Category Archives: Books I enjoy!

Saturday’s Book: “Waiting for Snow in Havana” by Carlos Eire

Unlocking secrets of the past (Naomi’s Photos)

I don’t usually write about books before I have finished them, but this one has blown me away from the very beginning. The only reason I haven’t finished it is that the need to finish a book is not yet a legitimate reason to stay home from work and forget about feeding the family…

It’s another one of these books that I happened on by chance at the library. Thank goodness for libraries – if I only read books I hear people talking about (or read reviews of ) I would be missing out on a lot.

Eire’s style in describing his childhood in Havana during the end of the Batista era (son of a judge) and the beginning of Castro’s takeover is spellbinding and unique. It is so vivid yet not sugar-coated; it’s not as if everything was the paradise Eire’s teachers tried to claim it was until “out of the blue” bad things happened. His method of describing childhood memories in Havana  and then throwing in comments, snippets highlighting the future trauma when his life changed completely, delivers quite a punch.

Eire was airlifted out of Cuba when he was eleven years old with his brother. He was allowed to take absolutely nothing but a change of clothes, not even photos of his family or a familiar object. Then he began a life of an orphaned refugee.

Not only do I think this is a fascinating book to read at any time, I find it particularly relevant nowadays – Cuba’s new relations with the U.S.A and what it feels like to be  a refugee. I’m not so interested in his comments related to wrestling with tenets of the Catholic faith, but the book does tie into my current ROOTS research – my own grandmother lived in Havana for a few years in the fifties.

Saturday’s Book: “Three Bags Full” by Swann

Naomi’s Photos

This book goes into the “not for me” pile.

The novelty of the idea of having sheep as detectives who solve the mystery of their murdered shepherd wore off after three chapters.

I DID chuckle when reading the first chapter at the author’s choice of names for the sheep – she was clearly riffing on famous detective characters or other well-known literary figures.

But then the book simply bored me completely.

I didn’t even bother to skip to the end for closure.

I couldn’t care less who murdered the shepherd.

Saturday’s Book: “The Storied Life of AJ Fikry” by Zevin

Naomi’s Photos

I loved it.

Completely.

The bare bones of the plot line could have easily gone in so many directions that I find boring, corny and unbelievable.  A lonely bookseller, tales of love lost & love found (several characters), the magic of children…

I’m the cold-hearted reader who jumped ship (never to return) shortly after the bookseller in “The Little Paris Bookshop” unmoored his book-boat-shop, remember?

But THIS book, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, is so well written. To paraphrase something said in the book itself – the right words in the right places, and not too many of them. The author trusts the reader to understand.

And so many books are mentioned, discussed and brought up in a context that makes want to read those I haven’t read yet!

Ah, there’s a wonderful world of books waiting to be read out there!

Belated Saturday’s Book “A Man Called Ove” by Backman

Naomi’s Photos

I actually read Backman’s second book first, so I immediately reached for this one when I found it at the library. I did so because I knew I would enjoy it.

And I did.

There are things one could quibble about. Way too many similes. Certain things that call for “a suspense of belief”. And honestly, truly, there are some awesome social workers out there, who do good work and help people ( the profession sort of needs defending after you read the book).

But those are really minor things. It’s a great story with characters you get involved with and feel truly moved.

Read the book and feel good.

I did.

 

Saturday’s Book: “Farewell Anatolia” by Dido Sotiriou

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

This is another one of those books that I read because of a chance discovery at the library.  Many times (like today!) I get frustrated by the list of books the library doesn’t carry, books recommended to me. But books like this one remind me of what I would be missing if I only read the books people are talking about.

It’s not an easy read. Not at all. The tale of the tragic end of the Greek communities in Asia minor is certainly not a happy one. I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about the expulsion of the Greeks from Turkey. Years ago I read “The 40 days on Musa Dagh” by Werfel, so I knew something about the Armenian population in the region, but not about the Greeks.

It is a testimony to the skill of the writer that at no point did I want to give up on the book. The descriptions of farmers’ and merchants’ lives there before the calamity are vivid. By having the main character meet a wide variety of people you realize the writer has been cleverly giving you many perspectives of the unfolding events.

But I think the most arresting thing about the book is while it is a story of a specific place and time in history (fiction yet based closely on true events), it is a universal tale. Much too relevant to today’s world, which is sort of scary to admit. This is what happens when hatred is inflamed, stereotypes are rampant and scapegoats are needed. Blaming one religion /ethnic group for all possible evils is, sadly, not something one finds only in history books.  Reading about the background that lead to the outbreak of horrific violence from all sides involved is not comforting.  It’s so easy nowadays to imagine the refugees in the book..

While I’m glad to be moving on to lighter fare now I’m glad I read the book.  A lot to think about.

Saturday’s Book: “Oracle Bones” by Peter Hessler

Different perspectives! Photo by Iddo Epstein
Different perspectives!
Photo by Iddo Epstein

I’ve been enjoying Peter Hessler’s articles in the New Yorker magazine for years, so was understandably delighted to find his book “Oracle Bones” at the free readers-for-readers corner at our library*.

