The Wedding

West, Dorothy. The Wedding. Read by Robin Miles. Books on Tape, 2021.

Reason read: February was the month Massachusetts became a state. The Wedding takes place on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.

Dorothy West is a master of character development. Every member of the Martha’s Vineyard Oval community is meticulously realized by their actions and reactions to events surrounding them and by the subservient relationships they keep: black and white, man and wife, neighbor and stranger, parent and child, landlord and tenant. Strangely enough, there is harmony in the contrasts.
It is the wedding of beautiful Shelby Coles. Her engagement to a white jazz musician from New York City has her family in turmoil. Lute McNeil would like nothing better than to steal Miss Coles for his own. He already has three young daughters by three different white women, but in his obsessive mind Shelby would make the perfect mother for his biracial children. Even though the Oval is comprised of black middle class residents, the question of belonging is pervasive. The standard assumption that blonde hair and blue eyes means white race. Everyone uses color to get what they want. Example: the preacher uses the image of white children in danger of hurting themselves around a derelict barn in order to get a white man to give him a horse that was of no use to him. The preacher is really after the barn wood.
Dorothy West forces her characters to face the question of identity. The end of The Wedding will leave you hanging. Would Shelby have given Lute a chance if tragedy had not intervened? Were Shelby’s sisters right in their warnings about misguided infatuation?

Author fact: Dorothy West was 85 years old when she wrote The Wedding.

Book trivia: West was known for her short stories. The Wedding is only one of two novels West wrote in her lifetime.

Playlist: “Swing Lo Sweet Chariot” and “Motherless Child”.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Wedding other than to indicate it takes place on Martha’s Vineyard.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple chapter called “Martha’s Vineyard” (p 141). No big stretch there.

Dinner with Persephone

Storace, Patricia. Dinner with Persephone. Pantheon Books, 1996.

Reason read: January 6th is the Fest of Theofania celebrating the baptism of Christ and a celebration of a return to light.

I have always wanted to visit Greece. The landscapes, the weather, the food. Sigh. All of it has me spellbound. But. But! But, the more I read of Storace’s Dinner with Persephone, I am not sure about the culture. I definitely do not agree with some of the attitudes towards women and marriage. Women are inferior to men. Sexual condescension is a thing. The accepted violence of smacking a wife or daughter around and how it is glamorized in television and movies is concerning. There is an ambivalence towards arson, too which I found odd.
Beyond the confusing side of Greek culture, I enjoyed learning about the icons of the region: a blue eye talisman hanging from an old woman’s neck, the juicy red jewels of pomegranates, the fable of Dionysus and the plant. To be sure, there is a lot of religious talk in Dinner with Persephone. The people Storace talk with mention the Virgin Mary as if she is a next-door neighbor they bumped into while going for coffee. Children bring up events dating back to the Ottoman Empire as if it were yesterday. It is only a perception but it seems religion is worked into nearly every conversation.
There is a subtle, almost secretive sultriness to Storace’s writing. I can’t put my finger on why I think that. The language is tedious at times, but more often sensuous.

P.S. I have not given up on the food of Greece. There is this one dish I am dying to try: zucchini blossoms filled with feta cheese, egg, and fresh mint. Yum.

Quotes I liked, “As I travel here, I am losing the illusion that I know where I am” (p 156),

Author fact: Storace has published a book of poetry and has received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award for her work.

Book trivia: This would have been a fantastic book to include photographs. Sorry to say that there are none.

Playlist: “Kyrie Eleison”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “Let’s Take a Walk on the Moon”, “Denial”, Mozart, Bach, Hayden, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding Recessional”, Elton John, “This Land is Your Land”, “The Dream After the Dance”, “Roll Out the Barrel”, “Greece Will Never Die”, Katie Grey, Patsy Cline, and “Carmen Sylvia Waltz”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Dinner with Persephone an excellent choice.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).

Flying Carpet

Halliburton, Richard. The Flying Carpet. City Garden Publishing Company, Inc., 1932.

Reason read: Richard Halliburton celebrated a birthday in January. Read in his honor.

