Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Bear in mind

Summer of the Bear addresses how one family copes with the death of a loved one. A diplomat in Bonn falls to his death from the top of a building; his widow, two teenage daughters, and developmentally challenged son spend their typical summer vacation at the family home in the Outer Hebrides, trying to come to terms with the mystery surrounding his demise. He helped smuggle someone out of East Germany, he was suspected of being a double agent, he helped fabricate reports. Did he commit suicide? Was he murdered?

Bella Pollen switches points-of-view between each of the characters, and does a fantastic job of capturing the growing pains of the children and the individual grief of each family member. The unexpected twist at the end brings peace to the reader as well as the family.

Through it all, an escaped grizzly bear roams the Scottish island, watching over the family. Could he be their father, sort-of reincarnated? It's the height of the Cold War; does the bear represent the threat of Russia, as the Ministry of Defence makes known its intention to mar the pastoral Hebridean community by building a military installation? Each character, including the bear, is so captivating and believable. And the narrative flow well: each family member has a piece of the puzzle, each has flashbacks that provide insight as the story progresses.

The book also draws from real life: Hercules the Grizzly really did escape and spend a month in the wild in the Hebrides. Pollen does a masterful job of weaving together elements of everyday life amid changing societies into a captivating tale.

Also, I've added another place to visit to my bucket list: the Outer Hebrides.

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