January is a month of great indecision. I can’t decide if I want to say more…
If there is one thing I can say for the January books, it is that most all of the fiction made mention of great music. Some musicians I knew, some I didn’t. Some songs I knew, some I didn’t. I had fun looking it all up though.
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen (EB & print). Music: Philip Fogarty, Anne Lardi, Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, Johnny Duhan.
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (EB & print).
- Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (EB & print). Music: Lucinda Williams, Slim Dusty, Nick Cave, The Warumpi Band, Ry Cooder.
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett (EB & print). Music: Charles Tenet.
- Graced Land by Laura Kalpakian (EB & print). Music: Elvis, Elvis, and more Elvis.
- The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel (print). Music: Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, and the fictional heavy metal band, Panda Bear Soup.
- The Passage to India by E.M. Forster (EB & print).
- Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).
- Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset (EB & print).
- The Persuader by Lee Child (EB & AB).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Fine, Thanks by Mary Dunnewold (EB). Music: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, Talking Heads, Aaron Copeland (can you tell, Dunnewold really likes music!).
Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.
Reason read: Danticat’s birth month is in January. I may have mentioned this before, but she is barely a month older than me.
Danticat has one of those voices that just spills over you in a warm ooze. Be warned, though. She does not shy away from the harsh realities of extreme violence spurred on by dictatorial blind hatred. It begins slowly and subtly; almost a foreshadowing. A Haitian man, walking down the side of the road, is struck and killed by an automobile driven by a man rushing to get to the birth of his grandson. Consider this – the Haitian’s corpse is unceremoniously thrown into a deep and dark ravine to cover up the accident. The Dominican Republican man continues his hurried journey home without a second glance. Days later said-same grandson dies in his sleep and is given an elaborate vigil, an orchid painted casket, and ceremonial burial of grandeur. These two families, the hit and run victim and the newborn babe, share the same level of shock and grief but only one is allowed to fully demonstrate their pain. The Haitian man doesn’t even get a pine casket.
This is just the beginning of Danticat’s tale as we follow Haitian servant Amabelle Desir as she works in a wealthy Dominican Republic household. Life seems to be perfect considering the circumstances and her position in life. She is passionately in love with a cane worker she plans to marry and her employer was once a childhood playmate. They get along and Amabelle is treated well. Enter Domincan Republican dictator Rafael Trujillo and his plan to wipe out the entire Haitian population by mass genocide. Those who can not flee fast enough are subject to horrific torture before being hacked or burned to death. Amabelle’s world is turned upside down when she is separated from her love as she tries to escape the massacre.
The ending was perfect. I won’t give it away, but in order for this book to mean something there was no other ending possible.
Quotes I just have to quote, “Wherever I go, I will always be standing over her body” (p 205), “But some sorrows were simply too individual to share” (p 252), and “You may be surprised what we use our dreams to do, how we drape them over our sight and carry them like amulets to protect us from evil spells” (p 265).
Author fact: Danticat won the American Book Award for The Farming of Bones.
Book trivia: The Farming of Bones is Danticat’s second novel.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Farming of Bones “very political.” Because of the nonfiction elements to the story I would definitely agree.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Contrary Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).
Believe it or not, I’m kind of happy with the way January is shaping up already, five days in. After the disappointments of December I am definitely ready for change. I’m running more these days. I convinced a friend to see sirsy with me. I’m not sure what she thought, but I am still in love with the lyrics. Anyway, enough of that. Here are the books:
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett – in honor of Bennett’s birthday being on the 14th of January. (EB)
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen – in honor of Bruen’s birthday also being in January. Confessional: I read this book in one day. (EB)
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat – in honor of Danticat’s birthday also being in January. (EB)
- Graced Land by Laura Kalapakian – in honor of Elvis’s birth month also being in January.
- Passage to India by E.M. Forster – in honor of Forster’s birth month also being in January. Yes, celebrating a lot of birthdays this month!
- Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten – in honor of a Cuban Read Day held in January.
- Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel – in honor of China’s spring festival.
- Persuader by Lee Child – the last one in the series, read in honor of New York becoming a state in July (and where Child lived at the time I made this whole thing up). (AB)
- The Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset – this is another series I am wrapping up. I started it in October in honor of a pen pal I used to know in Norway.
- I am supposed to receive an Early Review from November’s list, but it hasn’t arrived so I can’t mention it. For the first time in a long, long time (perhaps ever, I’ll have to look), I did not request a book for the month of December.
Danticat, Edwidge. The Dew Breaker. Read by Robin Miles. New York: Recorded Books, 2004.
This is an amazing book, pure and simple. The plot is as remarkable as the telling. What appear to be disconnected short stories are really different connections to one man, the Dew Breaker. In Haiti during the dictatorial 1960s this man was responsible for torturing and killing innocent people. Years later, with his evil past behind him, the Dew Breaker is trying to live a quiet life as a barber in Brooklyn, New York. Through the various chapters we meet his connections – his family, his victims, his community. His past slowly comes out in small segments. It behooves the reader to pay close attention to the detail Danticat gives to each chapter, to each story. A mystery from a previous chapter could be solved in the next. A seemingly meaningless character in one chapter becomes the key to everything in another. This was definitely one of my favorites.
Reason read: Edwidge Danticat was born in the month of January.
Author fact: Everyone has a FaceBook page these days. Here’s Danticat’s.
Book trivia: The Dew Breaker was too short. But, the audio, read by Robin Miles, was fabulous.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 56).
Danticat, Edwidge. After the Dance: a Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti. New York: Crown Publishers, 2002.
The premise for After the Dance is really quite simple. Danticat, despite growing up in Haiti, has never been to Carnival. Being one of the largest cultural events that defines the island, this seems impossible to imagine. But, the explanation is just as simple. While growing up, Danticat’s uncle convinced her Satan was at work during Carnival. To avoid the voodoo and zombies every year this uncle made his family leave town for the week to work on a relative’s farm. As an obvious result Danitcat grew up afraid of Carnival. After the Dance is her response to that fear, faced head on. She researches the symbolism and history behind it, but curiously enough, she doesn’t describe the actual event until the last 20 or so pages of the book. It isn’t until the very end (page 147) that she gives in to the emotion and describes what she feels. I have to admit, the result is anticlimactic. She eventually loses herself in the joy of Carnival but that joy is understated like a passing flicker of interest.
Quotes I liked, “There is a saying here: houses don’t have owners, only cemeteries do” (p 27).
Reasons I like Edwidge Danticat: “I have always enjoyed cemeteries” (p 25).
Reason read: January is Journal Month. It is also the anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. It is also when Carnival traditionally takes place (the first Sunday in January).
Author fact: Danticat moved to Brooklyn, New York when she was twelve but never forgot her roots.
Book trivia: This is a short read – only 158 pages. It would have been great to have photographs to supplement the text.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Haiti” (p 55).
I can’t help but sing ‘Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” when I think of the month January has been. If you live in any state (besides Hawaii) you know what I am talking about. Even HotTopic-Lanta has gotten some snowfall. They haven’t known what to do with it, but they got it nonetheless! Needless to say the snow has kept me indoors and reading for the month of January! For the record, here are the books:
- Breath, Eyes Memory by Edwidge Danticat ~ in honor of Danticat’s birth month. This was a movie in my head (or else a true-life story). Really, really good!
- Cruddy by Lynda Barry ~ in honor of Barry’s birth month. This was one of the most disturbing books I have read so far. the violence and abuse was over the top.
- King of the World by David Remnick ~ in honor of Muhammad Ali’s birth month. I didn’t know I wanted to know but I’m glad I know.
- I, Robot by Isaac Asimov ~ in honor of Asimov’s birth month. Science fiction, of course. Interesting, but a little redundant in theme.
