Romulus Ledbetter is one of the most usual protagonists that I have met in a long while. And I found myself not only intrigued by his complex characte...moreRomulus Ledbetter is one of the most usual protagonists that I have met in a long while. And I found myself not only intrigued by his complex character but liking him very much.
Rom used to be a brilliant piano student at the Julliard School of Music. He was a wonder on the keyboard and his compositions were extraordinary, according to his peers, professors and other musicians. When his girlfriend, Sheila, got pregnant, he married her and quit school to get a job that paid enough to support his new family. Then he began to manifest unusual behavior, which grew increasingly worse.
He stopped making music, left his beloved daughter and wife, and moved into a cave. That was years ago. Doctors diagnosed him as a "well compensated" paranoid, with, perhaps, some schizophrenic overtones. He is deemed "well compensated" because, although he lives in a shallow cave in New York City's Inwood Park, he is able to take care of himself. He grows his own food during the warmer months and scavenges during the winter. Of course, it helps that his daughter Lulu, a NYPD cop, keeps an eye on him. And, when he is not having "fits," his logic is just fine and his high IQ shines through. He is called "The Caveman" by all who know him or know of him.
Hallucinations, visions of his ex-wife, Sheila, looking as young as she did when they were first married, keep appearing before his eyes. She scolds him and dispenses advice as needed. Lulu visits him, in reality - not another figment of his imagination - and loves her father, who is still as kind and loving to her as he was when she was a little girl.
Rom is convinced that a man by the name of Cornelus Gould Stuyvesant controls the world with Y-rays from the top of the Chrysler Building. He believes that he was brought to Stuyvesant's attention because he is a "free" man! And this curdles Stuyvesant's blood! A "free man busting through to his own divinity, right?" "Ghetto kid making it at Julliard. Making a name for himself? Young composer? Hot, jumping? Getting his notes straight from God." He also believes that his mind is inhabited by moth-like angels.
On an especially cold night on February 14, Rom hears the sound of footsteps outside his cave. Swaddled in various coats and blankets, he leaves his shelter and finds a frozen body. He knows that this is not just another homeless man who froze to death. The person who made the sound of footsteps probably left the body at his front door, he deduces. The frozen corpse couldn't have walked there.
The dead man is handsome, and well-dressed, without a mark on his body, according to the medical examiner. His wallet ID reveals his name, Andrew Scott Gates, an unemployed model. Rom insists that he saw a man in a fancy white coat driving a fancy white car leaving the "crime scene." Rom is determined to find the murderer, even though the police, who ignore his ramblings, determine that the death was caused by accidental hypothermia. But, Romulus found Gates and his sense of justice and responsibility kicks in. Of course, he is convinced that Stuyvesant, or one of his minions, is the killer.
Rom is forced to reconnect with society because of his investigation. He leaves the narrow confines of his cave and journeys into the wider world, trying to keep his fits at bay. A homeless ex-lover of Scott's tells him that the murder was perpetrated by the famous avant-garde photographer, David Leppenraub. Leppenraub, according to rumor, is into drugs and sadomasochistic behavior. Apparently, Scott was the model Leppenraub used in most of his bizarre photographs. Rom hooks up with a former fellow student and musician who knows Leppenraub, and manages to wangle an invitation to one of the photographer's parties with the understanding that he will play for his supper, so to speak. Of course, he hasn't touched a piano in years.
As the story unfolds, the reader is caught up in a tale of deception, violence, mystery and a man's struggle against his madness.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is viewing the world through Romulus' sometimes deranged, sometimes almost normal mind. The extremely well written narrative is quirky and occasionally humorous. And the characters, especially the protagonist's, are very well developed. I really liked this most original novel and highly recommend it. (less)
After a fourteen year hiatus, author Pat Conroy is back with a long awaited novel, "South of Broad." His last novel "Beach Music" was quite good, as i...moreAfter a fourteen year hiatus, author Pat Conroy is back with a long awaited novel, "South of Broad." His last novel "Beach Music" was quite good, as is this latest offering. However, to my mind, nothing beats Conroy's "Prince of Tides," and the "Great Santini," although "South of Broad" comes close. There are similarities in all Conroy's novels - his characters, their lives, dilemmas, and the author's obvious love for the American South. The common thread which weaves its way throughout his work are autobiographical elements. According to a recent magazine interview, Conroy states that he writes from his own life experiences, which might explain why many of his chraacters have such emotionally traumatic childhoods. Conroy, the first of seven children, was born into a military family, and was the victim of his father's violence and abuse from a young age. The military life - his father was a US Marine Corps pilot - also pushed the family from post to post, and Conroy claims to have moved 23 times before he was 18. When he was 15 he moved to Beaufort, SC, and began his love affair with the South. He is also a graduate of the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, a school featured in a many of his novels.
So, given the autobiographical nature of Conroy's tales, the reader might recognize a personality or two, or an adventure/mystery/scenerio inserted in the narrative which are reminiscent of a previous book. However, while certain themes may seem similar, the storylines are very different and Conroy's novels are not at all repetitious. In fact, they are unusually original, laced with suspense, and Conroy's extraordinary sensitivity to human frailty. He is also a masterful writer.
