How ironic that the bookmark I randomly chose from my bookmark box was a photo looking out through an open wall of a tea house onto a well-manicured J...moreHow ironic that the bookmark I randomly chose from my bookmark box was a photo looking out through an open wall of a tea house onto a well-manicured Japanese garden. I was constantly switching from the constraint, memory, and heady philosophy of the hostage storyteller to the freedom held within that photo. And every time a little "count your blessings" thought ran through my mind.
Suffering from a bout of disillusionment with modern fiction, I was looking for a book of substance and masterful writing. Elie Wiesel did not disappoint. In fact, this surpassed my expectations. The first 34 pages in which Shaltiel is kidnapped did not grab me and read like much modern fiction. But once he becomes a hostage the story quickly shifts to his relationship/discussions with his captors and to his memories and stories. Told entirely from Shantiel's viewpoint, the outside world ceases to exist. Time disappears. The reader joins Shaltiel as he survives by reliving memories (including the Holocaust,) recalls stories, and talks with his captors, mainly the Italian. These talks cover ethics - of justice, retaliation, Jewish religious philosophy, and sometimes just stories. The hostage is that. A storyteller. From that he has scraped out a living and a life.
The newspaper review that brought this book to my attention stated that this is Wiesel's most personal book. He has recently survived heart surgery and The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity was nearly bankrupted by the Madoff Ponzi scheme. And now, at 83, he has written this amazing book. What a beautiful man he must be.
Shaltiel, the hostage, harbors no anger or resentment toward his captors. His only sadness is that he has no heirs. And that is the focus of his desire to survive. I will not tell you whether or not he survives. Let it suffice to say that, like Wiesel, his purpose in life is not finished. (less)
So often this book read like a long prose poem. This paragraph tells of Olu, the eldest son who has followed in his father's footsteps and become a do...moreSo often this book read like a long prose poem. This paragraph tells of Olu, the eldest son who has followed in his father's footsteps and become a doctor, sitting in his obsessively white New York bedroom after just learning that his long absent father has died at the age of 57 in Ghana.
"He sits in his scrubs with the shirt in the dark, with the moon making ice of the floor and the walls, and thinks maybe she's right, all this white is oppressive, apathetic; a bedroom shouldn't be an OR. In the sunlight it's gorgeous, hard angles and harder the light crashing billiantly against its own shade, to an eerie effect, white on white, like an echo, the sun staring at its reflection. Not now. Now it is lonely and cold in the darkness, a cold and dark light. With the snow falling onto itself out the window as noiseless as hopelessness, more white on white. "
Personally, I was carried away with the writing style of Taiye Selasi. More than once I needed to reread a passage to further understand what was just said, or to bathe in the beauty of her word choice. At times, and other reviewers also mention this, new passages do not clearly reveal the narrator, but considering this is a first novel and that Selasi has such a unique writing style, I was able to look at this less as a fault and more as an adjustment I needed make as I read.
Each narrator is unique, not in voice but in how they relate to their family and society. They have all been traumatized, as it turns out, not only by their father's leaving (going) the family, but by their places in society and how they do not fit in. This is all revealed as the book goes along. They go along in life, and come to make of it as they do. The words go, going, gone, come, etc. appear very often throughout the book. But I remember only once seeing the word "am". They are unable to function in a normal (present) matter. The whole family does not belong - they are immigrants in a class between. Below their professional peers. It is also the singling out/scapegoating of their father, pressured to do a failed surgery that should never have been performed, that is his undoing. And, the family's undoing. He is forced to "go".
This was a very painful book for me to read. I cried often while I read it. But I would read it again. I fine piece of world literature. An author to watch. Book clubs that do not shy away from difficult subjects should consider this.(less)
First, I would like to thank Interlink Books for producing this book for English readers. It was interesting to read an historical account of modern u...moreFirst, I would like to thank Interlink Books for producing this book for English readers. It was interesting to read an historical account of modern urban Egypt in light of the recent political changes in the region.
Second, I must state that I am largely ignorant to this period of Egyptian history. I could tell you that Sadat was an important Egyptian leader. But that is about it. Thankfully, the translator has writes an afterword that sheds light on the events that open the story. I cannot speak to the author's presentation of Sadat's Egypt. I can only say that I would not be surprised that people w0uld need to be paid to go to a rally in which, according to the New York Times "President Nixon recieved a rousing welcome from hundreds of thousands..."
However, I do have a bit of a quibble with the book's story synposis. Sagara is not so much a loner, as lonely. He has lost his father, then the family's home, and then his mother. He is forced to live in an apartment in an empty building in which he is the only occupant, the other occupants are working out of country. He does, however, have a job at the shipyard and has several friends he meets at a coffee shop who continue to remain a part of his life and who care deeply for him.
Also, over the expanse of the book he does yearn for female companionship, but he also muses about and tries to make sense of many other facets of life. Though many things he observes, or becomes a participant of, are absurdly unexplainable. Why does the family who moves in above throw their furniture into the sea? Politics and corruption surround him, but he himself is neither political, nor corrupt. He and his friends laugh at life. I didn't particularly find the book funny or humorous, but I do understand the ascerbic absurdity that is life.
Now for the title. The metaphor. There is a lot about loss in this book. There are short italicized stories opening each chapter that seem to have little to do with the narrative. But many of these little stories contain some sort of loss. The house of Jasmine is a home he passes on his street whose inhabitants are a mystery to Sagara and his friends. What they do know is that the women of the house are forbidden to them. I think this may signify the old Egypt that they can never return to as the modern Egypt is ushered in. The house is destroyed to be replaced by apartments by the same individual who forced Sagara from his home. The old is destroyed to usher in the new.