put it that way.

Yes, so far as the individual is concerned, Venus, it may very well be true that character is destiny. And the other way around. But on the larger scale character means nothing. On the larger scale, destiny is demographics; and demographics is a monster. When you look into it, when you look into the Russian case, you feel the stirrings of a massive force, a force not only blind but altogether insentient, like an earthquake or a tidal wave. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

There it is in front of me on the screen of my computer, the graph with its two crinkly lines intersecting, one pink, one blue. The birth rate, the death rate. They call it the Russian cross.

I was there when my country started to die: the night of July 31, 1956, in the House of Meetings, just above the sixty-ninth parallel.



2.

House of Meetings

It was with some ceremony, I remember, that I showed my younger brother the place where he would entertain his bride. I say "bride." They'd been married for eight years. But this would be their first night together as husband and wife . . . You head north from the zona, and after half a mile you strike off to the left and climb the steep little lane and the implausible flight of old stone steps, and there it is: beyond, on the slope of Mount Schweinsteiger, the two-story chalet called the House of Meetings, and, to the side, its envied annex, a lone log cabin like an outpost of utter freedom.

Just the one room, of course: the narrow cot with its furry undersheet and dead-weight gray blanket, the water barrel with the tin mug chained to it, the spotless slops-bucket with its tactful wooden lid. And then the chair (armless, backless), and the waiting supper tray--two fist-sized lumps of bread, a whole herring (slightly green around the edges), and the big jug of cold broth with at least four or five beads of fat set into its surface. Many hours had gone into this, and many hands.

Lev whistled.

I said, Well, kid, we've come a long way. Look.

"Jesus Christ," he said.

And I produced from my pocket the squat thermos of vodka, the six cigarettes (rolled out of the state newspaper), and the two candles.

Maybe he was still recovering from the power-hose and the shearer--there were droplets of sweat on his upper lip. But then he gave me the look I knew well: the mirthless rictus, with the two inverted chevrons in the middle of his brow.

Continues...

Excerpted from House of Meetings by Martin Amis Copyright © 2007 by Martin Amis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2012

    To everyone

    Im having a grand opening auction in the 14 or 16 result for my company nookville auction and real estate angency on saturday @ 10:00 am thank you

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2012

    Shari

    Ya sure

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2012

    Annie

    Okay. My house is the first. Would you like to come to my house for coffee?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2008

    Under Eastern Eyes

    Amis' novel is not only an introspection into the relationship of two Russian brothers. While this surface plot is moving an exceedingly well written, those who have read Conrad's Under Western Eyes and Dostoyevsky will also enjoy the numerous quotes and ideas from these authors and their works that Amis includes in order to show the difference between actual Russia and the Russia that is perceived by Europe. This is a superb work.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A powerful tale

    In 2004, the wealthy octogenarian Russian tours one of his former homes, the gulag and several other such horrific places. As he looks around this place of horror, he writes down what he sees and what he remembers so that his American 'stepdaughter' Venus will never forget long after he dies.---------- He compare the Russian-American relationship today to that of his time along with his brother Lev in the Norlag concentration camp from 1948-1956. On top of his memories, he provides Venus with a second letter that a dying Lev sent him in 1982 soon after his nephew died in Afghanistan. He thinks about his first love, Lev's wife Zoya, who married a Soviet apparatchik before becoming a drunk. Life has been hard on him and his family, but he can go peacefully because his Venus lives in affluence in America.------------ Though not quite as powerful as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn¿s THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO 1918-1956, the brothers and Zoya are compelling characters as readers will envision Stalin¿s death camps from their perspectives. The key message of ¿never forget so that history does not repeat itself¿ hits home throughout the plot and is accentuated when the unnamed narrator and Zoya meet years later at a gulag¿s HOUSE OF MEETINGS. In contrast, Venus comes across as a stereotypical shallow ugly American who has no appreciation for what her ¿stepfather¿ or others went through as she has never had to sacrifice any of affluent lifestyle for any cause or atrocity. She serves as contrast to a evocative look at the effect of surviving carnage.--------- Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 12, 2010

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    Posted October 26, 2008

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    Posted May 23, 2011

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