Read Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Spivack Online


A wild, erotic novel--a daring debut--from the much-admired, award-winning poet, author of Flying Inland, A History of Yearning, and With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, and Others. A strange, haunting novel about survival and love in all its forms; about sexual awakenings and dark secrets; about European refugee iA wild, erotic novel--a daring debut--from the much-admired, award-winning poet, author of Flying Inland, A History of Yearning, and With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, and Others. A strange, haunting novel about survival and love in all its forms; about sexual awakenings and dark secrets; about European refugee intellectuals who have fled Hitler's armies with their dreams intact and who have come to an elusive new (American) "can do, will do" world they cannot seem to find. A novel steeped in surreal storytelling and beautiful music that transports its half-broken souls--and us--to another realm of the senses.The setting: the early 1940s, New York--city of refuge, city of hope, with the specter of a red-hot Europe at war.At the novel's center: Anna (known as the Rat), an exotic Hungarian countess with the face of an angel, beautiful eyes, and a seraphic smile, with a passionate intelligence, an exquisite ugliness, and the power to enchant . . . Her second cousin Herbert, a former minor Austrian civil servant who believes in Esperanto and the international rights of man, wheeling and dealing in New York, powerful in the social sphere yet under the thumb of his wife, Adeline . . . Michael, their missing homosexual son . . . Felix, a German pediatrician who dabbles in genetic engineering, practicing from his Upper East Side office with his little dachshund, Schatzie, by his side . . . The Tolstoi String Quartet, four men and their instruments, who for twenty years lived as one, playing the great concert halls of Europe, escaping to New York with their money sewn into the silk linings of their instrument cases . . .And watching them all: Herbert's eight-year-old granddaughter, Maria, who understands from the furtive fear of her mother, and the huddled penury of their lives, and the sense of being in hiding, even in New York, that life is a test of courage and silence, Maria witnessing the family's strange comings and goings, being regaled at night, when most are asleep, with the intoxicating, thrilling stories of their secret pasts . . . of lives lived in Saint Petersburg . . . of husbands being sent to the front and large, dangerous debts owed to the Tsar of imperial Russia, of late-night visits by coach to the palace of the Romanovs to beg for mercy and avoid execution . . . and at the heart of the stories, told through the long nights with no dawn in sight, the strange, electrifying tale of a pact made in desperation with the private adviser to the Tsar and Tsarina--the mystic faith healer Grigory Rasputin (Russian for "debauched one"), a pact of "companionship" between Anna (the Rat) and the scheming Siberian peasant-turned-holy man, called the Devil by some, the self-proclaimed "only true Christ," meeting night after night in Rasputin's apartments, and the spellbinding, unspeakable things done there in the name of penance and pleasure . . ....

Title : Unspeakable Things
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780385353960
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Unspeakable Things Reviews

  • Elyse
    2019-05-22 13:07

    Tears were running down my cheeks very early this jaw was frozen open...Mythological in nature..."Unspeakable Things", knocked the wind out of me. I was caught off guard --I had no idea how breathtaking & heartbreaking this novel would feel ...'immediately' from the start! "New York. New York, City of Hope. The strident avenues streaked across the city, silver: fiery arrows like long, bright sounds, almost too much for the ear to bear. And still the band played. Louder. More volume. New York, and the gleaming saxophonesentered in chorus. New York. And now the trumpets rose to a wail, a city of pain,and the saxophones sang of darker things. Sadness. Nostalgia. New York, City of Dreams Left Behind. New York.""Each week, the ships came into the harbor, disgorging the crippled remains of Europe, already charred, or at least forever marked".A one legged whore and her stump...a talented contortionist could put more love into a man and any other girl on the coast. A rat lady, so little, her body without weight, long whiskers curving out of the mole near the Rat's nose... Anna...( the little Rat lady) was so deformed that her spine resembled that of a shrimp, curved and curled onto itself. Anna, "Rat Lady", was Hungarian, had a passion for intelligence, literature, language and playing chess with her cousin Herbert. She could not stand straight when she walked. She moved painfully slow with the cane. "A Rat with the most beautiful eyes, the most seraphic smile. A Rat with the face of an angel, made more beautiful by the imperfections that called attention to her beauty. This Rat have the power to enchant". Children...lovely children - a wife gone mad - a loss son - another son works in Washington - a Nazi Doctor- refugees- The Tolstoi Quartet...secrets ... atonement..This is an irresistible non-stop train ride read! Rare & precious....."Unspeakable Things", validates the power of fiction to awakenthe souls of people damaged by the forces of history.....'Holocaust-Themed'.........extraordinary beauty! Thank You Knopf Doubleday Publishing, Netgalley, and to Kathleen Spivack...(Thank you for this amazing book!!!!)

