The Way Back

The Way Back

eBook - 2020
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LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD Perfect for readers of Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman, a sweeping historical fantasy that follows two teens on a journey through the Far Country, a Jewish land of spirits and demons . For the Jews of Eastern Europe, demons are everywhere: dancing on the rooftops in the darkness of midnight, congregating in the trees, harrowing the dead, even reaching out to try and steal away the living. But the demons have a land of their own: a Far Country peopled with the souls of the transient dead, governed by demonic dukes, barons, and earls. When the Angel of Death comes strolling through the little shtetl of Tupik one night, two young people will be sent spinning off on a journey through the Far Country. There they will make pacts with ancient demons, declare war on Death himself, and maybe— just maybe—find a way to make it back alive. Drawing inspiration from the Jewish folk tradition, The Way Back is a dark adventure sure to captivate readers of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust.
Publisher: 2020.
ISBN: 9781984894649
Characteristics: 1 online resource

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Dec 04, 2020

What can I possibly say about this book? Where do I even begin?

I can say that this is my favorite thing I've read this year. I can say that it made me laugh often but also made me want to cry so genuinely, made me want to gather up all of my past selves and my future self, too, and give them a hug. I can say that this book reminded me I'm human--which I think is the ultimate goal of all writing but I haven't felt that so keenly, so explicitly, in a very long time.

It's a book about death, about grief and resilience. It's a book about recognizing that the choice matters far less than finding the will to keep choosing. It's a book version of that existentialist "Nothing in life matters :D" meme, but delivered with a care and a tenderness and a purposefulness that left me breathless. It's a book about how we all must rely on one another, and how doing so ultimately makes us stronger. It's a book about how, when the worst possible thing happens, to find your way back from it. And then, when that leads you somewhere you're not sure you want to be, to find your way back from that, too.

I finished this book and immediately wanted to read it again. I did allow myself the indulgence of relistening to the last hour over again, because it was just so good and I didn't know what else to do. As I write this, I'm currently struggling through my list of library loans in search of what to read next, because I honestly have no clue how to follow this up.

The story itself is a beautiful construction of Jewish folk tradition; a local Rebbe is holding a wedding for his granddaughter and all are invited, without exception. But that invitation extends to many more than were likely intended, and the Angel of Death, Lilith, Mammon, and a whole slew of demons and spirits and other denizens of the Far Country have their sights set on this rarest of opportunities. Two young people--a girl who's lost her bubbe, a boy who's lost his father--get caught up in the demons' scheming and end up on separate journeys to thwart Death that inevitably and inextricably bind them together. It's exceptional, it's exhilarating. I listened to the audiobook performed by Allan Corduner and couldn't possibly recommend it enough because he wields some of the most distinct and convincing character voices I've ever listened to, and delivers such a vast range of emotional depth and clarity that was a treasure to behold. I was so entranced by his performance and by this story that I didn't even realize the point of all of it, the message at its heart that was being told directly to a piece of mine, until it was too late and then I was crying at work because that's just what Gavriel Savit does to you sometimes.

I read this just a couple of weeks before a birthday I never dreamed I'd see, certain I would have given up by now, gazing out from these past few decades with trepidation toward the coming ones and wondering if they're all going to continue being so hard. This book reminded me that they will, and that they'll be worth it anyway. I read an article recently about how Inuit parents teach their children without punishment or yelling to enforce behavior, but through storytelling and fable to nurture understanding. That's what this book did for me; it took me gently by the hand and helped me realize a truth I was missing and I am so, so grateful for the lesson. Please read this book.

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