Chronicling the lives of Japanese brides coming to America, Buddha in the Attic is deceptively slim. Almost every sentence begins a new story that isChronicling the lives of Japanese brides coming to America, Buddha in the Attic is deceptively slim. Almost every sentence begins a new story that is only hinted at, yet I saw at least the broad strokes of an entire life in just those few words. There is no main character and the book is told collectively. (NOT a direct quote) "We came from Japan. We left our remote farms. We left our lives in Tokyo. We left our fishing villages. We cried as we left our families. We left happily, vowing to never look back." Listening to this on audio, the style bothered me a bit at first. It's so freaking repetitive! I do not do well with anything repetitive. Once I did settle into the narrative, I saw the beauty of it. In about four hours, I was a part of the lives of what felt like hundreds of Japanese women, each with her own story.
The book starts with the young women on the boat, uncertain of their futures and their husbands. They've never even met the men they're traveling halfway around the world to marry. Then there's early married life, children, life as an immigrant, and, in the early years of WWII, life as a "traitor." It was sometimes heart-breaking but always thought-provoking.
Samantha Quan narrates beautifully. I've not been a big fan of Carrington MacDuffie's straightforward narration in the past but it worked very well for her small part in this book.
I might have rated this higher in print, despite the excellent narration, simply because I could have skimmed over the seemingly endless, "We came from"s and "We gave birth in"s. In whatever format you choose, this is an excellent little book and I do recommend it....more
Ursula Todd is born on a cold winter's night in England in 1910...over and over again. Sometimes she is stillborn, other times she makes it through, oUrsula Todd is born on a cold winter's night in England in 1910...over and over again. Sometimes she is stillborn, other times she makes it through, only to die later and start over at the same place. Each time, something is a little different and her life takes drastically diverging paths as a result.
Someone asked me what this is about and it's almost impossible to explain. "Reincarnation but...not. She lives the same life over and over but...not really." What matters is watching how minute differences in Ursula's life change her story completely.
That was what I really enjoyed. I liked the whole concept of playing with a character's life like that just to see what happens. There were lives that I hated and lives that I loved. Some were depressing, some were horrific, some were odd, but they were almost all interesting. Some got a little crazy. The prelude shows us Ursula, a pretty English girl, setting out to assassinate--a Nazi official (I'm pretty sure it's not spelled out at that point). Where the heck did that come from? Once I got to that life, it did make sense but still--wow.
There were a couple of drawbacks though. The book got repetitive. I don't think there was any possible way to avoid that in this kind of story but there you go. I think the author did the best anyone could have but I was still heartily sick of that snowy winter night that Ursula was born. Also, I started having trouble remembering what had happened in each life by the end. "Is this the one where this happened or was it that?" I can't say that I was always entirely sure.
The characters weren't a huge draw for me but this is one instance where the story itself was engaging enough that I was able to overlook that. Ursula varied so much that I can't comment on whether I liked her or not. I guess I liked her well enough. Her mother was just terrible. Her brother Teddy was too good to be true. Her aunt Izzy was a flighty idiot but generally fun. Pretty much everybody could be summed up in one sentence.
Still, the book was so different from anything else I've read that it kept my attention and I would recommend it. ...more
Rahima lives in a family of girls. Her father was a fighter for the local war lord in their Afghan village and he's now addicted to opium. With customRahima lives in a family of girls. Her father was a fighter for the local war lord in their Afghan village and he's now addicted to opium. With custom demanding that the girls never leave the house without a male family member to escort them, they're struggling. When Rahima's aunt comes to visit, bearing stories of an ancestor, Shekiba, who dressed as a bacha posh and made her way through life as a boy, the answer to their problems appears. Rahima's hair is cut and she becomes Rahim, going to school, running errands, and supporting her family as best she can.
My reading doesn't venture outside my own culture as often as it should. When I read books like this, I always resolve to do better and then I don't. I need these reminders of how blessed I am in my life and how difficult it is for others who didn't happen to be born here.