  • Esil
    2019-06-11 18:50

    2 1/2 stars. As I read it, my reaction to Unspeakable Things swung wildly between loving the cleverness of some of the writing to feeling that the weirdness was over the top. Based on that, I don’t suppose it will be surprising that it seems impossible for me to describe what Unspeakable Things is about. It’s mostly set in New York City during WWII, focusing on a group of European immigrants escaping the war. There is a very surreal quality to the writing and the story. It’s at times horrifying and at times humorous. There's a grandfather, Herbert, who sees himself as burdened with having to help the other newly arrived Europeans, with his secret complex web of knowledge and connections. There are his family members -- wife, living son, dead son, daughter in law and granddaughter -- all living their complicated burdened lives. There’s a brilliant scene in the middle describing a Viennese music quartet, how they ignored their wives to dote on their instruments, and how this ultimately led to their expulsion from Vienna. There’s a deformed aunt who refers to herself as The Rat, who has a complicated sad history including marriage to a Russian count and some nasty entanglement with Rasputin. There’s a perverse doctor, who treats children abominably and has ties back to Hitler’s eugenics projects. And so on… And the lives of these characters are intertwined and intersect in various ways. While parts seemed brilliant and beautifully written, at other times I felt completely lost, a bit repulsed and underwhelmed. This may well be due to my concrete brain and others will no doubt get far more out of Unspeakable Things than I did. Although I must add a note of caution: there are in fact a few unspeakable things that happen in this book, which means that it is definitely not a book for the squeamish. To be honest, I’m still shaking my head trying to figure out what I think of the whole experience. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a chance to read an advance copy.

  • Angela M
    2019-05-28 13:57

    There definitely are unspeakable things in this book and the problem I had was that they were spoken about in such explicit detail . I found it gruesome and offensive in parts, in particular those depicting abhorrent treatment of children. Did things like this really happen? Certainly there were unspeakable things that happened to those trying to escape Hitler as well as those who didn't escape. Of course , they need to be spoken about so we don't forget BUT I think that the effect would have been so much more powerful if some things were left unspoken. I found myself skimming pages just to get through it. I could say more about what I didn't like but I'll leave them unspoken. Two stars because some of the the writing was really very good , but it wasn't enough for me .Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf.

  • switterbug (Betsey)
    2019-05-26 15:53

    Unspeakable things refer to the shattered lives of Holocaust survivors, as well as the harrowing acts that happen to certain refugees and their loved ones living in New York City. Herbert, a Viennese government official, has relocated to NYC and is putting all his money and energy into helping other refugees from the war. His wife, Adeline, a former pianist, lost her mind after their oldest son, a homosexual, was captured by the Nazis and taken to an extermination camp. Their other son, David, is living in Washington D.C. as a cryptologist. Herbert’s second cousin, Anna, a Hungarian known as the Rat, is a woman with an “exquisite ugliness,” a deformed spine and three whiskers growing from the mole on her face, but she has a beautiful face, a seraphic smile, deep, penetrating eyes, and a gentle heart, and is the unlikely hero of the story.Then there is Dr. Felix, an insane Mengele-esque doctor who performs unspeakable acts, as well as dabbling in a menacing form of genetic engineering. His relationship to the Tolstoi String Quartet, a group of older male musicians, is a form of specimen collection and monstrous science, which eventually incite Herbert and the Rat. And then there is Rasputin, who changes the Rat forever. Herbert and company form the foreground, while in the background, Hitler’s Germany rages on, yet between Herbert and Hitler is a surreal space of remove, a daub of magical realism that adds a touch of grace and a twisted beauty. It is a dark, eerie, bleak and depraved place that also resonates with hope. Art, literature, language, music, and poetry survive within the most horrifying events.What makes this novel so sui generis is the prose, which creates the touches of magical realism that penetrate the story or swirl the reality with a fantastical lift. For example: ”The instruments in their cases began to throb, their nose swelling next to their owners. From the dark cases came discordant deaf-mute sounds, a cacophony of scrapes, the meaningless tonalities of deserted music. The violins sobbed like sick women; the viola and violoncello howled.”This is such an aslant Holocaust/not Holocaust story--mixing fairy tales with human horror-- that I don’t recommend it for everyone. Without the Holocaust in the background, this story wouldn’t be as meaningful, yet it occurs at a distance, in America, and with individuals fighting different struggles, for the most part. As long as the reader isn’t looking for something customary, and can look so far outside the box that the box has changed shape, then it surely may be a rare and bittersweet experience. Unspeakably so.

