Sunday, 31 May 2015

Orphans Today

   I have really enjoyed reading about the orphan trains in the U.S. and the home children in Canada.  There are certainly less orphans today because of health care for mothers and a better economy.  Also the Children's Aid is in place to care for orphans that live in North America.
   But there definitely still are orphans in other parts of the world.  Africa has many orphans because of HIV/AIDS.  The government estimates there are 70,000 new orphans a year in Africa. You can read about it here.

 Many organizations are attempting to provide support for these orphans.  I am familiar with one. 
  Faith's Orphans is a very successful, faith-based organization.  They minister to over 3900 children throughout Zambia.  This model empowers existing villages to provide housing for the children.   So the children live with grandparents, other relatives, or neighbours, while  Faith's Orphans provides education, clothing, spiritual training, horticulture. 
  From ages 18-20, the students live in a residence where they learn skills  such as carpentry, computer skills, business skills, tailoring and horticulture, so that they can return to their villages and set up a business.
   Faith trained as a nurse at Mukinge Hospital in Zambia, graduating in 1991.  She was concerned about the number of orphans she saw in her work.  She trained to be a midwife and, when Jukumbo Liyena asked her to marry him, she told him about her concern for orphans.  He said that he would help her with the orphans, and they married.
   In 1993, the Faith Orphanage Foundation was registered with the government as a non-governmental, non-profit, and non- denominational Christian organization seeking to furnish the orphaned children of rural Zambia with the basic needs of children.
   Dorraine Ross, a retired missionary from Zambia has devoted her retirement to spreading the word in Canada, encouraging and organizing  donations of clothing and support money.  There is a board of directors in Zambia and in Canada.  Faith is presently on a tour of churches in Canada to explain her work with orphans.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Home Children

   After reading "The Orphan Train", I searched for more books on the subject.  I was reminded that Jean Little wrote a youth fiction book about the orphans in Canada.  They were called the Home Children.
   Jean is a delightful woman who lives just a few miles from here (in Guelph).  Years ago, I invited her to speak to the children in my school.  She is blind and is accompanied by a seeing eye dog.  She writes fascinating stories for children and I am pleased to know that, at 84, she is still writing, using her talking computer.
more info about Jean:
- she was born in Taiwan and her family moved to Guelph when she was 7
- she was legally blind from birth, but went to regular classes in schools in Guelph
- she has a BA in English Language and Literature
- she began her career teaching disabled children
- her first novel "Mine for Keeps" was published in 1962, about a child with cerebral palsy
- she has published 45 books- novels, picture books, poetry, short stories and biographies
- she has taught children's literature at the University of Guelph
- she has 6 honorary degrees and is a Member of the Order of Canada

               "Orphan at my Door" by Jean Little
   I loved this book.  It is not told from the Home Child's perspective but is powerful nonetheless.
   It is the diary of Victoria,11, the daughter of a doctor.  Victoria's mother was expecting a fourth child and was not well, so Victoria's father took her to the train station to pick up a "home girl" to help to run the home.  The only girl available was Marianna, who happened to be only one year older than Victoria.
  The girls became good friends and Victoria discovered that Marianna has been separated from her brother and baby sister. In fact, her brother, Jasper, 8, was living nearby and was being beaten and starved. 
  The novel is fiction and shows the good and the bad of the 'home children' program.  It points out how prejudiced some people were to these children.  Even if they were sent to school, other children and even teachers treated them badly.
   This book is part of a series: Dear Canada.
   The 'home children' are part of the history of Canada and some school curriculums teach their story.

   Doctor Thomas Barnardo was the organizer of the Home Children program.  Around the same time as Charles Loring Brace was organizing the orphan trains in the U.S., Barnardo began establishing 'receiving homes' for orphans in U.K., Canada and Australia.  His goal was to find homes for the thousands of destitute children in Britain.
   From 1868 - 1930, 350,000 destitute children were placed in homes- 100,000 of these children found homes in Canada and were called "Home Children".
   In 2001,the records were opened for these children and thousands of requests began flooding in.  There was a BBC documentary and the offices of the Bernardo organization needed to be expanded to keep up with the requests.

A fascinating article about the Barnardo Boys can be read here from the
Winnipeg Free Press.

