Monday, 15 October 2018

News of Our Loved Ones

Finished October 1
News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt

This novel looks at one French family and how key moments changed the stories that they would live. The family lives in Normandy, in a village that was occupied by the Nazis in World War II. Some of them will stay in the village, some will go to Paris, and some even further away.
The story moves around in time, moving backwards and forwards and focusing on different people as they meet significant moments in their lives.
From a young girl's crush on a boy she sees from her window, to a doctor's visit, to a hobby of painting, to a walk along a Paris street, each character has moment where their story turned and became a different story.
This is a story of family, of the stories that make a shared history, of how a small moment can affect a life. I really enjoyed it.

Where the Wild Cherries Grow

Finished September 29
Where the Wild Cherries Grow by Laura Madeleine

This light novel takes place in two time periods, 1919 and 1969.
In 1919, Emeline Vane, a young woman, is still grieving the loss of all but her youngest brother, Timothy, in the war, and the deaths of her parents. Her father had left the house that they lived in on the coast of England, but no money. Her uncle has agreed to pay for the schooling of her young brother, but is insisting that the house be sold. Emeline is in a state of grief in which she is barely surviving. She is not eating, and for her the house represents the last bit of their family life.
When her uncle arranges for her to be sent away to a rest home in Switzerland, she seizes a moment in the train station in Paris and runs away.
She has no money, and no destination. She only knows that she doesn't want to be shut away for her own good.
In the later time period, Timothy's daughter is seizing a time when her father is very ill in hospital to seek to declare her long missing aunt dead, so that she can sell the estate to a developer. Because of the rush she is in, she goes to the lawyers who have been looking after the estate for all these years, a small firm, where a new lawyer, Bill Perch, is given the task as his first case. Bill goes to the house and finds information there that shows Emeline's state of mind, but there is something about her and the situation that makes him want to do the job right and try to find her if she is still alive.
As Bill follows in Emeline's path, we see him grow into a determined young man, as we see Emeline find a new future for herself that is not so very far from where she left.
A story around grief, love, and faith that hooked me and kept me reading.

La Femme De Gilles

Finished September 28
La Femme De Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, introduction by Elisa Albert, translated and with an afterword by Faith Evans

This short novel by a young Belgian writer, was first published in France in 1937, and with World War II soon upon the country, her work became largely overlooked. The story is set in a rural area of Belgium, and follows Elisa, a young mother, as she finds that her husband is having an affair.
Her reaction is the story.
Elisa lives near her family, and visits them often, but doesn't have a confiding relationship with them, and shares her pain with no one. She observes her husband and his distracted nature and watches him. She even follows him on one occasion when he leaves the house in the evening, Elisa has two young children and is pregnant with her third. In her time and place, leaving her marriage is not really an option that she considers. Instead, she tries to either redirect her husband's attentions, or wait out this betrayal. She hides her pain, and amazingly even offers comfort to her husband.
This is a story of obsession, of a woman burying her feelings as she tries to hang onto her world.
A poignant story.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Report from the Interior

Finished September 18
Report from the Interior by Paul Auster, read by the author

This memoir takes us from Paul's childhood through to his college days. The beginning was the most interesting to me, the random memories that he still had of those early days of moments caught in time. Memories of school, of friendships, of a love of baseball, realizing how his Jewish ancestry set him apart and his choice to embrace that.
The middle part covered two movies that made a big impression on him: The Incredible Shrinking Man and I Was a Prisoner on a Chain Gang. He describes these movies in detail, speaking of his reactions to them as they unfolded. They were very thorough and you could see the passion he had for these films, but less interesting to me as a reader.
The last part covers his college days and is taken from recently discovered letters he wrote to his first wife, Lydia Davis, which she shared with him. He has none of her letters, having not kept them, so it is very one-sided, and focused more on himself than on anything else. I found it a bit too self-centered to hold my interest.
Definitely not as good as his Winter Journal.

