Across the Savage Sea

Fontenoy, Maud. Across the Savage Sea: The First Woman to Row Across the North Atlantic. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2006.

Reason read: my good friend Frank was born in January and he loved, loved, loved boats and the sea. Read in his memory. Also as a selection for the Portland Public Library 2021 Reading Challenge: An extreme survival story.

Maud Fontenoy was twenty-five years old when she decided to embark on a nearly four month journey across the North Atlantic in 2003. She was officially at sea for 117 days. While she kept in constant contact with family, friends, sponsors, and news agencies, Fontenoy was alone with only what the ocean could offer her for company. She was entertained by dolphins, mesmerized by whales, stymied by fish, and terrorized for a short time by sharks. Occasionally, a tanker would cross her path, as she was squarely in their shipping lane for a good part of the journey. The real threat to her journey, however, was not the sharks, nor the tankers but the weather. Tropical storms would wreak havoc on Fontenoy and her little boat. Despite the fact meteorologists kept her abreast of developing weather patterns, there was little she could do to avoid the high seas and violent winds that came with them. Her strength and fortitude to just survive were astounding.

Confessional: I read this book before I started the Book Lust Challenge. I opted to read it again because I couldn’t remember many details. Plus, it’s a pretty short book so it was easy to add it back on the list. If I ever met Fontenoy in person I would like to ask if anyone ever found her message in a bottle.

Somebody helped me out. There is a moment when Fontenoy was convinced a much larger vessel was bearing down on her. She describes how her radar detector went off, beeping like crazy. However, she later shares that her detector was defective and said it “detected no vessels during the crossing.” So, what was the beeping? Does that mean the droning of the vessel’s engine and the smell of exhaust was all in her imagination? Was there a near miss with another vessel or not?

Quote to quote, “I wondered why the god of the sea had chosen to keep me in the palm of his hand” (p 95).

Author fact: Fontenoy has written two books about sailing. Both are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: there is a small section of photographs for which I am grateful. I had a hard time picturing Fontenoy’s craft, Pilot.

Nancy said: Pearl said Across the Savage Sea is “well worth your reading time.” I completely agree. So much so that I’m reading it again for the Challenge. I said that already.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row your Boat” (p 191).


Alcestis

Beutner, Katharine. Alcestis. New York: SoHo, 2010.

Reason read: Female Dominion Day in parts of Greece is celebrated on January 8th. The premise is the women get to leave their husbands at home with the housework and kids while they celebrate being matriarchs.

Beutner takes Greek mythology and turns it on its head. It is no small feat to retool a myth and turn Euripides’s male-centered drama into a lesbian love story. This is the story of Alcestis, the woman who sacrificed her own life to save her husband’s. Her outward loyalty knows no limits, beginning with faking the end of her virginity on her wedding night when, like some men with a secret lover, Admetus can’t perform. But internally, Alcestis is no ordinary woman. She is a mortal with many complex personalities: as a dutiful daughter, a sacrificing wife, a ever-loving sister, a sheltered princess, and the passionate lover of a goddess.
Once Alcestis volunteers her life and she is in the underworld, she observes a place in a state of constantly shimmering and shifting allusion. It is difficult, but Alcestis begins a three-day search for her beloved sister who died at ten years old. Every time she inquires about Hippothoe she is met with strange riddles in place of replies as if to protect her from an unknown horror. No one wants to clearly say what has become of Hippothoe. Alcestis perseveres boldly for she is not afraid of the underworld, nor the gods who rule there. She will not take no for an answer. In the meantime, she says yes when she is seduced by, and ultimately falls in love with, Persephone. Alcestis seems to grow larger than life as her sexuality becomes more fluid and not as easily defined. When she is “rescued” and brought back to the living Alcestis is forever changed.

Line that stuck with me, “My mind stuttered and stuck” (p 189).

Author fact: Beutner earned her BA in classical studies from Smith College in 2003.

Book trivia: Alcestis was nominated and a finalist for a LAMBDA award in 2011.

Nancy said: Pearl called Alcestis a good novel.

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


One for the Money

Evanovich, Janet. One for the Money. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

Reason read: I read somewhere that January is Female Mystery Month.

