Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Calling me Home by Julie Kibler | A large story of love and loss

I cynically have to admit that I wasn't expecting much when I started reading this novel. The beginning of the narrative warned me that this would most likely turn into a mushy and easy love story. How happy I am to say I was wrong! Calling Me Home is a love story, but it is beautiful and has depth and integrity. The publishers are suggesting it is for fans of The Help, but for me it resonated much more closely with Rush Home Road by Lori Lansen.

In each chapter the narrative swaps between Doreen's story of the present tense, and Isabelle's story from around 1940. Set in the American south, this is a story that to a large extent deals with race and racism, of impossible love, and of the universal conflicts and challenges that face all human beings.

Doreen tells us the story of Miss Isabelle, the 90-year old lady whose hair she does on a weekly basis. They have become close friends, and Miss Isabelle has requested that Doreen drive with her to a funeral three days' drive away. Doreen's story of their journey is mixed with her own story, her new relationship hopes with Teague, and her problems with her teenage children.

But this is primarily about Isabelle's story. Isabelle grew up in the small town Shalerville which had a sign making it clear that black people were not allowed there after dark. Under the thumb of her controlling mother and violent brother, Isabelle at 16 nonetheless falls in love with the housemaid's son Robert. They nurture a risky romance which will have fatal consequences for everyone involved. Is it possible for love to survive in a place filled with so much hate?

As Doreen and Miss Isabelle make their way closer and closer to the funeral, Doreen learns little by little Isabelle's big love story. The challenges they face along the way mirror the universal themes of Isabelle's (and Doreeen's) own experiences. The racism that ruled the day when Isabelle was young is still alive and well in the most unlikely of places and persons.

Along with Dorrie, we as readers get morsel by morsel of information about Isabelle's past, but it is only at the end that we fully understand how everything is connected. The ending is touching, saddening and beautiful.

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