I had no interest in Frank L. Wright before getting this book as a gift, but I liked it more than I thought I would. The writing is quite good, and ma I had no interest in Frank L. Wright before getting this book as a gift, but I liked it more than I thought I would. The writing is quite good, and made me feel fully immersed in turn-of-the-century Midwest. The author did an excellent job of portraying exactly what it must have been like for women back then who wanted more options (or different options) for their lives.
I am SO happy that I was clueless about the ending. WOW! Totally did not see that coming. I guess anybody who is a fan of Wright or who knows the basic story will be waiting for this climax the whole time, but for me, a reader who had never heard of this story before, I LOVED the shock and horror of it all. Of course I went straight to Google afterwards to see how much of this was true (always a sign of a good book with good writing if I'm compelled to do further research immediately afterwards) and I'm pleased to report that the author seems to have portrayed events that are true to what is known. ...more
Before writing Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks worked as a reporter (Middle East correspondent) for The Wall Street Journal and lived in numerous coBefore writing Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks worked as a reporter (Middle East correspondent) for The Wall Street Journal and lived in numerous countries throughout the Middle East for almost a decade. She seems to have been personal friends with everyone: dinners with Queen Noor of Jordan, casual visits with Khomeini’s daughters in Iran, conversations with a woman who personally helped hold the American Embassy hostages at gunpoint in Iran in 1979—all are discussed in the book as though it’s completely normal, with absolutely no speck of a self-congratulatory “and I was there!” attitude.
Throughout her years in these countries (Iraq, smack in the middle of the first Gulf War; Iran; Israel; Palestine, where she chases down the teenager who smashed her windshield with a rock and subsequently lives with his polygamous family for many weeks; Saudi Arabia; Egypt); throughout her years in these locales her consistent and determined goal is to understand the lives of Muslim women. In particular, she focuses on how each of these different cultures uses Islam to explain/justify vastly different treatments of women, despite the fact that the Koran is often either silent on the subject or actually says the opposite of what is being espoused. She goes to great lengths to explain precisely what the Koran says (as a speaker of Arabic, she’s able to explain many inconsistent translations) and with her vast reporter’s talent she gives a very clear overview of Islam’s beginnings, always explaining how these beginnings relate to current traditions.
Many of the worst human rights abuses are actually not “in the Koran,” but rather than using this as a defense of the religion, as many do, she is outraged that its leaders are not speaking out against those who commit terrible crimes in the misguided name of the religion. For example, clitoridectomy is not mentioned in the Koran, and Geraldine quotes a female Muslim writer who is angry that people don’t know “this was an African practice that has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.” Geraldine’s well-thought-out response is to wonder why such people “turn their wrath on the commentators criticizing the practices, and not on the crimes themselves….could [the Muslim writer:] not have taken the trouble to reflect that one in five Muslim girls lives in a community where some form of clitoridectomy is sanctioned and religiously justified by local Islamic leaders?”
Geraldine is highly skilled at providing an insider’s understanding of and respect for these cultures while simultaneously explaining all of the inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and outright lies. I was reminded often of Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven—partly because the writers are similarly talented at explaining a religion, but also because the two religions really are surprisingly similar, with their incredibly intense fear of women’s independence and their fondness for polygamy and child brides. Most eerily similar of all is the fact that both Muhammad and Brigham Young received “revelations” about polygamy that were oddly in tune to problems the prophets were facing that day. “Muhammad’s increasing number of divine revelations on women seemed more and more influenced by the need to achieve tranquility in his own household. Aisha, for one, wasn’t afraid to point out the coincidence. ‘It seems to me,’ she said tartly, ‘your Lord makes haste to satisfy your desires.’” This insightful Aisha, by the way, was the wife that Muhammad married when she was six. She is one of the most fascinating people in the book’s history section.
