Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interview with Tatjana Soli - Author of "The Lotus Eaters"

Please join me in welcoming Tatjana Soli, author of The Lotus Eaters, to Lit And Life!

L&L: Tatjana, you're an acommplished and award-winning author of short stories. What made you decide to write a novel?

Tatjana: I love writing short stories, but I would get back many stories that I submitted to quarterlies saying they were too novelistic, so I guess maybe I've always been a novelist. I'm intrigued by the interaction of large casts of characters, by the effects of time and place, and these make for "baggy" (read: impossible) short stories. That said, I think there is a real beauty to the short story form is what it leaves out, the precision of it, much like poetry. I'll never quit writing them because I think the form demands much in terms of craft; they sharpen one's skills.

L&L: Your website mentions that you grew up haunted by the Vietnam war. Are there particular images that have stuck with you? Is the war something that you've done much reading about as an adult?

Tatjana: That's a great question. I have always been haunted by the images of the Fall of Saigon, and even after reading books on it, documentaries, pictures, I can't seem to come to the end of it. I can still easily lose myself in those images. Sometimes you hope that writing a book exorcises this kind of hold on you, but that wasn't the case for me.

L&L: The story of how you came to write the story is so interesting. Can you share it with my readers?

Tatjana: I was always fascinated by the war, especially since my mom worked for NATO and then she was at Fort Ord during the war. When you are a child, there are no politics, there are only people leaving, people not coming back. I remember women crying. But as an adult when I discovered that a handful of women worked as photojournalists in Vietnam, it suddenly became a story I could tell.

L&L: It seems that the photojournalists experience the same "rush" of war as soldiers. How much research did you do regarding the war and the role of photojournalists covering it?

Tatjana: I read all the major nonfiction books about the war. Then I read all the Vietnamese history books I could find. It was then I came across Dickey Chapelle, the first woman to cover Indochina, the first to be killed in action. But then my research spread out to journalists in general, including other wars. Of course, the technical nature of photojournalism has changed entirely since then. But the essence, I think, is the same. There definitely is an addiction to the adrenaline of war, but I also think that most journalists also feel a real weight of responsibility to cover wars, genocides, with the hope that bringing attention to them will end them. Think of Nick Ut's photo of Kim Phuc, the girl burned by napalm. That's the power of a picture.

L&L: Are there any books about the war that you would recommend?

Tatjana: I don't think one can understand the war without first reading Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. I just recently reread it and was blown away, once again, by its power. Another novel of O'Brien's, Going After Cacciato, is not mentioned nearly so often, but I think it is equally wonderful. I love Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers, which is about the American psyche as much as it is about the war. Michael Herr's nonfiction novel, Dispatches, which has the famous line: "I think Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods."

L&L: What made you decide to include the love relationships into the story?

Tatjana: On a practical level, the journalists living in Saigon carried on life in a fairly normalized way. It was almost a joke how they could enjoy city life and then fly out to cover war. Looking at it in a more serious way, the stresses of wartime create bonds that are incredibly strong. Soldiers who serve together will become lifetime friends. It's only natural that people might fall in love in such circumstances. I think people are driven to find that connection with another human being - to find something worth living for in the midst of the devastation of war. Love becomes something to believe in.

L&L: You start the book with the end of the story. Why did you choose to do that? Did you know where the book was going before you started or did it develop as you wrote?

Tatjana: When I wrote the first draft of the novel that beginning was in place. It always seemed natural to me, but I believe it has to do with coming tot he subject such a long time after the war was a fait accompli. My story is not about what happened in the war, but how these characters turned out as they did as a result of it. That said, it took me a long time to figure out how to work the rest of the novel after that premise was in place. I revised the rest of the book over and over.

L&L: The Lotus Eaters has been selected to be included in "O" Magazine's Books For Spring and Tim O'Brien and Richard Russo have high praise for it. How does it feel to be getting so much attention for your first novel?

Tatjana: I've been incredibly lucky. And it took ten years. I am absolutely overwhelmed by the generosity of the writers who have helped me. I remind my students that I worked on this book for years, worrying it like a dog with a bone. When all the reviews and interviews are over, I'll be back at my desk.

