Downloaded this via Google Books out of academic interest -- it is the first full biography (1883!) and seems to be the first source of many often-rep...moreDownloaded this via Google Books out of academic interest -- it is the first full biography (1883!) and seems to be the first source of many often-repeated factoids.
More importantly, though, it contains the most thorough account of Eliot's childhood possible, as the author went to her hometown and talked to everyone personally, including her siblings and friends of her father's, which is pretty untoppable today. Mic-drop!
But actually I just want to read all of that sometime because a very quick glance through that chapter reveals claims that little Mary Ann both actually went off with gipsies once AND cut off "one side of her hair in a passion." AHHH <3<3<3<3<3(less)
Oh man. Given to me in a box of books from my dad's colleague, offloading some of her teenage daughter's old books. I was way too young for them, 8 or...moreOh man. Given to me in a box of books from my dad's colleague, offloading some of her teenage daughter's old books. I was way too young for them, 8 or 9 I think. They were mostly Sweet Valley Highs, and bits of vintage YA from the late 70's and early 80's. (I definitely had a MTI copy of Ice Castles in there.)
This was one of those (with this super creepy cover) and constantly drew me down to the basement to sneak-read it. This seemed necessary because it held me in thrall of its slightly graphic sex scenes (both Nazis and nice American boys!) The story is full-on crazy, but I was at such an impressionable age I will sure never forget about it.(less)
I'm very glad I read this, even though I doubt I'll be interested in rereading it again. I definitely liked the book, but whether a person will love i...moreI'm very glad I read this, even though I doubt I'll be interested in rereading it again. I definitely liked the book, but whether a person will love it or not depends a lot upon their taste, and how important certain aspects of novels are to them. The book has a powerful story and a walloping message, but is often heavy-handed in its writing style. Indeed, this was the author's first book, and it turns 20 years old this year, so its place in the world of popular reading and writing has shifted. You can tell, reading it, that this is a writer who will grow more, because it is so well-conceived but misses some beauty in the writing, and some subtlety in the themes, and those are important characteristics to me as a reader.
It did pleasantly surprise me. It wasn't about what I expected it to be about, but I ended up getting something out of the direction it went in anyway. At first I wasn't certain I liked it much at all, and then I started to understand what the focus would be and it worked a bit better for me. While I was expecting this to be a mother-daughter story and an immigration/culture-shock story, this is not really the novel's atmosphere at all. It's a looking-in book rather than a looking-out book. Trauma, really, is the atmosphere, to the extent that it almost is a "therapy book": both mother and daughter experience sexual traumas, and these, themselves, are our subject. It is the "reverberation through the generations" story. It is straightforward and tough. There is a coming-to-terms, without a clean ending. (There's a big ending, but not a clean one.)
Our protagonist Sophie grows up in Haiti without her mother and then, suddenly, is summoned to live with her in New York. She experiences almost the opposite of culture shock: her New York school is Haitian, they teach in French, and her mother does what — according to her — Haitian mothers do. Sophie left the political dangers of the country of Haiti behind, but the cultural issues are still with them in the United States. The sexual oppression of girls becomes very real in Sophie's life, and it becomes the focal point of everything, including her mother's past, and her own future.
While I was reading this, I attended an event with the author where she mentioned meeting a group of psychiatry students who had read this book and were using it as a case study for clinical analysis, and I can completely see how you could do this. I often think about the connections between literary analysis and counseling. And here, everything floats right up on the surface, the same way it does in clinical case studies. Having lived her teenage years with her mother's PTSD, as an adult Sophie is in therapy, Sophie attends a support group for victims of sexual phobia, and eventually, Sophie goes right back to Haiti. She needs to ask it questions. She looks her beloved grandmother in the eye and asks why their family does what it does. These scenes are quite blunt and simple, in terms of literary artfulness, but as an "issue book" it is almost as good as a survivor's handbook. A script, even.
