Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book


People of the book by Geraldine Brooks | LibraryThing

Brooks, G., & OverDrive, Inc. (2008). People of the book: A novel. New York, N.Y: Viking. 9781429591065

Reasons for Reading : As I sought eAudio, I stumbled upon Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book. While I enjoyed listening to the book, I realized I wouldn’t be able to finish listening to it before it was due. Thus, I checked out the eBook and downloaded it to my Nook.

Summary: Australian rare-book expert Hanna Heath receives an outstanding offer: to analyze and conserve the Sarajevo Haggadah when it’s recovered in 1996 during the Bosnian War. The Sarajevo Haggadah is one of the earliest Jewish texts to have illustrations. Quickly, Hanna finds peculiarities about the book – a wing of an insect, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair, and missing clasps. While Hanna examines this priceless piece of history, the reader goes on a journey in reverse chronological order – making stops in 1940s Sarajevo, 1894 Vienna, 1609 Venice, 1492 Tarragona, and 1480 Seville, visiting the people who physically impacted the Haggadah.

What I Liked : Author Brooks spins and weaves a fascinating saga. These people of the book elicit a broad range of emotions from me. I liked that Hanna seemed to unite everyone in her work with the Haggadah and I appreciated that she spoke directly to the reader whereas the other sections of the story were told in the third person. Hanna did have values and adhered to them even when it hurt her. I pitied her when it came to her relationship with her mother and that she had no clue about her father’s identity. I learned much about Haggadahs and Jewish history in Europe.

What I Disliked : So, Hanna wasn’t the only one telling the story in first person. This was confusing to me and I believe Brooks did this to mislead the reader. Also, some of the characters that I imagine were supposed to be sympathetic were not. When I didn’t care about the characters, the book dragged. Sometimes, the details were gratuitous and Brooks seemed to come across as magnanimous in her “We’re all in this together” theme.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: The Kingston Trio – Where have all the flowers gone? – YouTube

Setting : Australia, Sarajevo, Germany, Vienna, Venice,  Boston, Tarragona Spain, Seville, Jerusalem

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For more on Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, check out the following sites:

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Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key


Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay | LibraryThing

Rosnay, T. . (2010). Sarah’s key. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. 9781250004345

Reasons for Reading : I recalled my mom reading this book a few years before the movie hit American theaters. Also, working on my library’s contribution to the Holocaust Museum Houston’s Butterfly Project led me to Sarah’s Key. I checked out the book from HCPL.

Summary: Beginning in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1942, the French police arrest a ten year-old girl and her family in the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. The girl manages to lock her younger brother in a secret cupboard in the family’s apartment. She promises to return in a few hours.

The girl’s story alternates with that Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in 2002 Paris with her French husband and daughter. Her editor asks her to write an article commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup. As Julia investigates, she stumbles upon a fateful connection to Sarah, that little girl who stowed her brother in the secret cupboard. This link may lead to better living for Julia or the undoing of her marriage.

What I Liked : Author de Rosnay created rich characters in Sarah and Julia. The latter narrated her of the novel and de Rosnay conveyed the thoughts of an American outcast quite authentically. Sarah’s point of view was related in third person.

I adored Jules and Genevieve. These people offer hope for humanity. They’re the sort that deserve Nobel Peace Prizes.

Also, I found it sobering to learn the French police’s involvement in the Holocaust. It just shows how far brainwashing can go.

What I Disliked : This story made me very sad. Obviously, the key issues weren’t the happiest. I promise that I went into reading this book with my eyes open.

The first part of the book alternated between Sarah’s 1942 and Julia’s 2002. Then, the second part of the book didn’t. Without revealing the end, I wasn’t too keen on losing one of those points of view.

Before I forget, Julia’s husband was horrendous!

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: Linkin Park – In The End – YouTube

Setting : Paris, France, Germany, Poland, New York City, Boston, Italy

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For more on Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, check out the following sites:

 

Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader


* A 1001 Books Book

Schlink, B. (1998). The reader. New York: Vintage Books. 9780679781301

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink | WorldCat

I spotted a copy of this slim book on the Friends of Freeman Library bookshelf. Moving quickly, I managed to buy it. Despite what I previously heard about the heavy topics, I rapidly finished this book.

