Synopses & Reviews
“Take the advice of no one,” August Kleinman’s mother says to him while August is still a young boy in Germany, and with these words to guide him, he escapes Nazi Germany and goes on to build a fortune, a family, and life on his own terms in America. At the defining moments that reveal character and shape fate — a shocking encounter with a Japanese soldier in a cave during World War II, the audacious decision to start a brewery in Pittsburgh and a violent reaction against threats to its independent success, a vacation in Barbados, during which his beloved wife mysteriously wanders off, the birth of his grandson — August’s instincts are determinative in a way that illuminates how lives unfold at the deepest levels. This is a brilliant, suspenseful, surprising novel by one of America’s finest writers. Publisher’s Weekly called Ethan Canin’s For Kings and Planets “Masterful … a classic parable of the human condition,” and the same can be said about Carry Me Across the Water.
"This work has a resonance and precision that can come only when native storytelling ability and craftsmanship search out the deepest truths. Canin deserves a wide readership because he shows that truth even the truth that comes with age and experience is not boring." Publishers Weekly
Sadness suffuses Ethan Canin's Carry Me Across the Water
. But it's not
the sort of sadness that makes you cry.
It's the sort of sadness that makes you quiet. The sort of sadness that might
spring from, say, staring at a body of still, still water and seeing scenes
from a long life flicker across its glinty skin. Though the life may not be
yours, its lessons may.
Since his debut story collection, Emperor of the Air, was published
when Canin was 27, he has been known as a young writer with a startling ability
to write like an old writer (a perspective sharpened, presumably, after years
treating patients as a doctor). In Carry Me Across the Water, Canin's
fifth book, he again presents an elderly protagonist: August Kleinman, an entrepreneur
of advancing years. Born in Germany to a wealthy man and a wise woman, both
Jewish, Kleinman escapes with his mother as the Nazis rise to power, makes his
way to Brooklyn, N.Y., and begins his new American life.
His story, told in flashes through the years, is not unusual: Here's Kleinman
learning to play football, surprising himself with his own aggression. Here
he is fighting for his country overseas. Here he is falling in love with a woman
from the same neighborhood but a vastly different culture (an Italian Catholic).
His is the prototypical immigrant story of the boy who leaves behind the old-country
ways, all the while preserving some of its values. He leaves home with his bride,
starts a business (a brewery), works hard, raises a family, gets rich. Then
he loses his beloved wife, retires, grows distant from his children, finds his
own health growing increasingly undependable and discovers that money is a poor
companion for an old man.
Although the outlines of the story may not sound so fresh, the telling of it
is. Canin's prose is direct and evocative, even managing to render the book's
vaguely hokey main plot device Kleinman has a wartime secret; now, in old
age, he has a chance to right a few of his life's wrongs rather captivating
as it plays itself out.
Kleinman's life credo "Take the advice of no one" bestowed upon him by
his mother, has rendered him a self-reliant survivor (in business, in war, in
love) but, alas, somewhat isolated. Fiercely in control of his own actions,
Kleinman is nevertheless consistently mystified by his emotions. And his distance
from his own feelings for he, too, seems to be watching his life unfold as
if it were happening to someone else allows us to gauge their effects, rippling
beneath the surface.
We watch, for instance, as he and his youngest son, Jimmy, stumble through
their awkward father-son conversations, two men who have never been able to
fully understand each other. Each one is hopeful, dutiful, yet neither can quite
move past the fundamental difference in approach that has separated them all
along. The exacting father and the bashful son are trapped in their permanent
loop of misapprehension in a way that is so real, so painful, we'd like nothing
more than to plunk a hand in and bring these two men together.
But, of course, we can no more do that than they can, and so, like them, we
just stand witness, helpless, as the pattern plays itself out. And like them,
we hold out hope that something the future, the next generation will bridge
the gap and carry them to each other, and to a clearer understanding of themselves. Amy Reiter, Salon.com
A young boy escapes Nazi Germany and goes on to build a fortune, a family, and life on his own terms in America. At the defining moments that reveal character and shape fate, August's instincts are determinative in a way that illuminates how lives unfold at the deepest levels. This is a brilliant, suspenseful, surprising novel by one of America's finest writers.