Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Lion Seeker / Kenneth Bonert 561 p,

At its core a coming-of-age story, set in the 1930s Johannesburg Jewish neighborhood of Doornfontein.  Isaac Helger and his family left Lithuania shortly after WWI and settled with their fellow Lithuanian-Jewish emigres.  His mother, disfigured and driven, carries a dark secret with her, but Isaac lives a raucous adolescence under the South African sun.  As Europe moves toward war anti-Semitism is on the rise in South Africa and tilts the course of Isaac's life.

The setting makes this an interesting read, although the author's rendering of local Afrikaans speech patterns interwoven with Yiddish is often difficult to follow. Bonert may have tried to weave a few too many threads in here;  he includes issues surrounding the 'Native Question' but then deals with it in a perfunctory, unsatisfying manner.  Still, this is a rapid and engrossing read which holds the reader's attention.

A wrinkle in time, by Madeleine L'Engle



Since this children’s classic was published in 1962, I missed reading it as a child, and by the time my son Tom was of reading age, had rather forgotten about it.  I don’t know whether he read it or not, but having given it to *his* son for Christmas, I decided perhaps it was time I became acquainted with it.  It is a period piece in many respects, with the forces of Evil quite obviously Communism and the Soviet Union.  But the three weird sisters are wonderfully drawn, the young Charles Wallace, who represents a new kind of human, is enchanting, and the courageous Meg Murray is a heroine who still speaks to young girls today.  256 pp.

The husband’s secret, by Liane Moriarty



An engrossing novel set in Sydney Australia.  When Cecilia Fitzpatrick, a perfect mom, stalwart volunteer at the local school, and Tupperware representative, finds a letter addressed to her from her husband John-Paul “to be opened on my death,” which is not imminent, it sets in motion intertwined tales that will affect many lives.  Rachael is the secretary at the school that Cecilia’s children attend.  Her daughter was murdered many years ago and she suspects Connor, the last person to see her alive.  Connor is now a PE teacher at the school and she can hardly bear to be near him.    Tess, who grew up in Sydney returns from Melbourne when she discovers her best friend and cousin has fallen in love with her husband.  The three had been business partners as well as friends.  Tess enrolls her 6 year old son in the school and reignites an old love for Connor.  As the secrets, not just John-Paul’s, are revealed, tragedy strikes again.  I intend to read more of this author’s work.  416 pp.

Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Killing Fields

Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Killing Fields by Wendy Lower, 270 pages.
Lower's account of several German women who came of age between the wars, and then served the Nazi state in some capacity that brought them into contact with the killing of those deemed undeserving to live by the state. Several of the women discussed in the book either worked for the SS (usually in an office role) or were married to or involved with members of the SS. Others whose tales are told here worked as nurses, and teachers.  Many nurses in Nazi Germany served the state by selecting or helping to euthanize citizens who were considered physically or mentally unfit. Teachers were tasked with spreading the party line concerning the Aryan race, to children orphaned by the conflict.
Evidence exists of the crimes committed for many of the German women, but as those who committed murder almost always did so of their own volition there are no written records. After the war, in West Germany at least, witness statements alone, even if there were many witnesses, weren't enough to convict accused mass-murderers. The author states that women who showed empathy, and denied the accusations, were believed by West German courts. In the east, interrogation methods were more intense, and one woman whose crimes were examined in this book, Erna Petri, was sentenced to life in prison for shooting six Jewish children who were hiding on her estate.
Lower tells several interesting stories, but she vacillates between telling a broad tale and several small tales, and doesn't do either fully. The book also seems to be written partially for a wide audience, and partially for a more academic readership, changing stylistically throughout the book.
A little bit uneven, and hampered (as the author states) by the lack of documentation of women's roles in the Holocaust and other war crimes.
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Ebook.

Bridget Jones: Mad about the boy, by Helen Fielding



After the spirited Bridget finally finds happiness in the arms of Mr. Darcy in her second outing, what’s left for the author to write about in the third, Bridget Jones and the PTA (or whatever the British equivalent is)? Fielding solves this problem by killing off poor Mr. Darcy (in a most heroic way) and leaving Bridget now fifteen years older, but perhaps not a lot wiser, to cope with two small children on her own.  Five years after his death, she has dipped a toe back into the world of dating and has to decide whether to attend her best friend’s 60th birthday, or her new boyfriend’s 30th.  Her trials as a single mother are hilarious and although the book is touched with sadness, not surprisingly, in the end Bridget triumphs again.  400 pp.

Let’s talk about diabetes with owls, by David Sedaris


Another collection by the humorist Sedaris, and although well done, not as funny as many of his earlier works.  Although I enjoyed it, and appreciate his more thoughtful pieces, for laugh-out-loud reading, I don’t think he’ll ever top Me talk pretty one day.  288 pp

This is the story of a happy marriage, by Ann Patchett



Before Ann Patchett became well-known for her wonderful Bel Canto and later novels, she had been a non-fiction writer for many years, beginning with pieces written for the magazine Seventeen when she was in her twenties.  This collection of non-fiction essays is in part a memoir and shows a different side of this fine writer.  All are thoughtful, some sad, and some funny, like the story of renting a huge Winnebago for a road trip in order to write an expose of the culture of RV living – turns out she rather likes it!  320 pp.

American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, 233 pages.

A very well-drawn, and thoughtful graphic novel centered around a young Chinese-American boy as he goes through middle school on into high school. The novel juxtaposes the tale of the Monkey King and his attempts to become different, more than what he was, with that of the young man, Jin Wang (or Danny, as he renames himself). Embarrassed by everything about himself and seeking to change, Jin Wang seeks to assimilate as much as possible. Later, as Danny, he is constantly humiliated by visits from his imaginary cousin, Chin-Kee, who embodies all of the stereotypes from which Danny is attempting to distance himself.
I'm not usually a fan of books where the character's squirm-inducing shame plays a big role, and I did hurry through some sections, but the subject is handled well here, and there is real growth for Jin Wang. I liked it.

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Boxers & Saints: Saints

Boxers & Saints: Saints by Gene Leun Yang, 170 pages.
The second book of this diptych, showing the boxer rebellion, or at least the same scenes witnessed in Boxers, through the eyes of a young Chinese girl, Four-Girl who has converted to Christianity. There is a lot of resentment against the foreigners, their Christian missionaries, and their Chinese converts. When the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist decides to do battle, Four Girl, now renamed Vibiana decides to follow the path laid down by Joan of Arc, and try to lead her people to victory, or something like that. 
A wonderful series with really excellent art.
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