Books & More
"It circulated for five years, through the halls of fifteen publishers, and finally ended up with Vanguard Press, which as you can see is rather deep into the alphabet. "
— Patrick Dennis
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Heartbreaking yet hopeful
Title: On Sal Mal Lane
By: Ru Freeman
From 1983 to 2009, the people of Sri Lanka suffered a lengthy and vicious struggle between the Tamil Hindu minority and the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. On Sal Mal Lane is a heartbreaking yet hopeful chronicle of the families living on a quiet, multiethnic cul-de-sac in Colombo, the largest city on Sri Lanka. Freeman has a delicate and true touch in writing about the inner worlds of the children on Sal Mal Lane. Devi, the youngest, imaginative child of the Sinhalese Buddhist Herath family, is her next older brother Nihil’s especial concern and care. Suren is developing his significant talent as pianist and composer, while Rashmi is negotiating a transition from perfect daughter to her truthful self. We watch the Herath children, who have just moved to Sal Mal Lane, form friendships (or not) with the children and adults of the other families, while tensions and violence are rising in the city. There is a growing sense of doom, yet once the pivotal catastrophe occurs, opportunities for healing are created.
Freeman makes the island’s political history relevant by filtering it through the perspectives of Sal Mal Lane inhabitants of different ages, educational attainment, and cultural backgrounds. Her ability to describe relationships between characters is impressive. There are wonderful descriptive passages, as well:
"''Kala Akki’s rose vines are on fire!' he said, his memory tricking him into smelling not fire but the fragrance of the roses. Devi and Nihil watched the flaming bushes, transfixed by the way the fire, with its crepitant song, climbed from root, along each twisting limb to flower and on up to the roof of the veranda. It looked like someone was writing in an elegant script, a strange beauty marking the destruction as it went."
A book about the civil war in Sri Lanka needed to be written. I am glad it was written so beautifully by Ru Freeman.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
By: Rainbow Rowell
Cath would rather be anywhere else except college, especially since her twin sister Wren doesn’t want to them to be roommates. The one place she feels safe is in the world of Simon Snow, where she writes fan fiction on Internet forums. Even so, Cath doesn’t know if she can handle college without Wren leading the way. How can she deal with her new roommate Reagan, who is more outspoken, and whose boyfriend is always coming around? Or the fellow student that who may or may not be just a writing partner? And then there’s Cath’s dad, who hasn’t been alone since her mother left when she was eight. As her freshman year progresses, Cath learns more about herself, and that maybe there’s more to life than Simon Snow. And maybe she doesn’t need Wren as much as she first thought.
Fangirl is a journey of self-discovery, of learning that there are more unexpected consequences in real life than there are in books, and that the least likely of people can turn out to be your greatest friends. You won’t be able to put this book down.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Artist or scallywag?
Title: The mad potter: George E. Ohr, eccentric genius
By: Jan Greenberg
"For most of his adult life, folks called George Ohr a scallywag, a rascal, a braggart, a clown. He called himself a genius, an artist, an outsider, a mud dauber, the mad potter."
Lively quotes from George Ohr and lots of color photos of his ceramic works make this book fun to read for children and adults. His work ranged from whimsical (see p. 19 or 38) to sophisticated (see p. 20-21), and he prided himself on making each piece unique. The authors describe George Ohr’s hardworking and unconventional life with a humorous touch and interesting anecdotes. Ohr persisted in his pottery dreams for more than 30 years, even though his artwork was largely unappreciated at the time. His pottery did become a key tourist attraction in Biloxi, Mississippi; he used to do demonstrations blindfolded, reshaping the jug on his wheel through several transformations by feel alone. He retired in 1910, and his work was not rediscovered until the late 1960s, when it finally found an audience that could appreciate his experiments with form and color. A new museum in Biloxi dedicated in part to his work was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and has been reconstructed, a tribute to Ohr’s own tenacity under adversity.
Monday, February 24, 2014
Love, loss, and memory
Title: The history of love
By: Nicole Krauss
This is a beautiful story about love, loss, and memory. The first narrator (and central character), Leo Gursky, is an old Jewish man in New York who is recalling his youth in Poland and his life as a writer. Leo is wonderful: funny, cantankerous and imaginative. He is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. The story is told by at least four different narrators, including Alma, a teenage girl whose mother is translating her favorite book, The History of Love, from Spanish into English. There is also a neutral, third-person narrator. I found this confusing, as all the other narrators are characters in the book. Although the transitions between the narrators are clearly marked, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out who the neutral narrator was, only to realize that it wasn’t a person at all. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant, complex tale and the gradual revelation of the mystery at its heart. Leo Gursky survived the Holocaust, but lost his family, his friends, and his manuscripts. He believed that all were gone forever--but were they? There is an excellent audio recording of this book, with multiple narrators.
Friday, January 10, 2014
Title: In Times of Fading Light: the story of a family
By: Eugen Ruge
An East-German family saga told in different characters’ voices and from different points in time. The telling revolves around the 90th birthday party of Wilhelm, the oldest family member. A committed Communist Party member since 1919, Wilhelm worked in Mexico City for a period before he and his wife Charlotte were sent back to the newly created East German state in 1952. The family includes a Siberian potato farmer grandmother, and a son who defects to the West.
This book is challenging; it is one in which none of the characters is entirely likeable, and one or two can be exasperatingly difficult. But that also makes for gritty and realistic fiction. The family members’ differing perspectives on society and each other are interesting, especially for Americans for whom East German life was a terra incognita for decades. The kaleidoscope of revolving characters provides a complex portrayal of each individual. The writing is minutely detailed, and Irina’s Christmas dinner for the family in 1976 is a masterpiece of slowly impending disaster.
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