After seeing the movie "Out of Africa" for the second time recently, I wondered if I would enjoy the book as well. Not to worry, the book is even bettAfter seeing the movie "Out of Africa" for the second time recently, I wondered if I would enjoy the book as well. Not to worry, the book is even better since the author was a keen observer and an accomplished storyteller.
Isak Dinesen is the pen name for the Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke who came from Denmark to British East Africa (Kenya) with her husband in 1914. Although they soon separated, Dinesen stayed to run a large coffee plantation near Nairobi. She tells stories about the customs of the native workers on the farm, the beauty of the Ngong Hills, and her British neighbors. The most important person in her life was the charismatic big game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton who tragically died in a plane crash in 1931. Unfortunately, the coffee plantation failed in the same year, and Dinesen had to leave her farm and return to Denmark. She brought back a wealth of stories with her, and published "Out of Africa" in 1937.
This book has to be read as a book written in the 1920s since it's not always politically correct by today's standards. I did cringe when Dinesen wrote about trophy hunting, although I could understand when they shot wild animals killing their lifestock. The author came across as an energetic, kind person who helped the natives with their medical problems and tried to learn about their culture. Earlier, the colonial powers had taken over land that once belonged to the native people. Dinesen made a real effort to find land for her employees to settle on after her farm was sold. This was an especially interesting memoir written by a warm, talented woman. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 stars....more
Paula McLain has captured the adventurous spirit of Beryl Markham. As a horse trainer and pilot in her beloved British East Africa (Kenya), she succeePaula McLain has captured the adventurous spirit of Beryl Markham. As a horse trainer and pilot in her beloved British East Africa (Kenya), she succeeded in fields not open to women in the early 20th Century. She was also the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic from east to west.
This fictional telling of Markham's life goes deeply into her childhood, her first two failed marriages, and her relationship with Denys Finch Hatton. Both Markham and Karen Blixen (author of Out of Africa) were deeply attracted to the same man, but he was a free spirit who would not be tied down to anyone.
Circling the Sun is a vivid look at a talented woman who was not willing to follow the rules. Markham's personality was beautifully depicted as an independent woman who also had a vulnerable side....more
Four damaged people are residing in a bombed out Italian villa in 1945 as World War II is coming to a close. Hana, a Canadian nurse, has seen too muchFour damaged people are residing in a bombed out Italian villa in 1945 as World War II is coming to a close. Hana, a Canadian nurse, has seen too much death in the war and is also mourning the death of her father. She is caring for the English patient who is covered with burns from a fiery plane crash in Libya. The burns have made his identification impossible, and the multilingual man may not actually be English. Canadian David Caravaggio is a maimed spy and thief who was tortured in the war. Kip is a turbaned Sikh from India who works as a sapper defusing mines and bombs for the English army, but never feels totally accepted by the English.
The book is told in fragments, moving forward and back in time, piecing together incidents in the lives of the four characters like puzzle pieces. It's a poetic, dreamy story about some very tragic events. Since Caravaggio and the English patient are under the influence of morphine for their injuries, one wonders if their remembrances are totally reliable. Ondaatje has woven in romance, literature, espionage, history, music, and fascinating information about the desert. Tension is high every time Kip has to dismantle a bomb, which Ondaatje describes in great detail. But Kip felt his work saving lives was futile when he learns about the destruction from the dropping of the atomic bombs.
The book does have its challenges. It has to be read very carefully, especially for the first fifty pages, as the characters are introduced in little snapshots in a nonlinear manner. But once I was more into the book, I was able to let Ondaatje's sensual language wash over me. I especially enjoyed flashbacks from the English patient as he was exploring and mapping the African desert, and reliving a tragic romance. Each flawed character was dealing with either emotional or physical trauma, or both, and needed to heal. We see the inhumanity of war through their eyes.
The film: I saw "The English Patient" movie when it was released in 1996. Although the details of the plot were hazy after 19 years, I remember it as an exceptional film, beautifully filmed with a wonderful cast....more
Leaving Time tells about coping with loss and grieving in the human and animal worlds. Jenna Metcalf is a precocious teenager searching for her motherLeaving Time tells about coping with loss and grieving in the human and animal worlds. Jenna Metcalf is a precocious teenager searching for her mother who disappeared ten years ago after a coworker was trampled to death at an elephant refuge. Her father cannot help her since he has been residing at a psychiatric hospital since that day. Jenna lives with her grandmother who does not want to talk about her mother. Jenna felt that her mother had loved her, so she can't understand why she left Jenna behind. She enlists the help of Serenity, a psychic, and Virgil, an ex-cop turned private detective with a taste for alcohol.
Jenna's mother was Alice, an elephant researcher in Botswana, who was studying grief in elephants. Alice married Thomas Metcalf who managed the New England Elephant Sanctuary in New Hampshire which cared for older, abused elephants from zoos and circuses. After Jenna was born, Thomas began to show signs of mental illness and Alice feared for her safety.
The information about elephants is based on actual research done in Africa, and at an elephant refuge in Tennessee. The elephants treat their deceased with reverence, keeping a vigil for days and covering them with leaves and branches. There is truth to the phrase, "an elephant never forgets", and they undergo a long grieving process. There is a lifelong strong maternal bond between the mother and her calf. In Alice's voice, information is also related about elephant poachers who kill them for their valuable ivory tusks.
