Happy St. Patrick's Day. <--insert irony emoticon here-->
Holy moly, faith an' begorrah. This Brian Moore guy ... I think I love him (even) moreHappy St. Patrick's Day. <--insert irony emoticon here-->
Holy moly, faith an' begorrah. This Brian Moore guy ... I think I love him (even) more than Graham Greene, which is the most obvious comparison. I devoured this, reading ravenously to 3 a.m. this morning. Judith! Poor Judith. Is there any one of us who doesn't feel for her? Feel *like* her? (view spoiler)[The loss of faith angle is icing on the top for this non-Catholic. (hide spoiler)]
Seven things for now:
1) Feels like Slaves of Solitude, but with the added religious layer. 2) What an eviscerating portrait of social class and religious intolerance. The vacuum-packed, claustrophobic, eating-one's-own-young, soul-destroying religious and class prejudice and oppression of Belfast - Ireland - at that time - still - and elsewhere. Every small town in Upper n' Lower Canada, for example, where these roots to this day run so deep. It's not accidental that Moore was writing this as an ex-pat from Montreal. 3) The internal dialogue and shifting POVs are EX-QUI-SITE. 4) Bernie and his Ma - ewwww, ick, and whattup with THAT? Wow. 5) I WANT THIS TO BE A STAGE PRODUCTION! Has it ever been? I can see this on stage so easily (internal dialogue notwithstanding). C'mon goodreaders, if it hasn't been, let's write it! 6) The ending - (view spoiler)[does she or doesn't she regain her faith? (hide spoiler)] - reminded me of the similar ambiguity for Fr. Emilio in The Sparrow. 7) Almost as - nay, more! - wrist-slashingly sad as The House of Mirth. (view spoiler)[Very surprised that Judith didn't take that path out. Still not sure that Moore didn't leave the picture of aunt and The Sacred Heart - which I assume are behind glass? - within easy reach for a reason. (hide spoiler)]
This is a (the only?) collection of Boyden's early short stories, re-published after the success of Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce. So it's tThis is a (the only?) collection of Boyden's early short stories, re-published after the success of Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce. So it's tough to judge fairly, because a) short stories; b) early noodling that you can now see turned into brilliance in those later novels. Heading towards a 4 but not quite there.
There is some inconsistency (Legend of the Sugar Girl I think the only real dud); some stories started well but didn't finish well or the reverse. Some were a bit heavy-handed in the political point they were making (that's just me probably; I prefer subtlety). And some were truly great all the way through (Painted Tongue, Bearwalker, Abitibi Canyon, Legless Joe versus Black Robe).
Most of all, taken as a whole, they paint a really good portrait of the complexities and realities of life in a Cree community in Northern Ontario. The language felt right ("ever stupid, eh?"--I remember that use of 'ever' from my childhood); the details and points of view coming together to become greater than the sum of their parts. There was just the right dose of magic and bingo. I like the way the story lines and characters resolved in the final few stories making (some) sense of the characters' relationships and entwined lives in the fictitious village of Sharpening Teeth on the shore of James Bay.
Together with his later novels, Boyden is shaping up a fictional universe that rivals (and shares many similarities with) Margaret Laurence's Manawaka series.
Tough one to review. King explicitly states at the outset it will be his own personal approach to a topic that spans 500+ years, consists of hundredsTough one to review. King explicitly states at the outset it will be his own personal approach to a topic that spans 500+ years, consists of hundreds if not thousands of independent tribes (not a heterogeneous group - call them First Nations, Aboriginals, Native Americans, or Indians, as he prefers), and is fraught with legal, political, tribal and even linguistic complexity that crosses and differs across borders.
He acknowledges that he is more comfortable with fiction, and that he won't be presenting a scholarly, historical account filled with facts.
And he doesn't. Yet - as the chapters mount (once the Hollywood chapter is out of the way), the facts he does present, welded together by anger and - if you're familiar with his fiction, this is no surprise - the surehandedness of a seasoned story-teller, are as or more compelling than if this was more rigorously footnoted.
And, he's Thomas King - he's got authorly, as well as Indian, credibility. So we can cut him some slack for the occasional lapse into cherry-picking and/or a feigned non-chalant irony that started to grate on me a bit.
He's not trying to persuade the reader to a particular point of view or a preferred solution. Still, the book is persuasive - even if it needs to be read in context with a lot of other fictional and non-fictional explorations of the topic.
Even if you're pretty up to date with Native history, you'll probably pick up a few tidbits here and there. What you won't find are any easy answers - because there just aren't any to be found.
