Published by Knopf/DoubleDay on May 24, 2016
Genres/Lists: #30Authors, Fiction
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I started reading Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe after it became increasingly popular in my Twitter feed. I didn’t know what it was about but after reading the synopsis, I knew I had to pick it up (and invite the author to join in #30Authors!). In short, it’s about a girl named Vera, the daughter of Lucas and Katya. They had her at a very young age and Lucas wasn’t around for most of Vera’s childhood but had recently become a part of her life. So when Vera has a psychotic episode, he does what he thinks is best for her – takes her away from everything so that she can heal. They head to Vilnius, Lithuania, a place chosen because it is both far away and a source of mystery for Lucas. It is where is family is from and, curious about his own heritage, the trip serves dual purposes.
While Dear Fang, With Love revolves around Vera and her mental state, it weaves three stories into one. First, it’s the story of Vera, from her relationship with her boyfriend, Fang, to her commentaries on what is going on in the world. Each chapter begins with a piece written by Vera, such as a letter or a journal entry, and her acute analysis of the world around her is frighteningly on point at times. Her explorations of religion, humanity, human nature, and the meaning of life are so poignant and raw that it’s impossible not to ponder what she has to say.
Second, it’s the story of Lucas and the family lore that shapes the way he sees himself as a man and a father. Although he wasn’t around for most of Vera’s childhood, his desperate desire to save his daughter from herself is rife with questions, fear, and hope. I don’t have kids, myself, but I can only imagine that the emotions that guided him are very real for the parents who have watched a child study. While in Vilnius, he tries to sort out his own lineage, which offers a subplot that is equally interesting.
Lastly, it’s a story of mental illness and the effects it has on both the person afflicted and the people who love them most. I do not have a lot of experience with mental illness but Thorpe offers insight into the devastating emotional turmoil it can cause. From the first psychotic break to its aftermath, the reader is taken inside the minds of both Vera and Lucas, offering two vantage points for digesting and evaluating the same event. The result is an array of emotions for the reader.Dear Fang, With Love by @rufithorpe is a masterful exploration of mental illness. #30Authors Click To Tweet
With all of this said, I would be remiss if I fail to mention the importance of the setting in Dear Fang. Thorpe gives a rich, historical picture of Vilnius and it’s as important to the story as the characters themselves. After reading the acknowledgments, I learned that the author spent some time there, which should have been obvious given the tenderness and care she gave to describing the city, its inhabitants, and its history. Vilnius has deep ties to the Holocaust, a subject that is often explored in both heartbreaking and uncomfortable ways.
What I loved about Dear Fang, With Love is that Thorpe does not shy away from asking the hard questions. The book is peppered with pivotal moments, explorations, and epiphanies about the divine, the philosophical, and the dark side of human nature. If you have been paying any attention to what is going on in the world today, then you absolutely need to read this book, if only for Vera’s observations. Thorpe also carefully lays bare the bonds between each of the characters, all the while crafting relationships so painfully real that it will resonate with nearly any reader. Despite my lack of experience with mental illness and having children, I felt an emotional pull to each of the characters and Vera’s take on the world will stay with me for a long time to come.
Recommended for: Readers not afraid of uncomfortable questions and abstract thinking.