We Wish to Inform You…

Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda.

Reason read: The movie Hotel Rwanda was released in the United States on December 22nd, 2004.

The title of the book comes from a letter written to Paston Elizaphan Ntakirutimana. In it, several Advent pastors, hiding in a hospital state, “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families…” (p 42). Such a devastating cry for help…only to end in betrayal. But probably the most helpless and hopeless line in the book (for me anyway), was “I took it we were under attack, and did nothing because I had no idea what to do” (p 33). I can’t imagine knowing full well murderers were coming for me, and yet having no idea how to save myself. Imagine having nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. No way to protect yourself. Heartbreaking. Like macabre trick or treating, gangs went from town to town, just looking for people to massacre.
I find myself asking over and over again how neighbors, friends, relatives, business partners could rise up against their brethren. To kill over and over again with such horrific brutality. Not just an impersonal shot to the head. Not just a quick execution from a far off distance, but an up-close and personal hacking, slashing, chopping; a hand to hand combat/rape/pillage with machetes and knives, sticks and stony rage. The willingness, the eagerness to turn on people you had once worked, lived, learned or played side by side. Colleagues killed colleagues. Neighbors annihilated neighbors. Teachers assassinated their students. Friends turned one another with surprising ease. Gourevitch tries to make sense of it in We Wish to Inform You… by going back historically and analyzing the time before the genocide. His style is to think about the subject from a distance and then living with it up close. He walks around a topic to scrutinize it from every angle. His focus was to ask what really happened and how its aftermath is understood today (at the time of his writing).

Quotes to quote (besides the ones previously mentioned), “Five hundred years is a very long life for any regime, at any time, anywhere” (p 49), “But the decimation had been utterly gratuitous” (p 180), and “What does suffering have to do with genocide, when the idea itself is the crime” (p 202)?

Author fact: Gourevitch spent his childhood in Connecticut.

Book trivia: We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families was awarded the Guardian First Book Award.

Nancy said: Pearl called We wish to Inform You…”personal” and “heart-wrenching” in Book Lust. In Book Lust To Go she included a link to a video of an interview she conducted with Gourevitch in —. The video is no longer available, but I have been able to request archives from Seattle Channel before so…an update: The super fantastic folks at Seattle worked their magic! Within a day I got an email with a link to the interview! Spectacular.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Africa: Today and Yesterday” (p 9) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).


Blue River

Canin, Ethan. Blue River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.

Reason read: Iowa became a state in December. Ethan Canin is a member of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Author fact: Canin is also the author of best selling novel, Emperor of the Sun, which is not on my challenge list. I did, however, finish Palace Thief ten years ago to the day.

Edward and Lawrence are brothers born six years apart. Edward is the younger, smarter, and more successful brother who married the very beautiful Elizabeth and together, they have a smart son. The Edward and his family live in a huge house in a great neighborhood. They have the perfect life thanks to Edward’s successful career as an ophthalmologist. Lawrence, on the other hand, was always the tough trouble maker; always mysterious, violent, and angry. While the entire story is told from the perspective of Edward, his narrative changes a third of the way through. He talks about his older brother until Lawrence comes to visit. Dressed in rags and looking like a homeless man, Lawrence’s arrival after ten years of silence is so completely unexpected and out of the blue Edward doesn’t recognize him. The brothers have been estranged to the point of strangling the relationship. This short reunion rattles loose memories for Edward. He spends the rest of the book talking to Lawrence, going back in time to relive their tumultuous childhood. The reader is left wondering, who is the traitor, who has the bigger sense of guilt?

Book trivia: the title comes from where the book takes place (in memories) – Blue River, Wisconsin. Current day is Santa Rosa, California.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Blue River; just that Canin is worth reading (as a distinguished MFA alum from the University of Iowa).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh Brother” (p 180).


Menopocalypse

Thebe, Amanda. Menopocalypse: How I Learned to Thrive During Menopause and How You Can Too. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2020.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books.

