Each chapter in Ellen Baker's novel begins with an excerpt from a 1950s homemaking guide...about how women can keep their husbands happy. The centralEach chapter in Ellen Baker's novel begins with an excerpt from a 1950s homemaking guide...about how women can keep their husbands happy. The central theme of Keeping the House is the pressure to be perfect that women faced in the early to mid-1900s.
Told through the lens of Dolly Magnuson, a homemaker who moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin in 1950 without any friends in the area, the book goes back to the late 1800s when Dolly begins visiting an abandoned mansion and uncovers the secrets of the family who inhabited it.
Dolly's unhappy in her marriage, just as Wilma Mickelson, the matriarch of the great house, was unhappy in hers. They also both feel stifled by the provincial attitudes of the people in the town. This sweeping novel illustrates the pressures women faced, trying to create a perfect house while sacrificing their own needs. It's homemaking before feminism.
I enjoyed the frequent references to Lutherans in Wisconsin. It was worth the read!...more
I've been reading Sujata Massey's Rei Shimura detective series since the late 1990s, captivated by these books because theHooray! Rei Shimura is back!
I've been reading Sujata Massey's Rei Shimura detective series since the late 1990s, captivated by these books because the main protagonist is a Japanese-American antiques dealer turned detective, living and working in Japan. I still remember my joy in first discovering this series! Sujata Massey is part Indian, part German, like a friend of mine, and lived in Japan for several years.
A fascinating character who I've always felt I could relate to more than most detectives, Rei Shimura led me through ten adventures, mostly set in Japan, before she retired in 2008 to live with her new husband Michael in Hawaii (Shimura Trouble). You can find the other Rei Shimura titles in chronological order on Sujata Massey's Web site, in case you want to start at the beginning (which I always prefer to do). It was a little odd, reading this one, because Rei had aged only a few years even though the series spans over 17 years, but I understand why Massey chose to keep her young.
Since Rei Shimura retired (and I sadly accepted there would be no more books in the series), I've begun following Sujata Massey online and became Facebook friends with her. She is delightful, and we have much in common (including the fact that we both turned 50 in 2014). I hope to meet her in person one day.
Fortunately, she's continued to stay busy, last year publishing The Sleeping Dictionary, a historical novel set in India, which was my second-top pick for fiction in 2013. (My parents' book group recently read The Sleeping Dictionary on my recommendation, and it was a popular pick!) She also published a beautiful little novella, The Ayah's Tale, about the relationship between an Indian ayah and the English children under her care.
But back to The Kizuna Coast! I was supremely lucky to be able to read an Advanced Reader Copy of this soon-to-be-published novel, which will be out in February.
I could relate so well to Rei Shimura's great angst when she saw news coverage of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster. Even though I don't have relatives in Japan, it's where I met my husband and spent three of the most adventurous years of my life, and I have so many fond memories of the kindness of so many Japanese people. During those first few harrowing days, I was glued to the Internet and couldn't keep myself from watching that devastating wave destroy whole towns...my heart ached for Japan.
Soon after the tsunami hit, Rei's mentor Mr. Ishida calls her, asking for help. She gets to Japan as soon as she can and gets embroiled in a mystery...to find out what happened to Mr. Ishida's young apprentice, Mayumi, who has disappeared. She goes to Tohoku as part of a relief effort and is touched by people who have lost their loved ones and livelihoods. She experiences 絆 (kizuna, or bonds of love), which the Japanese show for each other during this difficult period. The Japanese public chose 絆 as the kanji of 2011 after they witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of assistance after the earthquake and tsunami.
While not as literary as her last book (The Sleeping Dictionary), The Kizuna Coast was a quicker read and compelling just the same. Rei Shimura remains cemented as my favorite detective series, and I hope the series continues.
I'm so glad Rei is back! I read this book over the Christmas holidays while I had family visiting from England and Australia, and it was hard to put down. The only other book I've read about the Japanese tsunami was Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, which was my top fiction pick last year. I would love to read more, and I hope one day to return to Japan myself. In the meantime, I'm grateful that my favorite authors are making the trips, doing the research, and telling the stories themselves....more
With the success of the movie "Philomena," this book was reissued as Philomena with a cover showing Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, the actors who play Philomena Lee and Martin Sexsmith in the film. The book, which came first, is not really about Philomena. It's about her son Anthony, known as Michael Hess in the United States.
Although I found the book to be mostly fascinating, it is decidedly not nonfiction. As a fictionalized account of Michael Hess' life, British journalist Sixsmith took extreme liberties with the story...inventing dialogue and fabricating scenes that didn't actually happen. I looked in the back to see his sources, but no interviews, letters, or other paperwork were cited. We know he interviewed people, but one of his key sources, Susan Kavanaugh, has said that he made up a lot of what's in the book and painted Michael's character in an unflattering way. How could Sixsmith have known what Michael said confidentially to his therapist and priest in confession? He should have stated at the outset that this was a fictionalized account of Hess' life.
With that said, I found Michael's story to be moving and interesting. I learned a great deal about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the inner workings of the Republican party during Reagan's tenure, and the Irish Catholic church. I already knew about the Magdalene laundries and found the beginning of the book to be fascinating and heartbreaking, as Philomena Lee's beloved son is ripped away from her...and she was powerless to prevent it. I saw the film "The Magdalene Sisters" back in 2003 and know the Joni Mitchell song well.
The Catholic church has never taken responsibility for these abuses, and staunch Catholic defenders either defend the practices or deny that any abuses took place. In fact, young women and girls (such as Sinead O'Connor) were enslaved in these Catholic-run prisons until 1996.
In my research, I was glad to discover that Philomena Lee met Pope Francis recently, giving her a sense of closure:
"I felt such a sense of relief yesterday for the guilt I carried and that I still carry a little bit today," said Lee on Thursday, a day after the audience. "Because you were made to feel so, so bad about having a baby out of wedlock. "He really made me feel so good inside because I carried the guilt inside me for 50 years, without telling anybody."
However, the Catholic church has yet to issue an apology or validate the abuses suffered in its name.
Back to the book. One quibble I had, echoed by Michael's friend Susan Kavanaugh, is the author's near-obsession with Michael's sexual practices. He is portrayed as a sex-obsessed, promiscuous. and thrill-seeking gay man who is incapable of staying faithful to his partners. That might be true, but we have no way of knowing where he got his information. It's almost as if he's implying that Michael contracted AIDS because of his sexual behavior. He also infers that Michael is never satisfied and cannot make a commitment because he is tortured by being abandoned by his mother. That seems to underline every single activity in Michael's life...that he didn't deserve to be happy. In spite of this, Michael led a highly successful career (as a closeted gay man and supposed Democrat) in the Republican party and the White House. That must have been enough torture for him--as he heard all sorts of homophobia, hatred, and AIDS jokes from the party itself and the religious right. One Goodreads reviewers put it well:
"Having stuck this very bad book through to the end, I really would have liked to understand Michael/Anthony's true character but perhaps only glimpses of that can be extrapolated from Sixsmith's words. He portrayed Michael on the one hand to be generous, witty, fun loving, brilliant, sensitive and on the other to be moody, self destructive, dangerous and insensitive. Completely misleading and contradictory. If a writer can't truly get to the heart of someone's character, then do bereaved friends and family still living a courtesy and don't write about character at all. If Sixsmith had focused on Philomena's quest rather than trying to fabricate a dead man's personality, he would have been more in his element."
Finally, Sixsmith's writing was choppy and didn't flow together well. In a few early chapters, we learn about a civil servant who is trying to stop the tide of Irish babies being sent to the USA to be adopted...Sixsmith alludes to his man's unhappy marriage as well, but to what point? He drops out of the story. We also never hear about Michael's relationship with his brothers later in life...one of them mercilessly bullied him as a young child. We know he doesn't include them in his will, but that's about it. Sixsmith also wrote a couple of chapters in first person as he described how he wrote the book--this totally threw me off and confused me until I figured out who was speaking. These chapters would have been better put in an introduction.
I would have liked to have known more about Michael's sister Mary in her later years. She is mentioned a few times and comes to see Michael at the end of his life. Given the fact that she was the most important person in Michael's life--and she is still alive--why didn't we get more of her story? I can find little about her on the Internet.
Philomena herself doesn't come into the book again until the very end, which was a loss. I'm not sure why Sixsmith chose to portray the life of a man who had died...instead of the mother who was alive. Maybe so he could take literary license with the facts? Who knows?