Charleston, South Carolina's "South of Broad" Street is the historic city's most desirable and distinctive area. It was in the grand old homes, flanked by moss-laden oaks, magnolia trees, sculpted gardens, and picturesque street scenes that "George Washington slept, and Robert E. Lee and Teddy Roosevelt dined and socialized." "South of Broad" is also the demarcation line between classes. The wealthy, and pedigreed live here. They always have. Everyone else, those whose ancestors do not date back to antebellum times, are never really accepted here - at least not as social equals, whatever their accomplishments may be. The city's rigid class system plays a part in the storyline, influencing the characters' destinies.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks, between 1969 and the period in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo ravaged the area, and the scourge of HIV/AIDS was finally acknowledged as a pandemic disease.
Leopold Bloom King, named after the hero of James Joyce's protagonist in "Ulysses," is this novel's lead character and it's narrator. His mother, Dr. King, is a James Joyce scholar, a high school principal, and, as Leo discovered at age seventeen, an ex-nun who left the convent to marry her girlhood sweetheart. She thought the name for her second son apt, giving her literary proclivities. Leo's father, a gentle science teacher, put up with a lot from his pious, disciplinarian wife, whom he has always adored. The star of the King family is Leo's big brother Steve - the golden boy - blond, charismatic, smart, athletic. In Leo's eyes he could do no wrong. He hero-worshipped him, and he never minded taking second place to his brother in his mother's affections. Steve was "solicitous and protective" of Leo, which made the little boy love him even more.
Leo was no star back then. He was rather ordinary to those who did not know him well, including his mother. He was shy, a very late bloomer who had a difficult time making friends. The kids at school called him "Toad" because of his thick glasses.
He was only nine-year old when he discovered his brother's dead body..."his arteries severed, dead in the bathtub we both shared, my father's straight razor on the tiles of our bathroom floor." No one ever learned the reason for the suicide, except for Leo, and the reader, when it is revealed at the end of the novel. After Steve's death, Leo spent years in and out of psychiatric institutions in a horrifically painful period he calls "The Great Drift."
Fortunately, he was well enough to enter high school as a freshman, but was arrested for drug possession at his very first party. When the cops appeared on the scene as a result of complaints from neighbors about the noise, an older student slipped cocaine in Leo's pocket. Leo refused to give-up the culprit's name, so he took the fall for a crime he didn't commit. He spent time in prison, has been on parole seemingly forever, and is still performing hundreds of hours of community service when the book opens on June 16, 1969.
It is on June 16, 1969, just before Leo's junior year, that his life changes dramatically. A teaching Sister at Leo's Catholic high school, where his Mom is the principal, asks him to visit two new kids, orphans, to help them adjust to their new surroundings. According to her, these two, brother and sister, are both thieves, liars, criminals and runaways. "In the world of orphanages they are called 'long riders,' because they've run away from every institution where they have been placed - from New Orleans to Richmond to Orlando. Long riders are kids looking for something they're never going to find because it doesn't exist in the first place.'" The Sister and Leo's mother are in agreement that since Leo has spent time in prison and institutes himself, he might be good for them. So Leo Bloom King meets Starla and Niles Whitehead. They are handcuffed to chairs, (the orphanage's method for managing runaways). Leo quickly remedies the situation and the locks are opened. The siblings form a friendship with our hero because he is the only one who has ever been nice to them. The friendship is to last a lifetime.
Starla and Niles are originally from the North Carolina mountain country, way up in the hills, and as Leo has been informed, "there's no trash like white trash!" Like Leo they have been psychologically wounded, although they put up a tough front. Both teens are very bright, but Niles has purposefully flunked school on a few occasions to be with his younger sister.
Around the time Starla, Niles and Leo meet, Dr. Bloom asks her son to bake and deliver a batch of cookies to their new next door neighbors, the Poe family. The family includes an alcoholic mother, and precocious, talented, charismatic twins - Sheba Poe, who even as a teen became the "most beautiful woman in Charleston the moment she crossed the county line," and her brother Trevor. Sheba opens the front door to Leo, who bears a plate of benne wafers, a Charleston speciality. Immediately behind her is her brother, who appears to be wearing ballet slippers - his, not hers. Elfin in size, Leo thinks Trevor might be even more beautiful than his sister. They are both extremely talented - Sheba is a budding actress and chanteuse, while Trevor is a superb piano player - classic, jazz, blues...you name it. Missing from the family portrait is the father...a veritable demon from hell. So Leo makes 2 more buddies, and since, strangely enough, the Poes get along with the Whiteheads - their emotional pain, intelligence and wit binding them - they form a group of five fast friends.
Dr. Bloom has expressly forbidden Leo to become involved with the Whiteheads and the Poes, all terrible influences. Her wishes are ignored and Leo is quietly backed by his father in this decision.
Dr. Bloom is also inadvertently responsible for further broadening her son's "unsavory" social life. She asks him to meet the new football coach, Anthony Jefferson, a former star halfback at South Carolina State... and a black man. Since 1969 was not a halcyon year for civil rights, especially in South Carolina, six excellent former players, all white, have pulled out of the team. They refuse to be coached by a "Negro." But that's another story. It is through Coach Jefferson that Leo meets his son Ike, and eventually Ike's girlfriend Betty. These two seem to get along really well with the group of five - maybe it's because they are black and somewhat ostracized, as are the others for different reasons...or maybe it's just because they are also compassionate fun kids. Of course, Leo's Mom doesn't want her son hanging out with blacks either. But in this new community of friendship - two Applalachian orphans, a pair of exotic twins, and the son of the school's black football coach - Leo begins to blossom, heal and grow emotionally. Much of the novel comprises episodes that illustrate how people of such diverse backgrounds could become lifelong friends.