This book also surprised me in some personal ways on the more general thematic level, the connections-between-people level. It directly addresses (and works out) some things that happen to have come up in my own life in the past week. Isn't it strange when this happens for you in a book? I didn't even know it would, here. But I listened.(less)
This is a family memoir, and links several story pieces together more cohesively than almost any novel I've re...moreThis book is so wonderful. I loved this!
This is a family memoir, and links several story pieces together more cohesively than almost any novel I've read in ages. It's beautifully done. Partly it is about the author's growing up in Haiti at her uncle's house, before moving to the U.S. at twelve to be with her parents (c. 1980). And partly it is a chronicle of the year that her father and uncle died, and in which she gave birth to her first child (c. 2004). Each of these pieces is a worthwhile story in itself, but there is a darker pull that drew her to write about it all together, which is explained outright in the book's description: the circumstances of her uncle's death in the custody of U.S. Homeland Security.
It's impossible to discuss the book without eventually addressing what happened to Joseph Dantica. But first I feel the need to point out that the content of this book is just about 10% injustice, 5% history lesson, and 85% love, love, love. Edwidge Danticat loves her family so much, and she tells us so many things about the comfort and fun and happiness of belonging to them, it makes us care a lot and understand a lot about them personally. After reading this book, I love her family, and I'm, you know, a stranger to them.
The structural outline of this book is crazy and fun. She jumps back and forth through loops in the timeline every which way, and sometimes branches off into folktales or someone else's memory from decades back. It's a total ramble that she's totally in control of. Her childhood recollections are vivid, even when the circumstances are stark. Haiti at that time was, of course, a poor and often dangerous country, but Edwidge seems to have missed the "worst" of the violence and poverty that would affect her neighbors. Her uncle remembered the U.S. occupation of his childhood, and in his final days he was driven away by rebels from his neighborhood. But in between he and his wife ran a church and school, and helped to raise several young people (only one of them their own child) in what I keep wanting to say appeared to be a happy childhood, although there are plenty of tough stories here. But it isn't evoked in a way that is bleak. It's life. The author seemed to enjoy and be awed by her family as a little girl, with a warm care that the reader begins to share.
However, there is an edge, an imbalance that it seems she can barely glance at. Though waiting comfortably, the author and her brother still waited for eight years — until she was twelve — to be able to join her parents after they moved to New York City. That's a long time. That's a whole childhood. Her parents had two more children in those years, and managed only one visit back home (their immigration story is an interesting time capsule) before Edwidge and her brother were finally allowed to go. And then, snap, they were gone. Exhilarating; wrenching.
For the record: this kind of thing blows my mind, and I would dearly love to read a whole book just about that, if the author would write one. (FWIW it appears she came nearest to it in Breath, Eyes, Memory and in a lesser-known YA novel, both of which I plan to read.) Edwidge's own transition to post-immigration life is not covered in depth in this book, which made me sad because I have a lot of feelings, and it's just something I care to hear about. Our New York City contains so many millions of immigrant tales, and not of the "Ellis Island" kind but the "people who got here yesterday" kind. I think everybody who lives here should care about them, and I find it really important, but I acknowledge it was not essential to the rest of this book right here, only me.
Instead, the timeline mostly advances to her adulthood in 2004, when she learns (on the same day, no less) that her father is dying of a pulmonary disease, and also that she's pregnant. And then, when her uncle comes to visit… In the beginning of the book, she says, "This is an attempt at cohesiveness, and at re-creating a few wondrous and terrible months when their lives and mine intersected in startling ways, forcing me to look forward and back at the same time." I loved this introduction, and I feel I understand her all the more for it and her own meaning for the book.
There are all kinds of ways to dwell on how horrible the way that her uncle Joseph died was. I don't really want to lay them all out in a review here, because it's sad, and for most the facts will speak for themselves. The main reason I won't go into it, though, is that the author herself refrains. She shows the restraint of an artist in cataloging the injustices he experienced after being detained by immigration at the airport in Miami, and she leaves many of the more emotional messages inferred, unsaid. While you could write a whole book about those few days, she doesn't. Because of how well she has permitted us to know these people in the book that she did choose to write, we are able to understand them deeply as this very fucked-up thing goes on, and worry for their fears and feelings ourselves.
