Zelda Fitzgerald can certainly be viewed as one of life's tragic characters, coming of age in the post-war period of the 1920's, under the spell of th...moreZelda Fitzgerald can certainly be viewed as one of life's tragic characters, coming of age in the post-war period of the 1920's, under the spell of the rakish F.Scott Fitzgerald, with booze and fun aplenty, and without quite enough backbone to acknowledge how tragic her life was becoming or wanting enough to do anything about it.
Fowler's fictional portrayal of her is certainly kinder than real life probably was. And this is the reason that reviewing this book is so difficult. If one has read any biographies of the principle characters (F.Scott, Zelda, Hemingway-both Ernest and Hadley), it is difficult to find oneself, as a reader of fiction, having as much sympathy for the character painted here as the author does.
Zelda is depicted as a good time girl whose passion is ballet (although she studied as a young girl it is hard to believe that she suddenly decided as a married woman in her late 20's to pursue this as a career). I wondered the whole time I was reading about her dancing antics if the underlying motivation wasn't just a way of thumbing her nose at her husband's wanting her to stay focused on HIS career.
The travel scenes of Paris, Italy, Hollywood and Florida are quite similar to what we see in any bios of the players. It was an OK read, fun if you've not read anything about the lady, but the caveat to any reader is that IT'S FICTION and it's hard to separate what might be fact from fairy tale. It's well written, and certainly exhibits a very sympathetic view of Ms. Fitzgerald. I just couldn't get excited about Zelda's life from reading it here. I'd be interested to see if Ms. Fowler can write some fiction without having to center it on real life. She writes well, and I'd love to see what else she can do. (less)
Short stories are one of my favorite genres and Barbara Hamby has written a superb collection. Set in Hawaii from World War II forward, she captures t...moreShort stories are one of my favorite genres and Barbara Hamby has written a superb collection. Set in Hawaii from World War II forward, she captures the cadence and ambiance of the setting perfectly. I lived in Hawaii for two years, back in the 1970's, and then moved to Japan. My exposure to the Japanese Hawaiians helped ease the culture shock of that move. As I was reading Hamby's eloquently written dialogue, I could hear my best Hawaiian friend "Auntie" in her lilting sing-song local dialect. I had no trouble with the vocabulary but the author provides a robust glossary of terminology for those unfamiliar with the language.
As I read, I found myself comparing this to another of my favorite short story collections: the Pulitzer Prize winner: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Lester Higata and Olive Kitteridge have much in common. They are involved in many different aspects of their communities, they are aging, the stories in the collections give us a beautiful and fully developed character, and an insight into the life of those in the settings. Hamby's linked stories include a look back to Lester's wounding in the war and his marriage to a haole (white) woman of whom his mother dusapproved, and give us a sense of community among the other inhabitants of Lipona street. A truly rewarding reading experience.(less)
In the historical epilogue to this lush novel author Sarah Dunant says
"More than many in history, the Borgias have suffered from an excess of bad pr
...moreIn the historical epilogue to this lush novel author Sarah Dunant says
"More than many in history, the Borgias have suffered from an excess of bad press. While their behavior--personal and political--was often brutal and corrupt, they lived in brutal and corrupt times; and the thirst for diplomatic gossip and scandal, along with undoubted prejudice against their Spanish nationality, played its part in embellishing what was already a colorful story. Once the slander was abroad, much of it was incorporated into the historical record without being challenged. Spin, it seems, was a political art long before the modern word was introduced.
Subtitled, The Borgias, A Novel, this book is part of my reading list for consideration for the Maine Readers Choice Award. It certainly is a worthy entry into the ring. While I had heard of the Borgias and their corruption over the years, I don't think I'd ever read anything that presented the story of this infamous family in such detail. Certainly authors have leeway when writing fiction, and Dunant makes no claim to have us see this as a biography. She has steeped herself in the history of the era, becoming as familiar as possible with source material, both fictional and archival. Her previous books, such as Birth of Venus, In the Company of the Courtesan, and Sacred Hearts, have shown her mastery of the language, the customs, the politics and the scenery of the era but with fictional characters. In this one, she tackles historical characters, treading carefully among the information available to present us with a plausible rendition of this well-known and oft-villified family.
