Friday, June 24, 2011

Home, Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson makes you feel like she has weighed out every single sentence for a month. She is so gracefully pointed in her prose, wasting not a word; it's always an overwhelming experience to read her! If you were to highlight a novel by her, you'd might as well spray paint the whole book.

Robinson shares a sad end to Gilead's Reverend Ames' lifelong friend, minister Robert Boughton. As two of his children return home to their ailing, widowed father, they slowly attempt discourse about family differences, grievances, and spiritual confusions. Glory's failed relationships have left her feeling diffident and lost, and Jack's alcoholism and depression have kept him at arm's length of his whole family for his entire life.

The beauty is in the kindness that the family genuinely shows to each other, and the deftness with which their relationships and encounters unfold. Glory's constancy where Jack's struggle with alcohol is concerned meant a lot to me, a child of a  recovering alcoholic. I felt like Robinson captured a lot when dealing with this: firstly, and maybe most importantly, that you can't force something on someone, you can not ask more of them than they can ask from themselves in that moment. Glory's patience helps Jack to stay and feel safe with her.

Despite so many barriers, so much time and angst, this is a novel of love and faith, a reminder that both of those qualities, and all relationships are a never ending process of work and devotion. Your home can speak of peace and hope just like a church to the religious. 

It may seem like a quick read at first, but be sure to give this novel your full attention!

Home, Marilynne Robinson
ISBN: 0374299102 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Painted Drum, Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich is such a rich, voluminously lyrical writer. I'm constantly astounded by the grace with which such powerful stories are delivered!

Mixed blood Faye Travers' own misdeed brings her to find and return a drum that tells its story past, present, and future in this beautifully wrought story. It's a beautiful story of retribution and family; the drum of the Ojibwe brings health and forgiveness to mothers and daughters wrecked by tragedy and misdeeds, as the lost children speak through the drum across generations of a reservation community.

This novel isn't just about grief and loss; it's about life and recovery. All of the women in this novel must move past their actions and circumstances: "Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could." 

The power in this novel is this message, as well as its scope through multiple generations and over life and death. I highly recommend this novel, as I have been known to recommend others of Erdrich's I have read!

The Painted Drum, Louise Erdrich
ISBN: 0060515112 

Monday, June 13, 2011

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

This was one of the most haunting books I've read all year. It's imagery is stunning. Roy weaves the history of this disjointed family after introducing readers to the tragic result of their individual actions. The structuring really pulls at your heart strings more, as the reader knows enough to react, but is drawn deeper into the chaos that Roy so cleverly and dexterously unfolds. This is precisely the sort of novel that merits the Man Booker, which it was awarded in 1997: creative in structure, lush in prose, politically aware, and globally inspired!

"Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house---the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture---must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstitutred. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story." 

The maddeningly frustrating political and social climate of India in the 1960s imagines a world so complex and simultaneously fragile that this family saga can blow up in an unbelievably shattering way; the children, of course, pay the price in the ultimate way and are left to become horribly wounded, faithless adults. The scope of this novel makes for an intense experience. I had to read something seriously fluffy after this!

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
ISBN: 0679457313 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas

This was probably the most detailed account of a slow, meticulous dehumanization that I've ever read. Arenas details his youth, socio-political background, and awareness of his sexuality during the tumultuous politics of Revolutionary Cuba, and leaves no stone of his experiences unturned.

Having taken many classes for my anthropology major dealing with issues of culture/human rights, I still wasn't adequately prepared for Arenas' experience. I can't believe that someone went through all of that and kept on, had the power to lecture and write once free of Cuba. Beware, though. This book isn't for the faint of heart. It can be rude, crude, and explicit. Arenas leaves nothing to the imagination. Understand that a generation of open minded youth had so many freedoms taken away, and lashed out for a sense of joy and truth wherever they could get it.

Books like this bring to the forefront the sad state of the American educational system; as a child, most of what my generation was taught and exposed to was from the American perspective (at least until college, of course). Seeing the Communist Revolution in Cuba as Arenas tells it shows how little understood these issues really are. Countries like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, and Mexico have undergone such turbulent political forces in the past century, that have systematically torn to shreds every small piece of humanity people could hold onto. This memoir shows us how ill-informed we can be and reminds us why human rights world wide still have a hell of a fight ahead of them.

Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas
ISBN: 1852428082 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

March, Geraldine Brooks

March is not at all a 'sequel', or 'companion' to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. It did hold some interesting conversations of what it could have meant for a man to go off into such an idealized war with the opinions In this, the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction, Mr. March was depicted as having held as a community-serving Christian minister (although characterizing him as being vegetarian/vegan seemed a little superfluous to me, but that's just my opinion).

I sort of enjoyed the novel. This isn't even my first experience with Geraldine Brooks... but it didn't grab me the way the Pulitzer Prize Fiction winners from 2009 to 2007 did. March struck me as an interesting story, but I couldn't help but feel that using Mr. March of Little Women, versus any other family man, was merely to heighten the reader's feelings of pain and suffering, as we who are reading this novel are assumed to have been exposed to the March girls. The idealistic picture of family life they have represented in literature, either in film or the novel makes the case for sympathy and sentimentality by itself. I was shocked by the characterization of March, and the melodrama he found himself within; but only because of my reading experiences growing up with Little Women and not due to anything skillful in Brooks' writing. He honestly struck me as sort of a complaining, and oftentimes weak narrator.

The most compelling drama in the novel was for me, that of the contraband slaves, as the socio-political status of Freedmen during the war and in the early days of Reconstruction, has always struck me so gray and hopeless. Give this novel a chance, but don't expect to be as moved by this Civil War drama as I was by say, Cold Mountain.

March, Geraldine Brooks
ISBN: 0143036661 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Another novel that I should have been assigned in school, yet oddly enough never was; and thus I only just got to it! I was shocked by how violent of a novel it really was, and I suppose that was a silly disposition to have had due to the power inherent in political commentary. It's a dismal, graphic portrait of what a community can do to itself, even whilst working towards an "ideal society;" the question is, who's ideal will come to fruition?

I think it's as valuable a read as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Certainly the imagery and commentary are rather simply developed, but fables don't need to be overly complex. From rebellion to the totalitarian rule of the pigs, our role as individuals functioning as part of a larger community are questioned: motives of power and greed, weaknesses like fear and inaction are all scrutinized. Orwell shines a light on a fair sample of injustices and corruption, showing not only how a mass can change with their political organization, but how the individuals can take advantage of society's trust and diligence.

Personally, I was most impressed with how Orwell showed the indoctrination of the farm animals with Squealer and Napoleon's propaganda campaigns. It reminded me of my reading experience with Son of the Revolution, where a young man comes of age alongside the increasing power of Communist China. Small deceptions and misinformation backs the animals into a corner and leaves them ripe for manipulation. The problem of misinformation remains as important a discussion today in our media-obsessed global network. There are so many other facets behind this satire that make it a staple in required reading world wide; this is just what stood out to me.

What do you think about books like this? Any recommendations or food for thought? Holla at a book worm!

Animal Farm, George Orwell
ISBN: 0451519000