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Friday, February 15, 2013

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

The title warns you: this is a book that is going to deal with big seriously depressing stuff.

And WHAM, right off the bat we jump into squalor and grime and a wrongly accursed youth afraid for his life, his ability to scratch out a living, and the the health and well being of his family.

On the surface, this is the book that follows a few of the inhabitants of an Indian slum but like the slum itself, that is just the surface. Really, this is a book about people struggling in a corrupt world, people acting out their baser instincts towards each other, and people overcoming their dismal situation

Or at the very least trying to make the best of a bad, very bad situation.

Boo's treatment of the inhabitants of the slum is interesting. She neither makes them into caricatures of themselves nor paints them as totally blameless angels... she shows us complicated people who's motivations are the same as those of us not living in slums even if their actions are different. It is a fascinating and perspective changing look at a portion of society that is at best ignored and at worst used for political traction.

I strongly recommend reading this book. Feel the weight of oppression  the kindle of revolution, the despair of life's traps and the hope shared by the children that someday things will get better.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

We picked this for book club.

Another WWII book.

Le Sigh

And yet...

Calling it another WWII book is wrong. Very very wrong.

Because that is oversimplifying it. Yes, the story takes place during World War Two, but the story is about more than that... it is about some of the people who played the accordion and loved and fought and cried and read and stole books while World War Two thundered down upon them and changed their lives forever.

I didn't want to read this book.

I didn't want to think about world wars, or dead Jews, or little girls hiding in basements while bombs dropped from the sky. I didn't want to cry when characters I loved died.... because you know that in a book set during World War Two, a book about a German girl living in Nazi Germany, a book narrated by Death himself.... when you read a book like this, you know that people are going to die. A lot of people.

And yet...

I am so glad I read this book.

I'm glad I pushed past the first chapter when the voice of Death as narrator being almost pretentiously literary threatened to drive me up a wall.  I'm glad I became swept up in the life of a little German girl who's love of reading leads to her stealing books. I'm glad I was introduced to her adoptive father who simply must be one of the best parents in all of literature. I'm glad I had an excuse to add a few choice German words to my vocabulary. I'm glad I got to watch Ruby play soccer and meet Max, the skin and bones Jew who lived in the basement and wrote stories on repainted pages of Mien Kampf.

The story is gripping, tragic, bittersweet, and unforgettable  The writing is crisp, literary, magical, and haunting. The pace is both quick enough to keep your attention and slow enough to build the drama of the unavoidable climax into a fervent tension... Death teases us with glimpses of the future as a way of at once warning us (giving our hearts time to harden) and making us quake with anticipation.

This is one of those up-all-night-reading-instead-of-sleeping books that will trouble your heart, challenge your mind, and enrich your life.

Don't be daunted by the length.

Read this book.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Wednesday Sisters

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

This book has a video preview!

Clayton's novel about a sisterhood of housewives in Palto Alto California in the late 60s is everything a book about a sisterhood should be.

We have five different women who while being distinct enough that almost every female reader can find someone to identify with also have enough in common to make their eventual bonding not only believable but encouraged.

We have the end of the 60s and the turmoil of the US in terms of Civil Rights, Women's Rights, and the world at large changing.

We have the theme of empowerment that ties the Miss america pageant into the quest for self expression and drive.

We have a shared dream that is illustrated in a variety of ways... but is no less powerful for being done differently  (This, is perhaps my favorite bit about this book... the focus is following your dream, not anyone else's  So what if your dream is to write something no one else might ever see.... if your goal was to write it and you did, then you succeeded!)

We have female bonding over typical "female" issues of children, marriage, etc... and then we have female bonding through cancer. Through it all we have the focus being on the bonding itself andthe challenges play second fiddle to the strength that the women find in each other.

If the ending is a bit cavity inducing, well we can forgive it because sometimes, even in the midst of drama or turmoil, we cna find a moment to laugh with our friends and in that freeze frame second, we are living in someone's happily ever after.

Clayton does a great job of bringing five different women to life and making each one someone to root for. All in all, the book is a quick read with messages of hope, perseverance , and above all, the importance of close friendships, a funny and mostly light hearted read that is well worth the time.