February 2007 archive

“I Was Hatched”

This morning, like every morning, I popped over to my blog lines and started catching up on my favorite blogs. Rocks in My Dryer wrote a wonderful entry about C.S. Lewis quotations. And one of them resonated with me:

-It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: It would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. – C.S. Lewis –

Fathers seem to hold a special place in the hearts of their daughters, and my father is no exception. As a child, I believed everything he told me. I liked to follow him around while he worked in the yard, or built things in his workshop, or shaved in the mornings (I remember being scolded once for lathering up my face and using my father’s razor to “shave” just like him). So, when my father told me one day that I was special and had, in fact, been hatched like a chicken (and not born like other children), I took this to heart. I didn’t notice the twinkle in his blue eyes or the smile he gave my mother.

A few months passed, and I started first grade. Finally, I could join my sisters at the “big” school. No more kindergarten for me! On the first day of class, the teacher went around the room and asked us to share our names and our birthdays with the rest of the class. My last name began with a “W” so it took awhile to get to me. I listened as the other children recited their information: “My name is Robert and I was born on December 1st.” “My name is Mary and I was born in March.”

Then it was my turn. I smiled at my classmates and said, “My name is Wendy. But I wasn’t born, I was hatched.”

There was an awkward silence; some of the other children giggled behind their hands. My teacher laughed.

“All children are born, Wendy. Please tell us your birthday.”

I frowned, shook my head. “No, I was hatched. My father told me.”

No matter how much the teacher tried to reason with  me, I never wavered. If my father said it, it must be so.

Eventually, I learned that just like everyone else, I was born;  I did not hatch from a chicken egg. And I have never lived this down. One birthday my mother gave me a beautiful sterling silver egg on a chain, which opened to reveal a chicken. To this day, it is one of my favorite pieces of jewelry.

Today, reading C.S. Lewis’ wonderful words, I thought about how special I felt that day in kindergarten; how I was different because I’d been hatched. In many ways, I’ve carried that with me all these years … leave behind the ordinary and strive for the original; open your wings and fly; don’t stay inside your shell, venture out into the world. I think my dad got it just right.

Booking Through Thursday – Journals

This week’s Booking Through Thursday question: “A couple weeks ago, we asked about how you take care of your books, with one of the questions asking whether you write in your books. Well, what about books that are meant to be written in? Like, say, a journal or diary? Do you keep one? Obviously, if you’re answering this, you have a blog–do you just let your blog be your journal? Or do you also keep one for private stuff also?”

I love journals – leather, artistic, fat, thin, lined paper, blank sheets with thoughtful quotes…it doesn’t matter. I like the heft of them, the sense of secrets about to be told, the way they beckon to be opened. I have many journals, most of which are half filled with random thoughts or lists of ideas for stories. I am not the type to sit down each day and scribble out my deepest secrets. My journal keeping is irregular – as the mood strikes – aimless. My blog is more representative of my need to share my thoughts with others; my journal is just for me.

I Know This Much Is True – Book Review

On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother Thomas entered the Three Rivers Connecticut Public Library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. -From I Know This Much Is True, page 1-

And thus begins Wally Lamb’s sweeping saga about two identical twins. Thomas battles schizophrenia. Dominick, the sardonic narrator of Lamb’s novel, struggles to come to terms with his family history and brother’s illness – artfully revealing their lives, uncovering secrets, and seeking redemption along the way.

Lamb has created a very long family narrative, that weaves forward and back on itself like the rushing waters of the river which runs through the brothers’ Connecticut town.

“Life is a river,” she repeated. “Only in the most literal sense are we born on the day we leave our mother’s womb. In the larger, truer sense, we are born of the past – connected to its fluidity, both genetically and experientially.”
-From I Know This Much Is True, page 610-

Our hearts ache for Thomas, lost in a world of fantasy – but especially for the central character, Dominick who carries the guilt of having escaped Schizophrenia and longs to understand who he really is apart from the person who seems to be permanently linked to his brother and his past. In fact, this idea of linkedness threads its way through the pages over and over again.

“In a sense,  your identical twin, he is you and you are he. More than most siblings, you are each other. No?”
-From I Know This Much Is True, page 234-

Ultimately, the novel is about a man’s voyage through life and  his search for identity against a backdrop of family secrets. Lamb forces the reader to explore the ideas of redemption and forgiveness, despair and hope, faith and doubt, grief and happiness. I Know This Much Is True requires patience to wade through, but is well worth the journey.


Winter … Finally

The rain hammered on the roof last night. I went to bed listening to its music. This morning I woke up to silence, turned my head and gazed out the window into a winter wonderland – our first really big snowstorm of the season. And it’s late February. I thought we’d never see it this year. I anticipated the tulips nudging through the warm earth, the sweet trill of the birds, the days growing longer. I had just about convinced myself that Spring had arrived early. Until this morning. The trees dip their branches, burdened with the dense weight of snow. Flakes as big as my thumb float to the ground and pile up in soft drifts on my unfinished porch. The dogs race outside, gleeful at the cold biting their paws. Caribou snaps at the snow, a grin gaping her mouth. Winter has arrived.

