Friday, October 16, 2009

Sidura Ludwig: Holding my Breath

Toronto: Key Porter, c2007.
266 p.

I also got through two of my choices for the Canadian Book Challenge over the Thanksgiving weekend (there's a lot to be said for days off!)

Here's the first one I read -- it's set in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the 50's & 60's, among the Jewish community. Beth Levy is a young girl when her grandmother dies and she and her parents move into the family house, taking responsibility for Beth's two aunts, Carrie and Sarah. Carrie is a grown woman but Sarah is a teenager, much younger and less interested in tradition than her elder sisters.

The story moves through the years from Beth's childhood until she is ready to spread her wings and head away for college. Each chapter is from Beth's point of view but focuses on different moments in her upbringing; her mother's rise into the highest ranks of the Jewish women's organizations and her concern for tradition and keeping her family close by; her aunt Carrie's fixation on her long deceased brother Phil and on a secret that she keeps for many years; and her aunt Sarah's dissatisfaction with life in Winnipeg and her longing to escape - which she does in later years.

The telling is quite measured and subdued: there seemed to be a little too much telling at the expense of showing, at least to my taste. However, I did find the story interesting because it was about a situation that I knew little about, that of the Jewish community in Winnipeg, and I also enjoyed getting to know some of the characters. A few of the minor characters especially were quite intriguing; some of Beth's friends were people I would have liked to get to know. I also liked Beth's interests in life -- even though it is the 60's she is fascinated with science, especially astronomy. This interest is formed partly from her aunt Carrie sharing Phil's love of the stars with Beth since childhood, but the result is that Beth studies astronomy and physics in college. This leads to the crisis point of the novel: Beth is offered a graduate student position in Chicago and with her aunt Carrie's help overcomes the sense of duty drilled into her in order to achieve her dreams. She discovers throughout the novel that she is not her mother, nor her aunts, but is made up of a mixture of family traits -- and that she has to choose which parts of her character are most important for her to develop.

Overall, it was a good first novel but a little slow moving. It didn't grab me, but it did illuminate aspects of Canadian life that I was unfamiliar with in a way that kept me reading. I think that the difficulty I had with it was that I preferred Aunt Carrie to Beth so would have been more intrigued by the story Carrie might have told; but that is my own bias, not a fault of the book. It is still an eminently readable story which just might be a favourite of another reader - don't pass it over on my opinion alone.

Other readers:

Boston Bibliophile gives it a "to borrow" rating

The Literary Word rates it a favourite

Dovegreyreader calls it a pleasure to read


  1. I really your review, and it actually made me want to read the book! :)

  2. A slow moving Canadian novel? I find that hard to believe.

  3. Eva - I liked the setting, for sure, and it wasn't a bad book

    John - ;)

  4. Actually this sounds very appealing to me. I don't always like slow moving novels, but sometimes the story is better that way. I'm adding this to my wishlist.

  5. Danielle - oh, good! There were some really nice elements to this story, some quite memorable moments.


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