Pope Alexander VI, born Rodrigo Borgia, ascends the throne of Peter after some intense backstage maneuvering. He promptly makes his illegitimate son Cesare a cardinal at the age of 19, and begins marrying off his other children to various royal partners to form alliances to bolster his political ambitions. This is a time when Italy was still not a unified country, existing instead as series of city-states, when the Holy Roman Empire was gradually disintegrating, when Spain's power was on the rise. A Spaniard by birth, Alexander had to tread carefully through the politics of Italy, using the power of his office, as well as his love for his family to enhance his power, his wealth, and his ego.
His son Cesare, is a power hungry young man, well loved by all the ladies, unscrupulous in his relations with both church and state. The world has been fed stories about Cesare's relationship with his sister Lucrezia, the Pope's only and very beloved daughter. Dunant treats this relationship carefully, never allowing the undocumented rumors to overtake other possibilities. Certainly the two were close, but here they are portrayed as being very politically astute siblings who are under the tight rein of their father the Pope. While they may have been pawns and playthings, the author is careful to also let us see the power these women held in the male dominated arena.
Dunant gives us a richly drawn portrait of the Pope, his off-spring, his enemies, his mistresses and relations, his offspring, his warts, his dealings with foreign countries, all the while showing us possibilities of humanity not often attributed to this family. In addition, the customs, the fashions, and the history of the period are intricately described, taking the reader back to a time of rich but vile corruption, political perfidy, and horrifying treachery.
Historical fiction doesn't get much better than this. This is definitely Dunant's best work. I read somewhere that there may be a sequel in the offing. Let's hope so. There's much more to this story that deserves a well-researched, objective, and humane look.
I also sampled a significant part of this one in audio. Narrator Edoardo Ballerini does a stellar job of giving us the characters in different voices, accents, and attitudes. The print copy includes an excellent family tree and map of the different political entities of the era, a definite plus for those of us needing a history refresher.
The Blurb: It's July 4th, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday:...moreThe Blurb: It's July 4th, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday: the family is gathering for a memorial. Leo, the youngest of the four Frankel siblings and an intrepid journalist and adventurer, was killed one year ago while on assignment in Iraq. His parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief, and it's tearing apart their forty-year marriage. Clarissa, the eldest, is struggling at thirty-nine with infertility. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer, is angry about everything. Noelle, a born-again Orthodox Jew (and the last person to see Leo alive), has come in from Israel with her husband and four children and feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe--Leo's widow and mother of their three-year-old son--has arrived from California bearing her own secret. Over the course of three days, the Frankels will contend with sibling rivalries and marital feuds, volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, with the true meaning of family.
What I thought:
This one could have been a dreary, dragging soap-opera of a story. Instead Joshua Henkin has given us an engrossing character study of a family torn apart by grief. As the individuals come back to the scene of some of their happiest times together, they can't seem to let go of the unhappiness each one feels at losing their brother, husband, son. Instead of reaching out to others for support, they seem to want to play the "my grief is worse than yours" game, and continue to pile their melancholy and inability to cope on each other. At first I was angry at being subjected to all this grief, but then I began to see each person as an individual, and Henkin gives us wonderful back stories to allow us into the minds, hearts, and grievings of each member of the family, and helps us to see all the interactions, hopes and dreams of yesterday as well as the disappointments and unmet expectations of today as we stumble through the three days with each family member.
When I finished I did wish the ending had been more crisp, but then realized that the author intended this to be as close to real life as possible, leaving his characters with some hope, some dread, some dreams, and at least the opportunity to work through the sorrow to a better future.
Author: Joshua Henkin Publisher-Format: Pantheon, e galley, 283 pages Year of publication: 2012 Subject: Grief, family dynamics Setting: Vacation home in the Berkshires Genre: fiction Source: publisher via Net Galley(less)