February 2008 archive

Song of Solomon – Book Review

The song of songs, which is Solomon’s. -From Chapter One, Song of Solomon, The Bible-

With her father as her muse, Toni Morrison has created a memorable African American family with strong male characters in her novel The Song of Solomon. The novel opens with an insurance agent attempting to fly and therefore diving to his death off of Mercy (referred to as No Mercy) hospital in 1931. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel – a novel about flight and self discovery…mystical, triumphant, and disturbing.

Morrison’s story centers around the Dead family composed of Macon (the abusive, yet savvy father), Ruth (the mother – a sad woman whose grief for her dead father defines her life), First Corinthians (a daughter both beautiful and educated  who stumbles in her search for a lover), Magdalene called Lena (the second daughter), and finally Milkman (Macon’s son). There are other important characters as part of the extended family – namely Pilate, Macon’s free spirited sister who lives with her daughter Reba and Reba’ daughter Hager.

There are many themes and much symbolism throughout the book, and I found myself marking passages and re-reading paragraphs to make sense of them. First and foremost, the novel is about discovery of one’s roots, and the painful search for love. Milkman starts his life fighting to avoid murder at the hands of his father, and this theme continues through the book ending with Milkman’s protracted journey from his home in Michigan to his grandparent’s home in Virginia. Along the way, Milkman’s views of life are challenged and his connection to his roots are strengthened. Another strong theme in the novel is that of racism and the struggle of blacks in American to overcome the history of slavery. Finally, the idea of taking flight and finding oneself is replayed over and over in the book. In one memorable scene, Milkman and his friend Guitar observe a white peacock. Milkman asks why the peacock struggles to fly and Guitar says:

“Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” -From Song of Solomon, page 179-

I avoided reading a Morrison novel for a long time because I had heard that Morrison’s books were often difficult reads with weighty themes. And this is certainly true. But despite this, I found myself looking forward to picking up the book. Morrison writes beautifully and is a superb storyteller. Although she is sometimes heavy handed with the symbolism, I didn’t find it distracting from the story. I found myself caring deeply about the characters in Song of Solomon, even those who were not terribly likable.

Song of Solomon has been banned in the United States for “language degrading to blacks,” violent imagery, sexually explicit and profane language and depictions of sexuality. It has been accused of promoting a “homosexual agenda.” There is profanity, violence and sex in the novel, but it is not gratuitous.

Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 for her body of work, and I can certainly see why based on this book alone. I will be reading more of Toni Morrison in the future.

Song of Solomon is highly recommended; rated 4.5/5.

What Punctuation Mark Are You?

You Are a Comma
You are open minded and extremely optimistic.
You enjoy almost all facets of life. You can find the good in almost anything.

You keep yourself busy with tons of friends, activities, and interests.
You find it hard to turn down an opportunity, even if you are pressed for time.

Your friends find you fascinating, charming, and easy to talk to.
(But with so many competing interests, you friends do feel like you hardly have time for them.)

You excel in: Inspiring people

You get along best with: The Question Mark

Sunday Salon – February 24, 2008

February 24, 2008

3:35 PM

Food shopping. Picking up cat medication. Going to the bank. Household chores.

This is how I spent a good portion of my day. Despite these dreary tasks (running amid raindrops and shielding myself from the cold, gusty wind), I managed to read another 50 pages into my current read: Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. This is my first Morrison novel – and I picked it up with a little reluctance. Although I have heard rave reviews about Beloved and The Bluest Eye, Morrison’s Song of Solomon has garnered mixed reactions. I’d heard about Morrison’s lively prose…but also about her tendency to delve into mystical realism and heavy symbolism – aspects of literature which usually stop me cold. But, this book came up as a group read on my Banned Books group, and so I decided to forge ahead with it.

