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Pearlby Mary Gordon
"A penetrating novel called Pearl by Mary Gordon, explores the allure of political extremism in starkly personal terms. How glorious, Gordon asks, is the choice between ideals or death when a loved one is choosing suicide?....Gordon follows this crisis with deep respect for the difficulties involved and never arrives at anything like an answer, but the light she sheds along the way is very provocative." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
Synopses & Reviews
On Christmas night, 1998, Maria Meyers — a New York single mother with a radical past — receives a call from the State Department: her daughter, Pearl, who is studying abroad at Trinity College, Dublin, has chained herself to the flagpole outside the American embassy and has not eaten in six weeks. Pearl has written a statement saying that her hunger strike is an act of witness, marking the death of a young man in the aftermath of the contested Irish peace agreement — a death for which she feels personally responsible — and calling attention to the human will to harm. Maria, who has always congratulated herself on Pearl's impeccable liberal upbringing, must reexamine all her assumptions about Pearl as she boards a plane for Ireland, determined to prevent her daughter's death. At the same time, Joseph Kasperman, Maria's friend since childhood and Pearl's surrogate father, flies to Dublin from Rome to help.
In Pearl, Mary Gordon engages us in the lives of Maria, Joseph, and Pearl, flashing back to their complex histories: the conflicted experience with church and politics that shaped Maria in the 1960s; questions of responsibility and the nature of beauty that have shaped Joseph's understanding; the anguish of Pearl, the serious girl whose early inklings of the will to harm seem borne out in a world grown increasingly perilous.
"Gordon's latest novel opens in medias res on Christmas night in New York City with a phone call from the State Department. Maria Meyers's 20-year-old daughter, Pearl, supposedly studying linguistics for a year in Ireland, has chained herself to a flagpole outside the American embassy in Dublin. For reasons that are unclear, she has starved herself for six weeks and is now in serious danger of dying from dehydration. Without understanding Pearl's motivation for the hunger strike, Maria must try and save her daughter's life. Readers of Gordon's fiction (Spending; The Company of Women) and memoir (The Shadow Man) will recognize familiar themes in her latest book: Maria is a single mother raised as a Catholic by her converted Jewish father; she comes of age in the 1960s and trades her religion for that era's brand of critical thinking. Now, with her daughter dying, Maria must re-examine her faith, her parenting and her political ideals. Told by an unidentified first-person narrator, the story unfolds over the course of a few days. Even as the life-or-death crisis comes to a head, Maria and her best friend, Joseph, are busy tackling God, sacrifice, female autonomy and the meaning of happiness. The novel's conceit provides plenty of opportunities for philosophical musing, but given this set of morose and mostly unlikable characters, the relentless self-examination grows tedious. Agent Peter Matson at Sterling Lord Literistic. 7-city author tour. (Jan. 11)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Elegant prose, thought-provoking plot, mammoth themes — and sometimes slow-going." Kirkus Reviews
"Religion, political martyrdom, and thwarted dreams do battle with maternal desperation and cautious hope. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"All of [Gordon's] books are exquisite and penetrating, but in this riveting novel, her compelling characters and their spiritual quandaries, her profound inquiries into beauty, compassion, and forgiveness, and the sheer radiance of her prose are surpassingly suspenseful, brilliant, and affecting." Booklist
"Gordon gives God the third degree, in a demanding and rewarding brainy-brawny novel that complicates our understanding of the world instead of coarsening it, that seasons the senses instead of stupefying." John Leonard, The New York Times Book Review
From the acclaimed author of Final Payments comes a gripping novel of filial devotion and complication between a mother and daughter who, together and separately, must face the ultimate questions of life and death.
On Christmas night of 1998, Maria Meyers learns that her twenty-year-old daughter, Pearl, has chained herself outside the American embassy in Dublin, where she intends to starve herself to death. Although Maria was once a student radical and still proudly lives by her beliefs, gentle, book-loving Pearl has never been interested in politics–nor in the Catholicism her mother rejected years before. What, then, is driving her to martyr herself?
Shaken by this mystery, Maria and her childhood friend (and Pearls surrogate father), Joseph Kasperman, both rush to Pearls side. As Mary Gordon tells the story of the bonds among them, she takes us deep into the labyrinths of maternal love, religious faith, and Irelands tragic history. Pearl is a grand and emotionally daring novel of ideas, told with the tension of a thriller.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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