Category Archives: Books I enjoy!

Lost in a Book: “A Good American” by Alex George

A question of perspective
Naomi’s Photos

The book was surprisingly good!

I say “surprisingly” because I was very suspicious. The title hints at slogans, platitudes, stereotypes or just plain “shmaltz”. It’s a library book (as opposed to one you spend money on) so I took it out despite my reservations.

So glad I did.

The multi-generational tale of the Meisenheimer family who immigrated from Hanover, Germany to a tiny town in Missouri in the late 19th century is actually everything the blurb promises it would be. It gets even better as the book progresses. The book is an easy, flowing read with a story that is both touching and amusing.

Best of all, I really couldn’t predict a thing! The ups and downs of this family, generation after generation,  did not follow the script I imagined after reading / watching other multigenerational tales.

What a pleasure!

 

Lost in a Book: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Who is behind the woman?
Naomi’s Photos

The book deserves all the accolades you’ve heard.

The book.

I didn’t watch the TV series and I don’t intend to. The book left a powerful enough imprint on my brain as it is. I don’t need it spelled out any clearer and I don’t need the graphics of the violent parts.

Margaret Atwood is a master of the “how”, not only the “what”.  The story progresses, is full of drama and tension in the here and now. Throughout it all,  information relating to the past, to explaining how one earth did all of this come to pass, drips in, appears through the lonely single window of Offred’s room, slips through the closet and pops up all over her grocery shopping expeditions.  From remarks on the lack of plastic bags, for example, the reader suddenly realizes that Offred (who once had another name, one which we do not know) had  a daughter. The background and the backdrop literally grow in front of your eyes in a very subtle way.

And yes, it is scary. I read an edition with an interesting forward by the author. As she said, most of the events in the book have actually happened somewhere already. All the events are plausible and possible.

I’m glad they made a TV series out of it, even if I won’t watch it. More people will be exposed to this powerful tale. which is a good thing. All I can do is hope it will make people think.

 

 

Lost in a Book: “Speak Swahili, Dammit!” by Penhaligon

Full title: Speak Swahili, Dammit – a Tragic, Funny, African Childhood.

Naomi’s Photos

I discovered this book completely by chance and really enjoyed it. My son was explaining to me that Amazon actually has free Kindle books and was demonstrating how one finds them, when we stumbled upon this one. I had never heard of it, but at the price of $O.O , with such an intriguing title,  it was an easy decision to give it a chance.

James Penhaligon grew up in a truly remote, tiny cluster of homes near a mine by Lake Victoria. A child of British parents who picked up Swahili before English, he tells the story of an unusual childhood. He earned the right to use that subtitle, the tale is fascinating, funny and tragic. But it is more than just the story of his childhood, Penhaligon also tells the story of the region in East Africa, what was once called Tanganika, the battles fought there, how it changed hands and the very diverse people who ended up living there.

My only complaint is that the book is too long. Slightly less detailing of every escapade would have been better. Young James had many an escapade indeed!

I was so absorbed in the story, now that I’ve finished reading the book I feel I’m going to miss the characters! On the last page it says another book will soon be out , describing what happens next. However, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t been published. I’m very curious regarding what happened when the mine closed and all the residents had to leave.

Back to Amazon, I discovered two things after finding this gem of a book:

When you scroll through the options for free Kindle books, Amazon starts suggesting  sleazy looking romantic novels with suggestive covers , supposedly based on your viewing preferences.  There are a ton of such books in the free section. ANNOYING!

This book, at least today, is no longer free. I assume that if they see people are downloading it they start charging for it again.

 

Lost in a Book – “Solomon’s Song” by Toni Morrison

Moving from darkness into “go safely”…
Naomi’s photos

Toni Morrison had me hooked by the end of the first paragraph.

Hooked from beginning to end, when I finally figured out at least a few of the layers of meaning that the title refers to. No spoilers here!

I found myself comparing a few elements of  this book to “The Bluest Eye” which is still my favorite book by Morrison.  “Solomon’s Song” has an educated African-American family of means at the center of the story.  It isn’t as gut wrenching to read as “The Bluest Eye” with its tale of a child caught up in endless cycle of poverty, lack of education and woe.  A book that was nonetheless mesmerising – I couldn’t put it down.

In Solomon’s Song, through the tale of four generations, one encounters a rich tapestry of tales over the generations. We have racial tensions, gender issues, politics and ideology, history and much more. The language used is different too.

The whole issue of people’s names and their implications is fascinating too.  The main character is called Macon Dead. His aunt is called Pilate…

This is the kind of book I would be happy to study in a literature course and discuss with others. There is so much food for thought in it!

 

Saturday’s Book: The Tobacconist by Seethaler

You can’t hide for long…
Naomi’s Photos

I have mixed feelings about this book.

One hand I certainly have patience for “slow-moving books and I prefer books that don’t feed you every bit of information with a teaspoon.

I also think it is a clever idea to have an imaginary character having conversations with Freud in Vienna on the eve of  WWll.

However, some things really annoyed me.

