San Francisco, 1970s. Free love has given way to radical feminism, psychedelic ecstasy to hard-edged gloom. The Zodiac Killer stalks the streets. A disgraced professor takes a downtown office to plot his return. But the walls are thin, and he’s distracted by voices from next door—his neighbor is a psychologist, and one of her patients dislikes the hum of the white-noise machine. And so he begins to hear about the patient’s troubles with her female lover, her conflicts with her adoptive WASP family, and her quest to track down her birth mother.
The professor is enraptured. And the further he is pulled into the patient’s recounting of her dramas—and the most profound questions of her own identity—the more he needs the story to move forward. The patient’s questions about her birth family have led her to a Catholic charity that trafficked freshly baptized orphans out of Germany after World War II. But confronted with this new self—"I have no idea what it means to say "I'm a Jew'"—the patient finds her search stalled.
Armed with the few details he’s gleaned, the professor takes up the quest and quickly finds the patient’s mother in records from a German displaced-persons camp. But he can’t let on that he’s been eavesdropping, so he mocks up a reply from an adoption agency the patient has contacted and drops it in the mail. Through the wall, he hears how his dear patient is energized by the news, and so is he. He unearths more clues and invests more and more in this secret, fraught, triangular relationship: himself, the patient, and her therapist, who is herself German. His research leads them deep into the history of displaced-persons camps, of postwar Zionism, and—most troubling of all—of the Nazi Lebensborn program.
With ferocious intelligence and an enthralling, magnetic prose, Ellen Ullman weaves a dark and brilliant, intensely personal novel that feels as big and timeless as it is sharp and timely. It is an ambitious work that establishes her as a major writer.
“An irresistible Hitchcockian page-turner, brooding and solipsistic.” (Publishers Weekly)
“By Blood is a poetic and masterful story that takes some unexpected turns. The prose suggests Poe and Kafka, which heightens the mysterious tone that surrounds both the professor and the client and gives the novel a timeless feel.” (Booklist)
“A rich, taut, psychologically nuanced novel…. A first-rate literary thriller of compelling psychological and philosophical depth.” (Kirkus Reviews)
We've sent an email with your order details. Order ID #:
To access this title, visit your library in the app or on the desktop website.
Story Lurches to a Stop, Leaving No Skid Marks
- Pamela Harvey "glam"
Plodding, anachronistic, and poorly read
What a dreadfully dull read. All the characters essentially had the same (Jane Austen era) narration style, and it made absolutely no sense at all. No "twist" in the second half (as some other reviewer suggested, and I blame that reviewer for time wasted in getting through this tripe), and no resolution. I can only assume that Ullman grew as bored with her story as the rest of us did.
What "genre" is this? Is the genre "Too lazy to actually research how people lived in the 1970s, so basically set in the 1990s plus a few historical plot devices that require the story to be set in the 1970s"? Maybe some of these things (the N-Judah as night owl bus, the answering machine, mail taking four days within San Francisco) weren't 100% impossible, but so many anachronistic elements were highly implausible.
And what a terrible reader. Or terrible audio-editor. Really, did no one think to tell him that "analysand" is pronounced "anALlisand" rather than the ridiculous and incorrect "anaLIEsand"? Or the more forgivable but no less wrong pronounciation of the German school, "Gymnasium," as "jimNAHsium" (like American exercise) rather than "gimNASium"?
Boring, boring, and unending. I will never rely on an Audible review again, particularly if the first half hour is as bad as this one.
I want my money back.