Visible Worlds: A Novel

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9780060929268: Visible Worlds: A Novel

In Visible Worlds, award-winning Canadian poet and playwright Marilyn Bowering has created a beguiling, multilayered novel that brings together two seemingly disparate stories as it traces the shattering personal consequences of war.

Visible Worlds begins in 1960, with the death of Nate Bone on a Winnipeg football field, as his family and friends stand by and watch. The story then shifts to the tundra of Siberia, where, at the same time, a young woman identified only as Fika is trying to make her way from the Soviet Union to freedom. As the novel unfolds, these two seemingly unrelated events--literally worlds apart--become key pieces in Bowering's astonishing fictional puzzle.

That puzzle is assembled by Albrecht Storr, one of twin sons of German immigrants, who becomes the primary narrator of the novel. Looking back to 1935, when he, his brother Gerhard, and Nate were children together, Albrecht slowly recounts a chain of extraordinary events set off when Nate, still suffering from the death of his sister, kidnaps an infant girl. That reckless, long undetected act leaves few lives unaffected, and will lead, a quarter of a century later, to Fika's remarkable journey across the spare, life-threatening, yet inconceivably beautiful frozen landscape.

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Review:

Marilyn Bowering's Visible Worlds introduces at least 12 characters, cuts from Winnipeg to Siberia to the North Pole, shifts back and forth in time from 1960 to 1934, and depicts three crucial deaths. And that's just the first 14 pages. There's more to come--much more--in this book that takes on the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean War, exploring their effects on three improbably intertwined families. The plot's remarkable contortions are too labyrinthine to describe here, but suffice to say they involve meteors, Nazis, several dead, deformed, and abandoned babies, personal magnetism, labor camps, polar exploration, the Odd Fellows, circus performers, and lots and lots of snow. Like her fellow Canadian Michael Ondaatje, Marilyn Bowering is primarily a poet, and her background shows: in the book's lovely imagery, in its striking economy of language, and also, perhaps, in its greatest narrative shortcoming. Ranging over four continents and nearly three decades, Visible Worlds often feels overly compressed, as if it wanted to be a longer, more leisurely book. On the other hand, this lyric compression gives the novel an almost violent intensity. With its complex web of settings, time periods, and plots, often connected by the most tenuous of threads, Visible Worlds feels like a fever dream yanked straight from the collective 20th-century unconscious. --Mary Park

About the Author:

Marilyn Bowering is a Canadian playwright, poet and novelist; her one previous novel was To All Appearances a Lady (1989)

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