L&L: You have Red Room and Facebook pages and a Twitter account. How do you feel about the role of the internet on book publicity?

Tatjana: This whole world of social networking is very new to me. It's very time consuming, and I haven't decided for sure which I'll keep doing long term, though I like blogging. I haven't mastered Twitter at all. But I've enjoyed hearing from readers who've contacted me, telling me how they reacted to the book, and sharing their own stories. That's a wonderful antidote to the isolation writers feel when they are working.

L&L: Can you share what's up next for you?

Tatjana: I'm working on a contemporary novel set on a citrus farm in Southern California.

L&L: I know from talking to other authors that publicity is a full-time job when a book is coming out. Are you okay with that or are you chomping at the bit to get back to writing?

Tatjana: Yes, I'm chomping at the bit to get back to it. It feels more natural to be writing!

Thanks so much for taking time to share with us, Tatjana! My review of The Lotus Eaters will be posted on Thursday. I'll slip this much about it: I sure hope it doesn't take ten years for the next book to come out!

On a stifling day in 1975, the North Vietnamese army is poised to roll into Saigon. As the fall of the city begins, two lovers make their way through the streets to escape to a new life. Helen Adams, an American photojournalist, must take leave of a war she is addicted to and a devastated country she has come to love. Linh, the Vietnamese man who loves her, must grapple with his own conflicted loyalties of heart and homeland. As they race to leave, they play out a drama of devotion and betrayal that spins them back through twelve war-torn years, beginning in the splendor of Angkor Wat, with their mentor, larger-than-life war correspondent Sam Darrow, once Helen's infuriating love and fiercest competitor, and Linh's secret keeper, boss and truest friend.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Where The Sidewalk Ends: poems and drawings of Shel Silverstein
176 pages
Published November 1974 by Harper Collins
Source:My kids got this one for Christmas 1995

The Barnes and Noble site says this one is recommended for ages 9-12; to which I say phooey. My boys were both younger than this when they got this book and they loved it. I'm a couple of years older than 12 now and I found it delightful.

Silverstein uses all types of rhyme and poetry, including one poem that runs down the neck of a giraffe and another that is written on a woman's nose. He never talks down to the reader and using humor even manages to instill a few life lessons. I've read this book many times with my kids but this time suddenly caught the poem advocating vegetarianism, the one bemoaning the idea of bringing a child into the a world filled with pollution and war, and one advising against racism.
No Difference

Small as a peanut,
Big as a giant,
We're all the same size
When we turn off the light.

Rich as a sultan,
Poor as a mite,
We're all worth the same
When we turn off the light.

Red, black or orange,
Yellow or white,
We all look the same
When we turn off the light

So maybe the way
To make everything right
Is for God to just reach out
And turn off the light!
How did I not notice these before? Oh yeah--it was probably because some of the time I was traveling down memory lane. Where The Sidewalk Ends includes the poems "Boa Constrictor" which was recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary and "The Unicorn" recorded by The Irish Rovers, both songs I loved growing up.

One of my kids favorites:
The Hat

Teddy said it was a hat,
So I put it on.
Now Dad is saying,
"Where the heck's
the toilet plunger gone?

When my oldest got a sink plunger as a joke a few months after they got this book, Mini-me promptly placed it on his head just like Shel Silverstein's drawing!

I picked this one up again as part of the You've Got Mail challenge. I had so much fun with this one, I'm going to have to pull another of the kids' poetry books off the shelf!

Monday, March 29, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thanks to Sheila of One Person's Journey Through A World Of Books for hosting "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?"

After a week of pain in my head and face, I finally broke down today and went into the dentist to have him confirm that I had an abscess and needed a root canal. Thanks to all of that pain, I haven't felt like doing much reading of late. This week I will finish and review:

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Later this week I'll start:

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

and continue reading:

Something Like Beautiful by Asha Bandele

So what are you reading this week? Has spring break had an impact on your reading? My younger two have spring break next week and I'm really hoping that opens up more reading time for me!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Salon - March 28

What a beautiful day it's shaping up to be here! And the forecast calls for temps in the 70's by the end of the week so I see reading on the patio in my very near future.

