FINISHED

This past weekend, I finished up three books I was reading concurrently. I often read more than one book at a time with no confusion; however this time, one was historical fiction, very close to fact, set in WWII, so keeping the characters straight from the non-fiction characters in the diary made reading harder than usual.

This one begins with two women, prisoners in a German war camp,Greta and Mildred, who are charged with activities that aided the resistance fighters in Berlin under Hitler. They exchange a glance in the prison exercise yard. One woman is eventually executed, and the other is liberated from the prison by the Americans. The “meat” of the book tells both their stories, describing “the courage of ordinary people.”

The other WWII story deals with what happens to the women of Berlin during the Russian occupation. It is a true diary, published only after the anonymous author’s death, which describes April of 2945 through June of 1945. In the diaries, Anonymous, a 34-year-old journalist, casually tells how women who had not seen each other for a long time, greeted one another with, “How many times were you raped?” It is a story of rape and sexual collaboration for survival that is brutal to read and a horror to have lived through.

Finally, another horrific story, a memoir about the childhood of Mary Kaur,

was at times unbelievable, others down-right strange. Growing up with an alcoholic father and mentally ill , sometimes suicidal mother, Karr “speaks” in the “gritty, unforgettable voice of a seven-year-old. It is set early on in Texas, and later follows the mother and two daughters to a home in Colorado. The title comes from the b**sh**ting her father and his friends do at the local bar while seven-year-old Mary sits and listens. “Appalling” is the word that come to mind to describe the author’s earliest memories.

These three are not books one would read for pleasure, but ones that kindle our imaginations about the resilience of the human spirit.

PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee: A Review

This 2017 publication was described on the cover by one blurb-writer as, “a big beautiful book filled with characters I cared about and remembered after I’d read the final page.” My sentiments exactly! When I read, what I appreciate most is characterization, and Sunja, Isak, Joseb, and Kyunghee became very important, well-drawn people as I read the novel.

Pachinko is a gambling game played in pachinko parlors.

Coming from a poor, but proud Korean family, young Sunja meets Hansu, an older, very rich, mysterious man. He lives and does business in Japan, where Sunja and Isak, a Presbyterian minister who saved her from disgrace, end up as well. Throughout the novel, the author describes how the Japanese look down on the resident Koreans.

Lee is a gifted storyteller,who gracefully tells of the “harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty the main characters endure. Pachinko is a story of women’s friendship, the pursuit of joy, and the history of an ancient national conflict. It opens in the early 1900s and journeys through generations of Korean history.

This is in line for my “Best Read of 2021.”

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND BRAVE by Hazel Gaynor: A Review

I love historical novels set in WWII.

As the cover on the large print copy of this book advertised, it is “a story of courage and strength.” If anyone is courageous and strong, it is a Girl Scout, or Girl Guide as they were called in England. Their motto was “Be prepared,” which the teachers and students at the China Inland Mission School were not. Unprepared as they were for Japanese occupation after the attack on Pearl Harbor, both teachers and students made the best of a bad situation.

Alternating chapters from the point of view of Nancy, an eight year old student, and her teacher, Miss Elspeth, Gaynor describes the take-over of the school housing and teaching children of missionaries, ambassadors, and other workers in China, then their march to and confinement in an internment camp for six years. It is a story of the hardships the children and teachers faced and their relationships with their captors, some kindly like “Home Run,” and others vengeful and sadistic like” Trouble.” It is the story of the friendship between Nancy (“Plum”) and Joan (“Mouse”), as they become young women while under the watchful eyes of the Japanese soldiers. One of the girls’ many chores was to deliver and pick up books to readers who borrowed them from the “lending library” set up by Ms. Trevellyan, a woman of questionable reputation in the camp. The following highlights the girls’ love of books:

“We sometimes found corners of the pages turned down, and passages marked and underlined. Mrs. Trevellyan didn’t seem to mind, although I thought it spoiled the books.

‘I’d never write in a book,’ I said. ‘It makes the pages look messy.’

