Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Literally the Best Reviews: The Rabbit Girls

The Rabbit Girls - Anna Ellory
Lake Union Publishing
396 Pages

Historical fiction is somewhat a hit or miss with me when I read them. The best ones grab my attention and force me to procrastinate doing other things around the house until I finish the book. Such is the case with The Rabbit Girls by Anna Ellory. And this book delves into two distinct, yet connected, pieces of European history and includes a modern struggle. It’s all rolled into a narrative that kept me reading it in just one sitting.

It is 1989 and the Berlin Wall has just fallen. Easterners are meeting their Western friends and families after almost five decades of separation. Amid the turmoil of this reconciliation, Miriam Winter must care for her dying father, Henryk. When he utters the name “Frieda” in his delirium, Miriam wonders who she is, as it is not her mother’s name. And then she finds the tattoo on his wrist, hidden by his watch. Her exploration afterwards leads her on a mission to uncover the secrets her father has been hiding all these years.

Miriam finds a series of letters written to her father from Frieda detailing her life and love for Henryk. It also details some of the darker moments in her life, as well as a previously unknown dark moment from Miriam’s father’s past. Some of the letters are written in French, a language she doesn’t understand. She enlists the assistance of Eva, a motherly figure who just made it back to the West from Eastern Germany. The duo begin an unlikely friendship that ultimately will save Miriam’s life.

The translated letters, given to the reader separately over the course of many chapters, reveals more of the past that Henryk has worked so hard to suppress. Meanwhile, in his delirium, Henryk relives some of the moments that led to his incarceration and subsequent life after release. His memories come almost in conjunction with the letters that Miriam is reading for the first time.

While all this is going on, Miriam is attempting to escape a virtual prison of her own. Her husband, Axel, is overbearing and has an unhealthy power over her that he uses to his advantage. Using his charm, he creates a version of Miriam that is sick and needs his help as a loving husband. Her attempts to discover the secrets that now haunt her past are used against her. Who will believe her? What is the truth that has been hidden for so long?

The Rabbit Girls by Anna Ellory is one of those books that reads easily and fast. The chapters are quick hits of action, whether it be through flashbacks, attempting to thwart Axel’s plans, or snippets of letters found sewn in the hem of an old dress. There are times the reader will wonder if Miriam’s purported delusions have spread to the discovery of letters and secrets from her father’s past. We vacillate between believing what is going on and questioning everything. The two outlooks are woven together so delicately, it’s difficult to determine which path we are traveling.

The struggle that Miriam has while she attempts to hold on dearly to the memories that she trusts is the driving force behind this novel. She is a very empathetic character. You want her to finally win. You want her to put the darkness of her marriage behind her, and you want her to find the truth of her father’s past. And you want her to be able to mourn his life while everyone around seems to counter her abilities to do exactly that.

The Rabbit Girls is Anna Ellory’s debut novel. She has a second book releasing in October 2020 called The Puzzle Women. This new book is set in the same time period as this one, 1989. With the punch that this book had, I will definitely be looking to grab a copy of the new one at my earliest opportunity.

Craig Bacon lives for books. He misses the library a lot. This is probably the longest time he’s gone without visiting that temple to knowledge.