Morrison writes in the forward about the death of her father and how she mourned him, and mourned the loss of the daughter who had lived in his head. In working through her grief, she began to seek his advice after his death:

I think  it was because I felt closer to him than to myself that, after his death, I deliberately sought his advice for writing the novel that continued to elude me. “What are the men you have known really like?”
-Toni Morrison in her Introduction of Song of Solomon-

This intrigued me, and made me view what I was about to read in a different way. Morrison, who is known for her strong female POV, had chosen to write a novel whose muse was male – specifically her father. Perhaps because I feel the connection between myself and my own father more difficult as he gradually slips into dementia, Morrison’s thoughts about her father and the impact his life and subsequent death had on her writing spoke to me. In any case, it opened my mind to the novel and as I began to read the first chapter I was pulled  instantly into the story.

Song of Solomon is about a black family – Macon and Ruth Dead and their three children … Milkman, Corinthians, and Magdalene called Lena. The novel opens with a man attempting to fly and therefore diving to his death off of Mercy (referred to as No Mercy) Hospital in 1931. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel – a novel about flight…mystical, triumphant, and disturbing.

I am half way through Morrison’s beautifully written novel, and am engrossed. I care about the characters, even those I don’t particularly like. I should finish this one by tomorrow and plan to write a more in depth review then.

In other reading this past week, I finished J.M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K (read my review) as well as Alentejo Blue, by Monica Ali (read my review). I liked them both (more so Ali’s than Coetzee’s…but with Coetzee the reader has to wrack their brain a bit more and so the joy in reading comes mostly from the understanding of the bigger issues at the end).

I think I will be in the mood for something lighter, less thought provoking after I’ve finished the Morrison book.

National Book Award Project

Sharon from Ex Libris is hosting this perpetual challenge (no time limit) to read from the National Book Award fiction list (winners and nominees). The National Book Award Project allows flexibility in the guidelines. Looking through the list, I’ve discovered I have already read several winners and nominees…so my goal will to keep reading through the list (good thing there is no time limit!). I don’t promise to read all the nominees, but I would like to get through all the winners – and if I do that, I will consider this challenge a success.

I’ll be keeping track of my progress at the official challenge blog; and also here.

You may notice that there are a few DNF’s (Did not Finish). These were books which I disliked so much, I couldn’t make my way through them. I have no intention of trying them again…chalk it up to not enough time in my life to read books I hate.

Below are the lists. Winners are in bold print. Books I’ve read are highlighted in Red with links to my reviews when available.


  • Nelson Algren – The Man with the Golden Arm


  • William Faulkner – The Collected Stories of William Faulkner
  • Brendan Gill – The Trouble of One House


  • James Jones – From Here to Eternity (No review)
  • James Agee – The Morning Watch
  • Truman Capote – The Grass Harp
  • William Faulkner – Requiem for a Nun
  • Caroline Gordon – The Strange Children
  • Thomas Mann – The Holy Sinner
  • John P. Marquand – Melville Goodwin USA
  • J. D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye
  • William Styron – Lie Down in Darkness
  • Jessamyn West – The Witch Diggers
  • Herman Wouk – The Caine Mutiny


  • Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man
  • Isabel Bolton – Many Mansions
  • H. L. Davis – Winds of Morning
  • Thomas Gallagher – The Gathering Darkness
  • Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea
  • Carl Jones – Jefferson Selleck
  • Peter Martin – The Landsman
  • John Steinbeck – East of Eden (Read October 15, 2007; rated 5/5; read my review)
  • William Carlos Williams – The Build Up


  • Saul Bellow – The Adventures of Augie March


  • William Faulkner – A Fable
  • Harriet Arnow – The Dollmaker
  • Hamilton Basso – The View from Pompey’s Head
  • Davis Grubb – The Night of the Hunter
  • Randall Jarrell – Pictures from an Institution
  • Milton Lott – The Last Hunt
  • Frederick Manfred – The Last Grizzly
  • William March – The Bad Seed
  • Wright Morris – The Huge Season
  • Frank Rooney – The Courts of Memory
  • John Steinbeck – Sweet Thursday


  • John O’Hara – Ten North Frederick
  • Paul Bowles – The Spider’s House
  • Shirley Ann Grau – The Black Prince
  • MacKinlay Kantor – Andersonville
  • Flannery O’Connor – A Good Man is Hard to Find
  • May Sarton – Faithful are the Wounds
  • Robert Penn Warren – Band of Angels
  • Eudora Welty – The Bride of the Innisfallen
  • Herman Wouk – Marjorie Morningstar