Well, this is embarrassing--I don't know how many Sunday Salons I've posted here but only yesterday did I finally realize that The Sunday Salon was an actual compilation of bloggers with actual rules and a web site. Sadly, I'm two months too late to officially become a part of The Sunday Salon; I hope they won't mind that I've been using their badge for all of this time. Once upon a time, I was a bit of a rebel; lately I'm much more of a rule follower. But I like doing Sunday Salons so I'm going to keep doing them whether or not I'm officially "in." Because that's just how wild I am these days!

Have you been following the 2010 Tournament of Books? Sixteen books started the tournament; this week it's down to the semi-finals and the zombie round (you'll have to check out the site to understand how that works!). A week from tomorrow, the winner will be announced. It's fun to see who wins each day and the commentaries are terrific.

Last night the family and I finally watched The Blind Side. I know it was manipulative; I know it was overdone. But I loved it--I laughed, I teared up, I cheered. I don't know if Sandra Bullock turned in the best actress performance of the year but she did do a terrific job. I can't wait to read the book, by Michael Lewis, that it was based on.

It's no secret that I love sports so I'm sure it will come as no surprise to read that I've been watching a lot of the NCAA Basketball Tournaments, both the men's (which I am watching purely for the love of the game and to cheer on the 7 or 8 Big 12 teams that made it to the dance) and the women's (which I'm watching because the Nebraska women's team, 32-1, are hoping to get a shot at knocking off the UConn Huskies). Seth Davis, who you may be familiar with if you're a listener of NPR, is the author of a book titled "When March Went Mad." It's the story of how the tournament was changed by the final game of the 1979 season which pitted two of the greatest players ever to play the game--Larry Bird of Indiana State University and Earvin "Magic" Johnson of Michigan State. It was the most watched basketball game in history and changed the way we watch college and professional basketball.

Thanks to Deb of The Book Nook for awarding me the One Lovely Blog Award! The rules say that I'm supposed to pass this award on to 15 blogs that I've recently found but you can see that I'm feeling a little rebellious today. So, as I've been doing lately, I'm going to take this chance to introduce you to the blogger that passed this along to me. Deb lives in New Jersey; in addition to reading, Deb is interested in photography and music. She's reading Elise Blackwell's AN UNFINISHED SCORE, which I reviewed last week and recently reviewed Sarah Addison Allen's GARDEN SPELLS (I just reviewed Allen's THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON). Be sure to stop by and say "hello" to Deb!

Enjoy your week!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Finds March 26

Trish of Hey Lady Whatcha Reading is peeing her pants in anticipation of this one. I don't know that I'm that excited but I'm definitely adding it to my wish list after seeing it on her blog.

Still Missing: A Novel
Chevy Stevens

On the day she was abducted, Annie O’Sullivan, a thirty-two-year-old realtor, had three goals—sell a house, forget about a recent argument with her mother, and be on time for dinner with her ever-patient boyfriend. The open house is slow, but when her last visitor pulls up in a van as she’s about to leave, Annie thinks it just might be her lucky day after all. Interwoven with the story of the year Annie spent as the captive of a psychopath in a remote mountain cabin, which unfolds through sessions with her psychiatrist, is a second narrative recounting events following her escape—her struggle to piece her shattered life back together and the ongoing police investigation into the identity of her captor. The truth doesn’t always set you free.

Friday Finds is hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading. What did you find this week that you absolutely have to read?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Book List Meme - March 25th

This week's Book List Meme, hosted by Rebecca at Lost in Books, is maybe the easiest one ever for me. Rebecca wants to know 3 books that you loved as a child (under age 12). Two of these will come as no surprise to anyone that's ever read this blog. The third one was kind of a toss up between a few books but I thought I'd spring something new on you for my third pick.

