So Long a Letter

Ba, Mariama. So Long a Letter. Translated by Modupe Bode-Thomas. Essex: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.

Reason read: June is considered a wedding month. Read in honor of marriages of all kinds.

What does it mean to be a Senegalese woman living in a society dominated by male attitudes? Where does self worth and fulfillment fit in? Just because a society condones polygamy doesn’t mean every individual expects it, embraces it, or even wants to practice it. When Ramatoulaye’s husband of thirty plus years takes a new (much younger) wife  her emotions run the gamut. Baffled (Wasn’t she a good wife?). Stunned (They have twelve children together. Wasn’t she a good mother?). Embarrassed (What will the community think of her being replaced?). Insecure (Exactly what is her place in society now?). When Madou leaves her a widow, in a long letter to her friend Aissatou, Ramatoulaye recounts her life with Madou. She is, at times, reminiscent and even wistful for a life gone by. In the end, it is a new tragedy that sets Ramatoulaye on a new path of acceptance.

Lines that stayed with me, “My loins beat to the rhythm of childbirth” (p 2), “To warp a soul is an much a sacrilege as murder” (p 23), and “To overcome distress when it sits upon you demands strong will” (p 43).

Author fact: So Long a Letter was Mariama Ba’s first novel. It goes without saying it is semi-autobiographical.

Book trivia: So Long a Letter was the first African novel to win the Noma Award in 1980.

Nancy said: Not much. Pearl just describes the plot in one sentence.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the early chapter called “African Literature in English” (p 16).


“Verlie I Say Unto You”

Adams, Alice. “Verlie I Say Unto You.” The Stories of Alice Adams. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Reason read: June is short story month.

My first reaction to “Verlie” is to comment on the blindness of the privileged. Verlie is a maid in Todd family’s home. When news of Verlie’s husband’s death reaches the Todd household no one is sure how to tell Verlie. Their naive expectation of her reaction is one of grief. Never mind the fact Verlie and Horace haven’t seen each other in years. They can’t understand why she smiles at the news. It’s obvious they don’t know their employee even though she has been with them “forever.”

Author fact: Alice’s mother was also a writer, just not as accomplished as Alice.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).


Jar City

Indridason, Arnaldur. Jar City. Read by George Guidall. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2011.

Reason read: Icelandic National Day is in June.

Arnaldur Indridason doesn’t sugarcoat his protagonists with sweet personalities. They aren’t perfect people with mundane lives. Inspector Erlender is a divorced father with a drug addicted daughter living on the fringe of society. She occasionally scrounges Erlender’s flat for money or a meal. And like any parent who loves his child to the brink of insanity, Erlender takes whatever attention he can get from her. In the meantime, he has a murder to solve. An elderly man has been bashed in the head with an ashtray. It wasn’t a robbery so who would want to kill a frail and quiet man in his 70s? As Erlender digs into the victim’s past he uncovers horrible truths about the dead man. An unsolved cold case suddenly heats up and Erlender discovers just how complicated blood ties can be.

Author fact: Arnaldur won the Glass Key award in 2002.

Narrator fact: Guidall also narrated A Widow For One Year by John Irving. I knew his voice sounded familiar.

Book trivia: Jar City is not the first in a series of Reykjavik thrillers. Sons of Dust is the first to feature Erlender.

Nancy said: “The mysteries of Arnaldur Indridason are fine examples of police procedurals” (Book Lust To Go p 99). She also mentioned reading them in order which I really appreciated since she doesn’t often do that.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called simply “Iceland” (p 99).


Mindfulness Meditation

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Mindfulness Meditation: Cultivating the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind. Read by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 1995

Reason read: Jon Kabat-Zinn was born in the month of June. Read in his honor.

Maybe this doesn’t come out when reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work. Maybe one needs to listen to his books on audio because before now I never realized Jon Kabat-Zinn is really funny. Everything he talks about in Mindfulness Meditation makes perfect sense but it’s laced with humor I hadn’t noticed before. The other benefit to listening to Mindfulness Meditation is being able to hear the bells he rings during the practice.

Mindfulness Meditation is all about playing attention to world around you in minute detail. His prime example is to focus on eating just one raisin but don’t just throw it into your mouth. Really look at it. Get all five senses involved in looking at it, feeling it, smelling it, and even putting it in your ear to hear it crackle (I kid you not). Finally, when you put it in your mouth to taste it you savor it slowly, again paying attention to how it feels while you chew. Kabat-Zinn goes beyond the raisin and explains that meditation is not about emptying your mind to alleviate stress. It’s all about focusing the mind to transform the way you think and deal with life.