The conclusion of the book—just the last fifteen pages—has a tone rather different from the rest and very, very similar to the end of Infidel. Suddenly, it becomes clear that Geraldine is trying to warn us. Though I was unaware of it at the time, the first 95 percent of the book was meant to be background knowledge so that I would understand and heed the message in the conclusion. Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Geraldine sees danger looming. What’s especially interesting about this message is that this book was written in 1995. Islamic fundamentalists had not yet hit the mainstream media and nobody had heard of any terrorist attacks; this book was ahead of its time.
EXCERPT: “A United Nations human rights report finds Sudan’s Koran-based punishments in conflict with the international human rights agreements the country has signed. In response, the government of Sudan threatens the report’s Romanian-born author with death…. In Algeria two women are gunned down at a bus stop because they are not veiled…. Like the Rushdie fatwa, these incidents come at us from so deep in left field that we, as Westerners, have no coherent way to think about them. We shrug. Weird foreigners. Who understands them? Who needs to? And yet, as I made my home in London, gradually shaking the last few fine crumbs of Cairo dust from the pages of my books, I found that the background noise of Islam remained always there, in the distance, like a neighbor hammering. And eventually I accepted that it was neither possible nor right to ignore it.”...more
Wonderful news! I was wrong about Augusten; he has proven beyond a doubt that he did have another award-winning book in him after all. I had declaredWonderful news! I was wrong about Augusten; he has proven beyond a doubt that he did have another award-winning book in him after all. I had declared him utterly finished after his book Magical Thinking, his collection of brief nonfiction essays in which he came across as an animal-hating, child-hating, bitter, angry person with an overly inflated ego. If I remember correctly, that (unfinished) book went into the trash because it wasn’t even fit for library donation. I thought he had nothing else left to say about his childhood, and I didn’t want to read any more mean, unpleasant tales from his adult life. But I was spectacularly wrong—turns out there was an entire book’s worth of additional childhood trauma not even touched on in Running with Scissors, and his ability to write it all with a perfect child’s voice and brilliant pacing remains as strong as ever. I apologize, Mr. Burroughs; I won’t doubt you again. Actually, I understand you much better now that I’ve read Wolf; I can see that you have valid and understandable reasons for turning off any emotions for animals and small children.
This book is different in tone from his other childhood memoir. It lacks the humor present throughout the other book, which appeared to be a drawback to me when I initially glanced through it. What becomes apparent after one gets into it, however, is that this book is supposed to be different. It is a much, much darker period of his life, and lacks the absurdity of the events that transpire after he takes up residence with the psychologist. Everything in this book occurred long before he moved into that house, when his parents were still together and attempting (sort of) to be a normal family. The father in this book (who was not present at all in Running) provides an undercurrent of serious evil and depravity throughout. He is more than cruel; he is sadistic and completely unpredictable. Did he once murder somebody and show the very young Augusten the gravesite? That certainly seems possible, or even likely, though Augusten cannot determine if it’s an actual memory or not. The image of the author in his Dry days, at the computer very drunk and compulsively searching the Internet for any clues about a missing person who could be traced to that time & place has remained with me for more than a month after I finished the book. It’s a heart-racing element of the book, and the fact that it’s unresolved leaves an eerie and creepy aftertaste.
EXCERPT: “One day my mother told me, ‘I’ll be home late tonight.’ It was dark. She’d been gone for hours. The phone rang. I picked up the wall phone in the kitchen. ‘Hello?’ It was my father. ‘Son?’ He was drunk. I could hear it in that one word. ‘Yeah?’ I said, walking with the phone attached to my ear out into the hallway. It was a long cord and stretched all the way to the front door. ‘Son?’ ‘Yeah?’ ‘I have stolen a car. It’s a Mustang. And I am driving out there to the house right now and I’m going to kill you.’ There was silence. And I heard him breathing. ‘What did you say?’ I whispered. The phone went dead. I let go of the receiver. Because I’d stretched the cord to its limit standing near the front door, the phone flew back into the kitchen and smashed against framed photographs on the wall. I ran into the kitchen, did not see the shattered glass, and stepped all over the shards. My feet began to bleed immediately, the blood making the floor slippery. I lost my balance, slid, then brought my other foot down hard to catch myself, and sliced my toes….
