When Iris unexpectedly inherits her grandmother’s house in the country, she also inherits the painful memories that live there. Iris gives herself a one-week stay at the old house, after which she’ll make a decision: keep it, or sell it. The choice is not so simple, though, for her grandmother’s cottage is an enchanting place where currant jam tastes of tears, sparks fly from fingertips, love’s embrace makes apple trees blossom, and the darkest family secrets never stay buried. As Iris moves in and out of the flicker between remembrance and forgetting, she chances upon a forgotten childhood friend who could become more.
Source: egalley through William Morrow for review purposes
When Iris’s beloved grandmother, who suffered with dementia, finally passes away after being sick for many years, Iris is given her house. Iris stays in the house following the funeral to decide what she wants to do with the home. While she does so, she remembers/envisions several incidents in her family’s past, things she could not know but may have heard or made up in her own mind. She’s a strange narrator in that she is omnipotent to people’s thoughts and feelings, though she shouldn’t be.
The real story, what is happening in the present with Iris and the house and her grandmother’s neighbors, pretty much takes a back seat to the myriad and varied flashbacks revolving around Iris’s family. I am not usually a fan of flashbacks because more often then not I feel it detracts from the story, but I liked the flashbacks here.
The story is written in a flowing, poetic style that is not the usual type of writing I’m used to. I don’t mind it, but it takes a bit getting used to. The narration is also a little confusing in some ways because it’s originally written in German and translated to English. The symbolism that abounds throughout the novel is lost on me because I am not familiar with the German lifestyle. But this story was interesting and it pulled me in, daring me to keep reading and discover all the secrets.
Great-aunt Anna died from pneumonia when she was sixteen. They couldn’t cure it because her heart was broken and penicillin hadn’t yet been invented. It happened late one July afternoon. Anna’s younger sister, Bertha, ran howling into the garden and saw that with Anna’s rattling, dying breath all the red currants in the garden had turned white. It was a large garden; the scores of old currant bushes groaned under the heavy weight of the fruit. They should have been picked long before, but when Anna fell ill nobody gave a thought to the berries. My grandmother often told me this story, because it was she who had discovered the currants in mourning. Since that time there had only ever been black currants and white currants in my grandmother’s garden, and every attempt to plant a red bush had failed—only white berries would grow on the stems. But nobody minded: the white ones tasted almost as sweet as the red, when you juiced them they didn’t ruin your apron, and the jelly they made
had a mysteriously pale translucent shimmer. “Preserved tears,” my grandmother called it. The shelves in her cellar still housed jars of all sizes with the currant jelly from 1981, a summer particularly rich in tears, Rosmarie’s final one. Once when my mother was looking for some pickled cucumbers she came across a jar from 1945: the first postwar tears. She donated it to the windmill association, and when I asked her why on earth she was giving away Granny’s wonderful jelly to a local museum she said that those tears were too bitter. My grandmother Bertha Lünschen, née Deelwater, died long after Great-Aunt Anna, but for many years she hadn’t known who her sister was, what her own name was, or whether it was winter or summer. She had forgotten what shoes, wool, or spoons were for. Over a decade she cast off her memories with the same fidgety ease with which she plucked at the
short white locks of hair at the nape of her neck or swept invisible crumbs from the table. I had a clearer recollection of the noise the hard, dry skin of her hand made on the wooden kitchen table than of the features of her face. Also of the way her ringed fingers always closed tightly around the invisible crumbs, as if trying to catch the shadows of her spirit drifting by; but maybe Bertha just wanted to cover the floor with crumbs, or feed the sparrows that in early summer loved taking dust baths in the garden and were forever uprooting the radishes. The table she later had in the care home was plastic, and her hand fell silent. Before her memory went completely, Bertha remembered us in her will. My mother, Christa, inherited the land, Aunt Inga the stocks and shares, Aunt Harriet the money. I, the final descendant, inherited the house. The jewelry and furniture, the linen and the silver were to be divided up between my mother and aunts. Bertha’s will was as clear as springwater—and just as sobering. The stocks and shares were not particularly valuable, nobody except cows wanted to live on the pasture of the north German lowlands, there wasn’t much money left, and the house was old.
William Morrow is giving away an “Apple Tree To Be” kit that includes Ralls Janet heirloom apple seeds, to start your own orchard. How cool is that?!?!