Suspend most of your beliefs in regards to reality and you will enjoy Stephanie Plum and her naïve and bumbling beginning as an amateur bounty hunter. After her cousin Vinnie temporarily loses an agent he hires down and out Plum to take his place. She has absolutely no experience but she’s desperate. She’s already hocked a few appliances to keep the rent going and her car has just been repossessed. Her first case worth $10,000? Who does she need to bring in, you may ask? Her old childhood nemesis, Joe Morelli. They have history dating back to a high school indiscretion that took place behind a case of cannoli and then was gossiped all over town. Plum is still embarrassed all these years later. Now Morelli’s a cop accused of murder and on the run. Self defense, he claims. Armed with pepper spray and an unloaded gun she doesn’t really know how to use, Stephanie Plum sets out to capture Morelli by stealing his car and stalking him across Trenton, New Jersey. He’s not that hard to find. She keeps running into Morelli all over town. Problem is, every time she tries to apprehend him, he gets her all hot and bothered instead.
Speaking of being bothered, here’s where I really get annoyed. Stephanie is viciously attacked by a sexual deviant boxer named Ramirez. This madman comes close to raping her and yet later, Joe is able to climb into her apartment through a window. As someone who was nearly a rape victim, why would she leave a window open? That detail doesn’t seem to be as important as collaring Morelli and getting her ten grand. Will Stephanie keep her cool and get her man?

Quote to make me cringe, “Truth is, I wasn’t used to being a minority, and I felt like a black man looking up a white woman’s skirts in a WASP suburb of Birmingham” (p 108). Ouch. she also doesn’t like handicapped old people who take all the best parking spots. Double ouch.
Lines I actually liked, “Doesn’t matter whether it’s cats or coleslaw, death is not attractive” (p 124) and “Range etiquette was never to point the gun at the guy standing next to you” (p 150). Good point.

Author fact: to date Evanovitch has written twenty-six Stephanie Plum mysteries. I am reading ten of them.

Book trivia: One for the Money is the first book in Evanovich’s series starring Stephanie Plum.

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t think Evanovich’s books should be in the category of mysteries.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


Vile Village

Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #7: Vile Village. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.

Reason read: to finish the series started in October in honor of Halloween.

Once again, right off the bat, Snicket asks you to go read someone else’s book. He says, “And if you insist on reading this book instead of something more cheerful, you will most certainly find yourself moaning in despair instead of wriggling in delight, so if you have any sense at all you will put this book down and pick up another one” (p 6). With an introduction like that, how could you not keep reading Snicket’s book? Very clever. By now you know the format: Snicket is still offering meanings for words and phrases. The three orphaned Bauldelaire children are looking for a place to call home. Violet is a teenager and still very much interested in inventions. Klaus is on the cusp of turning thirteen and still loves reading. Sunny is still an infant with four teeth who still can’t speak in full sentences, but she loves to bite things. They have escaped (again) from Count Olaf and his band of wicked accomplices. Banker and Bauldelaire family friend, Mr. Poe, is still in charge of sending the Baudelaire orphans to their next town of tragedy. This time it’s V.F.D. (“Village of Fowl Devotees”), a mysterious town covered in crows. The problem is, no one in the town wants to be responsible for the children. As the name suggests, the community is devoted to their murder of crows. At a Council of the Elders, a timid and loner handyman who is too skittish to speak up at Council meetings, is order to become the children’s guardian. All day long they must do chores for the community and always be respectful of the crows, crows, and more crows. By day, thousands of them hang around in town but by night they roost in the Nevermore tree on the outskirts of town, conveniently right by the handyman’s house.
As an aside, I skipped from Book 3 to 7. By not reading books 4-6 I missed out on Violet working at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, Klaus being enrolled at Prufrock Preparatory School, and all three children living with a couple named Jerome and Esme Squalor. At the end of book 6 Duncan and Isadora, two of three triplets are kidnapped. In Vile Village it is up to Klaus, Violet, and Sunny to rescue them.
Additionally, what is pretty amazing about the series of unfortunate events the Baudelaire orphans experienced thus far is that they all happened in less than a year’s time. The fire that killed their parents, the escape from Count Olaf’s house, the escape from Uncle Monty’s house, the escape from Aunt Josephine’s cliff side mansion, the time in the Finite Forest, or at 667 Dark Avenue. Books 1-7 take place in less than 365 days.

Author fact: So far I have told you Lemony was a pen name, his birth month is February, and that I was born in the same month. My last author fact is that Lemony is married to illustrator Lisa Brown.

Book trivia: Vile Village is the seventh book in the series and the last one I am reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series “wonderful.”

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


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).


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).


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).


In the Time of Butterflies

Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of Butterflies. New York: Penguin, 1995.

Reason read: On November 25th, 1960 Patria Mercedes Mirabal (36), Minerva Mirabal (31), Maria Teresa Mirabal (25), and Rufino De La Cruz (37) were murdered. True story. Read in their memory.

