A goodly portion of my school days was spent completely ignoring the books we were meant to be reading and instead devouring any sort of literature I could get my hands on. Usually it was from the 19th century, but occasionally from other periods. Since then, my literary tastes have expanded dramatically to include…just about everything, frankly. But I still hold a soft space in my heart for literature, especially that with a satiric or historical bent. So I was thrilled to read Marina J Neary’s The Gate of Dawn.
1. Thoughts on the plot
This book takes place in the midst of unrest in the Baltic region of Vilnius in the 1880s, a place where Russians, Germans, Jews, Poles and Balts live. It follows several characters, though it primarily follows Renate, a young German heiress who is married to a Polish farmer by her dying father. Renate’s presence is disruptive to the quiet countryside farm, both for her and the peasants who work the land. Disillusioned, she flees back to Vilnius, but life there is just as harsh as in the country, and there are some things that one cannot escape.
This book is definitely on the fascinating end of the literature spectrum. Each detail is introduced so casually, yet ends up being essential to the characters and the direction of the story. The plot itself unfolds without haste, yet pulls you along as you try to see what the characters are going to see or do next. And the ending? Oh, my!
2. Thoughts on the characters
Renate, Sebastian, Aurelia and all the others are characters that are not only depicted with a well-honed sense of realism, but are products of their time. They would not be people you might encounter in modern day society; in their place of history, though, they are perfect examples. It is intriguing to be able to see the history so clearly though these characters. They have such realistic details: a dislike of the way certain clothes fit, or foods taste, or how people behave. Yet they are almost impossibly true to the history. I found Renate the most intriguing of the characters, even including the ending, possibly because she was so dispassionate about certain things and fiery about others. A truly volatile mix, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
3. Favourite part
Part of me wants to say the ending of the novel was my favourite part, just because it made perfect sense, yet came about so suddenly that it was nearly shocking. However, I think that the fact that every single aspect of this novel came about through one dying man’s decision was what really made this story work. Truly well woven.
Honestly, I haven’t really got a critique for this novel. The prose is done in a matter-of-fact style which befits the story perfectly. The characters are cynical or naive or both, and I enjoyed all of them. The plot was thought provoking. I really enjoyed the whole thing.
Overall, I would say that The Gate of Dawn was a truly exceptional example of an historical literature piece, taken from a volatile portion of history and displayed openly for the world to see. An excellent book.