I only got through two books in February: one audiobook and one hard cover. However, both of these books were well worth the time it took to finish them. Both took the full 28 days to get through, and oh were they incredible! Without further ado…
Clocking in at 32 hours and 51 minutes, this is by far the longest audiobook I have ever listened to. The second longest was about 24 hours (“A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry). I dedicated the entire month to this book as it held my exclusive attention during my work commutes. I set aside all podcasts and all music (though I don’t usually listen to a ton of music anyway while driving) to get through “A Little Life” in 28 days.
Oh, this book. This book! It was so, so painful and powerful. It tells the fictional story of four male friends – Malcolm, JB, Willem, and Jude. They met in college when they were young, ambitious and (aside from Malcolm), poor. At first it appears that the story is equally about all four men, but it becomes clear that it’s really about one main character. I enjoy the shifting timelines which slowly and masterfully reveal bits about this character.
The entire story is told in conversations, the minutiae of everyday life, and it makes you feel like you were right along with the crew all along. And oh, boy, the characters. Each one is so marvelously crafted, and you truly feel an emotional attachment to them all. My favorite characters were Jude, Willem, and Harold. Seriously just saying their names brings tears to my eyes. The depth of the characters was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Also, I felt the audio version wonderfully depicted each character’s voice and helped me keep track of who was speaking because the speaker changed a handful of times.
You go through this book at times with a sensation of dread, at times with a sensation of hope, and many times with both at once. It had me crying on average once a day, and by the final part of the book which I finished while tucked in for the night literally on February 28, I was sobbing. Hysterical. Blubbering like a baby. Oh my God, but it was so good. My husband saved me from spiraling into an hour-long crying fest by cracking a joke and asking me why I do this to myself – ha!
I devoured multiple books reviews on Audible after finishing this book because I wanted to know how other people felt. Thousands upon thousands of reviews voiced what I myself felt about this book. A common thing many people said was that they loved this book but couldn’t recommend it – because they know it would destroy the reader just like it destroyed them! I totally understand that. So I’ll also say that I can’t recommend you read this book, but if you do, your heart will ache and you will marvel at the writing.
In the era of trigger warnings, this whole book is one massive trigger warning. Be forewarned! But if you have the heart to withstand it, this story of friendship and human connection is just going to knock you off your feet and keep you thinking about it (and probably crying about it) long after it’s done.
I picked this up from the library twice because I just couldn’t finish it in January when I first borrowed it. I’m so glad I stuck with it! This fictional story has elements of magical realism which I adore. It follows the story of Winnie, a half Vietnamese half white American girl who moves to Saigon to teach English and “find herself.” Winnie is quiet, understated, and tries to be as unnoticeable and plain as possible. She meets several characters along the way who end up linked through time and magic and fate to various characters from the past, and their ghost stories become entangled.
Once again, the shifting timelines from present to past to even further in the past make this story masterfully complex and captivating. I love the map of “Winnie’s Saigon” in the beginning of the story which is useful to reference when the setting shifts from location to location, and noticing where these locations are in relation to each other in the map. I still marvel at how intricate this story was and how every piece ultimately ties together.
I never considered myself a fan of ghost stories, but between this book and “The City of Good Death,” I think ghost stories of this caliber are a new favorite genre! I highly recommend this book and would love to hear your thoughts if you read it!