[Augusten calls the police department and speaks with an officer.:] …the phone rang again and I answered. It was an officer. His tone surprised me, the anger in his voice. ‘We’re here at your father’s apartment and he’s not drunk. He’s not stolen any car. He seems perfectly fine. You know, this is a very serious thing you’ve done, this prank.’ ‘Put my father on the phone,’ I snapped. I waited. ‘Hello, son?’ my father said, sounding concerned. ‘What’s going on here, what have you done?’ His voice was bone-dry sober. ‘Why?’ I asked him. ‘Just why?’ ‘Why what, son? Are you upset? Are you all right?’ ‘You just called me, drunk. You said you’d stolen a car, you said you’d stolen a Mustang and were coming out here to kill me. What’s going…why are you…this is…’ I couldn’t get the words out, fury and terror and confusion overwhelmed me. I was standing in my own blood. ‘Son, I did not just call you,’ he insisted. And I would have believed him, fully, had I not just spoken to him moments before.For one brief, dark instant I questioned myself.”...more
This book is actually alive. It is a book in which books talk (and shout, and throw themselves about), and the stories within it are alive and have emThis book is actually alive. It is a book in which books talk (and shout, and throw themselves about), and the stories within it are alive and have emotions, so it’s fitting that the book itself would be alive, though strangely I didn’t know anything about its content when I first sensed its sentience.
I had picked it up impulsively and read the first page while its first reader was using the men’s room, and I immediately knew that this was a very special book deserving of complete attention, which I couldn’t provide at the time, so when its first reader was finished, the book was loaned to another person who had also become captivated after just the first page. Many weeks later, when my scheduled was cleared (though I had never once stopped thinking about it), I made a special appointment to retrieve the book. As I drove to the neighborhood where the book was living, I felt very much as though I were picking up a small, live creature such as a puppy or kitten. And at our reunion, I cradled it gently and hugged it. And this was all before I even read it! (A friend of mine, too, was once spotted caressing her copy of the book against her cheek after loaning out and then being reunited with it.)
When a book is actually alive, one hardly needs to say more. I almost feel as though explaining mundane details such as plot and/or characters would be unnecessary or even a tad demeaning. But there are a couple of things I should note. First, I will clarify that this is a fairy tale, so anybody who dislikes them will be extremely unhappy about the appearance of many classic tales within the larger tale. In fact, I actually became rather mad at the book during a tedious and predictable chapter concerning Snow White. At that point I questioned the book’s worth. But the next chapter so, so made up for the prior lapse. (“His legs were tied at the ankles and he was lifted into the air and slung over the back of the great horse, his body lying upon that of the deer, his left side resting painfully against the saddle. But David did not think about the pain, not even when they began to trot and the ache in his side became a regular, rhythmic pounding, like the blade of a dagger being forced between his ribs. No, all that David could think about was the head of the deer girl, for her face rubbed against his as they rode, her warm blood smeared his cheek….”)
Every person who has read the first page, without exception, has been compelled to devour the rest of the book as soon as possible:
EXCERPT (first page): “Once upon a time—for that is how all stories should begin—there was a boy who lost his mother.
He had, in truth, been losing her for a very long time. The disease that was killing her was a creeping, cowardly thing, a sickness that ate away at her from the inside, slowly consuming the light within so that her eyes grew a little less bright with each passing day, and her skin a little more pale.
And as she was stolen away from him, piece by piece, the boy became more and more afraid of finally losing her entirely. He wanted her to stay. He had no brothers and sisters, and while he loved his father it would be true to say that he loved his mother more. He could not bear to think of a life without her.
