White Oleander tree from Mercari.com

WHITE OLEANDER is the kind of novel that agents still talk about, over twenty years after it was published in 1999. As I was curious to see what they were talking about, I recently read it.

The agents were right. This is an amazing novel, not just for the outrageous but believable character of Ingrid Magnusson and her daughter Astrid, not just for the surprising plot twists and turns, but for the amazing prose style:

“What was the best day of your life?” she asked me one afternoon as we lay on the free-form couch, her head on one armrest, mine on the other. Judy Garland sang on the stereo, “My Funny Valentine.”

“Today,” I said.

“No.” She laughed, throwing her napkin at me. “From before.”

I tried to remember, but it was like looking for buried coins in the sand. I kept turning things over, cutting myself on rusty cans, broken beer bottles hidden there, but eventually I found an old coin, brushed it off. I could read the date, the country of origin.

It was when we were living in Amsterdam.”

What’s not to like about this book?

The ending.

I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like being left with two choices, two ways that this heartbreaking story might go. I thought that the author should have done that hard work for me.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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