Richard Halliburton was a self-described vagabond of the clouds. In Flying Carpet he brings Moye Stephens Jr. along as pilot/captain and mechanic. Their journey takes them through the far reaches of North Africa and East Asia. They followed Alexander the Great’s path into Egypt, over Alexandria and through Babylon. They stop for a month or two in ever location and submerge themselves in the culture. Like on the island of Borneo, trying to impress the tribal chief with a plane ride. My favorite section was when they visited the Taj Mahal, calling it “the one perfect thing on earth.”
A tough portion of Halliburton’s memoir is his treatment of “Negros” and the buying of young slaves. He explained it away by saying his grandfathers were slave owners in Tennessee. He bought two ten year old children to wash dishes and fight the overpopulation of bats in Timbuctoo.
Halliburton seemed like a fun guy to hang out with. He brought a portable record player and liked to dance. He was bold enough to compete for the love of a woman with whom he could not communicate. He opted to live as a prisoner in Teheran “just to see” what it was like.
As an aside, Flying Carpet was the name of the plane Richard Halliburton flew.
As an another aside, I wonder what Halliburton would think of the traffic jams of Mount Everest today. In Halliburton’s time it was forbidden (“irresistible, unattained, and inviolate”). In 1920 Nepal and Tibet had staunchly refused foreigners. Only the Dalai Lama was able to allow English climbers to enter from the Tibetan side. That might have been the beginning of commercial tourism. Halliburton and Stephens were finally allowed to gain access to the airspace around Everest (at 18,000 feet) only because they impressed the Mararajah of Nepal.

Quotes to quote, “To my great annoyance and disappointment, he did not drown” (p 114), “Because it is monstrous, merciless, demanding the utmost of one’s energy and effort” (in answer to why climb Mount Everest), and “A head is a head, and its sex is of no consequence when it has been dried and smoked, and hangs from a ceiling at home” (p 327).

Author fact: I am reading five of Halliburton’s books. I cannot wait to learn more about this fascinating adventurer!

Book trivia: The Flying Carpet includes a few photographs of Stephens and Halliburton’s journey. While there are very many, they are cool.

Playlist: “Happy Days were Here Again”, Ravel’s “Bolero”, “St. Louis Blues,” Schubert’s Serenade “Song of India”, Hymn to the Sun – Coq d’Or, “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”, “Falling in Love Again”, “St. Louis Blues”, and “What Good Am I Without You?”

Nancy said: Pearl called Halliburton’s style of writing “you-are-there” prose. I agree completely.

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

Rum Diary

Thompson, Hunter S. The Rum Diary. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Reason read: to celebrate Eugenio Maria de Hostos, philosopher who campaigned for education for women. His life is celebrated on the second Monday in January in Puerto Rico. Additionally, for the 2023 Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I needed a book with a person on the cover.

Paul Kemp, fresh in from New York, begins writing for the Daily News in San Juan. Throughout the entire Rum Diary he comes off as a bumbling and stumbling alcoholic cad who never really writes very much. He spends a great deal of time eating hamburgers at Al’s, chasing women, playing on the beach, getting into various troubles, and of course, drinking gallons of rum. Paul works off a tangle of conflicting emotions through an alcoholic haze. Rum on the island act as a currency.
Thompson’s portrait of Paul Kemp seems three quarters finished. Underneath the swagger and swaying, there lies a decent soul, but you never really understand Paul.
As as aside, I have never been to San Juan so I don’t know why this is a thing, but there seems to be a peculiar animosity towards stray dogs on the island.

Confessional: Reading Doug Stanhope’s Digging Up Mother at the same time as Hunter S. Thompson’s Rum Diary was like a lesson in debauchery. Even though Stanhope’s memories were thirty years later than Thompson’s, the attitudes were much the same. Here’s another trivial similarity – Johnny Depp starred in Thompson’s movie. He also wrote the foreword for Digging Up Mother.

Best lines, “Arriving half-drunk in a foreign place is hard on the nerves” (p 12).

Author fact: Thompson is better known for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Book trivia: Rum Diary was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp.

Playlist: Braham’s Lullaby and “Maybellene”.

Nancy said: Rum Diary is an “exuberant” picture of the drinking life in Puerto Rico. She’s not wrong.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean (Puerto Rico)” (p 57).

Brideshead Revisited

Waugh, Evelyn. Brideshead Revisited: the Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder. Everyman’s Library, 1993.

Reason read: Waugh was born in October; read in his memory.