The main character’s infatuation with a woman who doesn’t give him the time of day is one of the  important influences on Franz ( the main character) on the path to growing up and truly seeing what is happening around him,  I understand that. However,  the amount of detail and the length of the descriptions were way more than necessary. It’s as if the author to lost for a while.

While I’m willing to accept that Franz was sort of a simpleton who achieved an awareness, I found the mother’s letters harder to believe in. They didn’t fit.

In short, this book has some annoying parts, especially in the middle section but does have some interesting parts as well.

I’m quite hesitant about recommending it, there are so many other books I would rather recommend. If you have it available, read it, but don’t make an effort to get a hold of it.

Saturday’s Book – “Human Acts” by Kang

A human act from a different part of the world.
Epstein family photos

All the accolades I have read about Kang’s skills as a writer are justified. The writing is unique, the perspective highly unusual.

If it hadn’t been for the writing I wouldn’t have made it through the first two stories, or chapters (because the stories are connected). Perhaps scenes would be a better way to describe them.

However, the topic of a particularly brutal massacre of a student uprising in South Korea (1980) is horrific. Kang’s skill in bringing the emotions straight to the reader made it explosively powerful.

It was too much for me to read any more than those two chapters. Tragic. Kang has won my respect as an author but that was all I could read.

Saturday’s Book – “Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

Naomi’s Photos

Ann Patchett does it again.

It’s the fifth book I have read by this author and I enjoyed every single one of them!

She has a gift for storytelling that brings the characters to life so vividly but without assuming that the reader needs to be spoon-fed with every little detail explained and rehashed. I love the way she delves into rich scenes of the characters’ lives, supplying information regarding the past as needed, when it serves the plot. I also enjoy how this story about the lives of the members of two families  is told from the perspective of different family members at different time periods. Especially as it all ties in together so seamlessly.

It’s a very hard book to stop reading – read when you have some free time!

I think there are two books of Patchett’s I haven’t yet read, but I will!

Highly recommended!

Saturday’s Book: “Americanah” by Adichie

Naomi’s photos

This is an excellent book but a complex one.

The previous book I read, The Purple Hibiscus, was mesmerizing and  I was totally lost in the tale as told by a girl as she grew up. I just wanted to keep reading.

The writing here is excellent too but in this book the author seems to want to tell us more than the tale of two young people growing up.  It’s as if she has an agenda of things to make us understand. It is not enough to present what it was like to grow up well-educated in Nigeria but to be unable to complete higher education (or do something with that education), how it feels to immigrate to the US or UK and to return to Lagos, which would be the story of these two young people.

Adiche also goes to great length to describe the peers at school, the co workers abroad, the immigrants who made it vs those who didn’t and the family members, presenting their point of view on every matter as well. As if there is a need to present every possible aspect of every subject.

In addition, Adiche emphasizes in great detail a perspective I haven’t really encountered before, one of the African new immigrant’s musings on race in comparison to  African Americans who have been in the US for generations. There are some very thought-provoking passages.

It’s all very interesting but it is a long book and sometimes I felt that it was trying to encompass too much and I was sort of wishing it would move a little faster.

Nonetheless, a worthwhile read indeed.

Saturday’s Book: “The Believers” by Heller

Naomi’s photos

It’s the weirdest thing.

I’m usually quite sure what exactly I like and don’t like about a book. All very clear.

Except for this book. I liked it but I really can’t put my finger on why I did.

On the back cover there is a review-comment from The Daily Mail “Funny, moving and very very true…a brilliant brilliant book”.

I don’t think the book is funny – I don’t find such a dysfunctional family funny. I am strongly suspect of the “true” aspect of it but willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Though the mother’s character is a bit much…

Yet there is something about this book. I don’t know if “brilliant” is the right word but each chapter sucks you into a scene completely. When you are  released and turn to the next chapter you find yourself not where or when you expected to be, yet it all makes sense.

I’m glad I read it.

 

Belated Book Post – The People of Paper & People of the Book

People of Metal…
(Naomi’s Photos)

Would you believe I found two books with such similar titles on the same visit to the library? But the similarities pretty much begin and end with the titles.

It is my understanding that  “The People of Paper”  by Plascencia is supposed to present an innovative form of writing.  Well, I’m afraid I’m not progressive enough to enjoy it. Large portions of the book are written in columns, with each character’s point of view appearing in a different column. I was prepared to accept reading like that for a few chapters, until the author went overboard, as far as I was concerned. New characters were added, remembering which character was which grew confusing and time frames jumped between different character’s tales (or between one column to the next) and I got totally lost.

I abandoned the ship.

On the other hand, People of the Book by Brooks is very easy to read. It’s historical fiction and each time frame is clearly distinguishable. The book is rich with details, in fact it seems ready to be adapted for the screen. You have everything Hollywood usually wants.

Which leads to  my main problem with the book. It is basically a good book but I dislike it when you can tell the author had a kind of checklist of “Hollywood” elements that need to appear in the book – sex must be brought up at regular intervals, unknown fathers, the mother who basically sacrificed her child for her career, etc. And while I’m all for “girl power”, I found some parts regarding the female heroine in every single period a bit hard to believe, particularly the really ancient times.

Nonetheless, it was an interesting book and I would recommend it.