Monthly Archives: December 2015

Ghost Boy

“Have you ever seen one of those movies in which someone wakes up as a ghost but they don’t know they’ve died? That’s how it was…” – Martin Pistorius

isbn: 9781400205837ThomasNelsonBooks

isbn: 9781400205837
ThomasNelsonBooks

We put the title on our book club’s future read list and I set out to find  an advance copy of my own.  I was so fortunate to receive a free advance copy from NetGalley.com in exchange for my honest review.

Without question, Ghost Boy is one of the most inspirational and engaging books I have ever read.  It is almost impossible to believe that this gifted human being was kept from us because he had no method of communicating with the world. This riveting story is told with candor and poise revealing what it was like to be trapped inside his own unresponsive body and the changes in everyone’s lives as he makes his slow entry back into the world of the living.

Martin, a native of South Africa, tells his story from his point of view. The book opens in the day care center where he is strapped upright in a chair and pushed in front of a television for hours and hours mentally tortured as he is force-fed Barney and Teletubby reruns.

When he was 16 years old he began to have spurts of “daylight” and it scared him to learn that he was no longer a little boy but now a half-grown man.  Over time he regains full cognitive abilities but has no way to tell the world he had come out of the darkness.  Unaware of his ability to see and hear everything around him, he hears intimate  conversations never meant to be shared with him.  He is physically abused and sexually violated by insensitive and abusive day care workers.   He sees the hardships and strain his care places on his family and has no way to express his appreciation and love.

Hope flutters to life when a day care aid first realizes that he understands what is going on around him. You feel the frustration as he struggles to find the best way to communicate.  And you feel the deep love of his family that surrounded him in his darkness and while rejoicing in his “rebirth” struggles to forge a new relationship with Martin.

Please, pick up a copy of this book.  It will enrich your own life and will open your eyes to the lives of others in your community.  You will never disability in the same light again.

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The Golden Son

 Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Author

arc harpercollins

The doctor fixed Maya’s [cleft]lip.  “Magic.  A miracle, really.” Papa looked up, his eyes moist,  and said to Anil, “You should be a doctor.  You will do great things.”

India farming

photo credit: 37056-013 via photopin (license)

 

Jayant Patel, the current patriarch of Panchanagar’s most respected family, lives with his large extended family in the Big House. Following centuries of tradition,  Jayant proudly begins to train his eldest and most favored son to replace him.  A patriarch is responsible for the family’s farm operations, financial support, and perhaps most importantly arbitrator of disputes and dispenser of advice and wisdom.  To have a son is golden.

isbn: 9780062391452

isbn: 9780062391452
HarperCollinsPublishers

Beginning at a very young age, Anil follows his father through his daily routines.

The two go out into the fields to hands-on learn to cultivate and harvest the crops. When he is old enough, Anil enters the local public school and quickly becomes the first in his class to read and learn his math tables.  As he shows more and more prowess at education, the fewer farm duties he is expected to perform; his share of farm work shifted to his younger siblings.

As oldest son, Anil had more privilege and free time as a young child and was permitted to develop a friendship with a tenant farmer’s  young daughter named Leena.  The two children spent carefree hours enjoying the freedom of youth; not yet encumbered with time honored gender roles.

When Anil was 10,  Jayant witnessed the successful cleft palate repair of a local child.  He was so awed by the child’s transformation, he decided that his intelligent Anil should become a doctor and live a life beyond the village.  Anil was encouraged in his studies to prepare himself for acceptance into medical college.

Over time Anil and Leena drifted apart as they were unable to spend time together in play.  Leena remained at home learning women’s duties, preparing herself for an arranged marriage and family.  Their friendship faded behind the curtain of cultural expectations.

Anil’s life looks to be full of hope and promise.   Married life for Leena was loveless, harsh and cruel.  The “good family” selected for Leena had a false front and she suffered terribly.  In time Leena chose to face social disgrace and returned to live with her parents.

Anil efforts were rewarded and he was accepted to medical college in Ahmadabad.  It didn’t take him

photo credit: IMG_4732 via photopin (license)

photo credit: IMG_4732 via photopin (license)

long to comprehend how disadvantaged his previous education opportunities were compared to the other medical students.  Socially isolated, the six years in Ahmadabad were spent studying to prove his competence and eligibility in this world outside the village.

Emboldened by his personal educational success in India, Anil dreamed big.  He applied for an internship in the United States and is granted a medical residency at a large metropolitan hospital in Dallas, Texas.

