Apart from Love contains two threads, volume I and II of Still Life with Memories, woven together (along with two new chapters) around the same events in 1980, when Ben returns to meet his father, Lenny, and his new wife, Anita. It is then that he discovers a family secret.
My Own Voice (volume I of Still Life with Memories): Ten years ago, when she was seventeen, Anita started an affair with Lenny, in spite of knowing that he was a married man. Now married to him and carrying his child, she finds herself condemned to compete with Natasha's shadow, the memory of her brilliance back in her prime, before she succumbed to early-onset Alzheimer's. Despite Anita's lack of education, her rough slang, and what happened to her in the past, Lenny tries to transform her. He wants her to become Natasha. Faced with his compelling wish, and the way he writes her as a character in his book, how can Anita find a voice of her own? And when his estranged son, Ben, comes back and lives in the same small apartment, can she keep the balance between the two men, whose desire for her is marred by guilt and blame?
The White Piano (volume II of Still Life with Memories): Coming back to his childhood home after years of absence, Ben is unprepared for the secret, which is now revealed to him: his mother, Natasha, who used to be a brilliant pianist, is losing herself to early-onset Alzheimer's, which turns the way her mind works into a riddle. His father has remarried, and his new wife, Anita, looks remarkably similar to Natasha, only much younger. In this state of being isolated, being apart from love, how will Ben react when it is so tempting to resort to blame and guilt? "In our family, forgiveness is something you pray for, something you yearn to receive—but so seldom do you give it to others." What emerges in this family is a struggle, a desperate, daring struggle to find a path out of conflicts, out of isolation, from guilt to forgiveness.
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A Literary Masterpiece!
I already have, several times actually. This book is totally out of my usual genre (mysteries/thrillers) and probably falls most squarely in the literary fiction category, but I was completely blown away by its beauty and pathos. The quality of the writing is absolutely top notch, and when that is coupled with two supremely talented narrators, the combination is riveting.
I loved the current tense in which the vignettes were told, alternating between Anita and Ben, and the immediacy of the sensations one experiences when listening. The voices are so authentic, the dialog just perfect. I am so in awe of David Kudler's ability to interpret the written word. He is astoundingly good. And Heather Jane Hogan is equally as talented - her Southern accent was impeccable! I've become instant fans of both narrators.
That's really tough, because I loved Anita, Ben, Lenny, and the three aunts. But I guess if I was forced to choose, I'd pick Anita. She was so honest and real, no pretenses. She'd been through so much. My heart broke for her in many scenes.
So many moments... but I think one of the most moving was when Ben went to visit his mother in the nursing home. So sad, so heartfelt...
I really loved this book, and I think it should win lots of literary fiction awards. It's just so powerful. But I didn't like the ending! Too much was left open, and I didn't get that warm, fuzzy feeling I crave. (Okay, so I'm a happy ending kind of guy). I think it could have ended shortly after Ben was kicked out of the house - this might have been a good point if there was not to be a happy ending! Aside from being disappointed that I didn't get to see the characters living happily at the end of the story, this book, its amazing narrators, and the beautiful scenes will stay with me for many years to come.
- Aaron P. Lazar
The characters truly come to life
Full of Surprises
I had already read Apart From Love before listening to the audio version and I had previously found myself amazed by the author's brilliant story telling when I read it. With the audio book, it may have seemed clearer that they were recording themselves but it is hard to say since I had read the book already. Anita and Ben jumped out at you with their quirky personalities shining through their voices.
The show of emotion was wonderful for both Kudler and Hogan.
Ben and Anita are the most memorable characters in this complex story.
- Christian Ashley