When you're dealing with 500 years of messy, brutal colonization, and fundamentally two very different worlds on a collision course, is there any definitive way to make sense of it? Don't we all have to grapple with it in our own way, coming at it from our own unique perspective - either as colonist or colonized?
For me, on this topic, the question is: what happens after "I'm sorry"? How do we move forward, and to where?
I'm surprised King didn't write about the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (he was covering a LOT of ground and being as even-handed as possible in his focus on US v. Canada; I wonder if some honing in on one or the other might have been beneficial?). Also, in a subsequent edition - if there is to be one - I imagine he will add commentary about the Idle No More movement (which really got going around the time this was first published) - I'd like to hear his take on both things.
As a digression, a month or so ago we had an event at work that brought together leaders from a bunch of First Nations groups. The event started with a brief welcome to "our" offices, then we turned it over to a Cree elder, who performed a smudging ceremony. She translated her prayers into English. She called on "the spirits of all the animals, the birds, the insects, the rocks and our ancestors of this land of the Mississaugas of the New Credit" - the band that currently has an outstanding land claim on the very ground on which we were standing. Subtle but powerful moment. We thought we were welcoming them. Our colossal arrogance - entirely unintentional - but still.
This is where King leaves off ... with the land, and who has it, who wants it, who "owns" it.
It's messy. And the only way through it, I think, is honest, authentic dialogue. This book is part of that dialogue.
Still, that dialogue is not going to fix anything. It won't erase the past or heal it. I'm not even sure it can carve out a constructive future.
It's hard to sustain an entire book based on an analysis of one song, but if there's a song to write a book on (other than perhaps one by Dylan), it'dIt's hard to sustain an entire book based on an analysis of one song, but if there's a song to write a book on (other than perhaps one by Dylan), it'd be Hallelujah. Although Cohen sanctioned the writing of this, he did not participate in it - and his voice is notably missing. Then again, something might be lost if Mr. Cohen himself commented in any kind of a definitive way: as part of his thesis, Light repeatedly comes back to the idea that Hallelujah has enjoyed the slow build to popularity - many would say oversaturation - because it is so rife with multiple, layered meaning and therefore can be interpreted in so many ways to fit so many occasions by so many different artists.
Light gives almost every one of the major artists who've covered the tune (and even some of the minor ones) their due, but is clearly a fan of Buckley's. A surprise (for me) was Bon Jovi - whose version has been appreciated by Leonard Cohen himself as one of the stronger interpretations. While I'm not a fan of JBJ's rendition, I did appreciate his obvious depth of understanding of the lyric, the irony and the tension between the religious and secular meanings of the verses. (That said, Richie Sambora trying to put "Livin' on a Prayer" in the same category with Hallelujah kind of made me howl.)
For any of us who've listened, analyzed, compared and/or witnessed the performance of the song in any of the contexts that Light describes, there's not much new here (although I did finally get how the various verses, from the 80 that Cohen started with to the five included in Buckley's version, have been combined and recombined to different effect over the years). At the macro level, though, there is much to ponder in the journey of a song by a relatively obscure poet-songwriter becoming an iconic piece of popular culture.
I now get what many of the reviews of this are referring to, like there is -- as Kelly says -- a secret club of people who have read this, but who canI now get what many of the reviews of this are referring to, like there is -- as Kelly says -- a secret club of people who have read this, but who can't talk about it; yet who want nothing more than for you to read it and join them in being unable to talk about it too.
It's difficult to talk about purely from a plot spoiler POV. But it's also difficult to talk about because in those plot twists, and especially the last 150 pp., this book hits you like a sledgehammer in the heart.
jo has done a masterful job outlining how and why this book is so special, but let me add lucky #13 to her list: it's about the most incredible bravery and courage and selflessness. Elizabeth Wein's fictional story is one of extraordinary, humbling truth.
I feel grateful on any number of levels for having read it. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
An important book for anyone who would like a first-hand account of the horror and cruelty of child marriage. My quibble - as always - is in the telliAn important book for anyone who would like a first-hand account of the horror and cruelty of child marriage. My quibble - as always - is in the telling: written at a basic level pretending to be out of the mouth of 10-yr-old Nujood, the prose was stilted and the horror somewhat dulled (although, what was unsaid was a powerful statement in itself) - and, above all, the pacing was too fast. We needed to dwell a little longer on the lead-up to the marriage selling of the 10-yr-old to a 30+-yr-old neighbour; and more on the machinations of the court and motivations and actions of those (the female lawyer, Shada Nasser; the two judges; the journalist who broke the story) who helped Nujood gain her divorce.