I was annoyed by the ending, in which Sixsmith mentions Anthony/Michael's father...he alludes to the fact that his father might have been discovered, but says that is a topic for another book. What the hell? That is definitely not enough for another book. Why not share the information in this book??
Both Michael and Philomena stalled in their efforts to find each other. The Catholic church and the Irish government were not helpful. In fact, if the book is correct, Philomena found out about her son when her daughter Jane spied a photo of a new gravestone on the convent grounds. That small lead led to this story.
I give the real Philomena Lee and Michael Hess, both fascinating characters with interesting lives, five stars. The book gets two or three, because the story was compelling...but loses a lot in the telling....more
In this thoughtful middle grade/young adult novel, young Danny struggles to cope with the death of his older brother, Eli, in Iraq. He's not getting much help from his angry father and vacant mother, who grew much more distant after Eli died. Eli had filled the gap of his parents' attention, and now not only was Eli gone, but his parents were even more far away.
Over the summer he befriends two unusual young people: the decidedly "uncool" but extremely smart Walter, and the beautiful, exotic Isabelle, who has quirky and creative younger twin siblings.
I actually found Isabelle to be annoying and pretentious. One Goodreads reviewer described her well as an irrelevant Manic Pixie Dream Girl (defined as "a fantasy figure who 'exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.'” Walter and the twins offered more of an appeal for me.
My favorite parts of the book were Danny's memories of Eli, who was sarcastic and mischievous but loving, and Danny's friendship with Eli's high school friend and purple potato farmer and his girlfriend, who come to be like a family for him.
Rebecca Rupp approaches grief with a quiet, sensitive touch, and even though Danny chronicles the death of various people in his "Book of the Dead," the book was redemptive in the end....more
Naomi Moriyama grew up in Tokyo with a typical Japanese mom provided attractive, nourishing food for her daughter.,.on the strict orders of Naomi's scNaomi Moriyama grew up in Tokyo with a typical Japanese mom provided attractive, nourishing food for her daughter.,.on the strict orders of Naomi's school!
(On the first day of school, a teacher made a speech: "We request that every mother make lunch for your daughter every day. Our main theme at this school is to help our students learn how to be giving and loving. One of the ways your daughter learns this is from your love-packed lunch box.") Can you imagine hearing this kind of a message in an American school???
Moriyama ended up moving to the U.S. to attend college and subsequently met and married her American husband. But she also came to miss and appreciate her mom's Japanese home cooking.
This book is a combination health book and cookbook. Moriyama includes statistics about how Japanese people live longer and have the lowest obesity rates in the world. They are also extremely active (few Japanese people use their cars every day, especially city residents)--instead they use mass transit, walk, or bicycle. I walked more during the three years I lived in Japan than I've ever walked in my life.
Moriyama also shares her own personal experiences--for example, when she arrived in the American Midwest to attend college, she gained a great deal of weight right away. When she moved back to Tokyo for awhile, she lost it all without dieting or exercising. The Japanese lifestyle, combined with fresh ingredients and home cooking, is the secret sauce!
As I was reading Moriyama's stories, I kept thinking of my wonderful stay in an old, traditional Japanese farmhouse on the western coast of Honshu (the most populated island in Japan), where we picked fresh persimmons, mountain potatoes, and mandarin oranges. My friend Debbie and I learned how to make gyoza (potstickers) and sushi, and the family had a brazier-fired kotatsu where they ate dinner each day. (A kotatsu is a wonderful table with a heater underneath it--we had one in our apartment with an electric heater, and the heat was kept under the table with a blanket...I loved that kotatsu as we didn't have central heating!) That weekend was the most traditional Japanese of any time I spent in Japan--it was fantastic. View my blog at http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/... for some photos of that weekend.
Japanese home cooking is so much more than sushi and sashimi...you can find more of it at American Japanese restaurants than when we first returned from Japan. I loved delicacies such as spinach soaked in ground sesame seeds, okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pizza), takoyaki (octopus balls), yaki soba (fried noodles), ramen (noodle soup), gyoza, zaru soba (cold soba noodles with a dipping sauce), oyakodonburi (chicken and egg over rice), clams in sake broth, anything cooked with miso, rice balls with pickled plum seasoning, mochi with red bean paste, broiled mackerel or salmon, nabe (a soup that consists of each person dipping his or her own meat and veggies into a broth), traditional Japanese breakfasts, and edamame (steamed soybeans, now readily available in the U.S.).
Moriyama also enfolds some priceless Japanese history in her pages, including the stories of some kick-ass Japanese women in ancient times: Queen Himiko and Tomoe Gozen. (I need to learn more about these two!)
This book made me miss Japan and Japanese food so much! I love the way Moriyama gives tribute to her mom's own Tokyo kitchen...and I definitely want to incorporate more Japanese cooking into our own kitchen. But the truth is that cooking Japanese does take a great deal more time, and we don't all have Japanese housewives in our families!
I made one of the recipes in the book the other night--Eggplant Sauteed with Miso--and it was oishii (delicious)! This book inspired me to do more Japanese cooking and think more about what I'm eating--is it fresh? Is it processed? Has it been made with love? And I'm longing for Japan!...more
Twelve-year-old Ambrose is a glass-half-full kind of guy. A self-described “friendless nerd,” he moves from place to place every couple of years with his overprotective mother, Irene. When some bullies at his new school almost kill him by slipping a peanut into his sandwich — even though they know he has a deathly allergy — Ambrose is philosophical. Irene, however, is not and decides that Ambrose will be home-schooled.
Alone in the evenings when Irene goes to work, Ambrose pesters Cosmo, the twenty-five-year-old son of the Greek landlords who live upstairs. Cosmo has just been released from jail for breaking and entering to support a drug habit. Quite by accident, Ambrose discovers that they share a love of Scrabble and coerces Cosmo into taking him to the West Side Scrabble Club, where Cosmo falls for Amanda, the club director. Posing as Ambrose’s Big Brother to impress her, Cosmo is motivated to take Ambrose to the weekly meetings and to give him lessons in self-defense. Cosmo, Amanda, and Ambrose soon form an unlikely alliance and, for the first time in his life, Ambrose blossoms. The characters at the Scrabble Club come to embrace Ambrose for who he is and for their shared love of words. There’s only one problem: Irene has no idea what Ambrose is up to.
In this brilliantly observed novel, author Susin Nielsen transports the reader to the world of competitive Scrabble as seen from the honest yet funny viewpoint of a boy who’s searching for acceptance and for a place to call home....more
This is #2 in J.K. Rowling's new adult mystery series. Detective Cormoran Strike is an interesting character--he's a disabled veteran with a prosthesis, born to a famous rock star father but alienated from him, motherless and still deeply ambivalent about breaking up with his psychopath girlfriend. I preferred the first book in the series, The Cuckoo's Calling, but this one still contained vintage J.K. Rowling story telling.
The Silkworm is all about the dog-eat-dog world of writing and the publishing industry, and it doesn't paint a particularly warm picture! For example, this quote accurately sums up the novel:
...writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.
Novelist Owen Quine writes a poison pen novel about everyone he knows...then he shows up dead. Quine's novel itself is a bizarre, sexually weird, and symbolically complicated story that I can't imagine why anyone would ever want to read. The writers, publishers, agents, and their family members in The Silkworm are mostly all cut throat and vicious. They have few, if any, redeeming qualities.
Also, I would love to see J.K. Rowling write a book with a really standout, great female lead...instead of consigning women and girls to the supporting character role (ala Hermione Granger). Robin, Strike's assistant, is smart, resourceful, and dedicated, but she's still stuck with her boring drip of a boyfriend and can't seem to realize he's no good. I'm finding that to be tiresome! Also, she's desperate for more opportunities to become an investigator, but this process is so slow it makes me sleepy!
J.K. Rowling is a skilled writer, and I will keep reading anything she writes...but this one just didn't hit the mark for me....more
I've read everything Wally Lamb has written, and this plot sounded promising. Sadly, I found this novel lacking in comparison to his others.
It's the story of Anna Oh, an artist, wife, and mother, who has left her marriage of 27 years and is about to marry another woman: Viveca, a wealthy art dealer who helped Annie become a successful artist.
Annie has three children with her psychologist husband, Orion: Ariane, Andrew, and Marissa. The book spans all of these lives and many others.
Here are the three things I found difficult about the book--if you'll read other reviews you'll find a theme in my criticism of certain novels:
--Too many characters...did we really need to know about all of them? I also noted some convenient coincidences with some of the characters.
--Most of the characters were not really likable.