When I was in grade school, I read a biography of Catherine the Great. As you probably know, I was raised with a love of history but I think this is one of the first times I had really realized that a woman could be so powerful. I can't find the exact book online that I read as a child. It's probably not even in print any more but my parents still have the copy I read at their house.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I still have my book and it was like pulling out an old friend when I read it to my daughter. It's been with me since Christmas of 1968. Yes, yes--I'm old!

A Little Princess by Frances Hodges Burnett. I must have checked this one out from the library as a child; I don't have my own copy. But I bought my daughter her copy before she could even read.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Unfinished Score by Elise Blackwell

An Unfinished Score by Elise Blackwell
264 pages
Published April 2010 by Unbridled Books
Source: the publisher

One evening, as she is preparing dinner for her husband, roommate and best friend Petra, and Petra's daughter, Adele, Suzanne learns of the crash of an airliner. Among the passengers, is the well-known conductor Alex Elling--who also happens to be Suzanne's lover. Suzanne must deal with her grief all on her own because she has told no one of the affair, not even Petra, who relies on Suzanne to help raise Adele.

"Suzanne watches them, grateful that they are safe on the ground, yet also afraid of their emotional compasses, each tricky in its different way, each seeming to point at her, all the time as though she is true north."

Suzanne finds herself having a harder and harder time dealing with being everyone's true north as she struggles with her loss, complicated further when she begins receiving calls from a woman who tells Suzanne on the first call that Suzanne owes her "a great deal." Suzanne is convinced the calls are coming from Alex's wife, Olivia. When she receives a piece of musical score that is partially written in Alex's handwriting, she knows that she must confront Olivia and so she goes to Chicago to see exactly what Olivia wants. It turns out that Olivia has a viola concerto that Alex had begun composing for Suzanne (a concert violist) and Olivia blackmails Suzanne into helping her finish it. Suzanne soon finds it more difficult to carry on this new version of a double life than the version she was carrying on when Alex was alive as Olivia becomes more and more manipulative, as Suzanne becomes more and more lost in the work and as Petra's demands regarding Adele's deafness become more and more pressing.

I read Blackwell's The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish last fall and loved it. So I knew when I saw that An Unfinished Score was coming out that I would want to read it. It doesn't hurt that Unbridled Books is Blackwell's publisher and I know that when I pick up a book from Unbridled Books it will be unique and thoughtful. This book is no exception. Blackwell has packed this book with things for the reader to think about: infidelity, friendship, rivalry, grief, vengeance, the world of classical music and dealing with deafness in a world filled with sound.

And that was part of my problem with this novel--it sometimes felt like Blackwell may have tried to cover too much ground. The story can sometimes disappear under the weight of the discussion about classical composers, particular musical pieces and performances, cochlear implants and the debate over them.

All of this made it hard for me to become attached to the characters. Right off the bat, I was sure that I would feel sympathy for Suzanne. It was clear that she and her husband didn't have much of a marriage, that he was emotionally distant, and I could understand why she may have strayed from her marriage vows. Ben once said to Suzanne, "Don't turn into one of those women who go daffy on their dogs when they don't have a baby" because of Suzanne's interest in Adele (Suzanne having miscarried a child).

""Adele is not a dog," she said, but as is common with the most cutting of remakes, she not only hated him for its cruelty but believed in its accuracy.

Suzanne sometimes thinks that if Ben had not said that single sentence she would have forgiven everything else, endured the emotional distance that was there from the beginning, stayed more or less happily married, resisted Alex's gaze."

But then the story got lost a bit in explanations and it wasn't until sixty pages in that I really began to see Suzanne dealing with her grief and started to feel a bond with her and she struggled with that and Petra's demands.
"She does the things that have to be done. She attends rehearsals. She practices. She brings food home from the grocery store, helps with Adele, tidies the house, writes check to the water company and the phone company, buys stamps. She tries to keep up with her online life...Yet she notices things slipping through the cracks in her concentration. She cleans the bathroom but forgets the shower or the mirror."
Blackwell's prose did not disappoint and kept me wanting to read on. When Suzanne finally meets Olivia, the story really began to pick up for me and I enjoyed watching the two of them interact right from their first meeting at Olivia's front door. Suzanne finds Olivia to be intimidating from the moment she opens the door and is feeling disheveled and frizzy.

