I was a little reluctant to read this book as it’s Pieper’s first novel even though I really enjoyed his memoir, The Feel-Good Hit of the Year, which I read last year.
I met him in Bali during Ubud Writers and Readers Festival some years ago along with beloved Rayya Ellias and some other authors from different countries as well. He looked so young to me to have the life experience to be a good writer. Well I was wrong. Because The Toymaker—just like Pieper’s memoir—is a very well researched, intricately pieced together and emotionally mature first novel.
If you’re a writer yourself, not many authors can actually surprise you. This seems to be a reoccurring theme with me these days. I did guess certain parts of the story even way before they actually happened but the last twist did take me by surprise. I highly recommend The Toymaker.
Here’s my favourite lines from the book:
The nephews had the excitable inbred quality that lurked inside all Irish, expressing itself like bad poetry across the features.
She considered herself a realist, and while she’d never managed to make a relationship last very long before Adam, growing around her chaotic, fabulist parents had inadvertently educated her in exactly what a marriage was, which was a contract to be negotiated time and again as the currencies brought to the table—sex, loyalty, companionship, family—waxed and waned.
This was an empire that had carved itself out of snow and sadness, a nation of people where each had been given both a life not worth living and an iron will to survive.
She wondered what it meant about the species that the internet was the pinnacle of human achievement and democracy, and it had become a giant scream of loneliness and insanity.
‘They say there are no atheists at the end of a gun.’
‘But anger is unproductive. It is useful for a minute, if you need to flee, if you need to fight, but in the camps, neither of those things were an option, and in the aftermath, even less so. Those of us who survived had to learn to temper our hatred, or it would destroy us. We are not machines designed to be run red hot. We must rest, we must heal. If we cannot let go of fear and hatred, we will always be in the camps.’
A man needs to be busy, especially when he’s sad.
I am Russian, after all. Without some kind of angst we feel lonely.