Reviewed by Amelie L.

“Because truth is capricious. It may be hovering there all the while, but one moment you think you see it-it seems so clear, so well defined, as if you could catch it and hold it steady in your hand. But the next moemnt it’s gone, or at least so fast moving it’s a blur, at best. That’s the thing Africal taught me about truth. Your know it’s truth because it’s busy. Any seeming truth that’s idle? Well that’s just not truth.” – Amaryllis in Blueberry

I resisted choosing Amaryllis in Blueberry, worried that three characters sharing the same first name, “Mary'” would be too confusing. How would I remember which was which, who was who?

It doesn’t take long. These women are drawn so eloquently and with such atention to the finer details of their middle names-Grace, Tessa and Catherine, that it becomes as clear as the blueberry eyes of the single sister named Amaryllis, whose Mary hides inside her full name and is called Yllis. Their mother is Seena, short for Christina and their father, Dick.

In many ways Amaryllis in Blueberry is a book about strong, interesting women and the men who fall under their spell. The story winds its way through geography, morality, truth, beliefs, and finally, ultimately, love, with both a visceral beauty and spellbinding tension. It takes on life’s big questions and answers them by not, leaving us to ask and answer for ourselves, or maybe, more genuinely, just keep wondering.

The sense of place, whether it is the mirror lake of Danish Landing, Michigan or the dusty red clay of Avone, West Africa, is rich and vivid. Where one holds depression and predictability, the other brins joy-a constant surprise. America, the land of plenty, seems to miss the real point of life while West Africa, as poor as the dirt that creeps into every crevice, overflows with vibrant color and a pulsating appreciation for the gift that is walking the earth.

[amazonify]1439156891[/amazonify]The white bread boredom of one’s subruban predictability breeds almost scripted sinning and is powerfully juxtaposed against the other’s outrageous rituals that reek of danger. The contrast and foreigness goes deeper with every page and leads us, along with this family, into new insights and understandings. One is simple, black and white, rich and poor, the other a riot of color and culture that appears primitive but for that very reason leaves us questioning our values and judgements. What is right what is wrong, sacred or profane? We are initiated into a humbling understanding much as the girls and their parents are, left to embrace life for its mysteries. Africa is fascinating and dangerous, dark shot through with brilliant, wise light.

There is forbidden love here, one that tests faith and hides in plain sight. There is murder and proof of a mother’s love, powerful but also ambivalent, torn between what is and what could be. Reading this book I felt the pull was really between what we take for granted and Africa, or those things we may never be able to understand only sense. Like Yllis, we become sentient, drawn into the spell of color, form, sound.

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down which is, perhaps the highest praise for any piece of literature. It is beautifully written and fully realized, wrapped in spirituality but never preachy.

Rating: 5/5

Amelie lives and works on a pond in Cape Cod. She shares her home with her husband and two sons and both reads and writes whenever possible. Her ‘day job’ is in social services.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Gallery Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.