Man was a quiet and simple book to read. It is a novella really, composed of short chapters – some just one or 2 paragraphs long- that I read over twMan was a quiet and simple book to read. It is a novella really, composed of short chapters – some just one or 2 paragraphs long- that I read over two evenings. But what great pleasure….
Kim Thuy has been in the best sellers list here in Canada with her previous book Ru. I have not read it, although it has been in my radar for a time, then I came across this edition of Man: light blue hardcover with a picture on the overleaf that hypnotised me. I could not resist it.
The surprise is the story, which charmed me. Kim Thuy’s writing is economical and poetical. She does not make grand turns of the language or over dramatize it. The first person narration suits the character’s gentleness and subtle ways.
The immigrant narrative always touches me. It could not be otherwise, as I am an immigrant myself and the experience of living in an alien culture defines who I am in many ways. The relationship between culture and food has been explored in other books before, but Kim Thuy does it here with language that subverts the genre. Memories, flavours, vocabulary, sacrifices and ultimately love are articulated with a lyrical cadence.
Next time I am drawn to a book in a bookstore, as I was by this edition, I am going to trust my instincts with more confidence… ...more
I had another case of “too high expectation kills the book” which is not the book’s fault per se. It started well enough, but the mystical/Buddhist/quI had another case of “too high expectation kills the book” which is not the book’s fault per se. It started well enough, but the mystical/Buddhist/quantum physics ending just did not work that well for me. It felt artificial. It is too bad, as actually my bookclub is just restarting after a couple of years hiatus, and I chose this book for our first discussion. I should know better than choosing a book I have not read… ...more
I confess that I didn’t like this book that much. The 3 stars are there because I do recognize the literary merits of Laurence’s writing. Actually herI confess that I didn’t like this book that much. The 3 stars are there because I do recognize the literary merits of Laurence’s writing. Actually her character development is also very good. But I had such a dislike for Hagar, the main character that it impeded any enjoyment of the book.
I have before read books where I found the writing lacking, and yet I liked the story and characters. I have been left after reading such books with the sad feeling that the story had deserved a better writer. This one, in the other hand, left with the sad feeling that Margaret Laurence deserved a better story.
Oh, I have read enough dislikeable characters, and yet enjoyed the book. Here though my reaction was visceral. I could not find any empathy for this hateful woman. I am glad that you finally died Hagar and that the book was over… ...more
My maternal grandfather was in his late teens when a woman – a teacher I imagine – taught him the sounds of letters. He then taught himself to read anMy maternal grandfather was in his late teens when a woman – a teacher I imagine – taught him the sounds of letters. He then taught himself to read and write. I don’t know many details of this story, as it didn’t seem necessary to keep the details from generation to generation. But when I read about David approaching the one room school teacher Mary about learning how to read, I could not stop thinking of my own grandfather.
Here is the passage that follows, when David is sitting at his kitchen table trying to make sense of the letters:
These crooked lines were mysterious to him; he felt as if he was learning magic. He wondered what great man had invented them. “Perhaps,” he thought, “dey was a gift o’ God to men, an’ t’rough dem I kin find out somethin’ good.” .
Now, about the book… I did like it, but after this line I would had liked anything the author wrote.
Then, about my grandfather, all of his daughters became teachers; one actually went back to school in her 40’s to become a lawyer. Among his grandkids there are 3 lawyers, a dentist, a civil engineer, a nutritionist, a computer analyst, and a business major. And all of his great-grandchildren of the right age are now attending university. ...more
This book is as beautiful as it is heart-breaking. It was an emotional marathon to read it, and more than once I had to push myself to keep on readingThis book is as beautiful as it is heart-breaking. It was an emotional marathon to read it, and more than once I had to push myself to keep on reading it. Yet, as a Canadian – albeit an adopted one - I felt that I had to do it. One of the most important reasons why we tell and listen/read stories is so we can avoid letting history repeat itself.
Richard Wagamese tells the story of a residential school survivor with compassion and beauty. Although a work of fiction, the story of Saul Indian Horse is a common one in its basic facts – an aboriginal child striped of family and culture who eventually turns to alcohol to deal with the emotional scars of his experiences in the school, and the racism and bigotry he meets when he comes out of it.
To me it is a serious reminder of the danger of rightness and cultural fundamentalism – the idea that one culture should be imposed on other.