The boy, whose name was David, did everything that he could to keep his mother alive. He prayed. He tried to be good, so that she would not be punished for his mistakes. He padded around the house as quietly as he was able, and kept his voice down when he was playing war games with his toy soldiers. He created a routine, and he tried to keep to that routine as closely as possible, because he believed in part that his mother’s fate was linked to the actions he performed. He would always get out of bed by putting his left foot on the floor first, then his right. He always counted up to twenty when he was brushing his teeth, and he always stopped when the count was completed.”...more
Most of the time it’s easy to disregard the entire fantasy genre, but once every few years (the Harry Potter series; Beauty, by Robin McKinley), a worMost of the time it’s easy to disregard the entire fantasy genre, but once every few years (the Harry Potter series; Beauty, by Robin McKinley), a work of fantasy comes along that completely enraptures me. This one, like Beauty, has beautiful, incredibly evocative writing as well as a gripping plot (while the Harry books are gripping, they lack a certain beauty in the writing, think).
This book drew me in immediately—pretty much from the first paragraph. There was no “breaking in” period common with fantasy in which the reader needs to get used to the weird cast of characters and surreal events. Instead, it all felt comfortable and appropriate right from the beginning; the landscape made perfect sense to me and I accepted without question all that transpired. An added benefit was that I had absolutely no clue what would happen (the only drawback to Beauty.)
The premise (hero has adventures while seeking something) is not unique, but the many intriguing and complex characters our hero meets more than made up for this. In any case, the basic premise isn’t supposed to be new. The author says so in the second paragraph of the book:
“And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner) there was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it.”
There’s lots of witchcraft, there is horrifying brutality, there are shocking revelations, there is betrayal, and…there is a sex scene! My hatred of sex scenes is well known, and it is a testament to Neil Gaiman’s skill that I did not mind this one a bit.
EXCERPT: “In the middle of a wood, so thick and so deep it was very nearly a forest, was a small house, built of thatch and wood and daubed grey clay, which had a most foreboding aspect. A small, yellow bird in a cage sat on its perch outside the house. It did not sing, but sat mournfully silent, its feathers ruffled and wan. There was a door to the cottage, from which the once-white paint was peeling away.
Inside, the cottage consisted of one room, undivided. Smoked meats and sausages hung from the rafters, along with a wizened crocodile carcass. A peat fire burned smokily in the large fireplace against one wall, and the smoke trickled out of the chimney far above. There were three blankets upon three raised beds—one large and old, the other two little more than truckle beds.
There were cooking implements, and a large wooden cage, currently empty, in another corner. There were windows too filthy to see through, and over everything was a thick layer of oily dust. The only thing in the house that was clean was a mirror of black glass, as high as a tall man, as wide as a church door, which rested against one wall.
The house belonged to three aged women. They took it in turns to sleep in the big bed, to make the supper, to set snares in the wood for small animals, to draw water up from the deep well behind the house. The three women spoke little.
There were three other women in the little house. They were slim, and dark, and amused. The hall they inhabited was many times the size of the cottage; the floor was of onyx, and the pillars were of obsidian. There was a courtyard behind them, open to the sky, and stars hung in the night sky above. A fountain played in the courtyard, the water rolling and falling from a statue of a mermaid in ecstasy, her mouth wide open. Clean, black water gushed from her mouth into the pool below, shimmering and shaking the stars.
The three women, and their hall, were in the black mirror.”...more
The topic of the "big year" is really quite compelling, and I thought this book would take its place on my shelf right next to The Orchid Thief, in thThe topic of the "big year" is really quite compelling, and I thought this book would take its place on my shelf right next to The Orchid Thief, in the section reserved for obsessives who focus solely on one aspect of the natural world and seek that single thing with complete devotion. Unfortunately, the writing in this book is nowhere near the quality of The Orchid Thief, and doesn't deserve a spot on my shelf at all! First, the good things: The three birders featured are exactly right for the book. The author sort of succeeded in teaching the reader about birds, their environment, and birding. (He's about 70 percent there.) Most importantly, he clearly explains why 1998 is the year that MUST be covered, even though it was a decade ago.
But the writing! He needs to learn how to describe an animal without using ANY references to pop culture. He needs to understand that in a book about birding, the reader does NOT want constant references to media and commercialization.
