Thursday, June 2, 2016

Book Review: The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

Media Type: Print Book (ARC)
Title: The Summer Guest
Author: Alison Anderson
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: Hardcover; 400
Release Date: May 24, 2016
Source: Publisher / TLC Book Tours
Genre: Historical Fiction

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who enjoy lush, descriptive writing with a beautiful take on the source material.

Add it on: Goodreads | Amazon | BookLikes
Blinded by a fatal illness, young Ukrainian doctor Zinaida Lintvaryova is living on her family’s rural estate in the summer of 1888. When a family from Moscow rents a cottage on the grounds, Zinaida develops a deep bond with one of their sons, a doctor and writer of modest but growing fame called Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. Intelligent, curious, and increasingly introspective as her condition worsens, Zinaida keeps a diary chronicling this extraordinary friendship that comes to define the last years of her life.

In the winter of 2014, Katya Kendall’s London publishing house is floundering-as is her marriage. Katya is convinced that salvation lies in publishing Zinaida’s diary, and she approaches translator Ana Harding about the job. As Ana reads the diary, she is captivated by the voice of the dying young doctor. And hidden within Zinaida’s words, Ana discovers tantalizing clues suggesting that Chekhov—who was known to have composed only plays and short stories—actually wrote a novel during his summers with Zinaida that was subsequently lost. Ana is determined to find Chekhov’s “lost” manuscript, but in her search she discovers it is but one of several mysteries involving Zinaida’s diary.

Inspired by fragments of historical truth, The Summer Guest is a transportive, masterfully written novel about an unusual, fascinating friendship that transcends the limits of its time and place. It’s also a contemporary story about two compelling, women, both of whom find solace in Zinaida and Chekhov as they contemplate all that’s missing in their own lives.

I began reading The Summer Guest with very little knowledge of Anton Chekhov. Ivanov was assigned reading in college, so I knew that he was a celebrated playwright and story story author. That, however, was the extent to which I was aware of Chekhov's background. I'll admit, that's one of the reasons why I accepted this book for review. I'm always fascinated by historical fiction that adapts the lives of artistic people. That line between fact and fiction blurs beautifully, and I hoped that Alison Anderson would introduce me to a Chekov that was both his real self, and perhaps a bit more.

There are three narrators who lead us through this glimpse into Chekov's life, and each of them was pleasingly different. While multiple points of view aren't always my favorite means of conveying a story, in this case it was a perfect fit. Zinaida's journal entries wove together the rich landscape of the Ukranian countryside, with her thoughts on the very jovial playwright staying on her estate. Katya's story complimented this expertly, as a way of showing Chekov's ideals brought to life. Even Ana's story was an important piece of the puzzle. Her passion for translation, coupled with the fact that this very journal was what pushed her to follow her dream, gave this story balance and depth.

In fact, it's hard not to feel a kinship to these three women, as Chekov's story affects them all in different ways. I especially enjoyed Zinaida's point of view, which is happily one of the main portions of this book. Watching the world come to life through her character, was humbling. Since Zinaida is blind, there are many discussions of the importance of stillness, of listening, of using senses other than sight. A vast amount of the lushness of this novel stems from Zinaida's outlook, and her more intimate discussions with Chekov. I was smitten, and I couldn't help but be caught up in all three of the stories being told as they slowly folded together.

This is a wholly impressive story. I am not, in general, much of a reader of historical fiction. It takes a very well written, and intriguing, story to catch my attention and keep me reading. The Summer Guest accomplished that quite handily. If you're looking for a summer read, I'd recommend this without a second thought.

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.


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