Arriving in America confident yet apprehensive, Anil experiences culture shock and is quickly overwhelmed. Book smart but experience short, Anil makes a medical mistake that costs a patient his life.  While struggling to learn his way in a modern fast paced setting, his father suddenly dies back in India leaving Anil stranded between two worlds.

Returning to India without permission from the hospital, Anil has to confront the changes to his life back home. Spoiled as a child, he’s not prepared to become patriarch.  Having not completed his medical residency, he’s not prepared as a doctor.   The sudden death of his father has left the family in a precarious financial position and as the new family leader floundering around in the dark to find answers.  He questions where he belongs.

The reader is charmed by the  love and strength of the Patel clan in Panchanagar and the support he receives in the Dallas hospital as Anil finds his way in diametrically opposite worlds.

The ending isn’t quite the cookie cutter finish you might predict but nonetheless very well crafted and satisfying.

Recommended.

 

 

 

 

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Quality of Silence

plain netgalley

eBook 978-1-101-90368-1

sil

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby impatiently waits for the plane to land in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Dad is currently in the Arctic photographing wildlife in
the dark winter near the Arctic Circle. Ruby and her father, Matt, have been planning this Christmas visit for some time chatting frequently on their special blog.

She has learned much about survival in the harsh conditions from Dadstormy Alaska road and she is ready to show him her Arctic clothing, gloves and goggles.  The journey from the U.K. has been long and she is ready to throw herself in his arms.

Mom is circumspect about this visit.  She and Dad have drifted apart after years of disagreement over care for 10-year old Ruby.  Yasmin fears these protracted visits to remote areas of the world have created a rift in their marriage that might not be overcome.  Although Ruby and Matt have deepened their bond through frequent online communication, Matt and Yasmin have not been shared much of their lives for quite some time.

Although both parents are equally concerned about Ruby’s education and socialization, they differ on how best to prepare her for her future. Ruby has been deaf since birth.signlanguage005

Ruby is highly intelligent, precocious and highly adaptive.  She has a gregarious nature hidden in her silent world that she desperately wants the world to see. Her disinterest in the typical 10-year old angst alienates her from her school mates.  Ruby has no friends and is bullied by peers.

She withdraws into her silent world preferring to communicate through sign language and her laptop.   Much to Yasmin’s consternation she refuses to “use her mouth voice” to reduce her isolation.  Her retreat into social media and her laptop to express herself disturbs Yasmin.

As Yasmin learns that the news about Matt, Ruby uses her finely honed skills of observation to try and learn why her father has not arrived.

Matt was staying in a remote Alaskan village that suffered a terrible fire and everyone perished.   The ruins were searched and Matt’s wedding ring was returned to Yasmin as proof of his death.

Shielding Ruby from this news, Yashmin refuses to believe he is dead and can’t believe the authorities haven’t launched a rescue mission.  Unable to convince anyone to help her, Yasmin begins an ill-advised journey with Ruby in tow on the Dalton Highway, the “ice-road” to this village to rescue Matt.

Yasmin’s story, told in the third person, is nicely woven into Ruby’s first person account of the journey as it unfolds.  I felt like I was riding shotgun with Ruby experiencing the unimaginable isolation of the wilderness.  As it becomes apparent there is a dark and sinister plot to keep Yasmin from reaching the village, I felt the despondency and regret Yasmin feels at jeopardizing Ruby’s safety.   Ruby’s deafness and inability to hear danger terrifies Yasmin.

Lupton grafts the cold into your bones and chills your mind.  When Yasmin puts the snow chains on the vehicle in a howling -50 degree blizzard, I shuddered.   The closer Yasmin gets to the Arctic Circle, the more that danger from nature and man threatens their survival, Ruby and her mother find ways to overcome the odds.  Totally unrealistic and highly entertaining.

Communication, whether verbally, through sign language or the application of technology, was critical in this story.   Cold weather and geography can eliminate that false sense of security provided by a cell phone.

There were times on the ice-road that I wanted to move the story along but having driven at night on icy mountainous roads myself, I know that fear prolongs the experience.

Fracking, greed and environment issues play pivotal roles but so do altruism, faith and love.  There’s the usual cast of bad and good guys to thwart or help the girls.   The conclusion wraps things up nicely, just as predictable as the next snow storm in Alaska.

Highly recommended.

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Rules for a Knight

plain netgalley

The Last Letter of

Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke        coverRulesforaKnight

isbn 9780307962348
Fantasy Fiction
(e-reader edition) Knopf  2015
[Excerpts from Editor’s notes]…   
This letter was discovered …in the basement of our family farm.
How it came to be there and its authenticity have been sources of much inconclusive debate. Our family does …lay claim to a direct lineage to the noble Hawkes of Cornwall and Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke was killed at the Battle of Slaughter Bridge in the winter of 1483.  The letter …had been severely damaged [and] pieced together, adapted and reconstructed by me, Ethan Hawke …

Who hasn’t daydreamed about discovering some fabulous ancestor hanging out in your family tree?