Also in the mix are "South of Broad's" very own snobs and racists typified by Chadworth Rutledge the tenth, (an insupportable kind of guy), his sister Fraser Rutledge, somewhat more human than her brother and a star basketball player to boot, and Molly Huger, Fraser's best friend and Chad's girlfriend.
Conroy masterfully develops his characters and their growing relationships with each other. Although there is humor, mostly dark, throughout "South of Broad," personal tragedy is the common factor here, as well as the redeeming quality of long lasting, loving friendships which forgives all.
It would be impossible for me to summarize all that goes on between this book's pages - there are knockout descriptions of various football games in an unexpected winning high school season which kept me riveted to the page - and I don't like football! Each character has his/her own coming of age story. Their friendships continue through marriage, childbirth, careers, etc., though some have moved a continent away. And finally, in 1989, an unexpected emergency brings the group together once more, their love for one another stronger than ever.
One more thing...remember that Charleston, SC is also a character here. Conroy demonstrates his love for this town as well as examples of his beautiful descriptive writing with the following: "Love it or hate it, this is city enchanting enough to charm cobras out of baskets, one so corniced and filigreed and elaborate that it leaves strangers awed and natives self-satisfied. In its shadows you can find metalwork as delicate as lace and spiral staircases as elaborate as yachts." And, "In the secrecy of its gardens you can discover jasmine and camellias and hundreds of other plants that look embroidered and stolen from the Garden of Eden for the sheer love of richness and the joy of stealing from the gods." Gorgeous prose!!
On the down side, there is almost too much sadness and psychological truma here. This is NOT an "up" read. There are certain parts of the novel that remind me of the film "The Big Chill," but at least that movie had fantastic music to lighten things up and get the beat going. So, if you have a tendency towards depression, this is not a book for you to even consider reading.
For all its flaws,"South of Broad" is a must read, especially for those not on anti-depressants. I just hope we don't have to wait another fourteen years for the author's next novel. (less)
As WWII loomed, and Hitler tightened the noose around the Jews of Europe, Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," took place throughout Germany on...moreAs WWII loomed, and Hitler tightened the noose around the Jews of Europe, Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," took place throughout Germany on November 9th and 10th, 1938. Almost 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps, 200 synagogues were destroyed, and 91 Jews were beaten to death.
The British, which ruled Palestine after WWI, were aware of the importance of Arab oil to successfully fight the coming war. They published a White Paper on May 17, 1939, that reduced Jewish immigration to Palestine to a trickle, severely limiting the number of Jews permitted to enter the country in an effort to pacify the Arab leadership's demand for a halt to Jewish immigration.
Thus, in the late 1930's, when the Jews of Germany and Austria were in great danger, Palestine was closed to them. The rise of the Nazis in Germany in 1933 and the later military conquests by Germany gave Hitler's antisemitic government control over most of the populations of Europe. As the realization grew that the Nazi's were intent on the extermination of European Jews, there was an urgent need for them to emigrate. However, most countries closed their doors to them. Only Palestine held out the hope of new settlement where Jews would be welcome. Or rather, that would be the case if it were not for the British restrictions.
The Jews already living in Palestine were determined that their trapped brethren in Europe who managed to escape the coming conflagration, must be brought to Palestine. Thus, the movement for "illegal immigration," which its proponents preferred to call "clandestine immigration," was launched.
Ships, most of them unseaworthy, were hired and set sail from various European ports toward Palestine. The British, who had at their disposal battleships, radar and airplanes, managed to intercept most of them, and sent their Jewish passengers back to certain death in Europe. From 1934 until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, some 3,000 "illegal immigrants" met their deaths while struggling against the British to enter Palestine. Also, many of the Jews who attempted to immigrate to the Mandatory Palestine during the 1940s were caught after a struggle while arriving by any and every route. They were interned in detention camps - British concentration camps - only differing from the German camps in that the inmates were not starved, gassed or cremated. Over time 50,000 people were imprisoned in these camps during and after WWII, and several thousand children were born there. One such camp was "Atlit," which is the setting for "Day After Night."
The Atlit detention camp, located near Haifa, was constructed by the British Mandate in Palestine, at the end of the 1930s, as a military camp on the Mediterranean coast. It was converted by them between 1939 -1948 to a detention camp for illegals who found themselves, yet again, incarcerated behind barbed wire. The novel takes place over the course of a few months and is based on the true story of the rescue of the inmates from the Atlit camp in October 1945.
The narrative focuses on four Jewish women, all Holocaust survivors, all Atlit inmates, all from extremely different backgrounds, who wait for their release from the camp and the freedom to, hopefully, begin new lives as pioneers on kibbutzim, (collective farms or settlements). Anita Diamant writes, "Not one of the women in Barrack C is twenty-one, but all of them are orphans."
