A drama of passion and privation unfolds in this extraordinary novel, acclaimed at once for its gemlike prose and its hypnotic intensity. A scientist, a lover of life, a man of powerful sensual appetites, unexpectedly finds himself tested in the crucible of history. In a city under siege, nearly wrung of life and hope, he is faced with a life-or-death choice - an occasion for him to betray not only the woman he loves but also the principles he holds most dear. Leningrad during the German siege is the back drop of this tragic portrait of survival.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.27" Width: 5.52" Height: 0.51" Weight: 0.45 lbs.
Release Date May 26, 2008
Publisher Unbridled Books
ISBN 193296150X ISBN13 9781932961508
Availability 0 units.
More About Elise Blackwell
Elise Blackwell is the author of The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish and Hunger, chosen by the Los Angeles Times as one of the best books of 2003. Originally from southern Louisiana, she teaches at the University of South Carolina.
Elise Blackwell currently resides in Princeton Columbia, in the state of New Jersey. Elise Blackwell was born in 1964.
Unforgettable writing, much like a long poem. Read it over a long, relaxed dinner.
Mixed menu Jul 25, 2004
A thoughtful little book. Vivid passages of 1941 Soviet history are mixed in with something resembling magic realism, describing, variously, life as viewed backwards from a New York apartment, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, sumptuous meals of the past, the sneaky munching of rice grains by our hungry hero, his willful affairs, and the slow painful death by starvation of his beloved wife. A Sunday afternoon absorbing read, spoiled a little by some irritating typographical errors -- naughty, naughty proofreader!
HUMANITY LAID BARE Apr 2, 2004
This is such a small book to contain so very much. Elise Blackwell has created something very special indeed with this, her first novel. With eloquence and empathy, she transports the reader back in time to Leningrad in 1941 - the German army approaches, and the people in the city prepare for the attack, but it comes in a form they do not expect. The Germans simply cut the city off from the outside world, and sit and wait for the inhabitants to starve to death.
Blackwell's narrator is an elderly Russian botanist living in America, looking back at his time in the blockaded city, remembering his wife and coworkers - remembering the choices that he and the others made in order to survive. Before and during the war, he traveled the world with his colleagues, collecting specimens of plants and seeds from every continent in order to study them and find ways to better feed people in need. The institute where he works - like every facet of Russian society at the time - is caught up in the political upheaval of a country being painfully reborn. The director of the institute, once widely revered and respected both as a scientist and a human being, falls out of favor with the authorities and is sentenced to die. Those who are left behind must choose to bend and survive or resist and perish - professionally, physically or both. Once the German blockade of the city begins, however, they realize that there are far more pressing choices to make. Do they open the storehouses of the institute and distribute the grain samples to the people, or do they preserve them in the name of science, for future generations? The scientists at the institute agree to preserve the samples, to starve before they touch them - but it's a difficult promise to keep.
All around them in Leningrad, people from all walks of life are facing similar decisions. As the blockade drags on - and it lasted for 900 days - desperation becomes more and more intense. Horses disappear - then family pets, even rats are killed for their meat. People begin to strip the bark from the trees to eat - lichen-covered stones are boiled for soup. Food becomes the currency of the city - and people are willing to do all sorts of things to obtain it.
More than simply a picture of a horrible time, when so many people died and suffered, Elise Blackwell's novel is an incredibly moving portrait of humanity itself, a picture of what it truly means to be human and to be forced to make unthinkable decisions based on the need to survive. The thoughts and memories of the narrator - and the words and actions of those around him - paint moving images in delicate but sure strokes. An incredible amount of not only research, but sheer thought and contemplation went into the conception and creation of this book. It would be a stunning accomplishment by a seasoned writer - as a debut, it shimmers. This is a writer of great talent, soul and promise.
One Man's Struggle for Survival Jul 26, 2003
A subject not often written about in fiction, "Hunger" explores one man's fight for survival in a city with a dwindling food supply. Once a renowned scientist working tirelessly to gather rare plants for the botanical institute he works at, his life is changed forever when German troops overtake Leningrad in the 1940s. His focus turns to finding innovative ways to stay alive as food supplies dwindle and he finds himself held captive in Leningrad.
As one person after another that he cares about dies, he ponders his own death. Feeling guilty for past infidelity against his wife, he wonders why he was allowed to live while so many others have perished. But as days turn into weeks, he is confronted daily with the fact that he may lose his life as well.
From the thought-provoking questions to the day-to-day struggle for survival, "Hunger" provides an interesting look into one man's moral conflicts.
It's an easy to read, distinct novel that explores a subject that most readers have never been confronted with. Part history lesson, part examination of a man's fight for life, "Hunger" focuses on the basic need for man to sustain himself through food.
Seeds of Biology Jul 15, 2003
As a professional geneticist, I was initially interested in Blackwell's book as a potential literary document of the sociology of science, and was not disappointed in this. Perhaps few lay-people would approach a novel in this way, nor be aware of the geneticist Lysenko's role in Stalin's Soviet Union. Under Lysenko's direction, crop breeding and agriculture were analogous to Lamarck's belief that by cutting off the tails of mice, one would breed short-tailed mice-or in the soviet system adopted in China, the forcing of even western-trained scientists to inject blue dye into cotton plants in order to breed pre-colored cotton. But, Blackwell is immaculate in making the story true to the scientific climate in the Soviet Union at the time, in a way that appears effortless and does not distract from the drama. The author also captures the social climate of the time and place, and echoes of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag arose in my mind. It is simply remarkable and exceedingly rare to find a novel that has packed in, almost hidden modestly, historical fact and understanding. The same is true of the "seeds" and other botanical specimens in Hunger. When Blackwell blithely describes Babylonian plant use, or details the collecting trips of the unnamed protagonist, I believed it was just so.
And I was not disappointed in the sociology of science ....changes in Science often take the form of "Revolutions," and though the ultimate acceptance of theories is based on knowledge and demonstrable fact, the road leading to final consensus is also paved with the lesser virtues of social standing in the community, ambition, and even greed, and when Vavilov is lead off that field.... Moreover, the political importance of Lysenkoism to the Soviet system should not be underestimated, and though far less extreme its reflected opposite in the US was social Darwinism, particularly the early use of "survival of the fitness" in justifying laissez faire capitalism, and the legacy of the robber barons. What is most fascinating to me about Hunger, is the way that biology and social and human insight are intertwined. It is simply remarkable, and one would think that Blackwell is both a novelist and trained biologist. In short, Hunger informs us a great deal about the field of Biology as the study of life, a shaper of society, and institutionalized in political power. These are things we should all be keenly aware of as this just-developing age of genomics, genetic modification, biological weapons and inevitably several forms of cloning reshape social consciousness, as for example in the debates on embryonic cloning, and become institutionalized, e.g., in the systematic collection and recording of DNA fingerprints. These things also force us to make unprecedented individual choices, such as a pre-parental choice for genetic screening of birth defects, and then what to do with that information. And, do you want to clone your cat or dog? Would you eat genetically unique seeds?
In the bargain, I had a great read of a story, and agree with the general consensus of other "reviewers," in Hunger being riveting, haunting, and leaving a lasting impression. Hunger is also a metaphor for the modern yet chronic neglect that herbarium's are facing all over the world. Perhaps as some have suggested the book IS too short, leaving readers hungry for more, and eagerly awaiting Blackwell's next book. In the end, Hunger is about individual character and choices, something we could all use reminding of.