Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Living Underground by RUTH E. WALKER - A Review

TITLE: Living Underground

AUTHOR: Ruth E. Walker

RELEASE DATE: September 2012


PUBLISHER: Seraphim Editions

PURCHASED: Not Purchased. From the Author in exchange for an honest review.


A Portrait of the Author as a Little Girl - There are a few places in all the world where a writer becomes giddy with word-love. This is Ms. Walker at home in the tiny nook labelled "Poetry" inside the world-famous bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. 


“Sheila Martin’s dismal childhood is irrevocably transformed when Sigmund Maier, the family’s enigmatic German tenant, introduces her to opera, music and much more. When he reappears in her ordered and successful adult life, Sigmund asks for her help with an immigration issue. Will she now discover the truth of why he vanished years ago?

Sheila soon discovers that “truth” has no clear definition and memories are nebulous as she is drawn into the turmoil and accusations surrounding his life before and during World War II. As she struggles with her own issues and family conflicts, she is forced to finally confront the secrets she has held for over 30 years.

Moving back and forth in time, this novel explores the ambiguity of human emotion – how our natures can embody both the ideals and delights of love alongside the most base and dispassionate sensibilities.” –Seraphim Editions

On Goodreads

EXPECTATIONS: I am friends with Ruth. I had high expectations for Living Underground, simply because I am familiar with the calibre of her work. I was a fan prior to reading her debut novel. Ms. Walker is also a poet and short story writer. It is HER fault my expectations for Living Underground were through the roof. Her exquisite writing has preceded her debut novel. (-:

MARKET/GENRE: I would say this is a literary work. I believe it to be cross-over in terms of both market and genre. Not sure if I would pigeon-hole it. Is EVERYONE a market?


(Trigger Warning: Living Underground contains a scene that could potentially trigger CSA survivors.)

Favourite Quotes:

'“There are people who think I am someone I am not. They have been looking for this man for a long time, and they think they have found him. But they are mistaken.”' ~ Sigmund Maier (Living Underground), Ruth E. Walker

'"If you want to see opera, true opera, you must hear it in Europe, go and see it there. Here, they imitate. In Germany they have echoes of all who went before. It is so much richer."' ~ Sigmund Maier (Living Underground), Ruth E. Walker

'Hilda washed her mother's body and dressed her in her second-best tea dress. Her best dress and Hilda's amber brooch were sold to pay for the coffin. Her mother's several pairs of shoes and gloves were bartered for grave diggers.' ~ Living Underground, Ruth E. Walker

'As she struggled with the tension of her guts, her shortness of breath, Sheila continued to stare at the kids on the bridge. Observed them cross over, a bunch of hyper teens, making those large, flung-arm whirls and dashes of kinetic energy, the shoulder-hits of camaraderie, the heads-back and crow calls of those who know they are watched.' ~ Living Underground, Ruth E. Walker

This is a beautiful book. I can't remember the last time a story had such a powerful impact on my day-to-day life. No matter what I was doing throughout my day, I had Sheila and Sigmund on my mind. I felt so emotional for those two weeks, like I was always one step away from tears. I actually had to give myself some time before I could get my thoughts down on paper. Only a handful of times in a reader's life do they come into contact with a book that causes such a rift in their sense of reality. Living Underground is one of those books for me. It left me breathless at every turn.

Sheila Martin's childhood is anything but wondrous. When a new tenant moves into her mother's basement apartment, Sheila is given the maid duties of keeping the apartment clean. Little by little, a communication is created between the tenant, Sigmund Maier, and Sheila. It begins when Sheila loses herself in her radio station one day, while going through her cleaning duties. Soon Sigmund is leaving music out for Sheila to discover and Sheila feels herself opening up to a whole new world she didn't even know existed.

Ms. Walker creates such a vivid picture of this unlikely couple and how they become connected--first as mentor and student, and then as more. The reader will delight in the way Walker seamlessly sews beautiful music into the exquisite and tightly woven fabric of this wondrous story. Sheila's eye-opening to the world of opera and classical music and the finer things she would never have otherwise been exposed to is soul-lifting. The reader is lifted with her, and almost grateful for Sigmund's presence in her young life. And such a proper, well-put-together gentleman is Sigmund...the real key to making this story sing was Walker's ability to make the reader believe in Sigmund Maier and his essential goodness.

Living Underground spans decades. The reader is taken along to Sigmund's childhood in Dresden, Germany, where an even stronger connection to this character is made. We see inside the world in which he grew up--a despicable grandfather, a mother who bends to her father's will and later finds an admirable strength and independence. From there, the reader steps into the adult life of Sheila. She is a wonderful and powerful woman. She is in the midst of building a music store empire (a product of Sigmund's influence on her earlier life), but her personal life seems to be in a state of chaos. Then the reader is taken into the dark world of suspicion and doubt. Could the man who gave the young Sheila a thread of hope when she needed it most...could he possibly be the same man as the monster being accused of heinous war crimes in Nazi Germany?

From the moment you pick up Living Underground, you will be enthralled. It burrows into your heart with a powerful and uncontrollable velocity...and it stays there not just until you reach the end of the story, but long long after you have reluctantly put it down. A book like this comes along every once in a blue moon. I guarantee you, once you get to the end you will want to embrace it. It's that kind of book. In my opinion, Ruth E. Walker has a well-deserved masterpiece on her hands.

EXPECTATION: I could NOT have expected what would happen to me as I read this book. To give you an example--At one point, my wife walked into our family room to find me in pieces. She was a bit skeptical as to how a book could hit somebody so powerfully. I read about 20 pages out loud to her. When I was finished, I looked over at her...and found her in pieces. I'm not exaggerating when I say this story got inside me. Even knowing Walker's ability to write beautiful prose and poetry--even knowing her mastery of the language and the subtlety of her pen--I was not expecting this. You can't expect a book like this one. You can love it, once you find it...but you can't expect it. GET THIS BOOK!

SIZE: 6 (I know this is like turning the amp up to 11, but I had to give it something I gave no other book on this site. I connected with these characters and this story too strongly to give it anything less.)

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