Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review: The Taste of Apple Seeds

I absolutely love the title and the cover of Katharina Hagena's The Taste of Apple Seeds, which spent two years as a bestseller in Germany and was recently translated into English. As an orchardist's daughter, I well know the taste of apple seeds: bitter and woody, a disappointing end that should be spit out. I'd like to say I could make an analogy to a character in the book, but I didn't quite get there.

The story focuses on three generations of women: Iris and her cousin, Iris's mother and her sisters, and Iris's grandmother and her sister. Unfortunately, I kept getting the names mixed up. Had the author used the terms "Grandmother" and "Mom" and "Aunt So-and-So," I would have been able to follow the story better. As it was, I had to keep flipping back to figure out the placement of Anna, Bertha, Christa, Inga and Harriet. That, no doubt, is my own fault as a reader who falls asleep after 15 minutes, night after night. But still, it is distracting and takes away from the fluidity of the novel.

Iris, as the sole survivor of the third generation and heiress of her grandmother's estate, is the collector of family stories. Anna, Bertha, Christa, Inga and Harriet all had stories that Iris needed to discover and tell. Anna and Bertha loved the same man; Inga sparks, literally; Christa misses home; and Harriet's beloved daughter, Iris's cousin, dies in an accident I never quite understood. The stories were all interesting, although told in a confusing fashion. I was left with many questions, a sense of being unfulfilled by the vignettes. (Again, that could be my lack of proper concentration.)

But I really liked the story of Iris and Max, a childhood friend with whom she reunites. I love that Iris dressed in all the old dresses and rode her bike around town. I liked that she was clumsy and unsure of herself.  But I found some things so perplexing that I got hung up on them. Like why, for example, Iris loves to swim in the lake in one paragraph ("I always felt secure when I swam") and yet was terrified of what was under the water in another ("I was afraid of the dead stretching out their soft white hands to me, huge pikes that might be swimming under me, places where the water suddenly turned very cold")? Those kinds of contradictions in character confuse me.

I'm not giving a rousing recommendation, I know. I actually liked the novel. The stories of the women were all intriguing and unique. I just had trouble following them. Perhaps I am too orderly and lack proper concentration skills.

1 comment:

Vicki said...

This sounds like a good read for the 2014 Foodies Read Challenge.