Leonie is a lovely, sophisticated Parisian who was forced into prostitution. She slept with Germans in order to survive. Many of "her men" found their pleasure by causing her physical and emotional pain. The experience has crippled her psychologically. At first, her three new friends at Atlit condemn her and she is told by one, "When they do find out about you, they will shame you in public. They will send you away. Maybe they will even stone you to death, which would be very biblical, don't you think? And so appropriate." Leonie clearly remembers the times when she faced situations when refusal would have meant death. But she is not the only woman in the group who did whatever necessary in order to survive. "Many were reluctant to tell their own stories because all of them began and ended with the same horrible question" 'Why was I spared?'"
Zorah is a survivor of Auschwitz where she lost everyone she loved. She utilized her gift for languages there and added Romanian, German, some Italian and French to her native languages, Yiddish and Hebrew. This unusual linguistic education, learned from fellow inmates, was her method of survival although her life is still so haunted by atrocitites that she has become numb. When Atlit inmates pray and praise god, Zorah silently chants to a "God who brings Nazis to his universe."
Shayndel is a Polish Zionist who fought with the partisans during the war. She is a modest, humble woman, who works with the Palmach, the Jewish military forces, in Atlit. Her job is to find out which Jews, if any, had been Nazi collaborators.
Tedi, a Dutch Jewess, tall and blonde, was once told by a friend in Amsterdam that she was lucky - she looked like a poster child for Hitler Youth. She "passed" as an Arayan until she was captured near the end of the war. Tedi escaped from a boxcar in route to a concentration camp and was found by British soldiers who sent her to a displaced person's center in Landsberg. After more barbed wire, endless barracks and waiting in more lines than she could count, she wound up in Atlit.
These four women's shared horrors surrounding the Holocaust bond them in friendship. They give each other love and support in order to get through each day and try to recover some semblance of "normal" life.
Obviously "Day After Night" is not a pleasant read, although the novel is well written and the characters are extremely life like. I think the author's point of view is extremely optimisic. I was haunted by the story long after finishing it. One of the consequences the survivors face, besides their wartime experience and survivors guilt, is the challenge of building new lives. Many are just not up to it. The pain they live with saps their energy and will to live. However, the four friends, Leonie, Zorah, Shayndel, and Tedi seem to have hope for a future and the strength to overcome their suffering and fight for redemption. (less)
Domnica Radulescu' semi-autobiographical debut novel, "Train to Trieste," is a fascinating page turner, full of contrasts. She describes, with nostalg...moreDomnica Radulescu' semi-autobiographical debut novel, "Train to Trieste," is a fascinating page turner, full of contrasts. She describes, with nostalgia and much love, her homeland, Romania, with its physical beauty, it's mountains, plains, rivers, forests, and extraordinary seaside resorts and homes on the Black Sea. She writes of "one beautiful summer," with its "linden trees and vodka made from fermented plums and stars and mountains and raspberries...." The scenery is "gorgeous," the Carpathian Mountains are dark and mysterious - a perfect place for our protagonist, seventeen year-old Mona Manoliu, to fall in love. It is the summer of 1977.
His name is Mihai, "a green eyed, charismatic, mountain boy" grieving for the loss of his first love who died in a tragic accident. Mona meets him when summering with her family in the foothills of the Carpathians. She is immediately drawn to him and her compassion and love comforts Mihai. Soon the young couple are inseparable. Their sensuality and passion are palpable. They become lovers. At summers end Mona returns to the family home in Bucharest and makes plans to see Mihai the following summer.
Contrasting with this beauty and romance, is the brutal government of Nicolae Andruta Ceausescu, President of Romania from 1974 to 1979. Against the exquisite backdrop of his country, Ceausescu, with his narcissistic cult of personality, actually carries a sceptre in public. Opposition is ruthlessly suppressed by the hated secret police, the Securitate. Intellectuals and artists are cautioned not to overstep the mark of "permissible" free expression. But freedom of speech is severely limited and the media is controlled. It is even illegal to own a typewriter without an official license. Mona lives in fear that her intellectual father's typewriter will be discovered. He is a poetry professor, a dissident, and is watched by the Securitate, as is she.
At the beginning of the 1980s Ceausescu introduced an austerity program in order to pay off Romania's foreign debt, causing hunger, deprivation, long food lines where, when one reaches the end, there is nothing more to buy. The standard of living plunges and while most Romanians are starving, cold and living without electricity, Ceausescu and his family continue to be surrounded by comfort and privilege. It is estimated that at least 15,000 Romanians died per year as a result of the austerity program. There is much paranoia amongst the people. After all, one's best friend could turn out to be a spy.
After an old woman whispers ugly rumors in Mona's ear, she fears that her love, Mihai, might be a spy, especially when she sees him in a black leather jacket. The secret police wear black leather jackets. Friends and relatives disappear and/or die under suspicious circumstances. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined during Ceausescu's reign.
When her father is directly threatened and her own life is in danger, Mona's parents encourage her to flee the country, and leave Mihai, her family and homeland behind. Alone and terrified, Mona chooses the "Train to Trieste," one of the well known escape routes. The train, on its way to Rome, stops briefly in Trieste, where Mona reflects on her past and her unknown future. She finally reaches the US and goes to Chicago, where she begins a new life. But she cannot forget her passion for Romania and Mihai, and her love for her parents. Her story spins out over the years, and ends with a surprising conclusion.
