The Small Backs of Children
Lidia Yuknavitch
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The Small Backs of Children
Lidia Yuknavitch
256 pages
July 2016
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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It is an award-winning photo, one that is instantly recognizable and that defines a war, shot in Eastern Europe in one of those wars that has been fought so long that people forget that a war is even going on. The image captured is of a young girl in mid-flight as she is flung out of her house as it explodes from a direct mortar hit. Her blonde hair haloes her head, and she seems to emerge from the picture, asking for help and recognition. She disappears as she has emerged, into the war-torn country. No one knows who she is, where she went, or if she is dead or alive.

In the United States, the photographer wins prizes and launches her successful career. She sends a copy to her first love, a writer formerly married to a famous painter but now married to a filmmaker. Her brother is a successful playwright; another friend iss known far and wide for her poetry. Each of them is affected by the photograph, but none as viscerally as the writer. She has just given birth to a stillborn daughter and is having a difficult time adjusting to the world without her child.

These artistic individuals come up with a plan to help the writer recover: they decide that they will find the girl in the picture and bring her to the US. They hope that giving the girl a second chance at life will also help the writer find her way back to life. Undeterred by the difficulties, they come up with a plan that will allow them to find the child and smuggle her into the country.

This gripping novel bursts into the reader's mind and refuses to let go until the last page, turning thoughts of bodies and love, violence, relationships, war, and art on their heads and showing them in differing ways. The sex and violence are raw; The Small Backs of Children is probably not for everyone. But it is one of the most important books I've read, and it will stay with me for quite a while. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those who want to know how the world works and how people fit into it.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Sandie Kirkland, 2016

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