- Two in the Far North by Margaret Murie ~ in honor of Alaska becoming a state in the month of January. Courage and adventure personified. I enjoyed this book a lot.
- Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 -May 7, 1945 by Stephen Ambrose ~ in honor of Ambrose’s birth month. It took me a little to get into this book but I’m glad I read it. It is slowly helping me get over my fear of Hitler and all things Nazi.
- Another Song About the King by Kathryn Stern ~ in honor of Elvis Presley’s birth month being in January. This was a super fast, super fun read.
I was supposed to get an Early Review book but it hasn’t arrived yet. It will go on the February list of books, hopefully.
Danticat, Edwidge. Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1994.
Breath, Eyes, Memory is the type of story that sucks you in deep. Like tar pit, quicksand deep. From the moment I started reading I didn’t want to put it down. It was the first book I picked up in the morning and the last book I put down at night for three days straight. I stood in line at the grocery store, pumping gas, and waiting in my doctor’s waiting room with Breath, Eyes, Memory in hand.
Edwidge Danticat does an amazing job blending the culture of Haiti with the culture of family with the dynamics of women intertwined. Breath, Eyes, Memory is the story of four generations of Haitian women. Sophie is at the center. As a new mother she is learning from her mother, grandmother and aunt what it means to be protective and watchful of her young daughter while daring to shrug off disturbing traditions that haunt all the women in her family. This is not a story for the faint of heart. While the harsh realities of Haiti’s Tonton Macoute are barely mentioned they are the root of Sophie’s mother’s nightmares. There is murder, cancer, mental illness, bulemia, abuse and even suicide to contend with within the pages of Breath, Eyes, Memory. In the end there is a certain kind of peace that only comes from a letting go.
One of the harder details to discern was Sophie’s age throughout the story. The timeline is a little abstract. She starts out as 12 years old but the reader only learns that after she has turned 18 and says she had been away from Haiti for six years. From there it becomes a little hazy again. Sophie admits it has been two years since she had last seen her mother, but how old she was when she left isn’t entirely clear. By the end of the story one can assume Sophie is 21-22 years old.
Favorite lines: “If I had the power then to shrink myself and slip into the envelope, I would have done it” (p 50), “He looked like the kind o fman who could buy a girl a meal without asking for her bra in return” (p 68), “You do not have to name something to make it yours” (p 136), and probably the most poignant line in the whole entire book, “It was up to me to make sure that my daughter never slept with ghosts, never lived with nightmares, and never had her name burnt in the flames” (203). For what Sophie means by that you will just have to read the book!
Author Fact: Ms. Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince and my birthday is exactly thirteen days later than Ms. Danticat’s.
Book Trivia: Oprah chose Breath, Eyes, Memory for her book club. I wonder just how much that boosted book sales.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “The Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” ( p 55).
Where the hell did December go? I really can’t believe the month went by so freakin’ fast. It’s as if I slept through most of it. In a nightmare state. Of course, work had a lot to do with missing the month. Staff reviews while trying to hire and trying not to fire while trying to work on my own resume was really surreal. Then there are the three family illnesses that have worried to distraction. Not to mention having two new very unpredictable cats!
Here’s what it was for books:
- Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress ~ in honor of Alabama becoming a state in December. I can’t imagine what kind of movie this would make. One side of the story is so serious while the other is so silly!
- Made in America by Bill Bryson ~ in honor of Bryson’s birth month. This was a little tedious after a little while.
- The Comedians by Graham Greene ~ in honor of December being the best time to visit the Caribbean (fiction). This was also a movie, I think.
- Apology by Plato ~ in honor of the first Chief Justice being appointed in December. A classic I clearly don’t remember reading!
- Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti by Herbert Gold ~ in honor of December being the best time to visit the Caribbean (nonfiction). I am really glad I read this with The Comedians because they went really, really well together.
- Night Before Christmas aka A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore~ in honor of, well, Christmas! I have to wonder just how many variations of this story/poem are out there!