Author Domnica Radulescu, like the heroine of her novel, escaped from Romania in the early 1980s, studied literature at the University of Chicago, and is an extremely talented writer. She vividly expresses the horrors of life under the Ceausescus, and contrasts the repressive regime against the backdrop of the landscape's physical beauty, and the happy times that Mona, her family, and her lover spend together. She writes of Mona's fear, her intensely sensual feelings of love, as well as her conflicting emotions about Mihai. Should she love him, fear him, or both? Pleasure is contrasted with melancholy and pain.
I enjoyed "Train to Trieste." It is not often that one gets to read a book set in Ceauºescu's Romania. Refreshingly, there is not a word written about Transylvania and Dracula!! However, Ceauºescu' is an apt substitute.
Unfortunately, there are portions of the narrative which are slow and almost boring. The author is unable to sustain the tension and excitement of the storyline about the misery of the Romanian people and an intense but brief love affair. Instances of Mona's life in Chicago are interesting and, at times, quite humorous. But there are repetitive passages which affect the novel's pace. Otherwise, I would have rated it with 5 stars. I do recommend "Train to Trieste," however. Although it may not be a novel for everyone, overall it is makes for a well written and unusual read. (less)
I usually do not read books labeled "young adult." I am an adult, many years away from being young, (except at heart!!), and, with a few exceptions, i...moreI usually do not read books labeled "young adult." I am an adult, many years away from being young, (except at heart!!), and, with a few exceptions, i.e., the Harry Potter novels and "Where the Wild Fern Grows," I read literature for grown-ups. To my delight Stephenie Meyer has created an extraordinary young adult series - which I love (!!) - "The Twilight Series." "Twilight" is also the title of book one. And what original, delightful novels these are - even for someone who prefers her/his literature a bit more sophisticated. I could not put the first book down, literally...and will begin book two, "New Moon," as soon as I finish writing this review. Believe me, there's a reason that more than 10 million "Twilight" series books are in print. They are addictive!
As an aside....I did see both "Twilight films," "Twilight" and "New Moon," which are now playing in theaters or on DVD. The movie versions are outstanding and true to the original storylines. The movie characters really resemble those I had in my mind's eye as I read and imagined what Ms. Meyer's world, and the folks who people it, look like. And the books' characters, especially Bella and Edward, are amazingly well depicted. Although all four books are on the market now - great Christmas presents for those uninitiated in "The Twilight Series" - there are 2 more films in the making to complete the movie series.
Isabella Swan is seventeen - a typical teen, good looking but somewhat clumsy. She is adapting herself to her long limbs and changing body. Her parents have been divorced since "Bella," as she is called, was a baby. She and her Mom live in sunny Phoenix, Arizona, where she has few friends. Bella is shy and is somewhat of an outcast amongst her peers. She is a moody and private person. But she gets along with her mother - miracle of miracles for an adolescent girl/young woman. Bella is also this stories narrator, so the reader experiences everything from her point of view.
Each year she visits her father, Charlie Swan, the chief of police in rainy, dreary Forks, Washington. These annual visits have been more of a torture than a treat for Bella. The constant rain, boredom and loneliness would get anyone down, except for those used to life in Forks. She has only three friends there - Jacob Black, a Native American of the Quileute tribe, (also a teen - and a handsome one at that), his father, Billy Black, and tribal leader Sam. All three are absolutely fascinating and original characters. They have known Stephanie since she was a toddler. The 3 of them have always regaled her with ancient Quileute legends.
Bella's mother, Renee, is about to travel with her new husband, Phil Dwyer, a minor league baseball player, to Florida for spring training. Bella has little choice - she can move with her mother and stepfather to Florida, or go to Dad in Forks. She decides to go to Dad so as not to be a third wheel in her newly wedded mother's marriage. Bella, is not a selfish person. She tends to consider others' needs before her own, a trait that can bring her joy, but can also endanger her life.
It is in Washington that major changes effect Bella's world. Once installed at Forks, she is not reticent about expressing her displeasure to Charlie, who would do anything to make his daughter happy - except move away from his home. When she begins high school, the lovely Bella, the new kid on the block, surprisingly finds herself very popular. With all the attention she receives, she is quickly befriended by a several students. Unused to being the center of attention, she is dismayed to find that many boys/young men compete for her favors. And she begins to enjoy living with her easy-going, somewhat introverted father. But Bella, who is more embarrassed than flattered by her newfound popularity, has eyes for only one boy - the dazzlingly handsome, aloof, charismatic, Edward Cullen. He is the most beautiful person she has ever seen, with his golden hair, and his dark brooding eyes - even his voice is mesmerizing. Edward is the youngest son of the mysterious and reclusive Cullen family. He and his four siblings, also noticeably beautiful, sit apart from the others, at a separate table, during lunch....but they never eat. He watches her intently, but alternates between interest in Bella and what appears to be anger at her.
