Ghostwritten - Isabel Wolff
From the publishers blurb ....
A childhood mistake. A lifetime of regrets.
Jenni is a ‘ghost’: she writes the lives of other people. It’s a job that suits her well: still haunted by a childhood tragedy, she finds it easier to take refuge in the memories of others rather than dwell on her own.
Jenni has an exciting new commission, and is delighted to start working on the memoirs of a Dutchwoman, Klara. As a child in the Second World War, Klara was interned in a camp on Java during the Japanese occupation – she has an extraordinary story of survival to tell.
But as Jenni and Klara begin to get to know each other, Jenni begins to do much more than shed light on a neglected part of history. She is being forced to examine her own devastating memories, too. But with Klara’s help, perhaps this is finally the moment where she will be able to lay the ghosts of her own past to rest?
Isabel Wolff - you made me cry myself to sleep!! What a moving and haunting account of how two women's lives are moulded by tragedy and loss.
I received a copy of this book to review, not knowing a great deal about it apart from the beautiful cover and the blurb above, and am delighted to say it really blew me away. Firstly, it's written in one of my favourite styles - a dual time story where there are 2 parallel stories one in modern day and one in the past which are very closely and cleverly interlinked by the character Jenni, the eponymous ghostwriter (OK the author has something to do with the expertise too)
In fact, its almost a triple time story as we begin it with a short section set around 20 years before the modern day story where children are playing on a beach and one tragedy begins to unfold before our eyes, although the full details are only revealed bit by bit throughout the book.
The parallel storylines are those of Jenni who ghostwrites books for people who have a story to tell, but no skill in writing, she can transcribe other peoples work but has little desire to write or even think about her own experiences and doesn't want her name in lights, she is quite a shy character, somewhat lacking in confidence although she is quite strong in her own way and I warmed to her, gently. She is commissioned to write the memoirs of an elderly lady Klara who has never before told even her own family, fully about her past when as a child she was incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in Java, now Indonesia.
Jenni has accepted this fascinating commission before she realises that in order to take it she must travel to a small resort in Cornwall where she spent childhood holidays and hoped never to return to. I don't think anyone will accuse me of spoilers to say it is easily apparent that her reticence is in some way connected to the childhood event right at the beginning of the book.
It was with Klara I really connected, possibly because the main story is told in her words and we get more vivid descriptions. Told in the voice of an older woman but in the perspective of a young girl, the beautiful descriptions of life in Java before the occupation and the terrible deprivations in the camps draw you in and are amazingly and deeply realistic and moving, yet with a gentle innocence reminiscent of "The Book Thief" which makes it all the more haunting and harrowing yet never too graphic.
As the relationship between the two women develops as one tells her story and tries to get to know the author to whom she is baring her soul it becomes obvious that there is a kinship between them born of childhood tragedy and little by little the story builds to a rich and rewarding climax.
Readers of previous books by Isabel Wolff will be glad to hear there is just a little hint of romance in the story, but this does really take a back seat to the importance of the story, which deals with some truly harrowing issues sensitively and emotionally.
The joy is in the immaculately researched history this story is enriched with. You live 2 complete lives whilst reading it and if you finish it without shedding a tear or two you're made of harder material than I am.
Stunning and beautiful.