Cover Image: The Morningside

The Morningside

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Member Reviews

TW/CW: Scary situations, character death, language

REVIEW: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley and am voluntarily writing an honest review.

The Morningside is the story of refugees looking for home in a large tenement building after a massive war and climate crisis in what seems to be near future North America.

The main character, a little girl named Silvia, grows up in this building with her mother, and the book follows her from the time she’s ten years old until she becomes a grown woman.

While this book was no doubt well written, I can’t say that it really grabbed me. It felt like I kept waiting for something to happen, and when it finally did, it felt rushed and unsatisfying. Also, I thought the setting and the post-apocalyptic world was pretty under-utilized. When I finished this book, it felt strongly like I was missing something, but after a week thinking about it, I still can’t figure out what that was.

This is not a bad book, in fact it’s pretty interesting in places. But for me, it failed to deliver what it could have been.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. It started off seeming like a dystopian sci-fi, but ended up being more of a commentary on genocide and being a refugee. I won’t lie and say that this story always made sense. It was a bit chaotic and some elements felt jarring. The bit about the mom being a scuba recovery diver was a bit out of nowhere. I just wanted more detail about what was going on. This was just an okay read for me.

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I was so excited to receive this ARC as a fan of Obreht. It did not let me down! Beautiful as always, I can think of many people in my life who will love this book and can’t wait to recommend it.

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This was an interesting read, but I didn't love it. I enjoyed the world the author created-it's dystopian and seems to have happened after climate change has gone wild. But there's not a lot happening until about 75% in. I liked the last 1/4 much better than the rest of it. So, if you don't mind a quiet and character driven novel with dystopian undertones and some magical realism, you might like this one.

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I loved Tea Obreht’s first novel, The Tiger’s Wife. With the Balkan Wars, multigenerational family drama, and magical realism, the book felt like a dream where you couldn’t tell the difference between reality and fairy tales. The Morningside has the same underwater feel with the Balkan folklore woven throughout the story but with a futuristic, post-apocalyptic setting. Rather than being transported to the past and seeing how those pieces fit in the future, we are transported to the future and asked to contemplate a whole new set of “what ifs?”

I loved the darker magic in this book and how it wove its way through Silvia's relationships with her mother and Ena. The Morningside's once grand atmosphere was unique, lending the story a layered quality — story layered upon story, similar to the Balkan folktales themselves. Silvia’s oppression with Bezi Duras and her desire to uncover the mysteries surrounding her reminded me of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman. I was so swept up in the mystery and adventure of it all.

As much as I loved the story, the writing, and Silvia, some threads of the novel just didn’t come together in a satisfying conclusion. I loved the ending and found it so emotional, but I just wanted more cohesion from certain threads of the story.

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for an aARC of this beautiful book. I would recommend this to lovers of Obreht’s other books and those who enjoy folklore and retellings.

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I read Téa Obreht's first book, The Tiger's Wife, when it was published and loved it so much. I was so excited to read this one and I loved it just as much. The writing is amazing, so lovely and descriptive. I could picture all the characters and each setting so vividly.

Silvia and her mother have recently moved to The Morningside -- an apartment building far from home, in a non quite post apocalyptic society, but one that is quite different than ours. Silvia quickly becomes enamored with a woman living in the building, and is eager to find out more information about her.

I loved all of Silvia's magical thinking -- the stories she is told by her aunt Ena, as well as the stories she makes up. Silvia was such a great character -- I adored everything about her and loved getting to understand her motivations and inner workings. I loved her mother's character as well -- and the relationship and bond between them.

I adored the character of May -- his story was so interesting to me and the friendship between him and Sil was so sweet. I loved the contrast of Mila's life and the way she approached everything -- so different from Sil.

Overall I highly recommend this book -- the writing is so beautiful, the imagery is so lovely and the characters are so endearing.

Thank you to NetGalley for the advanced copy of this book!

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As always, Obreht's prose is stylistically stunning, but I felt, in this case, that the story was lacking and the speculative elements were incorporated in a way that felt more confusing than illuminating. Still, I would recommend this book to fans of Obreht's previous work, as well as those who enjoy beautiful writing on a line level.

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Silvia and her mother move from their ancestral home and resettle in an old luxury apartment, where they end up becoming the superintendent. As Silvia takes over more of her mother's duties, she becomes obsessed with a resident who she believes has magic and when she meets a friend, they both try to find out more. Overall, a commentary on environmental issues, migration, political injustices and more. More time could have been spent on Silvia's family and also with Mila's family.

