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Certainty    by Madeleine Thien order for
by Madeleine Thien
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Madeleine Thien's Certainty is a beautifully written book with an ironic title. The five main characters, who tell their stories, long for certainty in their lives but find it only in death. They love deeply, only discovering later that they didn't know the beloved as well as they thought they did.

Matthew didn't know and maybe never understood why Ani left him. He was brokenhearted by the breakup of their romance, but went on with his life, marrying Clara, and delighting in their daughter Gail. His family helps him to keep the memories of his childhood in Sandakan during the Japanese occupation at bay - though the terrible events of those years still keep him from sleeping at night.

Gail grows up longing to know more about her father's past. Because so many people suffered during the war, he was always reluctant to tell anyone about his experiences. Only Ani, who grew up with him, shares that knowledge.

Ansel, who has lived with Gail for ten years, starts the book with his story after Gail dies suddenly of a freak illness. His story weaves itself through those of Matthew, Clara, Ani, and Gail, back and forth between the past and the present, between Canada and Indonesia, with a side trip to Holland towards the end of the book. Throughout, the characters struggle to find the certainty that eludes them.

I loved this book. The descriptions of North Borneo, Jakarta, Vancouver and The Netherlands brought those places to life, and the main characters were all likeable and thoroughly believable. I hated to come to the end of this interesting story.

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