Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books

Review: In the Land of the Living by Austin Ratner

Posted August 15, 2013 by Heather in Book Reviews / 21 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher / TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: In the Land of the Living by Austin RatnerIn the Land of the Living by Austin Ratner
Published by Reagan Arthur Books on March 12, 2013
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 306
Source: the publisher / TLC Book Tours

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Isidore is a brilliant young man, driven in equal measure by grief at his young mother's death, rage at his distant, abusive immigrant father, and his own fierce ambitions. He works his way through Harvard and then medical school, he marries the beautiful girl of his dreams and becomes a father himself. But happiness is not meant to be his for very long.

Isidore's son Leo has never quite shaken off the sadness that visited his own family when he was a boy. He strives to connect with his younger brother and protect him. He dreams of emulating the heroics of his father, which have taken on mythic, epic proportions through time's rearview mirror. Angry at the world but angrier at himself, Leo yearns for love and simple satisfaction--but finds that no matter what he does, he is constantly misunderstood, most of all by the people closest to him.

When Leo embarks on a cross-country road trip with his brother, it turns into an alternately heartbreaking and hilarious journey as the two try to comprehend their family, their relationship, and their own futures. As the brothers make their way east, and toward understanding, their battles and reconciliations illuminate the power of family to both destroy and empower--and the price and rewards of independence.

(from the back cover)

In the Land of the Living is a coming-of-age story, a family saga, a book about fathers and sons (and brothers), a story highlighting the differences and misunderstandings between generations. It also has a sins-of-the-father-being-visited-on-the-son undertone, in a way. It begins with the story of Isidore, which is told as a kind of epic myth about a hero:

That there lived a man named Isidore Auberon, there can be no dispute. There is the reflex hammer with the reddish rubber tomahawk head bearing his initials. There is the red shirt, thick and coarse like Indian jute, with black buttons, in which he appears in many photographs. And in many other places there are many other things, and many people will give accounts of him.

This is the life of Isidore as seen through a child’s eyes: growing up, killing the King that would dare to hold him back, marrying a princess whose father (another King) can help bring Isidore fame and fortune, and siring two sons to carry on his legacy. The chapter titles of this section are very witty, with one example being “How Isidore, Arrayed Like a Poor Knight, Came to the Demesne of Laura’s Father, Leo Neuwalder, Lord of the Eerie Lake, and How the King Would Fain Gird Isidore Betimes with the Sextant of Sir Oliver Hazard Perry.” And though the chapter titles tell Isidore’s story as epic myth, the actual circumstances written about are very modern-day things written in modern-day language. I really like how Austin Ratner formatted this part of the book.

Then the story moves on to Isidore’s son, Leo, and the rest of the book is about Leo coming to terms with his own family’s tragedy and trying to live up to what he thinks are his father’s expectations. This part of the book really shows how  a family tragedy can affect each family member differently, how difficult it can be to move on, and the ways in which history tends to repeat itself (or not).

Austin Ratner’s writing is truly wonderful–that is probably my favorite thing about In the Land of the Living. Yes, I liked the story, but the writing and the way Ratner put the story together are what really made me enjoy this book. Isidore is a beautiful character, and although I wasn’t necessarily fond of many of the other characters, I still understood them. This story of three generations of men misunderstanding one another–and trying desperately to come to terms with their differences–is both heartbreaking and funny, just as the synopsis claims. I will definitely be reading Ratner’s first novel, The Jump Artist, as soon as I can get to it.

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