When Edward and Bella are assigned to be lab partners in chemistry class, he avoids working with her or even looking at her. As a matter of fact, he is downright nasty. However, when an accident almost ends Bella's life, Edward saves her in a most non-human way. It is than when Bella discovers that Edward and his family are "benevolent vampires" who have vowed never to drink human blood. They hunt animals, and the blood of deer, mountain lions, bears, etc., is their source of sustenance. They don't eat - except for animal blood - so they dine in private. They do not sleep, and of course, they all have the usual vampire super human powers...and then some. They are all extremely sophisticated, accomplished and alluring. They can walk in daylight but their skin gleams and glitters in direct sunlight. These strange and potentially dangerous beings, unlike the characters in most vampire fiction, seem to have hearts and souls. So as not to give themselves away, they are happiest when it rains and is dark and misty outside. The head of the household, Carlisle, is a respected doctor in the community, whose citizens have no idea that there are vampires in their midst, although Jacob and his Native American tribe know.
So Bella and Edward grow close as friends, and then they fall intensely in love. They yearn for each other - and although the word "yearn" may sound corny, it really describes their feelings for each other. "Twilight" is labeled "young adult" because there is no culmination of the couple's strong sexual attraction. They do not have a sexual relationship. However, there is much sensuality here and plenty of erotic kissing. Actually, I think the abstinence gives the feeling of more passion than usual - more sexual tension. Edward is a gentleman and also fears that intercourse with Bella might harm her...him being a super strong vampire and all.
As Bella says, "About three things I was absolutely positive: first, Edward was a vampire; second, there was a part of him -- and I didn't know how dominant that part might be -- that thirsted for my blood; and third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him." Bella also discovers the reason behind Edward's initial hostility toward her. He is torn between his desire to love her and the desire to devour her. He is afraid his vampire nature might become stronger than his self control.
I do not want to give the plot away. Let it suffice to say there are multiple storylines and much danger here - to Bella and her family. And there is love. Plus, the Native Americans are more than what they seem.
Whatever flaws there are in this novel, (it IS fantasy fiction!), the magical narrative overcomes them threefold! I am thrilled that I have 3 more books to read in the series. This one is exceptional! (less)
Rooftops of Tehran is both a bittersweet coming of age tale as well as a story of the tragic loss of innocence.
The setting is Tehran in 1973 and 1974...moreRooftops of Tehran is both a bittersweet coming of age tale as well as a story of the tragic loss of innocence.
The setting is Tehran in 1973 and 1974, a period when Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, a brutal dictator, ruled his country with an iron fist with the help of the United States. Members of his National Intelligence and Security Organization, the dreaded SAVAK, were seemingly everywhere. Mohammad Mosaddeq, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, from 1951 to 1953, was famous for his passionate opposition to foreign intervention in his country. He was removed from power by a coup d'etat funded by the British and U.S. governments. The Shah, who had gone into exile during this period, returned to Iran, triumphant, and resumed total power once more.
Pasha Shaheed, our seventeen year-old protagonist, is too busy getting on with his young life and the process of growing up to be concerned with matters that do not involve him, his family and his friends directly. Pasha and his best friend, Ahmed, just completed eleventh grade and will return to high school in the fall as seniors. They are already making plans for college. Pasha's father desperately wants his son to study civil engineering in the United States so he can return to Iran and build bridges. Pasha wants to study film making. Typical!
The two best friends spend the spring and summer months sleeping on the rooftops, as do most Iranians, in order to escape the heat. They talk, with intensity, about life in general - "There are no walls around what we say, or fears shaping what we think." There is much humor in their discussions also, and in their schoolboy pranks and antics. Most of all, they talk about the young women they are in love with. Pasha and Ahmed are from Iran's burgeoning middle class, and live during a period, before the 1979 revolution, when it was OK for unmarried boys and girls to have friendships, even to fall in love and demonstrate modest affection for one another, although this still remains taboo amongst the poor and the more religious people.
Ahmed loves Faheemeh in silence. Everyday he bikes ten minutes to her neighborhood, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. He makes friends with her two overly protective brothers to become closer to her, and dreams and schemes about a way to meet her. His father has told him that "Persians believe in silent communication; a look or a gesture imparts far more than a book full of words."
Meanwhile, Pasha loves Zari, a neighborhood girl who is a close friend of his, but who has been betrothed, since birth, to Pasha's dear friend and mentor, Ramin Sobhi, a political science major at the University of Tehran. Everyone calls Ramin "The Doctor." The teenage boy feels torn. He idolizes "The "Doctor," but is desperately in love with, and desires, the girl his friend is to marry. Guilt abounds
Eventually, Pasha, Ahmed, Faheemeh, and Zari become close friends.They share their most personal experiences with one another. All four are very aware of the undercurrents of feelings which pass between them. They attempt to delicately balance friendship and love.
"The Doctor" is very political, and hates the repressive mullahs as much as he hates the Shah's regime. He is extremely intelligent, yet, he is a humble young man. One day, he tells Pasha that he, Pasha, has "That." "That" is a "priceless quality that is impossible to define, really...but you recognize it in the actions of great people." He begins to educate Pasha about the lack of democracy in Iran. He tells him of the jails where innocent people are held, sometimes forever, with no trial, formal accusations or evidence. Many are horribly tortured. Others simply disappear.
One day, "The Doctor" tells Pasha that he will be away for a while. He is going to an area near the Caspian Sea with a group of college friends to teach literacy, a service the government frowns upon. He plans to marry Zari when he returns. But he never returns. He is abducted and killed by members of SAVAK. The effects of this tragedy on Zari and Pasha are extremely traumatic, and breed actions which lead to further tragedy.