Reading about Rahima's years as a bacha posh was pretty easy. Life was better for her and her family. But afterwards... oh my gosh. Things just got worse and worse for her. But this is daily life for a lot of women in a lot of countries. How does life change for them? It always seems like change has to come from within but with this kind of oppression, how does that happen? Even that's addressed a little bit toward the end of the book.
The secondary narrative tells of Rahima's ancestor Shekiba. Shekiba may have had an even harder life than Rahima. She's completely alone with only an extended family that seems to hate her for her scarred face. I usually prefer one story over another in a dual narrative like this, but I was almost relieved when the point of view switched. I needed a break from the bleakness of the character's life I was reading about at that moment!
I wasn't entirely happy with the ending. I felt like I had as much closure as I needed for Rahima but I would have liked to have known more about Shekiba. I really felt like her story just stopped.
I read an early copy of the book and it could have used a little more editing. I'm sure most of that will be cleaned up by the time everything is finalized. Overlooking that kind of thing, this book was an excellent first novel and I expect the author to get even better as she continues writing.
If you're interested in stories of other cultures, I do recommend that you give this one a try. It's emotionally difficult but an important story to be shared.
Thanks to the publisher for offering me early access to the book....more
Talmadge is in town selling the fruit from his orchard one day when he notices two girls watching him. They're very young and very pregnant. He dozesTalmadge is in town selling the fruit from his orchard one day when he notices two girls watching him. They're very young and very pregnant. He dozes off for a few minutes and wakes as the girls run away with some fruit they've stolen. He decides not to chase them because they look hungry. A day or two later, the girls show up at the orchard. He starts cooking extra food and leaving it out for them but they won't let him get too close.
Meanwhile, a stranger shows up in town looking for girls who sound an awful lot like the two Talmadge is watching over. Talmadge ponders things for a while and decides to meet with the stranger at his homestead. Talmadge does not like what he sees. The man, Michaelson, eventually offers to let Talmadge have 20 minutes with a nine-year-old girl for $2. Talmadge quickly leaves, resolved that Michaelson will never get his two girls back.
I really liked this on audio. Narrator Mark Bramhall's rough voice suited the feel of the story perfectly.
I got frustrated with the book though. A large part of it centers around Talmadge trying to find the youngest girl, Della, after she's grown up and left home. Della doesn't seem to give a flip about anything at that point, and she definitely doesn't care that she's breaking his heart. I tried to tell myself that she'd been through unimaginable things and I needed to cut her some slack but I couldn't. Then I would try to remind myself of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the lost sheep and that still didn't work (I don't know what it was about this book that brought out the Biblical references; it's not remotely religious). Della doesn't want to be found and I thought that should be the end of it. I'm obviously not a parent.
I tried looking at it from Talmadge's point of view. He feels responsible for Della. But he also lost a sister when he was in his teens. She went into the woods one day and never came back. He just can't find it in himself to let Della go as long as he thinks he knows where she is, and especially not after he learns that she's in trouble. I could wrap my head around things a little better from his perspective. But I still wanted to shake him and point out that he was neglecting the girl who was still at home--sweet, faithful Angeline.
Angeline got the short end of everything. She's a good girl so Talmadge doesn't feel he has to worry about her too much. She's pretty self-sufficient too. But even she seems to be hurt that Talmadge starts running off and leaving her alone to chase after Della, whom she barely remembers. I can't decide if it was Bramhall's narration falling short in this one respect or if Angeline was really written this way, but she did come across as a bit clueless. I had a hard time remembering how young she was as well. Her whole dialog seemed to be, "I don't understand," or "What's going on?" or "Tell me what's happening." Bramhall's high, breathless narration for her part didn't help.
By the last few chapters, I was pretty much done so I'd tuned out. I kind of heard what happened to everybody but I was lost in my own thoughts by then.
