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Review: Book of Hats by Dov Zeller

B43D9A56-F363-46F4-A81B-BE59BA1B7DF8.jpegHi book buddies!

I’m back, and almost in time for the fourth! I am currently at work, and this is normally my uninterrupted reading time. I sit at the front desk and answer the occasional phone call which is perfect for reading books. Except that everyone and their mother keep calling to find out whether we are open tomorrow – I kid you not, I had to answer the phone for every page I read. So, yes, I am a little irked. At least I get a day off tomorrow and get to see some fireworks. I just love the fourth and hearing about everyone’s days, so I’ll keep that in mind to keep me running.

Luckily, even with all the interruptions, I finally got around to finishing my current read. I received Book of Hats from Tiny Golem Press for free in exchange for my honest review. I started it a week ago – usually my “work reads” only take a couple days at a maximum – so I am actually breathing a sigh of relief that I have finally finished my commitment!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Hats and fashion. Ida Velikowsky’s family has been in the business since biblical times—for so long, they’ve created their own holy book. Centuries of lore carried from continent to continent. An ancient home and a springboard for new beginnings. When Ida studies the book with her father, its magic draws all her worries away. But being a transmasculine kid in a small town in the 1930s puts pressure on Ida, a crushing weight, and she feels responsible as her parents withdraw into themselves and into a room so dark and mysterious, it’s a distant galaxy, a void.

When home life becomes unbearable, Ida escapes to New York where she finds a community of people who accept her as she is. And yet, she often feels a stranger to herself. Her struggles with intimacy will not vanish no matter who she meets or where she travels.

Things take a turn for the surreal after the phone rings late one night in the middle of a dream of hats. Ida dissolves at the sound of her long-lost brother’s voice and emerges wondering if she should agree to take part in a dubious reunion.

While a lot went wrong for me (which I’ll get into below), I think that the absolute greatest part of the book was the prose – that in itself earned Book of Hats an extra star. Dov Zeller has a way with words — the pages simply bleed with the despair that Ida feels, the spiral that she falls into. There is a line blurred between poetry and prose, and it feels like sheer heaven to read something so well crafted.

However, this is also what made this such a hard read. I felt so dark and helpless journeying through these pages. At times, I felt as if I was physically sick and about to throw up. I love being able to feel a character’s despair, but when the character is despaired for about 400 out of 450 pages, I can’t help but get exhausted. Its like running a marathon without being allowed to breathe. Suffocating. I felt that way much of the time, particularly once Ida (the MC) went through some of her more difficult losses. I was exasperated by the constant probing from other characters to get her to open up, and at times felt like hurling the book against the wall. Perhaps this was the point, but once again, it felt too heavy for me.

Along with the dark and depressing mood of the main character, Ida, there were her dreams mixed in with reality. Dreamland, reality and fantasy were often blurred to the point where the convoluted mixture made me give up trying to understand and read the page just to get through it. The beginning was particularly convoluted – A history of the family that I felt did nothing to add to the book – as well as was the end. In fact, I struggle to understand what exactly the ending meant to convey. Dream or reality? Is Ida alive or dead? I had so many questions at the end, and after journeying with this character for nearly 500 pages, I was honestly very irritated to not be able to understand what exactly happened to her. Once again, perhaps someone else might be able to puzzle it out, but after the grueling ride, I simply did not have it in me to dissect every sentence and tease apart dreams from reality.

For me, this book got a 2 star review. I understand that perhaps I did not fully grasp what was going on, and there were a lot of great things in it, but at the end of the day, it is not worth reading almost 500 pages to have no closure. Perhaps someone else would understand the abstract, the darkness, the despair, but I know that if I had known in advance, Book of Hats would have been a hard pass for me.

 

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