Mahbod Seraji's characters come to life on the page. The main characters' extended families - loving, boisterous and eccentric - bring much humor and some sorrow to the well written narrative.
My one problem with the novel is also a strong point. The qualities shared by the book's characters are universal qualities. This story could be about people anywhere, especially in countries where there are repressive governments. It is not difficult to identify with Pasha, his friends and family. They are like us. And we hear and read about such horror in the world today that we have become inured, in a sense, to the unspeakable. The situation in Iran under the Shah is really no worse than life in that country today - or in many other countries.
My problem with "Rooftops of Tehran" is that I did not get a real feel for the fascinating Iranian culture or the Iranian people. I lived in Iran in the late 1960s. My husband worked for an NGO, (nongovernmental organization), and I taught English as a second language. (ESL). In the three years we lived in that remarkable country, I was and am awed by the rich culture and the kindness and hospitality of the people. I wish the author could have incorporated more of the "differences" between the West and Iran, instead of accentuating the sameness.
Otherwise, I really did enjoy the novel and highly recommend it. Mahbod Seraji is a very talented author. (less)
Barbara Kingsolver paints extraordinary portraits of flamboyant Mexican artists Diego Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo, as well as Lev Trotsky, a Russ...moreBarbara Kingsolver paints extraordinary portraits of flamboyant Mexican artists Diego Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo, as well as Lev Trotsky, a Russian Communist and Lenin's former companion, in her riveting novel, "La Lacuna." Trotsky, is in Mexico City to seek exile with the couple while hiding from Stalin's assassins. This epic saga takes us on a journey from 1920's Mexico to Pearl Harbor, WWII, and America in the 1950's, where citizens are paranoid and terrified by the idea of communists in their midst. Senator Joe McCarthy and the The House Committee on Un-American Activities intensify this paranoia.
In an interview, Ms. Kingsolver said, "I wanted to examine the birth of the modern American political psyche, using artists as a vehicle. I would start with the Mexican revolutionary muralists of the 1930's, and end with the anti-communist censorship of the 1950's. Diego Rivera was such a crucial part of that history, I thought I should have my narrator live in his household for a time. I was interested in the muralists, these men with their party work and collective shenanigans." She also writes a great deal about the indomitable "Frida," her art, and her relationships with the 2 main men in her life, Rivera and Trotsky. The sights, sounds, and even the tastes of Mexico are vividly captured in the novel so that one feels like they are right there, in Mexico, alongside her characters.
Ms Kingsolver goes on to say, in this same interview, "Frida is such a potent and intriguing person, she was everywhere I looked: her doodles and drawings even cover the margins of Diego's financial ledgers. I felt her poking at my shoulder, saying, 'Look, chica, you're ignoring me.' She was not a frozen icon at all, but a rogue, and a complex person with aches I understood. She started to steal scenes. She was a natural for drawing out my reclusive narrator - those two had brilliant chemistry."
Harrison William Shepherd, the novel's protagonist and narrator, is an accidental bystander to history. His journey through three tumultuous decades of the 20th century begins in a solitary boyhood. It continues through the Depression and World War II, and culminates in the ugly hysteria of the Red Scare in the United States.
Shepard, born in the United States to an indifferent Mexican mother and an absent American father, is taken to Mexico at an early age. The boy is initially reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico, and then enrolled by his father in an exclusive American boarding school where he is a lonely outsider. After escaping life in school, he returns to Mexico City in the 1930s.
It is in Mexico City that Harrison finds a precarious home with in the household of famed Mexican muralist Diego River and his wife, the exotic, formidable artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. Here he is treated as a servant or a member of the family, as it suits the couple. Life is whatever the boy learns from a series of housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen. He also runs errands in the city's streets.
Rivera and Kahlo are ardent communists who fight for workers' rights, as long as it doesn't impinge on the smooth workings of their home and art strudios. One fateful day, Shepherd is given the odd job of mixing plaster for Rivera. He originally learned this skill by mixing flour for tortillas. During this time he also discovers a passion for Aztec and Mayan history and art. Later, when he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for survival, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution.
All important to this tale are the journals he keeps from early boyhood throughout his life. It is through these journals and a series of letters that the story unfolds. Later in life, living in the U.S., he becomes a novelist and is subsequently investigated by the The House Committee on Un-American Activities. He instructs his secretary, Violet Brown, to burn his diaries and letters. She saves them instead, which is fortunate, as without them there would be no storyline. Ms. Brown also plays a major role in this tale.
La Lacuna is a thrilling adventure though history accompanied by some of the period's most colorful characters. The title word, "Lacuna," refers to a gap or something that's absent... a missing section of text or an extended silence in a piece of music, etc. The motif of "lacuna" is the crucial missing piece which runs throughout the novel,
I have long been fascinated by Diego Rivera, the man and his art, and, especially by Frida Kahlo. Her paintings have always moved me and her biography is truly unique. So, I was thrilled when this book came out. Happily, Ms. Kingsolver's literary, historical novel has exceeded my expectations. It is the author's sixth novel, and won the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Library of Virginia Literary Award. "La Lacuna" was also shortlisted for the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. (less)
5+ Stars! THE BLUE NOTEBOOK " is a beautify written novel about the grimmest of subjects - child prostitution. Were it not for author James A. Levine'...more5+ Stars! THE BLUE NOTEBOOK " is a beautify written novel about the grimmest of subjects - child prostitution. Were it not for author James A. Levine's exquisite prose and his remarkable protagonist, nine year-old Batuk Ramasdeen, a poem of a girl, this story might be too sad to read. However, Batuk, a precocious, ever optimistic little girl, wins the reader's heart from page one and makes "THE BLUE NOTEBOOK " very hard to put down. At 210 pages, I read it in 2 sittings.