‘It does if you look at it one way,’ she clucked as she put some books on the shelves we couldn’t reach. ‘But it also makes them look loved. It means that someone stopped and thought about that sentence, or that paragraph. Books aren’t museum pieces to be admired from a distance. They’re meant to be lived in; messed up a little.’ “

This is a very well-written page-turner that should make us appreciate what we have today and the struggles our relatives went through during WWII. It’s a darned good read!

THE PASSION OF ARTEMISIA by Susan Vreeland(2002) : A Review

One of my bucket list reading goals is to read all seven novels Susan Vreeland wrote. She is a sublime author who has taught me so much fact in her fiction, ranging from the treatment of women in Italy in the 1500s to how to make stained glass windows and Tiffany lamps. Her detail is amazing, but never boring. Her sentences flow with a poetic vibe that strikes a chord in any sensitive reader.

I did not know there was a female painter in Italy in 1500 whose fame rivaled Michaelangelo, and indeed, her paintings were greatly influenced by him. Her name was Artemisia Gentileschi, and the multitude of things she achieved during her  lifetime in spite of a vindictive, jealous, uncaring father, whose friend raped her, arranged a marriage of convenience to an “adequate” painter in order to save his own reputation, and a daughter who disappointedly had no interest in painting. She embarks on a “lifelong search to reconcile family life, passion, and genius.” The book itself is a work of art. She is definitely a pioneering woman, ahead of her time and because of this suffered for her art. A sensitive story, including a search for meaning and peace on a spiritual level, Passion is one of Vreeland’s best novels.

FIRST LINE FRIDAYS

First Line Fridays is hosted by Hoarding Books, and many of my blogging friends participate. Here is my Firstliner from Susan Vreeland (I am trying to read all seven of her novels about art.). Clara and Mr. Tiffany is in large print and was obtained from my local library (which is now closed).

“I opened the beveled-glass door under the sign announcing Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in ornate bronze. A new sign with a new name. Fine, I felt new too.”

Yes. Clara, newly a widow, got the job she applied for and her adventures in making glass decorations and windows began. I am now on p. 184 and learning about the making of glass objects, stained glass windows, and the submission of Tiffany windows at the World’s Fair of 1900. This novel is wonderfully researched in addition to being a darned good read.

TUESDAY TEASER

Tuesday  is not officially over here for another two hours and eight minutes, so here is my Tuesday Teaser for December 3, 2019:

“April 21, 1911   Terrell Mott rode to the Alamo in a Buick touring car, creeping along behind a procession of horse-drawn victorias, and tallyhos. Like the carriages, the gasoline car had been covered with flowers, barely leaving space on the door panels for a sign signifying the white-whiskered relic who rode inside…”

Thus opens Stephen Harrigan’s The Gates of the Alamo, “an imagined novel about the siege and fall of the Alamo in 1836, an event that formed the consciousness of Texas and that resonates through American history.”

If you would like to share, copy a few lines of a book you’re currently reading in the Reply/Comments box below. Be sure to mention title and author but no spoilers, please. This opportunity was started by The Purple Booker and has the participation of several of my blogging friends.

 

BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS CHALLENGE CONTINUED

Recently I read and reviewed The Haunted Bookstore by Christopher Morely, a classic from WWII days. It led me to the audiobook of Morely’s previous book, Parnassus on Wheels. Parnassius tells the story of Roger Mifflin, bookstore owner extraordinaire, before his bookstore days and how he met and courted Mrs. Mifflin. Like a tinker of those days, Mifflin traveled from town to town, selling used books instead of pots and pans, his gaudy cart pulled by a decrepit old nag, Pegasus. [His] “delight in books and authors is infectious.”

When he visits a local author and “gentleman farmer,” he finds the author off gathering material for his latest book and the author’s sister capably running the farm in his absence. Parnassus is the story of HER adventure.  She is a delightful recently-turned “feminist”–from the perspective of the early 1900s. She buys Parnassus on Wheels and travels (unescorted) with Mifflin as her passenger and guide, and the rest is a hilarious narrative that brings together the two perfectly matched individuals whom we meet as a couple in The Haunted Bookstore.

