There's some contentious over whether or not this book should be read as the first in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Yes, the novel is chronically tThere's some contentious over whether or not this book should be read as the first in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Yes, the novel is chronically the prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but it seems to rely upon at least a cursory knowledge of that book -- the important of Aslan, the horrors of the White Witch, the existence of a lamp post in the middle of nowhere -- to really work well as a story.
Even though I've read The Lion, the Wtich, and the Wardrobe (although, it's been nearly five years), I felt as though I was listening to someone read a Wikipedia entry to me rather than a novel. This happened and then that happened, which lead to this. Not a lot of excitement; not a lot of intrigue. A lot like reading the first chapter of Genesis, which is clearly the inspiration for how Aslan brings about Narnia.
I know some people read fantasy novels and immediately must know how that land came into being. I've seen all the movies and read the first book yet I never felt that burning need with Narnia. It's a magical land one accesses through a wardrobe simply because that's how things are. Not very imaginative of me, I guess.
Yet that probably explains why this book did not work well for me, and the uninspiring narration by Kenneth Branagh did nothing to keep me engaged with this tale. I also must admit that the audiobook I listened to largely skipped the third chapter. The CD was scratched so it refused to load properly past the first four minutes, but I decided to read up a summary of that chapter online rather than seek out a print copy to help fill in the holes....more
Twenty-three year old Marietta buys a used car and sets her sights west leaving behind her small town in Kentucky and the single mother who raised herTwenty-three year old Marietta buys a used car and sets her sights west leaving behind her small town in Kentucky and the single mother who raised her. Rechristening herself as Taylor Greer, Marietta has no plan as to where she’s headed or what she plans to do for money. All she knows is that a young woman in the 1980s named Taylor wouldn’t allow herself to be tied down to a man who doesn’t love her and children she doesn’t want in a small town right out of the 1950s.
Yet Taylor doesn’t entirely manage to escape this fate as she reaches the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma late one night and ends up leaving tribal lands with a bruised, non-communicative child in her care. Turtle – so named because she grabbed anything put in front of her with a death grip – and Taylor wind up in Arizona where they are first taken in by the owner of the “Jesus Is Lord” auto body shop, Maddie, after Taylor’s car dies and she is unable to pay for repairs. Early chapters introduce the reader to Lou Ann and her newborn son, Dwayne Ray, before (obviously) converging together as Taylor and Turtle end up moving in with Lou Ann and forging a unique family structure that explores both motherhood and female friendship.
To truly enjoy this book, you have to suspend disbelief (or common sense, as one woman in my book club put it) and accept that a twenty-three year old, unmarried woman who prided herself all through high school on not getting pregnant would accept a Native American child from a complete stranger in the middle of Oklahoma and continue onward with her journey to Tuscan, Arizona. My book club was pretty evenly split on this book – four loved it, four hated it, and four thought it as just okay – and it seemed to boil down to whether or not you could accept this premise. I, myself, went back and forth on whether or not I could believe this. Taylor and I are a year apart in age, and I know that my first reaction when someone handed me a baby would be to head straight to the nearest police station. Would I end up advocating for the child? Oh, definitely. But I would not keep driving across state lines and risk criminal prosecution for kidnapping and/or child abuse simply because someone handed me a child and told me I had to take it with me. Of course, Taylor’s acceptance of this child into her life reflects her ability to react without consideration for the future. I am a planner; Taylor is an actor. Someone hands her a child? Taylor keeps it without second thought. A boss says she must pay to dry clean her uniform? Taylor quits without thinking about how she’ll pay for rent or food for her and her new daughter, Turtle. A friend needs help smuggling people across the border? Taylor agrees to drive them to Oklahoma without considering what getting caught would mean for her and Turtle.
When I was able to accept this about Taylor’s personality and suspend disbelief, I ended up being charmed by the mysterious behavior of Turtle and the story of how she slowly breaks out of her shell (pun intended). I also particularly enjoyed watching Taylor and Lou Ann – a fellow Kentuckian who is abandoned in Arizona by her husband during her eighth month of pregnancy – forged together a hodgepodge family consisting of themselves, their children, and their neighbors so that both of these women and Turtle, especially, can thrive. Over the years of living far away from my family, I’ve really come to value having a network of friends who love and support each other as a family would, and I was particularly touched by Kingsolver’s depiction of how Taylor and Turtle’s network evolved over time.
