Book Reviews

Review: My Last Lament by James William Brown

There were so many things in this book, the character of Aliki, the wonderful imagery, and the concept of the lamentations, that I liked, but at the end I was left with conflicting feelings.

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An American researcher has tracked down one of the last lamenters, Aliki. Given the cassettes to record her lamentations, Aliki instead tells the story of her life. Beginning with her witnessing her father’s executions by the Germans in World War II, Aliki takes us on a journey throughout post-war Greece. The world is changing and Aliki with it. Her tale becomes a lament itself on a life of love and loss.

The narration of this book was phenomenal. The Aliki of the present is narrating her life story on cassette tapes and it evolves into so much more. What follows is a fantastic story of Aliki’s life, her lamentations for others, and her final lament. Reading this book is like having a conversation with her. Because of this, the pages just fly by and we get glimpses of her present as it intertwines with her past.

I adored the concepts of the laments as well as the symbols and images of Aliki’s life. This is by far my favorite aspect of the book. Laments are a powerful out of body experience for Aliki where she grieves the dead in a poetic speech. Her life is full of cosmic coincidences and symbols: the way she does not speak for years after the death of her father, the concept of shadows, and the many ways to interpret her laments. The elements of the story are artfully woven together with references and subtleties that are brilliant to read. I could go on and on about how masterful I think this story is and that credit goes straight to Brown.

Aliki as a character is wonderfully complex. The whole book I wanted her to change her actions, because her indecisiveness costs her dearly. She is torn between duty and love, unable to choose between these two powerful types of love. Maturing because life dictates it, Aliki walks a road of adulthood that she has stepped upon too early. Her life is difficult and she never seems to catch a break. Maybe you could say that is directly because of her actions or inaction, but it wears on your heart. And it is both a blessing and curse. For her inactions made me unable to empathize enough with her. I needed her to make a choice, instead of waiting for fate to choose for her.

And that is one of the reasons why I leave this story with a conflicted heart. While I loved the way it was told, the moments within it, and even Aliki, it just overwhelmed me. Aliki’s indecisiveness, her inability to see clearly the situations around her, and the ending made me walk away without the love I feel for this storytelling. The ending, while sad, made the tale richer, more complex, and thought provoking. Yet as a whole, it greatly saddens me, because I dearly love so many wonderful things about this book, but am left with this conflicted, sad, pile of emotions. You may say, perhaps this is the point. And if it is, then it is expertly executed. But my heat does not feel resolved, nor happy at its conclusion.

It is a tale of life, laments, and love. The politics are woven into the fabric of the story, inextricable from the substance, and forever changing her fate. It is about the family we choose, even without knowing it, and the sacrifices we make for them. Presented in this tale are many stories of love: between a mother and father, a parent and child, a wife and husband. Ultimately we are changed by this love: when it is unrequited, challenged, and conflicted. At the end, there is a wealth of revelations that are poignant and applicable for our own lives.

Ultimately, I recommend you read this book, because it is gorgeously written and crafted. Will you experience a heart-wrenching ride? Probably. But is it worth it because of the wondrous ways Brown explores grief, love, and loss? Definitely.  

You can pick this book up on Amazon and add it to Goodreads.

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from First to Read.

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