- The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December. The Palace Thief has nothing to do with Iowa but Canin is a member of the Iowa Writers Workshop.
- Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth ~ in honor of New Jersey becoming a state and Philip Roth knows New Jersey oh so well.
- In the Gloaming: Stories by Alice Elliott Dark ~ in honor of Dark’s birth month. This was a little dour for the last book of 2010. Oh well.
For LibraryThing and the Early Review Program: I thoroughly thought I would enjoy My Nine Lives by Leon Fleisher and Anne Midgette. Instead I only tolerated it. Oh well.
Gold, Herbert. Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti.New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1991.
I love reading books that hold hands. The Comedians by Graham Greene is mentioned a bunch of times in Hebert Gold’s Best nightmare on Earth. Because I had read (inadvertently) The Comedians before Nightmare I knew what Gold was talking about. I could relate and it just worked out that way. Funny how Pearl didn’t call these two books “companion reads” because they seem like they were meant to read together.
Herbert Gold discovered Haiti on a Fulbright Scholarship. This was to be the beginning of an addiction to a hellish paradise. For the next forty years Gold traveled between the States and the Caribbean trying this craving. Through Best Nightmare on Earth Gold does his best to explain this curious attraction while holding nothing back. He peels back the layers of politics and corruption to reveal exotic grace and mystery. Papa Doc (both father and son) rule the land while voodoo rules all. Gold’s descriptions of the violence, the celebrations, the loves and losses are as vivid as the realities of greed and poverty.
Favorite quotes, “Despite my yearning for privacy, I also needed sociability, the opening and the shutting of the mouth to utter companionable sounds” (p 112), “Wasn’t running something that human beings took up in hostile environments, in worlds of desert hunting and forest seeking, chasing animals, preening for partners, sometimes being chased?” (p 191), and “Proud despair is the mood of everyone” (p 199).
Author Fact: Herbert Gold was a member of the Beat Generation and dear friends with Allen Ginsberg.
Book Trivia: For those wanting to know more about Haiti (the good, the bad and the ugly) Best Nightmare on Earth is almost always listed in the bibliography.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).
Greene, Graham. The Comedians. London: The Bodley Head, 1966.
When The Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti didn’t come fast enough I grabbed The Comedians off the shelf in our own library. It fit with the purpose: to celebrate December as the best time to vacation in the Caribbean.
The Comedians starts out at sea. A small handful of passengers are traveling to Haiti; notably Mr. Brown, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. Because of their common names there is an air of mystery to their characters. Curiously, their first names are never revealed. As Mr. Brown (telling the story) points out, they could be anyone. Although, as the reader will discover, they are not. they are comedians, pretenders. Mr. Smith is a United States Presidential candidate on the “Vegetarian platform” of 1948. He arrives in Port-au-Prince with his wife looking to start a vegetarian center. Mr. Jones is a shady character with a dubious past. He appears to be on the run from British authorities and full of tall tales. Nothing he says is believable. Mr. Brown, as narrator, is a man without a country. He owns a failing hotel and is having an affair with a South American Ambassador’s wife. His existence is on the fringe of life. He’s always forgetting that the phones work.
All three men are ruined souls, barely playing out their parts. The backdrop for The Comedians is the real-life tyrannical and violent Papa Doc and his shadowy secret police, the Tonton Macoute. Jones, Brown and Smith are vehicles to introduce the reader to the poverty, the voodoo, the political unrest, and the eventual yet unsuccessful uprising of the rebellion army.
Favorite lines, “His slang, I was to find, was always a little out of date as though he had studied it in a dictionary of popular usage, but not in the latest edition” (p 12), “Perhaps it was only my nerves that lent him an expression of repulsive cruelty” (p 120), and my favorite, “Like some wines our love could neither mature nor travel” (p 308).
Author fact: Graham Green was born Henry Graham Green and was bipolar.
Book Trivia: The Comedians was made into a movie in 1967 starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones among others.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called The Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain (p 55).