14 April 2014

Book Review: Ghostwritten by Isabel Wolff

"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?"

Rating: 5/5

You can buy Ghostwritten as a paperback or an eBook now.

Every so often, a book comes along that really moves and touches you, that you know you won't forget for a long time once you have turned the final page. These books tend to cover very emotional issues, something you can relate to or just a story that is so moving, you don't want to stop reading and being absorbed by it. Ghostwritten by Isabel Wolff is the latest book to be inducted into my hall of fame, books I know I will definitely want to read again at some point because it was so beautiful, so poignant that it made for perfect reading. It's a must-read from me, and here's why.

Jenni's a ghostwriter and she loves her job. She writes books from all genres, and when she stumbles across a new project that intrigues her, she knows it means she might have to face some of her own demons too. Jenni had something happen in her childhood that has shaped the adult she has become, but she knows now might be the time to face up to it once and for all. She gets to know Klara, the woman whose life story she is ghostwriting for now, and her tales of life on the island of Java during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War are shocking and unbelievable. Jenni is surprised by what she hears, and sets about writing Klara's story, and starts to lay the ghosts of both women's pasts to rest once and for all.

I'll be honest and say that I didn't know anything of the Japanese occupation of Java during the Second World War, so I was definitely interested to learn more about the topic. The book has 2 story threads running through it. There's the story in the present day of Jenni meeting Klara, and hearing her story, as well as Jenni's personal life problems too. There's something in Jenni's past we have hinted to us throughout the book, and as it is slowly revealed, it's quite shocking but very well handled. I felt Wolff writes Jenni perfectly - she's a sympathetic character, you certainly feel sorry for what she has been through, but I also wanted her to face up to her demons and be able to move past it.

The introduction of Klara's story breaks up the narrative somewhat, and this was definitely my favourite part of the book. Klara is a Dutch woman, who wants to tell the story of her childhood that she has never been able to speak of before. Jenni coaxes the horrifying tales out of her, and they are so brilliantly written, you really do feel like you're on Java with Klara and her family. The things the people there went through were horrific, Wolff doesn't shy away from the graphic details of what the people had to suffer at the hands of Japanese, it doesn't always make for easy reading, but it's certainly compulsive - I didn't want to put the book down when Klara was narrating. It's horrifying and upsetting to think of what the people had to suffer, and Wolff writes it so well, from the emotion to the descriptions of what went on and the places where they were forced to live.

The book reminded me slightly of Jodi Picoult's wonderfully emotive tale The Storyteller, due to the flashback narrative and recounting of a very different time period in history. Wolff's writing was a joy to read, her descriptions of events so evocative of the time, you feel immersed in the story, as if you're standing next to Klara as she is describing the horrors and heartache around her. The way Wolff links her tale with Jenni's own personal sadness is very clever, bringing the two tales together and allowing both women to exorcise their own demons in different ways. Both women were likeable, strong and independent, despite the things they have gone through, and by the end, I was sad to leave them behind. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, I loved every page, and Klara's devastating yet hopeful story will not fail to touch your heart. Simply brilliant.

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