Julia Alvarez framed In the Time of Butterflies around one truth: On November 25th, 1960 three sisters, known as “las mariposas,” died under very suspicious circumstances in the Dominican Republic. While their Jeep was found at the bottom of a steep cliff, their injuries told of a much different and violent death. Before their murders these courageous women were no ordinary citizens of the Republic. After being radicalized at University three of the four sisters defiantly joined an underground movement to overthrow the country’s tyrannical leader, Rafael Leonides Trujillo. Imprisoned for their activities, the women failed to see the warning signs when they are suddenly freed without fanfare. They don’t think anything amiss when their imprisoned husbands are moved to a more remote prison, forcing the sisters to travel a deserted mountain road to visit them. The story begins with Dede, the surviving Mirabal sister, who feels almost a sideshow freak. Every year on the anniversary of her sisters’ murders, some reporter comes calling to hear the sad tale. Because the narration of In the Time of Butterflies is told from the perspective of each sister, character development happens seamlessly. They take turns releasing their passions and convictions, sometimes in first person, sometimes in third.
In the Time of Butterflies is an extremely exquisite and tragic tale. As Dede says, “If you multiply by zero, you still get zero, and a thousand heartaches.”

Lines to linger over (and there were a bunch), “It took some doing and undoing to bring me down to earth” (p 120), “The kissing was bringing on waves of pleasure she feared would capsize her self-control” (p 204), “Even so, my voice threw sparks” (p 261) and lastly, “But if she had a ghost in her heart, she didn’t give out his name” (p 271).

Author fact: Alvarez also wrote How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents which I thought was on my Challenge list, but the only Alvarez I am to read is In the Time of Butterflies. Bummer.

Book trivia: While the deaths of the Mirabal sisters and their driver is a fact, Alvarez admits to filling in their personalities with her imagination.

Nancy said: Pearl called In the Time of Butterflies “heartrending.”

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction Around the World” (p 113) and in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Dominican Republic” (p 52).


Writer’s House in Wales

Morris, Jan. A Writer’s House in Wales. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.

Reason read: for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading challenge. I needed a book for the category of transgender or nonbinary author. Jan was James until the 1970s. I love how Morris makes mention of her transition and how the Welsh have “kindly pretended that nothing ever happened” (p 59). The way it should be.

Everyone loves a funky house. Trefan Morys is as unique as they get: imagine a converted old stone barn with wood beams and a slate roof. Now imagine this: the horse stalls converted into two rooms, both being floor to ceiling libraries (because “the Internet is no substitute” for a good book). Model ships, strategically scattered everywhere. More books piled on the floor. I picture this house being cozy yet drafty with its upstairs view of the wild Irish sea; cozy yet sprawling with all of its secret nooks and crannies.
Confessional: I grew up surrounded by houses with charming names. Not the last names of owners, but fanciful [names] such as Treetops, Fairhaven, and Inkspot. Trefan Morys as the name of Morris’s house in Wales seems perfect.
Morris’s focus is not just on her house, but on her country’s people as well. She speaks of geographic history and how Indigenous Wales continues to struggle to keep an identity in the face of a barrage of British influence.
The hidden bonus is learning more about Morris as a person and not just a Welsh author who changed gender. She has a sense of humor. She has a partner who has stuck with her throughout it all. She is fearless: Morris is not one to back down from a challenge, climbing Everest to write about Edmund Hillary’s ascent, for example. Then there’s Ibsen, the cat. It’s all so charming.

There were so many lines I liked. It was extremely hard to narrow it down to just a few, but here are the ones I connected with the most: “I always think of music as means of communication across the continents and the ages” (p 97), “Music also seems to me one of life’s great reconcilers, an instrument of universal good” (p 98),

Author fact: Morris had a cat named Ibsen. Perfect. But…I should also tell you Morris is better known as a historian. The Pax Trilogy is also on my list.

Book trivia: I would have loved to see photographs of Trefan Morys. It just sounds like the perfect house. I did find a picture in a recent edition of ‘The Guardian’ and it only left me wanting more.

Nancy said: Pearl said A Writer’s House in Wales is “distinguished by [Morris’s] keen eye for detail, her fine writing, and her enthusiasm for her subject” (Book Lust To Go p 248).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).


Hideous Kinky

Freud, Esther. Hideous Kinky. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Reason read: Morocco’s Independence Day is November 18th.

