Sunday, 29 June 2014

"Moloka'i" by Alan Brennert

   This wonderful novel chronicles the grim struggle of a Hawaiian woman who contracts leprosy as a child in Honolulu during the 1890's and is deported to the island of Moloka'i, where she grows to adulthood at the quarantined settlement of Kalaupapa.
   Rachel Kalama marries Kenji Utagawa, a fellow leprosy victim whose illness brings shame on his Japanese family.  They have a daughter that they must give up for adoption.  But Rachel connects with this daughter Ruth, after Kenji dies while trying to stop a soldier beating up the soldier's girlfriend.
   There are many fascinating characters in this novel- Sister Mary Catharine for one.  She is tortured by her parents' suicides and Rachel saves her when she attempts suicide.
Catharine: "I used to wonder, why did God give children leprosy.  Now I believe: God doesn't give anyone leprosy.  He give us, if we choose to use it, the spirit to live with leprosy, and with the imminence of death.  Because it is in our own mortality that we are most Divine."

   This book was recommended to me by Evelyn Heggie at Fairview Nursing Home when I was delivering books to her.  Evelyn has now passed on.  I will never forget her continued passion for books as she approached her 100th birthday.

   Because I loved Moloka'i so much, I searched for another book by Alan Brennert. 
   This book was fun but not as heart-wrenching.

   In 1914, 17-year-old Regrettable arrives in Hawaii with other girls as 'picture brides'. Of course, the pictures are 'doctored' both by the girls and the guys.  All the brides are disappointed in what they find, but still they are married immediately on stepping off the ship from Korea.
   And so, the story follows Regrettable's life- and her name does describe her life!
   Regrettable had been taught to read and hopes for an education.  But her husband lives in poverty, working in sugar cane.  He drinks, gambles, and beats her.  She leaves him (in Korea the penalty for leaving would be hanging) and sews for prostitutes until she divorces and remarries.
The picture brides stay connected as they each try to make a good life.
The beginning of the novel was fascinating but it lagged in the middle and got bogged down toward the end.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Pauline Johnson

One of my book clubs decided to discuss an author instead of a book this month.

Pauline Johnson
And so, I read a biography written by Betty Keller.
It focused on Pauline's travels as a recitalist. 
  Her father had died and she never married, 
so she used this means to support herself and her mother.

Pauline was born in 1861 at Chiefswood, near Brantford.  Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother was from a family of Quakers in England.  Although their marriage was opposed by both families, they were acknowledged as a leading Canadian family. They entertained guests such as Alexander Graham Bell, Homer Watson, Horatio Hale, and Lady and Lord Dufferin.

Her touring stories were interesting.  Remember, this was 1907!
p. 110  "On the chautauqua/lyceum tour circuit, performers have to be hardy.  They are hired for ten weeks of performance and are so tightly scheduled that they must travel steadily from town to town, delivering one or sometimes two performances before catching the train to the next performance stop.  They sleep on trains, catnap on park benches, and eat bean suppers in camp kitchens.  The show goes on whether it pours rain or blows a tornado; many of the campgrounds in the wet summer of 1907 are ankle-deep in soupy mud."
Sometimes there was a bridge out and they had to wait until it was repaired.  Lots of problems with the railway in 1907.
This tour was through the U.S. and Pauline was irate about her billing- "American Indian".  She was bitter about the U.S.'s treatment of the Mohawk after the War of Independence.  She was staunchly in favour of the British and thought anything American was inferior.
Pauline had difficulty paying her bills and often had to call on friends.  When she became sick, she
retired to Vancouver, where she depended greatly on the help of friends.
Pauline died from breast cancer in 1913 at age 51.
Her ashes were buried in Stanley Park where a marker has been placed.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Bad books?

I bought these three books when I was considering my series on "Why I Love to Read".  They were not as helpful as I expected.  So I used my own ideas.
1.) Harold Bloom's book "How to Read and Why" was not helpful.  He has written more than twenty books and he lives in a scholarly world of literature that I barely visit.