I seldom use the word “quaint” when I describe a book, but this lovely pair, Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookstore are just that–and a darned fine read!

TUESDAY TEASER

Today’s Tuesday Teaser, a “bookish tag hosted by The Purple Booker “(Brainfluff blog), is from March’s Third Tuesday Book Club’s selection.  One of our scarce male members mentioned an author he met while living in California, and asked if we might like to read one of her books. Our instructions were to choose any Susan Vreeland book, and we would compare notes when we meet later this month. Several books owned by our branch of the library were available to check out.  I chose Luncheon of the Boating Party whose cover was Renoir’s painting of the same name.  It tells the story of how Renoir came to paint this famous masterpiece, which changed a whole school/ideal of painting from the Impressionists to something more detailed and “real.”

The writing is exceptional, something I consider when deciding if I like a book or not.  Here is Vreeland’s description of one of the women in the portrait gathering items needed to stage the scene where the Luncheon would be painted.

“Under the sycamore boughs, she looked for marsh peppermints to make a wreath for Auguste’s luncheon on Sunday. When it was dry, it had a piquant, minty fragrance that might mask the occasional smell from the sewage plants upriver in Anieres. She wanted their day to be lovely in all ways so their pleasure would show on their faces for him to paint.”

There are many equally descriptive scenes of The Seine, and some opening ones using words to describe Renoir’s exuberance for his “vision” and excitement as he planned the painting. The fine writing is enough to “hook” me and to encourage me to finish this unique book.

THE BONE COLLECTOR’S SON, HISTORICAL FICTION BASED ON FACT FOR YOUNG ADULTS

Paul Yee’s historical novel, published in 2005, is a good read for junior high and above, as well as for adults.  Have you ever heard of Vancouver’s Chinatown riots of September 7, 1907?  Neither have I.  This attempt to purge Canada of Asian immigrants, a parade right through the middle of Chinatown, by the  “Asiatic Exclusion League” turned a bad idea into a war between the Asians and equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan.

The story is told from the point of view of young Ba, son of Bing, the “bone collector,”who makes his living returning the bones of people who died in America back to China to be buried “properly.” It is a job nobody else will do because of superstition and not wanting to do such a lowly job. When Bing digs up the bones of Mr. Shum, whose skull is missing, strange things begin to happen. Although he grew up on ghost stories, Ba tries to heed his father’s advice that there are no such things as ghosts. When Ba “graduates” to houseboy in the Bently home, he finds he must face many things with courage, and eventually is able to help Mrs. Bently “restore” the mansion to its former state and condition. What was a haunted house becomes a happy home.

The characters are fictional, the plot is imaginative, but the facts on which it is based are real. This is a fascinating “peek” into Canada’s history and an easy way to learn and enjoy  it.

BARKSKINS: A Review

The most impressive thing about this massive novel by Annie Proulx is its size–717 pages.  And, I’m so glad I tackled this big book because it is a book I will continuously look back on and never forget. Prior to reading Barkskins, Proulx’s The Shipping News, first the book, then the film, was one of my all-time favorites. This novel has been described as “…epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic…” and it delivers on all counts.

Barkskins narrates the story of two Frenchmen with nothing to their names and is set in Canada, then known as New France. We follow the Sel and Douquet families for several generations (the families’ charts at the end of the book will explain all the connections). Proulx is a wonderful storyteller, and the story she tells carries the reader along like the great rivers described in the story. Some parts are humorous, reminiscent of Mark Twain’s Roughing It. Her “enchanting descriptions” are poetic in themselves, and her characterization skills demonstrate that she understands the human heart. Characters’ motives are always clear, whether they be admirable or dastardly.

It took me months, picking up and putting down this volume for periods of time to finish, but I am so glad I did. This book is not for everyone, but for those who are willing to be swept along by magnificent  narrative and captivated by the history of the barkskins (wood cutters) and their descendants, the undertaking is worth it!