There are books that you have been wanting to read since a very long time but never got around to. They are just laying there on your shelf, waiting silently and more so patiently, so you can get to them. “By Blood” by Ellen Ullman was one of those books for me that just lay there for the longest time. I did not pick it up and even if I did, I would read a couple of pages and let it be there. Either something else would catch my fancy or there would be no inclination to read this one. When I finally did get around to reading this one, like most books that I read (and I would like to believe, often the best ones) this one also managed to take my breath away.
“By Blood” by Ellen Ullman is part-thriller, part-mystery, part-psychological novel and a literary fiction read like no other. This book definitely made me see why literature and reading was so important to me, maybe not because of the plot so much so, as the way it has been written. The book is set in San Francisco in the 70’s, at the height of the Zodiac Killer’s reign in the city. At the heart of this novel are three major characters whose lives somehow get connected and twisted to a very large extent. A professor who is wasted and done for in his life, over hears a lesbian (And that is not the complete identity of the woman. There is more to her which the reader will know in the book.) speaking with her therapist about wanting to find her parents and this is where the book begins. The professor wants to know more about the girl, and the girl is on her search, and the therapist’s life is embroiled deeply into the tale. At the backdrop is but definitely the serial killer and his on-goings which add to the novel from a holistic perspective.
These three characters are etched superbly and the book at times is so dark that you might just have to stop, breathe a little and then get back to the book. The book touches on so many issues at one time, that as a reader I had to go back and forth and try and connect the dots, however doing that had an excitement level of its own. The story seems simple on the surface; however it is the writing that makes it wondrous and deep.
The characters are flawed and real and make no bones about doing what they do and why they do. Such honesty in the book is what kept me turning the pages, one after the other. The moral issues underlining the book are fantastic (which the readers will come to know as the plot unveils). Ullman takes you on a journey from San Francisco to Germany to the Holocaust to Israel and back to the United States. This should be enough and more intriguing points. I of course was not aware of it till I read the book, however as I got to the parts, I was taken in and blown over. As much as I have loved this month till now when it comes to reading, this one made it more complete. A great and worthy read.