Esther Freud tells her autobiographical fiction through the eyes of a child. An emotionally untethered mother decides to leave dreary England for the exotic culture of Marrakech, Morocco with two young girls in tow. For money they rely on the kindness of strangers, selling homemade dolls by the side of the road, sewing clothes, and other small ventures. Occasionally and unpredictably, Lucy and Bea’s father would send money from London and they would eat well for awhile. While mother is exploring mysticism and unconventional relationships in the interest of self improvement, Bea and Lucy invent ways to not miss home and their father. Bea, being the elder, wants to replace London in Marrakech with school and stability. Lucy is young enough to want a replacement for the father they left behind. She sets her hopes on some interesting characters.

Quote that resonated with me, “She was the only person I knew who could turn off their ears like shutting an eye.” You, Esther Freud, have not met my mother.

Edited to add: there is a scene in Hideous Kinky that brings me back to a memory of my sister. I can’t unstick it from the walls of my mind. Maybe sharing it here will loosen the gluey nostalgia. One sister wants desperately to play with the other. She begs and begs until the other finally, reluctantly, and with great exasperation agrees. Pride steps in and the lonely sister stubbornly decides “too late!” I was the sister not wanting to play. Shut up in my bedroom with a good book, I clearly remember my sister’s little fingers poking under the door as she pleaded to please play with her. When I finally relented I flung open my bedroom door to find she had defiantly moved on. Touché, sister of mine!

Author fact: Freud is the great granddaughter of Sigmund. The celebrity degrees of separation doesn’t stop there. Freud is also the daughter of painter Lucien Freud.

Book trivia: Hideous Kinky was made into a movie in 1999 starring Kate Winslet. Nope. Haven’t seen it.

Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing about Hideous Kinky.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes” (p 158).


Darkest Road

Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Darkest Road. New York: Arbor House, 1986.

Reason read: to finish the series started in September in honor of Fantasy month.

This is the conclusion of the Tapestry series. Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller, is busy assembling his armies for battle. Everyone knows magic must prevail…but will it? It all comes down to the decision of young Darien. Darien, who was born of Darkness and Light; half mortal, half god; good versus evil and so on and so forth. Darien still struggles with his identity. Because his mother insists on giving him space to work out his issues he feels lost and unloved. There is a lesson to be learned from this. Darien is left to his own devices, not because he isn’t loved, but because he is trusted to do the right thing on his own. Which side will be his? Enter Lancelot to be his protector from both sides of identity. There is a whole lot more that goes on in The Darkest Road. All the typical battles and trysts; atypical alliances and love affairs. The humans are in there, too.

Author fact: My next Kay book for the Challenge is The Last Light of the Sun, but I also have Under Heaven and The Lions of al-Rassan to read.

Book trivia: This is the last book in the Tapestry series.

Nancy said: Pearl mentions The Darkest Road in her list of critically acclaimed fantasy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).


Chronicle of Death Foretold

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. A Chronicle of a Death Foretold. New York: Vintage, 2020.

Reason read: needed for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading Challenge for a book that takes place in one day. I would say since this is a journalistic interview that takes place in one day, this qualifies…even though the story he is recounting takes place over a span of time.

Whenever there is an unidentified narrator I always think of the Great and Terrible Oz, hiding behind his curtain. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold our narrator is not a Baum-inspired little man, but rather an unnamed friend of the murder victim, years after the fact recounting the downfall of Santiago Nasar. As the title of the novella indicates, everyone knew Santiago Nasar’s life was in danger, but no one did anything about it. “There had never been a death more foretold” (p 50). As an aside, this could be a commentary on our society today. Everyone feels outrage – yet no one is stepping up to do something (anything!) about it. Distraction dictates the assumption someone else will take care of it. Or they are hoping so.
On the eve of Angela Vicaro’s wedding her new husband discovers she did not come to their marriage bed a virgin. Oh the shame! Outraged and humiliated, he drags her back to her mother who beats her severely until she confesses. When Santiago Nasar is named responsible for Angela’s deflowering, her twin brothers speak of revenge. They speak long and loud before they actually seek it. Woven throughout the entire story is the theme of foreshadowing. Even Santiago missed the signs of his own demise illustrated by his ominous dreams. He even misses the note slipped under his door. Then there is the obvious. The twins brag openly about how they are going to kill Santiago. A shopkeeper tells the murderers to wait until later out of respect for the bishop. The drunkards talk of the upcoming murder. Police officers ignore everyone. The church ignores, too. The entire community ignores the talk. Was it the distraction of the arrival of a bishop? Was it communal judgment that Santiago was getting what he deserved?

Quotes to quote, “The smallest, touched by the breath of tragedy, began to weep” (p 23), and “Furthermore, the priest had pulled out the sliced-up intestines by the roots, but in the end he didn’t know what to do with them, and he gave them an angry blessing and threw them into the garbage pail” (p 76).

