November Was…

(The Morton Arboretum)

It was a rather strange November: it rained most of the days, and I went barefoot in my shoes much longer than I normally do as the chill wasn’t grasping for my feet when I went on walks. I think walking three days a week has been a saving grace, refreshing beyond belief to be out and renewed in the woods.

Thanksgiving Day was without church, for the first time I can remember in my life, as we have had to shut down so much again. (But, I am thankful for Sunday mornings when we can still gather with safety precautions in place.) It was also without my parents, and cousins, and aunt and uncle, but our son came to eat the turkey with us. I never knew such a quiet Thanksgiving meal, yet I was so grateful for his presence, with my husband and I.

I have been burying myself in thrillers, more than translated literature, lately. They seem an easy escape. Sometimes, they end up being not so thrilling, but here is the list of what I read in November:

  1. The Lost Resort by Susie Holliday
  2. Too Good to be True by Carola Lovering
  3. You Would Have Missed Me by Birgit Vanderbeke (German Lit Month, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch)
  4. Wolves in the Dark by Gunnar Staalesen (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett) 
  5. Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci
  6. The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

I reviewed none of them, sadly, although I would highly recommend You Would Have Missed Me by Birgit Vanderbeke, which I read for German Lit Month. As it is published by Peirene Press, who claims their books can be read in two hours, it is rather short. But, I have never been able to manage two hours; I am a much slower reader, absorbing every nuance that I can.

I’m not sure what the fuss is over David Baldacci? I see his latest best-selling Atlee Pine novel is Daylight, which is third in a series. So, I thought I should acquaint myself with the first before I read the third, and I was not so impressed. Atlee seems to tick all the boxes of a powerful female character, one who even lifts weights, but the best thing about Long Road to Mercy was the setting of the Grand Canyon.

And now we begin December. I’m looking forward to Johanna Basford’s Advent pages (free to download here), Illustrated Faith’s Advent, Jacquie Lawson’s Nordic Advent Calendar, and the Advent reading plan in my ESV Bible (online). These little traditions make me feel like a child again, for which I am glad, because I think we need the eyes of children especially in December.

For German Lit Month, a few considerations…

Peirene Press (You Would Have Missed Me is shortlisted for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize)

Why Peirene chose to publish this book:

Today, as in the past, people flee from one country to another in the hope of finding a better future. But how do children experience such displacement? How do they cope with traumas of a refugee camp? In this novel Birgit Vanderbeke goes back to her own childhood in the divided Germany of the 1960s. She shows how the little girl she once was saved herself by imagining countries on the far side of the world. A masterpiece of memory turned into fiction. 

Written by Birgit Vanderbeke
Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch

An unnamed narrator, recently bereaved, travels to Olevano, a small village south-east of Rome. It is winter, and from her temporary residence on a hill between village and cemetery, she embarks on walks and outings, exploring the banal and the sublime with equal dedication and intensity. Seeing, describing, naming the world around her is her way of redefining her place within it. Written in a rich and poetic style, Grove is an exquisite novel of grief, love and landscapes.

GROVE

Esther Kinsky

Translated by Caroline Schmidt

Published 15 April 2020
French paperback with flaps, 280 pages


A kaleidoscopic family saga told through the fractured lives of the three Moreau siblings, alongside a faltering, recovering love story, The End of Loneliness is a stunning meditation on the power of our memories, of what can be lost and what can never be let go. With inimitable compassion and luminous, affecting praise, Benedict Wells contends with what it means to find a way through life, while never giving up hope you will find someone to go with you.

Written by Benedict Wells, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins

I read the introduction to German Literature Month 10 on Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat , where Caroline not only extends an invitation but outlines a few authors chosen to focus on in November (should you wish). This is always an event I appreciate very much, as it widens my knowledge of German literature greatly. Perhaps you will join us this month as well?

Sunday Salon: Gratitude Documemted 2020

It is a more difficult year than usual to document our gratitude, and yet, with the arrival of November (and Thanksgiving!), and the tumult we face before the year is quite finished, I believe it is all the more necessary to do so.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

~1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

It is hard to give thanks when I am worried, when the worries seem to pile up unabated around me. But, I know that when I give thanks I am able to look toward the good and focus on hope rather than doubt. It helps me to document gratitude within a book to which I can refer on especially dark days.