  • Jill
    2019-06-13 15:15

    If ever there were unspeakable things done to humanity, it was during the years of the Holocaust. But does that mean we do not speak of them? And if we do dare to speak of them, what tone should we use?Last year, I read Martin Amis’ audacious Zone of Interest, a book that used the novelist’s art to convey the absurdity and senselessness of the Holocaust. At that time, I noted that the story was about the death of the collective souls of virtually everyone even marginally involved.I might say the same thing for Kathleen Spivack’s book. The biggest difference – and it is a major one – is that the action is removed from the concentration camps and plays out in post World War II New York City. Here, we meet Herbert – a former Austrian official – and his hunchback second cousin Anna, “a Rat with the face of an angel, made more beautiful by the imperfections that called attention to her beauty. This Rat had the power to enchant.” In the wings is Herbert’s deceased son Michael, his son David and defiled granddaughter Maria, and the Tolstoi Quartet, who sacrificed their four pinky fingers in order to leave Vienna. And front and center is the soulmate of Dr. Mengele, Dr. Felix, who does unspeakable things to his young patients.There are many adjectives that come to mind in trying to describe this novel: daring, haunting, dark, creepy, and surreal are just five of them. Certainly Ms. Spivack succeeds in casting a spell and one of her themes appears to be the pervasiveness of evil—the fact that evil is never truly contained but does become collective. “So maybe it is like the laws of continuous conservative of energy. Nothing ever goes away; it just changes. So evil stays in the world, perhaps only lying dormant for a moment, in a heap, its black wings folded.”And yet, in comparing her work to Martin Amis’ book – which also is Holocaust-themed and pushes the envelope in its attempt to illuminate existing evil – Unspeakable Things came up wanting. From time to time – particularly in the portrayal of the reprehensible Dr. Felix – I could sense the author’s disdain for her character (for instance, having him cross-dress and passionately kiss a photo of the Fuhrer.) I wanted to build up that disdain (not hard to do) by myself. Often, she uses adverbs (“he said, beseechingly”) as if to give the reader stage directions on how to interpret what’s going on.There are other small fault lines as well: we are teased with the story of Michael yet we never get a sense as to why his family survived and he did not. The Rat’s two weeks with the mystical advisor Rasputin skirt are elusive and vaguely pornographic. I assume Rasputin represents Hitler himself – a Satan character who casts his spell over an entire country. But what does that say about Anna? That part of her fell under Hitler’s spell? I was never quite sure.All in all, I applaud Kathleen Spivack’s flights of imagination. But I can’t say I was totally satisfied.

  • Jean
    2019-06-06 15:04

    Author Kathleen Spivack, in her episodic novel, Unspeakable Things, takes the reader from the dark precipice of the old world during the war-torn 1940s, to the new life which is being created, haltingly and painfully, by the intelligentsia who have escaped to New York. Refugees from Europe, they attempt to continue their lives in New York City. It is a moment in time which is suspended. There is little direction. Memories hold as much import and reality as actions for the family to whom the reader is introduced. There is Herbert, now a grandfather, who is struggling to accept his position as this small community's man with the answers. His wife has gone mad with the loss of their son Michael. Their other son, David, works in Washington as a decoder or cipher. His grandchildren are still young. Only Ilse, David's wife, who works, seems to have adapted to the new way of life they are living in New York.When the little Countess, Anna (also known as "the Rat", for her ugliness and beauty combined) arrives to live with the family, other forces begin to affect each member. Her powerful presence is a physical as well as intellectual signal for change.Additionally playing a critical part in this novel is Felix, a Nazi doctor who is a scientist attempting to realize the dream of the master race from specimens he collects and cultures. In fact, he has specimens from the Tolstoi Quartet. They too arrive in New York during the course of Unspeakable Things. Each one of them is missing something essential without which they will be unable to play pieces as they once did in Vienna.What are the "Unspeakable Things" which are brought to light by this novel? They could be construed as the unspeakable things which the little Countess, Anna, brings up to the child Maria. These concern the physical and sexual brutality she underwent at the hands of Rasputin in order to pay off a debt owed by her husband, a debauched count.The passion and depravity she experienced changed her forever.Even more however, the unspeakable things concern the horror and brutality brought upon Europe by Hitler and the Nazis.The loss and the darkness which swept away whole civilizations and peoples is portrayed within this novel frighteningly and horrifyingly, yet from one step removed.The author, with vivid and powerful writing, plunges the reader into this time period in New York. The balance of things is beginning to turn from old to new. However, for many within this tiny cadre of refugees, memories hold them and keep them from taking action as if they are trapped within specimen jars, hopeless in a collection kept barely alive by a mad scientist. Only the little Countess make an ultimate sacrifice.Finally, from the haunting and horrible depths comes the unquenchable urge for a new Spring, and a new life. To accomplish this, values of beauty and refinement must be left behind, like photographs of strangers, in silver frames. Were they real? What significance did they have? Many things which represent the arts and beauty, and all that we embrace and cleave to in our humanity, are lost during this time of transition. In the end, Unspeakable Things turns and faces renewal and change. A choice is made. The old is left behind. What unfolds and adapts may be prosaic, however it promises a future for the next generation.

  • Melissa
    2019-05-31 13:58

    I received an advanced review copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.*Unspeakable Things* is a WW2 novel set in New York City. There is literally a ton of unspeakable things that happen to children and adults in this book, so much so, that I couldn't finish. The writing was brilliant, but the subject was a bit too much for me.

  • Lina
    2019-06-06 18:14

    Charming characters, detailed description of scenes, gentle pace of events, strangely mysterious and rich concepts, all in all an enchanting read...