Divided into three parts and told in the first person narrative form, Part I begins in West Germany in 1958 when fifteen year old Michael Berg becomes gravely ill on his way home from school. Thirty-six year old tram conductor Miss Schmitz sees him and plays the Good Samaritan by hosing down his shoes and guiding him down the road. Michael finds his way home, where he convalesces from hepatitis. His father, a philosophy professor, and his mother keep him from leaving home. When he’s well again, Mrs. Berg sends Michael with a bouquet to Miss Schmitz’s door to show his appreciation, discovering he’s drawn to her. Miss Schmitz catches him watching her dress and Michael runs from her place. However, Michael returns to Miss Schmitz’s apartment, helps her with lugging coal, and becomes covered with coal dust. Miss Schmitz insists Michael bathe and when he does, Miss Schmitz seduces him. A love affair ensues as Michael settles into a routine of visiting her apartment – bathing, having sex, and reading. Michael reads aloud to Miss Schmitz, who in turn, reveals her first name to be Hanna. So, Michael reads classics such as The Odyssey and War and Peace to his lover. During their affair, they don’t talk much about their lives and Hanna becomes morose and abusive at times. After a few months of this, Hanna disappears. Michael develops into a sullen heel himself.

In Part II, as a law student in 1965, Michael and his classmates observe a war crimes trial. Former female Schutzstaffel (SS) guards are on trial for the deaths of 300 Jewish prisoners. One of these guards just happens to be Hanna, Michael’s former lover. Even more perplexing is the fact that Hanna, unlike the other women on trial, refuses to defend what she did as an SS guard. Then, Michael understands that Hanna is hiding an even darker secret. Michael faces the dilemma of letting Hanna “hang herself” for the crime or to reveal what would set her free.

Part III holds the conclusion, taking place in the 1990s. Herein, Michael comes to terms with his relationship with Hanna and choices they’ve made. Without spoiling the book, all I’ll say is that he seeks absolution.

What an austere little book! The sparse prose and clipped tone of the work seemed in perfect accord with the Michael Berg’s thoughts. Also, The Reader delves into the psyche of a rich inner world and thought life – read cerebral. Another element worth noting, Michael’s rather miserly when it comes to labeling people. For example, he never offer names for his parents nor his siblings. Then, he doesn’t name the survivors who bring about Hanna’s trial. Simply, Michael bestows names upon few.

Schlink portrays the intimacy of the two German generations – the Nazi participants (willing/unwilling) and the post-War youth who desire to rectify their fore bearers’ mistakes. He shows precisely the grayness that contemporary analysts find polarizing. No matter how much Michael’s generation wants to wipe the slate clean, none of us should forget. Michael even recognizes how his own father, a philosopher who focuses on Kant and Hegel, inadvertently supported the Nazi cause by writing hiker’s guides. They are inseparable.

Another remarkable theme is ignorance versus knowledge. Enlightenment leads not just to better ways to make a living for oneself, it also opens the path to better decisions.

Then, there’s the intertextuality – the complex relationship between a text and other texts taken as basic to the creation or interpretation of the text (Merriam Webster 2011). Michael’s literary selection came from Enlightenment Era.

Lastly, there’s the prevailing theme of humanity. Part III sees to a purposefulness in Michael that Part II seems to lack. Here, the titular Reader becomes enlightened and compassionate.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: YouTube – Nicole Atkins – Together We Are Both Alone – Live Troubadour

Places : Germany, Poland, The United States

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For more on Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, check out the following sites:

Lisa Jardine’s The awful end of Prince William the Silent . . .


The Awful End of Prince William the Silent by Lisa Jardine

Jardine, L. (2005). The awful end of Prince William the Silent: The first assassination of a head of state with a handgun. New York: HarperCollins. 9780060838355

My reasons for reading this book were threefold. First of all, I’m an amateur genealogist and discovered in 2010 that I may have descended from Prince William himself. Secondly, I’ve long enjoyed reading biographies and thought the True Crime genre aspect added some interest to it. Additionally, I found the reaction of William’s contemporaries to also be intriguing. Lastly, I registered to participate in 2011 Non-Fiction Challenge hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. After requesting the purchase, I happily checked out the book from HCPL.

In summary, Jardine gives the reader an overview of Protestant Prince William of Orange’s assassination by a French Catholic. Also, she sets the scene of young Holland’s struggle to overthrow the Hapsburg’s Catholic rule. She ends by describing the reactions of Elizabeth I and the birth of a nasty trend; taking out governmental leaders with bullets.

I thought Jardine did a great job in describing the players central to this episode of history. She drew Prince William, the Hapsburgs, and Balthasar Gérard very clearly. Jardine covered the points necessary without pedanticalness and I certainly appreciated that!

Four Out of Five Pearls

Places: The Netherlands, Germany, England, Spain, France

Song: “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” by Fall Out Boy
 
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  • The Wicked History Series by various authors
  • Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson
  • The Cop Who Wouldn’t Quit by Rick Nelson
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

For more on Lisa Jardine’s The awful end of Prince William the Silent: The first assassination of a head of state with a handgun, check out the following links:

Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex


Eugenides, J. (2002). Middlesex. New York: Picador. 9780312422158

I actually read this book in Summer 2007 whilst between semesters in grad school. It was Oprah’s pick at the time and I read it at warp speed. Unfortunately, I never reviewed the book. Seeing a copy of Middlesex for sale by the Friends of Freeman (HCPL), I bought it. I took a more leisurely pace began rereading it after Christmas 2010.

