News of the World by Paulette Jiles (National Book Award Finalist)

In the midst of one of the most bewildering beginnings I have read, and reread out of confusion, are absolutely gorgeous sentences that made me pause:

“…now the news of the world ages him more than time itself.”

“He had become impatient of trouble and other people’s emotions.”

“If people had true knowledge of the world perhaps they would not take up arms and so perhaps he could be an aggregator of information from distant places and then the world would be a more peaceful place. He had been perfectly serious. That illusion had lasted from age forty-nine to age sixty-five.”

Soon I have made enough sense of the story to figure out that Johanna, who was captured at the age of six by a Kiowa tribe, is being returned to her aunt and uncle who live near San Antonio by Captain Kidd. Apparently, the man who had originally agreed to the job is not capable of fulfilling it.

She is a feral child, if that is what means to be unable to bear shoes, and tightly cinched dresses, and the abolishment of every adornment (including a dress with elk teeth) she had previously worn.

Torn from her parents, adopted by a strange culture, given new parents, then sold for a few blankets and some old silverware, now sent to stranger after stranger, crushed into peculiar clothing, surrounded by people of an unknown language and an unknown culture, only ten years old, and now she could not even eat her food without having to use outlandish instruments.

Halfway through the novel I know the Captain cares too much about this German girl, who lives and acts like the Kiowa with whom she has lived. We sense that his own two daughters are weak and simpering; in contrast, he seems to admire the strength and ferocity of ten year old Johanna. He feels great compassion for her situation, stolen from her German parents who had been brutally murdered, and then her Kiowa parents; now she is floundering and lost. She is one of those children, as Doris Dillon (a character in the novel) says, “is forever falling.” They both know he is her protection in an unpredictable world.

Yet, he is compelled to make their way through great travail back to her family, and we sense the bond between them growing ever stronger. A man of seventy-two, who reads the news for ten cents apiece from those who want to hear it, has become the grandfather of a girl who once lived with the Kiowa.
They make a strange pair, but who is to say what forms a family? Quite possibly the definition lies in an emotional bond which cannot be severed. Certainly it is not simply the blood which flows through our veins.

As for home, is that a place to which we are born? Or, a place to which we have been taken?

I feel that Paulette Jiles wants to make the case for the estrangement of children who had been kidnapped by the Native Americans, that somehow those children always want to return to that life instead of the “civilized” European life. But, for me the issue is more about the relationship formed by Captain Kidd in his attachment to this child. And, her attachment to him.

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The Stand (The Complete and Uncut Edition) by Stephen King. Breathlessly finished.

Deliver us from evil.

It’s a phrase I have repeated over and over in my life, especially when I have been most afraid. It is the only thing I know to say in the face of darkness and fear; that or the words, “I love you.” Even Stephen King knows that evil cannot stand for long against light. Laughter. Or, love.

The characters in this novel know, without needing to be told, who Mother Abagail and the dark man are. They feel the powers at war within themselves; they have dreams which will not let them sleep. And, they are called. Some make their way to Boulder, Colorado where the forces of good are gathering under Mother Abagail’s guidance. Some make their way to Las Vegas, so aptly nicknamed Sin City.

But he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand.You will go, and you will not falter, because you will have the Everlasting Arm of the Lord God of Hosts to lean on. Yes. With God’s help you will stand. (p. 904)

My mother has often suggested that the Enemy is not ugly at all. Because he is the father of lies, the ultimate deceiver, perhaps he is really quite handsome. Perhaps he wears a jacket with two buttons on the front pockets, blue jeans, and low-heeled cowboy boots such as the Walkin’ Dude does.

Perhaps the plague which annihilated most of the world’s population was begun by scientists with less than honorable intentions. Or, perhaps the very hand of Satan was behind their invention gone awry. In any case, the world which Stephen King created in this novel does not seem as far fetched as it once might have been. In fact, the scariest part of all is that it feels downright possible.

Until the very end we are drawn into the battle, witnessing the stand of courage against that which frightens us most.