Amanda Thebe wants you to join a community of women pushing their way through middle age. Through her book, Menopocalypse, she wants you to know you are not alone, nor are you living in Crazy Town. Your body and mind may feel like they have been taken over by aliens, but fear not! This too shall pass. Thebe’s style of writing is approachable and conversationally candid. She swears a lot. I’m okay with that. I’m less okay with how often she repeats herself. In the chapter about stress and sleep she bullets different ways to combat stress and get more sleep. Only they are not all different – walking is mentioned three different times. It’s as if the repetitiveness is there to combat a shorter book. That being said, there is a lot of great information in an easily digestible format. I never knew the loss of balance after menopause was a thing.
Admittedly, I was skeptical about this book. I requested an Advanced Reader’s Copy because I am in the thick of “the change” myself. Most appreciated: the photographs of strength training moves and a suggested scheduled routine. As an avid runner, I always appreciate a variety of routines to keep me fit.

Deep confessional: it took me a while to recognize my own sorry state of affairs. In my mid-forties I was training for a full marathon and my periods were wildly erratic. Previously blessed with a cycle as regular as clockwork, I suddenly found myself never knowing when the flow would start, how heavy it would be, or how long it would last. I was ruining clothes and my disposition on a frequent basis. Doctors told me this: because of all the running I was putting my body through, my body was “rebelling” and holding my menstrual cycle “hostage.” I was told to be patient as it would take some time to get back to normal. That was over five years ago. My body officially resigned from menstruation two years ago.

Author fact: Thebe is a personally trainer with twenty years in the industry, so her physique was already primed for menopause. Her book should have a disclaimer, “results not typical.”

Book trivia: According to the back cover, this book is already on sale (since October 2020).


On Being Human

Pastiloff, Jennifer. On Being Human: a Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard. New York: Dutton, 2020.

Reason read: in the interest of self reflection I thought I would read this book.

There is no doubt Pastiloff is a talented writer. She executes words and sentiments like an executive chef whipping up a ten course meal using only the best ingredients. To continue the cheesy analogy, her ability to accomplish goals and banish self-loathing is nothing short of delicious. I hunger for that soul discovery/recovery as well. I want it for myself like craving a hot cranberry maple scone on a Sunday morning…but I digress.
Back to Pastiloff’s On Being Human. I can’t say why this took me forever to read. I started it in July. Yes, July. Only now, at the end of December am I wrapping it up. My one complaint? Pastiloff’s chronology was all over the place. If this was meant to be a collection of short, chopped up essays I could understand the disjointedness of it all. As a memoir, jumping from one timeframe to another, one awakening or realization to the next, was a little confusing. Aside from that little critique, I loved On Being Human. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this gigantic best seller? Nothing. It is vulnerable. It is lovely. It is broken and brave and beautiful. Just read it if you haven’t already.

Author fact: Jennifer has her own website and other socials here.

Book trivia: There are no photographs included in On Being Human, but if you look up Pastiloff on her website you will find a beautiful human. It is hard to imagine her being hung up on how she looks, but that’s what makes On Being Human that much more honest. Good looking people have insecurities as well.


Think of England

Dark, Alice Elliott. Think of England. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Reason read: Dark was born in December; read in her honor.

Confessional: I read this so fast I didn’t start a blog or take many notes. It’s like a bullet train that sped by me once I finished reading and jumped off.

Jane MacLeod’s life is chronicled in this short first novel from Alice Elliott Dark. We first meet nine year old Jane in rural Pennsylvania where she aspires to be a writer. Under bed covers and behind doors, she writes stories about her family. [Confessional: For a moment this activity reminded me of Harriet, the Spy. By comparison, Jane is more introspective and less mean.] Jane claims she can remember the moment she was born. She carefully watches her parents and their teetering-on-rocky relationship. As young as she is, Jane understands not all is perfect in their household. She can tell when her mother has had too much to drink and she listens closely when the adults talk snipe at each other openly; when her parents forget they are not alone in the room. After a tragic accident, the story jumps many years and Jane is now far away from her family and living in London as a twenty-something writer. She has befriended a few artists, who encourage her poetic endeavors, and a married man who encourages her romantic ones. Fast forward a bunch of years and Jane is back in the States, now living in New York with a daughter of her own. Reunited with family, Jane comes full circle in her quest to understand the tragedy which separated them so long ago.

The title comes from Lady Hillingdon’s 1912 sad journal when she revealed she thinks of England whenever she must have unwanted sex with her husband. Yup. So there’s that. Jane’s mother uses the phrase whenever there is a setback of any size.