Author fact: Marquez was a journalist before becoming a prize winning author.

Book trivia: Chronicle of Death Foretold is based on true events with a few changes.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Chronicle, but Marquez was omitted from the index.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines that Linger; Sentences that Stick” (p 140).


Mindfulness in Plain English

Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola. Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002.

Reason read: During these crazy times I need to remember to breath; to be still. Read for me, myself, and moi.

The title of this book does not lie. Gunaratana offers a how-to for insight mindfulness in a straight-forward and easy-to-understand language. This is not the deeply didactic philosophy of mindfulness, but rather a deep dive into South and Southeast Asian Buddhism. The first order of business is to dispel the misconceptions surrounding mindfulness and meditation. For example, there is no magic to this vipassana style medication. You won’t levitate. Instead, you become grounded in morality, concentration, and wisdom. Speaking of concentration, you learn the concept of shallow concentration which seems contrary to successful mindfulness. In other words, you won’t lose yourself in mindfulness. Instead, you will train your mind to concentrate on a mental object, the breath being more convenient and ever-present. I am reminded of one of my favorite Natalie Merchant lyric from ‘Not in This Life,’ “Lately I’ve been satisfied by simple things like breathing in and breathing out.” Despite the easy language and thin volume, Mindfulness is a treasure trove of information.

As an aside, I have to laugh when Gunaratana advised not to sit in any one position for more than twenty minutes. Please! I can’t sit comfortably in any position for more than five, maybe ten minutes tops.

Quotes I loved, “Life seems a perpetual struggle, an enormous effort against staggering odds” (p 9), “What we face every day is unpredictable” (p 53), “Distraction cannot be seen as distraction unless there is some central focus to be distracted from” ( 77), and “Somewhere in the process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy” (p 82). Amen.

Author fact: Gunaratana was ordained as a monk at the age of twelve. Twelve! I shudder to think what I was doing at the age of twelve.

Book trivia: I can tell this book helped many people. My copy was dog-eared and heavily underlined.

Nancy said: Pearl said there was useful information in Mindfulness in Plain English. She goes on to say “Gunaratana’s book is much less theoretical, vis-a-vis Buddhist philosophy and psychology…but more practical and systematic in its presentation of technique” (Book Lust p 255).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 255).


Hannah Coulter

Berry, Wendell. Hannah Coulter. New York: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005.

Reason read: Stick with me for a second because this will seem strange. I put Hannah Coulter in the November transgender category for the simple reason Keith does an amazing job writing in a woman’s voice.

There is a simple grace to the plot of Hannah Coulter. There is a simple grace to the character of Hannah Coulter, as well. You won’t find major conflict. You won’t tremendous disaster or upheaval. No crazy mood swings or dramatic tantrums. Hannah is simply an elderly Kentucky farmer nearing the end of her life, sharing her life story with an unknown audience. She has survived two husbands and the changing of her community, but really what she truly wants to talk about is love. Love as a parent, grandparent, farmer, Port William resident, and, most importantly, the wife of a tormented veteran. It is this last love that brings a change of tone to Hannah Coulter. It’s as if the entire book was written to support the chapter of Okinawa. Hannah tries to make sense of the war; to put it into a context she can understand. “You were living, it seemed, inside a dark cloud filled with lightning and thunder; thousands of tons of explosives, bombs and shells, machine gun and rifle fire” (p 169). Hannah puts it into a perspective the reader can understand. It is easy to forgot about the involuntary reactions of the body during fear and pain. Based on the animated and passionate voice, Berry seems to be the veteran in the two pages describing the Battle of Okinawa. He is that puzzle piece that completes the picture but doesn’t quite fit the space; as if the jigsaw didn’t cut the angles correctly.
Much like a yoga instructor asking practitioners to “breathe through their heart’s center,” I am asking readers of Hannah Coulter to read with heartfelt intention; to inhale the words gently and with a deliberate pace. It is well worth the effort.

As an aside, the imagery of the landscape and the people reminded me of a Josh Ritter song.

I could have quoted lines from Hannah Coulter for days upon days. The writing is that beautiful. Here are a few of my favorites, “You can’t give yourself over to love for somebody without giving yourself over to suffering” (p 171), “It was a time between times, almost a no time” (p 172), and “It was not a look a woman would want to look back at unless she was ready to take off her clothes” (p 219). I love how the subdued passion just smolders with that one sentence.

Author fact: Berry is able to channel Hannah’s voice in part because he is a Kentucky farmer.

Book trivia: Hannah Coulter is not the only book to feature the Kentucky town of Port William.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Hannah Coulter.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust from the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166).