--Each chapter began with a different character perspective. This seems to be a popular novelistic approach, but it often makes it harder for me to connect with the characters or get drawn into the book.
Annie is a damaged soul--and we find out why--but I found it hard to sympathize with her much. The novel examines the generations of damage caused by sexual abuse, and reading it from the perspective of the pedophile was particularly difficult for me.
How many books do we have available that tackle the subject of a woman leaving her husband and getting married to another woman? This book could have treated that topic in a much more compassionate way. Instead, I found myself wondering what she saw in Viveca, who seems to be a shallow snob. Maybe Annie just doesn't choose very wisely...similar to her children.
Lamb digs deep into these characters' souls, and most of them have complex personalities. I guess I was just looking for more soul and redemption, which I've found in his other novels. This is still a good book, but not as great as his others....more
I found this at the library and thought I'd read it before seeing the movie, as is my habit! Turns out that Richard C. Morais wanted to make a film evI found this at the library and thought I'd read it before seeing the movie, as is my habit! Turns out that Richard C. Morais wanted to make a film even before and while he was writing the book.
I loved the first half of the book...the colorful depiction of Indian cooking, Hassan's relationship with his family and then Madame Mallory, and the process of running a restaurant in India and then France.
But AD (after the deaths of both Hassan's feisty father and the equally feisty Madame Mallory), the book slumps. It takes us, very quickly, through Hassan's trajectory of becoming one of Paris' top chefs. Much of the fancy French cuisine, heavily butchery and innards-focused, does not sound very appealing to me. The second half of the book focuses on the Paris restaurant scene and the process and snobby politics of earning Michelin stars.
Hassan seems more devastated by the death of another character than his own father or most significant mentor. Morais also confesses that he didn't go to India until after he'd begun writing the novel, and then only for 10 days. This is evident to me, not in the way he describes Indian cooking but rather how he describes (or fails to) the culture. After Hassan moves to Paris, he's hardly even Indian any more. This doesn't seem realistic to me. I was hoping to have the author touch on the perspective of an Indian chef learning and practicing French cooking, and that just doesn't happen.
I've heard great things about the movie, so I'm looking forward to seeing that. I understand from friends that Madame Mallory does not die in the movie, and Hassan's also more in touch with his Indian roots....more
Interesting premise: Australian Alice hits her head at the gym and when she wakes up, she's lost 10 years of her life. She thinks she's 29, pregnant wInteresting premise: Australian Alice hits her head at the gym and when she wakes up, she's lost 10 years of her life. She thinks she's 29, pregnant with her first child, and happily married, but instead she's 39, has three highly spirited kids, and on her way to a divorce.
This book turned out to be more in the genre of "chick lit" than I thought it would be. Although I hate the term "chick lit," most of its books share these elements:
--Woman meets man and gives up her career --If she does have a career, it's journalism, PR, or magazine editing --Woman achieves desired perfect, privileged life, with a gorgeous house, rich husband, and 2+ children
In the intervening 10 years, Alice got her perfect life and became a shallow, spoiled brat (in my view). I did enjoy this beach read in spite of its flaws...it made me think about my own life, my priorities (am I spending enough high-quality time with my kids and my husband?), and how quickly life is passing me by. But several things bugged me about it:
--Does someone really change THAT MUCH in 10 years? I find that hard to believe.
--Alice didn't seem very smart. It took her a long time to get that she'd wreaked a lot of damage in the past 10 years.
--I could have done with all the extra plots...especially Frannie's letters to Mr. Moustache. This side plot seemed unnecessary and detracted from the main story. Also, although I have great sensitivity to infertility, I found Elisabeth's letters to be cumbersome as well. Yes, they allowed us to see inside these characters' minds, but I found this book to have too many side characters in general. And what happened in the end to Elisabeth and Frannie was no surprise of course.
--SPOILER: I liked the storyline about Alice's daughter's troubles at school...but could she really do a complete turnaround? A teenager who's been neglected and angered suddenly becomes an angel just because she starts getting positive attention. A bit unrealistic, I think. Alice's life seemed frivolous, pampered, and shallow to me. The world's largest lemon meringue pie? Really? I don't think I would like Alice very much.
--I found the character of Gina to be baffling...her close friendship with Gina changed the course of Alice's life? I guess she needed some kind of conflict, and Gina was meant to present that conflict.
--Does her husband suddenly decide that he is working too much, or does Alice decide that she doesn't care about all the long hours?
--Alice gets her dream job at the end, even though she has NO relevant job EXPERIENCE. Classic chick lit.
I know I'm sounding overly critical. I did enjoy the book, but it was multiply flawed. I'm curious to hear what my book groupies think of this one.
Now to read a novel with a woman character that inspires me....more
This thriller novel was nothing like I expected it to be. I thought it would be more of a kidnapping type of scenario, I suppose. Right from the beginning, it's clear that's not what this is.
Usually I am not crazy about books that have no likable characters, but this one was different. These characters are extremely unlikable, but they are interesting. Amy is married to Nick, and the book starts out with Amy going missing. The book alternates between each spouse's viewpoint, and our narrators are not reliable. They're both also spoiled brats in their own ways.
It's beautifully crafted, and I couldn't put it down. But I also understand the perspective of people who didn't like this book.
It doesn't exactly give you hope in the future of humanity, and it makes me wonder how on earth people could want to stay married to each other when they clearly despise each other so much....more
It is telling that I didn't realize Oryx and Crake was a trilogy and was upset to discover its open ending...even though two of my friends (including the book group member who nominated this book) had told me it was the first in a trilogy. I think I heard "science fiction," and I just blocked out the rest. :) But it's the kind of science fiction I'm drawn to: dystopia.
In fact, Margaret Atwood prefers to call this "speculative fiction" rather than science fiction, because science fiction involves things that are unlikely to happen or impossible, while speculative fiction is about things that could actually happen or were possible on earth...not about outer space. And that is exactly why this book is so frightening.
Oryx and Crake are actually minor characters in this book...the protagonist is Jimmy, or Snowman, and much of it takes place after most of humanity has been decimated by a plague brought on by humans' obsession with genetically engineering everything that moves (and doesn't). Cloning has gone wild, as has the pharmaceutical industry. Corporations run the world, and the powerless live in the "Pleeblands," like the "districts" in The Hunger Games. Crake has invented a new breed of (sort of) humans, who are like an open book--they are innocent and dull, and they lack drama or sexual longing. In short, they are incredibly boring, and they are all Snowman has for company in the end of the world.
The characters are deeply flawed and did not experience childhood love, and as we discussed at my book group meeting, brilliant scientist Crake and ethereal, distant Oryx are not particularly likeable or easy to understand. Jimmy/Snowman's and Crake's love for Oryx, whom they first encounter while watching kiddie porn (yes!), reminded me of the shallow foreign men who went to Japan to meet women, and often stayed there...they sought the type of woman who adored them unquestioningly, were more submissive, and didn't question their actions or words. I have a difficult time understanding men who fall for these types of women, like Jimmy and Crake. And I found it all too disturbing and depressing that kiddie porn and sexual trafficking would exist into the future. But as we know, desperate times call for desperate measures...and sex is a commodity.
While I was toward the end of this novel, I read about a timely, depressing NASA-funded study that predicts the collapse of civilization in a few decades and warns about the depletion of the world's resources and society dividing into the elite and commoners (all of which are essential elements of this book). (Now NASA is trying to distance itself from this study, probably because the agency doesn't want to be accused of being fatalistic, even though Margaret Atwood doesn't mind that.)
I've been reading Margaret Atwood for 30 years, and she is an exceptional writer. I've heard that the books only get better as they progress...and now that she's gotten me hooked, I will be reading the rest of the trilogy. But I might have to recover from this one first. It makes me truly worried for my children and grandchildren, because I can see these things happening so easily....more
Clearly, Mark Richard has a gift for writing. The end of this book made it all worth while for me, but my mind wandered a bit along the way. Perhaps I'm getting too old or shallow.
I found it awkward that the book starts out in third person and then goes into second person, making the narrator appear detached...as if he's observing his disaster of a life from afar, absolving himself of any responsibility. As a child, he's labeled as "special" because of his deformed hips and spends a great deal of time in charity hospitals.
It's a wonder he made it to adulthood, with some of the risks he took. It's almost as if he didn't feel his life was worth preserving...having faced his crippling hip problems and a dysfunctional family.
By the time he becomes a writer, he's also worked in a variety of odd jobs...on a fishing boat, painting houses, as a radio DJ, photographer, journalist, bartender, and almost a pastor.