2.) The foreword in "The Book Lovers Companion" made me think.  It reads, "Life's too short to read bad books.  There really should be a word for that particular resentment you feel after ploughing through hundreds of pages that didn't pay off.  A single reliable book recommendation can spare you hours of annoyance, impatience and disgust." So 200 books are suggested to relieve that problem.
But, in the last paragraph of the foreword, the editor Lionel Shriver says, "I spotted three or four selections included here that I couldn't bear".  Didn't he just explain why this doesn't work???
One person's annoyance is another person's pleasure!  I am constantly amazed that our interests are so varied.  I just recently gave an impassioned plea for my favourite book "The Poisonwood Bible".  But it is definitely not a favourite for others.  And this makes a real problem for recommending books.

3.) "Why I Read" by Wendy Lesser. page 4: "The kind of pleasure you can get from reading is like no other in the world.  People even get pleasure out of reading bad books, and I deplore this, but that is only because those books are not to my taste.  You will deplore some of the works I hold up as models in this book, and that is not only sensible, but inevitable.  Because reading is such an individual act, the pleasures we derive from literature- even which books we are willing to call 'literature'- will not be identical.  That is as it should be.  Reading can result in boredom or transcendence, rage or enthusiasm, depression or hilarity, empathy or contempt, depending on who you are and what the book is and how your life is shaping up at the moment you encounter it.  This effect will be particular to each person, and it will change over time, just as the person changes over time- and the richer and more complicated that book is, the more this will be true."

  I thought about doing a series on "bad books" but I'm sure that I will  anger some people when I mention their favourite in my list.  Bad books - ponder that!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Clan of the Cave Bear

my old copy, my new copy

This book was published in 1980 and I read it soon after that.  I was really drawn into this novel about prehistoric times.
Ayla, a little five-year-old Cro-Magnon child is the sole survivor of a tribe that were wiped out by an earthquake. She wandered aimlessly, naked and unable to feed herself, for several days. Having been attacked and nearly killed by a cave lion and suffering from starvation, exhaustion, and infection of her wounds, she collapsed, on the verge of death.
She is taken in by a tribe of Neanderthal.  How fascinating!

I was so engrossed in this book, I continued to read other books in the series as they were published.  And, I also began to record the series on tape.  My sister-in-law had ALS and was paralyzed.  She lived at a distance so I thought this would be a way to help to entertain her.  I found out later that the tapes were put on to calm her to settle for sleep at night.  And, looking back, I can see that it could have put her to sleep.  The description is exhaustive but beautiful!
"The land was unbelievably rich, and man only an insignificant fraction of the multifarious life that lived and died in that cold, ancient Eden.  Born too raw, without superior natural endowments for it-save one, his oversize brain- he was the weakest of the hunters.  But for all his apparent vulnerability, lacking fang or claw or swift leg or leaping strength, the two-legged hunter had gained the repect of his four-legged competitors."

The role of women is described in this passage: "In the beginning Ayla just followed Iza around and watched while they skinned animals, cured hides, stretched thongs cut in one spiral piece from a single hide, wove baskets, mats, or nets, gouged bowls our of logs, gathered wild foods, prepared meals, preserved meats and plant food for winter, and responded to the wishes of any man who called upon them to perform a service."

I find this book mesmerizing!  I am reading it for the third time- aloud this time as we take advantage of the good weather to take day trips.
I would love to read through the whole series- six books!  But they are long, descriptive books and take hours to complete.  We may complete one book this summer.  I know that the second book in the series has less plot and more description, but I would love to get to the later books that I have not read. The last book was just published in 2011- after a nine year wait.  So it seems like a good idea to re-read the series, in order to fully appreciate the last book.

1980  The Clan of the Cave Bear
1982  The Valley of Horses
1985  The Mammoth Hunter
1990  The Plains of Passage
2002  The Shelters of Stone
2011  The Land of Painted Caves

This series was a major undertaking!  The author began research in 1977. Thirty-four years of work on this series!   It was no surprise to learn that the author belongs to MENSA.