Yet, I will fear no evil. Even when it seems it will not be vanquished.

German Lit Month Has Arrived

I remember the books I’ve read for the challenges sponsored by fellow bibliophiles with great fondness. I would not have found The Virginian by Owen Wister, had it not been for a Western Challenge hosted by James. I would not have read Kafka On The Shore had I not hosted the first Japanese Lit Challenge. I would not have read Skylight by Jose Saramago if not for Stu and Richard‘s Spanish Lit Month, nor Therese Raquin without Thyme for Tea‘s event, Paris in July. And, I would not have read Buddenbrooks had I not picked it up for German Lit Month which comes around each November.

While I have several books on my night stand for Richard’s Argentinean Literature of Doom event, namely Buenos Aires Noire recently sent to me from Akashic Books, I am sorely tempted to read Effi Briest for German Lit Month, which came wholeheartedly recommended by Tom the last time November rolled around. (Or, was it the year before?)

imageAssuming that I can come through conferences unscathed, meaning not depleted of every ounce of energy remaining since Halloween’s tricks and treats, that is the book I will embark upon, with Peirene Press’ Dance by The Canal closely following.

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The review site can be found here.)

Readathon Ready

The house is clean. The apples have been picked. The stack of books lie in wait. Tomorrow is Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon, a blogging event I took part of at its inception, now faithfully carried on by Andi and others.

Included in the stack above, from the bottom up, are:

Doorways of Paris by Raquel Puig

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

The Scarred Woman by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Behind the Eyes We Meet by Melissa Verreault

Dance By The Canal by Kerstin Hensel

Melville, a novel by Jean Giono

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Sweet Potato by Kim Tongin

Buenos Aires Noir edited by Ernesto Mallo

Not once have I read for the full twenty-four hours, and I’m sure I won’t tomorrow. For one thing, it is my husband’s birthday, and my parents are coming to help us celebrate. So at some point in the day I will need to make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

But, all the time before, and all the time after, I will be exacerbating the pain in my tailbone by reading as much as I possibly can. When I must lie down, it will be with the audio version of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, to which I am listening as I drive to school each day. It is remarkable.

And you? How will you be spending the weekend?

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

On clearer days, I could see far beyond the trees on the opposite bank of the river, a pale outline of hills visible against the clouds. It was not an unpleasant view, and on occasions it brought me a rare sense of relief from the emptiness of those long afternoons I spent in that apartment.

It seems a perfect day to be reading such a book, A Pale View of Hills, with the pale view outside of my own front window. The atmosphere within my living room contributes to the atmosphere Kazuo Ishiguro has created, one of mystery and sorrow. One of nostalgia and regret.

The English are fond of their idea that our race (Japanese) has an instinct for suicide, as if further explanations are unnecessary; for that was all they reported, that she was Japanese and that she had hung herself in her room.

Etsuko has lost her eldest daughter to suicide, and at first that is what I thought the novel was going to be about. But, it is really Etsuko’s reminiscences about the past, about her friend who lived in a small cottage in Nagasaki with her daughter, Mariko.

Sachiko is a mysterious woman. She laughingly avoids direct questions, she seems unperturbed by the way that her daughter disappears, or that her daughter is able to visit with a woman whom no one else can see. She lets Mariko stay out after dark for long hours, far longer than I could ever have allowed, and in the end, breaks her promise to Mariko about keeping her little kittens. In Sachiko’s mind, the small, dirty animals could never come to their new home, following an American man who will become the new husband, the new father.

It doesn’t matter how old someone is, it’s what they’ve experienced that counts.

She asserts that her daughter, Mariko, will be fine in America.

It’s a better place for a child to grow up. And she’ll have far more opportunities there; life’s much better for a woman in America.

But perhaps this is what she tells herself, in trying to believe that she is doing the right thing in leaving Japan. Parts of the novel refer to the old way of life in Japan, when the elders taught respect, when women followed their husband’s wishes. Ishiguro points to the loudness of Americans in their big cars, a point I feel acutely myself, and even the English way of life is brought in for contrast.