The story is told through multiple points of view with many flashbacks. The themes of the maternal bond and grief run through the book. The investigation of Alice's disappearance by Jenna, Serenity, and Virgil has a paranormal element, and a bit of comedy between the wisecracking psychic and the sarcastic detective. The author blends all these elements together fairly well, and tops it off with a good twist at the end. ...more
Mary Russell, the investigator and young wife of Sherlock Holmes, awakens with a concussion and amnesia. She reacts instinctively to avoid capture byMary Russell, the investigator and young wife of Sherlock Holmes, awakens with a concussion and amnesia. She reacts instinctively to avoid capture by a group of soldiers, and wonders how she acquired the knowledge needed to escape. She soon realizes she is in Morocco and her memory comes back in bits and pieces. After Holmes is reunited with her, they become involved in some international intrigue during the 1920s Moroccan independence movement.
Before starting the book, it was helpful to have read a short Wikipedia article about the Rif War to learn the names of the major historical figures in Morocco. Although this is a stand-alone novel, it would have been better to have read the two prior Mary Russell mysteries first to get acquainted with some of the other characters. I started with this book because it was a book group read.
The book presented a good opportunity to learn about the tensions in 1924 Morocco between the colonial powers of Spain and France, and the Moroccan tribesmen of the Rif mountainous region. The characters were colorful and the setting was exotic. Although it had an interesting start, the plot got much too convoluted by the end....more
The novella, The Little Prince, tells of the encounter between an adult and his inner child, the little prince. It can be appreciated by both childrenThe novella, The Little Prince, tells of the encounter between an adult and his inner child, the little prince. It can be appreciated by both children and adults on different levels. The pilot narrator crashes in the Sahara, and sees a tiny golden-haired boy, the little prince, who had come from a far asteroid where he had lived with a single rose. Their conversations are part fantasy and part philosophical--thoughts about the superficial world of adults who lack the imagination and open-mindedness of children. The prince, who is confused about his feelings for the rose, meets a fox who tells him his secret about love: "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye."
The fable was written during World War II when the author had escaped from German-occupied France to the United States. Like the little prince, the author was in exile. The little prince came from an asteroid where baobab trees were threatening to take over the area, suggesting how the Nazis were attempting to get a hold on our planet. The author also drew from his real experience of crashing in the Sahara in 1939 when he and his co-pilot were in an air race, and where he experienced hallucinations due to extreme dehydration. The story is illustrated with charming watercolors depicting the little prince. This is still a popular book, translated from the original French into many languages, and enjoyed by readers of all ages. ...more
Aku-nna's father dies when she is thirteen-years-old. Her mother, Ma Blackie, is forced by economic circumstances to leave their close community of suAku-nna's father dies when she is thirteen-years-old. Her mother, Ma Blackie, is forced by economic circumstances to leave their close community of supportive relatives in Lagos, and move back to her village in Ibuza with Aku-nna and eleven-year-old Nna-nndo. Following tradition, Ma Blackie becomes the fourth wife of her deceased husband's brother, Okonkwo. Ma Blackie has some money set aside for Aku-nna to finish her schooling, and Okonkwo agrees, only because an educated girl will fetch a higher bride price.
A potential groom offers a bride price to the bride's family as compensation for the loss of a worker in the bride's family. Women are considered property in traditional villages, and cannot determine their own future. There is a tribal superstition that a girl will die in childbirth if her bride price is not paid. (Some of these brides are so young, undernourished, and with such narrow hips that this superstition unfortunately does come true far too often.)
Aku-nna is a fragile, intelligent girl who feels lonely in her new home. Her young teacher Chike is very kind and protective of her, and soon they fall in love. Chike wishes to marry her, but Okonkwo refuses. Because Chike is a descendent of slaves, it would bring shame on Okonkwo's family if Aku-nna married Chike.
In Nigeria, one tribe would kidnap people of another tribe and force them into slavery. Under colonial rule, the slaves were released but their descendents were considered inferior and not true members of the village. A caste system exists where a villager could not marry a descendent of a slave, no matter how educated or successful they were.
There is a conflict between traditional and modern ways when Aku-nna falls in love with Chike and wants to marry him. The book has some serious themes such as tradition, the caste system, feminism, and superstition. How important are community values and community support as opposed to individual values and free will? The story itself is very engaging, keeping my attention as I wondered if the tale of the two Nigerian lovers would have a happy ending.
Buchi Emecheta was born in Nigeria in 1944, and her father died when she was nine years old. She was engaged at age eleven, and married at age sixteen. She left her unhappy, violent marriage six years later. She earned a degree in Sociology in London, while working and raising her five children alone. The author's own experiences from her early life are obviously influencing her writing, and many of her books deal with feminine oppression and poverty....more
Published in 1981 during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Nadine Gordimer imagines a civil war where blacks overthrow whites. It's a fictiPublished in 1981 during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Nadine Gordimer imagines a civil war where blacks overthrow whites. It's a fictional time of terrible violence where whites have to go into hiding to avoid being killed in Johannesburg. The Smales, a liberal white couple with three children, have employed July for fifteen years as a servant. They have treated him well so he takes the family to his rural black village to keep them safe.
In the village, a master/servant role reversal occurs where the Smales are now totally dependent on July for everything--their hut, their food, even their lives. July slowly loses his subservient attitude, and the Smales feel powerless and vulnerable. Having the keys to the vehicle, a yellow bakkie, symbolizes who has the power. In addition, the Smales had the problem of not understanding the language and culture of the village. Of course, July and other blacks had been experiencing the reverse problem when they went into the cities to work for English-speaking whites.
The ending was ambivalent which disappointed me in the sense of not having closure. But it was probably a very fitting and realistic ending for that time in South Africa. No one knew what the racial tensions would bring while ending apartheid.
7/14/14 Rest in Peace, Nadine Gordimer. The 90-year-old Nobel Prize winning author, known for her books about racial tensions in apartheid-era South Africa, has died....more