Guardian by Joe Haldeman
It is the nineteenth century and Rosa, who lived through the aftermath of the Civil War, falls in love with a man that changes her whole life. He is charming and deeply dangerous and, through a series of events, she embarks with her son on a journey towards Alaska in search of gold traveling ever closer to a moment that would change her life, and her son’s, forever. In that moment, Rosa learns more about herself and her world than she ever dreamed and this knowledge has consequences that will ripple throughout the rest of history.
The very beginning of this book intrigued me in two ways. The first was the prologue. From the prologue we find out that the following story was really passed down the generations from the narrator’s grandmother. This was intriguing because it reminded me of a literary technique I have studied in my masters (when looking at novels such as Life of Pi, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and Frankenstein) where the author distances the narrator from the tale, giving it an air of authenticity and separation. It is separate from the narrator because it is a passed down tale, while at the same time authentic because it is, usually, chronicled in letters or diary entries. The second were the constant foreshadows and suspense throughout the story. Because of the perspective of the novel, the chronicling of the grandmother’s life (while looking at her own diaries) she is afforded the benefit of hindsight. This perspective gives Rosa and excuse to address her ‘modern readers’ in order to give us information about this slightly changed world. Constantly reflecting on turning points in her own life, Rosa hints at her fate and various life events that are yet to be told. When we look back on our lives, it is clear to us that various mistakes we made and forks in the road that altered our life forever. We can see where our wings were clipped, where we stumbled and gave in, and where we were blind.
That being said, I felt that the amount of suspense that was created was somewhat of a disappointment. For the most part, the novel’s pacing was inconsistent, there were moments where the pacing was very fast, and others where many moments were skipped. While this could be due to the transcribing of a diary (in which one would document in detail times of action and struggle), it was difficult to adapt to. Additionally, after the big climax of the novel, which I will not spoil for you, the rest of the story was terribly boring in comparison (not to mention the ending wrapped up very quickly afterwards).
Something that I enjoyed about the book was Rosa’s fight against the sexism in the novel. Her position as a woman puts her at a disadvantage in a system that will not favor her battle against her violent and troubled husband. She must constantly fight against what is considered ‘normal’ with no safe alternative and forced to deny her instincts. The moment when she breaks free from these constraints against the illusion of her ‘normal’ life, is one of the most enjoyable for me because Rosa, as a character, really comes alive. Sometimes it takes our instinct to protect another to inspire us to protect ourselves.
But I would like to highlight a few other small points I enjoyed, such as the novel’s exploration of faith and the character status of the raven. Additionally, the ending is interesting because it both mentions some science fiction giants, but also because it leaves the interpretation up to the reader. We are able to digest the story and ask ourselves whether we, like the narrator, believe or not. Furthermore, similar to Life of Pi, we are left with a similar decision to Pascal’s Wager (described in the book) about the nature of belief and faith. What do we gain if we believe in this tale and what do we lose? How does this change our actions? In the end, the metaphor of faith was the novel’s saving grace for me.
Overall, while a somewhat enjoyable read I felt that the beginning half of the book built up quite a bit of suspense that peaked with the climax, but fell short afterwards. I was, sadly, disappointed and wished there had been something more. The philosophical questions are definitely a redeeming factor, but I received a similar feeling after reading Life of Pi (which I enjoyed more than Guardian). Rosa’s character is interesting, but she is, for the most part, lacking of flaws. While she initially doubts herself and is naïve about her husband, after that she acts almost perfectly. To me, her character is not realistic enough, but this could also be attributed to the fact that these are her diaries and her story so, naturally, she would not want to dwell too much on her own flaws. So to summarize, this book was middle of the road (or a smidge less) for me, it was enjoyable, but it did not astonish me and I turned the last page with a taste of disappointment.
But as always, if you are interested in science fiction set in a historical setting, then give it a go and let me know how you feel about the book! Also check out any of his other novels and see if you like them. This is the link for his personal website and you can buy the book here.
Book Cover image here.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.
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