  • nikkia neil
    2019-06-14 10:58

    Thanks Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and netgalley for this ARC.I've read a few negative reviews of this book, and i think those people are missing the point. This is meant to be whimsy and funny while making us cry and laugh. Kathleen Spivack hits all the right notes on a hard subject to write and read about.

  • Kate
    2019-06-03 10:46

    Sometimes the title of a book is a review in itself. There are many unspeakable things in this book that I sincerely hope I never have to think about again. At the top of the list – - the use of the word aureole“Once again, an aureole of light seemed to life him by his meager hair….”“And Maria’s grandfather, his white hair an aureole about his head…”“…her gray hair in a tousled aureole, staring at nothing.”“His penis flared; a shining aureole surrounded it.”“…bushy hair stood on end, making an aureole around his head like illustrations in the German children’s book Struwwelpeter.”“…large ears backlit, his head like an aureole.” - and also thrumming (used 24 times).“Herbert’s ears, large and transparent, thrummed to the A sound.”“…closed her eyes, and her left whisker thrummed. Felix stroked her body gently.” - Rasputin’s enormous rod - fingertips with personalities“Across the city, the fingers were thrumming like mad, calling.” - string instruments that behave like ponies“The musicians removed their gloved hands from their instruments’ strings and bowed. Like plunging horses, the instruments also bowed their necks, whinnying slightly.” - a Nazi doctor in stockings and a birthday party hatNow let’s not speak of this book again.1/5I received my copy of Unspeakable Things from the publisher, Knopf Doubleday, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

  • Katie R. Herring
    2019-05-28 14:10

    I love historical fiction, I love subtle magic, I love family history-- this novel had all of that-- except it was strange. Unspeakably strange. I only finished it because I had a morbid fascination for the characters. I cringed, phalanges curled, I rolled my eyes at the word aureole, I bit my lip as I tried to finish this novel. Some people will like this-- the writing was lovely when referring to the settings and emotions-- about New York, about home, about passion; but overall it wasn't enough. There were no likable characters and no realism. I'm not quite sure if the appendages actually spoke, or if we were supposed to believe the doctor was insane. And the dead brother! Was he murdered? Was he taken? I'm actually not quite sure. All I know is he vicariously lived through his brother as he made love to his wife, and phantomly watched his insane (or so we're led to believe) mother play the piano. There is also a retelling of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (my boyfriend pointed that out when I explained what I was reading), molested children, a crossdressing, mad scientist pedophile, many games of chess, a dead girl and a real dead brother, and most interestingly, breathing instruments that shared a bed with their musicians. It was strange. And it'll float around in my head because it was strange, but I didn't like it.From the first chapter, it could have gone much differently. I would have liked more historical, realistic, fiction.

  • Suzanne
    2019-05-29 12:12

    I saw this book likened to All the Light We Cannot See on a book blog somewhere, so I had to give it a try. Honestly, I'm not sure why I stuck with it to the end. The title is at least appropriate, many of the characters in this book are guilty of Unspeakable Things... and that's about the most I can say for it. That, and sometimes there's a pretty turn of phrase. But I found this appalling, and it's not often I feel that way. I'm not a very sensitive person, so it takes a lot to get under my skin in that way. But when a character like Felix, an expatriate Nazi doctor who does awful things to small children, and a myriad of other awful things on top of that, is written in a somewhat sympathetic light despite the gravity of his extremely graphic inexcusable actions, it's hard to feel anything else. Hated Felix, hated the obliviousness and stupidity of many of the characters, hated how "The Rat" Anna had zero character growth and was never allowed happiness, hated how poor Maria was always left on her own despite the presence of a ghost which may or may not have existed, hated the convenience of many things which made it all feel too tidy and laughable ... and the list goes on. I have literally nothing good to say about this one. Spare yourself.

  • Janet
    2019-05-22 13:57

    I am still composing review in my head--a lot to digest......and I am back, six months later to finish.I gave this book 3 stars because the writing was quite good, but, always a but, some elements of the book were really weird. I am a pretty open reader, and understand magical realism, sometimes enjoy it. I could handle the pedophilic doctor with fingers in jars who planned to reconstitute the musicians, weird, but novel. I liked the characters. I liked the themes, I liked the setting. Except the Rasputin sexual penance/pleasure. It was strange and unpleasant to read. Did she get her children back, no, I guess. All that for nothing. No bitterness because it was a little pleasurable on her part. Ick. Rape fantasies are not my thing, never will be.

  • sappho_reader
    2019-05-18 12:50

    At this point in my life I've read so much Holocaust fiction that I feel a book needs to do something completely different in order to catch my attention. In this regard Unspeakable Things is revolutionary. There is a strong mix of magical realism and horror throughout and the subject matter is often unsettling but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved how Kathleen Spivack captured the plight of the refugees from the doom and gloom of Nazi-occupied Europe to the "clean and new" United States. The Tolstoi String Quartet was my favorite section - so whimsical and fantastical!

