First impression: There is beauty in the words. You feel the North Korean war refugee's aloofness in his new country, Brazil. The distance he feels an...moreFirst impression: There is beauty in the words. You feel the North Korean war refugee's aloofness in his new country, Brazil. The distance he feels and his reticence is palpable. Narration by the author adds to the lines' impact. A blanket of quiet overlays the story.
People can talk without words. What is not said can speak louder than what is said. And what a person does doesn’t always reflect what they are really saying. (view spoiler)[When Santi returns after Kiyoshi’s death and steals and slashes the dummy, he doesn’t return to steal. He doesn’t return to destroy. He returns because he is devastated by Kiyoshi’s death! (hide spoiler)]This book captures that. It draws a world of silence and solitude that does speak and does convey a message. You watch what happens. You feel the atmosphere. There is a distance to all that happens and to the characters themselves. The manner in which this is achieved is artistically done. Beautiful rather than boring. You are drawn in. Slowly, slowly this North Korean war refugee assimilates and comes to feel at home in his new country, in an unnamed village in Brazil. S-l-o-w-l-y the past recedes, the memories blur and he melts into a new life. You read this book to feel his dislocation, the alienation of one who leaves one country for another. Leaving both horrible memories and good memories, sort of like stapling up picture upon picture until the pictures at the bottom aren’t gone but are superseded by others that are newer, stronger, more vibrant. You cannot just rip out those pictures at the bottom, can you?
Is the ending realistic? No, maybe not, but I am OK with that. You do not read this book to follow the plot line from A to Z. Neither does the story follow a chronological order. Memories come and go, and that is how you learn of the past
An atmospheric novel, to be read to understand how it is to be completely alone in a new world. You never start from scratch, since we all have our own pasts. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Where are we today at the beginning of the 21st Century? Where are we headed? I have been reading books that focus on ethnic cleansing and genocide. I...moreWhere are we today at the beginning of the 21st Century? Where are we headed? I have been reading books that focus on ethnic cleansing and genocide. It seems to me there is more and more of this with each year that passes. What does this say about the way the world is run today? How do different books tackle these questions? When The Stars Fall To Earth was very good, albeit simple, but with an important message. It was fiction. It dealt with the problems that continue today in Darfur. I kept thinking, why did I like it so much even if it is simple and fictional, but I did! I liked it because it spoke of today's world and it spoke with clarity.
Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness by Tracy Kidder is equally good. This one is biographical. The author lets Deo, a survivor of the Rwandan/Burundi genocide, speak of his experiences. This is non-fiction, but it too speaks with clarity and leaves an important message about the world we live in today. Is there hope? Yes, but the main message from both is that people of the 21st Century must keep themselves informed and must get involved.
Kidder’s book clearly explains both the Rwandan and Burundi genocides. Although they are interrelated and do share some similarities, there are differences too. In both countries poverty, malnutrition and lack of educational opportunities have led to the underlying problems. In both countries Hutus comprise the overwhelming majority of the population, but in Burundi the military and political power was transferred to the Tutsis by first the German and then the Belgian colonial authorities. In Rwanda Hutus were in power. Both countries became independent from Belgium in 1962, and in both countries Belgium failed to prepare the governments for a successful takeover of power. The ethnic differences have been reinforced by the colonial parties. In Rwanda there was a government of the majority fighting against a powerless minority. The Burundi genocide was a prolonged ethnic civil war by a minority government fighting against rebels of the majority.
The chapters flip between those focused on Deo’s personal experiences and the historical details of the war. In addition, Deo’s experiences do not follow a chronological order. I would have preferred that they had. Chronologically you start in the middle, when Deo has just gotten to the US in 1994. He had been in his third year of medical studies in Burundi when he fled from rampage of killings in Burundi to Rwanda, back to Burundi and then to NYC, an immigrant with neither English, money nor even a green card. He went from an inferno to another situation scarcely better, but he survived. Later in the book the author accompanies Deo back to Burundi and Rwanda. He also accompanies Deo to those places he lived in Harlem, the exact sites in Central Park, to Soho and to those who gave him a helping hand. The reader looks at how Deo dealt emotionally and intellectually with his experiences. It all would have been simpler had the events been presented chronologically. That is my one complaint with the book.
The audiobook is narrated by the author clearly, but without any special flair. I have no complaints about the narration.
I liked this book because it clearly explains the details of both the Rwandan and Burundi genocides. Deo comes to work with Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, about which the author has written another book: Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. Here the focus of the book is set on what path we must follow into the future. This I liked too. That is why I picked up the book. Where will the future take us? (less)
I actually enjoyed listening to this. It was OK, but......
