The Eighth Life
I first gushed about this to the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club in our Best Books of the Summer 2021 event. This was the Georgian novel that I didn't know my life was missing. I listened to it on audio, somewhat begrudgingly. Several people had told me it was really amazing, but golly it's long at 1000+ pages. I plunged in, hoping I wouldn't regret it. And very quickly could not wait to find out what happened next in these peoples' lives. It's a generational story, tracking 100 years in a Georgian family who fan out across Europe and the world as they seek to run from the horrors of what's unfolding in the Soviet Union. The family also has a magical chocolate recipe that they mix up at opportune moments—whether it's a blessing or a curse remains to be seen for the 95 or so years. The ending is amazing.
AN OBSERVER BOOK OF THE YEAR
‘That night Stasia took an oath, swearing to learn the recipe by heart and destroy the paper. And when she was lying in her bed again, recalling the taste with all her senses, she was sure that this secret recipe could heal wounds, avert catastrophes, and bring people happiness. But she was wrong.’
At the start of the twentieth century, on the edge of the Russian Empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste …
Stasia learns it from her Georgian father and takes it north, following her new husband, Simon, to his posting at the centre of the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg. Stasia’s is only the first in a symphony of grand but all too often doomed romances that swirl from sweet to sour in this epic tale of the red century.
Tumbling down the years, and across vast expanses of longing and loss, generation after generation of this compelling family hears echoes and sees reflections. Great characters and greater relationships come and go and come again; the world shakes, and shakes some more, and the reader rejoices to have found at last one of those glorious old books in which you can live and learn, be lost and found, and make indelible new friends.