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The Daughters: A Novel

The Daughters: A Novel

by Adrienne Celt

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“Endlessly powerful. . . . Here is one you should not miss, a gratifying feast in lush, lyrical, and full-throated form.”—NPR.orgLulu can't sing. Since the traumatic birth of her daughter, the internationally renowned soprano hasn't dared utter a note. She's afraid that her body is too fragile and that she may have lost her talent to a long-dreaded


“Endlessly powerful. . . . Here is one you should not miss, a gratifying feast in lush, lyrical, and full-throated form.”—NPR.orgLulu can't sing. Since the traumatic birth of her daughter, the internationally renowned soprano hasn't dared utter a note. She's afraid that her body is too fragile and that she may have lost her talent to a long-dreaded curse afflicting all of the mothers in her family.When Lulu was a child, her strong-willed grandmother Ada filled her head with fables of the family's enchanted history in the Polish countryside. A fantastical lore took hold—an incantatory mix of young love, desperate hope, and one sinister bargain that altered the family's history forever. Since that fateful pact, Ada tells Lulu, each mother in their family has been given a daughter, but each daughter has exacted an essential cost from her mother.Ada was the first to recognize young Lulu's transcendent talent, spotting it early on in their cramped Chicago apartment, then watching her granddaughter ascend to dizzying heights in packed international concert halls. But as the curse predicted, Lulu's mother, a sultry and elusive jazz singer, disappeared into her bitterness in the face of Lulu's superior talent—before disappearing from her family's life altogether. Now, in the early days of her own daughter's life, Lulu now finds herself weighing her overwhelming love for her child against the burden of her family's past.In incandescent prose, debut novelist Adrienne Celt skillfully intertwines the sensuous but precise physicality of both motherhood and music. She infuses The Daughters with the spirit of the rusalka, a bewitching figure of Polish mythology that inspired Dvořák's classic opera. The result is a tapestry of secrets, affairs, and unimaginable sacrifices, revealing a family legacy laced with brilliance, tragedy, and most mysterious and seductive of all—the resonant ancestral lore that binds each mother to the one that came before.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Short story and comics creator Celt interweaves themes of music, motherhood, and myth in her lyrical debut novel. It centers on five generations of a family, specifically the women, all musical and all in some way fatherless. The day her first child is born, successful opera singer Lulu loses her beloved Polish grandmother. After Lulu’s troubled mother, Sara, disappeared when Lulu was nine, grandmother Ada raised the girl, nurturing her promising voice and offering a sense of heritage through vivid tales about Lulu’s great-grandmother Greta. Now an injury sustained during her own daughter’s birth puts a halt to the singing that has driven Lulu’s life and career, while a guilty secret jeopardizes her marriage. The simultaneous birth and losses seem to affirm the family curse: that Greta’s female descendants will each have a daughter of superior musical gifts, but only at a heavy cost. As Lulu nurtures baby Kara and herself, she revisits the conflicting family histories her mother and grandmother have shared and their messages about female legacy, power, and longing. But whether she can heal her family wounds, either past or present, Lulu can’t yet tell. The novel’s luminous prose, subtle structure, and rich contrast between present-day Chicago and Old World folklore help craft a resonant meditation on the way our stories at once shape and sabotage our lives. (Aug.)
Bustle.com (Summer Reading Roundup)
“Music and motherhood—that’s what you’ll find at the core of The Daughters, yet each element is so original, you’ll swear you’ve never read about either before. This debut by Adrienne Celt reads like a warm, cherished folksong.”
Lydia Kiesling - The Guardian
“Much of The Daughters is written in a dreamy, mystical key, reminiscent of Alice Hoffman…. I admire the way that Celt’s novel acknowledges the radical shift of motherhood on a lusty, dark note, without agonizing about parenting choices or apologizing for the mother’s creative or sexual needs.”
Carmen Maria Machado - NPR
“In this novel, voice and music and history and storytelling and mythmaking and motherhood and protection of the self are in many ways the same: Living animals, changeable and complex, adaptive and perilous and endlessly powerful…. Here is one you should not miss, a gratifying feast in lush, lyrical, and full-throated form.”
Caroline Goldstein - Bustle.com
“Adrienne Celt's lushly imagined debut novel The Daughters…explores the themes of music, motherhood, and the unshakeable power of family lore in tandem…. Like the mythical rusalka themselves, The Daughters is packed with dangerous beauty; it's an enchanting but powerful read.”
Julia Fierro
“There is so much to applaud in The Daughters—its love song to the world of opera, its masterful retelling of ancient Polish fables, and, above all, its examination of the complexity of modern love, in all its varieties. Readers will be enchanted by this astonishing novel that shifts seamlessly between past and present—from a soprano's precociously musical childhood to her experience as a new mother who, recovering from the trauma of birth and loss of her beloved grandmother, has lost her most cherished gift, her voice.”