The book traverses over his life in a scattershot way. We don't learn much about his writing career or his marriage. I enjoyed the end of the book the most--when he helps build the "House of Prayer."
Although the book was lyrically written and I liked much of it, I was hoping for something more compelling....more
I LOVED this book...in fact, it's my favorite so far in 2014. I would not have been drawn to the title, but it was my book group selection for the month.
The story is about "Verity," a female British spy, is captured in Nazi-occupied France, and her best friend Maddie, the pilot who flew her into France. The Nazis torture and interrogate Verity (or "Queenie"), and she writes about her friendship with Maddie and their training before and during the war. Slowly, the reader learns the pieces of her story...at least, what she is telling the Nazis.
I don't want to say much more about the book for fear of giving any details away. It did take me a bit of time to get into (I'm not terribly interested in flying airplanes--so the beginning bored me a bit at times), but it is SO WORTH PERSEVERING.
I finished it in the middle of the night before book group...and I found myself crying in the living room at 5:00 a.m. The book is not only beautifully written, but it's cleverly crafted. It's one of the few books I've read that makes me want to go right back and reread it now that I know the ending...it will stick with me for a long time.
I think next time I will listen to it so I can hear the English and Scottish accents. It's one of the few books I've read that has the word "gormless" in it (one of my English husband's favorite words, which I'd never heard before I met him).
Some have called it as a "love letter to female friendship," which is an excellent way to describe it. I do think it's one of the most beautiful homages to friendship I've ever read. This is one of my favorite lines from the book:
"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend."...more
Sujata Massey, author of the wonderful The Sleeping Dictionary and the Rei Shimura series, has written a novella about the relationship between an IndSujata Massey, author of the wonderful The Sleeping Dictionary and the Rei Shimura series, has written a novella about the relationship between an Indian ayah and the English children under her care.
The role of a child care taker is a complicated one. During a few summers in college, I worked as a nanny taking care of my two cousins in Seattle. I also babysat extensively during high school and formed strong attachments to many of my charges. When I left my two cousins at aged 2 and 4 to go to Japan, I sobbed because I knew how much I would miss them. I had grown very attached to both of them.
My situation was different than Menakshi, who was forced to drop out of school and take up a job as an ayah (nanny) because of her father's death and her family's poverty. Although she had great potential, she had to give up her own dreams to help her family.
Even though the children in her care were privileged and spoiled, she becomes attached t to them and they to her. What the children (especially middle child, Julian) don't understand is the complication in this attachment. The children's mother, Marjorie, is snobbish and shallow, and disengaged from her children's lives and inner thoughts. She doesn't want to spend much time with her children, but she also feels resentful because of their attachment to Menakshi, their ayah. The children don't understand that Menakshi is paid to be with them: it's not her choice, and she has her own life.
I always enjoy reading stories that take place in locations where I've lived or visited. Menakshi's story starts and ends in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia, a place I visited in 1988. Sujata Massey beautifully depicts the life of an Indian ayah and the complicated relationships that people in the employ of their colonial employers had to deal with--and in fact, still deal with in many countries.
Even though Menakshi endures great hardships in her life, she finds love in these pages and a more hopeful future than working as an unappreciated ayah. So even though her life improves, she feels some sense of loss as she misses these English children who came to love her.
I'm looking forward to Sujata Massey's next full-size novel. I prefer novels to short stories and novellas, although this was a fun one to read!...more
Or as I call it, A Game of Endless Unlikable Characters.
My husband DEVOURS these books. When he's immersed in one of them, he doesn't pay attention tOr as I call it, A Game of Endless Unlikable Characters.
My husband DEVOURS these books. When he's immersed in one of them, he doesn't pay attention to much else. He loves them.
Then my 17-year-old son, who used to be such a great reader but in recent years has been deterred by electronics, also read the whole book and is now watching the show.
Plus one of my close friends, who doesn't usually go for fantasy, became obsessed with the show and the books, and she told me that I should give them a try.
So I gave Book 1 a try, and I will not be reading any more of the series. Remember, I finished Book 1 of the Lord of the Rings series and gave up during The Two Towers. Fantasy is not my thing, unless it's something fun like Harry Potter. I can take the violence, and I have read many dystopian sci-fi novels. It's just that this didn't hold my interest.
I should have known better when in the beginning, every single chapter was told from the perspective of a different character. I have a 50-page rule (ala Nancy Pearl). I was about to give up, but then on Page 49, we returned to a character that I had seen before. So I plowed on, thinking I might become more engaged.
When I took a break at around Page 625 to read The Chaperone and enjoyed it much more, I should have known better.
I also should have considered that my husband never thought I would like these books.
But I was determined to finish the book, much like I felt that I needed to read Twilight. It's such a part of our popular culture, and I wanted to know why everyone seems besotted with it.
So here are the 10 reasons I wasn't crazy about A Game of Thrones:
1. Far too many characters! I know Martin provides lists at the end of the book, but honestly, why did there have to be so many? I lost track. Many of the characters are mentioned in passing only once or twice. Why include them at all?
2. Lack of character development Very few of the multitude of characters are fleshed out fully. Even the primary characters...we get very little back story on how they became who they are, with only a few exceptions.
3. Lack of sympathetic characters The only person I cared about in this book was Arya Stark. That's it. I didn't care what happened to anyone else. Daenerys was interesting, but she was brutal too. Ned was better than most of them, but even he was not loyal to his wife and had a dark past. Nearly everyone in this book lacks morals, compassion, or kindness. These people are unlikable!
4. Rape and brutal treatment of women I had heard that Game of Thrones had lots of sex, but I didn't expect the huge amount of rape and horrific treatment of women...constant child bride rape, incest, gang rape, and forced prostitution. Is this typical of fantasy? No thank you. I'd heard that this series has more strong female characters than other fantasy books, but even those strong female characters are often powerless in such a patriarchal, misogynist culture.
5. Too much detail Martin goes way into detail about political posturing, history of various families, and geography, while sacrificing real, valuable information. And then there's the endless, repeated titles of royalty, such as "King Joffrey, the First of His Name, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm," blah, blah, blah.
6. Way too long I am not scared of long books. In fact, I loved Vikram Seth's 1,500-page long A Suitable Boy. But you've got to keep me interested to make me feel like the length is worth it. This book could have used a good editor. (See #1 and 5.)
7. Endless plots From what I understand about this series, each book does not end...it just goes on and on into more books. I need closure.
8. Lack of geographic perspective I needed a map, like Tolkien provided. I am a visual person. Where in the heck is "The Neck"? How does the wall divide the kingdom? So much of this book and series is about place and kingdoms. I didn't know where the heck anything was, except sometimes "north" or "south."
9. Does not compel me to read any more I'm not interested in seeing where this series continues.
10. Very sad outlook on humanity J.R.R. Tolkien wrote wonderful villains and complicated characters and had redemption in his books...the friendship in the fellowship of the ring, the rip-roaring fun in the Shire, the wisdom of Gandalf, the great adventure, the beautiful Elfen lands...so many more things to like about that series, even though those books were not my cup of tea either. As one reviewer wrote, "I have bums and alcoholic friends that blaze like Gandalf the White compared to most of Martin's characters." That reviewer went on to say "It is a story mired in filth and obscenity and shines the light on the worst conditions of human experience and offers them up as plot lines, dialogue and personal, social and political interactions."
As I mentioned above, I've read my share of dystopian literature (The Hunger Games series, The Road, A Handmaid's Tale, etc.), but even those types of books have some redemption in them, usually in the relationships between the characters. If I'm going to read a dark, dark book, I need to get some satisfaction out of it.
My apologies to the Game of Thrones lovers! ...more
I love novels like this, when I learn about historical figures through fictionalized accounts of their lives. The Invention of Wings is based on the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, abolitionists and feminists long before women's suffrage or the Emancipation Proclamation.
Sue Monk Kidd quotes Professor Julius Lester in her notes at the end of the novel, "History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own." Kidd expands beyond the facts and events to put flesh on the stories of four women.
The novel begins in the early 1800s, with Sarah Grimke turning 11 and her mother "giving" her ownership of her very own slave, Hetty, or Handful. From the beginning, Sarah is deeply uncomfortable with her family's legacy as slave owners, and she also chafes against her role as a girl and woman. All she wants in life is to study and become a lawyer and a judge, but her family throws cold water on her dreams. As a female, all she could hope to become is a wife and mother. She rebels in her own way, by teaching Handful to read and write.
