Thursday, June 13, 2019

Invisible City by Julia Dahl (2014)

Rebekah Roberts is a joung journalist working as a stringer for "The Trib", a tabloid nestpaper in New York City (I vaguely remember an actual solid NYC paper The New York Herald Tribune, but it turns out it ceased publication in 1966). She is sent out to cover a woman's body found in a scrap metal place.

Very interesting look into the Hasidic Jewish community in New York, with references to the Catskills, where I have seen them in the town near my childhood camp. I do understand the need to stick together, as they have been persecuted so much throughout history, but it is really hard to read about the roles women are forced to play. What happens when someone starts questioning the strict rules of the community. Well at least here there was a safe house to go to and Rebekkah is able to get some answers by talking to the people there. 

At the same time, Rebekah is fighting her own internal demons, as her mother was a Hasidic Jew who fell in love with her father, but could not deal with the internal conflicts and abandoned them when Rebekah was very young. She has not seen or heard from her mother since. During the course of this story paths open where there is a possibility to meet her mother again.

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (2013)

I had to read this soon after the last one, as I was so distraught on how things were left, that Jean-Guy Beauvoir turned away from Inspector Gamache and even hated him. But Whew! things were resolved in this book.

The murder to be solved in this book is of Myrna's friend Constance, who is supposed to spend Christmas in Three Pines, but is found dead in Montreal. Myrna calls on Gamache to find why she didn't shop up. He learns she is one of the quints - quintuplets that were born 80 or so years ago and were quite famous. They had disappeared from the spotlight after their late teens, had changed their last names, and lived isolated lives. Throughout the other major things happening in the book, Gamache keeps tracing their lives to figure out who killed Constance. It also gives him an excuse to be traveling back to Three Pines.

But the major part of the book has been brewing for a long time. I would have to go back to the first book to see if their were any traces of it there, but there were always some problems between the administrators and Gamache. Then at some point it came out that he had gotten Pierre Arnot(sp?), head of the Surete du Quebec, arrested for corruption. The biggest event we got to read about a few books ago, was when Gamache and his team stopped the blowing up of a dam, with loss of lives on his team and Gamache and Beauvoir getting shot and taking a long time to recover. That too was connected with corruption at high levels. In this book we find that all of Gamache's trusted homicide investigators have been transferred out of his unit and replaced by young, disrespectful and incompetent men and it is only a matter of time that he is forced to resign. He only has Isabelle Lacoste to depend on. For this adventure he also pulls Ivette Nichole (sp?) out of the basement where he put her with her brilliant but warped mind, as she could not function as an inspector with him.

We are in familiar territory in Three Pines with the usual cast of characters, but even those are evolving, as Clara misses Peter, Ruth shows a softer side, and the house from the very first book becomes a home base for Gamache. I liked that the village made some of the bad guys feel uncomfortable, and accepted the new good guys with open hearts."How the light gets in" refers to things needing cracks, not being perfect, to have light come in. And lines from Ruth's poem get repeated a lot - What has hurt you so... (shoot, got to look them up again.)

At the end of the recorded book there was a conversation between the author and Ralph Cosham, the narrator of the books, who met for the first time. I was surprised to find that he reads the books cold - he doesn't read them ahead of time, he just starts recording, so he is as surprised by the turn of events as we are. But he too commented on the comfort he has with Three Pines. I would want to live there, except that they keep having these murders.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy (1995)

When I travel, I like to read books about the area that I am in. I was just in Vancouver and there was a used bookstore under my hotel, so I bought two books by Vancouver authors. This was one of them and a wonderful one at that.

I have read about Chinese and Japanese in western U.S., but there is also a substantial population across the border in Canada. This is a book about the Chinese in Vancouver around the time of the beginnings of World War II. They lived in a section of the city that was right next to current day downtown, so it was fun to recognize Hastings St., as I walked along it every day I was visiting. They kept up ties with China and were very distressed at the news of Japan waging war against China. I hate to admit that I know the basic fact that China and Japan have historically been enemies, but realizing it is another part of world history to explore. This war was constantly in the background of this novel, and the story ended soon after Pearl Harbor, with the Chinese happy that Americans will be joining in the fight against the Japanese.

The story is told from the point of view of three children - and I think the author did a great job getting into their mind set. The family consists of Father, Stepmother (second wife, actual mother to last two children, but grandma made the decision that she was to be called Stepmother), the Old One (grandma), First Brother Kiam, Second Brother Jung-Sum, Only Sister Jook-Liang and Third Brother Sek-Lung. I think Third Uncle lived with them too.

Liang tells her story from when she was five in 1933. She was taken care of her grandmother who she called Poh-Poh. Wong Bak, an old stooped man that was a friend of Poj-Poh, comes for dinner and for some reason Liang and he become companions. They go to the movies and do other things together and she likes to dance for him. He becomes her only friend when Poh-Poh ends up being very busy with Sek-Lung, who is a very sickly baby. But then he returns to China.

Jung's story was how he became the adopted son in the family. We learn how he acquired a pet turtle. He find his salvation in boxing and interested in sports in general. 

The last half of the book is Sek-Lung's or Sekky's story. His attachment is to the Old One who patiently nurses him to health. One of the many things I learned from this book was about the many dialects of Chinese that I have never thought about. I had heard of Cantonese and Mandarin, but it is a huge country with many dialects and different ways of talking among different classes of people. So Sekky laments on how confusing it is, but that the Old One and her friend Mrs. Lim speak many different languages, depending on the conversation partner. It is touching on how hard it is for him to accept, when the Old One dies, and he still sees her for a long time afterwards, and yes, I do believe he actually was seeing her. Through his eyes we see the coming on of WWII and the growing hatred of the Japanese living in Canada. Great description of Mrs. Lim's house that was built on a rocky cliff with a swaying but sturdy set of stairs leading up.

Having grown up in my own ethnic community, though it was not a physically close as this one, there are similarities, but I always have to remember that we are European and blend in with the white population of North America. The Chinese were not eligible to become citizens of Canada, even if they were born there. The keeping of traditions weighing against learning English and becoming Canadian. The kids went to English and Chinese schools, when possible. 

A deeply moving book and from the acknowledgements, looks like it was well researched.