Ethan Hawke has imagined the last days of a noble warrior; Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke. This man of integrity and honor did in fact exist; whether he is related to the author is doubtful.

The Ornate-Vintage-Book-Title-Page-GraphicsFairystory begins with Sir Thomas at Cornwall facing almost certain death in battle the next day.  In these final hours, he thinks of his children. They are young and unprepared for the future without him.  He tells them that their Grandfather prepared a rubric for him when he was a young aspiring knight and that he feels compelled “to pass on to you Grandfather’s list of ‘Rules’.”

Sir Thomas begins his letter with a description of his own childhood.  He describes a life out-of-control until one day he realizes, on his own at age 17, that he needs guidance.  “I decided to seek out the wisest man I could find Rulesand ask him to tell me how to live…The first thing I was given was a  small handwritten list entitled ‘Rules for a Knight’.”

The letter is broken up into these 20 rules; each followed by a parable from his own experience on that particular virtue.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. In a way it reminded me of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Aesop and Son fables.  (That’s a 1960s cartoon show.)

I have little knowledge of medieval life so I can’t spot gaffes in the story. Our hero, Sir Thomas, can wear a Timex watch for all I care.  But it was obvious to me that the author pulled his thoughts from a myriad of traditional self-help sources and other popular stories to create the medieval version of  Chicken Soup for Knights.

This adorable little book is  a family work;  Ethan’s wife, Ryan did all the cute b&w illustrations.  I believe the book would be best read to young children together with their parents.

In my perfect vision of quality family time, 20 star lit nights are spent reading and sharing chapters around a campfire with cocoa and marshmallows.

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The Courtesan

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Author Informationcover Courtesan

Alexandra Curry is as fascinating as the characters in her debut novel, The Courtesan.  She was born in Canada to Austrian and British parents and spent most of her formative years in Southeast Asia. She has lived in Europe, Canada and the United States. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, served as Director of Finance at Cambridge Professional Group, and AVP at Chase Manhattan Bank.  Ms. Curry is married and currently living in Atlanta.  She lists her current occupation as novelist.

An article about Alexandra Curry and her new book in Creative Loafing Atlanta by Andrew Young published 09-15-2015 states in part:

In 2004, Curry and her husband visited Shanghei and she overheard a guide speak about Jinhua, who was the courtesan of one of China’s first diplomats to travel to the West before returning home at the onset of the Boxer Rebellion. “I was fascinated,” she says. “I said to my husband, ‘If I wChinese-Garden-III-800pxere ever going to write a book — even though I’m never going to write a book — this would be the book that I would want to write.’ And he said to me, ‘Well why don’t you just write it? Why don’t you try?’.”

Sjh

Jinhua marriage 1918 to Wei Sijiong

Sai Jinhua

Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: v. 1: The Qing Period, 1644-1911   By Lily Xiao Hong Lee, Clara Lau, A.D. Stefanowska provides a detailed biography of the woman known by many names including Sai Jinhua.   If interested,  click on her name to retrieve the dictionary entry.

 

Review

There are many fine reviews that tackle the specifics of the story but  I have chosen to craft my review from a different perspective.

As courtesans in Chinese history, and Jinhua in particular, are unknown to the American reader I looked into her biography before I began the book.   I found learning about Jinhua in real life better prepared me for the fictionalized story.  There is photographic evidence of Jinhua throughout her life. Her face reveals no emotion but you are haunted by her empty eyes.  It would seem only natural to want to construct a story to connect the events in her life.

With those black and white still images in my mind, I found that Curry brought Jinhua fully alive.  The scenes were almost too physically “real” to handle; they assault the mind’s eye.  Additionally the language directed at her was so coarse, abusive and vile that I felt sickened by the thought that this was reality for little girls in 19th century and still is for many in our 21st century world today.

Readers of Memoirs of a Geisha have been exposed to the exploitation of women and the sex trade but the descriptions of life in a Chinese brothel are so hideous as to seem unbelievable.  It was striking to me that Jinhua’s childhood coincided with my grandmother’s childhood; worlds apart in much more than geography.

Despite living in a vacuum void of respect and dignity let alone love and affection,  Jinhua never loses a positive sense of self, innate curiosity or hope that the future will be better.   She survived such unimaginable horrors over and over; it is a wonder she didn’t succumb to the fate of so many unable to live in this wretched life any longer.  At least that is how Curry decided to write her story. One is left to wonder if she ever, in reality, truly experienced joy, happiness or peace .

