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Raw, evocative, fierced and relenteles are some of the adjectives that have been used to describe this book. Aquarium can also be described as a coming of age story, which are not particularly rare, but I am sure this is by far the most emotionally intense I've ever read.
This is my first novel by Alaskan-born author David Vann, who does an amazing job at recreating the story of Caitlin, an earnest 12 year-old girl that lives with Sheri, her single mom - a docker at the local container port - in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle.
Caitlin now on her early 30s, narrates and looks back on her life with a sense of longing and nostalgia. Reading her story helps us remember the limited perspective a child has on life and how terryfing it can be to be at the mercy of the adults that surround you and take decisions on your behalf.
The story centers around Caitlin daily visits to the Seattle Aquarium. She goes there every day after school to wait for her mother to pick her up after her shift is over. She is fascinated by the fish and dreams of becoming an ichthyologist in Australia or Indonesia. The aquarium becomes a magical place, with all its beautiful creatures, and provides a wonderful setting that allows her to escape the harsh realities of her life, her loneliness and her mother's bitterness and anger.
Aquarium raises many issues, but at its core it questions how our parents and the choices they made shaped who we are and how we defined ourselves.
Aquarium also addresses the inextricably connection between poverty and happiness and how it can affect every aspect of a person's existence. Money does not guarantee happiness but the chronic lack of it can certainly crush anybody's mind and spirit.
It's difficult to provide more details of this story without undermining the experience for other readers, but I should finally say that althought this book contain scenes that are almost unbereable ugly and shocking, it is also a story about redemption, empathy and forgiveness.
I admit to probably missing some of the symbolism and aquatic metaphors on Aquarium, but overall this book fascinated me and I cound't stop reading it.
On a final note, I initially downloaded the audiobook version of the book but quickly realized that this was a very visual book so I decided to get the electronic version as well. I ended up listening and reading at the same time, Julia Whelan, the audiobook narrator does an amazing job with the characters in Aquarium. It's not an accident that Julia was chosen the 2014 audiobook narrator of the year by the editors at Audible.
Althougt I highly recommend this book I don't think that it works too well as an audiobook by itself.
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