Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

Title: Baker Towers
Author: Jennifer Haigh

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1940s / WWII / Soldiers / Families / Immigrants / Coal Mining / Western Pennsylvania)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (1/1/2006)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: Five children of coal-mining immigrants grow up in 1940s Pennsylvania, impacted by the war, the loss of their father, and the changing world around them.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do, immensely -- it could easily be one of the Novak girls, on a borrowed car -- it sets up the mood of this volume very well.

I'm reminded of...: Ellen Feldman

First line: Softly the snow falls.

Am... I still thinking about this book, days after finishing?: YES. I suspect as time goes on, it will stick with me, and I'm pretty sure I'll need at least one reread.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- it's a lovely, quiet, moving novel of a family.

Why did I get this book?: I've heard nothing but good things about Haigh's books, and the 1940s coal town setting of this novel immediately appealed to me.

Review: This is a good book that becomes great; or maybe it was always great, and it just snuck up on me. I lingered over this novel, picking it up and now, since the chapters vary in length and POV. It was easy to dip in and out of the Novaks' lives, but Haigh's writing style and gentle characterizations kept me coming back.

Set in Bakerton, a coal-mining town in Western Pennsylvania, Haigh paints a picture of the Novak family, Polish-Italian immigrants who struggle to chart their own existence in a place where most people live and die in the mines. Beginning in the 1940s, with World War II looming in the background, the story travels about twenty years or so. This isn't a quiet novel, not exactly -- there's plenty of characters and plenty of life happening -- but the book doesn't race along with a single plot line. One hundred pages in, I wondered when the story would start; about 200 pages in, I worried about the story ending.

The story of the Novaks is familiar but that isn't a bad thing. Haigh shares with us an American narrative that has become mythologized; in her hands, I see myself, my family, my relatives, my neighbors in the Novak's story. My only complaint (but that's too strong a word since I'm not actually unhappy) was the shifting focus -- I would have rather the novel stayed with one of the Novak kids rather than shift focus -- but Haigh's writing kept me going on.

This is a novel that lingers with the reader. A week after finishing, I find myself still chewing over scenes or characters, and I've more than once wished there was a sequel of sorts so I could remain with the Novaks. If you want something meaty but not heavy or hard, consider this -- it is easy to get into and it's moving without feeling soul-crushing.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to be able to offer TWO copies of Baker Towers to my readers! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 2/24.

26 comments:

  1. This is the only Jennifer Haigh book I haven't read. I love her books. Thanks for the giveaway. Enjoyed your review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can completely understand why she has such a devoted following -- I'm so looking forward to reading Faith!

      Delete
  2. I've been curious about this book since I saw it reviewed for the WWII challenge awhile back. I'm definitely adding it to my to read list, especially since you say you are still thinking about it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anna -- I thought of you when reading this -- it's not exactly what I'd call a WWII novel but the characters are lightly affected by it -- it's more about this town than the war. Still, WWII is there, in the background, and Haigh's storytelling is wonderful. Her passages about the young girl who joins the Air Force are heartbreaking.

      Delete
  3. "Moving without soulcrushing" is very promising! This is the second good review I've read of this book, so I think it has to go on the TBR list! Thanks, Audra!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Col -- it's really worth picking up. I'm still thinking about the characters, I even reread the last few chapters to linger with the feel of the story, and I suspect this will rank high on my reads for the year. Would love to hear what you think of it if you end up picking it up!

      Delete
  4. meaty but not heard, yes I do like that now and again. But then I love it all :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is definitely a book lover's book -- lovely language and story and characters!

      Delete
  5. I just read an amazing review of this one the other day, and am so excited about it! I do think it's something that I would enjoy, and I have been wanting to try out something from Haigh for a long time. This was an excellent review, and I am so glad that you loved this one. It sounds perfect for me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heather, I think you'd love this one -- it's really such a fabu book. It's stuck with me!

      Delete
  6. I haven't read any of Ms. Haigh's books yet, but this one has been on my wish list. Your review of it reminds me of STORMY WEATHER by Paulette Jiles -- a good, solid story that gets you thinking without getting you down. Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gwendolyn -- I'm going to look for Stormy Weather because I do enjoy a story that doesn't hurt too much, if you know what I mean!

      Delete
  7. ooh perfect for the Immigrant Stories Challenge! I read Faith last year and thought it was excellent - it made my top books of 2011. Thanks for the great review and chance to win!

    ReplyDelete
  8. After just finishing Haigh's Faith a bit ago, she's definitely on my own Authors To Watch list! I absolutely loved her story -- heartbreaking, beautiful, memorable -- and definitely want to read her backlist soon. Baker Towers goes on the list!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My father's family is from coal country, and my parents were in the military, and Haigh's characters reminded me greatly of my family and our immigrant story. It was reassuring and moving to read this book -- such a delight.

      Delete
  9. I have never heard of this author before but this book sounds interesting. I will have to take more of a look at her works.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Ever since I read her terrific book Faith I have thought about reading Haigh's other books and got stuck on which one to read next! Thank you for helping me decide with your delightful review! The Condition sounds like the kind of book I love to read. I enjoy the way Haigh writes and I'm excited that this book stayed with you after you finished it and while you were reading it, too, making it a book you could put down and pick up again, falling right back into the story (as opposed to almost forgetting what the story was about!). You basically had me when you wrote that you were reminded of Ellen Feldman since I still think about Next to Love, a book I loved!
    I'm looking forward to your thoughts on Faith!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amy -- yours is one of the reviews that made me accept Faith for review -- I remember how much you enjoyed it. You totally need to pick up Baker Towers -- it's very much post-WWII, like Next to Love and reminded me greatly of that, in the best way. Delish!

      Delete
  11. This book intrigues me since its set in PA coal town, etc. during WWII. I like that time period and I think this would interesting to read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Serena -- I think you would love this book. It's very quiet, but intense at times, and really beautiful.

      Delete
  12. This is also an excellent audiobook. I listened years ago and loved it. The finer plot points are long forgotten, but I do remember the feeling it left. Must read, or listen to, Faith soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I bet it was a marvelous audiobook -- I could totally listen to it again. I really miss the feel of the story -- bittersweet.

      Delete
  13. I read Haigh's FAITH last year and was blown away by her writing. Sounds like I need to read more of her books!

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra. It's always a treat to see great reviews like this one!

    ReplyDelete
  14. This is the only book of hers they I haven't read and I'm not sure why I haven't. I really enjoy her writing and I'm glad to hear this is another good one for her. I'd love to be entered for a copy.

    darreads (at) gmail (dot) com

    ReplyDelete
  15. I was quite impressed with Jennifer Haigh's FAITH last year. I like the idea of Polish immigrants. I definitely want to pick this one up now.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I've never read anything by Jennifer Haigh, but this does sound good. And I admit that the Western PA setting definitely attracts me.

    ReplyDelete