Lines I liked, “She was a slow burning shadow” (p 21), “She fought back by competing; if her mother made her feel small, she’d make herself even smaller” (p 32), “They stared at each other across a chasm of diverging logic, all the misunderstandings between them crammed between rings of the phone” (p32), and “Ghosts could cross water, after all” (p 184). There were dozens of other lines I would like to share, but this will have to do. Just read the book. Seriously.

Author fact: Think of England is Dark’s first novel.

Book trivia: when trying to search for Think of England the book, I kept coming up with K.J. Charles. I like that Dark is a little obscure.

Nancy said: Pearl called Dark’s writing “highly polished and controlled (but frequently emotionally charged” (Book Lust p 1).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…is for Alice” (p 1).


Wide Window

Snicket, Lemony. The Wide Window. New York: Scholastic Publishers, 2000.

Reason read: to continue the series started in October in observance of Halloween.

To recap the entire series thus far: Klaus, Violet, and Sunny Baudelaire are orphans. Their parents dying wish was for the children to be under the guardianship of a relative. Any relative. Throughout the series Mr. Poe, the family banker, has been responsible for placing the children with members of the family, no matter how distant. First came Count Olaf who tried to marry Violet in order to obtain rights to a substantial inheritance (due to the children when they came of age). Then came Uncle Monty who died of a bite from his own snake. Now, in The Wide Window, the children have been placed with Aunt Josephine who is a second cousin’s sister-in-law and has a phobia of nearly everything. Aunt Josephine lives in a huge house precariously balanced on a mountain ledge above Lake Lachrymose. Of course there is a wide window overlooking the water. Of course, Count Olaf isn’t far behind the children, having escaped every other time in the series. A master of disguises, this time he shows up with a peg leg and a patch over one eye, claiming to be Captain Sham.
As with other Lemony Snicket books, there is a formula to The Wide Window: the adults are oblivious to what is directly in front of them, readers will hear the phrase, “a word which means” a lot, and Snicket will urge his audience to read another book if they want a happy ending, “If you are interested in reading a story filled with thrilling good times, I am sorry to inform you that you are most certainly reading the wrong book…this is your last chance” (p 5). This is really quite clever because nine times out of ten one will keep reading just to witness the next tragedy.

Quote to quote, “A library is normally a very good place to work in the afternoon, but not if its window has been smashed and there is a hurricane approaching” (p 46). Sounds about right.

Author fact: Snicket was born in February…same as me.

Book trivia: Wide Window is the third book in the series.

Nancy said: Pearl has called all Snicket books wonderful.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Just for Kids: Fantasies for Grown-Ups” (p 174).


Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

Farmer, Nancy. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. New York: Richard Jackson Book, 1994.

Reason read: October is National Fantasy Month.

The year is 2194 in Zimbabwe, Africa. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm takes place in a world of computer animated Dobermans and genetically engineered monkeys; a world where creatures called She Elephants (that aren’t actually elephants) mine for plastic in a toxic dump. Robots and rockets are the norm. Basically, insert your favorite sci-fi stereotype here. It is also a world full of ancient African cultures and traditions. Witchcraft, spirits, and powers beyond human recognition rule the landscape.
In this landscape are Tendai, Rita, and Kuda. They are the overprotected and bored children of General Matsika, Chief of Security. Matisika has too many enemies so homeschooling, work, play; essentially his children’s every blessed second is spent behind gigantic heavily guarded walls. Much to his father’s disappointment, Tendai, the oldest child, will never make a good warrior. Tendai is the gentlest and most sensitive of all the children. He has the ability to physically feel the harm done to others. Rita, the middle child, is fiery and headstrong; not afraid to speak her mind or start a fight with anyone, human or otherwise. Kuda, by default the youngest, is impetuous and bold; simply not afraid of anything.
Confined as they are, the three children are eager to break out of their homemade prison when given the chance. And rest assured, break out they finally do. There wouldn’t be a story otherwise. Once the Matsika children find a way to trick their babysitter, the adventure outside the fortified mansion begins and it is not what any of them expected. Sold into slavery, the children are forced to work along side the vlei people sorting trash for a tyrant so large she is called “She Elephant.” It is not a spoiler to say they escape from this predicament only to fall in the trap of another and another and another.
General Matsika, consumed with remorse for letting down his guard for a second, hires a mutant detective agency called Ear, Eye, Arm to find his children. Ear has super sensitive hearing. Eye (you guessed it) has super sight. Arm is the most unique of all as he can feel empathy to the point of seeing into one’s soul. Together they chase the children from one entrapment to the other. The ending combines science fiction with ancient African customs for a Hollywood ending.

