Elise Blackwell
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Buy *Hunger* online

Elise Blackwell
Unbridled Books
176 pages
April 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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A small, intense novel can have the effect of an unexpected encounter, intimate and memorable, or a disappointing and self-indulgent exercise. While more than a few recent novels have been less than satisfying, Hunger by Elise Blackwell is a thoughtful digression on a life-changing experience during the German siege of Leningrad in the fall of 1941. The German aggressors tear a page from history, surrounding the city, eventually cutting off all supplies, waiting patiently as the people starve.

Those who work at the Soviets' premier botanical institute use their wits and knowledge of plants, saving a small cache of seeds, their gift to the future. The scientists unanimously vow to protect the seeds, so precious is their research to their country. Yet each will be tested as time slowly passes and all grow gaunt with longing.

At issue is survival in the most extreme conditions, where starvation dictates the thoughts and actions of the prisoners in dire circumstances, as they witness the horrific manifestation of the rigors of starvation. Yet this same starvation is the catalyst for acts of unexpected bravery or cowardice, when the drive to live supercedes even moral imperatives.

As the narrator seeks an epiphany and expiation of his failures, only thoughts of his beloved wife feed his tortured soul. There is ample time to relive the series of affairs, the careless betrayals of a man given to opportunistic sexual indulgence. In retrospect, his self-indictment is scathing, past transgressions looming over even the most precious memories. His wife's courage remains a constant reminder of his own selfishness; sadly, he can only ponder what it might have been like to grow old together.

A book has spoken to me when the circumstances are secondary to the realizations that linger long after I have finished reading, compelled to share with another reader. This thoughtful and revealing novel presents an opportunity: it illuminates the spirit, suffused with the generosity and grace inherent in all humanity.

© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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