A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum: Audiobook Review

An epic story of survival, A Bend in the Stars weaves enthralling language with characters and themes that will live on in your heart and mind long after the audiobook ends.

A Bend in the Stars was written by Rachel Barenbaum and narrated by Edoardo Ballerini and Therese Plummer.

One of this year’s sweeping tales has the literary community buzzing about its depth and heart, and with good reason. I took a deeper look at A Bend in the Stars and recommend this book to anyone who enjoys heavy historical fiction novels (like All the Light We Cannot See) that weave the social impacts of war and science throughout.

Content & Storytelling

Miri and Vanya Abramov, a sister and brother, both work on the cutting edges of their fields; Miri is the first female surgeon in their city while Vanya is close to solving the missing pieces in Einstein’s theory of relativity. Yet they are Jews living in czarist Russia and their story begins in the days leading up to WWI in 1914. As such, the odds are against them as they set off across Russia to win a scientific race, witness an eclipse and find one another as their country dissolves into war.

Miri and Vanya meet other characters along their individual journeys who quickly become indispensable to their stories. In the end, this is at once a story about achieving intellectual greatness and physically surviving, about the brutal impacts of war on the countryside and its people, as well as the hope in human connection.

Beginning the novel in Philadelphia in the year 2000, Barenbaum bookends her novel with certain resolution from its start: the reader knows certain things about the outcome of Vanya’s work and the success of the Abramov family’s flight from Russia. By crafting the novel this way, she weaves hope through the two siblings’ stories from 1914 Russia. In this way, their stories are easier to hear.

Knowing that A Bend in the Stars relates the tales of various Jewish people living in Russia in 1914, at the outbreak of war, I expected tragedy. And there is plenty of ruthlessness, betrayal and human ugliness here, but there is also hope and human connection. There is also plenty of physics and conversation about time and relatively.

Length & Pacing

So much of Barenbaum’s novel describes the terrible suffering of its characters as they repeatedly face death. There were times some details or characters’ inner thoughts, seemed to slow the novel’s pace, or perhaps they were simply difficult to hear.

On the whole, however, I eagerly kept listening as I found myself caring for the characters, particularly Miri, and the myriad hardships of their situations.

Writing & Narration

Edoardo Ballerini and Therese Plummer both narrate this audiobook because chapters jump from Miri’s story to Vanya’s. Both narrators (and Barenbaum’s detailed writing) bring these sibling’s stories to life and capture the pain, exhilaration, and joy each Abramov sibling experiences over the course of the story.

Ballerini does a particularly good job with Russian accents, while Plummer sticks to a consistently American English accentuation.

Overall

This is not a gentle listening book nor is it overly depressing. It is definitely a book I will continue to contemplate long after I finished listening.


Official Description: For fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Women in the Castle comes this bestselling, riveting literary novel that is at once an epic love story and a heart-pounding journey across WWI-era Russia, about an ambitious young doctor and her scientist brother in a race against Einstein to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.

In Russia, in the summer of 1914, as war with Germany looms and the Czar’s army tightens its grip on the local Jewish community, Miri Abramov and her brilliant physicist brother, Vanya, are facing an impossible decision. Since their parents drowned fleeing to America, Miri and Vanya have been raised by their babushka, a famous matchmaker who has taught them to protect themselves at all costs: to fight, to kill if necessary, and always to have an escape plan. But now, with fierce, headstrong Miri on the verge of becoming one of Russia’s only female surgeons, and Vanya hoping to solve the final puzzles of Einstein’s elusive theory of relativity, can they bear to leave the homeland that has given them so much? 

Before they have time to make their choice, war is declared and Vanya goes missing, along with Miri’s fiancé. Miri braves the firing squad to go looking for them both. As the eclipse that will change history darkens skies across Russia, not only the safety of Miri’s own family but the future of science itself hangs in the balance. 

Grounded in real history — and inspired by the solar eclipse of 1914 — A Bend in the Stars offers a heart-stopping account of modern science’s greatest race amidst the chaos of World War I, and a love story as epic as the railways crossing Russia.

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