This is one of those books definitely improved by its narration, very well done by Sile Berm...moreI actually enjoyed listening to this. It was OK, but......
This is one of those books definitely improved by its narration, very well done by Sile Bermingham! Great Irish brogue, and the different women all sound unique. Still, when you look at the book as a whole, you are left rather flat. What does it give you? A "cute" telling of the Irish immigrant story in NYC. Not the early immigrants, but the ones that came in the 60s. Family life and friendship between workmates. What was the sandhog experience like? The job of the sandhog, digging the tunnels for the water pipes of NYC, that too. Half of the book is about the life of Irish gypsies, the "walking people" and life in rural Ireland. Sister relationships, and aging, serious accidents and who exactly is the true mother, the birth mother or the one who raises a child? All of this is covered - some parts flow better than others, but all these different parts are patchy. There is humor and sadness. The poignant end could have been improved. Was the part about (view spoiler)[ Alzheimer's (hide spoiler)] really necessary? You start in 2007, flip back to the past and then go forward to 2007. The book was OK, and certainly very well narrated.
I have chosen to read this book for two reasons. First of all I really liked Mary Beth Keane's Fever, so I have to read another by this talented author. Secondly, when I listened to the sample of this book by the author I both loved the narration by Sile Bermingham, with her wonderful Irish tone, and discovered it begins with a section about NYC sandhogs. Sandhogs is a term used for the Irish, Italian and West Indian immigrants that first dug the tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn. So.... I think illogically that the book may be similar to Colum McCann's This Side of Brightness, also about sandhogs! I loved that book, except for its stupid ending. I know this is all rather illogical; I will not get a a continuation of McCann's book, but still it might be good.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
There are two central themes to this book; it is both a love story and an in-depth look at what it is to be black, today, in America and in Nigeria. I...moreThere are two central themes to this book; it is both a love story and an in-depth look at what it is to be black, today, in America and in Nigeria. It also looks at how it is to be young in today’s world – a world of computers and cellphones and blogs and, on a more general level, how people interrelate with each other.
Different readers will be drawn to different aspects of the novel. The love story did not draw me in. It begins with a “coming of age” attraction between two teenagers in Lagos, Nigeria. The story goes full circle and ends on the same note, back in Nigeria and back with these two, Obinze and Ifemelu. Will they find each other at the end? And if they do, at what cost to others? That this aspect of the novel did not attract me is not to say that it was poorly written, but only that my interests lay elsewhere, given my particular past experiences and age.
What did interest me is Adichie’s penetration of race, racial bigotry and inequality. Obinze and Ifemelu are separated. Ifemelu goes to the America with her aunt, but after 9/11 Obinze cannot get into America and immigrates to London. Political turmoil in Nigeria and the impossibility of getting a good education at home is what forces both abroad. Both experience how it is to be without family in a foreign country as an immigrant, Obinze an illegal immigrant. Ifemelu learns what it is to be an African Black in North America. Both flounder. The central themes remain love relationships and race.
As with all books it is the reader’s own experiences that influence how one perceives a book’s content. How do I compare my own immigrant experiences with those portrayed in the novel and why are they different? To what extent are blacks discriminated against in the US today in comparison to Europe? I look with admiration at the US and think how wonderful it is that Obama, a black could become president. That does say something, no matter how you twist or turn it. That Adichie isn’t satisfied, that she reveals to me, a non-black, the inequalities that still remain is only admirable. Through her characters you come to understand on a ground level the inequalities that remain. You understand on a personal level. One example: in all the women’s magazines there are article after article about what eye shadow works best for brown or blue or green eyes, but what if you have black eyes? There are full discussions of what to do with straight, wavy or curly hair, but where is there help for kinky hair? Yeah, there STILL isn’t total equality, total acceptance of all our differences. I like that the book made me more aware of what is to be black on a daily basis. There is also the difference of being a Black-American and the difference of being a Non-American Black. Being colored, Hispanic versus African versus Asian, are all different. A Black-American lives with the baggage of historical discrimination in the US.
Narration of the audiobook by Adjoa Andoh is excellent, albeit a bit difficult for those, like me, who are not accustomed to the many different black accents. I had to listen carefully. I am glad I had a chance to do this through this audiobook.
