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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

PUSH NOT THE RIVER by James Conroyd Martin

From the book's blurb: "A panoramic and epic novel in the grand romantic style, PUSH NOT THE RIVER is the rich story of Poland in the late 1700s--a time of heartache and turmoil as the country's once peaceful people are being torn apart by neighboring countries and divided loyalties. It is then, at the young and vulnerable age of seventeen, when Lady Anna Maria Berezowska loses both of her parents and must leave the only home she has ever known.

With Empress Catherine's Russian armies streaming in to take their spoils, Anna is quickly thrust into a world of love and hate, loyalty and deceit, patriotism and treason, life and death."

PUSH NOT THE RIVER has me I like it or don't I? Yes, I do, somewhat. For the first 85% of the book, I liked it. There were moments of disbelief when certain characters managed to get themselves into and out of situations rather easily, but I could live with that for they needed to continue moving forward for the story to progress.

I knew that the book had been compared in a quote from the cover to Gone with the Wind, and Dr. Zhivago, but for most of the book I felt that the comparison had to do with the history and the situations. The book is well researched and I enjoyed the history presented.

Then came the last 15% of the book and I felt as if the author had Gone with the Wind open in front of him and was copying almost word for word the scenes. Or perhaps, he had recently rewatched the movies.

Yes, he made some changes, but the scene where Anna in Push Not The River and Melanie in Gone With The Wind shoots an enemy soldier from the stairway was just very, very similar. Then came the scene in Push Not The River where Anna is escaping the burning Parga in a carriage. She must cross the river trying to ride and then drive her carriage through the crazed throng. She takes the reins and manages to get across the river, looking back constantly, just as the bridge collapses. Much, much too similar to Scarlet's escape from the burning Atlanta.

As for the Dr. Zhivago comparison: how about a sleigh ride through the snow as a means of escaping from the encroaching enemy army and stopping to watch the smoke rise from the area she has just left.

Since authors cannot copyright scenes, the author had every right to use them, but he should have been absolutely sure they were so much more his scenes than Mitchell's or Pasternak's. I'm not saying the book should not  have been modeled after those much beloved classics, but to  have the scenes so amazingly similar is to invite speculation. Then again, perhaps the scenes were just so well-written that they instantly brought to my mind the scenes from the earlier two classics.

Now, I must confess, that when the book ended, I wanted to know what happened to the main characters. Since this is book one in a trilogy, the author very astutely ended this first book at a momentous point. One that was on the verge of resolving several situations. We see Anna reach a safety of sorts, but what about the other characters. Yes, I wanted to know. So, I read the first couple of chapters of book two and had my questions answered.

This was not a bad book, and if the last few scenes had not been so in my mind from other authors' works, I'm sure I would recommend the book without qualms. However, the last few scenes are there and did diminish my pleasure in the book.

Still, I recommend this book to those, like myself, who enjoy European historical fiction. Some historical fiction novels stay with me because of the characters, some because of the history, and some, when I'm lucky, because of a combination of the two. Push Not The River will stay with me because of the history and the geography I discovered. In that respect, this book is well written.

If you are of Polish descent, I think the history portrayed, and I am assuming it is accurate, will make this book and perhaps the next two, a keeper for you. 

In fact Jan Lorys, direct of the Polish Museum of America states, "Martin's novel transports the reader two hundred years into Poland's glorious past, a world of castles and manor houses. One woman's life provides a metaphor for a country which--with the Third of May Constitution--was the first to attempt democratic reform in modern Europe. While the attempt failed, Push Not the River sings of a people's pride and indomitable hope."

I know that the book is available on Amazon and probably at other major outlets. At the moment, it is only .99 on Amazon Kindle.

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