CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 6 . . . .November 12, 2004
A Drop of Rain is a diary account of a young girl's life as she deals with personal and family issues between September and the end of December 1999. All of the characters in the book record their own diaries as well to help round out the information and offer different points of view to the situation. Unfortunately, it is a book that addresses far more that it can handle and fails to successfully deal with any of the issues.
Naomi is a teenager who has just moved with her mother, Eva, to Mapleville, a small town in Southwestern Ontario. Eva is a hard-working professor of engineering who lives an almost ascetic life, spurning fashions and even television. Naomi has to visit her grandmother in Edmonton to get her share of trendy clothes and fun activities. Eva's boyfriend, Joe, is a teacher who yearns to be a free-spirited photographer. Hanna, Eva's much older sister, is a terminally ill woman who also suffers from mental illness. Eva brings Hanna into their house so that she and Naomi can care for her. The physical and psychological constraints on the household cause tension in the relationships. It is especially hard on Eva. At the same time, Naomi falls for a boy named Curtis who seems to ignore her, and she is trying to deal with a new school and difficult friends.
Naomi's diary entries record the progress of a school project which touches upon her own family background, and the stories are thus woven together. Naomi's maternal grandparents and her aunt experienced the horrors of Nazi occupation in Poland during World War II. Naomi's grandmother committed suicide, likely because of her wartime experiences. Naomi's paternal grandmother was Jewish, and her father was a translator for Lech Walesa in Poland. She has never met her father or his family. Naomi interviews people who experienced the war and life under the communist government in Poland. Through this process and her work experience, she also learns that educated people who are immigrants to Canada are undervalued and often end up in menial jobs.
Finally, the crises are resolved. Hanna passes away. Eva's guilt over her sister is eased as she realizes she did the best she could. Joe quits his job to follow his dreams, and Eva allows herself to realize how much she loves him. She vows to relax and indulge their relationship, and she and Naomi are closer. Naomi and Curtis become a couple, and Curtis works on his family problems. Mary, Naomi's older friend, will recover from cancer and will live with Eva and Naomi. Naomi realizes that a school friend who spurned her also has problems. Naomi does well in her project and plans to go to university. She sends her project to her father, who contacts her for the first time. Things are looking up for everyone as the world enters the new millennium.
The plot to this story is complicated to begin with and is layered with subplots that combine to create a feeling of exhaustion at the end of the book. The author has included the very complicated personal problems of every single character as well as their backgrounds. The political issues presented range from the Nazi occupation of Poland, to the treatment of the Jews, to the Poles who saved Jews, to life under the communist regime, to the struggle of Solidarity, to the end of the regime and the failure of Solidarity, to the difficulties faced by professionally qualified immigrants in Canada. That's a lot for anyone to think about in one novel. Add to that Mary's reflections about the past that are done in the present tense, and confusion sends the reader flipping back through pages.
This story would succeed if the author could decide what she wants the focus of the story to be, especially if she wants to use a diary format that cannot provide the breadth of plot development a standard narrative allows. Naomi's troubles are difficult enough, but setting the novel in a new environment adds another issue that cannot be explored properly. Her friend Sarah becomes a stock character outwardly happy life, actually miserable. Naomi's stand against her employer fizzles out with no response. Naomi's grandparents in Edmonton and Eva's father, whom she doesn't know anyway, are not important to move the story forward. Eva's relationship with her mother is never really explained to the reader's satisfaction, and the grandfather's alcoholism is gratuitous. Mary's father tells her that she is from a second family, but there is no further reference to it or how it affects Mary later. Hanna's mental illness and activism in Canada are issues from the past but don't seem to affect the plot except in reflection. As a character, she just seems to take up a bedroom, says a few strange things and passes away.
It's clear that Heather Kirk wants to educate teens about the history of Poland, the Second World War and the Solidarity movement, creating characters she believes are righteous. However, these characters are not terribly successful. Mary is almost stereotypical, making sure that she includes everything she disliked about the old regime and her love of the Pope and religion in her entries. Kirk also has her relate story after story about her family life that serve no purpose, including second-hand wives' tales about flax seed poultices (?) Naomi doesn't know her own father, but at least he seems to be honest when he does make an appearance at the end, admitting that the movement he worked for did not accomplish what people had hoped.
There are some factual points that need to be clarified. On page 180, Mary recalls that the communist regime was widely blamed for the kidnaping and murder of a priest associated with the Solidarity movement, Jerzy Popieluszko. Yet, on page 188, Naomi and Joe conclude that the Solidarity struggle was unique because no one was killed. A character makes reference to radios being confiscated during the period of martial law in Poland from 1981 to 1983. More precisely, radios with two-way communication were taken. The Polish government used radio as an important propaganda tool, as did Solidarity with its effective, ever-moving underground station. On page 164, a Czech women interviewed by Naomi says that she has not returned to Prague since 1968 and meets her brother in Vienna for visits. But the communist regime ended there in 1989, and the state democratically divided into Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, ending the need to meet outside the country. Shouldn't this be mentioned?
Poor Naomi! She has to juggle all these people with all these problems as well as her own! It is too much, and the writing of the diary entries is often unnatural in Kirk's efforts to make a point:
Yes, bureaucrats are annoying, but how many of them really use the subject "one" in a typical conversation with a client?
A Drop of Rain suffers from trying to do too much. It is not an important book to add to a library collection.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.