Monday, 25 May 2015

"Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Kline

   The idea of the orphan trains really caught my interest.  I was slightly familiar with this part of history, having read about orphan trains in Europe, United States and Canada. It seemed to be a solution to finding homes for children who were living on the street.  In the early 1900's it is estimated that there were over 10,000 children living on the streets of New York City at any given time.  The idea was to send them west to find homes.
    From 1854 to 1919, the orphan trains ran regularly from the east coast to the midwest of the U.S.  Charles Loring Brace is the man who funded this operation and he is known as the father of the Children's Aid.
    It is believed that more than 200,000 children were transported in this manner.  Hopefully, some of them found good homes, but mostly people were looking for 'free labour' and I am fascinated by the fact that every one of those children had a story that was unique.  That aspect interested me in this book.
   Vivian Daly is a 91- year-old widow when we meet her, living on the coast of Maine.  Molly Ayer, 17, comes to her house to work off her community service hours.  Supposedly, she is helping Vivian to clean out the boxes in her attic.  But in reality, not much cleaning is accomplished,  but these two people bond as they realize the similarity of their stories.  Molly is a Penobscot Indian who has had many bad experiences in the foster care system.  Vivian was on an orphan train in 1929.
  I was fascinated with the concept of this book, but the structure could have been better.  The two personal stories could have melded more easily.  I will not be looking for more books by this author, but I have already picked up more novels with orphan train stories.

   Everyone has a story and these orphans experienced more than I can imagine. I love to read their stories!
I chose this book because of the cover and the title.

Friday, 22 May 2015

"A Tale for The Time Being" by Ruth Ozeki

    I met Ruth Ozeki in 2011 at the Kootenay Book Weekend in Nelson, British Columbia.  Ruth is a novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest.  She was born in the U.S. but now lives on Cortes Island, British Columbia, also spending time in New York City.
  We read her first two books for this book experience: "My Year of Meats" and "All Over Creation".  Her books are easy to read, but much more difficult to understand.
  I found her to be gentle and fascinating.  She began one morning with a meditation.  It was beautiful!

   This novel is about a diary washed up on an island off British Columbia.  Ruth, a writer, finds the diary and tries to piece together the life of Nao, a 16-year-old girl in Japan.  Ruth presumes that the diary was swept away by the tsunami of 2011 and she searches the internet to find any information on this young girl.
   The story is simple BUT..... 
There are many references to Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time".
Japanese words are used and explained in footnotes at the bottom of the page (sometimes half a page of footnotes).
There is great use of the words and philosophy of Zen Master Eihei Gogen.
   The reading is easy, the concepts are complex-e.g. "Think not-thinking.  How do you think not-thinking? Nonthinking.  This is the essential art of zazen". (Zen master Dogen)

"Both life and death manifest in every moment of existence.  Our human body appears and disappears moment by moment, without cease, and this ceaseless arising and passing away is what we experience as time and being.  They are not separate.  They are one thing, and in even a fraction of a second, we have the opportunity to choose, and to turn the course of our action either toward the attainment of truth or away from it.  Each instant is utterly critical to the whole world."

  Glenda Martin, an editor of Bookwomen, is expert at leading book groups.  She recently had seven groups discussing this book in Arizona.  She said, "In my almost 30 years of facilitating book groups, there has never been such depth of reaction to a book".
  Her groups read aloud together the words of both Dogen and Proust.
Oh, and I forgot to add that there are many references to quantum physics in this novel.
  Glenda has read this book three times.  I think I will just accept that it is over my head and go on to other authors.  Love Glenda, love Ruth Ozeki, but I'm not in their league.

Monday, 18 May 2015

And The Mountains Echoed

  This is Khaled Hosseini's third novel.  It was published in 2013 and has a very different writing style than his other books.
 There is a sibling relationship at the beginning of the novel, that is poignant and beautiful. In fact, the first two chapters are perfect in my opinion. The writing is spell-binding and I was drawn into the story of this family. And then the author veered off into other stories.  He said that he wanted to include stories that he heard while visiting Afghanistan recently. 
 He compares this writing process to a tree- branching out and getting bigger and bigger.  These interconnected stories involve a large number of characters that are not directly related to each other. Some readers complained that they needed both a scorecard for the characters and a map for the locations.
   In addition, each chapter had a different narrator and it is necessary to read a few paragraphs or pages at the beginning of each chapter to understand who is doing the narrating.
   No one can write about family relationships better than Khaled Hosseini.  He pulls you right in to the most basic human emotions with his beautiful prose. The beginning of the story was heart-breaking and, as I struggled through the myriad stories, I desperately hoped there would be a satisfying ending back with the original family.  Well, there was an attempt to return to the original family, but it was much too depressing for an ending.  It left me disappointed and sad.
Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, where his father was a diplomat for the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught high school.  In 1976, his family was granted political asylum in the U.S., where Hosseini was educated and began practicing medicine.  He was an internist from 1996-2004, during which time he began writing.  
  His first novel, "The Kite Runner", was fabulous in my opinion.  Apparently many other people agreed, as it sold 7 million copies in the U.S. alone. It has been sold in 70 countries. There were parts of the plot that were controversial in Afghanistan.
   I loved the book because the characters were fascinating and the relationships were stunning.  But the themes made this book outstanding for me.  Mostly the theme of guilt and redemption.  And there is an episode of retribution that will always be remembered.
  This book has been made into a movie, stage play and graphic novel.
  Khaled is now writing full time as well as developing The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

I hope that Hosseini goes back to writing novels with strong themes and  a distinct storyline.