The novel weaves the story of Sarah with that of Handful and her mother Charlotte. Both Handful and Charlotte are highly talented seamstresses, spunky and spirited and seeking a way out of their own lives. They are the most fascinating characters in this novel, and they are mostly made up. (Sarah's mother did "give" her a slave when she turned 11, and Sarah wanted no part of it, but that's about all that is known about the slave girl.)
While Sarah struggles to put a voice to her passionate thoughts, Handful and Charlotte have no problem expressing what's on their mind. They weave their own pains and desires in their quilts and pass on their family history through stories. They take chances for the sake of freedom, even if it might cost them their own lives.
Angelina is the sister with the gumption--probably because she'd been mostly raised by Sarah--but Sarah, too, eventually finds her own voice. I enjoyed reading about the sisters speaking out against slavery, even though their family and their own city (Charleston, South Carolina) were horrified by their actions. The schism in the early abolitionist movement between abolition and women's rights reminded me of the division in the 1960s, when women who fought for civil rights were not given their own voice in the movement.
Sarah, Angelina, Handful, and Charlotte are all trying to find their own wings and escape the prisons of their lives. Handful's and Charlotte's restraints were real, while Sarah and Angelina were bound by the cultural expectations of their time.
This novel is not an easy read--Kidd depicted the horrors of slavery without flinching. I was grateful for Kidd's notes at the end, and also for the Internet, so I could learn more about the Grimkes when I was done reading the book. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were pioneers of their time, standing up for what they believed was right, even if their voices shook....more
What an inspiring young woman! With assistance from writer Christina Lamb, Malala Yousafzai tells her story...beginning from when she was born. In her village in the Swat valley, people rejoice when a son is born, but not a daughter. However, her father was immediately delighted to have a daughter. Reading Malala's story, it's clear how tremendously lucky she was to be blessed with such a father. Fathers have incredible power in traditional, religiously conservative countries such as Pakistan. “Our men think earning money and ordering around others is where power lies," wrote Malala. "They don't think power is in the hands of the woman who takes care of everyone all day long, and gives birth to their children.” Because of her wise, brave father's belief in women's and girls' potential, Malala was able to pursue her dreams of education. He dedicated his life to educating girls by starting his own school:
“His sisters--my aunts--did not go to school at all, just like millions of girls in my country. Education had been a great gift for him. He believed that lack of education was the root of all of Pakistan's problems. Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be re-elected. He believed schooling should be available for all, rich and poor, boys and girls. The school that my father dreamed of would have desks and a library, computers, bright posters on the walls and, most important, washrooms.”
Throughout her life, Malala has been an ambitious, competitive, and passionate young woman. She emulated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, another strong Pakistani woman who bravely faced her opponents to fight for what she believed in. She has been supported along the way by both her father and mother.
Sadly, it's hard to say whether Malala will ever be able to return to Pakistan. It's not safe for her there, and many condemn her speaking out against the Taliban.
As I was reading this book, I was explaining it to my younger sons, aged 7 and 10. I wanted them to understand how lucky they are to have a good education. My 7-year-old, in particular, is highly interested in the plight of Malala and wants to know why she can't return to Pakistan and why the Taliban fights violently against women's rights to be educated.
I highly recommend this story of a phenomenal young woman, and I admire her passion and commitment to stand up for girls' education in her homeland....more
When I first chose this book, I thought Joshua Safran was one of the Safran Foer brothers. I'd read Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, and later on read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. From what I can tell, there is no relation whatsoever, but "Safran" must be a relatively common Jewish name (as is "Joshua"). I'm so glad I found this book anyway!
Joshua Safran, an award-winning attorney who has committed his career to combatting domestic violence, tells the story of his childhood. This book was born when he represented a battered woman who had been serving life in prison for killing her batterer. This case resonated with him, as he realized he had a story to tell about his own experiences.
Safran's mother ("Claudia") was a counterculture feminist artist/activist, and when he was four years old, they left Haight Ashbury in San Francisco and hit the road. He was raised in an extremely open, permissive home and "homeschooled." He heard his mother having sex with her lovers. He felt inadequate because he didn't have a vagina. They hitchhiked all around the west coast (mostly in Washington state), constantly seeking a true intentional community--utopia. Safran's village of parents were not necessarily related to him--he had a few positive role models along the way, but none of them were ideal. Many of his childhood experiences made me squirm with discomfort...being bullied after he puts himself in a regular school, being completely separated from his mother and nearly sliding down a mountainside or drowned at a hippie festival, or careening up a mountain with a drunk driver (his stepdad).
But as much as his mother was proudly independent and strident in many ways, she ended up with loser after loser. (His father wasn't actively in the picture.) The last one--who she married--was physically abusive. Safran observed the abuse and felt humiliated for not supporting his mother and stopping her attacker. This book, more than any other I've read, describes well what it's like to be in a home full of domestic violence.
Joshua Safran constantly yearned for a "normal life," but wasn't able to find this until he'd graduated from college, married someone who also was raised in a hippie home, reconnected with Judaism, and creates his own family.
Now he's a practicing Orthodox Jew, husband and father, and attorney. He's written the story of his childhood with his mom's permission. It's a story of redemption and discovery in spite of a very difficult beginning.
This book brought me to tears at the end...especially this paragraph:
"People sometimes ask me: If you could do your childhood all over again, would you grow up in the cushy suburbs you always dreamed of? And I always give a complicated answer. As a father, I have done everything in my power to give my children the stable, secure, and comfortable childhood I never had. But I also recognize that while my early life was difficult, I received an unconventional and powerful education that taught me self-reliance, righteousness, and empathy like no other. In the end, I would rather slog back down those trails at my mother's side again. There are many ways to judge a mother, but I think the best way is to look at the man her son grew up to be."
As a mother of three sons who sometimes doubts her own parenting strategies and patience (who doesn't?), this is reassuring and touching. And the way Safran has dedicated his work to helping women who are unable to help themselves is the most inspiring of all.
I'm a hippie at heart, but this book shows the dark side of living off the grid and on the edge of mainstream culture...especially for children. Safran is already working on a sequel and his mother, Claudia Miriam Reed, is writing her own book. ...more
Drawn to this book because of its cover and title, I found it to be a light middle-grade read. Tara Feinstein is studying for her Bat Mitzvah while grDrawn to this book because of its cover and title, I found it to be a light middle-grade read. Tara Feinstein is studying for her Bat Mitzvah while grappling with her combined Indian-Jewish heritage.
From what my middle grade novelist husband tells me, it's unusual to have an intact, happily married set of parents in these types of books, as Tara does. Her parents are caring, engaged, and funny, and she worries a lot about disappointing them. She also has a supportive extended family, both Indian and Jewish. Furthermore, her rabbi is great--so it's a positive depiction of religion as well.
Her life is full of friendship drama, especially as she comes to realize that her best friend, Ben-o, has a crush on her.
Ultimately, Tara discovers that doubt does not mean a loss of faith, and she finds a way to happily marry both cultures in her Bat Mitzvah.
I discovered this book when Nadia Bolz-Weber (author of Pastrix) recommended it on her Facebook page. It's a collection of essays by female Christian leaders under the age of 40 (it's part of a series by young female spiritual leaders). The title immediately caught my attention. These women, many pastors and teachers, share their thoughts on a variety of topics that have been off limits in Christianity.
Some of the essays by more conservative women wrestle with the teachings of men as the head of the household, women speaking in church or preaching, women as professionals, the decision to live with a partner before marriage, leaving an abusive marriage and being cast out by her church, choosing not to follow in parents' footsteps as a Christian missionary caring for the poor, choosing celibacy, being called to work with refugees, tattoos, freedom without makeup, recovery, dealing with dissatisfaction in one’s marriage, etc. Many of these are even greater taboo topics in conservative Christian circles. We all have our own taboos.
The following essays struck particular notes with me:
"The Gatherer-God: On Motherhood and Prayer," by Micha Boyett…who struggled to find time to pray with young children. She has found that her most contemplative time is when her mind is fuzzy and she has no book before her…when she was breastfeeding, for example. She takes her cue from Christ’s own mother, who twice is described as “pondering” at the work of God in her son. “Why else would such a prayer be mentioned in the Gospels unless to call us to such deep work?”
"Naughty by Nature, Hopeful by Grace," by Enuma Okoro, who confesses that she develops a crush on a close male friend, but through talking to her friends and wrestling with the issue, she comes to peace with it and finds a way to move on without disrupting their friendship (or his marriage). “I am beginning to realize how little the churches of which I have been a part have taught me about the beauty of boundaries and the reality of fine lines.” I admired Okoro's honesty on such a difficult topic.