Having read two of Kingsolver’s later books, it was obvious that this was a first novel. Some of the harsher critics in my book club said the writing as flat and “blander than vanilla”, but I was able to imagine both the Kentucky and the Arizona settings despite having never traveled to either state. The “Jesus Is Lord” auto repair shop was especially vivid in my mind. I do think the writing lacked an emotional impact, and I could set the book aside without hesitation when my train arrived or bedtime loomed.
However, I think the lack of emotional range was a reflection of Taylor’s personality rather than a deficit in Kingsolver’s writing. I remember having a much more visceral reaction to events of her more well-known novel, The Poisonwood Bible, and yet The Bean Trees is the one I most want to read the sequel to. ...more
Back in May, I finally listened to my friends and started watching the television series “Orphan Black” blowing through nearly three seasons worth ofBack in May, I finally listened to my friends and started watching the television series “Orphan Black” blowing through nearly three seasons worth of episodes to catch up before the season finale near the end of June. Those of you who are familiar with the show know that Ethan Duncan, the creator of the LEDA clone experiment, hide the answer to the clones’ genetic code in a copy of Wells’ 1896 novel about the horrors of scientific experimentation. And, well, if I’m going to call myself a member of the #CloneClub (name for fans for the show), then I’m obviously going to do it right and read The Island of Dr. Moreau.
The back cover of my copy says “this early work of H.G. Wells was greeted in 1896 by howls of protest from reviewers, who found it horrifying and blasphemous. They wanted to know more about the wondrous possibilities of science in his first book, The Time Machine, not its potential for misuse and terror”. I haven’t read Wells’ first book so I cannot comment on that comparison, but horrifying and blasphemous? Yes, I would concur with that assessment.
Horrifying because how terrifying would it be to stumble across a St. Bernard fashioned into a man or a hyena and a pig stitched together? I ended up visualizing every aspect, stitching together and recreating these horrifying beasts in my mind long after I should have been asleep. In a tent. In the middle of the woods.
The small solstice I had reading this novel is, unlike in 1896, we know you cannot take the parts of one and stitch them into another with serious anti-rejection drug regimes so the bizarre beasts Wells concocts would die long before they learned to walk on two legs.
The novel stands not only as a critique of scientific exploration but also of colonialism, itself. The setting, the top-down oppression of a people seen as grotesque and beneath their British owners by a series of rules they did not vote upon, and the sympathy expressed on the part of Moreau’s creations all encourage readers of the time period to examine how they view and treat others in faraway lands. Darwinism and the theory of evolution were used at the time to justify colonialism so why can’t it be used to justify vivisection and creating hybrid beings?
As for the whole reason why I read this book in the first place, no, I didn’t find much in the way of spoilers for the upcoming season of “Orphan Black”. The novel and the show have a singular theme in common — how science can be misused and release (so-called) blasphemous creations on the world — but the similarities appear to end there. Of course, knowing how well the show keeps viewers on their toes, it’s hard to say for certain that Dog-Man and Hyena-Swine aren’t being held in the bowels of the Dyad Institute....more
**spoiler alert** Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is called to one of the grand hotels in Reykjavik to investigate the murder of the hotel’s Santa/handym**spoiler alert** Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is called to one of the grand hotels in Reykjavik to investigate the murder of the hotel’s Santa/handyman/doorman named Gulli, who was found dead in his basement apartment with his pants around his ankles. The hotel staff insists the old man was an unwanted addition to their ranks – a washed out doorman who was to be fired at the end of the Christmas party – and demand Erlendur keep mum about his investigation in order to keep from scaring away guests during the busy holiday season. The international guests, however, provide Erlendur with a range of suspects as he begins to investigate into the victim’s past as a young choir boy and reconcile with his own tragic past.
