Thursday, May 29, 2014

'The Blackberry Bush' by David Housholder

The Blackberry Bush
Who are you, and what are you doing here? Two babies Kati and Josh are born on opposite sides of the world at the very moment the Berlin Wall falls. You'd think such a potent freedom metaphor would become the soundtrack for their lives, but nothing could be further from the truth. Despite his flawless image, Josh, an artistic and gifted California skateboarder, struggles to find his true role in the world, and his growing aggression eventually breaks him. Kati, a German with a penchant for classic Swiss watches and attic treasure-hunting, is crushed with disappointment for never being enough for anyone most especially her mother.Craving liberation, Kati and Josh seem destined to claimt heir birthright of freedom together. After all, don't the chance encounters transform your life or are they really chance?

It's clear this is no ordinary novel from the moment Angelo introduces himself as our guide and tells us the story may change our lives. In his 'behind the story' interludes all through, he encourages us to search our family pasts for our own back-stories.

The main characters are two babies who were born simultaneously in 1989 as the Berlin Wall was being pulled down; Kati, a girl in Germany, and Josh, a boy in America. Although their paths rarely cross, they share the same great-grandfather.

My heart went out to Kati. She's a plain, shy girl whose loved ones (with the exception of her grandfather) always want her to do better, 'because they want the best for her.' Although willing to fulfill her mother's expectations, she feels she lacks the capacity. 'It's hard to like eye contact when other eyes aren't looking warmly at you.'

I like how her envy is shown as a natural, human emotion rather than the sin of self-pity. Girls like Kati find it hard enough to cope without being saddled with that accusation. I remember trying to live with the same feeling of reproach. She was inundated with comparisons all her life, first with her sister, Johanna, and later with her best friend, Zara. Her spirit is simply crushed.

Josh, by contrast, is a good-looking boy with a natural talent for art and extreme sport. His dilemma turns out to be obeying the implicit rule to pull back to the level of his companions and avoid excellence which shows them up by comparison.

The story scoots around in space and time. One moment, we're with either Kati or Josh, and the next, we may be sharing a moment at the other side of the world with their grandparents, Harald or Adri in the 1960s, or their great-parents, Walter or Nellie in the 1940s. Blackberry bushes make their appearance all through, tying the stories together. I'm sure there is loads of other symbolism too, and we could read the book ten times before we get it all. It's good that not all books are like this one, because they'd tire me out, but I enjoyed finding a story that sticks to no fixed paradigm.

As they were born in 1989, I was thinking the main duo would still be pretty young by the end, forgetting this isn't your average book. It takes us right to the year 2031. No such thing as time restrictions.

There are so many good lines to take away, uttered from the mouths of every character, but I'll just mention a few final conclusions from Kati and Josh which were good summaries.

'I no longer index my decisions around pleasing people and meeting impossible expectations. I decide based on an audience of One.... 'Special' always carries comparative baggage. Every human is infinitely and equally valuable. We don't raise that value by achieving more than others.'

4 stars

The Blackberry Bush available from Amazon

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