The book really is well-written and has a strong sense of place. This could have been a case of the wrong book at the wrong time for me. If you're in the mood for something fairly dark that explores the way that families can be formed and torn apart, give it a try....more
During the siege of Leningrad in World War II, Lev and Kolya find themselves in jail at the same time. After a sleepless night in which they expect toDuring the siege of Leningrad in World War II, Lev and Kolya find themselves in jail at the same time. After a sleepless night in which they expect to be executed the next morning, they instead find themselves facing a Colonel in the Red Army. He will let them go free if they agree to find a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake. Leningrad is surrounded by Germans and people are starving to death in the streets. They don't know how they're going to do it but they undertake the task.
I really think I would have enjoyed this more in print. There was nothing really wrong with Ron Perlman's narration, but the tone of his voice is just so low that it was pretty easy for me to unintentionally tune him out as I was driving.
That said, I did enjoy it. Poor young, serious Lev, to be stuck with Kolya! But I loved Kolya. He's like that one person that you really like even though you're uncomfortable around him more often than not because of the things that he says. He has no idea when to shut up but he's so charming that he generally gets away with saying whatever he's thinking. He thinks a lot about girls and how much he hates the Germans and a book named The Courtyard Hound. He quotes it all the time! I would have been more of a Lev in their situation, terrified of everything, but Kolya kept young Lev going. He kept me laughing and shaking my head.
The novel felt a bit like The Odyssey, with the young man drifting from one insane adventure to the next. While their journey only lasts a week, so much happens that it felt like much longer. Cannibals, sadists, epic chess games, I just never knew what they were going to get into next. I liked that.
What I did not like was the ending. Not one little bit. I can see that it was necessary but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
This was a perfect read during the--what are they calling it? Polar Vortex?--that has chilled most of the US. I'll complain about the cold all day if I can but reading about these young men in the frigid temperatures of Russia, well the USSR at the time, with no food and inadequate clothing helped me keep things in perspective. Settle in to read this when it's cold outside, enjoy it, and be thankful for what you have....more
Molly Ayer has messed up one too many times. She's caught up in the foster system and her latest mistake has left her with a choice of either fifty hoMolly Ayer has messed up one too many times. She's caught up in the foster system and her latest mistake has left her with a choice of either fifty hours of community service or going to juvie. Her boyfriend searches around and finds out that his mom's employer, 91-year-old widow Vivian Daly, needs help cleaning out her attic. Everyone agrees that this can be counted as community service so Molly heads over to the old woman's house. She initially sees it as a chore but she's pleasantly surprised when she realizes how much she and Mrs. Daly have in common.
In New York in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Niamh Power is left an orphan when her recently-immigrated family is killed in an apartment fire. She lives in an orphanage for a few months but then the Children's Aid Society sends her out to the Midwest on an "orphan train." Chaperones would take scores of kids around to different venues and basically give them to whomever wanted them. No one knew which would be worse--not to be chosen at all or to go to a bad family. Either way, the entire process was humiliating and nerve-wracking.
This was such a good book. I hadn't ever heard of the orphan trains, but they were a reality in American history from about 1850 to 1930. Apparently over 200,000 children were relocated in this way. Can you imagine? With all the red tape today? Just show up at the train station and pick yourself out a healthy-looking boy to help Pa out around the farm. Of course you'll promise to send him to school but who's going to check up on that? Nobody. And who's going to make sure that you're feeding him enough? Again, nobody. And if Pa occasionally gets a little too rough with the discipline, well, it's not like he's family or anything. Maybe it was better than slowly starving to death on the streets of New York, but it was a deeply, deeply flawed process. Holy cow.
In a dual narrative like this, I think every reader will enjoy one story more than the other and that was true for me here. I couldn't wait to get back to Niamh's story. There was nothing wrong with Molly's present-day story but the draw for me was the history. I related a little more to Niamh too. She's a good girl who tries her best to blend in and do as she's told while Molly, outwardly at least, is more of a rebel. I'm always going to understand the Niamh personality more than the Molly personality, at least in general and up to a point.
I hope this is okay to share...