The photos above are only the beginning of what I have prepared for November. They show a little book I made, with the help of a kit from Illustrated Faith. (I believe you can still buy some pieces for it here.) There is a prompt for each day, under which I have written the verse. On the back I will make it more personal, writing in it like a journal pointing to specific events from this year which have been especially lovely. Like having coffee with my parents several times a week. Walking with my husband through the fall colors at the Arboretum. Getting a text from my son that says he is fine.

Will you document gratitude this year? Will you join in me in looking for the beauty amidst the trial? Let us find the good and give thanks for it.

It’s Time to Vote for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2020. There’s just one thing…

I received an email in my inbox this morning that it’s time to vote for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2020. I’m not much of a Goodreads fan, but I went over there anyway just to see what was on their lists.

It was easy to vote for Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell in the Historical Fiction section. And, Tana French’s latest book, The Searcher, in Mystery and Thriller. I don’t read Young Adult, or Poetry, or Romance, or even much popular fiction these days, so I kept scrolling for a category which I adore.

Perhaps you will not be as shocked as I was, but there is no category for Books in Translation! Now, I know there is the Booker International Prize, and the Best Translated Book Award, and a myriad of other awards for translated literature. But, I thought that such a large forum as Goodreads would include it as a category for a reader’s Choice Award. Surely, they are not so narrow.

My opinion of them has not changed much since my latest visit. In fact, I would be so inclined as to call the name Goodreads a misnomer, if not an oxymoron, since they are so remiss as to exclude one of the best genres of all.

What do you think? Am I the silly one for expecting to find Books in Translation a category within which to vote?

The Bell In The Lake by Lars Mytting (A work of historical fiction, published today, which I loved.)

The minute I began reading, I was immersed in the small town of Butangen, Norway, hundreds of years ago. I read of the conjoined twins whose father, Eirik Hekne, had the Sister Bells cast in their honor. The bells were forged of bronze and silver, for Eirik threw into the melting pot not only all of his silver cutlery, but two fistfuls of silver coins. Was he being wasteful? Perhaps not, as the bells were cast from his fortune, but also in grief and longing.

Few Felt that silver was better spent on church bells than on barns, yet they took it as a reminder that hardship was easier to bear than sorrow. (p. 124)

I read that Norwegian nights are “coal-black in the winter, filling even the stoutest heart with fear.” I read of the stave church, built of wood in the 1100’s, embellished with the heads of dragons. The door of the one in Butangen was once surrounded by a carved serpent and decorated with Nordic symbols. It is in such a church that Kai Schweigaard has come to pastor, that lovely Astrid Hekne visits with elderly Klara Mytting. It is in such a church that Klara dies in the bitter cold at the edge of her pew, against a wall, during one service. Her death causes Kai to wonder how his parishioners’ needs can be better met by the church.

Photo credit

The painter Johan Christian Dahl, made a professor in Dresden, aroused interest in Germany over Norway’s culture, especially the stave churches. The churches were dismantled in Norway where they were no longer wanted, and rebuilt in Germany, thus preserving their historic value. Each beam, each stave, each plank of the medieval church must be carefully recorded so that it could be accurately rebuilt in its new home.

And so, a young German artist named Gerard Schonauer is sent to Butangen to draw the church, to fulfill the architectural plans that have been set before him. But, he was not sent to fall in love with Astrid. And certainly not to leave the bells in their native village in Norway instead of being taken to a new, unfamiliar home in Germany.

The bells seem to have a mystical power of their own, almost personifying the sisters for whom they were named. They have an uncanny way of ringing unexpectedly, or falling suddenly; they seem to know where danger lurks.

He (Astrid’s grandfather) started to talk about the powers of the Sister Bells. “They do nay ring for pretty things. They donae ring to warn of forest bandits or a little earthslide. They ring when folk mun wake up and choose wisely. Or to warn of a disaster as they did in 1814.” (p. 124)

While it might be easy, in theory, to take down a church, the German officials do not understand the power of the Sister Bells any more than they understand the church was originally a house of worship containing far more than wooden staves made from the tallest pines of the forest.