As typical with Indriðason’s novels, Erlendur’s colleagues, Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, are occupied with solving another crime. The police were alerted to the case of a young boy who was viciously attacked by his classmates. His father insists he arrived home to find a trail of blood leading to the young boy’s bedroom where he managed to drag himself after the attack, but Elinborg is convinced the father is the culprit and the young boy is too afraid to tell the truth.
A couple of years ago, I read a nonfiction book about how people become obsessed with collecting things – butterflies, rubber bands, Beanie Babies – and how that obsession comes to dominate their lives. Recordings of young, choir boys — the focus of this novel — has to be in the top ten of weird collections, no? Certainly, my mind seems to think so as it’s been over four months since I finished this one and I’m still thinking about it!
Erlendur’s efforts to solve the murder is spread out over five days during the Christmas season, and the novel is broken into five sections representing each new day. During these five days, the inspector moves into the hotel in order to remain close to the scene of the crime and the hotel guests, whom Erlendur suspects the murderer is among. The neutral setting, however, allows Erlendur to begin working on his strained relationship with his daughter Eva Lind, a recovering drug addict, as the case allows him to learn about her past and affords her the opportunity to inquire about Erlendur’s childhood.
Having read this series out of order, I know a fair amount of Erlendur’s childhood and, therefore, missed out on the slow reveal and heavy dose of suspense this novel offers. So, for me, this was the weakest aspect of the novel, but this aside is perfectly interwoven into the larger narrative of how the sudden end of one’s childhood contributes to their choices in the future — Erlendur’s choice to become a detective, Eva Lind’s drug addiction, Gulli’s life before his tragic death, the little boy and his father.
And, once again, I found myself turning the last page impressed by how Indriðason expertly juggled these three narratives over the course of the five days during which this novel is set. At no point do the narratives become too heavy handed or begin to overshadow each other, and he still managed to keep me on my toes as to why these crimes happened even if I already figured out the ‘who’....more
**spoiler alert** Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988, this tale focuses on Sethe, a young salve who escaped to Ohio to join her mother-i**spoiler alert** Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988, this tale focuses on Sethe, a young salve who escaped to Ohio to join her mother-in-law (although her marriage to Halle was not legally binding) and her three other children, and the young daughter named Denver that Sethe was pregnant with during her escape.
Eighteen years after her arrival in Ohio, she and her youngest daughter, Denver, live together in the house at 124 Bluestone Road in Cincinnati that is haunted by Sethe’s two-year-old daughter. The unnamed daughter is referred to as ‘Beloved’ after her death because that was the only word from the preacher’s sermon at her daughter’s funeral and the only word the funeral home would carve into the stone in exchange for sex.
The death of Beloved has marked every aspect of Denver’s life isolating her from the community at large, especially after her brothers, Howard and Buglar, escaped from the house and her grandmother, Baby Suggs, passed away. Largely housebound, Denver is unprepared for the arrival of two new people in their lives: Paul D, a former slave who knew her mother from their time together at Sweet Home, and a young woman who calls herself Beloved.
“Beloved. You are my sister. You are my daughter. You are my face; you are me. I have found you again; you have come back to me. You are my Beloved. You are mine.” (pg. 255)
Paul D is able to chase the spirit of Sethe’s eldest daughter from the home allowing Denver to finally leave the house at 124 Bluestone Road, but the supernatural presence returns when Beloved arrives and charms Sethe and Denver with her presence. As Paul D grows closer to Sethe and warier of Beloved’s presence, the black community of Cincinnati informs Paul D of how Sethe’s daughter died, of how Sethe tried to murder all four of her children in order to keep them from being returned to their owner at Sweet Home. Horrified, Paul D leaves the home allowing Sethe to become lost to the idea that the young woman named Beloved to actually her daughter returned to her at the expense of both herself and Denver.
In her preface, Morrison says she was inspired to write this book after reading an old newspaper article about an escape slave who murdered her child to prevent the her child from being returned to their owner under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required people living in “free states” to return all runaways to slavery. She explains both in the preface and in the text how slavery fractured familial relationships, how it left women like Sethe with few options to keep themselves and their families together.
