Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: "The Winter in Anna" by Reed Karaim

This book was utterly exquisite and moving, yet told with such gorgeous simplicity.

"We would like to think we will recognize the people who come to matter to us at first sight, but of course that's absurd. They often slip into the corners of our lives, unnoticed, then taken for granted, until one day, if we are lucky, we see them anew with startled comprehension, and think, There is my best friend, or There is the woman I love, or There is someone who saved me."

In a split second, Eric Valery decides to drop out of college just before he graduates, and gets a job as a reporter at a newspaper in small-town Shannon, North Dakota. It is there he meets Anna, a fellow employee, whose outer calm belies a life full of disappointment, pain, and emotions, the depths of which no one truly knows.

It's not long before the two strike up a close friendship, and Eric begins to understand there is so much more to life than what he thinks and has experienced, understands what life is like for those who truly struggle. Anna, too, learns from this friendship, as she gets to experience Eric's confidence and idealism, and feels buoyed by his enthusiasm for the small town in which they live and work.

Little by little, Anna begins to trust Eric, and reveals to him the secret pain she carries with her. She teaches him that there is so much more to life than what he sees in front of him, but all of it—moments both happy and sad—are what makes life richer, even if it is difficult. And as Eric faces his own sadness and his own indecision, he realizes that we cannot always choose the circumstances we're handed, but what we do with those circumstances is what makes a life.

The Winter in Anna is Eric's reflections on his relationship with Anna years later, as he remembers the person who perhaps meant more to him than anyone, although the realization of that fact may not have come right away. It's a portrait of a young man with his whole life ahead of him, who finds someone that both directly and obliquely changes the course of his life.

"No one had seemed to defy the idea that our future is written in our past more than Anna."

There was so much I loved about this book. I found the characters so fascinating, so complex, and even though one key plot point is revealed in the first few pages of the book, my love for these characters kept me reading every single word. Reed Karaim infuses his book with such emotion and so many life lessons, and his prose is absolutely gorgeous. Even his imagery is poetic. Take this example:

"The afternoons swell with diffused light, the trees are kaleidoscopes, the sky cracks gently along the edge, and all the colors spill into early evening. It's a time when the unexpected perfection of a particular day can stop you in midstride, when your thoughts slow down to take on a renewed clarity and you make a series of small resolutions to do better from here on out as you turn up your collar against the approaching winter."

I'm always loathe to compare writers since everyone is so unique, but Karaim's style and lyricism reminds me of Kent Haruf and Leif Enger. I read this book on a plane ride and just fell in love with it. It's one of those times I wish I was reading the actual book instead of a digital copy, so I could tell people on the plane how special this book was. (I'm usually not interested in making conversation with people on planes so I can concentrate on reading, so this is a big deal.)

Some may find the pacing a little slow, but I really thought The Winter in Anna was one of those special books you hope to find every so often, and you don't want it to end, nor do you want to lose the memories of these characters.

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