The author was inspired by the true story of a group of fourteen people from an Irish village who traveled on the Titanic in 1912, hoping to find a beThe author was inspired by the true story of a group of fourteen people from an Irish village who traveled on the Titanic in 1912, hoping to find a better life in America. The fictional Maggie Murphy, a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic, was so traumatized by the terrible events that she had been unwilling to share her story, even with her family. As she reached her 90th birthday, Maggie opened up to her great-granddaughter and showed her the journal she kept during the fateful voyage.
The novel concentrates on a group of Irish friends who traveled steerage class, rather than the rich and famous first class passengers, although they are also mentioned. The surviving passengers were rescued by the ship "Carpathia" and brought to New York City. There were conflicting lists of survivors with many passengers in shock or suffering from hypothermia, and unable to communicate. The heartbroken survivors faced life in a new country without their loved ones who had perished in the disaster.
The novel was composed of regular chapters, journal entries, letters, and telegrams. The first half of the book was very repetitious with many events in the regular chapters mentioned a second time in the journal or letters. Some more editing would have improved this part of the book. Fortunately, the last half of the book, about the sinking of the Titanic and its aftermath, was very engaging. The back of the book also contained some interesting historical information and material for reading groups....more
"Give Me Your Heart" is a collection of ten dark short stories about people looking for love and acceptance. They are often downtrodden people who are"Give Me Your Heart" is a collection of ten dark short stories about people looking for love and acceptance. They are often downtrodden people who are emotionally on the edge, or teenagers who have found themselves over their heads in dangerous situations. The title story is about an older man who promised a woman student that he would love her forever--and the rejected woman is stalking him and planning her revenge years later. "Strip Poker" involves an adolescent girl getting caught up in a card game with some older male teens in an isolated cottage--and trying to outsmart them. "Vena Cava" tells the story of a soldier returning from Iraq with PTSD and terrible injuries to his head which prevent him from emotionally connecting to the civilian world.
The stories were so intense that I found I only wanted to read a couple in one sitting. A few stories had endings that went a bit overboard. But the rest were frighteningly plausible, much like the activities of real deranged people we read about in our newspapers. Joyce Carol Oates is a good storyteller, building up tension higher and higher, then ending in a twist or horrific event....more
"The Piano Teacher" is a look at relationships involving control, submission, and psychological manipulation. Erika, a piano teacher in her thirties,"The Piano Teacher" is a look at relationships involving control, submission, and psychological manipulation. Erika, a piano teacher in her thirties, still lives with her domineering mother in a love/hate relationship. Her mother controlled her every move as a child, shutting her off from other people, and demanding endless hours of musical practice daily. Although Erika was technically proficient, her emotions were too shut down to ever achieve greatness in interpreting the music.
Erika's small attempt at rebellion is to buy beautiful dresses that she never wears. If she comes home late from work, her angry mother punishes her by tearing up one of her dresses. Erika is sexually repressed, sneaking away to peep shows, and spying upon lovers in the woods. She uses a razor to cut herself since self-mutilation is a way for her to feel.
Walter Klemmer, a young engineering student at the university, is taking piano lessons from Erika, a strict teacher. He's a popular ladies' man who chases Erika while she initially resists his advances. After she spells out what she wants in a relationship, the novel spirals down into darkness, anger, violence, and despair.
The author, Elfriede Jelinek, was also an accomplished musician in Vienna, a child prodigy who was pushed relentlessly by her mother. Vienna is known for its fine musicians, and excelling at music was prized. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004.
This is a difficult book to rate. Jelinek is a talented, often lyrical, writer. The three main characters--Erika, Mother, and Walter--are unlikable, but darkly fascinating. Although there are many sexual scenes, the book is not romantic or erotic since sexuality is just another controlling tool in the psychological arsenal. I'm giving this disturbing novel four stars because it was well written, but I wouldn't describe it as an "enjoyable" book. ...more
"The blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle." Paul Rayment, a p"The blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle." Paul Rayment, a photographer in Adelaide, finds himself in a hospital recovering from a bicycle accident, with one leg amputated above the knee. He refuses a prosthesis and opts for nursing care. After going through a succession of nurses, he develops feelings for a Croatian nurse, Marijana, a married woman with three children. In addition to his loss of independence and the problems of aging, Paul is coping with loneliness and regrets over never having children. He attempts to have Marijana and her children play a major part of his life.
