When I was teaching, we had an assistant who was reading this thick book every free moment she had. I asked her about it and she spoke of it rapturously. It was Pillars of the Earth, the first of writer of thriller author Ken Follett's pivot into historical fiction. In this first one, Follett tells an epic story of the building of a Gothic Cathedral in the Middle Ages. Oh, you may not be enticed by that summary, but Follett draws these full characters so that y9u understand their motivations, how they fit into history, and why you should care. It was the first of a trilogy, and after the first one, I always looked forward to the next. His newest book, is a prequel to Pillars, set in the Dark Ages. Chapter 1 in Pillars starts at 1123, Chapter 1 in Evening, starts at 997, 200 years before. It follows the main character, Edgar, a ship builder in the beginning, whose town in Britain is destroyed by Vikings, and his life changes. Because he is resourceful, he overcomes one obstacle after another. There are so many interesting characters - the strong-willed, Norman woman who marries the head of the town; you come to despise the villain, who is the town's Bishop; the Monk who eventually starts to build the Cathedral, but who started out as a scribe with a mission to build up a library, This is Follett's style -lots of characters whose lives intersect in one way or another. Sometimes I would lose track as the "episodes" would focus on different characters. But it builds, as if simmering, and eventually it all comes together.
I heard about this author listening to one of my favorite podcasts, It's Been a Minute, He had come out with a new book, Deacon King Kong, and so the interview was about that. When I get exposed to an author I am not familiar with, I would first go to my local used book store and look for them there. (Lately, I've actually been buying newly published books, I used to consider that a splurge but now I see it as supporting my local book store.) I do intend to read his other books, as this one I got at the used book store was spell-binding. The kind where you're talking to yourself, going - NOOOO! In this time of Black Lives Matter, I'm reading a lot more Black authors. It amazes me that there could still be so many racists in 0ur country when there is so much GOOD literature and films about being Black in this country. They say: Oh, but slavery is over, And I'm not responsible. There's something about literature, especially a book like this, that has SUCH a mix a tragedy, dehumanization, and redemption, that builds your empathy muscle. So this is about slavery. One of the main characters, Liz, an escaped slave is a seer, who has dreams of the future. She has a high price and the hunt for her brings together other characters: her rescuer who is planning his own escape through the underground railroad; a slave catcher with demons of his own; and others. The desperation for freedom, both from slavery, and from one's own inhumane demons, is a compelling story. Characters like in this novel, make you want to know how they escape their desperation.
I wanted to like this. It's set on my island. It was recommended in the newsletter put out by my local book store. I just couldn't get past the inauthenticity of the language. Though the author's father is from Hawai'i, she is not, and it shows. I think if you can't get it right, you shouldn't do it. It makes me wonder if she did get local readers to read it. Example: Sprinkling "yeahs" everywhere doesn't make it ring true. Besides the language, the story was a good one, set in 1935, with an eruption from Mauna Loa providing excitement, and maybe a metaphor. It's a story about secrets and the revealing of them.
This is a departure form my preferred genre, which is historical fiction.But it is in line with my other love, storytelling and ancient folklore. This brings to life the story of Circe, who was the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and a nymph. She was a powerful witch, most famous for turning Homer's men into swine on the island where she was exiled to. It interweaves a lot of mythical figures who we likely familiar with, like Homer, and Hermes, the messenger. It was hard to follow at first, but once you get into it, it is fascinating. It gets more and more incredible, in a good way, like a good story.
I loved Brennert's previous 2 books, Moloks'i and Honolulu. Not so impressed with this one, which continues the story with the daughter of the main character in Moloka'i, who was confined to the leper colony on Kalaupapa. She was forced to give up her daughter to a Catholic orphanage back on O'ahu, and it follows her life as a precocious child, then being adopted, and through adulthood. Much of the story covers life in a Japanese-American concentration camp. Not sure why I didn't rave over this one. It's okay.
So many people had recommended this to me and I finally got to read it. I must really like stories that traverse generations, because I come back to them again and again. The thing about these types of epic historical novels is that you come to understand the context of one's life, especially when it intersects so dramatically with significant developments in a country's history. Though I am Japanese, I am not opposed to reading about Japanese imperialism, in this case, in Korea. The conflict this creates makes for compelling characters, as they struggle to survive and generations down, even succeed. I always knew that Japanese were very insular, not pluralistic. How that affected non-Japanese in Japan, is sad, but you follow these characters, rooting for them. There are some devastating developments, but in the end .... Good read.
