Bastard of Istanbul

Shafak, Elif. The Bastard of Istanbul. Read by Laural Merlington. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Audio, 2007.

Reason read: I needed a book by an author with my initials for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge.

This is an example of getting so caught up in a book that you forget to take notes while reading. I finished this a week ago and never wrote a single note. Which means I didn’t capture favorite lines either. Bummer.

Two teenage girls with more in common than they think. Asya, born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey is surrounded by an eclectic family of overbearing, opinionated women with not a man in sight. Asya rages against her current life and past history because she thinks she doesn’t have an identity she can believe in. Nothing is of permanence. She has never known her birth father, she cleaves herself to a relationship with a married man, and calls her mother auntie, like the other three of five women in her household. Two grandmothers round out the chaotic family household.
Meanwhile, Armanoush is of Armenian descent, living in Tuscon, Arizona. She, too, is struggling to make sense of her roots as her stepfather is Turkish. There is no avoiding the historical significance of having an Armenian father and Turkish stepfather. This stepfather happens to be Asya’s uncle as well.
When Armanoush decides to visit Asya and her family for answers, the past rolls back in like a tsunami, taking down everything in its path. As I mentioned before, this is a captivating story and it will sweep you away with its twists and turns.

Author fact: Shafak also wrote The Forty Rules of Love which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: This should be a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Bastard of Istanbul is one of three novels of note. Specifically, BoI is “engrossing.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Turkish Delights” (p 240). I don’t know if anyone else was reminded of this when they read the title of this chapter, but I immediately thought of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If I ever meet Pearl again, I will have to ask! Because if she meant the reference as I thought it, it is subtle and clever and I love it.


Israel is Real

Cohen, Rich. Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009.

Reason read: Resolution 181 is a United Nations resolution passed in November 1947 calling for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. As an aside, Natalie Merchant sang a song about Resolution 181. Of course she did.

Like a slingshot pulling back for the attack, Cohen pulls us back in history to preface Israel as a reality. You expect Israel is Real to be a dry, potentially boring account of Jewish history when in reality Cohen is the storyteller with the sparkle in his eye. It is as if he is telling you a bedtime story by an open fire; urging you to lean in and listen close. He makes historical figures seem like old friends, historical events seem like he participated in them.
As an aside, my least favorite part of reading Israel is Real was stopping to read the extensive footnote at the bottom of nearly every page. While the footnotes contained interesting information, it was like hitting every single red light and getting behind every student – laden school bus on the way to work.

I plan to visit Rome in the next year or so. This line gave me pause, “In choking Jerusalem, Rome was the brain come to stop its own hear, the body come to kill its own soul” (p 25).

Someone asked me how I supported diversity and before I could control my mouth I blurted out, by not making an issue out of it. In retrospect, I think I was trying to say my workplace doesn’t discriminate but more importantly, doesn’t notice how or oven if someone is different. So, when Cohen pointed out Superman has a Jewish name (Kal-El being the Hebrew word for strength) and was created by two teenage Jews, I didn’t have an Ah Ha moment. It just made sense.

Author fact: Rich Cohen has his own website here.

Book trivia: Israel is Real includes a small section of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl called Cohen’s Israel is Real “illuminating and provocative” (Book Lust To Go p 144).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A Mention of the Middle East” (p 143).


Silverland

Murphy, Dervla. Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals. London: John Murray, 2006.

Reason read: Murphy was born in the month of November. Read in her honor.

Silverland is a well detailed account of Dervla Murphy’s slow train trip across the barren Russian landscape via BAM, the Baikal-Amur Mainline. When I say slow, I mean slow. Like 20 miles an hour slow. She prefered it this way. As she traveled she recounted the history and statistics of BAM, mourning the loss of Siberian and Ewenki cultures, stoically observed societal norms (the tragedy of “vodka orphans” strikes a chord), and waxed about political change; all the while struggling to communicate with the people she met. The language barrier sometimes prevented her from embarking on heavy and/or controversial debates or more importantly, finding out the location of her beloved bicycle, Pushkin. She is very knowledgeable about the country’s history and could hold her own throughout her extensive travels.

