Monday, May 10, 2010

Letter to My Daughter: Review and Giveaway

Think about the letters you've saved over the years. Are they love letters? Are they the letters you got from home during your first summer away at camp? Do you have a box full of letters from best friends, full of events and compliments, or acceptances to schools or for jobs? You probably saved these letters because they touched your emotions when you first read them. Chances are good that they still affect you when you reread them.

An epistolary novel is a fictional book written as a series of documents, usually letters, although diary or journal entries, newspaper clippings, and other documents are sometimes used. In recent times, electronic "documents" such as email and even blogs have also come into use. The word 'epistolary' comes from the Latin word epistola, meaning a letter. The very first epistolary novel may have been the Spanish Prison of Love (Cárcel de amor) (c.1485) by Diego de San Pedro. Throughout the years, there have been countless books written in epistolary form, which became popular as a genre in the 18th century, fell largely out of use in the late part of that century, and then became popular again. Even Jane Austen tried her hand at epistolary writing, with her novella, Lady Susan, and Pride and Prejudice, which contains many letters, may have originally been intended as an epistolary novel called "First Impressions". Recently I read two epistolary books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows (which I reviewed in epistolary form), and West From Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder (which I also reviewed). Epistolary novels often feel a bit more intimate, more revealing, and more passionate to me than regular novels, and I looked forward to reading a new book in this genre, Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop, published in 2010.

Letter to My Daughter is written as a letter from a distraught mother, Laura, to her daughter, Liz, on the eve of her fifteenth birthday. Liz has left home in the middle of the night in her mother's car after a fight with her. As Laura anxiously awaits her daughter's return, she writes a letter to Liz about her own past and the secrets she has kept hidden. In it, she reveals how at fifteen she fell in love with a Cajun boy, Tim Prejean, who was two years older than her. Her parents strongly disapproved of her relationship with Tim, and sent Laura away to a boarding school run by nuns, the Sacred Heart Academy in Baton Rogue. Tim has enlisted in the army during the era of the Vietnam War, and he and Laura continue their forbidden romance through letters in this coming-of-age story.

Imaginative and affecting, I was transfixed and transported by descriptions in Letter to My Daughter of rural Louisiana and could easily envision "the sticks" where "small houses stood scattered here and there among the trees" in a place with "dirt roads, dirt yards, and dirt gardens". The beauty of this book is in the details and the way the author captures feelings on paper (Tim's father, who lives in a camping trailer in the woods, is described as "desperately hospitable", offering can after can of RC Cola to Liz). Although it's short, the story is full of power and emotion. Like a treasured letter, this is a book to read and reread. It would be a very good choice for mother/daughter book clubs, and may even inspire some mothers to write letters to their own children--about things that are important but difficult to express face-to-face.

After reading Letter to My Daughter, I was curious about something and asked the author a couple of questions:

Why did you write Letter to My Daughter from the point of view of a woman, Liz's mother? What "advantages" and/or "disadvantages" did this give you as a writer?

Here is his reply:

Dear Suko's Notebook,

Thanks for hosting me here on your blog. Lots of readers have wondered about the female point of view in my novel Letter to My Daughter.

A few years ago I was working in India, and at the end of my job, I took a camel safari in the desert. I went to sleep in my tent one night, and I dreamed this whole novel, beginning to end. In my dream, the story was clearly told from the point of view of the mother. I heard the woman's voice, even. The odd thing is that I don't know anyone quite like Laura, the narrator in the story. She's not based on anyone in real life.

So I went into the novel with a strong sense of the voice and the story. Still, it took some time to overcome my doubts about writing from a woman's point of view. But eventually I realized that it wasn't all that different from a man's point of view. The big emotions--fear, love, hate, jealousy--are all the same no matter who you are. The challenge is in getting the details right--what a teenage girl sees when she looks at a boy she admires, for example. Things like this took some imagining. Happily, women who've read the novel seem to think I got it right.

~George Bishop

Fascinating! George, I enjoyed reading your answer in epistolary form.