“Fans of folklore-based fiction like The Snow Child, The Great Glass Sea or Mr. Fox would enjoy Adrienne Celt's myth-steeped first novel, which wraps Polish folktales and a family curse over four generations of women…. The Daughters is full of depictions of music and its power.”
The Arizona Daily Star
“Filled with lyricism and imagery, this stunning debut novel…is sure to delight fans of magical realism.”
Library Journal
Lulu, an acclaimed and talented opera singer, is a new mother with a secret: the father of her baby daughter is not her dependable husband, John, but a rich and mysterious opera lover who hired her to perform at his birthday party in the desert. Lulu senses that she is carrying on a family curse begun in the Polish countryside by her great-grandmother Greta, who, according to the tales of Lulu's beloved grandmother Ada, made a Faustian pact with the devil after delivering five stillborn girls. Lulu is pulled between the magic and mystery of Ada's family histories and her mother, Sara's, dismissal of the tales, in favor of cold facts. Ada's mythical stories make Lulu feel special and chosen for greatness and form the backdrop of her childhood in Chicago, especially after Sara, an alcoholic jazz singer, abandons the family. It was Greta's magic that "set our family line in motion: women who came from women, women who came with music." VERDICT A lyrical and poetic debut about the strength of storytelling and mother-daughter love that will appeal to fans of magic realism. [See Prepub Alert, 2/9/15.]—Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-05-07
A family curse haunts four generations of women. Lulu, a world-class soprano, gives birth to her daughter, Kara, on the same night her beloved grandmother Ada dies. ("Proximity between birth and death runs in every family, but it seems to run especially close in ours.") This is the family curse: each mother must give something up for her daughter, each daughter drawing new power by depleting the reserves of her mother. Kara's birth—a difficult one—has rendered Lulu unable to sing. Doctor's orders, technically. Also, fear: traditionally, new mothers in the family sing their daughters into this world—"Lending them our voices," Ada had said, but for Lulu such a loan is an unbearable risk. "My voice is my everything," she says. "To bring her into the world I lost my grandmother. If I lend her my voice, can I trust her to give it back?" Alone with the infant, the silent opera star fills her days with memories of the women who came before her: her mother, Sara, a jazz singer, exquisite and absent; her grandmother, Ada, who immigrated from Poland, pregnant, the only one of her siblings to escape the war; and finally the otherworldly Greta, the family matriarch and the root of the curse. One woman after the other, each more perfect and more musical than the last. Drawing inspiration from the myth of the rusalka and spanning four generations, from Poznán to Chicago to the stages of Paris, Arizona, and Ulaanbaatar, Celt's family saga—steeped in folklore and vibrating with music—is as much about the power of storytelling as the fraught relationships between mothers and daughters. If the novel's lyrical seriousness sometimes seems to weigh it down, it's a small price to pay for such richness. A haunting novel with real emotional depth, Celt's psychologically nuanced debut continues to resonate long after the last page has been turned.
“A beautifully written exploration of the myths and the realities that bind families together that will leave readers eagerly awaiting Celt’s next novel.”
Sarah Meyer - O Magazine
“[A] lyrical debut novel about the perplexing riddle of inheritance.”
Liberty Hardy - Book Riot
“[D]azzling…. Bouncing back and forth between past and present, The Daughters is a gorgeous, riveting story about family, mythology, and curses. Its dark, dizzying magic practically sings off the page.”
Sarah McCoy
“A story libretto that commands attention from the opening scene. Celt has crafted a modern fairy tale that had me up from my chair in standing ovation.”
Katie Coyle
“Gorgeous. The Daughters is lush and dreamy and strange, and it will make you feel like a beautiful witch has put you under a sinister spell.”
Rachel Fershleiser
“[A] dazzling debut…The Daughters is about motherhood and daughterhood, of course, but also relationships and fidelity and music and ambition and talent and compromise and scary-ass Polish folktale witchery.”
Caitlin Horrocks
“A lush song of a book that understands the intertwined beauty and fear of motherhood and daughterhood.”
Sarah Cornwell
“Brimming with sad, delicious folklore and echoing with the voices of five generations of mothers and daughters in a family shaped by music as much as by tragedy, Celt’s debut is enchanting.”
Jenn Fields - Denver Post
“The journey through song and myth, the cost of motherhood and the price of passion, ... will resonate long after the last page.”
Arizona Daily Star
“Filled with lyricism and imagery, this stunning debut novel…is sure to delight fans of magical realism.”

Product Details

Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

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Meet the Author

Adrienne Celt's work has been published in Esquire, the Kenyon Review, the Rumpus, and elsewhere, and she holds an MFA from Arizona State University. Her work has been awarded the PEN Southwest Book Award, an O. Henry Story Prize, and a Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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