"Married by Children," by Erin Lane. The author grapples with the decision not to have children, and how unusual that is in the church. We tend to be heavily focused on family and children in our churches.
"High Stakes Whack-a-Mole: Noticing and Naming Sexism in the Church," by Lara Blackwood Pickrel. Pickrel writes about being treated as “less than” as a woman, having comments directed about her appearance because she’s a woman, and being told she’s too sensitive when she notices sexism. That last one is a particularly strong pet peeve of mine!
"Crafting Bonds of Blood," by Patience Perry. The author writes about reclaiming the menstrual and labor rituals and our sensuality. Perry writes, "Imagine if ALL women were validated for their potential to create life as evident in their monthly cycle…I am seeking ways that we can strengthen and reinvigorate women through the common bonds of blood…I’d like to see our society embrace women’s rituals and reconcile our disconnection with creation.” Have you ever heard menstruation or women's reproductive organs mentioned in church?
"The God of Shit Times," by Rachel Marie Stone. This was definitely my favorite title. Stone reclaims the power of profanity after being raised in a family where Christian "ladies" don't swear. When Stone's friend was in cancer treatment, she acknowledged that profanity had a purpose: “In the midst of my frigid and tedious winter, I needed some good profanity to adequately describe how much it all sucked. Sometimes an f-bomb is the exact, right word.” After seeing several close friends through deep, dark times and experiencing them myself, I can relate. Our God is a God of shit times.
"Naming God for Ourselves Amidst Pain and Patriarchy," by Rahiel Tesfamarian. The author changed her imagery of God through her divinity studies. Tesfamarian writes, "The image of my Maker as a ‘soft, still voice’ or ‘gentle whisper’ found in 1 Kings 19 was comforting and reassuring…I have done the hard work of unpacking God for myself. But that responsibility should not fall solely on me as an individual. The church also has a lot of work to do. Will more churches rise to this occasion, commit to being cutting-edge on matters of gender equality, and go where women of faith dare to take them? IS the church ready for a generation of women who are determined to define God on their own terms?” I went through a similar journey myself when I studied feminist theology in college and discovered that God was so much bigger than one gender alone.
“The Silence Behind the Din: Domestic Violence and Homosexuality," by Rev. Sarah C. Jobe. As a chaplain who works with victims of sexual abuse, Jobe reflects that the church does not address sexual assault or domestic violence, even though 30 percent of women are victims. Instead the church condemns homosexuality while ignoring sexual assault and domestic violence. She raises the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the fact that instead of addressing the issue of rape in the story, this story is used as a weapon against homosexuality. “Will we continue to read the Scriptures according to our taboos around homosexuality and domestic violence, accepting interpretations that maximize violence?”
"No Women Need Apply," by Gina Messina-Dysert. This essay is about the war on women being waged by the Catholic church. Messina-Dysert finds a way to identify as Catholic by realizing she is her own agent and will not allow anyone to tell her what her religious status is based on her refusal to accept discrimination. She is also raising a daughter who will fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic church. This essay is important to me because I am married to a Catholic and belong to a Lutheran-Catholic community.
"The Pastor Has Breasts," by Rebecca Clark. Clark writes about pregnancy, body awareness, sexuality, and breastfeeding in a highly public environment that is church. This essay made me think about what the unique journey female pastors must take and how the standards can be very different for them. When I was breastfeeding my children, I did so in church during worship. I'm grateful no one ever questioned this. As a pastor, I no doubt would have been under a microscope and judged for doing this.
"Created for Pleasure," by Kate Ott. Ott became aware of masturbation as a blessing from God. She notes her "aha moment" of learning in a seminary sexual ethics class that the clitoris is the only body part created solely through pleasure. She asks, ”What would the world look like if every girl and woman knew exactly how her body worked? If it was respected and her enjoyment of sexual behaviors was as important as that of her partner…that would be the world God intended…God created us to experience pleasure for the sake of knowing and loving ourselves better, so that we can know and love others better, including God.” What a wonderful way to look at our bodies and sexuality...and a wake-up call for the church.
"Flesh and Blood," by Ashley-Anne Masters. As a chaplain caring for women who have experienced pregnancy loss, Masters writes about pregnancy loss not being openly addressed in the church. She also writes about her own loss conducting a baptism right after experiencing her own miscarriage and how she shared her own grief with strangers. I received some support from church friends when I experienced several miscarriages, but it wasn't something I felt comfortable talking about.
"What Do Cinderella, Lilies, and the Cross Have in Common," by Carol Howard Merritt. Merritt had to ask for a salary raise at her first church and experienced condescension from church members about her husband being the stay-at-home dad. Money, especially needing to ask for it, is a huge taboo topic for pastors...especially female ones.
"My Secret Buddhist Life," by Mary Allison Cates. After Cates was told she didn't look like a minister, she rediscovered her body through yoga and nose piercing. She also wrote about how she is feeling more comfortable with her female pastor body now that she is older and her body attracts less attention.
I liked the wide variety of perspectives in this collection, and this book made me long to sit around a dinner table with all these women and get to hear their stories personally....more
As a long-time Sujata Massey fan, I was anxious to get my hands on her latest novel, and it did not disappoint!!
Sujata Massey was born in England to parents from India and Germany (just like my friend Nandita), and she grew up mostly in Minnesota. After working as a reporter, she spent several years in Japan where she taught, studied, and began writing her first novel, The Salaryman's Wife. That first novel grew into a detective series with smart, industrious, and savvy Rei Shimura, a Japanese-American antiques dealer who lives in Japan and solves mysteries on the side. I read every single one of the Rei Shimura novels as soon as they came out and have widely recommended them to friends. In fact, the Rei Shimura series is the only detective series I've devoured in its entirety outside of the VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky (my first introduction to detective novels). I'm not naturally drawn to mysteries, so I'm highly selective. Authors (e.g., Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell) lose my attention if their books are not well written or if I get tired of the main character. Of course, Rei Shimura held my attention completely because of the series' setting in Japan (mostly). Loved them!
So onto The Sleeping Dictionary. This book took six years for Massey to research and write, because it involved so much in-depth research into Indian history, culture, and language. Massey's family comes from Calcutta (now Kolkata) and she spent time there as a child (read her wonderful diary entries here!), so it was a natural choice for setting this novel.
It's the story of Pom, who lives with her family in a small village by the sea. Her family is very poor, but she feels secure and well loved until a tidal wave wipes out her whole village and her family. Completely alone and helpless in 1930s India, Pom is a survivor. She ends up at a British boarding school, where she is renamed as Sarah and begins working as a maid. She learns how to read and write while operating the fan in a classroom. When she befriends a wealthier Indian girl, Bidushi, who she had known as a child, she comes to discover her own intelligence and talents. Although she hopes to become Bidushi's ayah and always stay together, these dreams are soon dashed by tragedy.
Still very young, she next finds herself in the city of Kharagpur, lured into prostitution at a high-class brothel. As an Indian girl without a family, she has few options for survival. She desperately tries to cling to her dignity in the midst of her despair at being forced to sell her body, and she continues to nurture dreams of becoming a teacher. (The title of the book comes from the term for young Indian women who slept with British men and taught them the ways and language of India.)
I hesitate to give away too much of the plot and adventure in the novel, but I will say that she moves to Calcutta where she renames herself as Kamala, begins to work for an English man, and gets involved in the Indian independence movement.
So here are some of the reasons why I loved this book:
--Pom/Sarah/Kamala is a strong, spunky Indian female, and I found myself rooting for her immediately and throughout her story. Faced with desperately difficult choices in her life, she does the best she can with what is given to her. While she is certainly a victim many times in her life, she has no privilege to wallow in misery and self-pity, but time after time she finds ways to rise above her difficult circumstances.
--I could practically taste Calcutta through Massey's detailed descriptions of the city. I've traveled only in the north of India (we concentrated our time there in Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan), but I found myself intrigued by the City of Palaces and sad to read about its devastation during the pre-Independence riots and violence.
--I have read great quantities of Indian fiction (and a bit of nonfiction, too), but this book taught me things I did not know...for example, about the massive famine in Bengal caused by the British Empire hoarding India's rice (millions died), India's amazing female freedom fighters and independence activists, Japan bombing India during the war, some members of the Indian resistance movement joining the Japanese led by Subhash Chandra Bose, to name a few...it also gives the Anglo-Indian perspective on what was happening during that time.