If you haven't seen the video of Valerie Kaur speaking at the AME Methodist Church on New Year's Eve 2016, responding in large part to the election of Donald Trump, watch it here. I had seen this, and I remember being very moved by it. More recently, I heard her on one of my favorite podcasts, the Bioneers. I had just found this podcast, and I was binge-listening - it seemed like one after the other was making me tear up, including Kaur. At this time, the book was not yet released, but I pre-ordered it. This is an amazing book, and I hope it goes viral! I hope the whole idea of Revolutionary Love of which she writes goes viral. I am amazed that one person so young, had so much to write about: her Sik-American heritage, which is about the same amount of time in the US as my ancestors from Asia; the confrontations as a child with fundamentalist Christians; her coming of age in 9-11 but also her people being a target for anti-Muslim hatred; her difficult health issues. There's more. The thread that ties it together is love. How through all of this, love is the answer. I know that sounds hokey, but I so resonate with it, as it is a topic that I am obsessed with too. Not romantic love, but love for your fellow human. I still hang onto the hope that my Trump-supporting friends and family will see how their speech and actions fuel hatred, not love. But I refuse to believe that we will forever be divided as we are now. Kaur's book gives me not only the hope, but a "manifesto" - a guide for proceeding with what she has termed "revolutionary love." She suggests useful tools to deal with the problem of hatred, such as to catch yourself when you feel offended, and instead wonder about the offender. She tells her own stories of the process - it was never easy, but she shows that it is possible. Highly recommend this book.
I was drawn in to watch Little Fires Everywhere after listening to Brene Brown's podcast in which she interviewed the author Celeste Ng on one episode and the producers/actors Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington on another. I enjoyed it, but I thought I would enjoy it more. It was a LOT about mother/daughter relationships and also about perfectionism, and the fallacy of the "perfect" life, how things are "supposed to" be. Today on Code Switch Podcast, on "What's in a Karen?" they talked about examples in entertainment of Karen examples. Reese Witherspoon's character was named as one. I'm glad I watched it, I didn't think it was phenomenal, but now, a month later, I still think about it, about the tension and conflicts, so I guess it was better than I th9ught it was.
So what next? The only show that I remember really liking during my trial was Normal People. I don't know what drew me in, but it did. And once drawn in, I was hooked. The character of Marianne was quirky and sad at the same time, but she didn't seem to wallow in self-pity. She was in touch with the reality of the meanness around her, but she still managed to rise above it. Connell at first, seemed so blah, especially compared to Marianne, but it was like a painting with layers. This was intentional because that is his journey, to become himself. Marianne's journey was also so complex. The acting was so good, the story was told slowly, and intensely. Loved it.
I love when books blow my mind. Sue Monk Kidd writes from the point of view of Ana, who she imagines could have been the wife of Jesus. Before his ministry, and after his birth in Bethlehem, we know very little about the historical Jesus. Kidd researches the times, and finds that it was unlikely that Jesus was not married, that there was a lot of pressure in his community to do so. One thread leads to another and the author imagines a Jesus who would have loved a strong, interesting woman. Ana is that. She is a rebel and longs for more than to be married off to a rich man for a political alliance. She has "longings" and she expresses those longings as a writer recording stories of women. Her need to write is like needing to breathe. Monk's storytelling is compelling, the weaving together of Jesus's ministry with the difficult life that Ana had. It is Ana's story though that is the backbone of the book.
This is Louise Erdich's latest. If you know her work, you know she is a Native American novelist of Chippewa and Ojibwe descent. I have only read one other book of hers, Love Medicine. She is now on my list of authors I need to read more of. This one was rapturous. The characters are so compelling and through their stories, you learn about the unique struggles of Native people. Though this is a work of fiction, it is based on real events. The Night Watchman is based on her grandfather, Chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Advisory Committee at the time (set in the 50s). He organized testimony against an actual bill proposed to terminate the treaties, a legal document that affords Native people some measure of protection. There are other really great characters that give you a sense of the richness of their culture, especially Patrice, a young gifted woman who can perpetuate her culture, but can also go into the world to get the credentials she will need to become a leader. The tragedy of missing Native women is also included in one of the storylines. There are all these different strands woven together to draw you in to the pattern of the story.