I would like to push this book on everyone, but especially on Canadians. ...more
This is Alice Munro at her best. I read somewhere that the stories in this book are shorter than most of her other short-stories and it is true, we arThis is Alice Munro at her best. I read somewhere that the stories in this book are shorter than most of her other short-stories and it is true, we are told only the most essential, and then, the amazing thing is what is not told. What, as the reader, we are left to wonder.
I think I did this book a disservice though. I could not avoid reading one story after the other; finishing one just in time to start another. I used to be a smoker, many years ago when it was still fashionable to do so. But I smoked 2 or 3 cigarettes a day, usually after a meal, while drinking an espresso – I lived in Brazil at the time and this was just the thing to do. Until the odd weekend when there was a party, and I sometimes would light one cigarette on the one I was just about finishing. It could not be avoided at that moment, but I would regret it the next day. This excess did not add to the overall pleasure of smoking, but detracted from it. So it was with this book. Each story should had been savored a bit longer, but I could not stop myself. And I now regret it… Then, be advised, pace yourself, if you can. And do not pick up smoking either, even if just 2 or 3 a day. ...more
I had a very hard time getting into this book. I tried 3 or 4 times, and I just couldn’t get past the first chapters. I am glad though that I insistedI had a very hard time getting into this book. I tried 3 or 4 times, and I just couldn’t get past the first chapters. I am glad though that I insisted and returned to it. There is so much here: art, friendship, love, betrayal, jealousy… all against the background of WWII. After fighting so hard to read it, this book grew on me, and has not let me go. I finished it 4 days ago, and I am still thinking about it: how one single action can change people’s story – or can it? And how do we live with the guilt of our actions?
At the end, I am giving it 4 stars. There is too much in here…, have I said that ?...more
I feel I have not given this book the attention and merits it deserved. First, I finished reading it 2 books ago, and only now I come here to write aI feel I have not given this book the attention and merits it deserved. First, I finished reading it 2 books ago, and only now I come here to write a review. Then, I read it in phases over various weeks, and it definitely deserves to be read in a shorter period of time, with more dedication than I gave it.
I just have to read it again! This time I think I will wait for a long summer weekend at the lake. I want to laugh out loud at the idiosyncrasies of Eli Sisters, the hired for assassin and narrator, who alternates from a simpleton naivety to philosophical questionings about life, death, family and loyalty.
Great, light reading (if you don’t take the atrocities committed throughout the book too close to heart). Highly recommended! ...more
I should try reading Lanes’ poetry. I like his use of language very much. But in this memoir he felt so intoxicated with his own words, he sometimes wI should try reading Lanes’ poetry. I like his use of language very much. But in this memoir he felt so intoxicated with his own words, he sometimes went on and on without any thread of a story to hold me there. I love language, but I need plot more than just once in a long while.
I also felt betrayed by the idea that this is a memoir. It is more a confession and a diary. He does reminisce about his life, but it is done in such way that at times I felt I was eavesdropping in a soliloquy that was never meant to be heard by anyone.
Yet, yet..., there are some jewels in here. The few pages where he talks of his love of words are the best I remember reading from any writer explaining the same love. And the sincere sympathy he portraits for his father’s murderer does reveal something bigger about the man that Patrick Lane must be.
3 stars are maybe unfair. They only mean: “I like it” no more, no less. ...more
For years I had been waiting for Anne Michaels to write this book. I loved her first novel, Fugitive Pieces, and wanted to read more of her work. Or,For years I had been waiting for Anne Michaels to write this book. I loved her first novel, Fugitive Pieces, and wanted to read more of her work. Or, more precisely, wanted her to write more “Fugitive Pieces”. In a twisted way, I got exactly what I wanted... and I feel disappointed about it!
All the elements of her first work are present in The Winter Vault: the poetic and intricate writing; the historical and geological research; characters that dwell in a philosophical cosmos beyond that of the majority; the question of how individuals survive unimaginable loss. Yet, while Fugitive Pieces seemed at the time- I want to now re-read it to confirm it – lyrical and dense on the same doses, there was a profound beauty in the character’s search for meaning and emotional survival after the horrors that they suffered and witnessed.
In The Winter Vault, though, I failed to connect to the character in the same way. Their pain and philosophical intensity seems exaggerate. I don’t want to diminish the pain of their loss, but I felt manipulate by the author. And her writing, which still carries a most poetic voice, seemed too studied. Then, I felt tired of the profound and pensive messages in every page. I do love that a book tells me truths outside the direct realm of the plot, but when those are delivered every thirty lines of so, I cannot avoid feeling weary of it.
