Friday, October 19, 2007

A Thousand Spendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I think everyone has or is reading this book. It is wonderful. I have read that many think it is better than Hosseini's first book, The Kite Runner. Personally, I liked The Kite Runner better, but it was close.

This one is about women in Afghanistan. There are plenty of places to go for a plot summery, so if you are interested in that, check it out on Amazon.

What I want to emphsis about this book is the history the author so wonderfully wove into the story. I felt absolutly stupid as I read that I didn't know more of the history of this country than I did. We went to war there, and our army is still there "peacekeeping." You would think I would have a better handle on the history of a place where my nephew was stationed in the army. But I did not. I am glad to have read this book for that reason alone.

And I knew about the really apalling treatment of some women in this part of the world, but this novel really brings it home. At one point in the story a husband makes his wife chew stones because he thinks his rice is undercooked. She breaks her teeth. I shudder. Things like this make parts of the book really hard to read. But there is a lesson here and I wish ....I don't know what I wish. Maybe that more people would read the book? It is a hard thing not to be able to change things but knowledge is power they say. There is my rant for the day.

Read this book.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

I love love love this book. It is exceedingly beautiful. The language is so gorgeous I wanted to just sink into it and never come out.

The story is told by Trond Sander a 67 year old man, recently moved to a remote cabin in the soon to be winterland of Norway, and his recollections of a summer with his father in another remote cabin where things happen to change his life forever. Much of that story is based on WWII and its aftermath. The current story is tied to the past in unexpected ways and the whole tapestry is a portrait of a life defined by an event.

This is not a sweeping saga, it is very controlled. And therein lies its pleasure. I was surprised by things that happened in this story, but it all felt inevitable. I liked Trond very much even though he was still a man who was "becoming." I think this book should be read without knowing much about it because it has moments that will indeed take your breath away.

It is a translation from the Norwegian and the translator is also a poet. I think that shows in the beauty of her construction.

Get this book!! Read it and tell others to read it. It deserves a wide audience.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Three Books

I have been a bad blogger. I have read three books and not written a word about them. I can not even claim to be too busy, maybe just lazy. Ah well, what's a woman to do?

First, The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison. I read this for my book group. It was pretty much panned by all of us. It is the story of two women in New York who become friends and it follows that friendship over decades. The title comes from a book loaned from one to the other on their first meeting. There is a novel within a novel in this book and the interior novel is called Trolley Girls. The reason this book was mostly disliked by my group was that we all found the characters pretty unlikable. Not enough to be villains you love to hate, but enough that it was hard to relate to any of them. Not recommended.

The second book is also a book club selection which we will be discussing next month. I ripped through this book in a day. How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward. This is the story of two sisters who are dealing a decade after it happened with the disappearance of their little sister. The family was dysfunctional to begin with and the loss of the youngest sister spiraled them further into destructive behaviors. When the mother thinks she has found a photo of the missing sister, all grown up, one of the girls goes west to find her. The plot is sort of unreal, but still these are people that I cared about and it was a good read.

Finally, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. When you live in Wisconsin and Illinois, you are to some degree bound to know about Frank Lloyd Wright and his work and life. This is the story (fictionalized) of what was perhaps his greatest love affair with the married Mamah Borthwick Cheney. It was the scandal of the day and reporters followed the couple to Europe and harassed their families back in Illinois. The story focuses on Mamah who was a feminist and translator of Swedish feminist Ellen Key's books and essays. The famous Taliesin built in Spring Green, Wisconsin was where Frank and Mamah lived until a major tragedy struck.

I really liked this book. It puts a very personal face on the legend that is Frank Lloyd Wright and there was much here that I didn't know. A very worthwhile read.

Friday, September 07, 2007

I've Heard the Vultures Singing by Lucia Perillo

Lucia Perillo is a poet. That is how I came to know her and I love her work. When this new title came out, I was expecting poetry. I was surprised to get a book of essays. And delighted.

Perillo has MS as do I. This book explores what it is like to deal with a debilitating disease and the losses caused by that disease, especially when that person was so independent. Perillo used to work as a naturalist and spend huge amounts of time alone, outdoors, doing very physical things. Now she is in a wheelchair. Not that this book is a whine, more of an explanation with some bitching thrown in for good measure.

