Julia Navarro’s prose for You Shall Not Kill engages readers throughout its 992 page length. Few writers possess the creative stamina or imagination to hold a reader’s interest for 500 pages, let alone almost 1,000, but anyone finishing this book will attest to the fact that Navarro clearly has a story she is passionate to tell. I wonder how much of it has the ring of autobiographical truth, albeit recast in a different time than our own. It is a dangerous game to read behind the lines of any text because you often lose perspective on the work’s artistic aims, but Navarro writes as someone with a deep emotional investment in her material and it isn’t a stretch to say that different elements of the novel’s primary characters likely have antecedents in her own everyday life.

The nuts and bolts of this book is a big reason why it holds together so well. Navarro does a lot of the little, but important, things right – she handles transitions big and small with deft skill, segues from verbal exchanges into action never feel jarring, and she depicts physical action in a credible and often gripping manner. You Shall Not Kill is a novel where passion is always boiling just beneath its surface and sometimes explodes. Her cast connects with life in a vibrant way and the characters never feel like cardboard cut outs she manipulates through a series of plot devices. She bestows familiar traits to each of the main figures and, while some may decry them as cliché, it is helpful to remember there is invariably grains of truth behind anything we label as such. For instance, the young girl drank a little too much one day and makes a life altering decision is a trope of film and literature because these things happen often in life – then and now.

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Those main characters are flawed, sometimes profoundly so, but they are compelling and more often than not likable. The lack of any outright heroes or heroines is a plus for the novel’s credibility and, despite their foibles, we don’t have to stretch our tolerance to its capacity to find favor with her creations. Her talent for moving these characters from one far flung setting to the next without ever losing the narrative thread is another strength of the book. It is a time of great turmoil in world history as Europe descends deeper and deeper into the most destructive armed conflict of human history and the characters and setting alike reflect the challenges of the day.

Her narrative energy never flags for long over the course of these novel’s pages. This, in and of itself, is a colossal achievement and further attests to the idea that Navarro’s guiding impulse behind writing this novel is inspired. Readers will finish You Shall Not Kill feeling like they have experienced quite a storytelling ride and I write with confidence that this novel seems ideal for multiple readings over time. The detail, interactions, and web of connections running through the text seem to beg for multiple examinations to appreciate them in full.

Michael Rand

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