Friday, March 23, 2007

The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (2006)

An intense young adult book about a young boy, who is the son of the comandant at Auschwitz. He is disappointed to leave his family home and friends to move out to this house next to a fence. As he starts to explore, he meets a boy his own age on the other side of the fence, but he never really understands what is going on. Boyne manages to treat this heavy topic with great sensitivity - balancing between the boy's naievete and the horror of the reality.

Crawling at Night by Nani Power (2001)

Don't laugh, I chose this book to see what is considered "erotic fiction" by the Library of Congress. I still don't know what they mean by that term, but I stumbled accross a very interesting book about various Asian immigrants in New York City. The format of the book is unusual, each chapter starting with a menu, where one might usually find a quote. The menu items often are from the Japanese cuisine, as is the main character chef Katsuyuki Ito, but they can range from fatty tuna, rice and sake to Froot Loops, Twinkies and beer. The "erotic" scenes were no more that what one would find in many a romance book or in many novels written for adults, where sexual relations are just part of life.

I tried to figure out what Nani Power's connection was to the Asian immigrants, as her name did not sound Asian, so I checked Contemporary Authors and found out she worked as a chef in a Japanese restaurant. This would explain why all her detailed descriptions of Japanese food and its preparation seemed so intense.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende

I just love Isabel Allende. Another wonderful book, this time about the founding of Chile. Allende tells the story from a woman's point of view. Inez Suarez is an actual historical character - a woman from Spain who comes looking for her husband in the new world, but finds he has been killed in battle, and then falls in love with Pedro deValdivia, becomes his mistress, and helps him found Chile. Her skills in medicine, sewing, and food preparation are vital to the founding of Santiago. History books tell us about the battles, but rarely about the day in and day out survival that has to happen for a settlement to thrive, and Allende shows that this kind of work was often done by women. Allende tells a good story, as if told by Inez Suarez at the end of her life, who is telling it to her daughter Isabel. I like the historical and geographic setting, the realities of the hardships they had to endure. I have to admit I did had trouble listening to the way the Spanish invaded Chile and the bloody battles with the Indians, who were only trying to defend their territory. Allende was able to walk the fine line - her Inez was also disgusted by unusual cruelty, but at the same time not apologetic about being there in the first place - as if it was the right of the Spanish to come in and take over the lands from the Mapuche. I found it fascinating how the races intermixed. All the Spanish men used the Indian women, and had plenty of mixed children by them. There were also black slaves and various different native South Americans including the Incas and the Mapuche. Since I was listening to this book instead of reading it, some of the terms are unclear to me. Though there have been racial mixtures throughout the Americas, the Puritan whites were probably less likely to have children from Indians, and definitely less likely to make them part of the community. Racial mixtures - another field of inquiry for me, as I now want to read more about Chile, and may reread some of Allende's other books, which talk about later years in Chile's history. Oh how we could use an author like her for Latvian history!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (2006)

Here is the latest from the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I picked up in London a few years ago, really enjoyed and it has now been chosen as the Reading Together selection for our town. It took me a while to get into Spot of Bother, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. Haddon seems to be really able to get into people's heads. He gives you the average family - aging father George, slightly bored mother Jean who is having an affair, daughter Katy who's raising her son on her own, and gay son Jamie. All of their lives seem to be falling apart at the time Katy is planning a wedding to Ray, a steady type bloke, who isn't quite good enough for the rest of this family. The story is told in over a 100 snippets rotating between the viewpoints of these main characters. You see George getting confused and anxious, and you see people's reaction and interpretation of his confusion and anxiety. You see the dynamic between Ray and Katy. I got very early on, that Ray was the one that was going to get this family together in the end. Jamie's homosexuality was treated well, as was his relationship with Tony, his parents' attempt to accept, his own anxiousness about their acceptance, his reluctance to commit, etc. Great book!