"As if to prove her unworthiness, Suzanne says, "You are not what I expected."

"It's funny you should say so, because you are precisely what I expected," Olivia pulls the door open wider..."

Publisher's Weekly called the writing "a big turn-off." I disagree completely. I find the writing to be the strength of the story. says this is "not a novel to get lost in. It is a tough novel, well-written, with major and minor themes coursing through it to carry the plot." And there I agree; you will not sit down with this one and plow through it in one reading. It takes work to get through it but, ultimately, the reader is rewarded.

I was thrilled to be asked to participate in Spotlight Series which is, this month, spotlighting books published by Unbridled Books. Spotlight Series aim is to spread the word on quality books published by small press publishers. Be sure to check out all of the reviews for this month and check back often to see what other publishers the series will be focusing on.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Girl Who Chased The Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

The Girl Who Chased The Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
288 pages
Published by Random House
Source: the publisher and Pump Up Your Book

Emily Benedict has come to Mullaby, North Carolina, following her mother's death, to live with a grandfather she has never met, in a town her mother has never told her anything about. But Emily quickly learns that her mother growing up was not the same woman Emily knew. In fact, she seems to have been the town pariah--a spoiled little rich girl who went out of her way to torment others. Her grandfather is a giant, there are strange lights that skip across the yard at night, and the wallpaper in her mother's old bedroom changes patterns. When Emily meets young Win Coffey and Julia Winterson, a woman who was one of the victims of her mother's nastiness, she begins to learn more and more about the Mullaby lights and why the people of Mullaby hate her mother so much. Grandpa Vance isn't much of a talker, but Emily gets him to start telling her exactly what happened so many years ago. Maybe she will be able to fit in; maybe she and Win will overcome his family's strong objections to their growing friendship.

Julia, meanwhile, is wrestling with her own demons. She's come back to Mullaby for a couple of years to wrap up her father's estate but she's also trying to avoid her former stepmother Beverly and Sawyer Alexander, a man with whom she had a one night stand almost 20 years ago in high school. Her hatred of Sawyer has kept her going for all of these years. But when he finally does reappear in her life, her high school feelings for him come flooding back and he's doing his best to overcome her defenses. I most enjoyed Julia's part of the story and watching her overcome and come to terms with her past.

The book relays on the action to move it along and I think I would have liked that more without the magic that is such a big part of the story. If you're a fan of Allen's, though, you're looking for that in a book and you won't be disappointed. I felt that a lot of the characters were stereotypes but readers who've posted reviews on Barnes & Noble's site don't agree with me.

I found some descriptive phrases a little jarring. At one point Allen writes that a "smell was intense and delicious, like being in an oven." A smell is like being in an oven? But overall, this was an quick, enjoyable read that didn't require much thought and which I knew, early on, could be counted on to end happily.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Salon - March 21

It's a beautiful, sunny morning here with the promise of warmer temps to come! I've got some bookish links for you today and one link that's just plain eye candy that has nothing to do with books but I just loved it and wanted to share!

The Reader's Advisor Online has come out with a list of discussable women's literature for book clubs that they say are under the radar. The books were all so familiar to me from reading blogs that I found it hard to believe they could be considered "under the radar." I guess that may say something for our reach as bloggers.
  • Robin Antalek–The Summer We Fell Apart
  • Lisa Genova–Still Alice
  • Heather Gudenkauf–The Weight of Silence
  • Cristina Henriquez–World In Half
  • Beth Hoffman–Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
  • Lori Lansens–The Wife’s Tale
  • Joseph Monninger–Eternal on the Water
  • Cathleen Schine–The Three Weissmanns of Westport
  • Gwendolyn Zepeda–Lone Star Legend
BookBrowse has an interesting article about the author as advocate. Cathy Buchanan, author of The Day The Falls Stood Still, has become passionately involved in the fight against a high rise development that's being proposed on property right next to Niagara Falls. For those of you who have read the book, the development would be on the land currently occupied the Loretto Academy. The hotel would be so tall that it would cast a shadow over the falls and increase the number of rain-like days in the area. If you're interested in learning more, check out Friends of Niagara Falls.