Orhan's Inheritance

Finished September 16
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

This novel is set in 1990, where Orhan is a young man working in his grandfather's rug business in Turkey. Orhan's grandfather Kemal took on the business after his war service in the fight against Russia in the early twentieth century. As the book begins, Kemal has died, with his body found sitting in a vat of dye. Orhan knows that by tradition, his father would inherit, but the will his grandfather wrote left the business to him, and the house to a woman that Orhan has never heard of, Seda Melkonian.
Orhan's grandfather and father have never got along well, and his father has had little to nothing to do with the business. It is Orhan and his Auntie Fatma who deal with the business.
It is a notebook of drawing, one of many his grandfather had, that the lawyer gives Orhan, that has the address of Seda. She is in a nursing home in California.
Orhan is determined to go there and meet her, not only to convince her to sell the house back to them, but also to find out why his grandfather left it to her.
The letter from Orhan preceding his arrival is a reminder of the past for Seda, a past she long ago put behind her. And as she meets with Orhan, the story takes us back to 1915, the year in which Turkey began the deportation and genocide of its Armenian citizens. As we learn Seda's story, we also learn of her connection to Kemal, and to the rug business that he ran. We also learn a lot about this part of history, a difficult and sad history.
Orhan had his own time of exile, when, as a budding young photographer, he was imprisoned for the subjects of his photographs, and eventually freed on condition of exile. Thus he lived in Germany for a few years before returning home and joining the family business. He hasn't picked up a camera in years. As he leaves to go to California, Auntie Fatma gives him his old camera and an album of his photographs, and, during his trip he finds himself slipping back into the old ways of looking again.
This is a tale of discovery, of history resurfacing, and of hope.
The author is herself of Armenian heritage and part of her impetus for writing the story was for her own children to know their history.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Finished September 14
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, translated by Ina Rilke

This short novel is told from the viewpoint of a young man who is one of a pair of young men who are sent to the mountains to be reeducated during China's Cultural Revolution. The narrator and his friend Luo are the only two sent to their remote village, and both are the sons of doctors. Another young man in a nearby village sometimes visits with them, and the two boys discover that he has a hidden suitcase of foreign novels.
There is a tailor in the region that travels from village to village making and mending clothes, who has a daughter that he mostly leaves at home. This young seamstress is friendly to the boys, and Luo begins to court her by reciting stories that he knows. Their village headman also enjoys their stories, and allows them to take time off work to go visit a larger town nearby where they could visit a cinema and return to recite the story of the film to the rest of the villagers. Luo has an extraordinary gift for storytelling, but at the times where illness strikes him, the narrator can also do a fairly good job. The narrator was also lucky enough to bring his violin, and he often played music, to distract them from their life as it was in the mountains.
When the boys are able to borrow one of the books from the boy in the next village, they read the book by Balzac often enough to memorize it, and the young seamstress is particularly enamored of this story.
We see the difficult work the boys must perform, the lonely life in the small mountain village, the release that they long for, and the ways they manipulate those around them to make their lives easier. It is a story of endurance, of hope, and of the power of story.
The author himself spent more than three years undergoing reeducation, and ten years after his release, emigrated to France.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

Finished September 13
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

This novel is based on the real life of Joy Davidman and her relationship with C.S. Lewis. Joy was an American woman, a writer and a poet, when she began writing letters to C.S. Lewis.
In 1946, Joy's husband Bill called her late one night as he was going through a mental struggle. She tried to talk reasonably to him, but this time he hung up on her. Their home was in a far-flung suburb in the Hudson Valley, a distance from town. She had two young children. As she struggled against the panic she felt, she found herself on her knees, in tears, praying, even though she was an affirmed atheist. She had an experience that she found hard to describe, but said that she felt loved and known, and at peace. Thus began her journey towards enlightenment. Shortly thereafter, she came across an article about C.S. Lewis. She had already read a couple of his books, but found his history of moving from atheism to a search for enlightenment similar to her own, and thus decided to write a letter from both herself and her husband about their struggle, their questions, and doubts.
Joy was a passionate and insightful woman, who questioned many things, was well educated, and who had her own health issues. As Lewis answered her letters, and the two began a conversation, she was treated by him as a person worthy of consideration, respect, and worth engaging in vigorous debate.
When the struggles of her marriage and her health brought her to the point where her physician recommended that she leave her circumstances for a time, it became possible for her to go to England, get more affordable healthcare, take time to write, and meet Lewis in person. She spent only a small fraction of her time there with him, living in London for the majority of her visit, and staying with friends, acquaintances, and people they referred her to. With the support she gained, she found herself able to return home and begin the dissolution of her marriage. This was not easy at that time, and her marriage being a Catholic one added to the difficulty.
This story is told from her viewpoint, with excerpts from real letters, her poetry, and other historical documents. But much of the story is an imagined one, even though Callahan makes it feel very true. Joy's devotion to her sons, her struggles with faith, and her feelings for Lewis are clear, and this isn't a fairy tale romance.
Joy struggled, as many women still do, between her sense of what was expected of her, and what she felt to be right. She make mistakes, she admitted to faults, but she kept trying to be the woman she felt herself to be, and to claim the life she felt she had earned.
A very interesting story.