Batuk lives in a small village near Bhopal, India. During a bout of tuberculosis, at age seven, Batuk is interned in the missionary medical center, and it is here that she learns to read and write in Hindi. The nurses, observing her intelligence and acute curiosity, are happy to teach her, but not as thrilled as Batuk is to learn. She begins to write in a journal, the blue notebook, from that time forward.
When she recovers enough to return home, she is surprised to learn that she is going on a trip to Mumbai with her beloved father. She has never been on a bus before and is extremely excited. Batuk is not told that her family has fallen on hard times, and that she, at nine years-old, is going to be sold into prostitution. Batuk is an exceptionally lovely looking girl, so her father will receive a good deal of money for her - at least by his standards. On arrival in Mumbai, Master Ghil, takes charge of the child. Her father takes his money and leaves for home, without bidding his daughter farewell. Bewildered, Batuk allows herself to be bathed, perfumed and painted - with kohl darkening her eyes, and lipstick and rouge brightening her face and accentuating her features. I can only imagine that she looked like she was decked-out for Halloween. A doctor examines her, inside and out, to make sure she is a virgin and carries no disease - an altogether humiliating procedure. Batuk is then dressed in a beautiful sari and taken to a room filled with wealthy men. She is auctioned off to the highest bidder - beautiful virgins bring in much money.
Although seriously traumatized, stunned and disoriented, she survives her rough "initiation," and is sent to a special "Orphanage," where she is taught, with brutality, her new "trade." This orphanage is policed by "Yazaks," men and women who "have divested themselves of humanity." Yazaks "view their charges solely in terms of the income they provide." Punishment for disobeying their orders is savagely met out. It is at the Orphanage that Batuk meets her best friend, Puneet, an eight year old boy whose beauty is flawless. Boys are especially prized as prostitutes, and are trained to be girl-boys. Just before they reach adolescence, they are castrated so they are able to continue their profession as boys. Adolescent males do not make a good deal of money for their owners.
Eventually, Batuk and Puneet are given to Mamaki Briila, whom the children call "Hippopotamus" behind her back, because of her obesity. In Mamaki's "house," on the Common Street, each child is given a cell-like concrete room, called "nests." There Batuk is expected to turn at least 10 tricks per day, a process she euphemistically calls "baking sweet cakes." She is a survivor and is able to "will her soul away from her body" in order to maintain her sanity. "Her soul jumps onto the spinning upper air that covers the top of the earth and there is unconfined." Sometimes, while her soul is out of her body, she believes that her nest is a "womb of gold," where she is illuminated in white light. "From my face emanate rivers of brilliance that seek out all the specks of darkness, and that is how I light my nest. My nest is glowing in my light, for there is no other light."
In her light, which glows so brilliantly, she makes up fantastic tales about a silver-eyed leopard and a poor boy who fells a giant with a single gold coin.
Her journal and daily writing allow her to create poems, document her life and her surroundings, and provide her with some happiness. Her pencil and journal are her most prized and only possessions. Fearful that Mamaki, or one of her "johns," will discover the journal, she is careful to keep it hidden.
Although Batuk comes to realize that she is public property, she still remains a child in many ways. She loves to color with crayons, and to chatter away with Puneet and the other 4 girls who make-up Mamaki's crew - but only when Mamaki is not around to listen, or the children will be punished for talking.
She strives to excel at "baking sweet cakes," so she will receive praise from her oppressors, and maybe a bit more to eat. She is beaten often, for no reason except for the needs of some clients to dominate. All of her earnings go to pay off her purchase price; she gets nothing. Her experiences are devastating, but her spirit remains unconquered. Her acceptance of her world is nothing short of remarkable.
The storyline alternates in time from the period when Batuk is seven to nine years-old. She writes of the riverbank back in her village, "with Granpa, the feasts, the feuds with Mother, and the fights with my brother Avijit." And she documents her life in Mumbai - from ages nine to fifteen. Batuk writes in the first person, about her experiences with clarity and detail. However, she rarely expresses her emotions.
At the age of fifteen, she is taken from Mamaki's establishment and brought to a posh hotel in Mumbai. Here she is expected to serve as a party girl for a most demanding client. This event will change Batuk's life forever.
Of course, I found "The Blue Notebook" difficult to read at times. However, James A. Levine's prose is so, lyrical, and Batuk's spirit is so alive - even in the most dire of circumstances she is determined to find some beauty - some happiness. Her imagination is her salvation.
I am looking forward to the author's next book. It is obvious that he is an extraordinarily talented writer. James Levine is also a doctor and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, and is a world renowned scientist and researcher. He is donating all the U.S. royalties to the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.(less)