Long Live Revolution by Katy

Katherine Longshore Reply Tuesday, November 02, 2010
“Every generation needs a new revolution.”

So said Thomas Jefferson.  Having just finished Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution, I can’t help but wonder when he said this.  Because the power of Donnelly’s words and the detail in her historical research makes one hope that no generation echoes the violent political revolutions of the past.  But she also demonstrates the need for subtler and more beautiful revolutions – those of creative thought, social responsibility and personal growth.

Donnelly is best known as the author of historical novels, and winner of the Printz Honor for A Northern Light.  So her latest book is a bit of a departure and came as a surprise.  Set primarily in present-day New York and Paris, narrated by brilliant, troubled Andi Alpers, Revolution is completely different in voice and attitude.

What is not surprising to me, however, is the fact that Donnelly made me cry by Chapter 4.  She creates a vivid, completely identifiable character within the first few lines.  Despite Andi’s bitterness and casual near-cruelty in the first chapter, you sense her vulnerability and desperation.  In a few neat lines and entrancing phrases, Donnelly makes you feel for this character, a skill which leaves me slack-jawed with awe.

Not only this, but Jennifer Donnelly has done her homework and brings the French Revolution to light and to life.  She quickly and handily dispenses the basic history – Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, creation of the republic, the Terror, Danton, Robespierre, Bonaparte – while intertwining it with Andi’s story in the present and her thesis work on fictional 18th century guitarist Amade Malherbeau.  Then she delves more deeply into the emotional impact of the events leading up to the revolution, of the public guillotining, the destruction of the monarchy.  She indicates the ripples (or waves in this case) on the pond, the impact that the French Revolution had on the country, the world and the future.  And on Andi’s life.

This book is complex, studious, beautiful and brilliant.  I was completely immersed in Donnelly’s pitch-perfect character portrayal, her vivid setting description, attention to detail and rich, easy use of language.  Not only that, but any writer who references The Decemberists, The Ramones and The Smiths in a novel full of fastidiously researched history is definitely high on the scale of cool in my estimation.

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