I am considering now to read some of Anne Michaels poetry. Poetry was her first medium, and I have a feeling that she excels at it, as the intensity of her writing would be more suited to poems than to fiction. ...more
I am maybe being too harsh giving this book only 3 stars. Overall it was an enjoyable book, and a great sneak pick at the lives of medical students anI am maybe being too harsh giving this book only 3 stars. Overall it was an enjoyable book, and a great sneak pick at the lives of medical students and new doctors. And this is also where I found fault with this book. At the end it felt a bit contrived. That the book has autobiographical tinges is obvious (or I assume it anyway). And certainly this does not take away from its merits, but I do feel curious to read Vincent Lam writings about something other than his own immediate experiences. I will pay attention for any follow up books anyway. ...more
I feel I owe an apology to the person on my bookclub that chose this book. I don’t know from where exactly come by negative bias, but I was under theI feel I owe an apology to the person on my bookclub that chose this book. I don’t know from where exactly come by negative bias, but I was under the impression that this would be yet another romantic melodrama. Yes, it is a romantic book as the main theme is love, unrequited love actually, but Elizabeth Hay never let us down into commonplace. The prose is poetic, and the background of the Canadian North is suggestive. Here is what the Canadian magazine Walrus has to say about it, as they say so much better than I could:
Late Nights On Air is set in a small Yellowknife radio station in 1975, where two young women are learning on the job as novice broadcasters reading the news during the slow hours of the night. A radio station is a perfect setting for writing about the isolation and the community of the North.
One of them, the alluring Dido Paris, is a natural, with a voice “like a tarnished silver spoon.” The other is a shy but unswerving easterner, Gwen Symon. It was a cbc radio drama about the English explorer John Hornby and his fatal journey into the Barrens that compelled Gwen to get in her car and drive over 3,000 miles to see the tundra for herself. Hornby, in fact, is the ghostly central character of Hay’s story.
People pull up stakes abruptly in the North, and so do the multiple characters in this book, which is a bit unnerving. Once several affairs are set in motion among the staff, the story abandons the radio station and moves out into the landscape. Two couples embark on a six-week canoe trip where the evocation of the tundra — its emptiness, silence, and delicate beauty — is stunning, almost a new species of erotica. Hay portrays the tender bonds that are forged (and broken) in such wild places.
The novel brims with curious data, too. In the course of her story, Hay swoops down like a raven on odd, shiny bits of information about the North. The tufts of soft muskox hair that snag on branches in the bush are called qiviut; the violet shades of the northern lights are due to nitrogen; the sound of someone crawling into a tent pitched on dry lichen in the tundra is a dry crackling, like wrapping paper. Nothing seems to escape her. This is Hay’s best novel yet. ...more
I found this book at a discount bin, and for the price decided to give it a try. I have been drawn to essays and memoirs lately. I was actually surpriI found this book at a discount bin, and for the price decided to give it a try. I have been drawn to essays and memoirs lately. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it, although I have to say that I don’t think it is a book to be read from cover to cover. I browsed and read parts of it over the past month, and there are probably parts I never got around to reading, and pieces I reread just for the pleasure of the language. I loved his insights and recollections of growing up in the Jewish area of Montreal, and I think I appreciated his writing here better than when I read some of his fiction. I may even go back to reread his fiction. After so many years I may have a different appreciation of it. ...more
A copy of The Diviners had sat at my bookshelves for a while now. It won the Governor’s General Award – a prestigious Canadian award - in 1974, and haA copy of The Diviners had sat at my bookshelves for a while now. It won the Governor’s General Award – a prestigious Canadian award - in 1974, and has been part of the Canadian literature must-reads since. I finally got to it this week. The story is told through flashbacks, fabled tales, conversations with an imaginary person, philosophical questionings... The format may have been fresh on the 1970’s, but seemed a bit dated. Yet, the story is abiding. The search for self-identity, in a nation that also seems to be perpetually in an identity crisis.
The personal grief and struggle of never overcoming the barriers of gender, race and social stigma is beautifully weaved through the story with disquieting prose. Margaret Laurence’s writing is very poetic at times, but without unnecessary romanticism. She was accused of destroying family values with this book. Even of the increase in teenage pregnancies during the 70’s. This bigotry is almost comical, when the search of roots and connection permeates the whole lives of Morag Gunn, the main character, her daughter, Pique, and her lover, Jules.