The first third of the novel seems realistic. Then the novelist Elizabeth Costello shows up at Paul's door, an annoying woman who he has never met. (She is a character from J.M. Coetzee's previous novel.) She starts reciting the passage at the top of this review, "The blow catches him..." When she first heard those words, she had asked herself, "Why do I need this man?" Elizabeth Costello seems to be a stand-in for the author Coetzee since she knows all about Paul and the other characters. She uses her knowledge to try to prod Paul into action. At the same time, Paul is feeling that she is using his reactions to create a character for a book that she is writing. She's a persistent woman, constantly visiting, although he keeps trying to get rid of her. Paul, who immigrated from France to Australia as a child, is working through his feelings about home, about belonging, and about love. After a career as a portrait photographer, Paul seems to be thinking about who the man in his own mirror is as a person.
The reader is watching Elizabeth Costello interact with Paul as she gets material for the story that Coetzee has written and we are reading. While it's a creative idea, it also moves the story from a realistic plane to a position where the reader no longer knows what is real and what is unreal. But that's Coetzee--an author who has fun playing around with the readers' minds....more
3.5-4 stars The mouths of foodies will be watering as they read this novel about the fictional Hassan Haji's life. After his family's restaurant was de3.5-4 stars The mouths of foodies will be watering as they read this novel about the fictional Hassan Haji's life. After his family's restaurant was destroyed in Mumbai, his father took the family to Europe to distance himself from the tragedy. A few years later, their car breaks down in the French village of Lumiere, a beautiful setting near the Alps, and they decide to stay.
Hassan's bearlike, boisterous father opens a casual Indian restaurant across the street from the award-winning Le Saule Pleureur, owned by Madame Mallory. The two colorful restaurant owners wage war until an accident lands Hassan in the hospital. Madame Mallory regrets her attitude, and takes Hassan on as an apprentice in her elegant French restaurant. Hassan crosses the road in a "hundred-foot journey" from Indian to fine French cuisine. This is the beginning of an exciting career for Hassan who was born with an exceptional culinary gift.
The story was infused with the smells and sights of both the Indian and French kitchens. Temperamental chefs are a source of humor in the story. Food critics and the Michelin star system add immense pressure to the job of a chef. Although I would love to fly to Paris for a restaurant tour, I think I will have to settle for seeing the movie based on this charming book. The movie, starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, and Manish Dayal, will be opening in August 2014....more
Alma and Arturo Rivera traveled from Mexico to settle in a run-down apartment building in Delaware, and furnished it with items found on the side of tAlma and Arturo Rivera traveled from Mexico to settle in a run-down apartment building in Delaware, and furnished it with items found on the side of the road. Although they were happy in Mexico, Arturo obtained a work visa so that their daughter Maribel could attend an American school for children with special needs. The beautiful fifteen-year-old girl had a fall that resulted in a traumatic brain injury.
Their neighbors, the Toro family, offer them friendship and encouragement. The Toros were legal immigrants from Panama who had become American citizens. Mayor Toro is a teenager lacking in self-confidence and overshadowed by his older athletic brother. A budding romance forms between Mayor and Maribel. The two teenagers accept each other for what they are, and form a connection.
The chapters of the book are told in first person mainly by Alma Rivera and Mayor Toro. Through Alma's voice we are shown how much parents will sacrifice in the hope of making a better life for their children, and how much love she feels for Arturo. Alma feels homesick, isolated, and is trying to protect her disabled daughter. She is unable to communicate in English, only has a bus for transportation, finds unfamiliar food in the stores, and is living in poverty. Mayor is caught between the American world at school, and the traditions of his parents at home. His tender love for Maribel leads to unintended heartbreaking consequences.
The apartment building houses other families from Latin American countries. The other immigrants' stories are told in short chapters, breaking up the main story about the Riveras and the Toros. While their stories give the book a more complete look at the immigrant experience, it does sometimes break the flow of the compelling main story. One heartwarming chapter had all the families come to the Toro apartment on Christmas to share a meal, and try to keep warm when the heating system was down for a few hours. The Paraguayan landlord says, "I like it here. I started off as the manager, but now I own the building....I try to make this building like an island for all of us washed-ashore refugees. A safe harbor. I don't let anyone mess with me. If people want to tell me to go home, I just turn to them and smile politely and say, 'I'm already there.'"
The characters in the Rivera and the Toro families seemed very real, and I cared about their outcomes. The book is food for thought about the immigrant experience, so it would be an excellent choice for book discussion groups. ...more