“Grapes of Wrath” the Opera

“The Grapes of Wrath” has become, here in the frozen North, an opera. Many composers over the years have wanted to make the classic American 1939 novel into one, but the John Steinbeck estate and the author’s publisher always said no. The green light was finally given when Minnesota Opera suggested that the composer be Ricky Ian Gordon, an exuberant New York songwriter with one foot on Broadway, one in the Copland style and an extra foot or two available for rhapsodic operatic elaborations. He passed, apparently, the publisher’s plain-speaking, easy-listening Americana test.
-copied from
Los Angeles Times Calendar Live.com

The “here” in this article is St. Paul, Minnesota. Not the place you’d expect to see John Steinbeck’s Great American Novel being  played out in all its operatic glory!  Apparently the sprawling musical portrayal of the novel is doing well with sold out performances for its entire run.

Banned Books Read in 2007

UPDATE: July 26, 2007The ALA Banned Books Week starts September 29, 2007 and runs through October 6, 2007. Why not celebrate by reading a banned book??

 I don’t believe in censorship of books. One of the freedoms we are supposed to have in the United States is the freedom of speech, and so book banning or book challenges seem to go against everything for which the United States stands. Men and women have died to preserve our freedoms. And yet, every year books are banned in this country.

Because of this, I have made a point of reading banned books. I belong to a Yahoo book group which devotes itself to reading only banned books. Additionally, Pelham Public Library’s Fahrenheit 451: Banned Book Blog has challenged readers to celebrate their freedom by reading as many banned books as they can between February 26th and June 30th.

Throughout the year, I will be updating this post by listing the books I’ve read which have been banned or challenged (not only in the US, but worldwide).

Here is my list:

1.  Catch 22, by Joseph Heller –

Considered “dangerous” because of objectionable language. Banned in Strongsville, Ohio, 1972 (overturned in 1976). Challenged by Dallas, Texas, Independent School District high school libraries, 1974; Snoqualmie, Washington, 1979.

2.  The Color Purple, by Alice Walker –

Considered inappropriate because of its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and human sexuality.”Challenged by Oakland, California, high school honors class, 1984; rejected for purchase by Hayward, California, school trustees.

3.  The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck –

Considered “dangerous” because of obscene language and the unfavorable depiction of a former minister. Banned in Kanawha, Iowa, 1980; Morris, Manitoba, 1982. Challenged by Vernon-Verona-Sherill, New York, School District, 1980; Richford, Vermonth, 1991.(?)

4.  Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie –

Banned in China.

5.  To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

This novel has been challenged due to its racial themes. Challenged–and temporarily banned–in Eden Valley, Minn.(1977); Challenged at the Warren, Ind. Township schools (1981), because the book “represents institutionalized racism under the guise of ‘good literature’.” After unsuccessfully banning the novel, three black parents resigned from the township human relations advisory council. Banned from the Lindale, Tex. advanced placement English reading list (1996) because the book “conflicted with the values of the community.”

6.  For Whom The Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway –

Banned in Spain during Francisco Franco rule for its pro-Republican views.

7.  Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck –

Banned by some schools and libraries in the United states for promoting “euthansia” and use of profanity from May 1983 to May 1984, and also in 1993 and 1994. This book is no longer banned.

8.  A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving –

Banned and censored around the United States for its stance on religion and criticism of the US government regarding  the Vietnam War and Iran-Contra.

9.  The God of Small Things, by Aruhdhati Roy –

Although not officially banned, I’ve included this book here because of the controversy which surrounded it in India. Roy faced an obscenity trial for her depiction of love between a Christian woman and a low caste Hindu servant. The novel included pedophilia and incest, but apparently those issues were not what made the novel “obscene.”

10. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck –

East of Eden has been subject to several attempts to remove it from library bookshelves. Called “ungodly and obscene” in Anniston, Ala., it was removed, then reinstated on a restricted basis in the town’s school libraries in 1982. Greenville, S.C., schools also saw a challenge to the book in 1991.

11. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood –

This book ranks 37th on the ALA list of the 100 most frequently challenged books in the 1990s. It was challenged recently in 2001  in Dripping Springs, Texas by a group of parents who declared it anti-Christian and pornographic. Also quite recently, the Judson School District Board in San Antonio, TX overturned a ban of The Handmaid’s Tale by the superintendent. Ed Lyman had ordered the book taken out of the advanced placement English curriculum when a parent complained it contained sexual and anti-Christian content. A committee comprised of teachers, students, and a parent had recommended the book remain in the class, but Lyman said he felt it did not fit in with the standards of the community.

12. Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak –

Doctor Zhivago was banned within the USSR until 1988 for its criticism of the Bolshevik Party.

13. The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck

Banned for many years in China because of the perceived vilification of the Chinese people and their leaders; in addition Buck herself was denounced in 1960 as “a proponent of American cultural imperialism.”

14. Candide, by Voltaire

This book was first published in 1759 and banned by the Catholic Church due to the book’s criticism of the “intolerance of Religion.” The book was also condemned and removed from bookshelves in France and Switzerland. Candide pokes fun at religion and politics and questions a “benevolent God” who wrecks havoc on the world.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – Book Review

He had given their daughter away. This secret stood in the middle of their family; it shaped their lives together. – From The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, page 193-

Kim Edwards has crafted a novel which explores the impact of tightly held family secrets. In 1964, Dr. David Henry delivers his twins in the middle of a late spring blizzard. One child is perfect. The other has Down’s Syndrome. In a life altering moment, David makes the decision to spare his wife the grief of a mentally retarded daughter and asks the nurse, Caroline, to take the child away to an institution. Instead, Caroline chooses to take tiny Phoebe and raise her as her own.

But she had felt since childhood that her life would not be ordinary. A moment would come – she would know it when she saw it – and everything would change. -From The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, page 25-

From this point forward, the story never slows down. Edwards weaves words on the page like an artist. She makes the reader care deeply about the characters. Told from alternating points of view, the novel spans more than 25 years, and traces the lives of Norah Henry, Dr. David Henry, their son (Paul), Caroline and Phoebe. It is at turns wrenching and hopeful. Edwards has a poetic style and a firm grasp of setting. She allows the reader inside the hearts of her characters, especially Dr. Henry who turns to photography as a way of trying to freeze a moment in time:

He saw he’d been caught, frozen for all these years in that moment when he handed Caroline his daughter. His life turned around that single action: a newborn child his arms – and then he reached out to give her away. It was as if he’d taken pictures all these years since to try and give another moment similar substance, equal weight. -From The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, page 258-

“Photography is all about secrets,” David said, after a few minutes, lifting the photo with a pair of tongs and slipping it into the fixer. “The secrets we all have and will never tell.”
 -From The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, page 201-

Edwards is perhaps her best when she shows us Phoebe. For most of the characters, the past is a gripping place – unable to be changed and filled with regrets. But with Phoebe we are grounded in the present. Phoebe is the character who brings an immediacy to the novel. Her innocence, her joy with the wonder of her world, her ability to simply accept others and move forward without regretting the past. In shaping Phoebe, Edwards has brought hope to her story.

Highly Recommended.

Suite Francaise – Book Review

To lift such a heavy weight
Sisyphus, you will need all your courage.
I do not lack the courage to complete the task
But the end is far and time is short.
    -The Wine of Solitude-  by Irene Nemirovsky for Irene Nemirovsky
    -penciled at the top of the original first page of Suite Francaise-

Suite Francaise is an amazing piece of literature – a work in progress by a woman who lost her life in a German concentration camp before she could complete her masterpiece. Irene Nemirovsky had intended to write a 1000 page novel consisting of five parts: Storm in June, Dolce, Captivity, Battles, and Peace. Because of her untimely death at Auschwitz in August 1942, she drafted only the first two parts of the novel – a story with the promise of greatness. After turning the final page, I was left with the feeling of sorrow that we will never get to read Irene Nemirovsky’s finished work.

Both Irene Nemirovksy and her husband died in Auschwitz. Their two children, hidden from the Nazi’s by a family friend, survived the war – and in so doing, saved Irene’s work, Suite Francaise, to be published 64 years after her death.

As a Jewish writer living with her husband and two children in France at the time of the Nazi occupation, Nemirovsky brings the reader a unique perspective of the war. She indicates in her notes a desire to write a novel not merely about history, but one with a greater depth of experience:

Never forget that the war will be over and that the entire historical sides will fade away. Try to create as much as possible: things, debates…that will interest people in 1952 or 2052.
 -From the notes of Irene Nemirovsky, 2 June 1942-

Nemirovsky’s writing is beautiful. She captures a sense of place and time with ease. Her descriptions of nature seem almost surreal when contrasted with the reality of war:

It was an exquisite evening with clear skies and blue shadows; the last rays of the setting sun caressed the roses, while the church bells called the faithful to prayer. But then a noise rose up from the road, a noise unlike any they’d heard these past few days, a low, steady rumbling that seemed to move slowly closer, heavy and relentless. Trucks were heading towards the village. This time it really was the Germans. -From Suite Francaise, page 92-93-

Important events -whether serious, happy or unfortunate- do not change a man’s soul, they merely bring it into relief, just as a strong gust of wind reveals the true shape of a tree when it blows off all its leaves. -From Suite Francaise, page 167-

The novel opens with Book I (Storm in June) on the eve of the Nazi invasion of France. Nemirovsky introduces a cast of characters who include a writer, a priest, a family of the upper class, a working class couple – all fleeing Paris. They have lives which seem parallel to each other, and yet their stories intersect in surprising ways.