Brideshead Revisited is twenty years in the life of Captain Charles Ryder and the relationships that sustained him. Friendships with the Flyte family and Brideshead Castle, the military, religion, romance. We learn early on that he compares his waning affection for the military to a marriage in the post-honeymoon phase. I found that to be a really interesting analogy.
I would compare Brideshead Revisited to a lazy river. There is no white water pulse pounding plot twists. Instead it is a pleasant, gentle read that meanders through Victorian life. I can see the reason for its popularity and the various made for television movies it spawned.

Line I liked, “He was the acid test of all these alloys” (p 9).

Author fact: Brideshead Revisited was Waugh’s most successful novel. It was made into a miniseries in 1981 and a movie in 2008.

Book trivia: Waugh made revisions in 1954 (the original was published in 1944). He was of two minds about Julia’s outburst about mortal sin and Lord Marchmain’s dying silioquy. Were they appropriate for the story?

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything about Brideshead Revisited in either chapter.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1940s” (p 177) and from Book Lust To Go from the chapter called “Oxford: Literary Fiction” (p 170).

Persuasion

Austen, Jane. Persuasion. Read by Michael Page. Blackstone Audio, 2016.

Reason read: Persuasion was published in December 1817. Jane Austen was born in December. I also needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library 2022 Reading Challenge.

As you probably remember from your high school literature class, there is not a whole lot of excitement happening in Persuasion. This is a character driven story based on personality, dialogue and society. Austen’s keen sense of observation was not in what people did, but how they did them.
Confessional: sometimes the characters drove me crazy. Maybe it was a Victorian societal thing, but I was annoyed with one character who was disagreeable to be in the confidences of other residents, especially when they constantly bitched to her about others. Mary is annoying with her fashionable hysterics, ailments and imaginary agitations. I liked the more clever persuasions, like when Anne was persuaded to think the engagement an indiscreet and improper mistake. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Anne as isolated and unloved as she was.
Jane Austen had a tongue-in-cheek humor. My favorite line was something like, “He took out a gun but never killed. Such a gentleman.”

Author fact: Austen was only 41 years old when she died. One of her aunts was named Philadelphia. I have never heard of a person being named Philadelphia before. What a cool name!

Book trivia: Persuasion was unfinished at the time of Austen’s death. Her brother found the manuscript and was able to publish it as Austen’s last novel. I ended up reading an anniversay edition of Persuasion which included exhausting and exhaustive footnotes and some photography that was out of context or referred to other Austen stories. To compliment the anniversary edition I listened to an audio version by Blackstone Audio.

Nancy said: Pearl said Austen’s writing is lighter in tone.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “An Anglophile’s Literary Pilgrimage” (p 19) and again in “Lyme Regis” (p 134). True story: somehow I missed cataloging this entire chapter on my Challenge spreadsheet. Woops.

Anthills of the Savannah

Achebe, Chinua. Anthills of the Savannah.Anchor Press, 1988.

Reason read: Achebe was born in the month of November. I also needed a book written by a Nigerian author for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge 2022.

The entire time I was reading Anthills of the Savannah I was suspicious of every single character. I knew going into it there was going to be a betrayal of some kind and that put me on edge. I was always questioning who would be the one to fall from grace. A friendship can be detroyed by a single misconception or a rumor born out of paranoia. All it takes is for one slight and lovers become enemies in an instant.
Reading Anthills of the Savannah was like being a vulture, soaring over the fictional African state of Kangan, hungry for the kill. From drought to political tribal disputes with city villages, the themes of love, friendship, and loyalty weave a complicated story. What with the Commissioner for Information, Commissioner for Education, Commissioner for Justice, Commissioner for Words, Commissioner for Works, Inspector General of Police, Chief Secretary, Master of Ceremonies, Superintendent of Traffic, and His Excellency all being introduced at once I felt like governance was a farse.

Author fact: Achebe also wrote Things Fall Apart which I read in 2006. Such a long time ago, but it has stuck with me ever since.

Book trivia: Anthills of the Savannah includes the legend of Idemili.

Quotes to quote: “For Cliche is but pauperized ecstasy” (p 11), “Worshipping a dictator is such a pain in the ass” (p 41), and “May you put that your useless story for inside your pocket” (p 214).

Nancy said: Pearl was including Things Fall Apart for her chapter on Nigeria, but said to check out Anthills of the Savannah as well.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Nigeria” (p 156).