Apparently, I didn’t like any lines because I have nothing to quote.

As with any good fantasy, there has to be a connection to reality to help the reader connect. Instead of “jet” lag, individuals in 2194 experience “rocket” lag. Funny.

Author fact: Nancy Farmer wrote a bunch of really good stuff. Unfortunately, none of it is on my Challenge list. Boo.

Book trivia: The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm won a Newbery Honor award in 1995.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm except to describe the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Only For Kids: Fantasy for Grown-Ups” (p 174). I would definitely agree this would be entertaining for adults.


Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

Lofting, Hugh. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1922.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of…nothing. I read the Story of Doctor Dolittle by mistake. I’m actually ending the series with the Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle has upped its game from the last installment. Adventures on the high seas! A riveting murder trial! A daring bullfight with five bulls in the ring! And that’s just the first half of the book. Our story begins with ten year old Tommy Stubbins, born to Jacob Stubbins, a cobbler of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, being introduced to Dr. John Dolittle because of a squirrel in need of medical attention. Such an innocent beginning to a wild adventure! Tommy is quickly fascinated by Dolittle’s endeavors to learn the language of shellfish and convinces his parents to let him live with Dolittle as an assistant fulltime. Could Tommy learn how to talk to animals, too? As we learned in The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Doctor John knows a little something about talking to creatures of all kinds. He already established relationships with the furry and feathered kind and contains a whole menagerie in his house and gardens. But what about those creatures living in the sea? While waiting to hear from his fellow naturalist friend, Long Arrow, Dolittle toils in his basement, struggling to understand shellfish.
In The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle the good doctor wants to learn how to talk to shellfish because of their prehistoric existence and goes to great lengths to obtain the knowledge. This quest takes Dolittle and Tommy to Spider Island, an unattached, floating island slowly drifting toward the South Pole. It is there they hope to find Dolittle’s frient, Long Arrow.

I think this quote would apply to any language, “Being a good noticer is terribly important to learning animal language” (p 43). Here are two more lines I liked, “No man stands any chance of going on a voyage when his wife hasn’t seen him in fifteen years” (p 104) and “…across the darkening sky, shreds of cloud swept like tattered witches flying from the storm” (p 190).

Author fact: Hugh Lofting went on to write many more installments of the Doctor Dolittle series.

Book trivia: In the Afterward written by Lofting’s son, Christopher, he explains how some of the original text and illustrations were inappropriate for children and had to be altered for the 1988 edition. As a soapbox aside, we used to say it wasn’t “PC” or “politically correct” to say things that would offend certain groups and yet (big inhale), we currently have a national leader who goes out of his way to offend as many people as he can.

Nancy said: Pearl said the first parrot she met in fiction was Polynesia (More Book Lust p 183). From Book Lust To Go Pearl was actually talking about another book that makes mention of the Dolittle books.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Parrots” (p 183) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (p 190).


Last Friend

Ben Jelloun, Tahar. The Last Friend. Translated by Kevin Michel Cape. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.

Reason read: Ben Jelloun was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

In 1950s Morocco, schoolboy Ali meets Mamet (Mohammed) for the first time after a school yard fight. Their personalities and views on life could not be further apart. They are opposite in every way. Mamet has to fight every aspect of his life: rebelling against the Communist party sexually; betraying his religion with food and drink; ignoring his culture by committing adultery. To compensate for feeling inferior he is full of unnecessary bravado. Yet, their differences make them curious friends. Best friends at that. Without knowing it, they protect each other time and time again. Over the span of thirty years and many trials and tribulations, their relationship deepens into a profound bond; one even their wives find hard to accept. It is as if Ali and Mamet’s separate relationships orbit around their singular connection. Despite moving apart Ali and Mamet remain close until a misunderstanding and an even larger betrayal comes between them.