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Next Chapter

   There have never been as many visitors to my blog as when I posted about "Station 11" - the One Book One Community book.  Nobody left a response, but I'm sure they were disappointed with my reaction to the book.
  My daughter told me about Shelagh Rogers interviewing the author on the CBC.  It is a radio show called "The Next Chapter" with Shelagh Rogers.  You can get it by googling "The Next Chapter".
   And this is the quote from the author:

  I certainly didn't see this novel as 'a love letter'.  The author recognizes that we take so much for granted and wondered what it would be like without the 'modern trappings'.  What would you miss?
  At the end of the book, they set up a museum of things that cannot be used any more- cell phones, credit cards, etc.  Interesting.
  Another topic of interest is wondering what would you want to survive. What is best about the world?   The author's answer is: Shakespearean plays and classical music.
  Well, now I have some ideas for the discussion in September.  I have mentioned that most dystopian novels are cautionary tales.  This novel seems to want to bring your attention to the joy of living in this age of electricity, computers and other technology.  What would you miss?  Shouldn't you appreciate it more?

And that brings me to a quote that my friend, Terri, brings to my attention:

No two persons ever read the same book. -Edmund Wilson, critic (8 May 1895-1972) 

Monday, 11 May 2015

"The Longest Ride" by Nicholas Sparks

   My husband is a romantic and loves reading books by Nicholas Sparks.  
  The movie version of "The Longest Ride" was playing at our local cinema and so we went to see it.
  Two love stories were entwined in a very effective way.
  The roles of the young couple were played by Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood (the son of Clint Eastwood).  I felt that these actors were over-acting but perhaps it was just highly-romantic.
  Luke was a bull-rider and Sophia was interested in art.  The collision of these two worlds forms the basis for this story.  The young couple discovered a car accident and pulled out the driver - a widowed 91-year-old, Ira, played by Alan Alda.   
Alan Alda
I really enjoyed this storyline and felt that it was presented in a fascinating way.  A box of letters was saved from the car and they represented the basis of Ira's beautiful love story that had many challenges but lasted 70 years. Sophia visited Ira in the hospital and read these letters to him since he was no longer able to read them. Flashbacks added a realistic aspect to the story.

Nicholas Sparks
  Nicholas Sparks was born in Nebraska and was interested in writing from the age of 19.  He wrote a couple of books that were never published.  After trying several jobs, he moved to Washington and began selling pharmaceuticals.
  He married and raised a family in North Carolina.  During this time, he found a publisher and he became very successful.  He has written 18 books and 11 of them have already been made into movies.
   The movie version of "The Longest Ride" is definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

One Book One Community

I love the concept of this program.
One book for the whole community to read and discuss.
For this reason, our library book club will be discussing this year's selection in September.  And I am scheduled to lead that discussion.
So...I decided to read the book now to get a preview.
Well, I am not thrilled with this choice.  It is a dystopian novel.  I tried very hard to ignore my dislike for this genre.  It is not the most dismal that I have read, but I still didn't find anything of interest in the novel.  I realize that dystopian novels are often cautionary tales, warning us of a possible outcome if we do not pay more attention to the serious issues in the world.
I have time to mull over the themes in the book and hopefully come up with an interesting discussion in September.
A great feature of O.B.O.C. is the opportunity to hear the author.
2015 Author Events

Tuesday, September 22 – Cambridge
Wednesday, September 23 – Baden (day)
Wednesday, September 23 – Kitchener (evening)
Thursday, September 24 – Waterloo
Click here for my blog entry on One Book One Community 2014.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Book Club Reject

   I attend a book club that I value because we read a classic every other month.  I have been with this group for 16 years, reading 6 classics a year.  Obviously, we have read some difficult and challenging books in that list of 96 classics.
  This is the choice for this month: "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac.
  I understand that Jack Kerouac is the most famous of the Beat Generation, born in 1922.  So I tried to figure out why he was interesting enough to speak for a 'generation'.  There was a movie made in 2012, so he must still be popular.
  I tried to begin by watching the movie.  Waste of time. So I moved to the book on tape.  I got to the 7th chapter and realized that it was also wasting my time.
  I will not, at this stage of my life, be able to understand this restless, dissatisfied 'generation'.  I guess I learned the same thing from a past book choice- "Catcher in the Rye".  I also have read "Generation X"- different time frame but the same sense of alienation and dissatisfaction. Perhaps I have wasted enough time trying to connect with these 'lost generations'.
  Do these books have a purpose?  Probably.  There must be a reason that Time Magazine included "On The Road" in the list of the best 100 English language novels from 1923-2005.  In the past, I have often struggled my way through a book, thinking that there must be something here of interest.
   Perhaps there is some personal development in Kerouac as he travels back and forth across the U.S.A.  with stories of bus rides and hitchhiking.  But I have decided that there is nothing that will make this an interesting 'read' for me.
   I will just accept that there are always dissastified people in the world and they have the right to express their perspective.