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Evergreen (1978)

Evergreen (1978)
3.96 of 5 Votes: 3
0440132940 (ISBN13: 9780440132943)
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Evergreen (1978)
Evergreen (1978)

About book: Geez Louise, I feel like I deserve an award for getting through this whole novel. At first, I thought this book would be like a doughnut, light and fluffy with no real substance, but still sweet and delicious. But it wasn't like that at all. It was like one of those dense and heavy power bagels with nuts and dried fruit. Not that it was a difficult read or anything. It was quite simple language and actually the earnest and sincere way in which Belva Plain told the story was one of the things I liked about the book, but it's as if Plain tried to cram every idea she has ever had into this one book for fear that she'll never write another one again. Like with the power bagel, I was filled with the story easily and kept having to set the book aside to take a break because I'd had enough for that particular reading session. Usually I gobble books up in a matter of hours, but this took days to get through and I had to make it a point to pick up the book to read, it was something I'd put off forever otherwise.The narrative is actually quite beautiful and touching; a real rags to riches story. I could relate well to the Jewish immigrant family, as my own was, moving ahead in American society through hard work, education and determination. The characters were very well developed and I always felt very much "at home" with the Friedmans and could appreciate each person's point of view because of how clearly it was presented. However, the cramming in and adding more and more and more to the storyline was really a detriment to the story, not an asset and many events could have been easily omitted to make the read more palatable. So, that's why Evergreen gets 3 stars. I liked the story, but it was just too much to be really pleasurable to read.

There are books that may not be written with great 'literary' style, but which are nevertheless written with a talent for good, sincere storytelling. EVERGREEN is one such novel, and it belongs on a shelf with similar novels such as Colleen McCullough's THE THORN BIRDS and Rosamund Pilcher's THE SHELL SEEKERS, wonderfully entertaining family sagas spanning generations and often continents as well, peopled with colorful characters and chronicling the universal joys and sorrows of life.There are two scenes in EVERGREEN which are particularly well-written, with great emotional depth. They are among the best such scenes in modern popular fiction, and I re-read with great pleasure from time to time. The first is when the young Jewish immigrant Anna Friedman, troubled with a guilty secret she can share with no one, finds some solace in what is for her an unlikely place, yet which seems the only way open to her: a church, where she unburdens herself to a priest. The other scene occurs late in the novel, when a much-older Anna has a brief reunion with the man she has always loved but couldn't marry (and who, of course, doesn't know about Anna's guilty secret).02/16/15: During the past three or four years I re-read both THE THORN BIRDS and THE SHELL SEEKERS and enjoyed them very much all over again. I've just started re-reading EVERGREEN.
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OK, I must confess I have a thing for those cheesy family sagas they sell in grocery store checkout lines. This one is pretty old -- I think it was turned into a tv miniseries with Lesley Ann Warren in the 1970's -- but somehow I never got around to reading it until now. As cheesy family sagas go, it's pretty enjoyable. The story is about a Jewish woman who immigrates to the US in the early 1900's. She rises up from poverty, marries one man and loves another, and raises a couple of children who have their own illicit loves and tragedies...the story follows this family right up to the grandchildren's experiences in the 1960's. Apparently Ms. Plain has written a whole series of books focusing on different characters from this book -- If I ever see any other books from the series in my favorite used book store I will definitely pick them up and save them for some time when I want to read but not have to think about it...(By the way, for some really good family sagas, I recommend practically anything by Susan Howatch!)
At about 700 pages this book is a commitment. Anna is a young girl in a tiny Polish village when her parents die and her family is split up; her brothers go to Austria and she is to be married. Knowing that she cannot go through with the marriage, she takes what little she owns, including her mother's silver candlesticks, and goes to America. Thus her experiences continue, and Plain details them all with a sure hand and lovely prose. The plot is never quite predictable, which keeps the pages turning. Book 1 in the Werner Family Saga. Adult.
A multi-generational saga beginning with Anna who comes to the States as a 17yr old from a Polish village to live in NY city with relatives. She works for a while as a servant to a wealthy family before she marries Joseph Friedman, also from an immigrant family, and they begin their life together. Joseph works hard in order to rise out of poverty to the lifestyle of the wealthy. Together they raise two children, Maury and Iris, who both go on to marry with children of their own. Then down to the grandchildren's generation as they grow up, marry, and start families. Anna remains the matriarch through it all. Re-read in 2013 to review. Overall, I enjoyed it although at times I found myself uttering the old phrase, "O what tangled webs we weave...". But at other times I was struck by the hard work in order to take advantage of opportunities. The book spans both World Wars and comes as far forward as Vietnam. It seems that the cultures of each period are portrayed appropriately. It's one thing to write a book focused around one specific period of time. But it seems to me that to span 60 years or more in a single novel and be true to the times is something more difficult.
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