Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

1982, 289 pp.

1983 Pulitzer Prize/1983 NBA

Rating: 4

I read this for the Banned Book Challenge, and I can definitely see why people would be against it. Some of the themes include incest, rape, lesbianism, language, and drug and alcohol use. I'm not saying it should be banned--just that if I had a teenage daughter, for instance, I would want to read and discuss it with her.

All of the above (and more) happen to Celie, the main character in the book. By contrast, Celie tries to protect her sister Nettie, and Nettie ends up going with a missionary family to Africa. We see Celie and Nettie both grow in different ways through what happens to them. They are separated for 30 years but do keep in contact through letters. It is appalling, really, what men can do to women. This type of novel is always hard for me to read, but sometimes I do think it is necessary for me to venture out of my protected little world into the very unprotected world of other women. If only to appreciate and thank God for what I do have and to pray for and help other women whenever I can.

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

2004, 364 pp.

Rating: 4

Margaret is an older woman who has lived alone in a mansion for a very long time. She finds out she has cancer and then decides to start taking in boarders. Wanda is her first boarder. Her boyfriend has broken up with her and she needs somewhere else to stay. The women hit it off and slowly reveal their secrets to one another. Margaret starts taking in other boarders and soon a surrogate family is developed.

I really liked this first novel by Kallos--especially the first and and last parts of the book. The middle section I didn't much care for, or I would have rated this a 4.5. Also, there was quite a bit of s * x and language that I didn't like. I did like how Margaret and Wanda not only forge a strong friendship but also start "really living" for the first time after they meet each other. There is much more to this novel that I don't want to give away. I really did like the storyline, but it did seem like there were a few too many coincidences at the end. Overall, a fantastic first effort!

Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates

Amos Fortune, Free Man
by Elizabeth Yates

1950, 181 pp.
1951 Newbery Award

Rating: 4

This book tells Amos' story from his capture in Africa to his years of being a slave and finally to his final years as a free black man. Amos was the prince of his tribe in Africa, and it is a shock to him when he is captured for slavery. He is very lucky, though, as his owners treat him very kindly. He serves them well, saves his money, and is able to "buy" his freedom. He also buys his wives' (he was twice a widower) freedom. Amos is a gentle and kind man who respects both God and others. I highly recommend this story to both children and adults.

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

1993, 361 pp.

1995 Pulitzer/1994 NBCC Award

Rating: 4.5

I loved this book. I loved the writing. It isn't a heartwarming book, but it is a thoughtful one. These "diaries" chronicle Daisy Goodwill's life from her birth in 1905 to her death in 199? (we aren't told the exact year). Each chapter of her life is told from her point of view, although in the book (and sometimes even in a single sentence) she switches back and forth between 1st and 3rd person. We learn of her childhood, her marriages and children, loves and losses, work and leisure, and finally her old age and death. The "chapters" made me think of my own life stages so far and the ones that are to come. All of us have a similar beginning and ending, but it's the middle that makes life interesting.

There were many, many beautiful passages in this book. I'll leave you with one as an example of the excellence of Shields' writing:
Something has occurred to her--something transparently simple, something she's always known, it seems, but never articulated. Which is that the moment of death occurs while we're still alive. Life marches right up to the wall of that final darkness, one extreme state of being butting against the other. Not even a breath separates them. Not even a blink of the eye. A person can go on and on tuned in to the daily music of food and work and weather and speech right up to the last minute, so that not a single thing gets lost.

Carol Shields died of cancer in 2003. She was a gifted writer, and I definitely plan on reading more of her works.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

1986, 311 pages

Rating: 4.5

What a thought-provoking book!

Offred (Of Fred) is a woman who had her child and all her money taken away from her by the government. Her money was taken away just because she was female. Her daughter was taken away because her marriage was declared invalid. Why? Because it was the second marriage for her husband. The government has "religious" motivations for these acts. (Something I was a little uncomfortable with because I am a Christian, yet I realize there are always extremists. I took this as a cautionary tale.)

Spoiler alert! (Don't read if you like to be in suspense during a book.)
Things only get worse from there. She is forced to become a handmaid, or surrogate mother, for a man of high position in the government. However, the conception is to occur in the normal way--with the wife present! This was a little shocking to me! Somehow Atwood pulls this off without offending my prudish sensibilities. The life of Offred is certainly not enviable.

I found this book to be a jolt to my system. Atwood is a gifted writer, and I definitely plan on reading more of her works.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love
by Elizabeth Gilbert

2006, 352 pp.

Rating: 4
Caveat! I didn't like the book much. I'm giving it a '4' because of the brilliant writing.

Subtitled One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert's book about "finding herself" after a divorce is, well, interesting to say the least. She is frank, candid, brutally honest, and bares all in this travel memoir. I do give her this: she is a brilliant writer and narrator (I listened to the audio CD). The problem was, though, that after finishing the book, I found I really didn't like it much. It is an easy read/listen, with a little 'too much information' sometimes, if you know what I mean. I also didn't agree with almost any of her decisions or with her conclusions about God and spirituality, though I'm sure she's not asking me to, either! Still, I rated it a '4' because I want to recognize her writing talents.

She goes through a messy divorce and travels through the three "I" countries listed above. She learns Italian and eats a lot of pasta in Italy (the Eat in the title), she "finds God" in India (the Pray), and she finds love (the Love in the title) in Indonesia. She makes it all very interesting, that's for sure. I do recommend this book because it is always fascinating to take a peak at other women's lives and their viewpoints, and as I said, the writing is excellent. In some ways, though, books like these always reinforce my own beliefs and viewspoints as well.

The Translator by Leila Aboulela

The Translator
by Leila Aboulela

1999, 203 pp.

Rating: 4

Sammar, (I believe it was pronounced 'Summer'), is a young widow working as an Arabic translator at a university in Aberdeen, Scotland. She has been grieving for several years over the loss of her husband who was killed in a car accident. She has a little boy but feels she is unable to care for him and leaves him with her mother-in-law in Sudan.

Faith plays an important part in Sammar's life, so when she starts to fall for Rae, her boss, she realizes it could never be. That is, unless he converts to Islam. Their relationship starts off slowly, just by talking on the telephone. I found this to be very real and touching. Many of my best conversations with my husband have been on the phone, and this was the first time (that I could recall, anyway), that I had found it portrayed in such a way in a book. The progression of the relationship and the issues of faith and belief are explored in the rest of the novel.

I really enjoyed Aboulela's writing. It was very tender and poignant. I found it easy to feel Sammar's grief. There were a few things I did dislike about Sammar's character, though. I really cannot imagine leaving a child behind like that for such an extended period of time. A few weeks perhaps, but not a few years! The writing was beautiful. However, in the last few pages of the book there were a few too many sentence fragments for my taste. I don't mind some, but it seemed a little excessive. I would definitely read another book by this author, though.

This is the author's first novel and was first published in the UK in 1999.