Actually, I partly take back something I said in my last review — judging by this book, maybe it is possible to write a natural-sounding narrative based on the account of a formal government report. This author, of course, had benefit of interviewing personal contacts (her cousin and their lawyer) who were present during portions of the events, but overall the story sounds measured and real, including the parts that were clearly primarily based on details gleaned from the Freedom of Information Act. It's well done and hard to do.
I believe this is the first book by Edwidge Danticat that I've read, though I've certainly read something before, because I've known her name since she showed up in my curriculum in a memoir class my first semester of college. That was several years before the events of this one, so I do not know what we read. A short essay, I think? About her hair, maybe, and perhaps one of her brothers? But I clearly don't remember. I'm eager to know her better, and I love so much that she lets us.(less)
1) Quit my job 2) Bought this book 3) Went on vacation to the Jersey Shore with my friend 4) Read this book,...moreOver a couple weeks in the summer of 2005, I:
1) Quit my job 2) Bought this book 3) Went on vacation to the Jersey Shore with my friend 4) Read this book, on the beach 5) Came home and returned this book to Barnes & Noble because I was unemployed and needed the money back.
It was kind of a great time.
The B&N Lending Library, I called it. "It's okay because they're hardcover!"
This was not the only time that I did such a thing, and it's not that this is an ethically wonderful idea that I would recommend. But if what you really feel you've got to do is take that brand new book on vacation, and you've got bigger problems with no health insurance or credit card, I would say that, well, have a great time. It's hardcover.(less)
Aaaugh. Is this going to be the best book I read this year? In JANUARY??? That's it, 2014! Your bar is really high! This is gonna be hard on us both.
T...moreAaaugh. Is this going to be the best book I read this year? In JANUARY??? That's it, 2014! Your bar is really high! This is gonna be hard on us both.
This book is practically perfect, I think. (The last book I remember saying this about was Cutting For Stone, FWIW.) I almost fail to think of any way to improve it and make me love it more. IT IS SO GOOD.
This writing is good not just because the idea is good, every scene crisp and right, each of the dozen characters loved. The writing is good on that big, deep level of words and meanings, weaving itself until it's so perfect you kind of want to hit somebody. The details are so remarkably nice that I honestly don't feel like discussing them. It was so much more wonderful to fall for them myself. The work is so unbelievably subtle, I don't want to bruise anything by waving my finger at it.
I avoided this book for a while because I couldn't understand the premise exactly. What is going on here, with birth and death? Is it a supernatural thing? No, although yes: it's understood, and clear to the reader, that Ursula relives her life whenever her life ends. When she dies, the story resets itself, slightly differently, a sixth sense helping her bend her fate to keep her alive — and sometimes it takes several tries. (Things that it turns out are VERY DIFFICULT to avoid: Spanish flu; a German bomb falling right on your apartment. Also beware turn-of-the-century childhood, generally.) Ursula doesn't ever straightforwardly understand the actual cause and effect of what is going on when she dies and relives her life (view spoiler)[(until the very end) (hide spoiler)], but she is trapped by deja vu, and she knows the moments when action needs to be taken. She takes it, then, because she somehow understands that if she doesn't solve this problem now, the problem will not go away. It's as if she knows that there is a next time, even though she doesn't know.
So, in the reading, this means that the story basically centers around those small pivotal moments in life: the days when something momentous happens of some kind or another, and perhaps no matter how many ways you live it, dinner is always ruined, and you always find the dog.
This would be a great one for the internet to play with, to make charts and timelines. There's a pretty remarkable and spoiler-filled analysis on "narrative design" here and here, with a chart that I like though I want MOOORE. (What an amazing blog, though, regardless!) Also a little breakdown of all of Ursula's deaths, here.
