Welcome to Day Four in the HarperCollins Blog Tour for The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski! Be sure to visit back here this afternoon for my personal Top Five books set in the 1950’s, and remember to leave a comment in order to be entered to win a finished copy of the book, courtesy of HarperCollins.
Conceived in love and possibility, Bonaventure Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. No one knows that Bonaventure’s silence is filled with resonance—a miraculous gift of rarefied hearing that encompasses the Universe of Every Single Sound. Growing up in the big house on Christopher Street in Bayou Cymbaline, Bonaventure can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He can also hear the gentle voice of his father, William Arrow, shot dead before Bonaventure was born by a mysterious stranger known only as the Wanderer.
Bonaventure’s remarkable gift of listening promises salvation to the souls who love him: his beautiful young mother, Dancy, haunted by the death of her husband; his Grand-mère Letice, plagued by grief and a long-buried guilt she locks away in a chapel; and his father, William, whose roaming spirit must fix the wreckage of the past. With the help of Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole housekeeper endowed with her own special gifts, Bonaventure will find the key to long-buried mysteries and soothe a chorus of family secrets clamouring to be healed.
Sometimes the right book comes along at the right time and strikes a chord within. Such was the case with Bonaventure Arrow. There’s a sweetness to this story that resonated with me long after I closed the cover, so much so that I’ve gone back again and again to reread sections. The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow is a story of sorrow and loss, of deep and abiding love and of the ability to see beauty throughout. Each character is beautifully nuanced, affected by grief in different ways but still interesting and compelling to follow.
Bonaventure Arrow is no ordinary protagonist. In fact, he’s not physically present for the first third of the novel as we meet his parents and follow their relationship from past history to meeting to love and his conception, and to his father’s untimely demise. However, his parents’ steadfast love is what shapes Bonaventure and his unique gift as Bonaventure himself does not speak. Instead, he has the ability to hear every sound in the universe, including the voices of the spirits and the small sounds of nature. His connections with the world around him are deeper and more meaningful, as Bonaventure can hear not only the words spoken, but also the emotion behind them.
Bonaventure Arrow could hear conjured charms and sanctified spirits deep in the marrow of New Orleans. He could hear the movements of voodoo queens and the prayers of long dead saints. He could hear the past and the present.
I loved that the other characters were just as richly drawn as Bonaventure. Dancy’s sense of loss is felt deeply by her son and by the reader, and you mourn with her. William misses his family so much that he cannot move on beyond Almost Heaven, preferring to observe their lives wistfully and to converse with his son – the only one who can hear him. Each of the grandmothers is has a motive, and each hides secrets of her own that will irrevocably change lives. Even the setting is a rich character in the story, and you feel the heat and emotion of New Orleans in the 1950’s as it winds itself throughout the lives of the characters.
Each person stalls in the process of letting go. Bridging the gap between mourning their loss and moving on is the indomitable Trinidad, who moves in the house on Christopher Street and into the lives of everyone there. She is truly the link between the traditions of Catholicism and of gris-gris, country and town, and privilege and poverty. Trinidad gently encourages each person to move forward and to complete the challenges each must face before they can truly live their lives again.
While some might describe this as a book of magical realism, there is much more to it. Religion, from strict Catholicism to revival-tent Baptist to Louisiana hoodoo and gris-gris does play a huge role in this novel. Everyone is searching for something to give them peace and meaning to fill the pain of loss and to allow them to move on. Each character finds solace in rituals, both religious and practical. Having said that, there are definite reminders of the realism within the book. From the explicit racism faced by Trinidad to the difficulties Bonaventure experiences when he attends regular school to the practicalities of Dancy starting her own business in order to make a living for her family, these glimpses of life in 1950’s New Orleans ground the book, allowing it room to fly.
Overall, this is a lovely read, filled with lyrical moments that take you out of your own world and into a special place of magic, love, loss and forgiveness. It’s worth taking the time to savor Leganski’s descriptions about a young boy’s ability to hear the world and to heal his family; there are moments so charming you will want to pause to appreciate every one.
Bonaventure would come to know that life is not always made of beautiful sounds, that too many sounds make cacophony, and that every voice matters.
He would come to understand that there’s a difference between the will of God and the will of man, that the acts of one person affects the lives of others, and that God reaches out when it all goes wrong.
Thanks to HarperCollins for the opportunity to participate in the blog tour, and for providing an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Now it’s your turn: Simply leave a comment below, and you will be given a chance to win a finished copy from the publishers. Contest is open internationally.
The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow is available for purchase from Indigo, Amazon and your friendly independent bookseller. ISBN: 9780062113764, 400 pages.