I can’t do this, Gerard said to himself. Nobody can. If the church is taken down it’ll never be made whole again. There’s more here than I can ever understand. The most important thing of all, an inner essence, will disappear when we demolish it.

But another anxiety gripped him too. An anxiety that had started when, on that first day, he had heard the church bells. Now he got the distinct feeling that they disliked him They were somewhere above him, where they lived, free in the air, in fragile balance. (p. 129)

Creating bells that are as real as any character may seem an extraordinary thing to write about. But, they took on a presence that stood for something. More than being merely powerful bells of bronze and silver, the Sister Bells stood for tradition. For superstitions. For two sisters, their father, and the bond made in a small Norwegian village between a young woman and the two men who loved her. It is an atmospheric book, of powerful proportions, that fully transported me to Norway in the nineteenth century. I cannot stop thinking about what I have read, pondering the history, the religion, and the sacrifices made within these pages.

Lars Mytting, Norway’s bestselling novelist, is the author of Norwegian Wood. His books, which have sold over 1 million copies in 19 languages, have won the Norwegian Bookseller Prize and have been shortlisted for the prestigious Dublin IMPAC Prize, among others. The Bell in the Lake has been sold in 12 countries and was a #1 bestseller in Norway.

  • Imprint: The Overlook Press
  • Publication Date: September 29, 2020
  • Price: $27.00
  • Trim Size: 6 x 9
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-4318-4
  • EAN: 9781419743184
  • Page Count: 400
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Rights: North America
  • Additional formats: Ebook

S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, for the R.I.P. XV, and for Great Reading Pleasure

S. is gorgeous, a masterpiece of verisimilitude. . . . The book’s spiritual cousin is A.S. Byatt’s Possession. . . . The brilliance of S. is less in its showy exterior than the intimate and ingeniously visual way it shows how others’ words become pathways to our lives and relationships.” —Washington Post

A drenched man in a dark overcoat wanders the streets, unable to remember who he is or where he came from. He enters a tavern, speaks with a woman who has an olive complexion, and is suddenly grabbed from behind, thrown over a strong man’s shoulder, and taken aboard a ship.

Such horrors lurk there, from holes punctured around the men’s mouths so that they can be sewn together with thread to “hearing muted expressions of pain from all about the ship.” (p. 57)

Who is this man? He learns his name is S., while the reader wonders if this could be the author V. M. Straka, who wrote The Ship of Theseus, as well as other “novels that toppled governments, shamed ruthless industrialists, and foresaw the horrifying sweep of totalitarianism that has been a particular plague in these last few decades.” (p. v)

The Ship of Theseus, the novel within this novel, was written in 1949, and it is this text that I read first. Then, I went back to the beginning to read all the annotations that had been handwritten in its margins. Annotations, and dialogue, from two students: Eric, who is studying Straka, and Jen who found Eric’s book containing all his notes.

“Did you write in the book?” my husband asked when he saw me reading it.

“No,” I told him, “it’s part of the presentation.”

“That would drive me crazy!” he exclaimed, and for some people that would perhaps be true. But, I am enchanted by the parallel stories, and the ephemera tucked within its pages, all interwoven to reveal mysteries beyond my imagination.

S. is not a book for those who prefer technology, or e-readers; it is a book lover’s dream.

Some Spooky Reads I Have Planned for the R.I.P. XV

The events of the early days of blogging, circa 2006 when I began, still bring joy to my heart. I have always participated in Carl’s R.I.P. Challenges, even to the extent where I purchased Poppets which he brought to our attention through his blog posts.

And now we are ready for R.I.P. XV which begins September 1 through October 31, 2020. Use #RIPXV, or @PerilReaders, should you wish to include social media with your posts.

I have tentatively planned the following books:

And, of course, you are welcome to join Amateur Reader and I (and several others) in John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra which may, in fact, also qualify for a disconcerting read.

Cathedral By The Sea, and Other Books I’ve Begun for Spanish Lit Month Before It Ends

I have had a difficult time reading this month, and sadly, finishing books for Spanish Lit Month. I began Cathedral of The Sea which, as you can see from the blurb about the author at the end of this post, sounded fabulous. Fourteenth century? Several literary prizes? It held every promise.