  • Wright Morris – The Field of Vision
  • Nelson Algren – Walk on the Wild Side
  • James Baldwin – Giovanni’s Room
  • Saul Bellow – Seize the Day
  • B. J. Chute – Greenwillow
  • A. B. Guthrie – These Thousand Years
  • John Hersey – A Single Pebble
  • John Hunt – Generations of Men
  • Edwin O’Connor – The Last Hurrah
  • J. F. Powers – The Presence of Grace
  • Elizabeth Spencer – The Voice at the Back Door
  • James Thurber – Further Fables for Our Time


  • John Cheever – The Wapshop Chronicle
  • James Agee – A Death in the Family
  • James Gould Cozzens – By Love Possessed
  • Mark Harris – Something About A Soldier
  • Andrew Lytle – The Velvet Horn
  • Bernard Malamud – The Assistant
  • Wright Morris – Love Among the Cannibals
  • Vladimir Nabokov – Pnin
  • Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged
  • Nancy Wilson Ross – The Return of Lady Brace
  • May Sarton – The Birth of a Grandfather


  • Bernard Malamud – The Magic Barrel
  • J. P. Donleavy – The Ginger Man
  • William Humphrey – Home from the Hill
  • Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita
  • John O’Hara – From the Terrace
  • J. R. Salamanca – The Lost Country
  • Anya Seyton – The Winthrop Woman
  • Robert Travers – Anatomy of a Murder


  • Philip Roth – Goodbye Columbus
  • Louis Auchincloss – Pursuit of the Prodigal
  • Hamilton Basso – The Light Infantry Ball
  • Saul Bellow – Henderson the Rain King
  • Evan S. Connell, Jr. – Mrs. Bridge
  • William Faulkner – The Mansion
  • Mark Harris – Wake Up, Stupid
  • John Hersey – The War Lover
  • H. L. Humes – Men Die
  • Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House (no review)
  • Elizabeth Janeway – The Third Choice
  • James Jones – The Pistol
  • Warren Miller – The Cool World
  • James Purdy – Malcolm
  • Leo Rostyn – The Return of H*Y*M*A*N*K*A*P*L*A*N*
  • John Updike – The Poorhouse Fair
  • Robert Penn Warren – The Cave
  • Morris West – The Devil’s Advocate


  • Conrad Richter – The Waters of Kronos
  • Louis Auchincloss – The House of Five Talents
  • Kay Boyle – Generation without Farewell
  • John Hersey – The Child Buyer
  • John Knowles – A Separate Place (no review)
  • Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird (Read March 21, 2007; rated 5/5; read my review)
  • Wright Morris – Ceremony in a Lone Tree
  • Flannery O’Connor – The Violent Bear It Away
  • Elizabeth Spencer – The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales
  • Francis Steegmuller – The Christening Party
  • John Updike – Rabbit, Run
  • Mildred Walker – The Body of a Young Man


  • Walker Percy – The Moviegoer
  • Hortense Calisher – False Entry
  • George P. Elliott – Among the Dangs
  • Joseph Heller –  Catch 22 (DNF)
  • Bernard Malamud – A New Life
  • J. D. Salinger – Franny and Zooey
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer – The Spinoza of Market Street and Other Stories
  • Edward Lewis Wallant – The Pawnbroker
  • Joan Williams – The Morning and the Evening
  • Richard Yates – Revolutionary Road


  • J. F. Powers – Morte D’Urban
  • Vladimir Nabokov – Pale Fire
  • Katherine Anne Porter – Ship of Fools
  • Dawn Powell – The Golden Spur
  • Clancy Sigal – Going Away
  • John Updike – Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories


  • John Updike – The Centaur
  • Bernard Malamud – Idiots First
  • Mary McCarthy – The Group
  • Thomas Pynchon – V
  • Harvey Swados – The Will


