Daily Archives: July 19, 2009

Sunday Salon – July 19, 2009

Sunday Salon

July 19, 2009


This is turning out to be a very slow reading month for me – perhaps it is the triple digit temperatures which just make me want to sit in front of a fan and drink lemonade, or maybe it is my new quilting obsession, or the fact that I had visitors in the first part of the month…but I have only finished two books so far. Lucky for me, they have been great books.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh got a five-star review from me – one of the few five star books I have read this year. I loved this sprawling historical novel (my first by this author) and am looking forward to reading the next two books in the trilogy. Does anyone know when the second book is due to be published?

Next up was a book which I have been talking about reading for what seems like months now. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a terrific book (read my review), although I almost gave up on it in the first 50 pages. I’m glad I continued reading. Have you ever had that experience? You start reading a book and feel like it is something you are not going to like, but you keep reading and it ends up being one of the best books of the year?

Last night I picked up Between Here and April by Deborah Copaken Kogan. I heard this author speak at last year’s San Jose Book Group Expo and bought her book because of her talk (she autographed it for me too). The novel is loosely based on the author’s own experience of having a childhood friend murdered by her friend’s mother. I breezed through the first 65 pages of the book last night before going to bed, so I think this is going to be a quick read for me. So far the writing is living up to my theory that journalists are truly gifted novelists.

I need to also read at least two more books to complete The Themed Challenge by the end of the month. It is so embarrassing that I sponsored this challenge and may not even finish it!

And of course, there are stacks of review books pleading from the shelves and inflicting guilt on my psyche.

What are you doing today? Whatever it is, I hope it involves a good book!

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Book Review

elegancehedgehog The main thing isn’t about dying or how old you are when you die, it’s what you are doing the moment you die. In Taniguchi the heroes die while climbing Mount Everest. Since I haven’t the slightest chance of taking a stab at K2 or the Grandes Jorasses before June sixteenth, my own personal Everest will be an intellectual endeavor. I have set my goal to have the greatest number possible of profound thoughts, and to write them down in this notebook: even if nothing has any meaning, the mind, at least, can give it a shot, don’t you think? – from The Elegance of the Hedgehog, page 26 –

Renee Michel, concierge of a wealthy apartment building in Paris, screens her true nature from the residents she serves. She is a woman whose prickly attitude and appearance belies her love of art and literature, someone who finds beauty in a camellia and is horrified when a comma is misused in a sentence.

Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly elegant. – from The Elegance of the Hedgehog, page 143 –

Paloma Josse, at age twelve, is plotting her own suicide before she turns thirteen and has decided to burn down the building in which she lives. But before she dies, she vows to write down profound thoughts in haiku. Highly intelligent and mature beyond her years, Paloma is fascinated by the beauty of movement such as a petal falling from a rose. She is also adept at observation…of the world at large and of her family whose dysfunction includes a depressed mother and a misguided sister.

When Kakura Ozu, a distinguished Japanese man, buys the apartment on the fourth floor of Renee and Paloma’s building the three are drawn together – people who appreciate art and simple beauty, and are seeking meaning in life.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog started slowly for me – in fact, I nearly stopped reading it at one point. But I persisted, and I am glad I did because Muriel Barbery has written an exceptional story about appearance, class, beauty, and the search for meaning in one’s life. Written in alternating viewpoints between Renee and Paloma, the book shows how an older lady from a poor background is not that different from a twelve year old being raised in a wealthy family.

We sit there for countless minutes holding hands, not speaking. I have become friends with a lovely twelve-year-old soul to whom I feel very grateful, and however incongruous this connection may be – asymmetrical in age, condition and circumstances – nothing can taint my emotion. – from The Elegance of the Hedgehog, page 289 –

The novel is rich in philosophy and thoughts about culture, art and literature. But it is the secret lives of its characters which drive the narrative and keep the reader turning the pages. Barbery’s writing is beautifully wrought and captures the small things in life which bring joy, wonder, and hope.

When of a sudden Old Japan intervenes: from one of the apartments wafts a melody, clearly, joyfully distinct. Someone is playing a classical piece on the piano. Ah, sweet, impromptu moment, lifting the veil of melancholy…In a split second of eternity, everything is changed, transfigured. A few bars of music, rising from an unfamiliar piece, a touch of perfection in the flow of human dealings – I lean my head slowly to one side, reflect on the camellia on the moss of the temple, reflect on a cup of tea, while outside the wind is rustling the foliage, the forward rush of life is crystallized in a brilliant jewel of a moment that knows neither projects nor future, human destiny is rescued from the pale succession of days, glows with the light at last and, surpassing time, warms my tranquil heart. – from Elegance of the Hedgehog, page 106 –

The Elegance of the Hedgehog was translated from the French by Alison Anderson. A sensation in France when it was published in 2007, the novel has won the hearts of Americans as well, which seems to validate Barbery’s theme that cultural differences do not preclude finding the beauty in simplicity. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a simple story that explores complex ideas and leaves the reader fulfilled.

Highly recommended.


Other blog reviews:

Beth Kephart Books

Page 247

Boston Bibliophile

Jenny’s Books


Shelf Life

Vulpes Libris

Fleur Fisher Reads

She is Too Fond of Books

Book Dilettante