Book Quote:

“During the final days of the occupation, there was an American woman in Haiti, a photojournalist — blonde, young, infuriating — and she became Thomas Harrington’s obsession.

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shultman (JAN 3, 2014)

You don’t need to know much about Haitian, Croatian or Turkish politics to fully appreciate The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, but it helps. It also helps to surrender to the journey – a journey that spans over 700 pages – because immediate answers will not be forthcoming.

This is a big book in every sense of the word: big in breadth, in ideas, in audacity. You will lose your heart to it and end up shaking your head in awe and admiration. And along the way, you will learn something about the shadowy world of politics and espionage, the hypocrisy of religion, and the lengths that the players go to keep their sense of identity – their very soul – from fragmenting.

So what IS it about? That’s not an easy question to tackle. The eponymous woman of the title is Dottie Chambers, the hypnotic and damaged daughter of the elite spy Steven Chambers – surely one of the most screwed up characters in contemporary literature. As a young boy, Steven witnessed the atrocities of Tito’s Muslim partisans against his own father, and he came to age with a zeal to right the wrongs…eventually pulling Dottie into his malignant orbit.

That is all I intend to say about the plot, which spans five decades, many countries, and a wide range of themes. The novel consists of five separate books, some short, some long, a catalog-of-sorts of 20th century atrocities and the loss of not only the individual soul, but our collective soul as well. Mr. Shacochis has choreographed a spellbinder, with hints (depending on where you are in the book) of David Mitchell, John Le Carre, Ernest Hemingway, and others…while keeping the narrative distinctly his.

The themes this author tackles go right to the heart of identity and destiny. “We choose the lies in which we participate and in choosing, define ourselves and our actions for a very long time,” he writes at one point. In other passage, we are first introduced to Steven with these words: {Steven would be} “introduced in the most indelible fashion to his destiny, the spiritual map that guides each person finally to the door of the cage that contains his soul, and in his hand a key that will turn the lock, or the wrong key, or no key at all.”

The questions he asks are universal: how do you change back if your former self no longer interlocks cleanly with the shape you have assumed? What happens when you become an actor in a theater without walls or boundaries or audiences? Where is the thin wall of separation between “patriotism and hatred, love and violence, ideology and facts, judgment and passion, intellect and emotion, duty and zealotry, hope and certainty, confidence and hubris, power and fury…” And when do we have the right to challenge and to reclaim our own souls before it’s too late?

This is an amazing book, a true Magnus opus, a story of who we are and how we came to be that way. Yet at its epicenter, Dottie and the two men who love her – her unhealthy father and the book’s moral core, Green Beret Evelle Burnette – who, in their own way, battle for her very soul.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 63 readers
PUBLISHER: Atlantic Monthly Press (September 3, 2013)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shultman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Bob Shacochis
EXTRAS: Interview and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:



January 3, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: 2013 Favorites, Facing History, Latin American/Caribbean

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