God of Small Things

Roy, Arundhati. God of Small Things. Random House, 1997.

Reason read: God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, a prize that is normally awarded in October.

The God of Small Things opens with a lush description of the monsoon season of Ayemenem and the statement, “Baby Kochamma was still alive” (p 4). The simple statement hooks your breath back into your lungs while your mind jumps the rail, “what do you mean still alive?” Still? As in to imply not supposed to be of this earth? As reader, be prepared to bounce between time and space. In one chapter we will cremate a woman, in the next she will be alive and flirting.
Rahel and Estha, twins who are separated after tragedy. Death is a tragedy. Divorce is one, too. But lack of social standing is the most tragic of them all. Like a pervasive black and choking smoke, the ancient Indian caste system hangs dark and poisonous in the air. The ongoing separation of Paravan and Brahmin, touchable and untouchable, inhaled through nostrils and accepted as common as air to breathe. I was reminded of Dr. Seuss and his star bellied Sneetches. But like all unfair systems, the order of life doesn’t always work when there is a tilt, an upset in the balance. Especially when opposites attract. I don’t know how to review this book without giving too much away so I speak in circles. Jusr read it.

Quotes to quote, “On their shoulders they carried a keg of ancient anger, lit with a recent fuse” (p 67). I love it when writers take the intangible, like anger, and make it something touchable. Here’s another, “Shadows gathered like bats in the steep hollows near her collarbone” (p 154). One more: “They were not arresting a man, they were exorcising fear” (p 293). If that doesn’t say it all about racism…

Author fact: Roy studied to be an architect. she decided to write a book. God of Small Things is her first novel and wouldn’t you know it? she wins the Booker Prize.

Book trivia: I watched a short Ted video on why one should read God of Small Things. I don’t know if the makers of the video had this intention but I thought it was cute.

Nancy said: Pearl said God of Small Things was “simply glorious.”

Playlist: Elvis Presley, Handel’s Water Music, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “The Sound of Music”, “Baby Elephany Walk”, “Colonel Bogey’s March”, Little Richard, “Ruby Tuesday”, “My Favorite Things”, “So Long Farewell”,

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “India: a Reader’s Itinerary” (p 125). Also from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scenes from Sri Lanka” (p 197).

Forty Words for Sorrow

Blunt, Giles. Forty Words for Sorrow. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001.

Reason read: Stories about serial killers scare me. Maybe it is the thought that once a person kills it can become easier and easier for them to do. Maybe Sting was onto something when he sang, “murder by numbers, it’s as easy as one, two, three.” For Halloween, I chose to read Forty Words for Sorrow. In addition, I needed a book with an emotion in the title for the Portland Public Library Reading challenge.

The title comes from a comparison to the Eskimo language. If there are forty words for snow, surely somewhere out there there are forty words that mean sorrow. John Cardinal is a flawed small town Canadian cop fixated on solving the mystery of the disappearance of a teenager girl. Maybe it was the thought of his own daughter that originally drove him, but Cardinal’s obsession to solve the case depleted department resources and ultimately got him transferred out of homicide and into the burglary and petty crimes division. Meanwhile, another teenager goes missing. Then another. Suddenly, Cardinal’s obsession, thirteen year old Katie Pine’s remains are found. Maybe he was onto something after all? Is this the work of a serial killer? This time John is back on the case with a rookie for a partner (is it Lise or Lisa?) who might be investigating him.
This all would be a typical story of a dedicated office with an I-told-you-so attitude but Cardinal is a cop with a complicated life and a dirty secret his partner is determined to uncover. Can he solve the crime(s) before his personal life crashes down around him? His daughter is attending Yale on illegal funds, his wife’s mental instability has landed her in an expensive in-patient hospital, and yet another individual has been found murdered. John asks again, is there a serial killer operating out of the tiny town of Algonquin Bay? Can Cardinal close the case before his colleagues close in on him?
Not a spoiler alert: I appreciate that Blunt leaves the ending open. Cardinal’s crimes are not wrapped up in an all-is-forgiven-because-you-are-a-hero bow. There is room for Cardinal to make a comeback and face his demons.

Author fact: Giles Blunt and I share a birthday.

Book trivia: this could have been a movie.