NPR has come out with a list of the 100 Best Fictional Characters Since 1900. Interestingly the list comes from Book magazine's March/April 2002 but is only just coming to light. Topping the list is Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." Three of James Joyce's characters appear in the top ten. Also appearing--Toad from The Wind In The Willows, The Cat from The Cat In The Hat, Pooh and Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh, and Charlotte from Charlotte's Web.

From The Millions, comes a comparison of book covers. I find it so interesting that publishers think that a book will have universal appeal but that covers won't. I found that I was often drawn more to the covers as published in the U.K. What do you think?

Sorry guys, this last link isn't really for you--well, unless you're looking for some style icons to emulate. It's GQ's list of The 50 Most Stylish Leading Men of the Past Half Century. The list includes everyone from Cary Grant and David Niven to Daniel Day-Lewis and Johnny Depp.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Friday Finds - March 19

This week's Friday Find isn't exactly a book I found this week. In fact, I've known about The Threadbare Heart for some time. I came across Jennie Nash's blog months ago and I like to think that we've struck up a friendship since then. In October, I read her book The Last Beach Bungalow (my review is here) and I fell in love with the characters she created. I also read Raising A Reader (review here) and highly recommend it for parents of young children.

Jennie and I were talking about her most recent book (at that time) The Only True Genius In The Family (which I'll be reviewing soon) and the book she was working on at the time. I told her I couldn't wait to read it and she made my little book loving heart do a flip when she said that she'd send me a copy of the manuscript. Really? Little old me? The day the manuscript arrived, I literally grabbed it to my chest. Then a little part of me started to panic. What if I didn't like it? What if it didn't touch me in the same way as the other books? Not to worry--I did and it did. Now I cannot wait for the rest of you to be able to read it! And Jennie has the most amazing plans for launching the book--you'll be hearing much more about this book come May!

To learn more about this book, Jennie and her other books, check out Jennie's website. And to get some insight into the daily workings of an author, follow her blog, Meet Your Muse.

Friday Finds is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Introducing: Steam Spectre and Gypsea Tree

I can't remember how I first discovered Gypsea Tree--one of those situations where you start one place and soon find yourself some place entirely new. Gypsea Tree is Laura's site devoted to "those who love far away places, dusty books, lonely libraries, gypsy caravans, music, poetry, ghost stories, and creativity. " Isn't that just lovely? Very often when I open Laura's blog there is a picture that absolutely takes my breath away.

Recently Laura started a second blog called Steam Spectre. It is devoted to all things Victorian and Steam Punk. I know there are several of you that follow me that also are interested in steam punk so I wanted to make sure you found your way over to Steam Spectre.

I hope you'll take a minute and check out Laura's blogs. One of them is sure to have a photo or piece of artwork that will pique your interest!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Book List Meme - March 17th

This week's Book List Meme, hosted by Rebecca of Lost in Books, ask you to take a trip down memory lane. Rebecca's looking for three books that take you back to high school. To be honest, I really can't remember what I read in high school--it was such a long time ago! But these three were probably read at about that time. I swear I also read some classics!

Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express." I read quite a few Agatha Christie books between junior high and high school. I really did prefer Miss Marple.

Stephen King's "Carrie." High school was the start of my many year love affair with Stephen King's books.

Colleen McCullough's "The Thorn Birds." I think even then I thought there were some creepy things about this book but I loved it anyway.

What books take you back to high school?

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Writing On My Forehead by Nafisi Haji

The Writing On My Forehead by Nafisi Haji
320 pages
Published March 2009 by Harper Collins
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Saira Qader is watching over her sister's daughter, as the book opens, because her sister has been shot. Thinking of Ameena takes Saira on a journey into her past, from the time the sisters were little girls right back to the present.