Wonderful news! Random House is offering one copy of Letter to My Daughter as a giveaway (U.S./Canada).
  • To enter the giveaway for this book, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.
  • For yet another chance, mention an epistolary book that you've enjoyed reading.
Enter by 5 PM PDT on Wednesday, June 2. One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Thursday, June 3. Good luck!



Special thanks to Lisa from TLC and Random House for sending me this book. For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's blog tour for Letter to My Daughter.

51 comments:

  1. this book sounds lovely! i would love to sit outside this summer and enjoy a cup of tea with this book!

    kshuttle@uoguelph.ca

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  2. i am a blog follower

    kshuttle@uoguelph.ca

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've seen this one around and would love to read it.

    I am a follower.

    teresasreadingcorner at gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  4. This book really sounds like a wonderful read.. I'm not sure if I qualify to enter, but would love to! Please do count me in!

    I am a follower. Will be posting about this on Facebook. :)

    Two epistolary books that I enjoyed reading are - Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster and Speedpost by Shobha De.

    Thanks for hosting this giveaway!! Nice of you!! :)

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  5. Definitely one for my journey around America. I love books in epistolary format. I am impressed that the author dreamt the whole story in one night. I wish I could do that.

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  6. I thought this book was so good and I love the email you got from the author. No need to enter me.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This sounds like a really fascinating book. I love letters and I regret how little they're used nowadays. I still have all the letters I received in elementary school!

    No need to enter me in the contest. I'm in one of those moods where I"m desparately trying ot get rid of books, not acquire them. :D

    ReplyDelete
  8. This book sounds like a good read and something I would like to share with my 17 yr old daughter too. We enjoy reading books that appeal to both of us.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This was a great review. And that interview was really insightful. I would love to win a copy of this book. I am already a follower.

    bookventuresbookclub AT gmail DOT com

    ReplyDelete
  10. This book is on my wish list! Thank you for the giveaway.

    freda.mans[at]sympatico.ca

    ReplyDelete
  11. Already a GFC follower.

    freda.mans[at]sympatico.ca

    ReplyDelete
  12. tweet; http://twitter.com/fredalicious/status/13796701272

    freda.mans[at]sympatico.ca

    ReplyDelete
  13. The Color Purple by Alice Walker was one of the best epistolary books I have ever read.

    freda.mans[at]sympatico.ca

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks for the book giveaway. The book sounds very interesting. please enter me in the giveaway.

    I am a follower.

    jgoffice(at)cox(dot)net

    ReplyDelete
  15. I would love to win this book.
    Love & Hugs,
    Pam
    pk4290(at)comcast.net

    ReplyDelete
  16. I follow this blog on google reader
    Love & Hugs,
    Pam
    pk4290(at)comcast(dot)net

    ReplyDelete
  17. Please count me in. This sounds like such a fantastic read.

    melacan at hotmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm a follower

    melacan at hotmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  19. I loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

    melacan at hotmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  20. I'd like to read this one. Thanks for the giveaway.
    mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

    ReplyDelete
  21. blog follower via GFC
    mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

    ReplyDelete
  22. I enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Peel Society.
    I contained many letters, but I'm not sure if it would be called an epistolary novel.
    mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

    ReplyDelete
  23. This sounds like a wonderful read Suko! No need to enter me in the giveaway but thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one!

    ReplyDelete
  24. This sounds wonderful! I'd love to be entered into this one. I'm a follower.

    yvone473[at]optonline[dot]net

    ReplyDelete
  25. No need to enter me, babe. I'm dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

    ReplyDelete
  26. This book sounds very interesting. I love books in the epistolary format and enjoyed the Guernsey book a lot! Nice review, this one is definitely going on my TBR list :)

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  27. I'd like to be entered, thanks.

    unforgetable_dreamer_always(at)hotmail.com

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  28. Hi Suko, this book sounds interesting. I like that its written as a letter. And great question for the author, I enjoyed reading his answer.
    Very cool that the novel came to him in a dream!
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  29. "Think about the letters you've saved over the years. Are they love letters? Are they the letters you got from home during your first summer away at camp? Do you have a box full of letters from best friends, full of events and compliments, or acceptances to schools or for jobs? You probably saved these letters because they touched your emotions when you first read them. Chances are good that they still affect you when you reread them."-for better or worse soon such memories will be gone for those who never lived in a world without E mail-I wonder if one day people will pull up a treasured E mail and think-that is the first e mail I got from my future Wife or husband?- very good review as always

    ReplyDelete
  30. Thanks for all the comments so far.