Cal Stephanides, a forty-one year old who identifies himself as a man, climbs his gnarly family tree. He possesses a recessive gene, 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, which made him appear female at the time of his birth. Believing him to be a girl, his parents named their “daughter” Calliope and called her “Callie”. After learning about the syndrome as an adolescent, Calliope changes his name to the masculine name, Cal. Taking on his Greek-American genealogy, Cal tells the story of a dirty little secret of his grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty, which shapes Calliope into Cal.

Upon hearing Oprah selected a book about hermaphrodite, I didn’t imagine myself reading this book. Yet, summer doldrums beset me and I stayed up several nights in a row reading Middlesex. The language Eugenides implements relates this story in a beautifully visual way. He crammed so much between the covers. Throughout, I learned more of the Smyrna fire, Prohibition-Era Detroit, the Nation of Islam, and the Pleasant Valley of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Eugenides encapsulates much of the contemporary life of Cal in Foreign Service Berlin as well. I enjoyed the mysteries he creates in his brother Chapter Eleven and catalyst The Obscure Object. I laughed at Desdemona’s work for the Nation of Islam and Aunt Lina’s droll tones. Above all else, I considered the sex versus gender argument in a fresh light.

Four and a Half Out of Five Pearls

Song: “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha & the Vandellas

Places: Mt. Olympus, Smyrna, Turkey, Greece, New York City, Detroit, San Francisco, Germany

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With Middlesex being The Detroit Novel, I must link the following Super Bowl Ad:

For More on Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, please click on the following links:

Google Doodle honors Jean-Paul Sartre Today


Flickr CC | Sartre | Photo by: Adam NFK Smith

By Luigi Lugmayr

The Google homepage diversion today is in honor of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Sartre was born on June 21st 1905 and died on April 15th 1980. Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the leading figures in 20th century existentialism.
You can find out more about Sartre on Wikipedia before you continue you work. To dig even deeper, you can read these books written by Sartre.
Just do not forget what you were actually searching on Google for.
Past Google Doodles are listed here. 

The Google homepage diversion today is in honor of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Sartre was born on June 21st 1905 and died on April 15th 1980. Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the leading figures in 20th century existentialism.
You can find out more about Sartre on Wikipedia before you continue you work. To dig even deeper, you can read these books written by Sartre.
Just do not forget what you were actually searching on Google for.
Past Google Doodles are listed here.

Marie Arana’s Lima Nights


Arana, M. (2009). Lima nights: A novel. New York: Dial Press. 978-0-385-34258-2

I happened to read part of a short book review in O Magazine on Lima Nights. My interest piqued by what I read and the author’s name (similar to that of a friend) led to seeking out the book at my local library branch. Fortunately, I found the book on the new fiction shelf.

Carlos Bluhm, an upper-class man of German descent, lives in Lima, Peru in 1986. By all outward appearances, Bluhm leads a charmed life. He’s married to the refined Sophie, also German, and has two sons. He and his best friends have a strong bond. Life seems goods. When visiting a tango bar in a bad part of town, he meets the young, indigenous Maria Fernandez. This sixteen year old chola turns Bluhm’s world upside down. Bluhm and Maria fall into an illicit affair which alters both their realities. Alternating between the views of Bluhm and Maria in 1986 and 2006, the reader sees how their lives unravel and knit together.

The unsatisfactory plot finds salvation in Arana’s style. Her clinical, psychological understanding of the characters as well as her clearly detailed scenes transform the pages into film. Also, Arana’s straightforward way of describing character prejudices between Caucasian and Pre-Columbian races transcends. Ultimately, she tells a story of doing the right thing. The complexity of Bluhm and Maria, in particular, amaze. These characters are multifaceted and breathing! Bluhm is described by a friend as the most lacking in racism. Yet, Bluhm knows otherwise. He knows better than to pursue a relationship with Maria but goes forth. When the time comes to take responsibility, he actually does.

However, this plot made me unhappy. Why? I saw a lot of wounded souls in this book and very little happiness. While only around 250 pages, this was no light read. I’m willing to give Arana another chance but this was not my favorite book.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Word Bank: bandoneón, butifarras, ceviche, chifa, Cholafraulein, habitués, hacienda, hosta lilies, jitneymestiza, Mutti, Peugeot, Pilsener, pisco, Riesling, Schätze, schnapps, Shining Path, spaetzle, telenovela, Teuton, vidente

Music:

Places: Lima, Peru; Germany; Switzerland; Amazon Rainforest

Other links regarding Marie Arana’s Lima Nights :