The glimpses into imperialism, the Boxer Rebellion and the emergence of West influence on Chinese life were not deeply covered but did provide a comfortable backdrop to the heart of this book…Jinhua’s poignant life story.

Curry has done her best to create a plausible story for this lost soul who has been subject of conjecture and hyperbole for decades.  It should be remembered that this is a work of fiction and the author has taken the literary license to conflate her life and in doing so has gaps in time that leave the story a bit confusing.  It would have been interesting to have created a trilogy of her life in three separate books; happy childhood, orphan sold for the sex trade, and adult. Greater depth on social conditions and the changes in the world could have been better developed.

Overall I found the book a very worthy read.  The first half of the book captured my attention. The second half seemed to flow less smoothly.

Curry writing style is as one reviewer wrote “almost lyrical”.  I look forward to reading to her second book!

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The Old Man And The Cat

The Old Man And The Cat :

 “I am a qualified doctor; I am a lecturer in psychology…into philosophies of life…

cat illustration

Book delightfully illustrated by Ane Gustavsson

Nowadays I am also a cat owner or, I wonder,

 is it in fact the cat who owns me,” Nils Uddenberg

 

We had our first hard freeze this Fall morning on Alec Mountain.  It’s a bit chilly inside the cabin and I don’t have a thing I have to do today.

I’ve been saving this little book for just such a morning.  I lit a nice fire in the fireplace, pulled my rocker up to the hearth and began reading.

I like to get to know the author of each book I review. In this instance,  I found that Dr. Uddenberg is a retired Swedish psychiatrist with seven published books; some with serious titles like Prometheus and Dryad : man, nature , technology and ethics.

Not all of his works have fifty-cent words in the title.  Some focus on nature and the environment like Vanishing Creatures (eight essays on humans and apes).  With his deep interest in nature, I was truly surprised to read that for most of his life he had no interest what so ever in acquiring a household pet.

But at some level I instantly related to his feelings as I have proudly proclaimed for years my distaste for sharing my life with any kind of furry pet; cats in particular.

I can’t help it but I get this icky feeling when cats wind themselves around and between my legs.   Maybe their independence and arrogance threatens my need to control my own space.  Plus there is something just not right about a slinky creature walking around a house with Edward Scissorhand appendages.

So imagine my surprise when an abandoned black kitten shows up at my front door a few months back and I let him into my life.  Today, as I settle into my chair, my new furry friend, Itzey, warms himself on the hearth beside me.  Together we will see what changed Dr. Uddenberg’s mind although I suspect the doctor didn’t have a chance the minute the cat chose them.

This newly retired 70-year old and his wife had freed themselves from any encumbrances and were now free to do whatever, whenever and wherever they pleased.  When they weren’t flying off to parts unknown, they live in a little house in Lund with the traditional picket fence or in their apartment in Stockholm.

Weary from a recent trip to Namiba in Africa the good Professor peers out his bedroom window to discover a cat peering back at him from the top of the garden gate.  Dismissing this encounter with little thought, he was surprised several days later to discover the cat in their garden shed seeking warmth by curling up in a basket filled with garden tools.

Two weeks later, returning from Stockholm. the cat was still in the shed and despite the winter cold appeared well nourished and comfortable in its furry coat.  But I knew it was all over for the Professor when he took pity on the cat.  When he removed the tools in the basket and replaced them with a warm towel the cat had found a new home but it would be sometime before anyone else but the cat knew it.

Carefully and methodically the author describes the process whereby the cat trained them into becoming pet owners.  The story unfolds in a voice clearly crafted by years of academic experience and when I begin to feel lectured I remember that I am in a way being  lectured.  This warm-hearted man is sharing his hitherto repressed feelings in the only voice he knows.   He wants us to appreciate the most intimate detail of his developing love affair with Kitty.  He wants us to love Kitty as much as he does.

My favorite sections of the book are his descriptive psychoanalysis of the cat’s bizarre behaviors.

It was truly worth waiting for just the right moment to read this heartfelt bonding between the old man and his cat.  As reported in other reviews, the final pages reveal the true depth of emotion he has developed for Kitty.

Cat and Author graphic

Illustration by Ane Gustavsson

Here is an excerpt to entice you to read this charming little book.

“…it has become a philosophical challenge to try to understand at least a little about her world.  She is after all a part of my daily social interaction and one likes to understand those who are close to one, even when they happen to be cats.”

NetGalley and St Martin's Press provided this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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