Going into the story with this particular idea in mind did ruin Paul’s revelation of what Sethe did, but it also allowed me to see the forest amongst the trees, so to say. I could have easily become bogged down in Morrison’s prose, in the magical realism (which is rarely to my own taste), and in sudden shift to stream of consciousness more than halfway into the story. But I also knew I should be focusing on the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, on the guilt that accompanies hindsight, and on the everlasting mark of both slavery and murder.
On those three points, I adored this book for what it had to say. Slavery and murder are despicable evils in this world, but given the choice between the two – given the only choice one has – how can Sethe choose life in slavery over murder? She knew what that life would be like – how it would deprive her children of a family or the right to marry, how it cause them immense pain and suffering, how her daughters would be expected to bare children with a man chosen for them knowing they would be unlikely to see those children grow up.
We see the loss of her child haunt her after the fact in part because she and her three remaining children were allowed to remain free, but her actions cost the life of her beloved daughter and, eventually, the right to be in the lives of her sons. Yet she does not feel guilty about what she did even telling Paul D point blank that she cannot be faulted for “trying to put my babies where they would be safe”. She had already lost her husband, who failed to show up when it was time for them to escape from Sweet Home together, and she had already been brutalized by her new master, who had forcibly taken her milk from her that she had been trying to save for the unnamed infant upon their reunification.
And, of course, her decision cost her remaining daughter a happy and productive life as a member of Cincinnati society. Denver is an outcast because of what her mother did. She is forgotten by her brothers in their attempt to escape their mother and the haunted house, and her grandmother spent most of her remaining years keeping Denver close in order to prevent her mother from having the opportunity to kill her like she did Beloved. She never really has the freedom her mother was trying to afford to her, which is a tragedy in its own right.
I still cannot claim to be a fan of Toni Morrison’s writing, but I can say that I am a fan of what this book has to say and the viewpoint it offers to its readers. (Although, I admit that “fan” is a rather awful word to use in connection to the horrific tale told in this novel.) Another book I’m glad I added to my Classics Club list as I would not have picked it up otherwise....more
Nina Revskaya, an eighty-year-old former acclaimed ballerina from the Bolshoi Ballet in the Soviet Union, has decided to sell her jewelry collection –Nina Revskaya, an eighty-year-old former acclaimed ballerina from the Bolshoi Ballet in the Soviet Union, has decided to sell her jewelry collection – unique for both its contents and its origins in Soviet Russia – in an auction to benefit the Boston Ballet Foundation. Since her retirement from the Boston Ballet, Nina has largely become a recluse in her Back Bay brownstone interacting with only two chosen friends infrequently and with her nurse on a daily basis. Nina is uninterested in sharing the story of her jewelry and refuses to expand upon her largely yes-or-no answers to questions posed to her by Drew Brooks, an associate from the auction house tasked with creating a book on the jewels included in the sale.
The unsolicited arrival of an amber necklace believed to match the amber set owned by Nina offers Drew an alternative source for answers. Yet Grigori Solodin, a professor and translator of poems written by Nina’s deceased husband at a local Boston office, is just as clueless about the source of the amber necklace in his possession and hopes Drew or, better yet, Nina herself can help fill in the holes of his own personal history.
I purchased this book at the library used book sale because of four words on the back cover: Boston, Stalinist Russia, and ballet. The cover evokes a melancholy, dreamy feeling, which is part of why I was drawn to the book in the first place, but I also seem to be reading a slew of books lately featuring faceless women on the cover. The faceless theme works in this case as much of the book is spent exploring who the real Nina Revskaya is – the person defined by the past she has tried to ignore for so long – and how exactly a favored ballerina in Soviet Russia came to defect one night in Paris nearly fifty years ago.
Central to Nina’s past are her husband, the poet Viktor Elsin; her childhood friend and fellow ballerina, Vera; and the Jewish composer, Gersh. Oddly enough, these characters felt far more developed than Nina herself, who seems to largely float along from one conflict in Soviet Russia to another. Clearly, Drew is a prop character used to open the door to Nina’s past without much development on her own. The story could have done without her intrusion in the later chapters.