Restoration series

Lancaster, Pennsylvania
modern technology
We spent three days in Lancaster, Pennsylvania recently and visited both an Amish farm and a very modern farm.  While watching the automated system, I wondered aloud what would happen in a blackout.  A fellow traveler told me about the Restoration Series by Terri Blackstock.  I read the first book-"Last Light" about a major blackout.  Nothing is operating- electricity, water, stores, planes, cars.
 "The fast lane has come to a screeching halt and we don't have any skills to get us through this".
The parents attempted to help the neighbourhood, as they worked out their Christian faith.  Do we look after out own family- or share with those in worse situations? This author writes only Christian fiction.
The three children had no idea how to cope, and the 22-year-old was the worst.  She just whined and complained, because she was expecting to begin 'the good life' in Washington, D.C.

But who did have the skills?  the Amish.  However....
"The Amish were not impacted by the outage since they aren't dependent on technology, but they were the victims of burglaries."
Since this novel took place in Birmingham, Alabama, everyone had a gun- including the teenagers.  So people were being killed- for food, bicycles, and other essentials.  It was anarchy!

I don't plan to read the other three books, but I do wonder about the series title- Restoration.
Is it referring to the restoration of technology?
Or the more spiritual restoration of the family?
Or both? would we manage in a blackout?

Monday, 9 June 2014

Sue Monk Kidd

I have read these other books by Sue Monk Kidd:

I loved this book!
1964- peach farm in south Carolina
   Lily Owens was four when she accidently shot her mother (while her parents were fighting).  Her father was cruel and eventually Lily ran away with Rosaleen, the black maid.  Lily had three items that had belonged to her mother- gloves, a picture of her mother, and a picture of a black Madonna with printing on the back- Tiburon.  So they headed for Tiburon, saw the black Madonna on a jar of honey and found out where it was made. 
  Lily and Rosaleen were taken in by the calendar sisters- August, May, June, April.  August had been Lily's mother's nanny.  This household of women nurtured Lily as she was able to come to terms with her life.
  Marvellous descriptive writing!  Couldn't put it down!
"This is the last thing I remember with perfect crispness- her breath floating down to me like a tiny parachute, collapsing without a trace among the piles of shoes."
"Dragonflies darted back and forth like they were stitching up the air."
Strong, nurturing black women in the time of segregation.  Beautiful story!

 This novel takes place on Egret Island, off the coast of South Carolina.
  Jessie was 42, and unsatisfied with her life. 
Page 1: "I lived molded to the smallest space possible, my days the size of little beads that passed without passion through my fingers". 
  Well, she found passion!
  On this beautiful island, she fell in love with Brother Andrew. "The affair impregnated her with life"-  "I had the sense of being out on the furthest frontier of myself.  It was a surprisingly beautiful outpost".
Andrew told Jessie, ""We'll be damned and we'll be saved- both".  And, in fact, Jessie discovered 'a solitude of being' - through the relationship and the paintings she made.
   Fabulous language!  Wonderful characters!
But, in fact, Jessie did return to her husband."There would be no grand absolution, only forgiveness meted out in these precious sips.  It would well up from Hugh's heart in spoonfuls and he would feed it to me.  And it would be enough". 
  Just a story about an affair, but the language, metaphors and symbolism swept me out to sea!

 This book is a mother/daughter memoir- set in Greece and France.  Ann, the daughter, is depressed about not being accepted to the University program that she applied for.  Sue, the mother,  is upset about the loss of the close relationship she had with her daughter and is also struggling with her own aging process.  
  Sue is obsessed with another mother/daughter relationship - Demeter and Persephone.  "I have come to believe it's really about that aperture opening,  It's the channel where the souls of a mother and a daughter open and flow as two separate souls, woman to woman.  It is, I know now, a place created through necessary loss and necessary search, and a reinvention of the whole relationship."
  This book took 8 years to write and was about 'the sacred feminine'.  It lost me!
  My daughter, Kathy, and I both read this book and laughed about the comparison of this mother/daughter trip to Greece and our trip to Newfoundland. Sue and her daughter were completely wrapped up in self-analysis and the angst of relationship.  
  This book seemed so serious, while we just enjoyed the country, sang and laughed as we drove across Newfoundland with my other daughters and granddaughter.