    Priya, unfortunately this particular giveaway is limited to the U.S. and Canada. But I will be posting a new international giveaway later this month for a unique book which combines prose and poetry!

    Mel, hopefully people still write traditional love letters and such with pen and paper, at least once in a while, in this electronic age of ours. Somehow, a declaration of devotion by email (or worse, by text message) is just not as romantic!

    More comments welcomed.

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  31. An e-mail can't do what a letter can. The loss of letters is a sorrowful loss.

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  32. I really really want to read this book and want to say thanks for hosting this giveaway. Please enter me.

    tbranco AT hughes DOT net

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  33. No need to enter me, I have the book. I love that the author dreamed the entire story! I always wanted to write--why can't I have dreams like this?!

    ReplyDelete
  34. I enjoy the storyline of this book and would like to win and read it.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  35. I follow by google reader.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  36. Please include me! Thanks

    I'm a new follower!

    dcf_beth at verizon dot net

    ReplyDelete
  37. I'd love to read this. Thanks!
    pbclark(at)netins(dot)net

    ReplyDelete
  38. I follow.
    pbclark(at)netins(dot)net

    ReplyDelete
  39. I would like to read this book. I have been reading some good reviews about this book and the story sure sounds interesting. Recently I read "Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society", that was my first epistolary novel and I have to say I liked the style of writing very much..

    archanaskorner(at)gmail(dot)com

    Thanks
    Arch

    ReplyDelete
  40. Would love to enter and I am a new blog follower as well.

    Thank you

    lisa.2713 at gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  41. Hi Suko!! Sorry I'm so late getting over here, but I just wanted to say how much I love your review. I love how you gave some history of the epistolary form too. And George's answer in the form of a ltter is just perfect! Thanks so much for being on the tour, and please enter me in the contest too!

    ReplyDelete
  42. This book is on my wish list.

    I think the best epistolary book I've ever read is The Color Purple. It remains one of my all-time favorite books.

    I read via RSS on Google Reader.

    JHS
    Colloquium

    admin at jhsiess dot com

    ReplyDelete
  43. please count me in...thanks :)

    karenk
    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

    ReplyDelete
  44. Please enter me in this giveaway!

    familyhistree at yahoo dot com

    Sarah E

    ReplyDelete
  45. I follow via GFC.

    familyhistree at yahoo dot com

    Sarah E

    ReplyDelete
  46. I tweeted:

    http://twitter.com/saemmerson/status/15127809573

    familyhistree at yahoo dot com

    Sarah E

    ReplyDelete
  47. An epistolary book I enjoyed reading was A Frontier Lady by Sarah Royce, written as diary entries, about the author's true story of traveling across country in a covered wagon and settling in California in 1849.

    familyhistree at yahoo dot com

    Sarah E

    ReplyDelete
  48. I have been wanting to read this book since I first saw it. I would love to be entered.

    GFC follower

    sharon54220@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  49. I really enjoyed this book, too. Thanks for asking the author about writing from a female POV. I wondered the same thing.

    I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  50. Anna, it's more than okay for you to link to this review. I am honored. :)

    Thanks for all the comments, posts, and tweets. The contest is open until 5 PM PDT on June 2.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I may save every letter and card I've ever received. When I was younger I sorted them by who they are from, but not they are in a couple of totes in my basement. I especially treasure letters from my Great- Grandmas and Grandmas who have since passed away.

    ReplyDelete

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