My favorite parts of Silverland occurred when Murphy painted a romantic image of the Siberian countryside. For example, as she rides the rails she observes steam from hot springs meeting a shaft of sunlight and pronounces the region, “a magical silverland” (p 63).
Murphy is also a humorist, affectionately referring to her overburdened suitcase as “Dog” and “Pushkin” is her bicycle. I do the same thing.

I am always pleased when a book urges me to learn more. I admit I did not know what the word ‘fubsy’ meant. Nor had I heard of the Baikal-Amur Mainline before reading Silverland. My favorite new knowledge was that of Tynde’s “pear custom.” They give a departing guest one half of a pear, urging the guest to come back to eat the other half. We on Monhegan give flowers to departing guests. If the flowers wash ashore, the guest will also return.

Quotations to quote, “I am not so far out of my tree to advocate for the elimination of motor vehicles” (p 52) and “…dawn is the best time to arrive in an unknown city” (p 87).

Author fact: Murphy was born in Ireland. A more interesting fact I learned after reading Silverland is Murphy had three granddaughters and eight pets at the time she embarked on the Siberian journey.

Book trivia: Silverland has a great set of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl nothing specific about Silverland. She did mention this was Murphy’s second trip to the region.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Siberian Chills” (p 205).


Snake Pit

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: The Snake Pit. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

Reason read: to continue the series started in October with The Axe.

In this installment of the Master of Hestviken series readers get to know Olav Audunsson’s past as he has returned home to Hestviken; most importantly, how his mother died when Olav was only a month old, which explains how he came to live with Ingunn’s family. Speaking of Ingunn, when we left her in The Axe she had given her illegitimate child (Eirik) away to be fostered and went with Olav to his family home. Happily ever after? Not really. Olav is tortured by the fact he cannot seek absolution for the slaying of Ingunn’s baby daddy. No one can make even the connection between Teit and Ingunn because it was Teit who disgraced Ingunn. Meanwhile, Ingunn as of late is either pregnant, miscarrying, or otherwise deathly ill. In fact, for a good portion of The Snake Pit Ingunn is very sick. Towards the end of the book after the successful birth of her daughter Cecilia (finally!) she lies bedridden for over three years, crippled by some mysterious paralysis. Yet, through it all, despite it all, deep down Olav still loves her.

As an aside, one has to forgive Undset’s language. In this current culture struggling with equality and inclusion, the reader must stoically ignore the misogynistic behavior and attitude of Olav towards his wife, the one he anticipates “will be in his power” because she is “weak.” Quite a bit of gender bashing occurs.

Author fact: Undset also published a diary called Return to the Future (also on my Challenge list).

Book trivia: Snake Pit is the shortest installment of the Master of Hestviken series. Additionally, characters from Undset’s other series make a small appearance at the end of Snake Pit. Lavransdatter’s father helps Olav get home to his wife.

Nancy said: Pearl said Snake Pit was a masterpiece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).


Four Corners

Salak, Kira. Four Corners: Into the Heart of New Guinea: One Woman’s Solo Journey.
Salak, Kira. Four Corners: One Woman’s Solo Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2001.

Reason read: November is supposedly a really good time to visit Papua New Guinea, if you enjoy that kind of dangerous travel.
Confessional: I started reading the uncorrected proof of this memoir before receiving the published version.

There is no doubt Kira Salak is a strong woman. As an eleven year old kid her father taught her how to handle a gun. She remembers her father encouraging his young daughter to aim between the eyes. All her life Kira considered herself tough, wanting to be a soldier, a warrior of Green Beret quality. For all of her courage, time and time again while reading Four Corners I was struck dumb by her seat-of-her-pants travel style in Papua New Guinea. Salak travels beyond the outer reaches of civilization because she has an inexplicable calling to do so. It seems incredulous one could be so naive about everything, including basic survival skills for the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Salak goes into the region without a clear plan or even a way to support herself should the missionaries and locals refuse to ensure her safe passage regardless of the money and/or gifts she has to offer. She’s a creative writing student with no concrete connection to why she is there. Other reviewers of Four Corners called Salak “lucky.” She is that and then some!

I love it when a book makes me curious about other things. After reading Four Corners I had to research Well’s morlocks and Christian’s mutineers.