The epilogue was, ironically, where I became engaged, and I would have preferred: a) the book to start there; b) it to be longer.
The book I want to read is the one Ms Nasser, will - I hope but doubt - write. This New Yorker article provides additional details that start to answer just some of the questions I was left with at the end of I Am Nujood, and raises many others that deserve to be answered in a more in-depth way, in particular: what are some ways forward to address the poverty that leads to such cultural brutality? How can we recognize and respect the complexity of these situations while also advancing in a meaningful way dialogue and practical action to prevent them?...more
I finally break with a long string of novels about family dysfunction and land in a city that I think is supposed to be Calgary - somewhere in AlbertaI finally break with a long string of novels about family dysfunction and land in a city that I think is supposed to be Calgary - somewhere in Alberta, anyway - and Nigeria: ranked 162 of 190 on the UNDP's Human Development Index and dead last on the list of countries The Economist recently reported a baby would best be born in, in 2013.
Ferguson's 2012 Giller-prize winning novel brings West Africa (or at least a sliver of it) to life through the cesspool of desperation, greed and poverty that is directly responsible for breeding the many forms of the '419' scheme: "Dearest Madame, my uncle a wealthy businessman is terminally ill and needs to deposit $34,739,952 in your bank account...".
It starts with a simple and intriguing premise: who responds to these things anyway? It proceeds to link four parallel plots together to show what happens when someone does, and how complex the web of corruption and responsibility is: who owes, who pays, who wins, who loses. Who is prey, and who is predator?
The plot has a classic detective story feel to it and that remains the centrifugal force holding it together, but I think it's Ferguson's unique sensibility as a travel writer that really lifts this story out of the ho-hum. There is so much movement in it - three of the four plots involve journeys: 1) an impoverished woman, Amina, travels south from the Sahel to seek a better life for herself and her unborn child; 2) a young man of great promise, Nnamdi, travels north out of the Nigerian Delta to do the same; 3) a sad and lonely copy editor, Laura, travels east (or would she travel west?) from Alberta to Nigeria, to avenge her father's death. The fourth plot - that of the scammer himself and the network that consumes and supports him - is still, with WWW-enabled reach, waiting to ensnare the three.
There's a proverb: Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle...when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.
In this story, everyone is running. Who is predator, and who is prey?
This woman has more voices in her than any author I know. This was excellent; funny and profound, with a resolution that feels like some kind of justiThis woman has more voices in her than any author I know. This was excellent; funny and profound, with a resolution that feels like some kind of justice, albeit a troubling - and a tragic - one.
An extraordinary novel about a time/place that I know little about except - as the author mentions through one of her characters - as the device usedAn extraordinary novel about a time/place that I know little about except - as the author mentions through one of her characters - as the device used by Western parents to get their children to finish their dinners.
What is amazing about this novel is how Adichie creates a set of characters involved in regular domestic affairs (working, studying, falling in love, being in love, cheating or worried about cheating, finding an identity, growing up, just generally living, etc. etc.) within the context of Nigeria's civil war and the creation (and starvation) of Biafra.
Then, within the set of characters, she subtly arranges them so that they exist in social strata that we rarely see or give credit to, when conducting our armchair political analysis from afar. Ever so gently, but oh-so-directly, she explains the West's complicity in allowing a level of suffering that is almost unimaginable. Yet - she stays within the framework of a conventional, domestic drama.
She takes us back and forth in time from the pre-revolutionary early 60s to the midst of the Biafran war in the late 60s. This structure works for a whole bunch of different reasons, one of which is that the events of the novel unpeel in a way that both reveals and adds layers of complexity, with the effect that we really get to know these characters over time - without the thing bloating up to be a huge, epic, family drama. We live their history with each other, with them. We see their shifting alliances, their conflicts, their individual idiosyncrasies, their humanity.
But with each switch in time (and a couple of other devices that I'll leave you to find out) - we also see the day-to-day horror as it unfolds. Subtle details that foreshadow and then recall key events that mark each phase of each character's decline as the war unfolds.
So it is a domestic drama - very conventional - within a novel about a truly horrific series of events, with these almost surreal, grisly details shown to the reader through the eyes of these characters - privileged characters, for the most part.
We see how their relative privilege declines - how society 'evens out' in a time of great deprivation. We see, as one character says, "There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable."
Technically, I think this novel is almost perfection. But ultimately what I love most about it is how much I cared for these characters, how much I felt for each of them as their stories unfolded.