In spite of everything, the thing that links all these people together is our times, solely our times.
-From Irene Nemirovsky’s notes, 24 April 1942-

The contrast between the rich upper classes and the poor or less fortunate, is stark.  We know from the author’s meticulous notes that this is intentional:

If  I want to create something striking, it is not misery I will show but the prosperity that contrasts with it. -From Irene Nemirovsky’s notes, 30 June 1941-

Nemirovsky deftly shows these class differences between characters and how this impacts relationships:

What separates or unites people is not their language, their laws, their customs, their principles, but the way they hold their knife and fork. -From Suite Francaise, page 291-

In Book II (Dolce), the setting is a French village which has just become occupied by the Germans. It is here that Nemirovsky’s novel begins to soar as she weaves together the stories of the people – the Mayor and his snotty wife, the farmers, the women who are mourning the loss of sons and husbands, and the soldiers. Amazingly, given that Nemirovsky wrote this novel as the war was unfurling and she was being victimized by the Nazis, she portrays the German soldiers without hatred or malice. With honesty and skill, she deconstructs the idea of the Nazi invader – revealing men with the capacity to think and feel as all humans do.

In the heart of every man and every woman a kind of Garden of Eden endures, where there is no war, no death, where wild animals and deer live together in peace. -From Suite Francaise, page 321-

Although Suite Francaise is a novel – a piece of fiction – it trembles with a sense of truth; an almost autobiographical feel that I could not shake and which touched me deeply. There were moments when the reality of Nemirovsky’s life resonated within the pages of her book.

He wrote with a chewed-up pencil stub, in a little notebook which he hid against his heart. He felt he had to hurry: something inside him was making him anxious, was knocking on an invisible door. By writing, he opened that door, he gave life to something that wished to be born. Then suddenly, he would become discouraged, feel disheartened, weary. He was mad. What was he doing writing these stupid stories, letting himself be pampered by the farmer’s wife, while his friends were in prison, his despairing parents though he was dead, when the future was so uncertain and the past so bleak?
-From Suite Francaise, page 179-

There is no doubt that had Irene Nemirovsky survived the war, she would have gone on to polish and finish her book. She established herself as a writer of exceptional quality having already published her highly acclaimed novel David Golder. Suite Francaise is an important story which deserves to be read and savored. It is heartbreaking to read the author’s notes, as well as the frenzied communications shared between her husband and friends following her arrest.  Irene Nemirovsky writes in her notes dated 1 July 1942, only days before her deportation to a Nazi concentration camp:

What lives on:
1. Our humble day-to-day lives
2. Art
3. God

By reading Suite Francaise, we insure that her art lives on.

To read more reviews or discussions on this book, please visit The NYT Most Notable Book Blog.

Booking Through Thursday – Romance

Thanks to my blogging friends, I found this cool site. Since yesterday was Valentine’s Day, this Thursday’s questions pertain to romance:

  1. Love stories? Yes or No?  Oh, I’m a sucker for love, just as long as it’s not sickly sweet and unbelieveable. Most great novels (and movies for that matter) have at least one love interest in the mix.
  2. If yes, “romances” as a genre? Or just, well, stories that have love stories? (Nobody’s going to call “Pride & Prejudice” a “romance,” right?)  I really dislike the bodice ripping traditional romance novels. For the most part I think the plots are weak and the writing is, well, let’s just say it ain’t literary fiction *big smile*. So I have to vote for stories with love stories embedded. I loved Pride and Prejudice, afterall!

Ethan Frome – Book Review

Edith Wharton is at her narrative best in this novel about a young man who falls in love until fate tragically intervenes.  Wharton deftly constructs the story by starting a generation after the climax, then weaves her way back to the beginning to unravel the mystery. In doing so, she creates the tension in the novel which keeps the reader obsessively turning the pages.

Mattie Silver, a young beauty, serves as a sharp contrast to Ethan’s wife, Zeena – a bitter, sickly woman who is perhaps more aware of Ethan’s feelings than he is of his own. It is no wonder that the reader will find herself hoping for happiness between Ethan and Mattie who seem to be soulmates:

And there were other sensations, less definable but more exquisite, which drew them together with a shock of silent joy: the cold red of sunset behind winter hills, the flight of cloud-flocks over slopes of golden stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hemlocks on sunlit snow. – From Ethan Frome, page 297

Wharton’s firm grasp of setting, her understanding of human vulnerability, and her sense of drama all combine to make Ethan Frome a compelling must read.

Highly recommended.

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