However, I abandoned this hefty novel halfway through. After slogging through well over 300 pages, many of which were interesting, the overall effect was too much of a soap opera. There were dramatics from the characters which seemed contrived, and I would have much rather known more about the cathedral itself than their imagined lives.

So, with The Cave being Portuguese rather than Spanish, and Cathedral of The Sea being boring, I tried another book: A Million Drops by Victor Del Arbol. It too, lies abandoned halfway through, although it is an international best seller which was named a Best Book of The Year by The Washington Post, Seattle Times and Crime Reads. Perhaps I will pick it up after I finish All This I Will Give to You, written by Dolores Redondo which won the Pleneta Prize in 2016. Such are my efforts for Spanish Lit Month, the later also qualifying for Women In Translation Month.

A lawyer and a writer, Falcones’s first book, La catedral del mar (Cathedral of the Sea), was published in 2006, when he was nearly 50. This historic novel is set in 14th-century Barcelona, when the Catalan empire was at its greatest. Cathedral of the Sea won Falcones several international awards, including the Spanish Qué Leer award, the Italian Giovanni Boccaccio award, and the French Fulbert de Chartres award. His second novel, La mano de Fátima (The Hand of Fatima), which is set during the Moorish era, received the American-Italian Roma Prize for best foreign literature. Since 2013, he has released three books. (From culturetrip.com)

Have Life…Abundantly

I love walking through Herrick Lake Forest Perserve. My mother and I have walked there several times a week ever since the pandemic of COVID-19 began. We are refreshed by the beauty of the trees and the path beckoning us forward. We are restored by the oxygen coming to our faces which can be mask free in the good outdoors.

Yesterday I asked the Morton Arboretum, another place of great beauty, why it is that they insist on timed-entry passes when even public parks have been open for weeks. Well, I didn’t exactly I ask. I suggested that they eliminate their timed-entry passes (which must be reserved daily) on Instagram, and I got this reply from some random Instagrammer:

I loved the timed-entry. Seriously, everyone should be doing that! The virus is NOT under control. You must get your news from Fox.

I have been laughing at the last line ever since I read it. Please, take offense at my suggestion and accuse me of a certain political persuasion when all I want to do is walk amongst the trees.

People are in such great distress emotionally, and I don’t mean to minimize their pain. I know someone very dear to me who is just coming through a tremendous battle with depression that kept him down for several weeks. But, we don’t have to accept the enemy’s darkness! Remember what Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. -John 10:10 (ESV)

Let us choose an abundant life filled with hope rather than fear. Or, judgement. Or, discouragement. And might I suggest taking a walk in the forest, as well?

Shadow Garden by Alexandra Burt “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

Here is a fact: by recalling an incident, you corrupt it. If you want to maintain its pristine and virgin state, just let it sit, don’t disturb it. I’ve been playing that game for a while and it’s time to blow away the cobwebs and look at the truth, even if it isn’t pretty.

Shadow Garden reminded me of Rebecca’s Manderley. The atmosphere was shrouded in mystery, in darkness, and secrets such that the reader doesn’t know whom to trust…is Donna, the wife of Edward, reliable? She has been, after all, brought to Shadow Garden as a convalescent. Her husband has left her under the housekeeper’s care, and every time Donna asks, “Has Penelope called?” she is told, “No. Not today.”

Penelope, called Penny, or Pea when she was very small, is Edward and Donna’s daughter. She has caused untold traumas for her family through behavior she is either unwilling, or unable, to control and soon their perfect world has spun out of control. Even the skills of a surgeon, which is Edward’s profession, are unable to stitch together the image of perfection which all three of them succeed in ripping apart.

I was caught up in the relentless suspense of this domestic thriller, eager to find out exactly why Donna was at Shadow Garden and if she would ever escape. The plot unfolded seamlessly, without tricky manipulations which authors of this genre so frequently use to create artificial suspense. One is left feeling both sympathy and horror for the family that suffered enormous pain due to their impossible expectations and grave misunderstandings.

Shadow Garden was published on July 21, 2020. My thanks to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read and review it here.