Leffland, Ella.

ISBN 10: 0688142710 / ISBN 13: 9780688142711
Published by New York: Morrow, (1999.) dj, 1999
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SIGNED hardcover first edition - First printing. A story of three pairs of people, ranging over three centuries from the late 1700s in Copenhagen to Chicago and Switzerland in the 1980s. The fifth novel by this writer who is not nearly as well known as she deserves to be, partially because each of her books is so different from the others, Dust jacket praise by Anne Tyler and Thomas Keneally among others. SIGNED on the title page. 311 pp. Fine in a fine dustjacket (a new, unread copy.). Bookseller Inventory # 16426

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Bibliographic Details


Publisher: New York: Morrow, (1999.) dj

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Dust Jacket Condition: Dust Jacket Included

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


Breath and Shadows is about three pairs of people who live in widely separated periods of time -- the late 1700s, late 1800s, and late 1900s. These people, as gradually becomes clear, are three generations of the same family, none of which has any knowledge of the other two. But there exists down through these far-flung generations a meshwork of cause and effect that reverberates all the way into the present.

The interrelatedness of these three pairs of people, the twining of their destinies, is the core of the book.

Though the novel takes place in three different centuries, it is rooted in such timeless attributes as social mores, class and money, as well as in historical events such as the battle at Leipzig, where Napoleon was crushed, and the ruins of Berlin in 1945.

These events are woven through the private lives of the characters, among whom are a lonely and young officer, a sculptress trying to find truth in the stone she works with, a man terrified of flying who forces himself to fly constantly, a woman who embodies the ineffable bond between an animal and a human being, and others responding to their world, their natures and their needs. It is a novel about the attempt of human beings to know the past, to know one another and to know themselves. It is about love, loss, sexual passion, human perception and the possibility that the search for goodness may be an act of insanity.


In Howard's End, E.M. Forster exhorts his readers to "only connect." In Breath and Shadows, Ella Leffland shows us how difficult that is to do. All of the characters in her elusive and exquisite fourth novel are connected, though none of them knows how truly intimate those bonds are. Spanning three centuries in the history of one family, Leffland presents us with three major characters: Thorkild the Counselor, a Danish dwarf already approaching the end of his life in the early 1800s; his great-granddaughter, Grethe Rosted, a young wife and mother living outside of Copenhagen in the 1880s; and Paula, their modern-day descendant, born in Illinois but living in Switzerland. Rather than organizing this generational tale chronologically, Leffland chooses to move back and forth between life stories, emphasizing for the reader a connectedness that the protagonists can only dimly understand. Grethe, for example, was orphaned at an early age and raised by relatives. She knows nothing about Thorkild and only a little about her grandfather, Thorkild's son, who escaped death as a child only to meet it on the battlefields in Napoleon's army. Wandering in her garden one day she muses:

If her grandfather had fallen a hairsbreadth differently, he would have perished on the fence spike, a child of tender age, without issue, a child with a child's seed dead before its journey. But for that millimeter her father would not have been born, she in turn would not have been born. Nothing. An eternal void.
Grethe understands that it is "only by the grace of a millimeter" that she is alive; she cannot know that her own grandchild will not even know that much about her. For Paula, just 10 months old when her mother left her father (Grethe's son), grew up never even knowing his name. It is for the reader to make those links that the characters never can: a grieving man's beloved only son becomes, in time, merely an anonymous paper silhouette on his great-granddaughter's wall; a young boy's "magic carpet" is barely rescued from the scrap heap 50 years later by an unknown daughter who will appreciate its beauty without ever understanding its significance. And with each succeeding generation still more will be lost until, at last, the only evidence of one's existence will lie solely in the genes. And yet Leffland's book is anything but depressing; we may all be "but breath and shadow, nothing more," but the fact that we choose to live at all in the face of oblivion is cause for celebration. --Alix Wilber

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Store Description - the name used by Volk and Iiams, Booksellers- specializes in first editions of twentieth century literature, with an emphasis on women authors, African American, Native American and Latin American authors - plus mystery & detective fiction, science fiction & fantasy, poetry and children's & illustrated books. We try to offer many uncommon books, and have a large selection of first books, and books by authors who are less frequently collected. Of the approximately 50,000 volumes in stock, the majority are hardcover first editions, although we also stock vintage science fiction paperbacks as well as sf digests and pulps. We also have a large selection of books signed by the author and uncorrected proof copies. Less than 50% of our stock is catalogued, so please inquire if you are searching for specific titles. Selling books by mail order and on the internet since 1993. We have a large booth dedicated to books (called Books Upstairs) at the Antiques Upstairs Mall, 5 Main Street, Jackson, CA. (open every day from 10-5) The emphasis there is on Western Americana, children¿s books and inexpensive reading copies. In 1998 we relocated our main business from Sacramento to the Sierra foothills of Amador County, about 35 miles east of downtown Sacramento and between Ione & Sutter Creek. There, on 10 acres of rolling oak-covered hills, we built a ¿bookhouse¿ for our books. When we are there, we welcome visitors by appointment (call 209-274-6960 or, in the US only, toll free at 1-877-bookfev or contact us by email Our web page is Traditional bookseller grading used - fine is our highest grade (an "A"), very good is above average (a "B), good is average (a "C"). All significant flaws are described; dust jackets are protected by archival covers, and books are packed carefully for shipping. We welcome questions by email or phone.

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Terms of Sale: is a partnership between Christine Volk and Eugene Iiams, Booksellers. Our mailing address is PO Box 696, Ione CA 95640 USA. Our store is located at 5 Main Street, Jackson, CA 95642 USA. Email: Phone: 209-274-6960. We accept Mastercard, Visa AMEX, Discover, checks or Paypal, whichever is most convenient for customers. Please contact us if you have any questions, or want to confirm availability. All dustjackets are in archival mylar covers, and books are packed ...

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Shipping includes insurance and/or delivery confirmation when appropriate. All dust jackets are covered with archival protectors. All books are PACKED CAREFULLY; we are also happy to gift wrap books (FREE) upon request, and to ship them with just a card. Prices shown include media mail shipping in the US and California sales tax, when required. An online bookseller since 1993, on ABE since 1997! While occasionally a book sells out, we only list books which we have in stock, and ready to ship. NOTE our low INTERNATIONAL RATES - Please do not hesitate to contact us to confirm availability or with any questions - we can be reached at or toll-free in the USA at 877*266*5338 (bookfev) or outside the US at 209*274*6960. Reciprocal terms offered to the trade on direct orders only. Libraries and other institutions may request to be invoiced.

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