--Massey develops multidimensional characters, including Hindus, Muslims, and British, and even some of the women who are sucked into prostitution. Kamala herself makes some unfortunate decisions and lies to people because she feels she has no choice. She's a complex character who is far from perfect. Both Kamala and Simon evolve through the story. There's even a Scottish clergyman who is open minded, fair, and compassionate...imagine that!
--As a consummate book lover, I enjoyed the sheer love of books in this novel. From the moment "Sarah" borrows books from a kind teacher at the British boarding school and her gradual collection of the great masters, to Kamala landing a wonderful job as a librarian for Mr. Lewes...books offer her an escape from the great losses in her life.
I was excited to learn that this book is the first in a planned trilogy, AND that Rei Shimura will be making a reappearance! The Sleeping Dictionary will be near the top of my "Top Reads of 2013" list! If you enjoy reading historical fiction or books about India, the colonial era, or strong female characters, give it a try! ...more
Sarah Thebarge survived grueling breast cancer, and a recurrence within a year, before moving west to Portland, Oregon, my hometown. While on the MAX light rail train, she meets a Somali immigrant and her five young daughters, and a friendship begins.
Thebarge alternates her story between getting to know and helping Hadhi and the girls and her travails enduring breast cancer treatment. She was raised in a strict evangelical religion, but went onto earn a degree at Yale and was in the middle of earning a journalism degree at Columbia when cancer struck. She also had a serious boyfriend and was close to becoming engaged. Ian, the boyfriend, was too weak to stick it out and abandoned her. Her church community apparently also abandoned her. She felt alone and bereft, her faith severely tested, when she picked up stakes to move to the west coast. Given the fact that I've had several friends endure and survive Stage 3 breast cancer similar to Thebarge's, I most appreciated reading about her experience and her feelings about having cancer. I also always like reading books set in my hometown!
When she got to know and began to help Hadhi, who didn't speak much English, she seemed to relate to the "invisible girls" because of what she had endured. She too felt like a stranger in a strange land.
This book has been accused of the "white savior complex." At times I wondered whether she could teach Hadhi how to fend for herself and survive rather than just rescuing her (do they have a sustainable life in the U.S.?). I was touched that Thebarge went out of her way to make this family feel welcome in the United States...a feeling they had not experienced before they met her. So much of their lives was difficult, but Thebarge brought joy to their poor, struggling family.
I felt that she could have delved a bit more into how she broke away from her traditional religious upbringing, and her feelings of betrayal when very few were there for her through cancer. And during one of the last chapters of the book she mentions some kind of identity theft or fraud but never explains what happened. (It felt like a big loose end was not tied up...perhaps an editorial oversight?)
The final chapter made me squirm a bit, as Thebarge and her friend reach out to a prostitute and do some proselytizing...mostly because, as a Christian, I'd rather that people learn about Christianity through the way we live our lives and not because we hit them over their heads with it. So even though she felt completely oppressed growing up in such a strict Christian denomination--in which women were not allowed to hold any leadership roles in the church whatsoever--she seems to move back to it at the end. That was a bit confusing.
But Thebarge did help this family in dire straits. She brought delight into their lives and she helped them muddle through, and she too was enriched by the experience. She decided to write this book so she could raise money for the girls to go to college. I hope she is successful in her goal.
I love this tidbit I found on Thebarge's blog, which is the ultimate takeaway from this book:
"And I realized this morning that solving the problem of invisibility doesn’t require legislation or institutional intervention. It’s simple, and it’s easy, and it’s free. It just takes all of us walking through life with open eyes and softened hearts, taking the risk and the time to tell someone else, 'You’re not invisible any more. I care that you exist. I see that you’re suffering. It matters that you’re here.'
How would our world change if every day, each of us told one person — just one —'I see you. So you’re not invisible any more.'”...more
Wow. This book brought me to tears so many times. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic and fundamentalist (she was raised in the ultraconservative Church of Christ), and she is now an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) pastor, wife, and mother. She founded and leads a church called the House for All Sinners and Saints, or HFASS (pronounced Half-Ass) for short. In this book, Bolz-Weber shares deeply and honestly about her own personal trials and how she found her way to the Lutheran church: in one word, grace.
I had forgotten this, but when we were at Holden Village several years ago, Bolz-Weber was also there. A few in our group found her to be standoffish and not very warm. She admits this herself and calls herself a "misanthrope." Her grumpiness comes out full bore in her memoir, but that's what I like so much about it: her deep honesty. She's like Anne Lamott as an ELCA pastor.
I heavily dog-eared my copy of this book, and this is what spoke most clearly to me:
--God's aunt: When she spent some time with Wiccan friends (before finding a home in the ELCA), she said "the goddess we spoke of never felt to me like a substitute for God, but simply another aspect of the divine. Just like God's aunt." She goes on..."I can't imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can't imagine that God doesn't reveal God's self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity. In a way, I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine."
--What you were called to be: When she hesitantly shared with her pastor dad and mom about her decision to become a pastor (after being raised in a church where women could not even teach Sunday school to boys over 12, much less preach), her father responded in a way she didn't expect: "At that moment, my father silently stood up, walked to the bookshelf and took down his worn, leather-bound Bible. Here we go, I thought, he's going to beat me with the scripture stick...He opened it up and read. I could tell from where he was turning that it wasn't one of Paul's letters at the end of the book, but something closer to the middle. My father did not read the 1st Timothy passage about women being silent in church. He read from Esther.
From my father I heard only these words: "But you were born for such a day as this." He closed the book and my mother joined him in embracing me. They prayed over me and they gave me a blessing. And some blessings, like the one my conservative Christian parents gave to their soon-to-be Lutheran pastor daughter who had put them through hell, are the kind of blessings that stay with you for the rest of your life. The kind you can't speak of without crying all over again." Oh, did I ever cry when I read this story!
--I am baptized, so fuck off: Apparently Martin Luther had a bit of an anger issue. "Luther was known to not only throw the occasional inkpot at whatever was tormenting him and causing him to doubt God's promises, but also while doing so he could be heard throughout the castle grounds shouting, 'I am baptized!'" And this is what baptism means to a Lutheran--to be claimed by God and touched by God's grace, no matter what we do or who we are. It's not up to us; it's up to God. This is what she shared with a young transgender man named Asher, who was also raised in a conservative Christian church and who she blessed in a name changing ceremony. She met him a few years later after he returned home from seminary. He said, "I never told you about the dream I had the night after my naming rite"..."It was like so many other nights--a voice accusing me, damning me, scaring me. But this time I talked back," he said proudly. "I said, 'I am baptized, so fuck off,' and when I woke up I was giddy. I called a friend, and we went to City Park and made snow angels." I plan to use this next time my own personal demons threaten my spirit.
--No fakery: Bolz-Weber is not a fan of praise music or liturgical dance and can barely keep herself of showing her dislike on her face. "Pretending to feel a way other than how I actually feel is not a gift God gave me. I can pull it off for short periods of time when needed, but the effort is exhausting." I can relate! This is why it would be very difficult for me to be a pastor!
--Radical hospitality does not sell: She addresses the fact that "churches that try to live into the beauty of radical hospitality and the destabilizing idea that Jesus is experienced in welcoming strangers don't tend to be described as 'sprawling.' Jesus wants you to be rich and beautiful is doing great as a message, though. There are shiny millionaire preachers and full attended parking lots every Sunday morning in America to prove it."
--Strangers sometimes look like our parents: But she also struggled big time with the growing attention her church has received. When they started attracting a lot of white, middle-class suburbanites, she didn't like it. "I wanted the 'us' to be bigger. What I wasn't prepared for was the 'us' to be different." She found it increasingly difficult, as the numbers grew, to maintain a welcoming attitude to some of these newcomers...those who didn't fit her definition of "all sinners and saints" (alcoholics, tattoo-wearers, drug addicts, hippies). "My precious little indie boutique of a church was being treated like a 7-Eleven, and I was terrified that the edgy, marginalized people whom we had always attracted would now come and see a bunch of people who looked like their parents and think, 'This isn't for me.' And if that started to happen, I would basically lose my shit." Then a friend of hers pointed out that her church was really good at welcoming young transgendered people..."but sometimes the stranger looks like your mom and dad." And then young Asher, the transgendered young person, expressed gratitude for those who didn't look like him. "I just want to say that I'm really glad there are people at church now who look like my mom and dad. Because I have a relationship with them that I just can't with my own mom and dad." More tears.
