Friday, August 1, 2014

You Must Go Home Again: Home Leave by Brittani Sonnenberg

I enjoyed reading Brittani Sonnenberg’s first novel, Home Leave. I liked the narrator changes throughout the novel including the house that starts the story in Vidalia, Mississippi. The stage is set in the house that describes the characters and some of their formative influences. The center of attention is on Elise and the effects of early abuse by a family member. Instead of this dominating the story, Elise escapes the confining Southern environment and lives an international life with her successful businessman husband, Chris.

Elise and Chris and eventually their two daughters, Leah and Sophie, evolve in a number of locations including Germany, China, Thailand, and come to consider themselves “Expats.” It is interesting that exposure to and study of languages and cultures even for a period of years do not guarantee a feeling of belonging in foreign lands. Each member of the family has a sense of not fitting in to the country they are assigned by the work of Chris. This is a common experience of families involved in international business assignments.

Home leave is offered once a year for the family to return to the United States for reorientation and re-exposure to their home culture. The problem of feeling like they do not belong and have no reasonable developmental goals in a foreign country is countered by revisiting people and places that led to life decisions in the first place. Once back “home” the remembered environmental context and social interaction give the family members a reason for going on with life. Of course, the life progressing reasoning can be shattered by a tragic loss. Also, it is interesting that Chris often stays on the job and does not return with the family, a common practice of other heads of international business families.

I enjoyed the story and the writing style of the author. Most of the narrative is written in a simple and straight forward style. But, there are some interesting sentences at the end of chapters and chapter sections with unexpected word sequences that provoke complex feelings and thoughts. I marked several of those for future reference and enjoyment.

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