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"The Morningside" is a creatively brilliant story of the haves and the have nots in a near future dystopian city under water. People living with violence and scarcity are lured by a government promise of a bright future if they will just work hard and due without for a while longer. What could possibly go wrong? I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to find the answers and the ending was just right.

I received a drc from the publisher via NetGalley.

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The thing I love most about Téa Obreht’s previous works is the way she seamlessly weaves tall tales and fables into the fabric of family stories, and ‘The Morningside’ was no different. And, as a person who lives on the east coast in one of those places that feels precariously perched in the path of rising tides, I could vividly imagine this future place.

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DNF @ 28%

The Morningside is a dystopian novel all about the characters, and almost nothing about the world. Billed initially as science fiction, the only science fiction element in this seems to be that it’s a dystopian Earth following some sort of climate disaster. Other than that, nothing is explained.

I got about one quarter through this one, long enough for there to be some (even rudimentary) explanation of the world, if one was forthcoming, but nothing ever came. This is literary fiction, pure and simple—but billed as Scifi/Fantasy because the first time anyone uses the term ‘dystopian’ to describe it is the last time it’s listed as Literary. It’s a tale about the daughter and her mother (especially her mother) and little else. As such, I found it slow and tedious, with none of the escapism I normally find in a the books that I like.

Unfortunately, that’s where this one starts and ends. It’s a dystopian tale heavy on the tale and minimal on the dystopian. All about the characters, really. Slow build, but no world-building at all. In part, it’s likely that this just came at the wrong time for me, but that’s how it goes. Might’ve gotten farther in if I’d read it at another time, but I don’t see myself ever finishing this one—not unless it turns a complete 180 into something a bit more fast-paced or fantastical. Not my cup of tea.

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I read and loved The Tiger's Wife by this author which came out... thirteen years ago now?! I haven't read her Western because I'm not generally a fan of those. I had the impression that this was a climate change book which also made me leery. But although the book is set in the near future and climate refugees are definitely a thing, it's not so much a book about that specifically.

This book is about refugees, though. Silvia and her mother have been running and looking for shelter ever since the young girl can remember. War tore up their country. Sil's mother has a rule about never speaking Ours (their native language) never saying where they are from, and generally volunteering as little information as possible about themselves. Sil isn't quite old enough to understand this at age 11.

But Sil has developed rituals of her own to keep her and her mother safe. Like many kids, she is inclined to magical thinking and this is magnified when the two of them go to live with Sil's aunt Ena, the caretaker of the old and splendid Morningside apartment building. Although the author never quite uses place names from our world, this is clearly one of those rich old buildings facing Central Park in New York City. Sil and her mother begin to make themselves both as invisible and as useful as possible, keenly aware of their status as people that the rich folks who occupy the building don't want to think about but still need.

Since Sil's mother has never given her any information about their family history, Sil soaks up anything that Aunt Ena says like a sponge. Ena likes to put their home country's folklore into their conversations. This leads Sil into several beliefs that feel childlike but that also feel like those of a person who is trying to take control of their circumstances any way that they can, even if those ways involve the supernatural.

Sil is extremely lonely. When a girl about her age, Mila, shows up in the building with her own mother, Sil is hopeful for a friendship but Mila is "stone all the way down" as Bezi Duras, the artist also from Home who lives in the penthouse suite and is seen as supernatural by Sil, tells Mila.

Sil keeps on doing things that she thinks are dangerous because she's compelled to. But the most dangerous thing that she ends up doing is because she feels safe.

There's a lot going on here that I haven't even mentioned. I don't always like books with child protagonists, but I felt for Sil, her loneliness, her difficult relationship with her mother, her fears and treacheries. Sil is 100% positive that magic exists and affects her and her family. I went back and forth all book over what kind of book this was. Is Sil just being a child and seeing meaning in coincidence? Or is there really something supernatural going on? The author plays it out expertly.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. This book follows a mother and her daughter, Sil, navigating a semi-apocalyptic world in the throes of climate change as they move into a building called the Morningside. The first half of the book follows Sil as she attempts to learn more about the Morningside's residents and her family's past. The second half is more action-packed, following a discover Sil made about one of the residents along with her new best friend, a child who moved into the building recently. Additionally, a tragedy forces Sil and her mother to confront her past. 2.5 stars rounded up! While I LOVED the second half of this book, the first half dragged on way too long without building much suspense or understanding of the world the book was set in or character development. I think the concept in this book was wonderful and could've even been executed well in short story or novella form, but it was not executed to its fullest potential here.