Quotes I had to quote, “Sometimes our lives are chosen for us, and we have about as much control over the matter as we do the situation we’re born into” (p 13), “Living is nothing but an attempt to champion the choice you’ve made” (p 148), “I am looking at hate, a hate so deep it’s palpable” (p 168).

Author fact: Salak has her own website and the photos I was hoping to see in Four Corners can be found here.

Book trivia: I was hoping for pictures (since the cover is so interesting) but none were included. See comment above.

Nancy said: Pearl had a different title for this book, Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Pearl also said “for a goodly dash of [great beauty and danger] try Four Corners (Book Lust To Go p 150).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the super simple chapter called New Guinea (p 150).


Master of Hestviken: the Axe

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: the Axe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

Reason read: I needed something for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge. The category is women in translation.

Considered to be the companion to Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, The Master of Hestviken series tells the saga of Olav Audunsson in thirteenth century Norway. As a boy he was raised by a foster family. When you are first plunked down in the middle of the drama you meet Steinfinn, a young man who fell in love with a fair maiden named Ingebjorg. So far so good, except Ingebjorg was betrothed to someone named Mattias. Doesn’t matter. Steinfinn and Ingebjorg run away and live together as if they are man and wife. They soon have a family of three children, one of them being the beautiful Ingunn. In addition to their own children they foster a young lad by the aforementioned name of Olav Audunsson. Thus begins the romance of Ingunn and Olav. Both Olav and Ingunn’s fathers agreed the two would grow up to marry each other, but after Steinfinn passes the young couple are told it was only a game their fathers played and the betrothal is not real. Cue the violins, people. Olav commits murder with an axe named Kinfetch and that complicates things. He escapes punishment but in the meantime Ingunn is struck by some mysterious paralysis amid rumors of witchcraft. And the plot thickens. Especially when she becomes pregnant during Olav’s exile…

As an aside, I have to admit, thirteenth century drama is not my cup of tea. Luckily, The Master of Hestviken is chopped up into four books and each book is a little over 200 pages long.

Author fact: Undset was originally born in Denmark.

Book trivia: Master of Hestviken was originally published in one single volume and according to the inside flap, had been out of print in England until 1962.

Nancy said: The Axe is part of the series that Pearl considers Unset’s “other” masterpiece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).


Thank You and OK!

Chadwick, David. Thank You and OK!: An American Zen Failure in Japan. New York: Penguin/Arkana, 1994.

Reason read: Japan celebrates Respect for the Aged Day on September 18th.

I love how Chadwick opens his preface. It all starts with not getting a calendar for Christmas one year and feeling lost come New Year’s day. In that case, why not go to Japan? In truth, Chadwick had been studying the Zen life since the 60s. He went back to Japan in the mid 80s to reestablish his training.
Thank You and OK! covers a four year period in Texan Chadwick’s life and there are two threads to his story: his stay at Hogoji monastery and his life with his second wife Elin in modern Japan. As an aside, one needs to pay attention to dates to orientate oneself to each story but it isn’t hard to do.
My biggest take-away from reading Thank You and OK! is just how different are the details when the bigger picture is the same. What I mean by that is Japan and the United States both have vending machines, but you can buy hot sake out of one in Japan. Japan and the United States both have weird insects, but in Japan their centipedes are over a foot long and are poisonous. Counting the months of pregnancy even differ. In the States we start with zero. In Japan they start with one. That’s oversimplifying the case, but you get the idea.

Lines to make me nod, “I’ve always been hesitant to get physical with insects” (p 12), “we didn’t talk while we ate but everybody slurped the bejeezus out of the noodles” (p 49), and “I can never control what I say anyway, things just come out” (p 52).

Unrelated fact I did not know before reading Thank You and OK!: the author of the song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” committed suicide.

As an aside, I wonder how many people picked up the tip about asking for directions to an imaginary place as a way of checking out the scene without paying for it and tried it for themselves?

Author fact: Chadwick is a self professed Texas-raised wanderer, college dropout, bumbling social activist and hobbyhorse musician.

Book trivia: no fun photographs of Japan. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl indicated Thank You and OK! was one of the best gaijin accounts.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 118).