Here are specific examples of bad writing that distracted me so much I almost didn't finish the book:
1. The pygmy owl "weighed less than a pack of cigarettes." Is the author a heavy smoker with no concept of the fact that most nature lovers (his market for the book) think smoking is disgusting? It's especially disgusting in nature. Now he has combined, in my mind, the image of a cute little owl in a tree with a rude creep blowing smoke next to the owl's tree, with a disgusting, overflowing ash tray next to him. There are SO many other, far less distasteful, ways to describe the owl's weight.
2. "...the keel-billed toucan, that screeching, big-honkered bird made famous by Froot Loops." I almost threw the book across the room right here. I am mortally offended that the author thinks I, or anybody else who would buy this book, might not remember what a toucan is without a crass comparison to a stupid commercial for a repulsive product that nobody should be eating anyway. This is a book about BIRDS. I really, really don't want to be reminded of commercials! And everybody buying this book knows what a toucan is! Don't worry, we're not complete idiots! Also, the word "honker" is unnecessarily disrespectful. Toucans have beautiful and correctly sized beaks, and there is no need to use a disparaging, fifth-grade insult such as "honker." Things like this make me think the author doesn't like birds. That is a serious problem for an author writing a birding book.
3. "The yellow rail was the Greta Garbo of the bird world." This means nothing to me. I know she was a movie star (1950s? `60s? `40s?), but that's the extent of my knowledge. That is the crux of the problem. When an author relies on constant references to outdated movie stars to explain a concept, he leaves behind all the readers who don't share his media obsession. Five sentences later, "the yellow rail would never win any Miss Congeniality contests." Is this an unnecessary reference to that stupid movie years ago by the same name? Or is the author being mean and insulting to birds again?
4. "Maybe this really was a Bud Light commercial." Please leave all the commercials out of the birding book! Likewise, please note: brand names cheapen a book, they don't add "authenticity" or "flavor" or whatever it is that some inexperienced teachers call it in their writing classes. The following brand-name plugs all insulted me in the short space of just ten pages: Snickers, Wal-Mart, Spam, Wonder Bread, Jif peanut butter, Lipton, Mr. Salty pretzels. And if that's not bad enough, I later suffered this, probably the worst sentence in the entire book, or any other book I've read in the last year: "Miller clicked his Netscape Navigator back over to www.travelocity.com."
5. The bird was "...as tall as a Coke can but without the fizz." With regard to comparing a bird to junk food, I'm thinking again that the author doesn't really respect birds. With regard to putting in a plug for Coke, see #4. With regard to "the fizz," I have no idea what the author is trying to say. That completely mystifies me.
6. "He wasn't supposed to feel like Evel Knievel every time a bill came due." What the hell?!
I was particularly disappointed because there's actually a great deal of potential for this book due to its subject matter and characters. If I could have offered advice prior to its publication, it would have been this: The author should first decide whether or not he loves birds. If so, he should show that in his writing. Then, he should remove every movie star, media reference, and brand name. He should add more background information on specific birds and their environment. He should provide the American Birding Association's list of rules for the Big Year (I was wondering about this throughout the entire book). He should read The Orchid Thief and learn from it. Then, this would be a fabulous book! ...more
I bought this from Amazon sight unseen because I collect dog photography books (I have over 30) but this is unfortunately the first one I have ever feI bought this from Amazon sight unseen because I collect dog photography books (I have over 30) but this is unfortunately the first one I have ever felt the need to return. I had no idea that the book glorifies the recent trend of breeding mutts, giving them cutsie names, and charging ridiculous amounts of money for what is really a mutt, but billed as a trendy "designer" dog. Perhaps the author is trying to be tongue in cheek with these cutsie names, but this is a very real and very disturbing problem. "Puggles," for example, a mix of pug and beagle, are the latest trendy dog and a Google search will reveal hundreds of breeders. I believe it is grossly unethical to promote the breeding of designer mutts while thousands of dogs are being killed in shelters. Now this author is fueling the desire not only for "labradoodles," and "puggles," but combos that people may not have considered yet, such as "chackhussells" and "borgis." What an irresponsible book from somebody who claims to be a dog lover.