  • Judy G
    2019-06-07 13:05

    Excellent excellent writer with a tremendous gift for describing people and events. It is written during Nazi horrors about people who left Vienna and about world of music. She can develop the most bizarre characters like where do they come from like the Rat or Anna and Felix and the Tolstoi Quartet. Extraordinary experience of reading!

  • J.B. Garner
    2019-06-13 10:53

    From The Musings of a Starving Author:There is a temptation from the menu entry of Unspeakable Things to want to put it into certain categories, certain specific cuisines. A homefront war novel, perhaps? A coming-of-age historical novel? A Holocaust-themed book? What will this meal actually turn out to be when it gets to the table? Better yet, will it be any good?Before we dig to the bottom of the dish, let’s recite the Starving Review motto:I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genreI attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possibleUnspeakable is all of those things and much more. I would argue it defies easy genre classification outside of ‘historical fiction’. There are dashes of science-fiction, splashes of fantasy, spicy notes of pure horror, and a generous dash of the erotic, on top of everything I mentioned in the first paragraph, save the Holocaust theme. Not that the Holocaust isn’t touched on in several parts, but it does not dominate the theme like many Holocaust-related meals. This I particularly enjoyed, as the meal reveals in each escalating course, building up to a crescendo of overlapping, brilliant insanity that weaves together into a weirdly coherent whole.The primary strengths of this meal are its characters and its theme. Unabashedly over-the-top, the cast of characters are deep and vibrant, strange and yet very relatable. As the primary narrative runs on this cast, it lends quite a bit of flavor to the entire book. Thematically, the emphasis on love, loss, and desire touches on primal desires that almost everyone shares and is handled with a strong but careful focus.I think it’s a good point to bring up that Unspeakable Things does, indeed, include many unspeakably horrific ingredients. Evil deeds are in this mix, my foodies, and these deeds are not shied from one bit. This will no doubt be one of the big, divisive point over whether one will find this meal good or bad. If you have a strong tolerance for the evils of man, then you can dig deeper to explore the overall themes and narrative. If you don’t, you may simply be unable to go the distance of all the courses.While so much of the book is properly cooked, there is one overall foible in the recipe that I would be remiss to not point out. Unspeakable may talk of things many may want to not speak of, but it doesn’t shy away from using many, many words to talk about them. What I mean to say is that the decorative spices, adjectives and adverbs, are sometimes dumped in rather than carefully mixed. This isn’t a constant. Often, the descriptions are quite lovely and evocative, but there are moments where the narrative hits a crawl under the burden of cloying, excessive spice. Fair warning!To sum it up, Unspeakable Things mixes in a variety of spices and flavors, often to brilliant effect, but doesn’t shy away from its namesakes. If you find historical fiction with endless, strange twists appealing, you should definitely sample this dish. If there are certain limits you have to your reading sensibilities, especially sexual ones, or are adverse to prose that at times edges towards the purple, you might want to pass this one buy.FINAL VERDICT: **** (A variety of spices and flavors, often to brilliant effect, but doesn’t shy away from its namesakes!)

  • Lolly K Dandeneau
    2019-06-05 12:56

    "But they were to retain their habits of secrecy."Certainly, they never seem to let go of their secrecy. Who can blame them? I spent time thinking about this novel after I finished it, days. I imagine it will be hard on some readers not just for the subject matter , particularly the creepy disgusting Doctor preying on children but for it's original style. It is peculiar, strange happenings abound with these characters but the writing is beautiful. There is a lot of story within, and you cannot deny the characters are the fullest incarnation a fictional being can become. The Rat is going to be a favorite among the readers. I could dissect this book for days, and the horrors (this is often dark) don't sit well, but should they? When I first started reading I thought... no... this is too much but then I continued and everything came together. I hated things that happened, it just infuriated me to read about molestation and unable to stop it (I am a mother). The writing is gorgeous as the author creates clawing and clever sentences... a taste ""Grownups sometimes joked. But they did not exepect you to joke back.:""Each week, the ships came into the harbor, disgorging the crippled remains of Europe, already charred, or at least forever marked "Bring me your huddled masses, " Miss Liberty had cried.""In the darkness, both she and Maria were silent. Maria stared into the room, wondering what "unspeakable things" could cover. She thrilled to the dark inclination of the phrase...."There is something thrilling about the stories the Rat has tells young Maria in the cover of the night while the house is sleeping. The fury inside of Maria trying to shut out her mother's 'hateful voice' that her mother trusts the evil doctor left me gutted but it also rang true. Children know when something is wrong, but being told they are bad is how those in authority are able to harm children, especially when parents tend to blindly trust those in authority be they doctors, clergy etc... No, it is not easy on the heart. Many of us swear we'd never be so foolish as to trust such an evil person, and yet many do.There is magical writing, it took me a chapter to get with things, and as I have read many books in this style it was familar to me and I understand what the author is trying to do, even with the horror. There are quite a few European writers that tackle heavy subjects in this style, it is meant to express horrible things and yet take the sting out at the same time.Heed the warning about child abuse within, but it's so much more than that. It's very hard to review because every reader is going to take something different from it, if nothing else it's going to provoke reactions from every reader. It will be interesting to discuss this with others, and certainly a book group will have interesting conversations and maybe some arguments.