The lines I loved, “Friendship begins with sharing secrets” (p 16), “I discovered that ideology indoctrination can bind even an intelligent mind” (p 26), “In friendship, as in love, everyone needs an element of mystery” (p 51), and “I found myself walking down a boulevard under a cold sun, considering different scenarios to protect our friendship from the tragedy of death” (p 154).

As an aside, I never thought of Bob Marley as a misogynist.

Author fact: Ben Jelloun also wrote This Blinding Absence of Light which I read almost a year ago.

Book trivia: There is a scene in a Bette Midler movie where a mother picks a horrendous fight with her daughter in order to force her daughter to live her best life. While the fight is extremely painful to the daughter, she is able to pick up the pieces and move on. The final scene of the movie is of her getting married while her mother watches from a distance. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but The Last Friend could be a movie with a similar scene…

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t say anything about The Last Friend specifically, but she mentions the translation by Linda Coverdale is “superb.” I didn’t read that version.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “North African Notes: Morocco” (p 161).


Santa Calls

Joyce, William. Santa Calls. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.

Reason read: Christmas is in December. Santa calls at Christmastime. If you believe in that kind of thing.

When you are finished reading Santa Calls you might ask yourself, is that it? Is that all to the story? But, do yourself a favor – read it again. And again and again. It is the story of a little boy named Art who is often cruel to his little sister, Esther. Together, they receive a curious present which sends them, along with their friend, Spaulding Littlefeets, on a terrific journey to the North Pole to see Santa Claus. Before they can investigate Santa’s reason for the invitation, the children are confronted by a terrible queen and her evil minions. It is very reminiscent of the wicked witch and her flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. Once the children thwart the awful queen, (this is a book for children after all), they are back in Abilene, Texas in the blink of an eye. Was it all a dream? Esther doesn’t think so.

Author fact: Joyce dedicated Santa Calls to the Wizard of Oz, among others. Pretty cool.

Book trivia: Santa Calls was illustrated by William Joyce. Each page is a work of art. Enjoy them to the fullest.

Confessional: when I was a child, we would have a community get-together at the one room school. Us kids would put on a play for the adults, enjoy a potluck dinner followed by slightly off key carols. Everyone, children and adults, would eagerly look forward to a rousing (by this point drunken) “Jiggle Bells” because that would be Santa’s cue to stumble on stage with a bulging red sack of toys. Santa would be slightly tipsy and sort of off balanced as he made his way to sit on the edge of the stage; girls and boys lined up to sit on his lap. I was always a little shy of the fisherman hidden under the red suit and very wary of sitting on his lap. In an effort to be overlooked I would stand behind a curtain and stare up at the starry night; my eyes straining to see Rudolph’s shiny red nose. There were times I could have sworn I saw something glow.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Santa Calls except to summarize the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Christmas Books For the Whole Family To Read” (p 55).


Queenie Peavy

Burch, Robert. Queenie Peavy. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1966.

Reason read: Burch died in 2007 on Christmas Day. Read in his memory.

The story of Queenie Peavy will stick with you. Poor Queenie has a father in the penitentiary and a mother slaving away at the local cannery. Queenie herself can barely stay out of trouble. Times are hard in Cotton Junction, Georgia so she protects herself by carrying a large chip on her shoulder. Anger constantly bubbles beneath her tough-as-nails exterior. Papa was found guilty of armed robbery and despite the truth behind the taunting, Queenie wants to hurt anyone who speaks of her dad. To further hide her pain she aims and shoots her hatred as easily and quickly as the rocks she is constantly throwing. She can hit any target without remorse. It takes the threat of being sent to a reformatory school to set Queenie down a different path. For one day she is determined to be a good girl, but how can she stay on that path when she has been the tough-as-mails girl for so long? Is she destined to always be a trouble maker? Burch paints a realistic picture of a girl trying to make her way during the Great Depression. I thought this would make a great movie!

As an aside, can I just say I had a hard time with skinning a squirrel for dinner? Why is that? People eat rabbit and quail and other small woodland whatnots. Why should a squirrel be any different in the grand scheme of things? Especially during the Great Depression in rural Cotton Junction, Georgia.
When Queenie churns butter I was suddenly filled with nostalgia for a school trip I took in the early 1980s. The entire school visited Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore, Maine. We just called it Norlands Farm. The boys milked cows and the girls spun wool…

Author fact: Burch draws upon his own experiences in rural Georgia during the Great Depression to finely articulate the life of teenager Queenie.