I read this with my book club. One of my friends couldn't wait to talk about her reactions to the book. She's been through the foster system herself and she was blown away by how spot-on the whole book was. From the insecurity to learning to work the system in your own favor, she said every word was accurate. I've never been through anything like this (Thank heaven for a loving, supportive family) but I would guess that the rest of us liked it because it rang true. I'm going to get into the dangerous world of stereotypes here and say that most readers are an empathetic bunch so we're going to notice if something just doesn't feel right, whether it's a situation we've ever personally experienced or not. This one felt right.
The book was not without its flaws but they are easily overlooked. There's at least one huge coincidence that left me rolling my eyes. Events occurred that I just knew were setting up a future conflict that never happened. The ending was a little too tidy and it was definitely abrupt. Our whole book club agreed on that.
Read this for a look at a little-known piece of American history, to feel a little more thankful for your family if you're fortunate like me, or to feel a little less alone if you've been through situations like this. It was a fast read and I thoroughly enjoyed it....more
In a dual narrative, author Sena Jeter Naslund explores the lives of a modern-day fictional author, Kathryn Callaghan--a "woman of a certain age,"--anIn a dual narrative, author Sena Jeter Naslund explores the lives of a modern-day fictional author, Kathryn Callaghan--a "woman of a certain age,"--and artist Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, famous for painting portraits of Marie Antoinette. Both women are looking back over their lives, evaluating their choices and reflecting on their losses.
2.5 Stars but I'm generously rounding up.
I am not the greatest audience for this book. I hesitated before requesting a review copy. I really, really, really disliked Ms. Naslund's last book, Adam & Eve, and I disliked Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man when I read it in college. I've never done well with stream of consciousness. If I'm going to follow random thoughts down the rabbit hole, I'd rather follow my own; they're more interesting. But. I really, really, really loved Ahab's Wife, also by Ms. Naslund. It has a firm place in my personal top ten list. It was a toss-up so I decided to go for it.
The modern-day story just dragged on and on and on. I mean it when I say I don't do well with stream of consciousness. I could not care less about every little thought that crosses a character's brain. That said, it felt right. I have the feeling that if I were closer in age to either of these two characters, I might have loved this book. The reflections, the difficult choices that are made about aging parents, children as children and when they're adults, marriages, it all rang true and I feel that Ms. Naslund captured it perfectly. As a 35-year-old married woman with no children and parents who are still (knocking on wood) working and in decent, if not perfect, health, I couldn't find the kind of bone-deep connection I think I would have needed to really appreciate this novel.
I did much better with Madame LeBrun's story. It was much more structured with a beginning, middle, and end, and I liked reading about her life just before and after the French Revolution. The "during" years were a bit glossed over, but she got safely out of the country before everything got really bad, and anyone wanting to read more about that era should read Ms. Naslund's excellent novel about Marie Antoinette, Abundance. Her parts were very short though and before I knew it, I was mired back in the one never-ending day in the life of modern Kathryn Callaghan.
As always, Naslund's writing was beautiful and I loved the sense of place in both stories. I want to see Kathryn Callaghan's old Louisville neighborhood and Élisabeth's apartment in Paris and her cottage at Louveciennes.
Otherwise, this book was mostly forgettable for me. Readers who do better with stream of consciousness or who are more contemporaneous with the two main characters will enjoy it more than I did....more
Doc Holliday. To most of us, it's a name out of legend. The Wild West. The Shootout at the O.K. Corral. Wyatt Earp. But there's a real man behind theDoc Holliday. To most of us, it's a name out of legend. The Wild West. The Shootout at the O.K. Corral. Wyatt Earp. But there's a real man behind the myth and in this work of fiction, author Mary Doria Russell tries to find him.
I must admit upfront that the O.K. Corral, etc. is not much more than a name to me. I've never seen Wyatt Earp or Tombstone or any of those movies. (I have, apparently, seen enough in channel surfing that I could not for the life of me get Kevin Costner's image out of my head as I read about Wyatt. And now that I've looked up Tombstone I see why Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer kept making appearances in my imagination too).