In Japanese cities, much more so than in England, the restaurant owners, the teahouse proprietors, the shopkeepers all seem to will the darkness to fall; long before the daylight has faded, lanterns appear in the windows, lighted signs above doorways.

Ultimately we close the book, turning the last page, without much knowledge of Etsuko’s daughter or her death. In fact, one can’t help wondering if this daugher, Keiko, and Mariko are so similar they could be the same girl. Surely when Etsuko was talking to Mariko she promised her, that if things were terrible, they could return. Is Etsuko confusing the events of her life? Or, is her memory rearranges things to make them more palatable?

This is a lovely novel, a brief and atmospheric story of a mother’s love for her child; a mother’s hopes for the future while turning over the past in her mind. Have you read it? Do you have another interpretation? Please tell me in a comment below, and let me know if you have a review to which I can link.

I read it for the Japanese Literature Challenge 11, but also to think of Kazuo Ishiguro as he received the Nobel Prize for Literature last week.

Find another review from BookManiac here.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

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As he’s speaking, a sharp, loud sound carries through the woods. Two cracks, then several more. Pops, like balloons bursting. Or fireworks. She tries to imagine what anyone could be doing in a zoo that would sound like small explosions…

There is another bang. Another and another. It sounds too loud to be balloons, too infrequent to be a jackhammer.

The birds are silent, but the leaves keep skittering down.

The tension is real from the very first chapter. It is the kind of tension I key right into. What was that sound? What if I arrive at the gate too late, and the park is closed locking me within? Worse, what if something endangers my son?

The quiet man and the loud man are in the zoo,  hunting. People have fallen in various positions all around the entrance, and more are in hiding, particularly Joan and her four year old son, Lincoln.

She has her cell phone, from which she has informed her husband that  she is hiding with their son in the empty porcupine cage. She is behind a huge rock, telling her son to be quiet while she holds him tightly against herself, and the tension is palatable. I feel that I am her, hiding, hoping desperately that I will not be found.

I am her, holding my son, who when he was four asked the same kind of existential questions Lincoln asks. “What do strangers look like?” my son once asked me. “How can bad people be happy?” Lincoln asks his mother when he hears the men with guns laugh.

When Joan leaves her hiding place with her four year old, because he is hungry and she wants to find him something to eat, I want to scream, “Don’t leave! You have been safe where you are.” But they venture forth, finding a living colobus monkey standing over a fallen one, a dead elephant which at first appears to be an “ink-stain shape on the ground.”

This novel is mesmerizing and terrifying on several counts. For once, it’s not the gone girl, or the disappearing woman, or a girl on a train.  It’s a mother, in a situation which feels entirely possible in today’s world. It’s a mother and a son and evil, twisted men that are scarier than a clown holding some balloons could ever be.

How about a read-along for Kazuo Ishiguro?

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I found it so exciting when Kazuo Ishiguro was determined the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature this week! So many recipients of previous awards the last few years (Man Booker, I’m looking at you) have not only been surprising to me, they have been utterly disappointing.

But, this is a new day! And we have so many works of Ishiguro’s to choose from. The Unconsoled is my favorite, but it is long, and therefore perhaps not the book for this busy autumn season. I suggest:

Never Let Me Go

or

A Pale View of Hills

or

Remains of the Day

Would any of you like to read one of these with me? (None of the three are more than 280 pages.) We could take our time, casually reading and discussing through what remains of October. Let me know what you think, for I would rather read with you than alone.

xo,

Bellezza

Update: It seems that some of us will read two: A Pale View of Hills and Remains of the Day. I think we should take October to read which we like, some even prefer Never Let Me Go, and at the end of the month I will host a round up. At that point, I will pose a few questions for us to discuss and post any links to your reviews.

Anticipating Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon Coming Soon

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I posted this photograph of a most spectacular coffee, enjoyed with my mother in Toronto, in response to #30daysofreadathon on Instagram. Not because it’s banner worthy, such as one I made several years ago, but because coffee will be required to read for 24 hours on October 21.