Book trivia: My copy was illustrated by Jerry Lazare. As an aside, my copy had an inscription. Sharie said she would never forget good friend Jo in 1973. I hope she kept her word.

Nancy said: Pearl said Queenie Peavy is suitable for boys and girls.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 21).


Notes From a Small Island

Bryson, Bill. Notes From a Small Island: an Affectionate Portrait of Britain. New york: Harper Perennial, 1997.

Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

There is a definite pattern to Notes From a Small Island. Bryson travels across the British countryside in a haphazard way. Randomly taking trains, busses, ferries and even on foot, he wanders through towns checking into hotels and then checking out the sights all the while making comments as he goes. This book will make you release a stray snide giggle or two. You may even, heaven forbid, laugh or snort out loud. Honestly, at times you won’t be able to help yourself. Bryson is snarky and silly; at times absolutely hilarious. If you smile even just a little at this, “It really ought to be called the nice Little Gardens Destroyed By This Shopping Centre” you know what I mean. I think in British terms they would have called Bryson cheeky and maybe even a little snobbish about his views of architecture, country cuisine, and Wordsworth, just to name a few. (Why he has such a problem with Wordsworth I’m not sure.) He does love the region although at times it is hard to tell. Eventually, the reader will start to realize Bryson’s humor often comes at the expense of somewhere or someone. As an aside, people thought my ex-boyfriend was terribly funny until they realized he was just being terrible. Bryson is the same way.

Quotes I found especially funny, “He’ll make a face like someone who’s taken a cricket ball in the scrotum but doesn’t want to appear wimpy because his girlfriend is watching…”

Author fact: I find Bill Bryson so be so worldly in character that for some odd reason the fact he is from Iowa amazes me.

Book trivia: Notes From a Small Island was made into a television series in 1999. It had six episodes and only lasted one season.

Nancy said: Pearl said Notes From a Small Island would be “the single best book I know of to give someone who is depressed…” (More Book Lust p 36-37)

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To Miss” (p 36).


Burnt Shadows

Shamsie, Kamila. Burnt Shadows. New York: Picador, 2009.

Reason read: Confessional: this was supposed to be read in August for a myriad of reasons: Shamsie’s birth month, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and the anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. Somehow I missed it in August but wanted it read before 2021.

Burnt Shadows spans 56 years, from 1945 to 2001 moving from Nagasaki, Japan to Delhi, India to Pakistan and New York, all the while addressing the political geography of the time. India’s independence from British rule serves as a subtle character in Burnt Shadows as it changes the identity of others. At the heart of the story is the necessity of identity: human culture based on the desire to belong somewhere. Every character in Burnt Shadows struggles with a spiritual homelessness and drifting identity. Consider main protagonist Hiroko Tanaka: she fled Nagasaki, Japan after the bombing. Right before the attack she was engaged to a German, but ends up marrying an Indian she meets at the home of her deceased fiancé’s sister in Delhi, India. A misunderstanding leads the couple to Pakistan where they have a son, Raza.
The story opens with the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka loses her fiancé in the blast. How ironic is it she only agreed to marry him that same day? How tragic! In time she makes her way to India and lands on the doorstep of Konrad’s half sister, Elizabeth Burton and Elizabeth’s husband, James. Reluctantly, they take in Hiroko. Sajjad Ashraf, from the province of Dilli, works as a translator for James and Elizabeth Burton and agreed to tutor Hiroko. A beautiful relationship develops between them.
Burnt Shadows is also about the unspoken observation of marriage; the relationships that fail and those that stand the test of time “until death do us part.” Elizabeth and James had small, invisible cracks in their relationship before Hiroko arrived. Hiroko and Sajjad barely knew each other before their hasty marriage and yet it endured.
The last third of the book is difficult to read in that the story moves from one of interpersonal relationships to one of political unrest. The events of September 11th, 2001 play an enormous part in the narrative. It is as if Shamsie has another message, one that she has been waiting for 200 pages to deliver.