So, time for some truth. I listened to this in the car on the way up to Maine. It is only two cds long so it took me no time at all.

Author fact: Maybe I have already mentioned this, but JKZ is associated with the University of Massachusetts.

Nancy said: Nancy includes Kabat-Zinn because “he advocates the techniques of Vipnassana meditation to help lower stress, reduce anxiety, and deal less frantically with the everyday world” (Book Lust p 110).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Help Yourself” (p 109).


Confessing a Murder

Drayson, Nicholas. Confessing a Murder. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002.

Reason read: June is the first month the weather is nice enough to be on the water. My father-in-law just put his boat in on the 2nd of June.

Confessing a Murder starts with a question, “It is sweet to name a thing, for is it not by naming that we gain possession?” (p 2).

In the style of nameless narration this is the story of a scientist, exiled from England. He has been stranded on an active volcanic island for three seasons, studying the flora and fauna of his entrapped environment. He knows time is running out and hints by stating things like, the mountain has “other plans.” He tells the story of how he got there interspersed with detailed descriptions of his discoveries on the island. Just this alone would make a fascinating story, but Drayson takes it a step further by included the fictionalized character of Charles Darwin as the unknown naturalist’s friend and companion, implying, and then later announcing, the theory of evolution was imposed upon Darwin by this friend. This is a story of blind love and deaf, dumb, and blind greed.

As an aside, I couldn’t get over the fantastical wildlife our nameless protagonist discovers. Birds that hibernate under water, vampire plants which suck the blood of birds. and many, many more.

The one quote I loved, “I do not know why we betray the things we love” (p 32). Hang onto this sentence because it will come back tenfold.

Author fact: In addition to Confessing a Murder Drayson wrote A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, which is also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Confessing a Murder is Drayson’s first novel.

Nancy said: Nancy said the components that make up Confessing a Murder are the perfect ingredients for a novel to enjoy, “and Drayson does it up beautifully” (p 167).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oceana, or Miles of Isles” (p 164).


Afterlife

Monette, Paul. Afterlife. New York: Avon Books, 1990.

Reason read: June is Gay Pride month in some states. In other places it is in May, so I started this early in honor of both months.

The very first word that comes to mind when trying to describe Afterlife is heartbreaking. Taking place at the “start” of the AIDs epidemic in the heart of United State’s “ground zero” in San Francisco, it tells the story of a group of gay men trying to make sense of the horrific disease while coping with personal loss. Facing their own mortality, each man has lost a partner to AIDs but display very different coping mechanisms as they have very different support systems. They form a Saturday night support group of survivors, each asking themselves, but for how long? This is a story of courage; the willingness to live and love in the face of death.

Quotes to quote, “There were enough coffins to come” (p 224) and “This worthy man, terminally unctuous but otherwise bland as a serial killer, insisted on driving them up to the North Garden in his own Cadillac” (p 256).

Author fact: Monette was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Book trivia: this should have been a movie.

Nancy said: This was included in Book Lust because it fit in the category of “Books with characters who are gay or lesbian” (p 95).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Gay and Lesbian Fiction: Our of the Closet” (p 93).


Pearl Cove

Lowell, Elizabeth. Pearl Cove. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of Lowell’s birth month in April.

So the Donovan saga continues. If you haven’t guessed by now, the series focuses on one member of the Donovan clan at a time. The last book, Jade Island, introduced Kyle Donovan. In Pearl Cove it’s older brother Archer Donovan’s turn to take the spotlight. He has been called to the rescue of Australian Hannah McGarry for personal and professional reasons.
The back story: Hannah’s husband, Len, has just been found murdered with an oyster shell buried in his chest. The oyster shell is symbolic as Hannah and Len ran a business cultivating pearls. Before his death, Len had developed a technique of producing a unique rainbow black pearl. His process was so secret that not even Hannah knew how it was done.  Now a whole necklace of these rare pearls has gone missing. With Len dead and the pearl farm on the brink of bankruptcy, Hannah is in danger. She could lose the farm and her life if she doesn’t convince ruthless competitors that she doesn’t know the secret process to producing perfect black pearls. She is forced call in favor and ask for help from Len’s silent partner, Archer Donovan.

Two quotes I liked, “But a man who stopped asking questions never learned anything new” (p 14), and “Rage chased in the wake of pain, caught it, raced neck and neck in a headlong run towards destruction” (p 213).

Author fact: Lowell has written over fifty books.

Nancy said: Pearl Cove is an “action-suspense” romance novel.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203).