These are NOT cool and expensive dog breeds. They are mutts, and widely available at a shelter near you. This new business of intentionally breeding mutts with stupid names (and it is BIG business) has become out of control, and the author should be ashamed of herself for contributing to the trend.
The sooner people stop giving mongrels a "cutsie" name, the sooner the appeal for giving big bucks to irresponsible breeders will wear off. ...more
I would have given this 5 stars if only the author had used quotation marks!
Did the author think he's above quote marks, or did his editors talk him iI would have given this 5 stars if only the author had used quotation marks!
Did the author think he's above quote marks, or did his editors talk him into this fiasco because it’s the latest "cool" trend? This stupid trend leads to complete reader confusion.
The author is searching for information about his six relatives who were killed in the Holocaust. He travels to Poland, Australia, and Sweden to interview elderly Holocaust survivors. It’s utterly engrossing…until he begins relating the interviews he conducted. Did he say that aloud? No, wait, that was in his head. Did he actually say the next thing? Oops, no, he’s providing background information. Aaargh, I’m completely out of the story now! I’ve lost my way in the book! Here are two examples from the book:
1. But what were people expecting from the Germans? I asked. How much did they know at that point?
My brain absorbs “But what were people expecting from the Germans” before realizing that he spoke it aloud; I don’t find that out until the end of the sentence. So what I thought he said in his head, I have to reconfigure and picture him saying out loud. But what about the next sentence? That could go either way. Did he ask that aloud too? We don’t know.
2. Klara said, I do not know much about him, just that he wanted to save her. And he died because of it. So why doesn’t she want to talk about it? She paused for a moment, and then said, Meg is very careful with every word.
My first pass through, I thought the author was asking in his head, about Klara, Why doesn’t she want to talk about it? My second pass through, I thought the author said this out loud to Klara, about Meg. Finally, I realized Klara actually said that out loud to the author. But did she also say, “She paused for a moment,” speaking of Meg? No, wait, that’s the author saying that Klara paused.
What is the point of this??
If you spend years researching and writing and spending money completing a book, and then undergo the extreme stress of finding a publisher and dealing with the publishing process, wouldn’t you want the finished product to be as clear and problem-free as possible? Don’t you want people to understand your book as easily as possible? Stop the nonsense! Replace the quote marks!
There was so, so much I didn’t know about Cuba. Considering that the country is only ninety miles away and intricately tied in many historically signiThere was so, so much I didn’t know about Cuba. Considering that the country is only ninety miles away and intricately tied in many historically significant ways to the U.S., this book really should be required reading in our schools.
As a thirteen-year-old in 1980 I had vaguely heard of a lot of boats full of Cubans heading for Florida, but I never understood the significance of this in the context of Cuba’s history, nor did I fully grasp the complexity behind more recent stories of individual Cubans such as Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year old forcibly removed from the closet by rifle-toting federal agents.
This is the type of memoir that is not merely concerned with the author’s life but also expertly weaves in a wealth of relevant nonfiction—in this case the Mariel boatlift of 1980, the history of Cuba, the plight—and successes—of Cuban immigrants in Florida, and the anguish and torment of families forcibly separated by politics.
This Pulitzer-prize-winning author excels at placing individual stories in historical context while simultaneously bringing the characters fully to life.
EXCERPT: “Listening attentively from her perch under a mango tree was Mercedes Alvarez, a twenty-two-year-old nurse who was five months pregnant and had her three small children—aged five, two, and one—with her…. It took the family about an hour to find a place where they felt they could squeeze into the crowd and spend the night. Mercedes held tightly to her children’s hands, fearing to lose them in the multitude. When they cried for milk, she gave them pieces of the crumbled cake and rocked them to sleep one after the other. Surrounded by their tiny bodies, she began to think of the consequences of what she had done…. It occurred to her that this might be a trap, that the government might send them all to jail. She was calmed somewhat by the realization that if anything happened to her, the government would still provide for her children’s health care and education. This paradox—that the same government she was trying to flee was also the one that she knew would take care of her children—made her question why she really wanted to leave her country….
