Cities of Refuge by Michael Helm

Jill's Review

Cities of Refuge by Michael Helm was a bit polarizing in the Stafford household (see Zac's take below for his reaction to this book). To be honest, it took me a while to get into the book and then I had some moments where I had no idea what was going on. There's a lot going on here and sometimes I just needed to be ok with not fully understanding. 

The story follows the attack of a young woman and the reactions of those around her to said attack. Her reaction, her mom's reaction, her father's reaction and the consequences thereof are all intertwined. Mixed with this is some bit of "mysterious" history of the father's activity in South America during a coup that the daughter uncovers. Meanwhile, the family life of the victim of the attack is usual, but not - her father left when she was young and her mother remarried. The two men are both academics, the father looming large in his field, and the step father just sort of "existing". It's an odd dynamic that showcases itself in the fact that the father and stepfather have very similar names, the father seems to sort of invite himself into the house when he feels, and the daughter is sort of caught in the middle. None of this really served to move the story about their reactions to the attack forward, in my opinion. It was interesting background, but also sort of distracted. When the vague details started arising about the father's past, is where things really became confusing. This is where I lost it a bit, but continued forth. I think there are some subtleties to the book that I missed and that may have made it a more interesting read. Even so, I found myself thinking about the characters and "seeing" the scenes as written by Helm. Overall I would cautiously recommend Cities of Refuge - partially because I found the subject of being attacked disturbing, but that's a sensitive topic for me. 


Zac's review

I was the one who insisted on buying this book. I don't remember where we bought it. I think London? 

I used to feel obliged to finish a book once I started it, which is why in the past I would have 1/2 dozen books unfinished on my nightstand. I would read until it didn't captivate me and then move onto another one that seemed more interesting. Eventually I would force myself to read through novels I didn't like, but it was like making a kid eat broccoli.

We have a limited amount of space in our bags, so the books we buy have to serve both of us in some measure. That's why we each review the books here - because we generally both read them - before dumping them around the world. 

I've given up on that line of thinking. I'm under no obligation to continue a novel if I don't like it. I don't have time for that shit. One of my teachers talked about the levels of work required by both the author and the reader. If the author does too much work for you, the novel is boring and a breeze. If they require you to do too much work, they lose a readers interest.

I feel that Michael Helm and I started out with a good balance of work between us. The novel started out interesting. There was action, interesting characters, some development of their personalities, but after a certain point the novel became too much of an interior landscape of these characters thoughts and feelings. There were too many minor characters that came and went, diary entries and imaginings that were hard to distinguish from thoughts and actions. It all became an uninteresting blur that I had no vested interest in bringing into focus.

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