  • Saul Bellow – Herzog
  • Louis Auchincloss – The Rector of Justin
  • John Hawkes – Second Skin
  • Richard Kim – The Martyred
  • Wallace Markfield – To an Early Grave
  • Vladimir Nabokov – The Defense
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer – Short Friday


  • Katherine A. Porter – The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter
  • Jesse Hill Ford – The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones
  • Peter Matthiessen – At Play in the Fields of the Lord
  • James Merrill – The (Diblos) Notebook
  • Flannery O’Connor – Everything that Rises Must Converge
  • Harry Petrakis – Pericles on 31st Street


  • Bernard Malamud – The Fixer
  • Louis Auchincloss – The Embezzler
  • Edwin O’Connor – All in the Family
  • Walker Percy – The Last Gentleman
  • Harry Petrakis – A Dream of Kings
  • Wilfrid Sheeds – Office Politics


  • Thornton Wilder – The Eighth Day
  • Norman Mailer – Why Are We in Vietnam?
  • Joyce Carol Oates – A Garden of Earthly Delights
  • Chaim Potok – The Chosen
  • William Styron – Confessions of Nat Turner


  • Jerzy Kosinski – Steps
  • John Barth – Lost in the Funhouse
  • Frederick Exley – A Fan’s Notes
  • Joyce Carol Oates – Expensive People
  • Thomas Rogers – The Pursuit of Happiness


  • Joyce Carol Oates – Them
  • Leonard Gardner – Fat City
  • Leonard Michaels – Going Places
  • Jean Stafford – The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford
  • Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse Five (Read December 2006; rated 4/5; no review)


  • Saul Bellow – Mr. Sammler’s Planet
  • James Dickey – Deliverance
  • Shirley Hazzard – The Bay of Noon
  • John Updike – Bech: A Book
  • Eudora Welty – Losing Battles


  • Flannery O’Connor – The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor
  • Frederick Buechner – Lion Country
  • E. L. Doctorow – The Book of Daniel
  • Stanley Elkin – The Dick Gibson Show
  • Tom McHale – Farragan’s Retreat
  • Joyce Carol Oates – Wonderland
  • Cynthia Ozick – The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories
  • Walker Percy – Love Among the Ruins
  • Earl Thompson – A Garden of Sand
  • John Updike – Rabbit Redux


  • John Barth – Chimera
  • John Williams – Augustus
  • Brock Brauer – The Late Great Creature
  • Alan Friedman – Hermaphrodeity
  • Barry Hannah – Geronimo Rex
  • George V. Higgins – The Friends of Eddie Coyle
  • R. M. Koster – The Prince
  • Vladimir Nabokov – Transparent Things
  • Ishmael Reed – Mumbo Jumbo
  • Thomas Rogers – The Confession of a Child of the Century
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer – Enemies, A Love Story
  • Eudora Welty – The Optimist’s Daughter


  • Thomas Pyncheon – Gravity’s Rainbow
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer – A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories
  • Doris Betts – Beasts of the World and Other Stories
  • John Cheever – The World of Apples
  • Ellen Douglas – Apostles of Light
  • Stanley Elkin – Searches and Seizures
  • John Gardner – Nickel Mountain
  • Tom McGuane – Ninety-Two in the Shade
  • Wilfrid Sheed – People Will Always Be Kind
  • Gore Vidal – Burr
  • Joy Williams – State of Grace


  • Robert Stone – Dog Soldiers
  • Thomas Williams – The Hair of Harold Roux
  • Donald Barthelme – The Guilty Pleasures
  • Gail Godwin – The Odd Woman
  • Joseph Heller – Something Happened
  • Toni Morrison – Sula
  • Vladimir Nabokov – Look at the Harlequins!
  • Grace Paley – Enormous Changes at the Last Minute
  • Philip Roth – My Life as a Man
  • Mark Smith – The Death of a Detective


  • Wiliam Gaddis – JR
  • Saul Bellow – Humboldt’s Gift
  • Hortense Calisher – The Collected Stories of Hortense Calisher
  • Johanna Kaplan – Other People’s Lives
  • Vladimir Nabokov – Tyrant’s Destroyed and Other Stories
  • Larry Woiwode – Beyond the Bedroom Wall


