Tag Archives: Fiction

New to the Stacks: Madeleine L’Engle

An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Like a Lotus by Madeleine L’Engle
The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle
Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Many Waters – read
  • The Arm of the Starfish – read
  • A House Like a Lotus – read
  • An Acceptable Time – read

Review: The Hakawati

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
The Hakawati
by Rabih Alameddine

Title: The Hakawati
Author: Rabih Alameddine
Published: 2008
ISBN-13: 9780385664776
Publisher: Anchor Canada
This is a book of stories, about family, Identity, love of family filled with stories from  generations of storytellers.  In fact, Hakawati means storyteller.

Where do I begin with this?  The story of generations of storytellers in one family.  The strands of the stories weaving together the themes of identity (Lebanese or American?  musician, storyteller or engineer?), physical place, and place within the family structure are told.

Osama al-Kharrat returns to Beirut from Los Angeles to bear witness to his father’s death.  The entire family gathers around the hospital bed to reminisce and tell stories reaching generations back.  As with most family reunions, new stories are created as the now adult children discuss events from their childhood and discover the meaning of said events.

I love the way Alameddine weaves the many generations of stories together to tell the story of a this Lebanese family.  Anyone who enjoys good stories will love The Hakawati.

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Review: The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh
translated by N.K. Sandars

Title: The Epic of Gilgamesh
Author: Translated by N. K. Sandars
Published: 1972
ISBN-13: 978140441000
Publisher: Penguin Classics
I found SparkNotes helpful.

This is the grandmama of all written epic stories, the progenitor of familiar quest stories and tropes through the ages.  It’s also based on the historical Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh is 2/3 god, 1/3 human and has no equal.  As such, his arrogance and hubris get the better of him while he literally rapes and pillages his way through his own land, Uruk.

The gods create Enkidu from clay (completely mortal) as a balance to Gilgamesh’s excesses.  When they meet, they fight each other but once they discover they are equals, they become great friends.

Because Gilgamesh is restless, he and Enkidu go on a quest which includes stealing cedars from a forest forbidden to mortals.  After they kill the demon Humbaba, Ishtar tries to entice Gilgamesh into a love affair with her.  He flatly turns her down, which enrages her and she calls down the Bull of Heaven to kill him.

Enkidu dies from a protracted illness because the gods must punish one of them for killing the Bull of Heaven.  Gilgamesh is bereft and leaves Uruk in search of Utnapishtim, the man who survived the Great Deluge and was given eternal life.

In his travels to the end of the world and back, he finally accepts that life is not eternal, but the impact on those he comes in contact can be.

I first read Gilgamesh for a class about ethics towards animals (Enkidu was raised among the animals).  Reading it is the start of many familiar stories, like the Great Deluge, considered to be the genesis of the Flood story and Noah in the Bible.

For more about the genesis of myths which have become common knowledge around the world, read my review of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Review: Beloved

Beloved
by
Toni Morrison

Title: Beloved
Author: Toni Morrison
Published: 1987
ISBN-13: 9780375402739
Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf
Publisher’s Blurb: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

It’s often difficult to tell the difference between an over-hyped book and one deserving of my attention.  Thus it was between Beloved and I.  Until an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad made me think I “should” read it.  The tipping point came over lunch with a friend who was absolutely shocked I hadn’t.  All righty then.

The opening line, “124 was spiteful,” sets the stage.  Who or what is 124 and why is s/he/it/they spiteful?  That sentence leads into the deeply moving, dark tale of not so distant slavery and being black in America.  Which story resonates today as we struggle with racism in modern times.

124 is haunted by the spirit of Sethe’s daughter who, we learn as the story moves on, was killed as an infant as protection by her mother from the slave runners.  This “ghost” symbolizes all the pain, anger, and suffering slaves endured at the hands of white owners.

But then, Beloved appears seemingly out of nowhere and is suspected to be the corporeal manifestation of Sethe’s daughter.  The chaos still exists, now represented by the physical embodiment of pain, anger, and suffering.

124’s inhabitants are the epitome of chaos as buried memories come to the surface.  How can anyone go on after suffering the horrific indignities of being a slave?  How can life go on?  How can anything approach something approximating “normal?”

Beloved explores these questions.  And faces harsh realities.  Being black in America will never afford the right of equality and the privilege of agency.  Never.

My favorite quote is from a scene that Paul D describes while a slave at Sweet Home.  He describes to Sethe what it was like to have his eyes opened by Schoolteacher, who taught everyone on the plantation until Mister broke up the lessons.  Mister gets to be Mister no matter what, because he’s white.  “Schoolteacher changed me.  I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.”  Paul D realizes now his value was less than the chicken who was about to become dinner.  Schoolteacher exposed him to that understanding, which both binds Paul D tighter and frees him.

Cleveland in 1863 just as well be Ferguson 2014 or Philadelphia 2018.  Anyone who thinks this is not the way of the world hasn’t been paying attention.

Beloved is complex.  And I join the chorus which insists this is a book which should be read by everyone.  Repeatedly.

See my list of books which help me understand being black in America.

What’s Auntie Reading Now?: The Museum of Innocence

Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

DNF (Did Not Finish)

I loved My Name is Red, but The Museum of Innocence is not even close to the same level of goodness.  Most other reviewers who, presumably, finished the book were kind when they wrote it was not Pamuk’s best work.

The same attention to detail of things which worked so well in MNIR gets boring in TMOI because the story doesn’t go anywhere.  Kemal’s obsessive love is ruinous.  And yet, all we are treated to is the litany of his obsessive pilfering of objects which he does creepy things with to relive the joy that moment brought him.  When it got to an actual enumeration of the 4,213 cigarette butts he’d pilfered and catalogued for his museum, I’d had enough.

I don’t care what happens next.

Review: A Well Behaved Woman

A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler

Title:  A Well-Behaved Woman
Author:  Therese Anne Fowler
Twitter:  ThereseFowler
Published:  2018
ISBN-13:  978-1250095473
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publisher’s Blurb:   The riveting novel of iron-willed Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family in as they rule Gilded-Age New York, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

 

Nancy Pearl has a the rule of 50.  I have the rule of 100.  Especially when a publisher is gracious enough to give me a free copy to read.  I just couldn’t make it past 115.

Any sympathy I might have had for Alva Vanderbilt, and the plight of women in the Gilded age just went out the window.  We are supposed to sympathize with this girl from the South whose family has fallen onto hard times so she marries into the Vanderbilts.

I tried, really I did.  As a historian, I know it’s unfair to impose contemporary standards onto ages long gone.  And i do sympathize that for women there was so little agency that marrying into a wealthy family, and gaining social status, was of the difference between a death from poverty, or living.

But honestly, Alva was so dull.  And everyone in society so mean and cruel.  And William was just one-dimensional.  And the descriptions of the unseemly wealth and how it was spent ….

I am sorry Therese Anne Fowler, St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley that I can’t give a better review of this book.  Thank you so much for providing me with the opportunity to try.