Of Indo-Pakistani descent, but born and raised in the U.S., the two are as different as they can be. Ameena is the "good" daughter, bound to follow the rules and the traditions of their culture. But Saira has always been a little unruly, has always been one to question "why." When she is sent to Pakistan to attend a cousin's wedding, she learns the real reason her mother has refused to attend and so much more about her family and their history. She learns about her maternal grandfather, who left her Indian grandmother for a young Englishwoman before she was even born and she's able to meet the woman and the aunts her mother has never acknowledged. She's able to learn about her paternal grandfather, a man who spent great amounts of time fighting for India's independence from Britain, who lamented the separation of the land into India and Pakistan, all while suffering pain losses in his own life. Knowing these things only seems to convince Saira that being the good little Indo-Paki daughter is not for her. When Ameena enters into an arranged marriage, Saira becomes convinced that, like her great-aunt, Big Nanima, she will never marry.
"But it was a sour proposition to have to contemplate--that there would be any such "we" in my future. That my marriage--that any part of my adult life--would be determined by "we." I thought of Big Nanima, living alone in her little house. That's what I wanted for myself. Space. Freedom."
Instead she attends college, does all of the things her parents would disapprove of, and travels the world as a journalist. But on 9/11, along with so many thousands of others, Saira's life is changed forever.

My sister told me this weekend that she heard that you should probably live where most of the books you love are set. I guess that means I should be, at the very least, considering a trip to India. Because, yet again, I have found a book centered around Middle Eastern culture that I couldn't put down.

Because of the time span of the book, there almost appear to be "parts" of the book. Haji has gone into great detail about certain time periods, then skips over years before picking up the story again. This doesn't always work for me, but Haji has managed to make the story flow for the most part. Learning about the culture, learning about the Indian/Pakistani separation and looking at the world from a different perspective really captivated me. Haji also manages to work in some references to other literary works, including Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women."
"My mother, I decided, had morphed into some kind of Indo-Pak version of Mrs. Bennet. Ameena was typically quiet. The shy, blushing-bride routine would come naturally to her, I decided, recalling Jane with some bitterness. So, who was I supposed to be? Lizzy?

More like Jo to Ameena's Meg, I decided later, during dinner."
Haji writes of living in the modern world, making your own way, while not entirely turning your back on your culture's history.
"You are a young woman from a different time and place. You have to decide what you want fro your life. But don't be too quick to throw away all of the old to embrace the new. Make room for both, Saira. This old family network--it is with us when we are born, why we marry--as your mother is using it now--and when we die. It is not always a bad thing. Here people don't die alone in their apartments, unmissed and unnoticed for weeks, as I have heard happens in America. In our culture, you are defined by who you are to other people--someone's daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt. "
There is a lot here, and it doesn't always work. At one point there is a speech that lasts several pages regarding journalism's merit versus fiction's merit. After a bit, I just jumped ahead to get back to the meat of the story. Occasionally Haji can get a little preachy.

But, overall, this is a wonderful story about what it means to be part of a family and part of a particular culture. This would make a good book club selection; there's a lot here to discuss.

Thanks to Trish, and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Salon - March 14

What a fun week I had--more socializing than I normally do in two weeks. But so little reading done! Definitely glad that my book club's selection for this month is The Help, which I've already read so I don't have to worry about that. This week I'll be reading The Girl Who Chased The Moon by Sarah Addison Allen and An Unfinished Score by Elise Blackwell (I read her The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish last fall and loved it).

I started the week off at an Academy Awards show. I'm embarrassed to say that I had seen almost none of the movies. We don't hit the theater too often but I'll probably see most of them eventually because we do rent movies like crazy. It was fun anyway--it's always fun to check out the dresses, have some laughs with old friends and new ones and to try new cocktails! Anyone had champagne jello shots?

The very next night a couple of book club friends and I headed off to the community playhouse. Our friend, the playwright, was having a reading of her latest play, "Recommended Reading for Girls." She's managed to write a play that incorporates some of our favorite childhood heroines, Sara Crewe (A Little Princess), Heidi, Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables) and a girl detective, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Nancy Drew but, due to copyright certainly isn't Nancy Drew. It was wonderful and a new experience for the three of us.