  • Wallace Stegner – The Spectator Bird
  • Raymond Carver – Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
  • MacDonald Harris – The Balloonist
  • Ursula K. Le Guin – Orsinian Tales
  • Cynthia Propper Seton – A Fine Romance


  • Mary Lee Settles – Blood Ties
  • Robert Coover – The Public Burning
  • Peter De Vries – Madder Music
  • James Alan McPherson – Elbow Room
  • John Sayles – Union Dues


  • Tim O’Brien – Going After Cacciato
  • John Cheever – The Stories of John Cheever
  • John Irving – The World According to Garp (Read multiple times; rated 5/5; no review)
  • Diane Johnson – Lying Low
  • David Plante – The Family


  • William Styron – Sophie’s Choice
  • James Baldwin – Just Above My Head
  • Norman Mailer – The Executioner’s Song
  • Philip Roth – The Ghost Writer
  • Scott Spencer – Endless Love


  • Wright Morris – Plains Song
  • Shirley Hazzard – The Transit of Venus
  • William Maxwell – So Long, See  You Tomorrow
  • Walker Percy – The Second Coming
  • Eudora Welty – The Collected Stories


  • John Updike – Rabbit is Rich
  • Mark Helprin – Ellis Island and Other Stories
  • John Irving – The Hotel New Hampshire (Read multiple times; rated 5/5; no review)
  • Robert Stone – A Flag for Sunrise
  • William Wharton – Dad


  • Alice Walker – The Color Purple (Read January 12, 2007; rated 4.25/5; read my review)
  • Gail Godwin – A Mother and Two Daughters
  • Bobbie Ann Mason – Shiloh and Other Stories
  • Paul Theroux – The Mosquito Coast
  • Anne Tyler – Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (Read January 24, 2007; rated 4.5/5; read my review)


  • Ellen Gilchrist – Victory Over Japan: A Book of Stories
  • Alison Lurie – Foreign Affairs
  • Philip Roth – The Anatomy Lesson


  • Don DeLillo – White Noise
  • Ursula K. Le Guin – Always Coming Home
  • Hugh Nissenson – The Tree of Life


  • E. L. Doctorow – World’s Fair
  • Norman Rush – Whites
  • Peter Taylor – A Summon to Memphis


  • Larry Heinemann – Paco’s Story
  • Alice McDermott – That Night
  • Toni Morrison – Beloved
  • Howard Norman – The Northern Lights
  • Philip Roth – The Counterlife


  • Peter Dexter – Paris Trout (no review)
  • Don DeLillo – Libra
  • Mary McGarry Morris – Vanished
  • James F. Powers – Wheat That Springeth Green
  • Anne Tyler – Breathing Lessons


  • John Casey – Spartina
  • E. L. Doctorow – Billy Bathgate
  • Katherine Dunn – Geek Love
  • Oscar Hijuelos – Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
  • Amy Tan – The Joy Luck Club


  • Charles Johnson – Middle Passage
  • Felipe Alfau – Chromos
  • Elena Castedo – Paradise
  • Jessica Hagedorn – Dogeaters
  • Joyce Carol Oates – Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart


  • Norman Rush – Mating
  • Louis Begley – Wartime Lies
  • Stephen Dixon – Frog
  • Stanley Elkin – The MacGuffin
  • Sandra Scofield – Beyond Deserving


  • Cormac McCarthy – All the Pretty Horses
  • Dorothy Allison – Bastard Out of Carolina (Read August 1, 2007; rated 3/5; read my review)
  • Cristina Garcia – Dreaming in Cuban
  • Edward P. Jones – Lost in the City
  • Robert Stone – Outerbridge Reach


  • E. Annie Proulx – The Shipping News (no review)
  • Amy Bloom – Come to Me
  • Thom Jones – The Puligist at Rest
  • Richard Powers – Operation Wandering Soul
  • Bob Shacochis – Swimming in the Volcano


