The Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck

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The Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This is a sweeping narrative about one particular young woman living in particularly chaotic times. She faces many challenges and uphill struggles in her life - but can the positive win over the negative - can she turn her life around?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099524236

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When I read the international bestseller on the front cover, as in this novel, my expectations are raised a notch or two. So, would this book meet those expectations? Franck gives the reader a short prologue and we see Helene, the main character of the novel, living in her middle-years. We know she has a husband who is carrying out some very important and crucial work for his country; his beloved Germany. The book is set in 1945 and Germany is in chaos. And Helen's young son has seen sights no 7 year old should witness. It's the stuff of nightmares. Their lives are also in chaos not to mention extreme danger and as a single parent who's at her wit's end she makes a monumental decision.

The reader's then taken right back in time to Helen's childhood. She and her sister Martha are close. Their mother's mental health is not so good and here Franck gives us many instances of her erratic and strange behaviour. The two sisters endure a rather haphazard and unhappy childhood and have to grow up pretty quickly in order to keep an eye on mother. It's an exhausting, distressing and thankless task for two young girls. Especially for Helene. She's seen as being too clever for her own good. Why would anyone want to bury their nose in a book when there's dusting to be done, her mother constantly thinks? The two girls put up with all of this as best they can,. But it all becomes too much. They leave home and almost overnight their lives are transformed. But are they happy? Can they forget the past? How will mother cope? The girls try to blend in with their new, shiny lives and Franck again gives the reader plenty of occasions of their transition, shall we say.

But alongside all of this, Franck also gives us numerous examples of this new, luxurious lifestyle. It is rather bitter-sweet. And as Helene grows into a young woman it's almost as if for every three steps forward she takes, she stumbles back four. Her encounters with the opposite sex leave much to be desired. She comes to view herself as a second-class citizen (in more ways than one) leading an unfulfilled life. At every turn where she tries to better herself, she seems to come crashing down. Is any of it worth the hassle?

And of course this personal story is played out against the backdrop of war-torn Germany. It's also the period when the Jewish people were being hounded and persecuted. Franck gives us more than enough distressing instances of their plight; the hunger, the fear, the violence towards them. This all makes for a rather melancholic read, as you might expect. The book's central theme, if you like, is all about Helene's emotional roller-coaster of a life. How much can one human being suffer in their lifetime? Helene has had a dreadful start in life and it doesn't appear to be getting much better.

The latter part of the novel introduces Helen's husband to the reader. A monster. And page by painful page we are given the details of her pitiful life with him. But she's an intelligent woman. Can she possibly make any meaningful changes in her life? And, has her huge decision involving her only son been worth it? A reflective book on human suffering, fortitude and courage.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Restitution by Eliza Graham and West by Julia Franck and Anthea Bell (translator).

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Buy The Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck at


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