Day and night, government-controlled radio stations droned over loudspeakers, urging the refugees to return to their homes, since Peru couldn’t do anything for them; they had to trust the Cuban government. Some people stuffed cigarette butts in their ears to drown out the noise. Portable bathrooms were installed around the perimeter of the compound, but some refugees refused to use them for fear they would not be allowed to get back inside the grounds, preferring to relieve themselves in plain sight of other refugees. The garden soon became a fetid cauldron where it was difficult to walk and impossible to lie down….
Around the fifth day, Mercedes moved inside the embassy and had her first bite of food…. The Cuban government distributed food, handing boxes of yellow rice with pork or ribs and sometimes even fish and rice and beans over the fence—but not nearly enough for everyone. The Peruvian embassy didn’t have the resources or the personnel to prepare food for so many people. Sometimes rations for 2,500 were doled out to a crowd of almost 11,000 people. Fights erupted, and mothers bore the marks of their desperation: bleeding arms from the scratches produced by the spiky ends of the fence as they extended their hands over it to try to grab food for their children. The number of rations was kept low intentionally to create chaos, to demonstrate to the world that the people inside the embassy were dangerous.”...more
I put this down in disgust a bit after the halfway point.
He goes to incredible lengths to build a school in Pakistan for children, but his motives coI put this down in disgust a bit after the halfway point.
He goes to incredible lengths to build a school in Pakistan for children, but his motives confuse me. Children are absent from the book--he doesn't interact with them, talk about them, or explain his feelings in any sort of depth. The children are supposedly the reason for all his efforts, but WHERE are the children in the book? We don't hear anything about what they will learn, what they are saying about their school, or anything.
He gets kidnapped and almost murdered by these people, because many don't want the school, saying that it's against Islam to educate girls. Then they actually put a fatwa against him! And he persists! WHY?! Why force it on this radically different culture that doesn't want it and isn't grateful? Why not build a school in rural Appalachia instead?
And he leaves his brand-new, newborn daughter to spend untold months (at incredible personal risk) to do this. If he loves children so much, ...what about his daughter? Hello? You're abandoning her and possibly letting her lose a father why? Why? Finally I stopped asking why and gave up on the book. He should have explained his thoughts & feelings better. ...more
I couldn't wait to read this. Early twentieth century, rural Iceland! What's not to love? Unfortunately, this book is a perfect example of why publishI couldn't wait to read this. Early twentieth century, rural Iceland! What's not to love? Unfortunately, this book is a perfect example of why publishers must not be cheap about interior design. The typeface is just so ugly, and the design (lack of design) so hard to look at, I couldn't get into the story. Didn't get more than twenty pages....I can't enjoy a poorly designed book....more
I really looked forward to this, was sure I would love it, but I was unable to get further than thirty pages or so. The use of dialect was part of theI really looked forward to this, was sure I would love it, but I was unable to get further than thirty pages or so. The use of dialect was part of the problem, but the much bigger problem was the meandering plot. I kept getting confused about what was happening, and I couldn't figure out why I was having so much trouble following the book. Long after I gave up, I happened to glance through the publisher's interview with the author at the end of the book, and I realized that it's one of those books that randomly wanders back & forth through time. Nonlinear books, if there's no COMPELLING reason for it, annoy the hell out of me....more
I admire the hell out of Neil Gaiman--Stardust is one of my favorite books of all time, and Coraline is also superb. So I was certain I would love thiI admire the hell out of Neil Gaiman--Stardust is one of my favorite books of all time, and Coraline is also superb. So I was certain I would love this. Alas, I grew so bored by the halfway point I didn't bother finishing. The inhabitants of the graveyard are all rather one-dimensional and flat.