  • William Gaddis – A Frolic of His Own
  • Ellen Currie – Moses Supposes
  • Richard Dooling – White Man’s Grave
  • Howard Norman – The Bird Artist
  • Grace Paley – The Collected Stories


  • Philip Roth – Sabbath’s Theater
  • Madison Smartt Bell – All Souls’ Rising
  • Edwidge Danticat – Krik?  Krak!
  • Stephen Dixon – Interstate
  • Rosario Ferre – The House on the Lagoon


  • Andrea Barrett – Ship Fever and Other Stories
  • Ron Hansen – Atticus
  • Elizabeth McCracken – The Giant’s House
  • Stephen Millhauser – Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer
  • Janet Peery – The River Beyond the World


  • Charles Frazier – Cold Mountain
  • Don DeLillo – Underworld (DNF)
  • Diane Johnson – Le Divorce
  • Ward Just – Echo House
  • Cynthia Ozick – The Puttermesser Papers


  • Alice McDermott – Charming Billy
  • Allegra Goodman – Kaaterskill Falls
  • Gayl Jones – The Healing
  • Robert Stone – Damascus Gate
  • Thomas Wolfe – A Man in Full


  • Ha Jin – Waiting
  • Andre Dubus III – The House of Sand and Fog
  • Kent Haruf – Plainsong
  • Patricia Henley – Hummingbird House
  • Jean Thompson – Who Do You Love


  • Susan Sontag – In America
  • Charles Baxter – The Feast of Love
  • Alan Lightman – The Diagnosis
  • Joyce Carol Oates – Blonde
  • Francine Prose – Blue Angel


  • Jonathan Franzen – The Corrections
  • Dan Chaon – Among the Missing
  • Jennifer Egan – Look at Me
  • Louise Erdrich – The Last Report on the Miracle at Little No Horse
  • Susan Straight – Highwire Moon


  • Julia Glass – Three Moons
  • Mark Costello – Big If
  • Adam Haslett – You Are Not A Stranger Here
  • Martha McPhee – Gorgeous Lies
  • Brad Watson – The Heaven of Mercury


  • Shirley Hazzard – The Great Fire (Read August 9, 2007; rated 4/5; read my review)
  • T. C. Boyle – Drop City
  • Edward P. Jones – The Known World
  • Scott Spenser – A Ship Made of Paper
  • Marianne Wiggins – Evidence of Things Unseen: A Novel


  • Lily Tuck – The News from Paraguay
  • Sarah Shun-lien Bynum – Madeleine is Sleeping
  • Christine Schutt – Florida
  • Joan Silber – Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories
  • Kate Walbert – Our Kind


  • William T. Vollman – Europe Central
  • E. L. Doctorow – The March
  • Mary Gaitskill – Veronica
  • Christopher Sorrentino – Trance
  • Rene Steinke – Holy Skirts


  • Richard Powers – The Echo Maker (Read September 6, 2007; rated 4.5/5; read my review)
  • Mark Z. Danielewski – Only Revolutions (DNF)
  • Ken Kalfus – A Disorder Peculiar to the Country
  • Dana Spiotta – Eat the Document (Read May 22, 2007; rated 3.5/5; read my review)
  • Jess Walter – The Zero


  • Denis Johnson – Tree of Smoke
  • Mischa Berlinski – Fieldwork
  • Lydia Davis – Varieties of Disturbance
  • Joshua Ferris – Then We Came to the End
  • Jim Shepard – Like You’d Understand, Anyway

Wrap Up – Unread Author’s Challenge

I completed this challenge today! I read five (5) books from my original list and one (1) book from my alternates list. You can view my entire list with links to reviews here.

I enjoyed all the new authors I read, rating 4 of the 6 a high 4.5/5 (highly recommended), and 2 of the 6 a 4/5 rating (recommended).

My favorite part of the challenge was adding to my “new to me” author list. For a long time I was stuck in a rut of only reading those authors I was familiar with…in 2007, I decided to branch out and try to read more new authors. This has really expanded my reading, and added to my favorite authors to choose from!

I would definitely participate in this challenge were it to be offered again. Thank you Ariel for hosting a fabulous reading challenge!!

