Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Deep River by Karl Marlantes

Deep River by Karl Marlantes
Published: July 2019 by Grove/Atlantic Inc.
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
In the early 1900s, as the oppression of Russia’s imperial rule takes its toll on Finland, the three Koski siblings—Ilmari, Matti, and the politicized young Aino—are forced to flee to the United States. Not far from the majestic Columbia River, the siblings settle among other Finns in a logging community in southern Washington, where the first harvesting of the colossal old-growth forests begets rapid development, and radical labor movements begin to catch fire. The brothers face the excitement and danger of pioneering this frontier wilderness—climbing and felling trees one-hundred meters high—while Aino, foremost of the books many strong, independent women, devotes herself to organizing the industry’s first unions. As the Koski siblings strive to rebuild lives and families in an America in flux, they also try to hold fast to the traditions of a home they left behind.

Layered with fascinating historical detail, this is a novel that breathes deeply of the sun-dappled forest and bears witness to the stump-ridden fields the loggers, and the first waves of modernity, leave behind.

My Thoughts:
So, guys, Matterhorn. Marlantes' last book? Huge; really big. You'd think there'd be all kinds of reviews about this book out there already, all kinds of p. r. Nope, hardly a peep. And I sort of needed for someone to tell me how I felt about this book. Is that weird?

It will seem even weirder when I tell you that I really liked this book. I'm all over decades long family sagas. I mean, The Thorn Birds was one of my first "grown up" favorite books, after all. And I learned a lot from Deep River and you know how much I love that in a book. The lumbar industry, the labor movement on the west coast, the immigrant experience of the Finns who settled in the west - Marlantes had me going to the internet again and again to find out which characters were real people, what events really happened.

I became very attached to some of the family and the people who surrounded them and felt that they were, for the most part, well developed. Which made me get really nervous when the tension built but Marlantes kept from making this a giant saga of terrible things that happened to this family.

But then...it seemed to drag on forever. It is over 700 pages long but I've raced through books that long before. What made this one feel so different? One reviewer I found used the word "longeur" in his review (which I had to look up which you know I also love!); for those of you, like me, who need a definition, longeur means a tedious passage in a book. Oh yeah, for as much action as there was, for as many beautifully descriptive passages as there were, there were also a heck of a lot of longeurs. In fairness to Marlantes, though, I was balancing several books I needed to get through, including a really long audiobook and I might have become much more engrossed in it if I had devoted myself solely to this book. But part of what made the book drag was that Marlantes included so many characters and tried to cover so much ground with this book - the history of the logging industry along the Columbia River, the history of the labor movement, the salmon and fishing industry, the immigrant experience. Yes, it gave me a lot to learn about but it often felt like it was pulling me away from the story of this family.

I would recommend Deep River, with the proviso that there may be times you'll want to skim over those longeurs. If you read it, especially if you are able to really devote your full attention to it, I hope you'll let me know what you thought of it.


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