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One of the first books I read specifically for my Strong Sense of Place podcast was Téa Obreht's first book The Tiger's Wife. Set in an unnamed Balkan country, it's heartbreakingly beautiful and the pages practically turn themselves. The heroine Natalia is a young doctor, and she's only beginning to deal with the horrors of the 1990s civil wars when her much-adored grandfather dies. In grief and in celebration, she retells the stories her grandfather told her. There are elements of folklore and fairy tales — it seduces you into the world of a magical tiger, his wife, a bear-man, and other quirky characters, including a man described as deathless.

Her new book is 'The Morningside,' and it's got a few elements I cannot resist in a novel. It's narrated in the first person. By a somewhat precocious girl. And most of the action takes place in a once-glamorous, now sort-of rundown apartment building. That's located on an island city that once might have been New York. When I'd read the prologue and a bit of the first chapter, all I wanted to do was ditch my grownup commitments to keep reading. Like 'The Tiger's Wife,' it combines the shimmer and sparkle of an adult fairy tale with science fiction and magical realism.

In an interview, the author said she was inspired by two things to write this story. Her grandparents grew up in Yugoslavia, where, until the wars of the 1990s, different religions and ethnicities lived together pretty well. Her grandfather was Roman Catholic. Her grandmother was Muslim — and it was no big deal to anyone. Then, their country fell apart, and they lost the security of having a home.

Fast forward to the Covid lockdowns. Téa was living in New York City, and a luxury tower was being built right outside her window. She said she thought, 'building a building... what an act of faith in your institutions and the fact that the things that bring order and financial stability will continue as they are.' Those ideas collided — her grandparents' displacement and the new building — and she wondered what it would be like if people lived in a fancy tower like that, but 80 years from now. It's a lovely flight of fancy that's exquisitely executed.

I recommended this book on my podcast on March 22, 2024:

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I couldn't get into this one for whatever reason. I think it was more of a me problem than a this book problem. I hope to try it again at some point.

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I tend to avoid dystopian novels, I find a sameness to them all, and anyway we’re living in that dystopian future so why spend my time reading about it. This one, though, is different. Dystopian, yes, with migrants and immigrants and wars that have torn people apart, water-logged, and more, but hope runs through it, as does folklore, magical realism, and an engaging narrator, 11 or 12 when the narrator, Silvia, comes to the building called The Morningside, on a city island that might be Manhattan, with her mother, the two of them having survived war in their own country. Captivating.

Thanks to Random House and Netgalley for the ARC.

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The Morningside by Téa Obreht is set in a post-climate change near-future in a partial drowned city called Island City (maybe Manhattan?) that is accepting refugees to repopulate the city with promises of newly constructed/renovated homes for those who come to work. The novel is a mostly successful mix of genres, a sort of magical realist/cli-fi Harriet the Spy if Harriet were also a refugee.

Our main character is eleven-year-old Sylvia, who has arrived with her mother in the titular rundown high-rise where Sylvia’s Aunt Ena works as the super (there is a frame and the tale is told as a flashback from adult Sylvia’s perspective, but 90% is from the eleven-year-old POV). Sylvia knows next to nothing about her family’s past (including what happened to her father) thanks to her mother’s closed-mouth, focus-on-the-pragmatic day to day of survival viewpoint (which includes never speaking their home tongue outside their apartment). Aunt Ena though is just the opposite, regaling Sylvia not just with old family stories but also legends from the old country, including ones involving a powerful spirit/near-god knows as a Vila. For reasons, Ena and later Sylvia are convinced the old woman (from the same country as Sylvia) who lives in the Morningside’s penthouse with her “three behemoth hounds” is in fact a Vila, and the dogs are actually men that Bezi Duras has transformed into animals. Sylvia, and eventually another young girl who moves into the building, make it their mission to reveal the truth about Duras to the world (thus the Harriet reference).