Alentejo Blue – Book Review

She wore her black slingbacks and a white cotton dress with blue flowers that matched the paint that framed the door. Alentejo blue. here she was, in a picture, in a moment, setting out for the rest of her life. -From Alentejo Blue, page 131-

Monica Ali’s novella – Alentejo Blue – is a collection of moments lived by its vast array of characters. The Alentejo region of Portugal -located in south-central Portugal and known for its tiny, medieval villages – is the perfect setting for Ali’s book, which seems to be a collection of interconnected, short stories. Ali is adept at exploring her characters’ inner lives. The reader is gradually introduced to the inhabitants of the fictional town of Mamarrosa: Joao, an old timer who has seen the days of Communism and remembers the revolution of the peasants;  Vasco, the baker whose obesity and compulsion with eating hides his painful losses; Teresa, a young woman who longs to break away from the village of her birth; Sophie and Huw, an engaged couple whose holiday to Portugal uncovers the deeper issues of their relationship; Elaine, a middle-aged English woman seeking meaning in her tired marriage; Stanton, the alcoholic writer living a shallow existence; and the Potts family, living a dysfunctional existence far from their home in England. As the novella unwinds, the reader glimpses the connections between characters and the main themes evolve.

There is a theme of “old” world vs. “new” – highlighted by the elderly, traditional members of the village vs. the youth and tourists. Change is in the air, but it is unclear whether it will be for the best, or will simply disrupt the flow of village life.

So we stay as we are and watch the shadows lengthen and smell the evening loaves being baked and fell the sun slipping low, blushing over our necks like the first taste of wine. -From Alentejo Blue, page 94-

Ali’s lyrical prose transports the reader into the countryside of Portugal.

The plains spread out on either side. Here and there a cork oak stood grieving. The land rose and fell in modest dimensions. Now and again a gleam of machinery, glittering drops of water on an acacia, a giant eucalyptus shedding its splintery scrolls. Field upon field upon field, wheat and grass and fallow, on and on and on, and in this flat composition there was a depth, both sadness and tremulous joy. -From Alentejo Blue, page 163-

This novel was listed as a 2006 New York Times Most Notable book – and I think it is deserving of that honor. Ali is a gifted writer with great understanding and sensitivity to her characters – picking up Alentejo Blue was like relaxing into small town life, chatting with the neighbors and observing the ebb and flow of the days beneath a Portugal sun. I will be reading more of Ali’s novels in the future.

Highly recommended.

Life and Times of Michael K – Book Review

The first thing the midwife noticed about Michael K when she helped him out of his mother into the world was that he had a hare lip. -From Life and Times of Michael K, page 1-

Michael K’s hare lip is the first thing everyone notices about him – a disfigurement that sets him apart and causes his mother to institutionalize him at a young age. This physical defect seems to set the tone for Micahel’s life of isolation and a turning inward of himself. As an adult, Michael finds work as a gardener in the city of Cape Town; later as his mother’s health deteriorates he decides to return to the country and the home of her birth. But a civil war makes this journey a challenge in more ways than one. Michael and his mother do not have papers to leave the city, they don’t have reliable transportation, and they must avoid armed guards and roadblocks. When Michael’s mother dies along the way, Michael is left with her ashes and the determination to reach his destiny.

This is a disturbing and revealing novel about the strength of the human spirit to not only endure, but to overcome physical obstacles in the discovery of self. Michael’s connection to the earth, his desire to grow his own food, becomes his sole purpose of living.

His deepest pleasure came at sunset when he turned open the cock at the dam wall and watched the stream of water run down its channels to soak the earth, turning it from fawn to deep brown. It is because I am a gardener, he tough, because that is my nature. -From Life and Times of Michael K, page 59-

Coetzee’s writing is vivid in its descriptions. The sense of place is strong, which makes this novel a somber look at South Africa. The human suffering, the pointlessness of the re-education camps, the cruelty of the military – all resound heavily on the pages of this book.  Michael stands out, not only because he is physically marred, but because he possesses a peace within that those around him lack. A doctor who treats Michael in hospital seems to be the only character who identifies what makes Michael special.