    2019-06-11 15:46

    Unspeakable Things is a haunting tale of the depth of depravity humans are capable of enduring and sustaining within as told through a tale that centers on a group immigrants who fled to NYC in the 1940's from Europe during WWII and the ugly, unspeakable thoughts and acts that define them. They have brought all of the unspeakable things with them, carrying them knowingly and involuntarily into their place of freedom. The irony of this book is essential - speaking so graphically, loudly, and in such detailed, beautiful prose about the unspeakable things humans harbor in their hearts, minds, and soul, how humans act and fail to act upon while believing they are doing so to protect or promote a common or their own individual humanity - and rife throughout this masterpiece. I was wrecked for days after reading this book. Staring at such harsh, undigestible truths; witnessing each of the innumerable dark, deeply disturbing acts; I was laid bare, vulnerable, bereft. And that, my fellow readers, is a hallmark of the very best kind of book.

  • Book
    2019-05-21 11:02

    Well, I liked this book a great deal already, maybe even before reaching the first 50 pages, and I felt attached to its setting and characters. It felt certainly very familiar and yet new, and the way it was told was like watching a movie. There is a multitude of characters and stories and they span from north to south, they keep surprising me, but the biggest surprise was the brief encounter between the rat and Rasputin, this made me want to read more about Rasputin as if all these years of hearing about him never made me, and "the good doktor" was another "very" interesting character. I can go on like this and list all the characters this novel tells about, but I feel other readers will be surprised/delighted the same or more than i did.

  • Craig Strachan
    2019-05-22 13:09

    This book is not at all what I was expecting, but I loved it. It reminded me of Indian literature, where inanimate things almost take on a life of their own, there are hints of alchemy, magic and the supernatural (Midnight's Children comes to mind). And like a lot of Indian literature I have read, I find it almost impossible to say exactly what the book is about.The characters are interesting, story is intriguing, some scenes are very disturbing, but you have to read on.I don't think you will feel indifferent about this book, I think you will find it amazing, or you just won't get it. But I think you will be intrigued by it.

  • Eva
    2019-06-01 16:12

    This was a well written book that I would recommend. It takes place during WWII and chronicles the lives of several immigrants trying to make a life in the US. The characters are well fleshed out and have distinct personalities. I was pulled in to the story quickly. There are a few mini-storylines involved, so the read did get a little confusing at certain parts. It wasn't enough to pull me out by any means.PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS BOOK INCLUDES SOME SCENES OF CHILD SEXUAL MOLESTATION. ALTHOUGH IT IS NOT GRAPHIC, SOME MAY BE SENSITIVE TO READING THIS TYPE OF MATERIAL.

  • Polly Krize
    2019-05-20 15:03

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.Holocaust literature is admittedly a difficult read, but Unspeakable Things is not only about the Holocaust. It is about redemption and returning to life after difficult experiences. Written whimsically and graphically, one must read through the difficult passages dealing with abusive sex and child molestation and see what Ms. Spivack is really trying to say: that life goes on, although the light may flicker in dark times.

  • Chaitra
    2019-06-04 11:11

    I don't know that I can say anything about this book, except that the writing was so overwrought that I wanted to pluck my eyes out even before the Tolstoi Quartet made its appearance. I have no idea if the magical realism in the book is a euphemism to the actual horror of the Holocaust, I just thought it was a terrible idea. I was glad when I was done with it.

  • Tuck
    2019-05-29 18:46

    a strange mix of historical wwii and nyc experience with magical happenings a la marquez. some bold metaphors, some gruesome 'things' happening to the defenseless, but very little about the actual nazis, but the unspeakable things people can/will/would do to ones that might be just a little bit less powerful. has very nice passages about the ny public library. a unique story in wwii topics.