The mention of Grigori’s mere existence exposes the overarching mystery the novel solves, although I did appreciate the red herrings Kalotay throws into the story to try to keep this mystery fresh. And maybe the ending felt a little abrupt given how slowly drawn out the book is, but I’m not sure there needed to be a longer march given how predictable the ending was.
For all its predictability, though, Kalotay’s descriptions of Soviet Russia, of the Back Bay in Boston, of the pain ballerinas are subjected to in order to dance, and of the fear her characters felt throughout of the novel kept me from putting this one aside in favor of something else. A third of the way through this book, I found myself pondering which brownstone exactly could be Nina’s as I walked through the Back Bay late one afternoon. The descriptions add to the slow pace of the novel, but they really helped me connect with the bleakness of the Russian winter and the bleakness of a past a person might be afraid to address in their own age....more
In sixteenth century Venice, Papal edict forbids Jews from rendering medical treatment to Christians and confines all Jews to a squalled ghetto, whichIn sixteenth century Venice, Papal edict forbids Jews from rendering medical treatment to Christians and confines all Jews to a squalled ghetto, which they are forbidden from leaving after nightfall. Late one evening, a wealthy Count arrives with the ghetto’s rabbi in an attempt to solicit the midwifery services of Hannah Levi, a woman renowned throughout the city of Venice for her skill with complicated deliveries. Hannah wants to refuse the request for her help as she fears the edict and the possibility that the Count might decide her secret “birthing spoons” (very crude forceps) were a gift for the Devil.
Yet the outrageous sum of money the Count offers for her services is more than enough of a temptation for Hannah. Her husband, Isaac, was captured at sea and sold to people claiming to be defenders of the Christian faith, and Venice’s rabbinical council has been unable to negotiate for his release. The Count’s payment would allow Hannah to travel to Malta, where her husband is being held, to ransom Isaac before the slave traders and abusive merchants can work him to death.
The first few chapters of this book hold an immense amount of promise setting the stage for a perilous and ethical decision – should Hannah use her God-given gift for midwifery when it could cause her to permanently lose her husband, could put her community in danger, and could cause her to lose her own life? And does she dare use her “birthing spoons” that even her rabbi had qualms about blessing? Rich also provides detailed descriptions of the scenery of sixteenth century Venice, which help to explain the rampant anti-Semitism in this region and highlight how perilous life is during this time for both Jews and women whether they are Christian or not, pregnant or not.
And then the whole story begins to fall apart. Rich repeatedly asserts that the noble family Hannah has been called to assist would also face prosecution if the Papal authority learned they had solicited the services of a Jewish midwife for a Christian mother and child. Yet the family invites her to dine with them in the weeks after the birth breaking social customs and the law, which conveniently provides Rich with the opportunity to plant Hannah right in the middle of a plot to kidnap the newborn child. Her sister, Jessica, is conveniently introduced after Hannah flees the house to provide Hannah with a place of refuge, and their tenuous relationship is quickly explained and patched up in a few pages.
The narrative abruptly shifts to Malta where a cruel man and a nun from the local abbey are in a bidding war over Isaac, which interrupted the suspense of Hannah’s story, and then continues to jump back and forth from Venice to Malta throughout the book. I imagine this was done to show the peril facing both Isaac and Hannah, to show why Hannah was so determined to rescue her husband.
However, other than Hannah learning how her husband refuses to leave her over her barrenness despite the Rabbi’s pressure, there was nothing about the introduction of Isaac to the story that added dimensions to both his characterization and his and Hannah’s relationship. And I ended up largely skimming sections devoted to the subplot of him helping a slave trader with his love affair.
The timeline rang false for this time period. So much of the action occurs in a span of a few days, including the Count sailing away to another city and news of his death from the plague arriving the next day – rather amazing speed given the time period – that the plot begins to feel even more convenient and farfetched. I just could not get over the idea of a woman in 1575 being named Jessica.
And neither, apparently, could the previous owner of this book because they littered the pages of this novel with a bunch of questions marks and attempted to take notes on the plot on the back cover....more