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this. I was a little taken aback at first by the style. It reads very much like nonfiction but the author says straight up at the beginning that it's not. I kept thinking that I was reading a nonfiction prologue and the story would begin later. But eventually I realized it was just the style of the book so I settled in and got comfortable. It worked. Telling the story in that way made Doc seem like more of a real person. The legend doesn't need more layers. This was a stripping away to get at the man underneath. And I liked him. A lot.
The cards are stacked against him from the beginning. Born with a cleft palate before the Civil War, he shouldn't have stood a chance. But his family came through and shaped him to be a Southern gentleman. His uncle operated and corrected the palate. His mother taught him manners and music. A cousin taught him horsemanship and how to choose his battles. A--friend? illegitimate cousin? I can't remember--taught him how to play cards and win. Then he had to watch his beloved mother die of tuberculosis, or consumption as they called it back then. And then he started coughing too. And so he was set on the path that would define him forever after.
The Doc in these pages is not perfect by any means. But that's part of his charm. He drinks too much and gambles too much and takes unnecessary risks and is too stubborn for his own good. But he's a loyal friend and a gentleman. He tries to treat everyone with respect if they deserve it. He's equally kind to the respectable townsfolk and to the town prostitutes, the Chinese man who does his laundry, and the Native American teen who does odd jobs for everyone. He has a vicious temper that he tries to keep under control and mostly succeeds in doing. But those who see flashes of it never forget it. He has a real musical talent but he refuses to play on an out-of-tune piano. When he finally does play, he moves his audience to tears.
He's caught in a tumultuous relationship with a prostitute named Kate. They need each other but they're not good for each other. They say hurtful things and hurl accusations and break up and get back together and are on a constant roller-coast ride. They're exhausting. There's one scene where the author imagines how different Doc's life might have been if he had finally left Kate for good and met a "nice girl." It was bittersweet. I was firmly attached to Doc at this point and I wanted him to have this gentle life. But the author points out that he still would have had consumption, so in the end, nothing would really change.
This Doc Holliday probably still isn't like the real Doc, but he's closer than most other books are going to show him at this point. He's a true Southern gentleman doing his best with the lousy hand he's been dealt....more
Laura Grey is tired of her life as a governess, so she joins forces with The Pink Carnation. After the requisite training, she is sent to work as a goLaura Grey is tired of her life as a governess, so she joins forces with The Pink Carnation. After the requisite training, she is sent to work as a governess for Andre Jaouen, a high-ranking official in the French Ministry of Police. She's also tasked with finding out any information that might be of use to the Pink Carnation and her league of British spies.
I consistently love this series and rate them around 4 stars but this is one of my favorites. But maybe I say that about all of them--I wouldn't be surprised. They are full of intelligent women who don't need men to protect them but they like to keep the guys around anyway. I grin like an idiot at the witty dialog as I read and I hate to turn the last page. What more can you ask for?
I love the chemistry between Laura and Andre and I love that it is impossible to guess exactly what he's up to. He's a good father who genuinely cares for his children and grieves for his dead wife. He's doing his best to navigate the tumultuous politics of Napoleonic France while staying true to his ideals and protecting his children.
Laura is beautifully flawed and full of contradictions that work. She's the archetype of a strait-laced governess but it's easy to see that there's much more to her than that. She's learned to tame any desires and wishes that she has and just be glad that she's able to support herself and keep a roof over her head. She's scared when she finds herself in dangerous situations but she handles them beautifully and ingeniously. She's probably one of my favorite heroines in the Pink Carnation series. But I probably say that after I read every book too.
I'm over Colin and Eloise's glacially-moving romance. I've never cared for the modern-day story but it just gets weaker and weaker to me. It feels like the author is losing interest in it as well. I will admit that there was a development in this story that could be a setup for some interesting times in the next book though.
Fans of the series won't be disappointed with this installment. There are so few overlapping characters in it that new readers might be able to dive into it without reading the others in the series, but I would still recommend reading them in order....more