Playlist: Backstreet Boys, Tupac Shakur, Puff Daddy, Aerosmith, Madonna, Pretenders, Bryan Adams, Neil Young, “Good Morning Little School Girl”, Bach, Pearl Jam, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, “Abide with Me”, Rolling Stones, Anne Murray, and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”.

Nancy said: Pearl said Blunt’s writing is gripping and that Forty Words for Sorrow was one of her favorites.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Canada, O Canada” (p 51).

Brooklyn

Toibin, Colm. Brooklyn. Scribner, 2009.

Reason read: October is festival month in Ireland. Time to celebrate the green isle. I also needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Colm Toibin writes with such clear sincerity one can easily walk in young Eilis Lacey’s shoes as she navigates entry into adulthood. Unable to find decent employment in rural Ireland, she is taken under the wing of Father Flood, an Irish priest who has emigrated to the big city of Brooklyn, New York; the land of opportunity. Father Flood has seen Eilis’s talents and believes she will do well in America. Leaving behind her widowed and weak mother and vivacious sister, Eilis slowly makes a life for herself in her strange new city. Even though she is naive she finds work, starts college for a career in book keeping, and even finds a nice Italian boy with whom to fall in love. But, Brooklyn is not Ireland. It’s not even close to feeling like home. No one is her true family. When she is called back to Ireland following a family tragedy, it is no surprise that Eilis falls comfortably back into old routines. Only this time she is a different, more confident young woman. Both worlds feel right to her. Both worlds are home but which one will she chose?

I found myself identifying with Eilis in small insignificant ways. I wear makeup when I need a little extra courage. I think my sister is the coolest person on the planet.

As an aside, I found myself humming “My sister Rose” by 10,000 Manaics after every reading of Brooklyn. It could have been sung from the perspective of Eilis Lacey.

Author fact: Toilbin has written a bunch of other books. I am reading a total of four of them for the Book Challenge.

Book trivia: Brooklyn was made into a movie in November 2015.

Nancy said: Pearl explained that Brooklyn was in the Ireland chapter of Book Lust To Go because the first and last parts take place in a “beautifully evoked” small Irish town (p 111).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 110).

Purple Hibiscus

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus. Anchor Books, 2003.

Reason read: September is Adichie’s birth month. Read in her honor. Additionally, for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge I needed a book by a Nigerian author.

This is another one of those books for young people where the subject matter is so frank and at times, very brutal.
One teenage girl’s recollections of a violent childhood with a father so religious he beats impropriety out of his wife and children on a regular basis. Papa Eugene’s religious zeal steals a relationship with his own father; refusing to let him see the family for any length of time because Papa-Nnukwu worships differently than Catholic. In Eugene’s eyes, anything other than Catholic is equal to pagan. Even though Kambili lives in fear of her father, she is starved for his approval and affection. Rules: English as a language is civilized, Igbo is not. Coming in second in school is not allowed. Sports are not allowed. Shorts are not allowed. Makeup is not allowed. Consorting with the devil is not allowed, even if that “devil” is your own grandfather. As children, Kambili and her brother Jaja got to pick the weapon Papa would use to violently beat them. Even Kambili and Jaja’s mother is not immune to monstrous beatings. Somehow, despite this strictness, Kambili and Jaja are allowed to spend a week with Papa’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma. It’s their first time away from home and their last time experiencing life as they knew it.
Confessional: I wanted to read this book cover to cover in one sitting. I was riveted to the drama.

Lines I liked, “I was stained by failure” (p 39), “We did not scale the rod because we believed we could, we scaled it because we were terrified that we couldn’t” (p 226).

Author fact: Adichie has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Maquez. She is a Commonwealth Writers Prize winner and also wrote Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck. Both books are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: the title of the book comes from the beautiful purple hibiscus flowers aunty grows in her garden. They are a symbol of defiant freedom from religious oppression.

Playlist: “Ave Maria”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, Fela, Osadebe, and Onyeka.

Nancy said: Pearl said that “Kambili is a character who will remain with you long after the last page of this beautiful and heartrending novel is turned” (p 157 Book Lust To Go).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Nigeria” (p 156).

Chasing Che

Symmes, Patrick. Chasing Che: a Motocycle Journey in Seach of the Guevara Legend. Vintage Departures, 2000.

Reason read: celebrating the last full month Che Guevara was alive (he died in early October 1967).