That’s my husband’s birthday, of course. There will be no 24 hours of reading for me, because my attention will be required elsewhere. In consuming birthday cake, for example, or walking through autumnal leaves with him and our dog, Humphrey. But, when he no longer needs me by his side, for that day at least, I will turn to such a stack of books as I have been hoarding since school began August 28.

The stack is yet to be fully revealed. For now, some of the titles include:

Should you wish to partake in this reading extravaganza, for any amount of time you are able, the sign-ups are here. It has been a time honored event for ten years, one I haven’t missed…ever.

Created to Create 2 (Finished booklet)

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As you may have seen on Facebook or Instagram, I have become so enamored with the devotional kits from Illustrated Faith. Your may use them to journal directly in a Bible, or may assemble the cards into a little booklet as I have done with Persevere and Created to Create 2.

I do not feel terribly creative, despite my affection for origami and other artistic endeavors such as photography or watercolors, but that is not the point. The point is that because we are created by a creative God, and created in His image, then we are creative, too.

The little booklet I assembled is held with a keychain which one of my students brought me as an end of the year gift last year from Singapore. “Ah ha!” I thought. “Teaching is a gift. Creating relationships is a form of creating.”

Can you think of creative gifts you have? Do you care to tell us about them in the comments? I’d love to know how you expand on this theme.

The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk (translated by Ekin Oklap)

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Photo by @mongoren on Pinterest

Our narrator, Cem, sits with Master Mahmut at the Rumelian Coffeehouse in Öngören. His master is a welldigger for whom he is working to earn money for cram school, and they are ever hopeful that they will strike water. But Cem is also hopeful that he will see the Red Haired Woman again.

I longed for her to look at me once more with that tender expression of recognition. It was as if this woman’s kind, gently teasing gaze had revealed to me just how wondrous the world could be. And yet a part of me couldn’t help but feel that all these thoughts were just fantasies.

In those moments, I thought: I am most completely myself when nobody’s watching. I had only just begun to discover this truth. When there is no one to observe us, the other self we keep hidden inside can come out and do as it pleases. But when you have a father near enough to keep an eye on you, that second self remains buried within.

One day, while lost in thought about the Red-Haired girl who has entranced him, the bucket falls from Cem’s hand at the windlass. He hears a terrible wail from the many feet down underground, and then there is nothing but silence. Has he killed Master Mahmut, the only man who has been a father to him since his own father left the family in poverty many years ago?

The theme of fathers and sons runs throughout the novel, in a myriad of ways in addition to Cem’s personal life. He tells Master Mahmut of Sophocles’ The Oedipal King. While searching for the Red-Haired Woman he sees her and her theater troupe perform a play in which the father accidentally kills his own son. After he is married, he sees Ilya Repin’s oil painting Ivan The Terrible  which shows a father cradling the bleeding son he’s just killed.

It seems the father and son relationship is more than something personal or familial, that it embodies the bigger picture of a government, or even existential meaning.

It looked like the work of a Persian painter who’d been inspired by the foremost exemplars of Rostam and Sohrab scenes but who had also been exposed to Renaissance perspective and chiaroscuro techniques…This murderous father was the merciless czar Ivan IV, founder of the Russian state, subject of Eisenstein’s film Ivan The Terrible, and a favorite of Stalin’s. The brutality and remorse emanating from the painting, its stark simplicity, and its single-mindedness were uncannily reminiscent of the ruthless authority of the state.

Ultimately, however, it comes down to that critical relationship. How well do fathers know their sons, or sons, in turn, their fathers? Are they destined to fight for the same things, such as the affection of the same women? Does the competition inherent to each male stand in the way of truly accepting one another?

IMG_4509These are the things that Orhan Pamuk explores in his brilliant book. The mere 253 pages hold questions which have been asked for centuries, and he weaves his theme into an intricately woven mystery involving fathers and sons and the red-haired woman.

It is a book filled with irony and longing, and while I only know of a father-daughter relationship, it made me ponder the relationship of my son and his father. If only his father would have lived past our son’s toddler years.