The home country clearly suffered some sort of traumatic disaster beyond the global climate change that uprooted tens/hundreds of thousands if not millions, and her mother and aunt point Sylvia toward two differing ways of dealing with that kind of past. For her mother, the answer was to wall off the past and live by a strict set of rules in the present: “Never ask a question in writing … words committed to paper could haunt you forever. Don’t keep pictures or records for more than a year … Don’t reveal where you’re from … Say you don’t remember anything before that.” Ena, though, “kept the past in full abundant view. Pictures, cards, pamphlets.” Most of those pictures were of her recently deceased wife, whose belongings were still so present in the apartment that “you got the sense, looking around, that she had just stepped out and was due back any second.” As Sylvia puts it, “if the past had previously felt like a forbidden room, briefly glimpsed as my mother was shutting its door, here was Ena, holding the door wide. I could see all of it, any part, and linger as long as I liked.” The universal nature of this disruption and longing and trauma is enhanced by how Sylvia’s homeland is just “back home” and her first language is simply “ours.”

For me the refugee element was the most captivating and moving: the longing for an old, passed world at war with the ruthlessly relentless attempt to start afresh in a new one; the split between leaving behind one’s culture of stories and language and customs the aching desire to retain all that has made you you. The inevitable intergenerational conflicts. The way Sylvia doesn’t speak of the impact of her past directly but how the reader’s heart breaks watching her lay out little home crafted, found-object “protections” around the home to keep her and her mom safe. Every element of that storyline is near-perfect.

I also enjoyed the attempts to suss out Bezi Duras, which was nicely balanced between moments of strong tension and fear and lighter, more humorous ones, and which also added in a nicely depicted classic YA-type of relationship between two girls forming a new friendship and trying to find their way around their start differences in personality. Less successful for me was another plotline, one that eventually merged with the main one, involving an older man — Lewis May — with a mysterious past.

The prose is sharp throughout, whether Obreht is offering up pinpoint moments of characterization, vividly depicting the post-climate-change world of Island City, waxing lyrical and/or offering up an original metaphor or simile. On a sentence level, the novel was a pleasure to read. I’m also a sucker for stories about stories/storytelling, so there’s that going for it as well. All of which makes The Morningside an easy recommendation.

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In this great big complicated world that we inhabit, how is it that we define ourselves? How do we recognize the self we hold so dear? Is our place and purpose in this world determined by what we do? Or by what we say? Or perhaps, is it accomplished through what others say about what we have said or done? Is it possible that the myths, customs, legends, and stories of times past and present that have the most influence?

In true Téa Obreht fashion, "The Morningside" is a dreamlike tale, equal parts dystopian and apocalyptic, that attempts to answer those and many other questions of culture, class, racism, and the almost mythological intertwining of all of those.

Set in a not so distant time, divisiveness, suspicion, and climate-driven catastrophes have made daily life harder for all people. While some folks struggle to survive from day to day, others cling to the trappings of things, places and people who are no more. Each desperately hold onto hopes and dreams that their old life promised, but which have little chance in the now to see come to fruition.

Alive with a diverse cast of saints and sinners, as well as dreamers and doers, "The Morningside" is a beautifully written novel that I highly recommend. My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this novel. (Apologies for failing to complete it prior to its March 19, 2024 publish date. Life!)


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What a great book. I've never read a Téa Obreht novel before (somewhere in my memory, I've come across a short story), and I'm glad I finally got to her.

THE MORNINGSIDE concerns a mother and daughter who live in the last upscale apartment building on their island, where the mother works as the super. They live in a not so distant future, where the tides are ever-encroaching and natural disasters cause population displacement around the world. The daughter does not know much about her past, or her mother's, but the unusual people around their building mix in her head with half-known folk tales, which sets a series of too-real events in motion. Is magic involved? Or is it a girl's magical thinking? What does everyday environmental trauma do to a person? How might we feel in control? But what if...?

There's a lot to consider here, and I like that the book does not offer easy resolutions. Well worth the read.

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The Morningside by Téa Obreht
Is a magical realism, futuristic novel about a mother and daughter who have escaped climate change disaster and settled in The Morningside; a building of long ago lavishness that survives in an ever flooding Island City on the edge of what is habitable. I thought the world was captivating, however, I thought the pacing of the story was odd. It seemed to take a very long time to get to the main conflict. I did love Sil, and thought her mothers silence on their background very intriguing. The end of the novel does bring everything back around and ties up loose ends, but the time jump was a bit disorienting. Overall 3/5 stars for this one.

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