The Gravedigger's Daughter

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9780007258468: The Gravedigger's Daughter

From the author of 'Blonde', 'The Falls' and 'We Were the Mulvaneys', this new novel takes in the themes of race, immigration, family and social mobility, and is Joyce Carol Oates at her storytelling best. 'The Gravedigger's Daughter' tells the tale of Rebecca Schwart, born in the late 1930s to an immigrant family from Nazi Germany, just as they are arriving to America. The family settles in a small, bleak town in upstate New York, where the only job the father can get is as the town gravedigger and caretaker of the cemetery. Soon the town's prejudice and the family's own emotional frailty results in unspeakable tragedy. In the wake of this loss, and in an attempt to put her past behind her, young Rebecca Schwart moves on, across America and through a series of listless marriages, in search of somewhere, and someone, to whom she can belong.

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About the Author:

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including 'We Were the Mulvaneys', which was an Oprah Book Club Choice, and 'Blonde', which was nominated for the National Book Award. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University.

From The Washington Post:

Reviewed by Brian Hall

In the final lines of Joyce Carol Oates's big new novel, The Gravedigger's Daughter, a cousin writes to a cousin, "Yet I think I should come to Lake Worth, to see you. Should I?" The blank pages that follow reverberate not only with silence and loss but also -- and this is Oates's peculiar magic -- with disbelief on the part of the reader that the words could stop, that the question could go unanswered. For Oates often gives the impression, as she does so magnificently here, that she could go on forever. Or that in fact she does go on, as she was already going before the opening words, only those pages don't happen to be printed in this book.

For many novelists, quantity is damaging to quality, but Oates's power springs directly from her prodigality. Her genius -- the only word for the alarming thing that so evidently possesses her -- happens to be a giant. And the reader's intimation that this huge-handed, league-striding, voracious monster is somehow speaking, whispering, howling through her is what gives to her writing the illusion that it's all real, that anything messy, maladroit or unsatisfactory in her books is not a fault in her shaping, but a reflection of the faulty world.

This kind of genius usually has a locus, and for Oates it's the gritty, laboring, underfed, inbred backwaters of upstate New York. She has returned there again and again. This time she's fixed her gaze on a family of immigrants who flee Nazi Germany in 1936 to fetch up in a small town somewhere south of Niagara Falls. They are not Jews, insists the father, Jacob Schwart, and he'll repeat it as often as necessary. As for the word itself -- "Jew" -- he instructs his children, with a hard slap in the face, "Never say it." The past is dead.

Unfortunately, the Schwart family has more or less died with it. Aptly, they live in a cemetery, where Jacob works as the caretaker. In Germany he was a math teacher and a skilled pressman, but in America, supposed land of second chances, he climbs daily out of the grave he's just dug like some undead creature with a frozen, embittered will. His wife, Anna, is a half-mad ghost haunting the damp stone cottage by the cemetery gate. The very water the family drinks from the well is clouded with the fluids, the spirits, of the dead.

The older son, Herschel, a lout who loses his German without ever quite gaining English, flees town after committing a crime. The younger son, August, walks away forever after suffering one too many cruelties from his father. Neither of them utters a word of parting to their only sister, the young Rebecca, the gravedigger's daughter, whose story this is. They've learned their lesson: "Never say it." The past is dead, or will be as soon as you strangle it.

It's a lesson Rebecca learns as well, and she will act on it more than once in the four decades of her life that this novel covers. Oates understands the shame that survivors carry with them, and the lacunae in their stories that are fenced off by that shame. Jacob's shame, and Anna's horror, is the unnamed betrayal he committed to enable his family to escape Germany. Rebecca's shame is Jacob and Anna, their marriage blighted by that original act, which liberated their bodies and imprisoned their souls. Rebecca's defenses are silence and invisibility. The only game she ever played with her father, the only way in which he made her happy, was when she followed him in the cemetery as a very young girl and he pretended not to see her. Her only treasured childhood possession is a dictionary won in a spelling bee that she keeps hidden, unopened and mildewing, under her bed. Her name on the presentation label is misspelled.

No matter. She will change her name, and change it again. She will flee her first home when it explodes in violence, flee a second without saying goodbye to the guardian who loves her, and flee a third when male violence comes crashing back into her life. She will rename herself after a dead woman and discover that when she's acting from behind that pale smiling mask, people find her more alive than they ever found Rebecca Schwart. She will rename her young son after a disembodied voice in the night (a radio DJ) and live to see him become more substantial than his namesake. She will discover that when you kill the past, you free it to haunt you.

This is neither a depressing story nor an uplifting one. Oates succeeds here, as she often does, in making such judgments feel simple-minded. What it all seems is true and therefore moving and somewhat terrible, but in an exhilarating way. Every aspect of the ungainly plot feels right, including its ungainliness. Resolutions fail to arrive; lost people fail to return. Flowing through and past it all, surfacing for these 600 pages, is Oates's turbulent, cross-currented prose, with its hot upwellings and icy eddies. It's the opposite of lapidary, and has the disadvantage of being impossible to quote effectively in a brief review, but for the enthralled reader, Oates's water will eventually have its proverbial way with other writers' stone.

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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Joyce Carol Oates
Editorial: HarperCollins Publishers, United Kingdom (2008)
ISBN 10: 0007258461 ISBN 13: 9780007258468
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Descripción HarperCollins Publishers, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From the author of `Blonde , `The Falls and `We Were the Mulvaneys , this new novel takes in the themes of race, immigration, family and social mobility, and is Joyce Carol Oates at her storytelling best. `The Gravedigger s Daughter tells the tale of Rebecca Schwart, born in the late 1930s to an immigrant family from Nazi Germany, just as they are arriving to America. The family settles in a small, bleak town in upstate New York, where the only job the father can get is as the town gravedigger and caretaker of the cemetery. Soon the town s prejudice and the family s own emotional frailty results in unspeakable tragedy. In the wake of this loss, and in an attempt to put her past behind her, young Rebecca Schwart moves on, across America and through a series of listless marriages, in search of somewhere, and someone, to whom she can belong. Nº de ref. de la librería AA89780007258468

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Joyce Carol Oates
Editorial: HarperCollins Publishers, United Kingdom (2008)
ISBN 10: 0007258461 ISBN 13: 9780007258468
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Descripción HarperCollins Publishers, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From the author of `Blonde , `The Falls and `We Were the Mulvaneys , this new novel takes in the themes of race, immigration, family and social mobility, and is Joyce Carol Oates at her storytelling best. `The Gravedigger s Daughter tells the tale of Rebecca Schwart, born in the late 1930s to an immigrant family from Nazi Germany, just as they are arriving to America. The family settles in a small, bleak town in upstate New York, where the only job the father can get is as the town gravedigger and caretaker of the cemetery. Soon the town s prejudice and the family s own emotional frailty results in unspeakable tragedy. In the wake of this loss, and in an attempt to put her past behind her, young Rebecca Schwart moves on, across America and through a series of listless marriages, in search of somewhere, and someone, to whom she can belong. Nº de ref. de la librería AA89780007258468

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