I kept reading parts aloud to my husband prefaced with, "wow, she really gets this right, this is exactly how I feel."

And maybe that is why I liked this book so well. She gets it right. But that is according to me. Our experiences are similar. Someone else with MS might feel completely different. A disease like MS with so many permutations is hard to pin down. And personality plays such a big role in how a person deals with the day to day crap of it all.

All that aside though, Perillo, is amusing and charming and a little sad and a total pleasure to read. Get this book!

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks

I began this trilogy when the first book, The Traveler, came out in 2005. I feel slightly hooked into the series and plan on finishing it. That said, I would not push this book on anyone. The characters are rather flat and the writing just isn't that good. I can forgive a lot in my junk reading, but this one makes me cringe at times when I run across a less than lyrical passage--okay, way less than lyrical.

So why am I going to finish the trilogy--so many books so little time and all that? I guess because I like the idea of it. I know there are other books out there about big brother watching and the taking away of our freedoms and privacy and people living off the grid, but this one came to me at just the right time after 911 when these started becoming major concerns of mine.

I was still working in a public library at the time and one of the big tenets of public librarianship is the right that our patrons have to privacy. Things happened after 911 that lead me to believe that that privacy was being chipped at from the highest levels of government. I did not then or now think that was right, and John Twelve Hawks got in my brain with his ideas in this area.

You know, these books are fast reads and if the topic intrigues you, go for it, you won't be alone since the book made bestseller lists all over, otherwise, I advise saving your reading time for something with a bit more meat to it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

I got this book from the library and started to read it and was not excited, then I read a blog-review and was convinced that it wasn't for me. But alas, my some of my bookgroup members had already read it, so it was too late to change. I got it back from the library and read it.

This is the story of Rachel Kalama who contracts leprosy at the age of seven and is removed from her family and sent to the island of Moloka'i. It is about her growing up on the island and dealing with her own disease and leprosy in all of the people she lives with. This is a tragic story. Hawaiians had no immunity to Hansen's disease and it hit them hard. The only way to keep the disease from spreading was isolation. But it was a mean process stealing children from parents and parents from families. This book covers the years 1891 to 1970.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the history part of this book. I knew nothing of this Hawaiian leper colony until I read this book. But I didn't think it was particularly well written. I think because the writing felt too contemporary, especially in the beginning when it starts in the late 1800's. I guess ultimately it was too lightweight for the topic.

Last year I read a book called The Pearl Diver by Jeff Talarigo about a Japanese pearl diver who contract Hansen's disease and is sent to an island in Japan. It was so much better, that if I was going to recommend a novel on this subject, this would be the one.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It took me ages to finish this book. In fact it is overdue at the library even as I write. I think I read four other books while in the process of reading this one. And it is such a good book that my excuse may seem lame, but here is it. This book was so sad and heartbreaking that I just had to take breaks from it. The plot was good, and it is incredibly well written and I have already advised a number of reader friends of mine to get it, but it still hurt my heart so much, that I couldn't read it straight through.

The big picture of this story is the war between the Nigerians and the Biafrans in the early 1960's. Adichie doesn't hold anything back. The starvation and rapes and genocide is all in here and it will break your heart. But it is the smaller stories that will really stay with you when you are finished with this book.

There is 13 year old Ugwu who becomes a houseboy for a university professor. He is a wonderful, smart young man who aims to please and who loves his job. His fate is the one that I think I followed most closely because I really liked him as a character.

The professor's love is the beautiful Olanna who has a twin sister Kainene. They come from a good family and are passionate about the cause of Biafra and about the men in their lives. They are quite different from each other, and how they come together is a big part of this story.

And Kainene's love interest is Richard. An English ex-pat who came to Africa to write and ended up being caught up, by choice, in the war and the war effort. In a moment of drunken foolishness he has sex with Kainene's sister and that changes everything.

This is such a sweeping novel I feel that it is hard to do it justice without giving too much away. If you know the history of Africa, you know how the war ended, but it is the small dramas of these characters that make this a stunning novel, perhaps the best that I have read this year.