Review: When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

It takes a strong book to make me cry. In fact, I don’t remember ever crying over a book, no matter how emotional it made me feel. This one may be the first, and what a story it was.

According to the blurb, this book is about a brother and a sister. It’s not though, it’s about a girl, Elly, and her relationship with everyone. Her parents, her extended family, her brother and maybe most poignantly (in my view), her relationship with her best friend Jenny Penny. It’s literary; gorgeously written, and yes quite purple at times, but for once I lapped the flowery prose up without a care in the world. I think maybe I’m growing into the idea of purple prose. Or maybe this book was just so beautifully written it was impossible not to love it.

It’s a family story with, of course, its fair share of drama. We’re thrown into it all quite roughly from the very start, with issues that are handled with, to quote the blurb, “an appealing frankness“. It’s honest and real, it’s life in all its glory and misery. It’s emotional and heart-wrenching but then some unexpected comedy will be thrown in that pretty much knocks you for six.

“You said I could be anything I wanted when I was older,” I said.
She smiled and said, “And you can be. But it’s not very easy to become Jewish.”
“I know,” I said forlornly, “I need a number.”

The issues explored in this book were often quite passively addressed. Half the time, an incident was only implied, vaguely thrown in then brushed to the side as if unimportant. It took me a while to understand why the author chose to do this; isn’t it kind of making light of some very serious matters such as rape? But as I progressed through the story it became so much clearer: the overall message is that our positive memories can be so much stronger than the negative, and our lives and the people in them can help the pain.

I loved this book. I loved the protagonist, I loved and related to everyone in her life. I relished the prose and cried over the hurt characters. I couldn’t put this book down. It was compelling and glorious and I strongly recommend it.


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