There is so much mystery surrounding the life and times of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His 1952 road trip from Argentina through Chile and up to Bolivia somehow changed him in radical ways. Patrick Symmes wanted to know more about that fateful trip, so why not trace Che’s footsteps and take the same exact journey? Che was on a motorcycle. Symmes would be on a motorcycle. Symmes drew not only from Guevara’s memoir, Notas de Viaje, as his guide, he was fortunate to have the road diaries of Guevara’s traveling companion, Alberto Granado, as well. [As an aside, often times, Notas de Viaje and Testimony: With El Che Across South America would contradict one another. I found it interesting that, more often than not, Symmes tended to believe Guevara over Granado.] Many people will be inspired to retrace the journey of someone else; to follow in their geographic footsteps, but Symmes takes his adventure to another level, searching out the exact places and people Che met along the way. His motto was “Be Like Che.” Would these same people remember the vibrant and charismatic young man? What could Symmes learn from them? By doing this, Symmes was able to meet with remarkable individuals, like Che’s former girlfriend who could not talk about Ernesto, the lover; Douglas Thompkins, the millionaire who bought up Patagonian land to preserve an ancient way of life; and even everyday people who kept Symmes rolling through the miles and navigating the harsh South American landscape. Symmes learned to tolerate drinking yerba mate and having discussions about Nazis in Argentina. He suffered dog bites, cracked ribs, barbed wire, and road spills. Most importantly, Symmes was able to be like Che. When Che mooches off individuals Symmes is able to apply the same tactics with somewhat similar success. The result of Chasing Che is more than a memoir and a travelogue, it is a love letter to one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.

Author fact: Symmes has his own website.

Book trivia: I wish there had been photographs.

Setlist of sorts: “Happy Birthday”, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Rage Against the Machine.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Chasing Che.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “In the Footsteps Of…” (p 100).

Moloka’i

Brennert, Alan. Moloka’i. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.

Reason read: Hawaii became a state in August.

There is no doubt that Brennert loves the Hawaiian islands. His knowledge of customs and beliefs run deep. Woven throughout the story of Moloka’i are the contradictions of Christianity versus native Hawaiian religion, the spirit of ohana and stories of sacred mythology, and last but not least, the misunderstandings and stigma surrounding what was then known as leprosy.
Rachel Kalama experiences the harsh realities of life when at only seven years of age she contracts leprosy and finds herself a prisoner on the island of Moloka’i. With the innocence only a child can possess, she is able to adapt and make the best of her situation, despite experiencing abandonment, prejudice, and fear surrounding her leprosy badge of shame. She makes friends easily although family dynamics change radically once her infection is confirmed. Only her father and uncle stand by her while her mother and siblings seemingly abandon her to her fate. As Rachel comes of age she navigates relationships with men with the same courage and tenacity. She learns what it means to be feared for her diseased and loved despite it.

As an aside, I couldn’t help but compare the treatment of leprosy with the first few months of the AIDS and Covid-19 epidemics. It is easy to see why in the late 1800s officials treated patients contagious with leprosy so aggressively. Fear dictated their decisions. The isolation, or arrest, of infected people is not unlike the quarantine of Corona virus patients. The stigma of leprosy is equal to the shame of someone testing HIV positive.

Author fact: Brennert worked as a writer-producer for L.A. Law.

Book trivia: I could picture Moloka’i as a movie.

Playlist: “Rock of Ages”, “Hawai’i Pon’i”, “Whiskey Johnnie”, “Blow the Man Down”, “Pua Alani”, Chopsticks”, “Frere Jacques”, Casruso, “Hali’alauni”, “Taps”, “Aloha De”, and “Autumn Serenade”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Moloka’i brilliant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii” (p 93). Pearl also could have included it in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Men Channeling Woman”.

Mosquito

Tearne, Roma. Mosquito. Europa Editions, 2008.

Reason read: Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaska’s party wins majority in elections (August 2020).

