Son Avenger

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: The Son Avenger. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Reason read: to finish the series started in October.

Undset’s fourth and final book of the Master of Hestviken series is about finding forgiveness within one’s true identity.
Olav Audunsson now has a daughter of marrying age. He is dismayed when her first suitor is a teenage boy exiled for accidentally killing a man. History repeats itself as Aslak’s dilemma mirrors Olav’s past mistake, but Olav does not want to acknowledge this in any way. Instead of compassion for Aslak’s situation, Olav convinces his daughter to marry another. In addition, Eirik, the amoral and reckless son Olav has taken for his own has returned to Hestviken. Eirik’s life is also following the same path as Olav’s in that his relationships are troubled. His standing as a moral member of society is compromised. Olav is helpless and can only watch as Eirik struggles to make his way in the world as a decent citizen. Olav, Eirik, and Cecelia all journey towards forgiving one another as well as themselves.

Author fact: Undset also wrote the memoir, Return to the Future, which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: The Son Avenger is the last fiction I will read of Sigrid Undset’s.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Son Avenger part of the Master of Hestviken masterpiece.

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


Saddest Pleasure

Thomsen, Moritz. The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Greywolf Press, 1990.

Reason read: In honor of Brazil’s first emperor. His coronation was on December 1st, 1822.

When we catch up to Martin Moritz Thomsen Titus in The Saddest Pleasure he is now sixty-three years old. Depending on which review you read, Thomsen either was asked to leave the Ecuadorian farm he co-owned with partner, Ramon, or he just up and left. Either way, in the beginning of The Saddest Pleasure he sets out to travel to Amazonian Brazil via two rivers. Along his journey he tries to reconcile difficult memories of a contentious relationship with his father, while wrangling with the effects of aging and mourning the loss of the farm he shared with Ramon. He seems sarcastically obsessed with being a farmer and very reluctant to admit he is a writer because farming seems the more noble profession. In fact, in my opinion, the entire book is more of a look back at the should haves, could haves, and would haves of his life. A lot of cantankerous regret is interspersed in the memory. He calls travel the saddest pleasure, but I would say the saddest pleasure was reading this book.

Line I loved, “I have lived too long with poor people to sit now in the middle of all this jewelry and the electronic crapola and the whores and the gangsters who want to own it, eating overpriced food, listening for eight hours straight to Muzak’s plastic masturbatory music not to feel a profound disorientation” (p 21).
Here’s another, “Starved for protein, crippled by malnutrition, they have lost about 20% of their intelligence” (p 84).

Author fact: Thomsen lived another ten years after The Saddest Pleasure. I surely hope he found happiness in that remaining time.

Book trivia: Some view The Saddest Pleasure as the completion to a trilogy about Moritz’s time in the Peace Corps. Living Poor was considered book one (also on my Challenge list), and Farm on the River of Emeralds was book two. Another interesting fact about The Saddest Pleasure is that it won the 1991 Governor’s Writers Award.
As an aside, my copy of Saddest Pleasure has an amazing cover illustrated by Alfredo Arreguin.

Nancy said: Pearl said she found Thomsen’s memoir “to be utterly enthralling” (Book Lust To Go p 43). She then went on to take up considerable real estate in the chapter quoting The Saddest Pleasure, as she admits, “the book is filled with quotable lines” (p 44). Yes, yes it is.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter simply called “Brazil” (p 43).


Before the Deluge

Friedrich, Otto. Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1029’s. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.

Reason read: Berlin has a tattoo festival every year in Berlin.

There is a small possibility I will visit Berlin in the next year or so. It is hard to imagine the contrary Berlin of the 1920’s. Beautiful girls dressed in flapper style, kicking it up in glitzy cabarets (a la Louise Brooks, also known as Lulu) against a backdrop of war, and poverty, and influenza ravaged misery. One war was over while another bubbled just below the surface, waiting to burst forth.
The 1920’s was also a great period of scientific inquiry and wonderment. Britain and Germany had been on opposite sides of World War I, but astronomers were not concerned with that detail. Scientists on both sides were single-minded in their desire to study the eclipse. At the same time, the German government saw the benefit of using the new technology of moving pictures to show their propaganda films. Albert Einstein was in his prime.
The most fascinating thing about Before the Deluge is Friedrich’s interviews with people who could remember the height of the 20’s in Berlin. People who were aware events like if the Communists had voted in force, Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg would have never been elected to rule the German Republic. If the weather had been slightly better Hindenburg never would have appointed a young man named Adolf Hitler as Chancellor….

Quote that gave me pause: “Berlin in the winter is never a very cheerful place” (p 36). Even at Christmastime? I have to wonder.

Author fact: Friedrich went to Harvard (born in Boston).

Book trivia: There is a very cool fold out map several pages into Before the Deluge. Much better than inside the front cover of the book.

Nancy said: Pearl says, “you can’t get a better sense of Berlin between the wars than by reading Otto Friedrich’s Before the Deluge.” She then goes on to say it would be interesting to use Before the Deluge as a guidebook to present day Berlin. I don’t think so. Before the Deluge was first published in the early 1970’s. A lot has changed since then…

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the crazy simple chapter called “Berlin” (p 36). Imagine that.


Art of Travel

de Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel. Narrated by Steven Crossley. Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2002.

Reason read: Alin de Botton was born in December. Read in his honor.

Travel isn’t always what it is cracked up to be. There is something about planning a trip that is inherently more delicious than actually taking the journey. Then afterwards when you get home, you find the time away did not live up to the expectation of all the planning. Alain de Botton invites you to travel in a way you have never considered before. When you finally arrive at your destination, he welcomes you to closely inspect your surroundings in ways you didn’t know you could or should; to see beyond merely looking. Upon reading Art of Travel he makes you want to stand in the spot where van Gogh’s little yellow house used to stand in Arles, France; where you’ll find yourself a little sad it was destroyed in World War II. I could go on and on with other examples, but I think it’s best to read the book.

Author fact: Alain de Botton is a philosopher so of course his book, The Art of Travel is going to get deep. If you ever get a chance, look Alain up on YouTube. His Day III video on the art of travel is hysterical in a panic-attack kind of way.

Book trivia: The illustrations and photographs in Art of Travel are stunning.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Art of Travel is an example of “delightful writing with lots of observations to mull over” (Book Lust To Go p 260).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Where in the World Do These Books Belong?” (p 260).


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).