Monday, November 25, 2019

We are All That's Left: A Review and a Great Audio CD for You

Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef who won BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME from last week's blog.


always enjoy sharing amazing books and a young adult author who I'm unfamiliar with. That's what you'll find if you read, or listen to, Carrie Arcos' book, We Are All That's Left (Philomel, 2018).  Both narrators, Laura Knight Keating and Elisabeth Rodgers, perform the book with clarity, fervor, and excellence. (Please keep in mind that quotes may not be exact; I took notes as I  did other tasks.)


Told in dual points of view, Ms. Arcos provides readers with an intimate look at the effects of the Bosnian War as well as a very personal experience with modern day terrorism. If you're not familiar with this civil war, you might want to read about it first.

The book opens with a view of the River Drina and the bridge that crosses it. The bridge plays an important part in the story and also symbolizes the connection between Zara and her mother, Nadja. 

Quickly, the reader discovers that Zara feels shut out from her mother's life. Although Zara knows that her mother lived through the Bosnian War and she hears the screams from her nightmares, Nadja never speaks about it. Zara doesn't go anywhere without her camera, but her mother can't stand the sound of a camera clicking. Zara concludes, We have nothing in common except our sea green eyes.

Then, a terrorist attacks.

On a summer day, Zara and her brother Benny are at a farmer's market with their mother. Without warning, a bomb goes off, their lives are shattered, and Zara is left holding her mother's yellow ballet slipper.

At that point, the novel switches to Nadja's story in 1992. She's a teenager in love with a Serb teen photographer, Marco. They both plans to study in Sarajevo. And even though they are different ethnically, who cares? They are both Bosnians.

Then, war breaks out

The story flits back and forth between the present in which Zara deals with severe physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological wounds, and Nadja's heart-rending, horrific story. Nadja is in a coma as a result of the attack and Zara experiences a wide range of emotions. Their silence seems no different than what is normal between them, but Zara fears that her mother will die and they'll never truly know each her. 

Before the attack, Zara had enrolled in a photography class. Although she feels like a freak with bandages across her face, she decides to attend. Each student must create a photo story. The instructor prompts: "What do you want the viewer to feel? Look for stories around you. What story are you in?"

Zara finds a box full of old letters and photos that Marco took. She feels like she's discovered a treasure which leads her to anger and grief over the grandparents (and uncle) she never knew. I’ve peaked over an abyss I didn’t know existed.

The book holds a sense of timelessness. The events are different in time and place, but Zara grapples with the violence her mother experienced and the ISIS attack against her community haunt her day and night. My emptiness is all that's left. 

Zara meets Joseph who is also searching for meaning in suffering. Zara wonders how God allows terrorist attacks. Joseph shares his spiritual journey, but more than anything, becomes a friend with whom Zara can unburden herself. By listening and understanding he helps Zara put back together the pieces of her broken self and her shattered life. 

I listened to this at the same time that I was reading For Black Girls Like Me. Mother abandonment is a theme in both books and both fathers are overwhelmed and not quite sure how to help their daughters. At one point Zara's father tells her: "People fear what they do not know." Even though it is true, that hardly satisfies her emotionally.  

Zara's photography teacher asks the class to consider their photo stories and ask, "What is the character’s narrative and is it true?" Her photography project bridges the gap between mother and daughter and brings healing to their relationship. 

When Nadja comes out of the coma, Zara spends hours in the hospital talking to her and hearing her mother's story. Zara concludes, "Maybe God is love. I have no choice but to use the suffering. Love and forgiveness go hand in hand. I survived and am still surviving." 

Here is an audio snippet so you can sample this powerful book. 


I'm going to give away this book in conjunction with the January issue of Talking Story on Eastern Europe. Leave me a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll add your name to the list. Hang in there--this book is worth waiting for. But if you don't want to wait until then, get a copy now for yourself or the young adult reader in your life! (Continental United States only.) Giveaway ends January 20.


Theresa Milstein said...

Sounds like a powerful and complex book!

Danielle H. said...

This book is so relevant to our world and will definitely spark faith conversations.

Linda Phillips said...

Thanks for the review and I 'l'm putting it on my list!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks LInda, Danielle, and Theresa. It is a complicated book and so well done!

Rosi said...

This does sound like an amazing book. I will put it high on my TBR list. Thanks for such a compelling review.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Oh my goodness! I wanted to win this but I see I won't qualify! Looks so good, Carol!

Sandra Warren said...

Sounds like a powerful, relevant story that unfortunately parallel's the times. We have to remember that people, regular citizens, get caught in the war games people play.

Great job, Carol.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Sandra. It is a powerful story. I hope you read or listen to it.

Carol Baldwin said...

Rosi, your name goes on the list. It is a great book.

Sarah's Book Reflections said...

War is evil, as is prejudice. I wish there was a way to overcome both, but I've yet to see it. Every time I think we've learned better I turn out to be wrong. But still I try to hold on to the belief we can make things better.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Sarah. I'm afraid to late for the giveaway, but you should get this book.

Keturah Lamb said...

Oh, please enter me! I love books like this, especially audio books.

MB> keturahskorner.blogspot
PB> thegirlwhodoesntexist

Carol Baldwin said...

You would love this book, Keturah!

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