  • Doug
    2019-06-14 12:10

    Lots of problems with this one. First off, the writing is sloppy. There is a scene early on when we hear a “series of squeaks” coming from a “small dusty bundle” in a library. It sounds like a bag full of kittens to me until it’s opened. Inside, is a single creature described as a rat – and it talks, and we recognize the voice as a character from earlier in the novel. I read this, jaw agape, pleasantly amazed at this turn of events. However, as the scene continues, the rat must be carried in both arms. It is now described as a human body “shrunk to 2/3rds it’s size”. Now I’m confused. No longer a rat, but still some kind of transformational process is implied. Keep reading. Wrong again. It’s the same character, just stricken by osteoporosis, I assume. I reread this passage three times to see how I could have misconstrued things to badly. But it wasn’t me afterall. No matter how many times I reread it, I came to the same conclusions. The author likes to write in broad, rather vague metaphors, without ever stating what’s actually going on. We are supposed to get the “feel” of the events through her over-the-top, mystical prose style. How a “small dusty bundle” could possibly contain a full-grown person is beyond me – I personally wouldn’t consider a bag with a person in it to be small. Couple that with a “series of squeaks” and you’re definitely assuming kittens or puppies or the like. This goes on all throughout the novel and it’s just plain careless writing, especially when coupled with a fantastic, if not absurdist, plot line. When the plot doesn’t make any logical sense, and the prose-style is even more misleading, you have endless confusion, where nothing can be taken literally, not a simple description or an unfolding event. Marquez, I suppose, instinctively knew this when he wrote 100 Years of Solitude, combining fantastic events with an unembellished prose style so we are never left wondering what the hell just happened. Beyond the prose, there are narrative problems too. I am a huge fan of magical realism, but this novel is just plain silly. Events are so outrageous, again coupled with nonsensical prose, that I had to wonder if I was reading an all-out comedy. Rasputin is characterized here in such a way that I had to laugh out loud. A collection of severed fingers in a jar that can leap about and sing songs so loudly that someone shouts “Make them stop!” is just too over-the-top for me. One has to be able to picture these things in their head, otherwise, we’re reading pure symbolism and sophistry. I never had any trouble imaging the monsters in Alexi Zentner’s Touch, or the mysterious events in The Snow Child or Life After Life, or the most beautiful girl in town floating up into heaven in 100 Years of Solitude. But the magical realism in Unspeakable Things, if one can call it that, seems more surreal or symbolic than magical. It falls flat, inducing more giggles than a sense of wonder. However, silly scenes like these mixed with topics like the holocaust, child molestation, the death of children, physical deformity, are not the stuff of hilarity. Clearly the author is not intending comedy but something serious, but loses it among all the prose and outlandish plot points. There are also characterization issues. I never really understand why Anna sympathizes with a Nazi conspirator. I supposed it’s somehow explained in all that purple prose, but I’m guess I’m not elevated enough to grasp it.

  • Matt Hubbell
    2019-05-31 18:13

    I could tell from the beginning that I am not part of the intended audience for this book, but my thoughts remain the same. I picked this up because I'm part of a book club, and I honestly wish my friend had chosen something, anything, else instead. Before starting this, I understood it to be a historical fiction with some tragic love issues, which already didn't interest me, but I figured, Maybe it'll surprise me.Oh, was I surprised.First, though, the writing quality, the variance of sentence styles, language, and tricks-of-the-trade (for spicing up the English language), they were all great. Kathleen Spivack is an excellent writer (for the most part, since I'm basing solely on reading this), so I have no qualms with her writing ability.The story itself, however, was a terrible idea. It's almost like it wanted to be a historical fiction with a dash of sci-fi (enter left stage, mad scientist character that talks to his genetic engineering experiments and hears them, specifically living musician's pinkies, talk back) and an underlying theme of everyone's struggles to love themselves and their life. But the love struggles took center stage, made the historical fiction aspect just a distant detail, and honestly overdid it on the mad scientist part. The sex scenes went too far--I don't want to read about Rasputin's rape-stockholm containment of a woman who wanted nothing more than to be a decent wife and enjoy her life, even though she was miserable. I don't need to read that cousins are madly in love with each other and decide to go to third-base, because, why the hell not. None of that honestly adds any pleasure, at least in my view, to this book.And having the spirit of a dead son of the central family (I think he was a child, although I don't know because this book jumps around in time so much that it takes fifteen pages to understand when someone's childhood is being talked about versus their present self) always around, haunting the memories of the parents, I think that was honestly clever. Although, when he starts talking to others that never knew him, having new conversations, etc, that's where it gets a bit overboard. Especially if you're going to say "I'm not a ghost, but I'm going to speak to people that never knew me alive."And, a small but important detail, the ending dragged on for about 40 pages too long. Details are good, but there is such a thing as excess, and there is especially such a thing as "I don't care about this family's happily-ever-after day-to-day life." It could have been shorted into about 10 pages and held the same important information.Overall, there were a few parts that made me laugh, but when I say a few, I mean perhaps three or four throughout the 287 pages. And even though I wasn't a fan of the story, I'll admit the novel did have a flow that made it easy to push through. I wish I could rate in half-star intervals, because I'd say this gets a:1.5/5, rather than just a 1/5, specifically because of these reasons.