It has been a while since a book raised so many beautiful and lasting things for me to think about. I needed that. What is raised, here, is the question of what gets set in motion when Ursula sort of begins to sense what happens to her. What about those moments that change everything? What about the things you can and can't rewrite? The most harrowing section of the book for me actually came long before any German bombs. (This is really spoilery for real) (view spoiler)[Ursula is raped and becomes pregnant. Not really knowing what is happening, she's brought by her aunt for an abortion. She ends up hospitalized from an infection, near death. (hide spoiler)]. I cried. It is the most devastating moment she has ever lived through, BUT SHE DOES NOT DIE. Somehow, it is not just the awfulness of Ursula's experience that makes this so harsh and tragic: up to this point, we have watched her instantly escape all of the terrible things that happen, rather than have to live with them. But this one goes on punishing her. (view spoiler)[Her mother rejects her, and she marries a terrible man. Eventually, it all does get rewritten — after some good long years of misery, her horrible husband finally beats her to death. She does not have to marry him again. (hide spoiler)]
How do we go on from the things that rip our lives apart? How do we help others go on? Though they apply to herself, these are also the questions that Ursula has charged herself with night after night of the Blitz, volunteering as part of a rescue patrol, identifying bomb victims and pulling them out of rubble. When it is that bad, so bad, what can you think? What can you say? Her inadvertent mentor, the warden on the squad, tells her: "We must remember these people when we are safely in the future." It is so strong and beautiful a gospel, but is it enough?
I suppose one important thing that I haven't addressed is, for all of this high-concept reincarnation of an ordinary English girl, why is it even happening? In a way, the things I mentioned in the previous paragraphs are actually a lot more important to me, because I'm always affected a lot by the thematic impact of a book, and I am so impressed with this novel for having such a strong one. But, indeed, there is a point. And even though it pretty much is revealed to us on page one, perhaps it is sensitive enough for spoiler space? (view spoiler)[It sounds too trite to sum it up this way, but once Ursula finally understands that she has coherent memories from her other lives, she galvanizes them all to come back once more to go and kill Hitler before he gets going, thus preventing WWII. (Consequently, this was an interesting one to read closely behind Alfred and Emily, which unwrote WWI.) We don't know what came next, after this assassination, because Ursula is immediately shot. And this only happens in one of the branches of the story. But it is, seemingly, the point. (hide spoiler)] One of the purposes of reincarnation that is discussed in the book is the need for us to "get it right," and for Ursula this act seems to be the apex. Interestingly, though, this very moment was not actually the end of the book. A couple of other short scenes follow, which have nothing to do with that event, and I think I would have chosen to remove them? Or simply move them? But it probably won't be so hard to convince me it's perfect.
You could read this book rather quickly, though I savored a bit longer than necessary. Structurally, the story must repeat itself a few times and I got a little muddled which "reality" we were in, whether such and such did or didn't happen. But this doesn't actually seem to matter very much, as it's the emotional reality that matters more, and we always know what the stakes are because all the situations become so familiar to us. It repeats without being repetitive, and just made me feel at home there. The scenery really has everything: the book's first half simply depicts a beautiful and idyllic English country childhood (except for the occasional dying, of course). A family of characters. Things get a little freaky during adolescence, and then adulthood starts to spin off every which way, with her studies, her couplings, work in the war ministry and so many bombs and, indeed, Germany. I cannot overstate how pleasant this was to read, and how glad I am.
I don't know how to say this without sounding mean? But I'll try. Because very nearly, this is almost not at all the same Kate Atkinson who writes the Jackson Brodie mystery novels. I do like those novels! Mostly. But this book is a literary work I didn't know she was capable of from reading those. I had no idea. Maybe her secret is out, maybe now we can tell the difference when she writes a novel over dinner and telly or not? Because now that we know she writes so beautifully, we're going to hold her to it. We have no choice!
Loved it. So epic and so personal, an instant favorite.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)