Too Deep for Tears (LLB's favorite book)
By Kathryn Lynn Davis, 1989 (1995 reissue), Historical Fiction
Pocket Books, $4.50, ISBN #0671725327
Followed by All We Hold Dear and Somewhere Lies the Moon

Sensuality:Subtle

Before you begin reading Too Deep for Tears, make sure you have a lot of time ahead of you, because once you have started you will not be able to lay aside this wonderful and compelling book for a long time. It is truly an unforgettable reading experience, so lean back, enjoy and let Kathryn Lynn Davis' lyrical writing work its magic. She really is a master storyteller, and I savoured each word. But beware: this is a major two-hanky read, so keep those tissues within reach!

The plot of Too Deep for Tears is complex, and a brief summary can hardly do it justice. Kathryn Lynn Davis weaves a tapestry of the lives of three women, the daughters of British diplomat Charles Kittridge, who were raised in three different countries and cultures. The book, which truly resembles an epic, is divided into four distinct books, the first three of which tell the stories of the girls' adolescence and initiation into womanhood.

Book I is set in Scotland, and the first few lines will immediately transport you back in time to the wild and beautiful Scottish Highlands. Kathryn Lynn Davis conjures up vivid images of mountains shrouded in mist, lochs glistening in the sun, and glens surrounded by a lush vegetation. You can almost smell the heather, hear the song of the wind and feel the dewy grass beneath your feet.

In 1840, on the night before Charles Kittridge's return to London, his wife Mairi conceives their daughter Ailsa. Mairi, a creature of the Highlands, is unable to leave her home for her husband's sake and stays behind. Ailsa is equally bound to the land of her birth and especially to her childhood sweetheart and soulmate Ian Fraser. Yet she cannot contain her yearning for the wide world beyond the Highlands. On an impulse she consents to marry William, an Englishman who is captivated instantly by her unbridled and otherworldly spirit, so diametrically opposed to his own personality, which is constrained by conventions and etiquette. Ailsa moves to London, which threatens to stifle her. Even after she has managed to make herself at home there, a part of her longs to return to Scotland.

After reading Book I, I was almost reluctant to leave Ailsa again. I could hardly believe that I would enjoy the other books as much as the first one, but Kathryn Lynn Davis knows how to evoke an atmsophere that draws you into the story. I found myself equally intrigued with the setting of Book II - China. Again you absorb this exotic and colorful land with all your senses. You come to admire its beauty and ancient wisdom, but you also feel the oppression of women, and the terror of the despotic king and his ubiquitous army. Li-an's story is tragic. Despite the support of her strong and caring mother, she suffers from being branded an outcast for her blue eyes, her father's blatant legacy. She only enjoys a short time of happiness with Chao, a political dissenter, until her bliss is cruelly disrupted and she has to flee to the mountains to escape persecution.

Genevra, the heroine of Book III, which is set in colonial India, is also a somewhat tortured character. She is desperate to keep at bay the demons of depression that defeated her mother and caused her to abandon her daughter. Still in the throes of adolescence, she seeks her place in life, which is particularly difficult for her since she is the victim of repeated harassment for being an illegitimate child. She hopes to find a home in India, which she loves for its carefree and unpredictable spirit, but at the same time she cannot quite deny her British heritage. At once fascinated and frightened by some of India's traditions and rituals, she eventually turns to British soldier Alex for solace.

One day, like her sisters, she receives a letter from her father, asking her to join him in Scotland, where he retired to die. Book IV describes the reunion of Ailsa and her mother, and the first meeting between father and daughters, and between the three sisters, who have always been linked by some deep inexplicable bond and who have been haunted by their father's image all their lives. Now they have to come to terms with their heritage and face their feelings of resentment, bitterness, anger and love for their father, who was forced to leave them before they even knew him. Book IV is arguably the most emotional of them all, even though each book is perfect in itself.

You find richly drawn characters, beautifully developed mother - daughter relationships, memorable descriptions of nature and people, and intense emotions in Too Deep for Tears. The one thing you will not find is a happy ending in the traditional sense. Still I did not feel bereft or disappointed, but rather eager to find out more about those wonderful characters. Before I started reading the book, I wondered about its title, which is actually taken from a poem by Wordsworth. After finishing the book, however, I understood: some of the characters' experiences and emotions, and many of the scenes you will read are simply too intense, too moving, too deep for tears.

--Vivien Fritsche

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