I am the only one who sees you for the original soul you are. I am the only one who cares for you. I alone see you as neither a soft case for a soft camp nor a hard case for a hard camp but a human soul above and beneath classification, a soul blessedly untouched by doctrine, untouched by history, a soul stirring its wings within that stiff sarcophagus, murmuring behind that clownish mask. -From Life and Times of Michael K, page 151-

As with all of Coetzee’s novels, Life and Times of Michael K is not light reading. In many ways it is depressing; but ultimately it captures the beauty of the human soul.


Awards and a Little Catching Up….

Updated at 1:15PM

Trish has honored me with the Mwah! Award – I’m terribly flattered!! Thank you, Trish – and answering your question was my pleasure.


Today is a new day, and I just know I am going to get on the upside of this bug that has knocked me flat on my back. I feel quite remiss in acknowledging some very nice awards over the past week.

Teddy at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time handed me the Make My Day Award. Thank you, Teddy!!
And Bonnie at Bonnie’s Books awarded me the Excellent Blog Award – I’m afraid I am terrible at speeches *fumbles with notes*, but Thank You Bonnie!! I know I am supposed to award this to ten excellent blogs. I hope you’ll forgive my copping out a bit and saying that I read nothing BUT excellent blogs! To find them, simply go to my right side bar on this blog and scroll down.

In other news, I am strongly considering dropping some of my challenges – the problem is figuring out which ones to drop. I’ve quite over extended myself and yesterday looked at my lists and thought ‘How ridiculous, Wendy, you can never read all these books in this time frame!’ I’ll let you know my decision in a few days…

Most of our snow has melted, and the days are getting longer. That can only mean Spring is on its way – I can’t wait until the tulips start poking their pretty heads through the soil! How about you? Ready for some Spring weather?

Sunday Salon – February 17, 2008

February 17, 2008


I won’t be posting much today – but needed to at least stop in and let you all know I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. No sooner did I recover from my upper respiratory illness, than I came down with the stomach flu Friday night. I’m a bit better today, but am still just eating Saltine crackers and drinking tea. I don’t think I’ll be doing much blogging today – but I’ve picked up The Life and Times of Michael K again. If I’m up to it, I’ll let you know later how I feel about the book.

The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur – Book Review

It says everything about this land to know that even the mountains are not to be trusted, and that the crunching sound under your camel’s hooves are usually human bones, hidden and revealed as the wind pleases. -From The Translator, page 20-

Daoud Hari’s memoir about the genocide occurring in Darfur is beautifully and simply wrought, and so powerful I found myself choking back tears. Hari decided to write his memoir, focusing on his years as a translator for Western news organizations, because he  knows ‘most people want others to have good lives, and, when they understand the situation, they will do what they can to steer the world back toward kindness.

Daoud Hari grew up in Darfur – and shows the reader his happy childhood, his close extended family, and the beautiful social network of his people. He then brings the reader up to the present day, where roving packs of Sudanese government supported rebels and militia groups systematically burn villages, rape women and children, and torture and kill tribesmen and their families who are only trying to eek out a simple existence in desert valleys. Hari reveals the thousands of displaced people living in camps without adequate water or food – places where women and children are forced to risk daily rapes as the price of wood for their fires. The stories contained in this slim memoir are horrifying and graphic – stories which once read would simply refuse to leave my consciousness.

The Translator is required reading for those who care about the people of the world. As Hari points out, if we continue to allow genocide to occur in Darfur, we risk it happening in other places as well. For Hari, it is simple: speak out, put pressure on our government and the people positioned to make a difference. Our voices, as Hari’s voice, can make a difference.

For those readers unfamiliar with the political situation in Darfur which has led to the massacre of thousands of indigenous Africans, Hari provides an appendix which helps put the crisis in historical perspective. The situation in Darfur is complex and not easily understood…Hari helps to simplify it.

The Translator is a disturbing and powerful book. It is not a book which I can read, set aside and forget about.

Highly recommended for its lyrical, yet simple prose and its tremendous social significance.

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