This book does, however, have one of the best opening pages EVER. ...more
The plot sounds wonderful. Perhaps someday I'll try this book again. I just couldn't stop my mind from wandering, and I suspect it was due to a lack oThe plot sounds wonderful. Perhaps someday I'll try this book again. I just couldn't stop my mind from wandering, and I suspect it was due to a lack of emotion in the writing. So dry and bland.......more
This is a book of a lifetime, a book that affects your life, a book that, after immersing you in its world so that you believe you live there, stays w This is a book of a lifetime, a book that affects your life, a book that, after immersing you in its world so that you believe you live there, stays with you until the end of time. No other book has ever illustrated, so eloquently and powerfully, the horrors of the Holocaust. This book is required reading for anybody who cares about humanity.
And, it got me incredibly interested in learning more about the Bialowieza Forest, an ecologically fascinating area of Poland that has remained untouched by civilization for thousands of years.
Update: Four years after reading this book, I've now read another that also illustrates, equally eloquently and powerfully, the horrors of the Holocaust: The Book Thief...more
This intelligent, literary memoir is about childhood during simpler times (the 1940s, though it could easily have taken place any time pre-80s, beforeThis intelligent, literary memoir is about childhood during simpler times (the 1940s, though it could easily have taken place any time pre-80s, before urban sprawl and recent child-rearing fashions took hold. Indeed, I identified very strongly with the childhood Holland describes).
Unlike so many other memoirs, this one is absolutely engrossing without ever once relying on harrowing or shocking events. (Although serious family dysfunction and tragic events are present, they seem entirely incidental to the main thrust of the story. She is simply telling about her life in the forties, and my impression is that she wouldn’t change one minute of it.) Somehow, despite being a personal account of her life, this book feels different from other memoirs; occasionally it reads not so much as a memoir but as regular nonfiction (American Childhood in the Forties, perhaps) despite the fact that she is always at the front of the story. Clearly, she has done a better job than most of putting her life in the perspective of the larger social framework.
Throughout, it is clear that the author has disdain for so much of today’s culture (the over scheduled child, our separation from nature) yet she never explicitly says so. Never once does she proselytize on any of these topics; she lets her impeccable memory speak for itself.
This book vividly reminded me of my own childhood in a way that few other books have. The way the yard gets torn up when you’ve been playing in the sprinklers: “the grass collapsed into muddy squish.” The complete peacefulness of being in a tree with a book, knowing that nobody will wonder where you are for hours. Why in the world were the windows in cafeterias never opened? “The school’s compulsory lunch always smelled awful, perhaps because the basement cafeteria wasn’t ventilated and smells accumulated and layered in the air as the days and lunches went by…” Lawns: “Up close they were a miniature ecosystem, and children could lie on their stomachs and watch the very smallest of nameless bugs laboriously climbing to the top of a grass blade, swaying for a moment, and then climbing back down, having accomplished nothing discernable.”
The highest praise I can give this book is that I actually enjoyed the World War Two parts!
EXCERPT: “One day somebody got the signals crossed and announced a genuine air raid headed our way. We were to go home in an orderly fashion, not to dawdle nor to panic and rush out into traffic, and head straight for our basements and sit with our knees over our ears as previously instructed. (Why we were sent to the cafeteria for a pretend air raid but sent home for a real one is another mystery.) I went home in an orderly fashion and found Mother reading on the couch. ‘The Germans are coming,’ I told her. ‘We have to go down to the basement. It’s an air raid, real one.’ She looked up and struggled to focus on me. ‘Oh, I don’t think so,’ she said. ‘But it’s true! They closed the school and sent us home!’ ‘I expect it’s a mistake,’ she said. I stood their awkwardly in the middle of the room, the bearer of momentous news like a torch that had sputtered out in my hand. I could hear Viola singing to herself and the thump of her iron, and smell the steaming shirts. Mother turned a page. All was peace and order. Germany was clear across the ocean, and even the ocean now was far away. I went out to play.”...more
This memoir has it all: a topic so compelling that all other reading must be immediately set aside so that this book can be started today, events so sThis memoir has it all: a topic so compelling that all other reading must be immediately set aside so that this book can be started today, events so shocking that at least once per chapter the book has to be put down and mulled over in horror, and, most importantly, writing that is perfectly detailed, authentic, flawless, and seemingly effortless. And, of course, vintage early-childhood photos!...more