Book Review: Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić

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★ ★ ★ ★

Saša Stanišić’s Before the Feast was a strange and whimsical story. It was one that had to be read in small portions, so it took me quite a while to get through despite thinking it would be a quick read. At times it was a challenging book because it required my full attention, but it was memorizing and beautifully written. Without giving too much detail away, it is about a long night in Fürstenfelde, a small East German village, on the eve of the feast–the feast that is not exactly defined. We learn about the history of Fürstenfelde, the mysteries and magic, we also follow the inhabitants of the village with their distinctive personalities and different circumstances. Told through short chapters and the town as the narrator, I enjoyed this story, although at times it was chaotic, and didn’t have a straightforward plot–if you go in expecting that, this may not be book for you. If you want to not just read, but experience a story that brings you into that world through captivating prose about old stories, myths, folklore, and fairy-tales, this would be a fine choice. This vibrant, odd, yet charming village full of its people both living and dead, of all backgrounds, that end up coming together.

Often I found myself putting the book down because I needed to pull myself from the story and read something a little more solid in terms of a plot. In a way it felt like I was in this dream land, though not completely in slumber–you know that middle, where you can’t seem to fully wake from the trance? I still feel like that when trying to form my thoughts around the story. I feel like while there is a vagueness to it, and a reader can easily be confused with where it is going, there is a lot up to the reader on interpretation and whether or not they think there is meaning or a point behind it. Take the time to appreciate how well crafted this story is, and don’t rush through it–travel through Fürstenfelde with a curious and open mind. Before the Feast was an unusual and riveting novel that I hope to come back to one day to relive.

Synopsis

Someone has opened the doors to the Village Archive, but what drives the sleepless out of their houses is not that which was stolen, but that which has escaped. Old stories, myths, and fairy tales are wandering about the streets with the people. They
come together in a novel about a long night, a mosaic of village life, in which the long-established and newcomers, the dead and the living, craftsmen, pensioners, and noble robbers in football shirts bump into each other. They all want to bring something to a close, in this night before the feast.

Paperback, 353 pages
Published June 14th 2016 by Tin House Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

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