If I Had Two Lives

Book Details:
Publisher: Europa Editions
Release Date: April 9, 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781609455217

This luminous debut novel, which has earned impressive early reviews from media including The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Foreword Reviews, follows a young woman from her childhood in Vietnam to her life as an immigrant in the United States – and her necessary return to her homeland.

As a child, isolated from the world in a secretive military encampment with her distant mother, she turns to a sympathetic soldier for affection and to the only other girl in the camp, forming two friendships that will shape the rest of her life.

As a young adult in New York, cut off from her native country and haunted by the scars of her youth, she is still in search of a home. She falls in love with a married woman who is the image of her childhood friend, and follows strangers because they remind her of her soldier. When tragedy arises, she must return to Vietnam to confront the memories of her youth – and recover her identity.

An inspiring meditation on love, loss, and the presence of a past that never dies, the novel explores the ancient question: Do we value the people in our lives because of who they are, or because of what we need them to be?

My Review

I did like this book. Although, I found that I struggled with finding the strong emotional connection that this type of book requires.

Our young woman is a good narrator. She does bring me the reader into her world. I instantly got a good visual into what life was like for her. Therefore, I understood her "obsession" with the solider and young girl. Which in turn transpired into her new life in America.

What I struggled with is that the other characters were "faceless". In what I mean by this is that because I did not share a strong connection to the other characters, they could have been anyone. They were characters in this story but it was mainly the young woman's voice that was the star of this book for me.

Abbigail N. Rosewood was born in Vietnam, where she lived until the age of twelve. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. An excerpt from her first novel won first place in the Writers Workshop of Asheville Literary Fiction Contest. She lives in New York City.

Outside, the sky was purple and the Hay moon hugged the horizon in a yellow haze, the way it did sometimes in July. The escarpment was midnight blue, the orchard serene, the trees hissing gently in the wind. 
 The porch was brightly lit, the whole family had come over for Sunday dinner as usual and they always retired to the porch afterwards in the good weather for drinks and dessert. The conversation rose in small waves, the laughter echoing in the yard, ice cubes in cocktail glasses clinking. 
 Sheryl sat on the porch steps beside Earl’s skinny wife April, who smiled and asked, How you doing, kid?
 Earl was in the midst of a story they all knew well, a piece of oat grass between his teeth, the end fluttering in the air.
 Fergus was picking one day, Earl laughed, father had sent him up into the higher branches because he was light and nimble and did a good set--that’s the way you set up your ladder against the tree there, Pete. And there he was like a bird way the hell up in God’s country, it was the close of a day and there’s good old dad below, always the slave driver, hollerin' up at him: Hurry it up, hurry it up, I don’t have all day. Yellin' at Fergus when he rushed and dropped an apple or two. And Lordy, wouldn’t you know it, on the horizon a storm starts brewing. Before you can say Jim Dandy, a wind comes up, and the sky is going all black and snarly, but before there’s a drop of rain and young Fergus can get himself finished and back down that ladder, a stick of lightning comes out of nowhere, and in a blinding flash it whacks the tree. Pop’s yellin' to beat the band, callin' for help, and Momma comes runnin' down from the main house, the tree is on fire and the wind is howlin' and her hair’s all over hell’s half-acre and she’s bawlin' her eyes out, thinks she’s done lost her favourite son. And here’s Fergus cool as a cucumber coming down the ladder step by step and when he gets to the bottom he turns to Dad with his basket proudly and says: Didn’t lose a one.
  Here we thought he’d been hit, but the lightning never touched him.
 Fergus sat quietly invincible, blue eyes beaming, long legs crossed, the cigarette going back and forth to his mouth, while all eyes turned to him in admiration.
 Rubber boots, he laughed. I took it as a sign, he added mysteriously. I saw this blinding light, and at first I thought I’d died and gone to my maker. My life changed after that day. I always felt I was spared for a reason.
 Sign? Sheryl said.

 Amen, Earl said and his wife April echoed him. It was a thing they had started doing lately, ever since Peter arrived, saying Amen and Hallelujah like Fergus was a preacher or something, and they were all in church, but a church with guitars and cocktails and hootenannies out on the porch. Sheryl couldn’t tell if they were joking or they were suddenly crazy for God but something was different. It had all started when they had come back to live on the farm, and while Fergus didn’t have a job he had read a whole bunch of books, underlining and scribbling things in the margins and wandering the house saying, It’s all making sense now, like he was in a trance or something. All of a sudden he started having a lot of ideas and talking about the coming of the new world and things began to happen just like he said they would. He had gotten a job at the pharmacy and bought the dwarf trees and organized Eammon and the orchard and even helped Earl buy the abattoir, and there was money now for things there never had been before when Fergus was in school and they all lived in a little flat in Toronto. It was hard now even to remember the dark and dingy days when they’d camped in windowless rental apartments, had macaroni and cheese for dinner every night and Sheryl’s uncle had lain on the chesterfield for hours not talking.
 The men sat on the porch now and yakked about how these were the good times, and they treated Fergus with the kind of respect you treat a doctor or a policeman. Fergus had always been the smart one, but now he seemed extra-special. Every day he was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, and Sheryl was proud because he was like a father to her, the closest thing to a father she’d ever known.
  What sign? Sheryl asked again, but nobody answered.
 As I remember it, I still got a hiding for having taken so long, Fergus said.
 You certainly had your share of beatings, Earl added, I don’t know why, but Lordy, papa sure had it in for you.
  Peter looked over at Fergus wide-eyed, and Fergus smiled.
 Builds character, he cackled.
 Josh said, Okay Pete, watch, I’m Sheryl when she sees a bee. He leapt off the stairs, his hands flapping up and down at his sides, squealing in a silly girlish falsetto, Get it away from me, get it away, running in loopy circles on the grass.
 They all laughed.
 Drop dead, Sheryl said, hugging her knees.
A hand-rolled cigarette appeared out of nowhere. Fergus passed the reefer to Peter who looked nervous, but Fergus calmed him, saying, Don’t worry we’re all family here. We share everything.
 Peter took a drag of the cigarette and exhaled.
 I had a dream not long ago that I lay in a circle, Fergus said, a white circle. I lay naked on an altar, stark naked with incense burning and candles, and there was a blinding light from above, and I saw a goat and a lamb. Suddenly I knew that the true law is man’s will, what is evil often does good, and what is good sometimes turns for evil. And knowing this my heart opened, embracing everything, and I felt freed from all my hangups.
 Fergus closed his eyes, and the porch was silent, all eyes watching him. Change is going to rise up like a great white dove and sweep the world. We’re in the final process. In preparation we need to let go of the old game and embrace one another like one big family, kiddo, one big tribe. God is the Great Mathematician, he said; he seemed to be addressing everyone but his eyes were on Peter’s.
  In Genesis, God creates fruit after the land and sea but before the sun, the moon or Adam and Eve. Go forth, be fruitful and multiply, he tells us. The apple, malus domestica was in the beginning, in the garden of Eden. Why? Because the apple is the fruit of the gods, the nectar of Apollo and Aphrodite, and look at us—surrounded by apples for miles!


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