Mosquito has been compared to The English Patient and Atonement because of its theme of love in a time of war. Sri Lanka is a country torn apart. The Liberation Tigers want a separate Tamil state. Everyone is supposed to speak Singhala, the national language. There is violence over this mandated language. Mosquito is exquisite in its portraits of people. Each person lives and breathes with vitality. Notable author Theo Samarajeeva has fallen under the spell of a teenage artist (twenty-eight years his junoir) and, despite the growing conflicts, is brazen enough to think his fame will keep him safe. His latest book is being made into a movie. Teenaged Nulani Mendis (modeled after the author?) lost her father to the conflict. With a brother who can do no harm, a difficult uncle and an overbearing mother at home, Nulani finds solace and happiness painting Theo’s portrait over and over again. But she has also attracted the attention of Liberation Tiger convert, teenaged orphan Vikram. To watch Vikram being groomed and manipulated was hard. My favorite character was Sugi, Theo’s manservant who had become an unusual friend to the famous writer. His character is critical to the love affair between Theo and Nulani.
Tearne has captures poignant elements of grief. The not wanting to be near reminders of a loved one forever gone is very familiar to me. My only eye-rolling comment is the repeated insistence that 17-year-old Nulani is “wise beyond her years” as if this makes it okay for a man 28 years her senior to be attracted to her. My confessional: at the end of the book I wanted the fairytale ending. I didn’t care about the age difference and felt petty for doing so in the first place.

Lines I liked, “In this short intermission between twilight and darkness, a mysterious transformation had occured” (p 106) and “How many lives does a man have to live before he can finally be at peace?” (p 131). A little Bob Dylan, anyone?

Author fact: which came first, Roma Tearne the artist or the author?

Book trivia: Mosquito was shortlisted fothe 2007 Costa First Novel Award.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mosquito other than to explain the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scenes From Sri Lanka” (p 196).

Bird Artist

Norman, Howard. The Bird Artist. Picador, 1994.

Reason read: August is fly like a bird month… or someone told me.

From the very first page of The Bird Artist, Howard Norman wants to draw you into the story by having his main character, Fabian Vas, nonchalantly admit that he murdered lighthouse keeper Botho August. The hook is why. Why did seemingly quiet and charming Vas kill August? Why does he admit to it so readily and so casually? Norman will drop other mysteries along the way to keep the reader strung along. Like, why is it risky to write about Fabian’s aunt? Fabian lives in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. Ir all begins when Fabian befriends town troublemaker Margaret. As a thirteen year old she accidentally killed a man. Soon their relationship blossoms into the “with benefits” type despite his arranged marriage to a distant cousin. Maybe it is a cultural thing, but the curious thing about Fabian is that nothing seems to really faze him. His apprenticeship with bird artist Isaac Sprague is shortlived when Sprague disappears in the spring of 1911. Fabian blames himself for being too much a critic of his mentor’s work. When he is moments away from marrying a complete stranger and being arrested for murder almost at the same time, Fabian shows little emotion. His emotion amounts to getting a little nervous when law enforcement shows up. For all of Fabian’s calm, Margaret is his exact opposite. She was my favorite character. Motherless and meandering, Margaret sets fire to life’s challenges. You end up rooting for their dysfunctional relationship no matter what the cost.

As an aside, how can one person consume 20-30 cups of coffee? Is it normal for a father to talk to his son about sex with his wife?

The other characters:

