The following books are written in alternating chapters of different characters’ perspectives. The most unique book has two versions of phases of a woman’s life after she makes a crucial decision. The author describes where each of her two parallel lives would take her. Another book tells the story of a young girl in World War II France who is captured and a modern American woman living in Paris in the present who learns about the girl in her research. Another is also about a war: the one in Sarajevo in the 1990s. The other two are mysteries that use the different characters’ points of view to give clues and to divert the reader from the real story until the final solution.
“The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver”, published by Harper Collins is about the choices we make and how even the most minor ones can make a huge difference. In this story, Irina and Lawrence are two Americans living in London. He works for a think tank and she is a children’s book illustrator. They have a comfortable nine-year relationship and enjoy their life together. They are invited to dinner by one of Irina’s friends, a children’s book author, for dinner on the author’s husband’s birthday. Her husband is the famous snooker champion, Ramsey Acton. They continue to see them once a year until their friends separate. Lawrence encourages Irina to call Ramsey for dinner when he is out of town. They get along very well and go back to his house where she either almost kisses him or does kiss him. From then on, the book alternates chapters, describing her life and relationships as they erupt from that moment and choice. Details of ordinary life are often the same and important events like 9/11, obviously stay the same, but the personal ramifications of these events are often completely different. The book is concluded in a very satisfying way.
“Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana De Rosney, published by St. Martin’s Griffin tells the story of Vel’ d’Hiv’, the day in 1942 the French police under orders of the Gestapo, removed all the Jews from an area in Paris, held them in a stadium for two days and then sent them to camps where the children were separated from their parents and then were sent to Auschwitz. Sarah is a young girl who is rounded up with her parents, but before she leaves their apartment, she hides her three-year-old brother in a hidden space behind the wall of their bedroom. She assumes because the police are French that she will be returning shortly. When days, then weeks go by, she is frantic to get back to her brother. Many years later an American journalist, Sarah, who is living in Paris with her French husband is assigned the story of the 60th anniversary of the round-up. The chapters alternate between Sarah’s story and Julia’s story. The publisher uses different fonts for the alternating chapters, however, despite the time span, difference in ages and nationalities, the two stories cannot really be separated.
“The Cellist of Sarajevo” by Steven Galloway, published by Random House is told in four voices: a cellist who was playing Albinoni’s Adagio in his apartment when 22 people were killed while waiting in a bread line right under his window. He vows to play for 22 days while sitting outside in spite of the danger of snipers and shelling. A young woman known as Arrow has been assigned the duty of killing any potential snipers who endanger the cellist so that his death cannot be used as propaganda. Kenan is a young family man whose main occupation is to go to the brewery company to get water for his family and his cantankerous neighbor, putting himself in the line of fire. Dragon is a 64-year-old man who has sent away his wife and son early in the war and now works in a bakery to pay for his room at his sister-in-law’s apartment with bread. None of the characters know each other, but they are all players in the drama. Although the story is depressing, its message is that most people will do what they must to survive, but the rules of civilized behavior do kick in eventually even at their own peril. The author reminds us of that terrible war and the human suffering it entailed through these four separate stories.
“Innocent by John Grisham”, published by Doubleday, is the sequel to “Presumed Innocent”, written in the late 1980’s with many of the same characters. It tells the story of the same judge, once accused of killing his lover (and found innocent), now being charged in his wife’s death during his run for a higher judicial position. The author sets up the story and then focuses on the short period between the wife’s death and election day and gives many of the characters an opportunity to speak about their role or perceptions, including his son, his former lover, and himself. Since many of the characters are keeping secrets from each other, this technique puts the reader in the catbird seat. In spite of this, the ending and its explanation is still a surprise.
“Chris Bohjalian’s Secrets of Eden”, published by Shaye Areheart Books tells the story of a minister, an abused woman parishioner, and her murderous husband and a woman author who relates this story to her own childhood story. The different characters tell their own stories before and after the crime (in the form of a diary in the case of the murdered woman). The State’s Attorney also relates the crime as she sees it and includes interviews with some of the witnesses so they too tell their stories. However as one character says, “Believe no one. Trust no one. Assume all our stories are suspect.”
And that is probably the point of these books. Characters in fiction and reality can really only tell their own story and even they might not understand it completely and they often misunderstand the other players in their own stories.