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The Sentimentalists

I received Johanna Skibsrud’s Giller prize winning novel, The Sentimentalists, for Christmas from my surrogate grandfather. (It was only then that I realized he tends to shop Giller alumni for me!) This is the fastest I’ve ever consumed a book he gave me.

The plot of the story – woman tries to understand her father’s experiences in the Vietnam War and the impact of those experiences on her parents’ marriage and the family as a whole – doesn’t do justice to Skibsrud’s lyricism and thoughtfulness. The novel is occasionally a little over-written for me, but that could just mean I’ve grown lazy.

One of the things I loved about the book is that a lot of it takes place in Casablanca, Ontario – a town that doesn’t exist as far as I can tell. Everyone there knows the script to that hilarious and heartbreaking film inside and out, and the characters quote the film in casual conversation. When someone asks the narrator’s dad if it might rain, he puts on his Ingrid Bergman voice and says, “It’s a crazy world, anything can happen!”

I don’t know anyone who has suffered the horrors of war, either as a soldier or a civilian. But my family quotes movies, too. We quote “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Mary Poppins” and “To Sir With Love.” And it was so lovely to hear another family do that. They did math problems and crossword puzzles and quoted classic movies. They were like me and my people. We had a kinship, those characters and I, and that connection made the unfamiliar parts of their story hit home for me. It’s kind of magical how that happens.

But maybe I’m just a rank sentimentalist.

(Cross-posted at Diet of Bookworms.)


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