note to readers: I don't write book reviews. I'm not good at them. I like reading them. Niece Shannon write killer reviews and I'm in awe of her. But it's a skill I do not have. It was made more difficult by the fact that I am on the road, badly planning my trip, I'm writing a book review without the book to refer to ... I can't even name characters. YIKES!! I only offer this here because I so wanted us all to get together and read a book that has a disability theme ... and then there is 'the scene'. So here it is, my offering for Chewing the Fat's first book club:
THREAD OF GRACE
We have watched hundreds of hours of documentaries about WWII.
We have read books set in the time.
We have gone to lectures on the subject of the Nazi Eugenics movement.
And in all that no one ever did what Mary Doria Russell did in "Thread of Grace".
Someone finally slapped a Nazi. Right across the face. For saying something ridiculously hateful. When a Nazi doctor told a mother of a little girl with Down Syndrome that it might just be better that her child was dead, mom hauls off and slaps him.
I was sitting at home reading the book in the early hours of the morning. I had left a warm bed and curled up under a blanket with a cuppa tea on the sofa. With just the reading light on, I was able to fully enter the story. And at that moment, I heard the slap. It reverberated in my heart. I began to cry.
It's a slap we've been waiting for, we the people who are disabled, we the people who love those with disabilities.
I can't be the only disabled person who's wanted to slap away attitudes of superiority.
I can't be the only disabled person who's wanted to knock away the hostile glances of others.
I can't be the only disabled person who's wanted to wallop someone who suggests my disability comes from my sinful nature.
I can't be the only disabled person who's wanted, really really wanted, to slap some sense into doctors, scientists, politicians, architects ...
So that slap sounded good to me.
I needed it.
I also needed to hear what others thought of that scene. Of that mother's love for her child. Of that mother's refusal to see her child as less than. Of Grandma's having to grudgingly admit that the child was more than expected. I wanted to know if other's responded like I did. Chewing the Fat seemed to be the place to do this. I loved that scene. I've waited for it. Did you feel that too?
There was so much more in Thread of Grace. So many characters with disabilities. These characters are so vivid that their disability just becomes part of who they are and how they live their lives. They climb mountains, deliver mail, plan insurrection, say mass ... they LIVE beyond their disability but also with their disability. Doria Russell does not use disability as a means of weakening a character, nor does she succumb to the temptation to make those with disabilities inspirational - she simply puts disabled people where they would be, in war and in history.
Even more, in all I had read about WW2, I had never been told the story of the Italian resistance and their steadfast refusal to buy into Hitler's race policies. I was inspired by a tale not often told - a tale that gives hope to the idea that we as humanity can rise above hatred and embrace each other. Ultimately Thread of Grace is a poem to the human spirit and our ability to care in the face of adversity.
I've read all of Doria Russell's books, including her new one Dreamers of the Day, and love them all. Sparrow, was my first experience of her writing and it blew me away. Dreamers of the Day brings us a character that is instantly likeable. Her ability to create people that you want to know is astonishing. But to me, Thread of Grace, is now at the top of my 'All Time Best Reads'.
What follows now is the letter Doria Russell wrote me. I don't know why it published early. I tried to schedule it to appear today but it went straight onto the blog. I thank her for her willingness to write something for Chewing the Fat.