  • Dalton Gillette: Margaret hit him with her bicycle and he fell to his death. Mitchell Kelb investigated the case.
  • Romeo Gillette: widower; son is Dalton; hosted the Canadian Thanksgiving; recovering from a heart attack; owns a store; town gossip; acts as messenger for the characters under house arrest; bought the murder weapon from Mitchell Kelb.
  • Lambert Charibon: best friend of fathers; has a trout camp; doesn’t dream; supports Fabian’s artistic talents.
  • Cora Holly: Fabian is engaged to her despite being related (she is a distant cousin).
  • Aleric Vas: Fabian’s mother; has a sister named Madeleine; is four years younger than her husband; doesn’t like Margaret; is having an affair with the lighthouse keeper; while under house arrest she convinces Kelb to take her rowing; she broke Orkney’s heart.
  • Orkney Vas: Fabian’s father; hunts birds for a living; is instrumental in Fabian’s murder trial; saddest character in the book.
  • Isaac Sprague: birt artist; mysteriously disappeared in 1910; he was Fabian’s teacher by mail.
  • Madeleine: Fabian’s aunt.
  • Botho August: the murder victim; a man over 6′ tall; slim with blue-gray eyes; good at his job as keeper of the light; he listens to gramaphone records; paid for Margaret’s stockings; keeps to himself.
  • Reverend Sillet: 55 years old; hires Fabian to paint a mural.
  • Margaret Handler: 13 years old at the beginning of the story; dad bought her a bicycle; trades sexual favors with Fabian; four years older than Fabian; lives with her father, Enoch; mother died when she was seven; part Beothuk Indian; drinks a great deal of alcohol and can handle a gun. She was my favorite character.
  • Enoch Handler: carpenter and boat builder; hunter and pilots boats; despises priviledge; of average height, solid build with black hair; has a brother named Sebastian; daughter is Margaret; owns and runs the mailboat; takes Fabian to be married to Cora in Halifax.
  • Mitchell Kelb: constable; short man but in physically good shape; wears glasses; arrested Fabian on his wedding day; appointed representative magistrate at the trial.
  • Boas LaCotte: owns the sawmill; nephew is Giles.
  • Helen Twombly: owns the cold storage shack; is 80 years old in 1911; she is a widower; drowned; had an affair; Fabian paints her as a mermaid on his mural.
  • Uncle Sebastian (Bassie): Orkney’s brother; he was a career bank robber; broke Orkney’s jaw as a kid; Fabian hasn’t seen him since he was seven years old; taller than Orkney.
  • Paulette Bath: town librarian; she is a spirited woman in her late 50s or early 60s; she died when Fabian was 17 years old.
  • Giles LaCotte: owns an apple orchard and sawmill with uncle Boas; present at the trial.
  • Bridget Spivey: waitress at Spivey’s restaurant; short and lithe; in her 50s.
  • Lemuel: cook at Spivey’s; 6’2″ with a pudgy face, blue eyes and brown hair; slovenly with bold humor.
  • Odeon Sloo: new lightkeeper after Botho is murdered.
  • Kira Sloo: new lightkeepers wife.
  • Millie Sloo: new lightkeeper’s daughter.
  • Mami Corbett: makes a fruit cake for the characters under house arrest.
  • Llewellyn Boxer: deputy.
  • Hagerforse: owns the guest house where Fabian and Cora are to be married; in her late 50s.
  • Bevel Cabot: present at the trial
  • Miriam Auster: present at the trial
  • Ruth Henley: present at the trial
  • Olive Perrault: present at the trial
  • Elmer Wyatt: present at the trial
  • Peter Kieley: present at the trial
  • Patrick Flood: present at the trial; spoke at Botho’s funeral;
  • Seamus Doyle: present at the trial
  • John Rut: present at the trial
  • Averell Gray: justice of the peace
  • Alex Quorian: photographer for the wedding
  • Peter Kieley: alerted authorities to the murder of Botho
  • Darwin McKinney: dug Botho’s grave
  • Mekeel Dollard: takes notes at the trial; might be the only one in town to own a photo album (and not Alex Quorian?).
  • Arvin Flint – skipper of the doubting Thomas; former constable
  • Andrew Kieley – child in the church
  • Lucas Wyatt – child in the church
  • Sophie Aster – child in the church
  • Carson Synge – child in the church
  • Emma Shore – child in the church
  • Petrus Dollard – child in the church
  • Sally Barrens – child in the church
  • Marni Corbett – child in the church
  • Arden Corbette – child in the church
  • Philomene Slater – child in the church
  • Chester Parmalee – child in the church

As an aside, I found it shocking that they ate puffins considering my only history with the bird is the conservation effort and subsequent tourist opportunity to see them nest.

Lines I really liked, “The eeriest thing about fate, it seems to me, is how you try to deny it even when it’s teaching you to kiss” (p 11) and “Nowadays, people have to travel to get important memories” (p 35).

Author fact: you would never know Howard Norman was born in Toledo, Ohio.

Book trivia: Bird Artist is the first in a trilogy. This is the only book I am reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Bird Artist is on her bookshelf and that she couldn’t imagine traveling to Newfoundland without reading it first. Of the trilogy, Pearl said The Bird Artist was the best. Finally, she included it in her list of books “not necessarily instructive on What Mother Ought Not to Do” (Book Lust p 160).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Newfoundland” (p 153). Bird Artist can also be found in abunch of place in Book Lust. First, in the chapter called “Canadian Fiction” (p 51), then in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 161), and in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade (1990s)” (p 179).