I believe how you will react to this book will be determined by the theme that most draws your attention. You may be enthralled by the love story or like me just interested in current racial and immigrant injustices. (less)
Currently free in the Kindle format. In France it is called Trois Femmes. Is this going to be a waste of time? I just made such a mistake. Do I do it...moreCurrently free in the Kindle format. In France it is called Trois Femmes. Is this going to be a waste of time? I just made such a mistake. Do I do it all over again? I have three days to make up my mind.(less)
I wasn't sure I was going to read this book. I thought it was a young adult book. In some ways it is; it deals with young adults and their search for...moreI wasn't sure I was going to read this book. I thought it was a young adult book. In some ways it is; it deals with young adults and their search for what will determine their future choices in life. Having completed the book I feel the primary audience is not just young adults. Maybe this is one of those special books that can be read by everyone. It surprised me. The topics covered expanded as the novel continued. And I loved the ending, when I read it. It tied in perfectly with other themes presented earlier in the novel. However, with further consideration, I realize I cannot see this as a viable or good ending. I believe it is the reader's attitude to the ending that will determine if they give this book three or four stars. I chose three.. I actually recommend reading this book just to ponder the question of whether the denouement was good or bad! I am not quite sure what I think…….
Below follows some of my thoughts as I read the book.
This book is special because it speaks in very simple, ordinary words of our emotions: how mothers feel for their children when they are young and as they grow older, how teenagers feel when they first experience infatuation, sex and love. The lines are so simple and yet so true. It is also perceptively expresses a son's deep love and understanding for his mother. It is the simplicity of the language that is remarkable.
I love the simplicity of the lines. I love their directness. But at the same time I often find myself wondering who this book is written for. Is it a coming-of-age novel written for young adults or is it for adults reminiscing about their years raising kids? I believe it is more for the latter, but I am unsure.
One minor criticism I have is that I believe children today are a bit more adult and "world wise" than they are portrayed in these pages. The lines are cute, perceptive and most often true, even if the kids seem excessively naïve at times. Lena and Vaclav were born in the early 1990s.
This book is about having family, but at the same time it is about not having a family. Vaclav and Lena are both children of immigrant Russians. The book is about their relationship. Vaclav has a family, but Lena is an orphan, an orphan in a country, where she has no one, cannot speak the language and has not been caught up and cared for by the proper childcare authorities or anyone else until….. and then wait and see what happens!
Lena's parents are gone. She lived with an old woman called her babushka, but it is not clear that this woman really was her grandmother. No one had introduced English to this small child of five. Vaclav and Lena live in Brooklyn. When Lena's babushka dies, under grisly circumstances in the bathtub, the authorities step in. An aunt is dug up, but this aunt is only interested in the childcare stipend. The authorities decide the child is best placed with her aunt. This small child had in two days time come to feel comfortable, safe and somewhat secure with her room and a few adults (Anna and "Toast") Again she was moved.
Lena was starting to miss Anna, and even Toast.
What is there for a Lena-type person to do in this situation? What is there to do when you are a person who is young and small? When you own only the clothes you are wearing and the one barrette clipped into your hair, which is always sliding out of place and getting stuck in the knots behind your ears? When you do not have a phone or any phone numbers to call? Even if you thought that someone like Anna, might be able to help you and make you feel better, even if that might be true, how would you even begin to think about how to make a plan to get out of the situation you are in, which is making you feel very, very bad? Even if you start to feel, in your aunt's car, that you would like to be anywhere else in the world, that you do not want to go where you are going, what can you do? (page 199)
Lena's world is depicted perceptively, honestly and in very simple terms.
Do not worry. What I am telling you is not a spoiler.
Or is the book about the sloppiness of childcare authorities? Wouldn't someone check out the aunt's housing and who she was as a person? Read the book to find out. Actually the events are more complicated than one might think.
So the book is about family relationships, about orphans, about childcare services. It is a coming of age novel. It can be read and enjoyed by one of any age. It is also about dreams and hopes and magic. In addition it closes with a wonderful message, but a message I would have difficulty following. The reading experience is enjoyable from start to finish. And the end? Read the book to find out where you stand! Does the book deserve four stars anyway? One never really knows what will happen after the pages close. Ughh, I cannot decide between three and four stars. My ending would be so boring. (less)
I am so annoyed with good reads. I explained about this book and what motivated me to bump it up to my "wishlist" shelf. It diasppeared. And I am tire...moreI am so annoyed with good reads. I explained about this book and what motivated me to bump it up to my "wishlist" shelf. It diasppeared. And I am tired of their moving everything around at GR. I am tired of all the "Alices". And now you cannot click on "see review" for those books you have already written reviews of. You have to edit them, save them unchanged, close the saved box - THEN, finally then, the review is visible. Tell me, what is better about this?!
The sample wove history of Ellis Island well into thr narrative. Historical fiction based on some true events and people. So I bumped this up to my wishlist. (less)