Book Review: The Hundred Hearts

heartsMany thanks to Thomas Allen & Sons Ltd. for sending this book to us for review. I loved it. I was very surprised at my reaction and feeling to it, as I had just finished a somewhat similar “war” book (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena) and was wondering if I would be engaged enough to read another one. While each book is definitely different, I found I really, really enjoyed The Hundred Hearts more soIt’s on its way over to Jackie now because I think she’ll really like this one too.

Here is Kowalski’s description of The Hundred Hearts, taken from his website:

My fifth novel, The Hundred Hearts, will be published by Thomas Allen Publishers in May of 2013. It’s too soon to say much about the book yet, but it’s never too soon to show off a beautiful cover like this. I am exceptionally happy with it. It was designed by Michel Vrana, who went out of his way to spend time talking with me about my vision and did his best to incorporate it in the final design.

Michel’s job is a hard one. He must find something to please the sales and marketing team, the editor, the author, and the potential reader, while still maintaining his integrity as an artist. I think he pulled it off.

Each heart will be individually stenciled with spray paint, and will therefore be distinct in some small way from the other ninety-nine. This is the kind of craftsmanship you don’t see much of these days, especially in book cover design.

The story is about a young American soldier who returns home after being gravely wounded in Afghanistan. He tries to re-adjust to life at home at the same time as he deals with his F’d up family. I should have an “official” description of the book soon, but that’s basically it.

Mr. Kowalski has hit upon two things above. First, his brief description about his book is bang on. It’s really basically that, it’s about Jeremy returning from Afghanistan and attempting to regain a life that is no longer memorable to him, but also the time spent in Afghanistan poses difficulty as well, as he is no longer that person either. Throw in a messed up, very dysfunctional family and you have The Hundred Hearts.

Secondly he mentions the quality of the cover design, but I want to mention the quality of the book itself as well. Every time I’ve picked up a Thomas Allen publication I am incredibly impressed at the quality. The softcover always has a flap with heavy cover stock, the pages are so sharp, crisp, white and simply beautiful to touch. And honestly, even the smell of the book is distinct! I absolutely love holding, reading and feeling Thomas Allen publications. The Hundred Hearts was a book that I couldn’t stop touching, holding and flipping through, but mostly I couldn’t put it down because of what was contained in the pages.

Last year’s buzz book about our generation of war was Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk by Ben Fountain. We read that one for our Wink 3 book club, and I have to tell you, The Hundred Hearts is far superior, in my opinion. It really deserves a wide readership and I hope I am convincing enough to get you to read this one, especially if you did read Billy Lynn. To me there was no comparison. Kowalski gifted the reader with characters so vivid and real, the story is so sharp, far more coherent, dosed with heavy hits of humour and holds a huge amount of heart. The people in this book will take a firm hold on your heart. The writing will keep you glued to the pages.

One perspective I really enjoyed was Jeremy’s grandfather Al. Everyone has an Al in their family. That acerbic, grouchy, “it’s not how it used to be” kind of grandfather. But Al also still suffers deeply from the demons he brought home from Vietnam. Al is the way he is, and his relationship with his wife, children and grandchildren are all formed based the man he was when he returned from Vietnam. I loved that Kowalski brought attention to it, to show the similarities found in the men returning home from Afghanistan. Al later gives up information about his actions and part taken in the atrocities, or war crimes, in that war, which Al wholeheartedly defends.

Jeremy returns home broken in so many ways other than his physical trauma and struggles to regain an identity all the while navigating the mess that his family. The situation with Grandpa Al, and the parts where he takes care of his mentally challenged cousin Henry are all filled with great humour and I found myself laughing out loud many times.  The Hundred Hearts deserves a far and wide readership and I do encourage you to read this one, Jeremy, Al and Henry are three men you won’t forget about for some time. 5-stars for this superbly written book full of heart and humour.