Two days later, I met a group of new and old friends to attend a showing at the Omaha Film Festival. We got to see eight shorts and rate them. I blush to admit that, even though this is the tenth year of the festival, this is the first time I've attended. I had no idea there were actually films from all over the world and that they were of such a high quality. Definitely something I'll be planning on attending next year.

Last night we headed off with a group of friends for dinner and drinks. The guys have all been friends since middle school and we all got married within a few years of each other. Another reason to have stayed close to home is the chance to be able to spend time with friends you have known for so long!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friday Favorites - "Sybil"

The book "Sybil," by Flora Rheta Schreiber was actually first introduced to me by--surprise, surprise--a movie adaptation. Made for television in 1976, the 2-part movie starred Joanne Woodward, as psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur, and Sally Field as Sybil Dorsett, a role for which Fields won an Emmy. As a teenager, growing up in the 1970's mental illness was something with which I was completely unfamiliar. I was riveted by the movie and had to pick up the book to learn more.

The book, first published in 1973, tells the story of graduate student Sybil Dorsett, who initially seeks psychiatric help for social anxiety and memory loss. But, after intense therapy, drug therapy and hypnosis, it's discovered that Sybil is actually suffering from dissociative identity disorder--split personality. Because of horrific abuse in her childhood, Sybil has fractured into 16 personalities. The book chronicles Sybil's treatment, including how she became aware of each of the personalities (and they of each other) and how Wilbur and Sybil worked together to integrate the personalities into one successful individual.

Sadly, later research of the tapes made by the real psychiatrist and patient, on whom the book is based, revealed much of what is in the book to be fraudulent. Which really opened the door, in the medical field, as to how real this disorder is. It does seem easy enough for me to believe that the mind might create another self to deal with things that the real self can't handle. And none of this debate effected my opinion of the book as an incredible story.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
119 pages
Copyright 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf
Source: Christmas gift 1969 from my aunt

Poor James was leading a perfectly fine life until one day his parents went to London where they were eaten by a rhinoceros who had escaped from the zoo. From then on he is sent to live in the middle of nowhere with his Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge--two exceedingly nasty spinsters who treat James as if he were their slave and don't allow him to leave their hill. Then one day a strange man approaches James at the fence with a bag full of mystery green things and tell him to eat them and they will make his life better. As James' luck would have it, he falls as he goes back up the hill, dropped the bag, and watching sadly as all of the green things disappear into the earth. All is not lost, however. Those little green creatures work their magic on an old peach tree that hasn't produced fruit in years. Soon there begins to grow a single peach that grows and grows until it is so enormous that the aunts are selling opportunities to see it. After the crowds leave, as James is being forced to clean up the mess the crowds have left, he discovers a hole in the peach and follows the tunnel that it is the opening to, only to discover a room in the center, filled with an assortment of insects and bugs that are now as big as he is, thanks to the same magic that grew the peach. One of them, the centipede, goes to work on chewing the peach loose from the tree and soon the group finds themselves bouncing down the hill, landing in the ocean and beginning a great adventure.

Only Roald Dahl can write a book where, in the second paragraph no less, he kills off both parents by having them eaten by a rhinoceros and still call it a children's book! All of his books feature some sort of horrible thing happening to the hero or heroine, all of them include some threat of danger and all of them include some kind of fantastical, magical thing. If they were written today, people would probably rail against them for being too violent for children. Fortunately, they were written years ago, when they could teach the lesson that even the smallest of us can survive and flourish despite the most terrible of odds. On re-reading this book, I'm convinced that Lemony Snicket, of A Series of Unfortunate Events, was heavily influenced by Dahl. I'm sure he wasn't the only one.

The book is also filled with wonderful poems and plenty to keep even an adult entertained. If you have young children, I recommend you read this one with them! I re-read this one as part of a couple of challenges and I found myself reading great passages of it to my 18-year-old who was equally amused.