  Sue Monk Kidd was born in Georgia and received her B.S degree (nursing) from Texas Christian University.  She worked as a nurse and a nursing instructor.  She married Sanford (Sandy) who graduated in theology and they had 2 children.
  She began writing- mostly in guidepost magazine.  She wrote two spiritual memoirs, then took a turn into feminist theology.
This book chronicles her journey from Christian tradition to sacred Feminism.
  The author was strongly influenced by the teaching 'second in creation, first to sin'.  She recognized the wound that women carry when they feel inferior and secondary.  She needed to re-image Deity.  She discovered that before the Hebrew religion, people worshipped the Supreme Being in the form of a female Deity- the Great Goddess.  She found a new inner authority as a woman and a connection to the natural world.
  I didn't relate to this book, perhaps because I have never felt inferior or secondary because of being a  woman.

   Sue Monk Kidd is a very self-reflective woman who writes great fiction!

Friday, 6 June 2014


In my blog on "The Invention of Wings", I made a significant mistake.  And my daughter caught it!  Way to go, Kathy!  John usually edits my blog before I publish it, but he hadn't read the book, so wouldn't catch this error.
Sarah's slave was not 'Helpful', but 'Handful'.  There is a big, big difference.

Also, Kathy responded to the thought about the title.
Her thoughts:

The title has to do with the relationship between Handful, her mom, and her mom's mom... and the ability to fly away and to be free from whatever holds you down.  She talked about the bones on her back one day growing into wings.  It was based on an African folk tale but I can't remember if it was real or part of the story that was created for the novel.

Also, it's about every character's desire to grow their own wings and escape from the societal constraints of that time.  Everyone, the slave owners and the slaves, both the women and the men in this book were unhappy with the way their roles forced them to be/live.

And she connects the title to the quilting story lines with the flying geese blocks and images.

Kathy got me started on this blog and I'm happy that she keeps me honest!  Thanks, Kathy!
Her blog is

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd
  I have been following this author for some time.  So I was excited when Oprah chose her new book for her book club.

"The Invention of Wings"
I am always interested in a novel about slavery.  I have no idea why this topic fascinates me so much.  I know that there will be a great deal of pain.  But there is so much emotion in these books. This particular book was missing the exquisite language of Sue Monk Kidd's other books, but has a great plot and interesting characters.  I was surprised to learn at the end that the sisters in the novel were real people.

Sarah and Angelina Grimke were born into Charleston aristocracy.  They were always opposed to slavery in spite of the fact that Sarah's present from her parents for her 11th birthday was a 10-year-old slave, called "Helpful".
Much is known about Sarah and Angelina as they moved north to Philadelphia and joined the Quakers.  The sisters began speaking around the country, but their message became too extreme for the Quakers, who wanted them to stay with an abolition theme.  However, they felt strongly about feminism and, basically, spoke for freedom for all.
  They were involved with the American Anti-Slavery Society but were radicals in that circle also.
  I was interested in their connection with John Greenleaf Whittier, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  I googled for information about each of these fellows and their involvement in the abolitionist movement.  Interesting!
 There isn't as much information about the slave that was given to Sarah, so the author needed to invent a story for her.  The whole story is told by alternating narrators- Sarah and Helpful.  This certainly gives different points of view.
  At the end of the novel, the author explains how much of the story is based on fact and what is invented.
  Speaking of invention....what about the title?

  "Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you?" (Diane Setterfield in "The Thirteenth Tale")
   This is what I experienced after reading "The Invention of Wings".  I was unable to connect with any of the other books on my pile.  Penny would say that I have a 'book hangover'.  I want to think about this book a while longer......