Quotes to quote, “There was no moment at which things went wrong, just a steady accumulation of hurt and misunderstanding” (p 109), “She felt she had been waiting all her life to arrive here” (p 295),

Author fact: Shamsie has ties to the Northeast, having gone to Hamilton College in New York and University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Burnt Shadows but it is the last book mentioned in the chapter.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: Pakistan” (p 212).


Seven Pillars

Lawrence, T.E. Seven Pillars: a Triumph. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1935.

Reason read: Lawrence of Arabia was born in December. Read in his honor.

The title of Seven Pillars comes from the Bible, in the Book of Proverbs. This is Lawrence’s personal narrative about the Arab revolt during World War I. A caveat: with all personal narratives come author perceptions that aren’t necessarily aligned with reality. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars is no different. He used unreliable sources in the form of diaries, journals, field notes, and most unreliable of all personal narratives, his memories. Yet, Lawrence goes to great pains to explain the process of his writing. In the spirit of artistic creation this is much appreciated.
I would be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to the full page portraits and illustrations that are beyond fantastic executed in plaster, oils, charcoal, pencil, and photograph . Lawrence makes special mention of the artist, Kennington, who worked for five years on the majority of the illustrations.
As an aside, Revolt in the Desert is an abridgement of Seven Pillars.

Quotes to quote, “All men dream, but not equally” (p 24), and “Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances” (p 29).

Author fact: All Souls College gave Lawrence “leisure” in 1919 – 1920 to write about the Arab Revolt during World War I.

Book trivia: Bernard Shaw critiqued Seven Pillars.

Nancy said: From Book Lust To Go Pearl said, “It goes without saying that any trip to Arabia should include reacquainting yourself with him” (p 23).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Arabia Deserta” (p 25).


Winnie-the-Pooh

Milne, A.A. Winnie-the-Pooh. New York: Yearling Book, 1954.

Reason read: Please do not quote me on this, but I read somewhere that Eeyore’s birthday is in December. Read in his honor if that’s true.

I had forgotten Winnie-the-Pooh started off as Edward Bear. Edward is a respectable name for a loveable, if not absent minded, practical, and decent bear. I didn’t know Pooh was a swan until Christopher Robin had other ideas and Winnie-ther-Pooh Bear was born. Who doesn’t know Pooh and his woodland mates: Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Roo? The adventures they have in Hundred Acre Wood are legendary. To bring you back down memory lane- Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s door. Pooh and Piglet search for a Woozie. Eeyore misplaces his tail. Piglet is rescued during a flood. Pooh and Piglet want to trap a Heffalump. The gang goes looking for the North Pole. Eeyore has a birthday…Every story has Pooh being slow-witted and honey-sweet.
In addition to being nice and thoughtful Pooh has the attitude of Ready for Anything. We could all learn a thing or two from Winnie-the-Pooh.

Lines I loved: the musings of Eeyore, “Inasmuch as which?” (p 45); the wisdom of Christopher Robin, ” a little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference” (p 122), the kindness of Piglet, “It’s so much more friendly with two” (p 134). Yes, yes, and yes.

Author fact: After serving in World War I, Milne dedicated the rest of his life to writing stories inspired by his son, Christopher. Interestingly enough, another famous author of stories for children, Hugh Lofting, had a son named Christopher who was also an inspiration.

Book trivia: Winnie-the-Pooh was “decorated” by Ernest H. Shepard. I just love that. As an aside, I seem to have taken the character of Tigger the tiger for granted. I just assumed he was always part of the gang from the start. He is nowhere to be found in the first book.

Confessional: when I was in my early twenties I met a man who adored Pooh Bear and all Pooh’s friends. This man became my first and only summer romantic. Now, whenever I see anything Pooh related I think of him.

Nancy said: Pearl said when she thinks of islands the first thing that comes to mind is the chapter in Winnie-the-Pooh in which Piglet is completely surrounded by water. Not exactly a statement about the book…

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade (1920s)” (p 175). Also in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oceania, or Miles of Isles” (p 164). The inclusion of this book in Lust To Go was a head scratcher for me. In this chapter the title, Winnie-the-Pooh, is italicized instead of bolded like all the other titles. But because it is included in the index I put it on my list.