Susan’s Book Talk: A Thread of Grace


My book club this month is reading Mary Doria Russell‘s A Thread of Grace. (Click on the first link to see Ms. Russell’s website, and on the second to buy the book)

I’m not quite halfway through it, but I need to rave about it — with a caveat. The book is brilliant, it’s absorbing, beautifully written, it’s haunting, it scares me silly, it’s so vivid. This book wraps itself around your emotions and doesn’t let go. It’s a definite don’t miss.

Now, for the caveat. It’s a book about people who lived during the Holocaust, people in Italy who helped hide the Jews from the Nazis. It’s an important book because this is something that’s not spoken of particularly often; one of those hidden parts of our past. While I’ve noticed more Holocaust list focusing on the people who helped save the lives of Jews, not even Thomas Moran’s Man in the Box had this much power to it.

That’s exactly what concerns me about it. Not for me, but for the members of my book club. For a Jewish book club, we read a scarily (to some) scant amount of Holocaust Literature. There’s a reason for that: most of the women in my book club were young girls during World War II. One is married to a man who lost his brother to the Nazis.

Over the years, as I’ve led them through choices good (Noah Gordon) and bad (nope, not gonna name the bad), one thing they’ve always asked me to avoid bringing them was books that are heavy about the Holocaust.

To be fair, I wouldn’t have suggested this one except that I’d heard from another woman what a wonderful book it is. She’s not in our book club, but I know her both from the gym and the temple. If she suggests something, I’m going to do her the honor of listening and presenting a synopsis of the book to my group. In this case, I’d tracked down a copy through PaperBackSwap and showed it to the group. You can argue that we knew what we were getting into when we agreed to read this. And it was a democratic choice.

Yet I worry. This is the sort of powerful book that can rip open wounds. If I’ve learned anything about the Holocaust during my lifetime, it’s that merely being a Jew gives you wounds from that event. To be much closer to it than I am and then to be faced with a book like this, which describes the cattle cars so vividly…

Maybe there is a balm yet to come in the remaining pages of my copy of A Thread of Grace, and I am worrying for nothing. Given my history of wasting time and energy on worry, this is entirely probable. I won’t know until I read the rest of the book.

I won’t know until November 1, the next time my book club meets, how everyone reacted to this. So until then, I’ll worry that I’ve unwittingly suggested a book that’s opening raw wounds on these women I consider my friends. Because I know I’ve ripped open a few of my own.



  1. Breeni Books

    October 23, 2007 12:40 pm

    I have The Sparrow by Russell on Mt. TBR. I wish I had the time to read it in the immediate future after reading you rave about this one. I’ll have to make it a priority.

  2. Susan Helene Gottfried

    October 23, 2007 12:45 pm

    Let me know what you think — and if you want to do a swap!

  3. Megan

    October 23, 2007 5:14 pm

    Ah, I’ve got a copy of this one on Mt. TBR. I’ll have to bump it up nearer the top! BR/BR/I hope that the members of your book club don’t find it too painful. I can see how it could be difficult, but try not to let it get you too worried! Even if things do go badly, there’s nothing you can do Iright now/I, so might as well save your worrying until there is definitely a problem. (Not that I’m usually successful at following my own sage advice…) 😉

  4. Dewey

    October 23, 2007 6:21 pm

    Wow, that sounds like an amazing book. I really hope you’ll post about your book group’s reaction because I’m really curious now.

  5. Dana

    October 23, 2007 6:24 pm

    I have read The Sparrow. It is extemely well written but also extremely disturbing; possibly the most disturbing Sci-fi I have ever read. I have just added the sequel Children of God to my wishlist as I have ‘recovered’ from the first book now to consider the second

  6. Wylie Kinson

    October 23, 2007 6:42 pm

    Thanks for the recommend SHG. I’ll add it to the 2008 wish list.

  7. Susan Helene Gottfried

    October 23, 2007 7:45 pm

    So, Dana, that sounds like everything this woman writes is disturbing.BR/BR/Interesting. My intrigue continues to grow.

  8. bunnygirl

    October 23, 2007 7:51 pm

    I’ll have to keep an eye out for this one. I hope it works out okay for your book club. Try not to worry.

  9. Christine d'Abo

    October 23, 2007 7:51 pm

    This sounds like a good book, but I don’t think I could read it right now. I find emotional books like that leave me tired and I don’t have that kind of energy in me these days. I’m going to add it to my To Get list though. 🙂

  10. Robin

    October 24, 2007 4:02 am

    Sometimes wounds need to be opened to be able to better heal.BR/BR/I hope that the book serves you all well as a catharsis, and provides a stepping stone for each to move forward in her own journey.

  11. *marci*

    October 24, 2007 6:28 am

    I had great difficulty getting into this book and passed it along (maybe you got my copy? haha!) some months ago. Now you’ve got me rethinking maybe I should give it a try again.BR/BR/One book that I read recently and ‘enjoyed’ that dealt with the Holocaust, only this time from the Gypsy/Roma experience was “Fires in the Dark” by Louise Doughty. The descriptions of the camp just made my skin crawl – it was so real to me. I felt like I was amongst those interred. *shudder*BR/BR/Off to see if the library has a copy of Russell’s book – maybe to give it a second chance and hope that the multiple names don’t bother me as much this time around.

  12. Red Garnier

    October 24, 2007 1:19 pm

    Susan this book sounds delicious, I simply HAVE to read!! 😉 Thanks for the recommend, sweetie.

  13. clairec23

    October 24, 2007 1:30 pm

    Hi, Dewey just told me I won a bookmooch pointon the read-a-thon so if you could donate it to one of the children’s charities that would be great, thanks 🙂

  14. Jenny McB

    October 24, 2007 10:01 pm

    One thing I do remember from my short stint as a teacher was that when a reader makes connections to a book, then they get more out of it. The book discussion will be interesting and I hope you share. BR/BR/You’re right about the subject being close for these women.

  15. karen!

    October 25, 2007 11:51 am

    hugBR/BR/I have this one of Mt. TBR. I’ve heard really good things about it and been looking forward to reading it, I just haven’t had the time.BR/BR/I hope all goes well with the book club ladies, but I completely understand your worries (you know I’m a worrywart myself).BR/BR/(I’ve been lurking)

  16. david mcmahon

    October 25, 2007 4:03 pm

    Sounds like an amazing book, Susan.BR/BR/I finished my novel about 24 hours ago and have started editing it. Will hand it over to Penguin on 31 October.

  17. Camille Alexa

    October 27, 2007 6:05 am

    It’s amazing literature and other art can have so much depth and power over us. Humbling, actually.

  18. spyscribbler

    October 29, 2007 5:09 pm

    I need to check that out! I read her first two books. I kept looking for her, but I kind of forgot about her after awhile. BR/BR/Sad how that happens with really good authors. I should keep a list.BR/BR/(You know, my reader doesn’t like you. I just NOW got this post from Tuesday, and I got the one from Thursday a couple days ago. Weird!)

  19. West Of Mars — The Meet and Greet » Blog Archive » Susan’s Book Talk: 2007 Reading Roundup

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