  • Roger Brunyate
    2019-06-14 15:05

    Baroque, Bestial, BrilliantThough not the prime meaning of the title, the Holocaust surely comes into the category of "unspeakable things." Yet it is a subject that must be spoken of, again and again. And when straight words lose their force, you talk of it obliquely, or backwards, or upside down. The horrors are so obscene that they distort language itself, becoming something close to grotesque farce or surreal pornography. It is an approach we have seen quite a lot in the past two decades, for example in Time's Arrow by Martin Amis, A Blessing on the Moon by Joseph Skibell, or Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank. Or, for another strikingly oblique approach, though not in the least comic, The White Hotel by D. M. Thomas. I mention these only to mark out some imaginative space within which to site Kathleen Spivack's extraordinary new novel. But hers is wildly original, totally sui generis, and as likely to infuriate some readers as it will delight and disturb others.Unspeakable Things is more accurately described as a refugee novel, being set in New York City in about 1940; the closest we get to the camps is the departure of a single character from Vienna in a sealed boxcar. But without the Holocaust, none of the characters would have had to flee to New York and live whole families to a single room in cold water flats. No matter how bizarre, how perverse Spivack's action becomes, you know that even more unimaginable things are going on in Auschwitz, Maidanek, and the laboratories of Dr. Mengele. This is the Holocaust reflected in a fun-house mirror, but—unlike the situation in Europe—ultimately offering the hope of emerging from the madhouse and making your garden grow.Spivack pulls together a peculiar set of characters. There is Herbert, known as Herr Hofrat, a former civil servant who even in New York seems to be able to arrange things for his suffering compatriots who pay court to him in an automat or the Public Library. There is his son, David, who works in Washington, translating ads from German papers in case they contain codes. There is his wife Adeline, a former pianist now confined to a mental hospital. There is Herbert's long-time correspondent (in Esperanto, chess notation, and various more normal languages), Anna, known as "the Rat," a diminutive Russian Countess, permanently bent into the shape of a question mark, whose only experience of physical sex was at the sulfurous hands of the mad monk Rasputin. There is the pediatrician Dr. Felix who plays sex games with his juvenile patients, has a shrine to Hitler in his bedroom, and dreams of being able to clone supermen from preserved genetic material. And there is the Tolstoi Quartet, four aging string players whose price for being smuggled to America was the amputation of their little fingers.Spivack's writing is superb, ranging from poetic descriptions of New York to the pornographic excesses of Rasputin's assault on the hunchbacked Countess. I cannot quote the first without taking too much space, and the second is too rich for general audiences, but it would be wrong to end without offering some samples of the prose. So here are two brief paragraphs, both from near the end of the novel, the first bizarre, the second sadly true. There is a lot more where these came from:From the closed refrigerator, also, came the sound of A, loud and clear, piercing, as the severed quartet fingers cried out from their concealment. "Aleph. We are Alive!" All of New York was sounding to the tone of A: The skyscrapers, the trumpets, the solemn shafts of sunlight piercing, as in the inside of a cathedral, the dark streets.Home. A difficult concept in a new world. How to find oneself at home again? Far away, the blanketed cities of Europe huddled, the rust of blood on their stones. All that dark tragic history, that sense of cynicism and fatalism led to a point of view that would be known, in the more dignified sense, as "European Philosophy." All founded on certainty, and fear, and the inability to prevent death. Europe reeked of death. […] Here hopes rained like gold, promises burned the land to a crisp, and there was no history to be seen in the hastily thrown up houses of the United States of America.+ + + + + +I originally posted this review on Amazon with a five-star rating. Almost immediately, though, I added a comment giving an alternative point of view, not so much on the quality of Spivack's narrative, but upon the morality of watching it as voyeurs:For the sake of fairness, let me offer an opposing view to what I have written above. I said of the Holocaust, "Yet it is a subject that must be spoken og, again and again." Must it? Why? So that we do not forget. For this reason, books like The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel's Night—the simple narratives of the Holocaust—should continue to be taught in schools. But is there not also a danger that we do not turn this most terrible example of man's inhumanity into a cliché or, worse, a half-forgotten quarry of source material to be mined by clever authors for some delicious frisson?In giving an enthusiastic five stars to Kathleen Spivack's novel, I was always aware that behind her playfulness there was the murder of an entire people, that behind her pornography lay true events even more obscene. But I felt this because I had already read the simple narratives; I already knew. But supposing I didn't? Can I say that anything in Spivack's book told me about them, or even made me see them in a new light? The White Hotel by DM Thomas, to which I compared her novel, for all the extraordinary weirdness with which it opened, did at the end let me approach the Holocaust through a back door, so to speak; you went through and suddenly there it was, in all its horror. There is no such back door in this novel, no way in which the real events in Europe might be accessed through the fictional ones in America. I responded to Spivack as a clever author—but should I have done? Is not the very idea obscene?

  • Rachel
    2019-05-20 18:00

    Book was ok.... sounded much more intriguing in the synopsis on dust jacket. "Hungarian countess known as The Rat"& " mystic faith healer Gregori Rasputin"- who made a brief appearance beyond his burned on handprint on the thighs of " the rat". Never read the word "aureole " more in my entire reading life. Would give 2.5 stars.

  • Eric
    2019-06-10 11:50

    Characters, victims and courage through the imaginative, if repelling, world trauma of pre-WWII New York and Vienna. “There are no solutions - final or temporary. History is merely hindsight, the important illusion of control”. Timelines are a convergence of places with the smell of anguish and the sight of bodily tremors.

  • Carol Frazer
    2019-06-06 18:09

    Not exactly what I was expecting. A little too much fantasy for me.