--What would Jesus do? When a con man becomes a member of her church, her first instinct was to "try to get rid of him. You know, like Jesus would do...Ugh, Jesus. He always seems to be showing up when I want him to politely just keep out of my business." And when this con man, Rick, becomes part of her community and works at a food distribution center at the Occupy Denver outpost, he enthusiastically shares, "Distributing food at Occupy Denver is awesome!"..."Everyone is fed. It doesn't matter if you are a homeless guy who is scamming and doesn't even care about Occupy or a lawyer on a lunch break."..."The only place I've ever really seen that is at communion." Then she hangs up, trying to pretend she wasn't crying. And again, I dropped tears. That's what communion means to me as a Lutheran--everyone is welcome and everyone gets fed.
This book, while it might not appeal to everyone (especially if you are sensitive to salty language), made me glad to be an ELCA Lutheran. I'm so glad that we have tattooed, alcoholic pastors like Bolz-Weber, and that she is spreading the word about God's grace to everyone. I encourage you to watch this long interview with Bolz-Weber by Krista Tippett: http://vimeo.com/73913123 It's worth it....more
This is sure to be near the top of my list of the year's top nonfiction reads. Canadian Amanda Lindhout grew up in a dysfunctional family and escaped by poring through National Geographic magazines, dreaming about exciting adventures.
When she grew up, instead of going to college, she opted to work for several months as a waitress at high-end restaurants and save all of her money...and then spend everything she'd earned on several months of travel. Soon she began taking photographs in the hopes of funding more travel. In addition to more "secure" countries, she also ventured to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and Sudan and worked in Bagdad for an Iranian broadcasting company. She became addicted to travel...and the more daring and dangerous, the better.
Then in 2008, she decided to go to Somalia, the most dangerous country in the world (at least, at the time), primarily because no one else was going there and she wanted her big break. She convinced her Australian ex-boyfriend Nigel to go with her. Crazy? Yes! Naive? Completely. But she didn't deserve to get kidnapped, gang raped, and tortured. In spite of it all, she was able to forgive her captors and after her release after 460 days, she founded a nonprofit foundation, the Global Enrichment Foundation, to provide university opportunities to women in Somalia. She's since returned to Somalia a couple of times.
She and Nigel converted to Islam in the hopes of it protecting them, although it didn't really. I was particularly touched by the poignant interactions Lindhout had...exchanging notes and handmade gifts with her co-captive Nigel on Christmas, a desperate and tender encounter she had with a woman in a burkha on the day she and Nigel tried to escape (unsuccessfully), and the rare times she got to speak to her mother.
Lindhout doesn't always come across well--especially in her traveling days before the kidnapping--but her bravery is phenomenal. She kept herself grounded by meditating on hope. The book is beautifully written, and I'm surmising that is cowriter Sara Corbett's doing. It's been optioned for a movie, and Rooney Mara will portray Lindhout.
The saddest thing about this book, in the end, is that after all they endured together, Amanda Lindhout and Nigel are no longer in contact. Nigel wrote his own book with his sister, and it was highly critical of Lindhout and her family. They've fallen out and lost their shared connection through the greatest crisis of their lives.
Highly gripping, educational, and inspirational. I strongly recommend it! ...more
My book group chose this book for October, mostly based on the fact that two members had read De Rosnay's earlier bestselling book, Sarah's Key.
It's the story of Rose Bazelet, a widow who lives in an old house in Paris in the 1860s, an era when hundreds of houses are being demolished to rebuild Paris. She refuses to leave her home, and the book consists of her reminiscences of her life in the house.
I found Rose to be a bit difficult to like, especially because of her neglect and dislike of her daughter, who clearly needed more love. She poured all of her love and affection into her son instead. And to stay in a house and put others' lives at risk all for the sake of principle? I found her to be reckless at best.
It was somewhat interesting to learn about this era in Paris' history, but I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone....more
I LOVED this book, but it's probably not for everyone. Kate Manning was inspired to write this book when she saw this photo and learned that 30,000 homeless children lived on the streets of New York in the nineteenth century.
Introduced as a lost diary, the book opens with a suicide. We don't know who died, but we learn that the main character fakes her own death with this dead body of another. We know she's married, and her husband helps cover it up. The authorities are after her, and we know she is famous because her carriage would be recognized in the street.
Then we go back to her childhood, Axie Muldoon, who is a poor Irish immigrant child, wandering the streets of New York with her sister Dutch and brother Joe. Her father--an alcoholic--has died, and her mother has lost her arm in an industrial accident. Soon they are discovered by a famous do-gooder, who gets medical care for Axie's mother but arranges for the children to go to the Children's Aid Society. Soon the children are off to the midwest on the Orphan Train. (This is the second novel I've read this year about the Orphan Train--the first was The Chaperone.) Axie--a spunky, independent, and bright child--ends up returning to New York City after a few months, but her siblings have been ensconced in new families and appear to not mind their separation.
Once back in New York, Axie finds her mother again, but she has remarried Axie's layabout uncle and is pregnant again. When she goes into labor, Axie must act as midwife...at 11 years old. And so begins her story of helping women in labor and childbirth.
Without giving too much more of the plot away, I will say that Axie is a complex, fascinating character, as are her husband and best friend. Axie's story is based on the life and death of Ann Trow Lohman (1811-1879), also known as Madame Restell, a "notorious" midwife who was a friend to desperate women but the enemy of moral crusaders such as Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Comstock finally brought her down, she was vilified in the press and in society, and she ended her own life (although it was rumored that she had faked it). Comstock was proud of the number of suicides he prompted.
My only quibble about this book is that at times I found the Irish brogue inconsistent. I think it was written in such a way because this was Axie's true speaking style, but it comes and goes and at times I found that off-putting.
We had such interesting conversations last week at book group when we discussed this book...about feminism, history, birth control, the status of women in this era and now, midwifery, and abortion. This wonderful piece of feminist historical fiction will give you new perspectives about the status of women--then and now--and the lesser evil of abortion. I couldn't help but think about Rush Limbaugh, our modern-day Anthony Comstock, and Sandra Fluke, who in advocating for birth control was blamed for debauchery...much like Madame Restell/Axie Muldoon.
As the mother of three children, one of whom was born at 24 weeks, I am deeply grateful to have been born and become a mother when I did. I'm also grateful to have been able to plan my own family by using birth control.
I could not put his book down...read it! It's sad and thought provoking, but redemptive. ...more
I loved this book, and it was especially delightful to finish such a fun, well-written, and entertaining book on the evening of a wonderful birthday.
One reviewer calls this book "Babette's Feast meets Pirates of the Caribbean." If you like historical fiction, cooking, eating, or pirates, you'll enjoy it too.
England, 1819...after pirate captain "Mad Hannah Mabbott" kills Lord Ramsey (big wig of the Pendleton Trading Company, new name for the East India Trading Company), she kidnaps Owen Wedgwood, Ramsey's talented chef. She informs him that he can stay alive if he cooks a sumptuous dinner for her every Sunday evening.
“Dear Mr. Wedgwood,
Welcome to the Flying Rose. I hope you have settled to sea comfortably. Your lot may improve in direct proportion to your willingness. I do look forward to more of your fare. Let me lay out my proposal: You will, of a Sunday, cook for me, and me alone, the finest supper. You will neither repeat a dish nor serve foods that are in the slightest degree mundane. In return I will continue to keep you alive and well, and we may discuss an improvement of your quarters after a time. Should you balk in any fashion you will find yourself swimming home, whole or in pieces, depending upon the severity of my disappointment. How does this strike you?
In anticipation, Capt. Hannah Mabbot”
Wedgwood, a widower, is a bit of a milksop at first...but he makes delectable food out of the crudest ingredients. Meanwhile, Abbot is on the hunt for the elusive Brass Fox, while she's on the run from the British Navy and a Frenchman named Larouche and trying to rout out the saboteur on her ship. Wedgwood makes a few escape attempts but eventually he comes to appreciate the enormous Mr. Apples, fierce Chinese twins, and deaf-mute Joshua, who he teaches to cook and read. Author Eli Brown will make you want to cook and eat, and you will appreciate the fresh and plentiful ingredients in your kitchen and wish you could cook like Wedgwood.
“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey. To eat such a meal is to remember that, though the world is full of knives and storms, the body is built for kindness. The angels, who know no hunger, have never been as satisfied.”
He discovers the root of Abbot's passions for justice and becomes taken with her love for fine food, quick wit, and extreme bravery. This book sent me to the Internet to look up the opium trade. It also brought back memories of our two visits to Macau, as I read about the pirate era on that island. A wild pirate adventure, love story, and culinary tale all rolled into one!...more