It’s not a travel book about China. It is a great many things. Peter Hessler lived in China for many years and his conversations / interactions with people were direct, without the filters of interpreters.  Yet he doesn’t seem to be trying to claim “I KNOW China and am an absolute authority of this diverse country”. Hessler gives us a long-term  personal view of what it was like to be a foreigner living in China in general, and during global events such as 9/11. He also follows the lives of certain people over the span of quite a few years, such as former students of his and people he met. These are not just descriptions, but quotes from conversations and correspondence.

But that’s just one part of the book. The framework of explaining the significance of the ancient oracle bones (earliest forms of local writing!), how archaeology in China is a whole different ball game from what I’m familiar with in this archaeological rich area, adds a whole new dimension to all that I have ever read about the country. Sadly, it seems that everywhere study of the past and politics cannot be separated…

In short, the style is very readable and easy to get into it, though quite long. I took my time reading it but am very glad I did.

*Note: A while I found a treasure trove of three books the library took out of its collection and added to the “free for readers to take” corner. I guess the library decided these books aren’t being borrowed enough, hence not worth keeping. But I’m having a great time with them! This is the second of the three (The Hare with the Amber Eyes was the first). I have now begun the third: “Farewell Anatolia” by Dido Sotiriou.

 

(Almost) Saturday’s Book: The Hare with Amber Eyes by de Waal

A genealogy research journey that absolutely brings the past to life. And what a past it is!
The book begins in a very unexpected location for a tale following Jewish roots. In Tokyo! The author inherits 264 Japanese Netsuke (one first learns what they are) from his great-uncle in Tokyo. An inheritance from the author’s grandmother’s great-uncle (read that again to let it sink in) who was busy being a patron to such  impressionist artists as Renoir in Paris. By following the trail of the Netsuke the story takes the reader on a journey with a unusal family from Odessa to Paris, Vienna, Britain and Tokyo. These places are vividly brought to life at the different time periods as well as the characters.
The author is a ceramic artist and there is a great deal of emphasis on art, particularly in the first part . The first part reads slower but then the pace picks up (with richer details) when the tale moves to Vienna. I knew very little about Vienna, particularly before and during  WWI and now I feel I can picture so much.  Historical facts are intertwined so cleverly with the family’s personal history that everything is in an understandable context.
I’m blown away by the research he conducted – this is a family that left a huge paper trail.
Of course, it all boils down to what you do with all that information and I found the writing skillful and the language rich.
Enjoy!

Saturday’s Book: “Blue” by Lou Aronica

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

How do I tell you about this book without spoiling it for you? I want you to enjoy it too!

I started it in the best possible way – I read the first few pages, got totally hooked and didn’t want to stop. I knew nothing about the book and that worked out really well. Reviews I have seen since completing the book include spoilers! Don’t read the plot online!

I can say that its a young adult book (you can tell) . I generally like young adult books but am usually good at predicting events in them. In this book I was often surprised.

The author thanks Ray Bradbury in the forward. I actually think the book has elements that remind me of “The Never Ending Story” & “The Fault in our Stars”. And yes, there is a part where you will probably be glad if a tissue box is nearby.

The color blue is important here.

There are some bits in the beginning which are slightly confusing but otherwise its a very engaging read, a really moving story with parts that I simply could not stop reading. I finished it quite quickly! I just had to know how it would turn out.

I really would like to believe in the ending…

Saturday’s Book: “Measuring the World” by Kehlmann

Two on the go Naomi's Photos
Two on the go
Naomi’s Photos

This is one of those books I had never heard of (translated from German), that I stumbled upon in the library and quite enjoyed. Wikipedia says that a movie was based on the book, never encountered that either.

The author really brings to life two scientists that devoted their lives to figuring out the world’s secrets, Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander Von Humboldt. The early 19th century comes to life as well. The tale is told skillfully, with understatement and humor. The author manages a winning combination of explaining information while presenting the human side.  Frankly, I’m glad I never met either of them – it was no simple matter to be around either one of them!

Here’s to trying books one has never heard of!

Saturday’s Book: “The Nowhere City” by Alison Lurie

 (Naomi's photos)
(Naomi’s photos)

 

I’m aware of the fact that I have lately become more critical when it comes to books, but this time my problem is a bit different.

I found the writing to be skillful and rich, the characters well-built and they develop as the story progresses. The first chapters were engaging and drew me in quickly.  In fact I would be willing to try reading another book by this author. The back cover mentions a Pulitzer Prize for one of the author’s other books.

However, after reading half the book I simply felt bored.

Perhaps it is because the story feels so dated ( it was published in 1965). The young couple who , in the 1950s, leaves New England to go to California. As far as their friends are concerned they have disappeared into oblivion. There they encounter people who are supposedly free of the constraints of the straight-laced life in New England, people with minimal clothing and different values & morals. Many seem to be living in messy homes with lots of pot but they are, supposedly, somehow, more real. Lurie uses terms like Beatniks and Starlets and seems trying to explain to a reader, who hasn’t yet met the sixties, a thing or two.

I just really couldn’t work up an interest in what happens to this couple any further and abandoned the book…