The History of SOUL 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff. Mythic Delirium Books, 2019. $15.95
I might not have been motivated to write a review of this book, except that the storytelling was, for me, a most pleasant delight early on. Probably I should have seen the twist coming but was not reading closely enough. It came as a surprise. For me, that experience was like tripping on a hot sidewalk but falling into a shallow pool of cool, delicious water instead of an unforgiving pavement. I was instantly in love.
The setup is simple. Two pre-teen Jewish girls meet in a forest in the early years of the 20th Century, not long before World War I. It’s not a meeting either was expecting, and it’s made more confusing for them as one is living in Russia, not far from Kiev, and the other is in Germany. Despite this impossible oddity and maybe some class differences, the two girls pledge to be friends forever. It’s a magical forest, and a pledge like that in a magical forest is serious business. The book then tells intertwined stories of the two families for the next 150 years.
And that is stories plural. Most of the chapters had been previously published as short stories in zines, magazines and anthologies. This means that most of the excursions, elaborations, digressions that one might expect from a novel are not there; the storytelling is local to each chapter and like most good short fiction, to the point. Various elements of the stories are not always fully explained or developed even across the entire book. If this were a conventional novel, that would be a bug. As a collection of short stories masquerading as a novel, it’s not as much of a problem.
The stories straddle fantasy and science fiction. There is, for example, time travel of a sort and the stories extend into our future. But there are also spirits, possession, and afterlife, the sort of premodern magical thinking that so comforts our brief on stage in the play of life. It’s all rather sentimental and understanding in a romance novel sort of way. This is not something that usually appeals to me these days, but as I said: I was charmed.
Give the book a read. I think you’ll be charmed as well. My only caution would be to skip Jane Yolen’s introduction or read it as an afterword. It really isn’t necessary.