Petterson, Per. To Siberia. Translated by Anne Born. Havrill Press, 1998.
Reason read: July is the warmest month in Siberia.
Told from the perspective of an unnamed woman looking back on her teenage years in Norway, Petterson gracefully captures the bond between brother and sister as they navigate the suicide of their grandfather, neglect of their parents, corruption of their uncle, and the coming of Germans to their doorstep in the early years of World War II. Petterson’s descriptive language had me remembering my own adolescence: nights when it was so pitch-black dark I couldn’t see hand in front of my face. I remember waiting for the sweeping beam from the lighthouse before dashing ahead a few yards, only to stop and wait for the light again. Such is the fog that rolled off the Norwegian harbor, obscuring residents’ view.
As I have often said before, I have trouble with translations. Like this line, for example: “One day my road is suddenly blocked and the train trapped in a wall of Bibles” (p 54-55). Does someone want to explain that one to me? The protagonist has been talking about becoming a missionary and traveling to far off countries. Does she mean that religion dashed her dreams?
To Siberia was so haunting. The language is sparse, but the unknown protagonist’s love and unwavering devotion to her brother, even when he disappears in Morocco, is beautiful.
Author fact: Petterson was a bookseller in Norway before becoming a writer himself.
Book trivia: In Siberia was published directly after Out Stealing Horses.
Nancy said: Pearl said if you liked Out Stealing Horses you should try To Siberia. She didn’t say anything specific about To Siberia.
BookLust Twist: this could have come from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Men Channeling Women, but it’s actually from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162). Both are not wrong.
Powers, Richard. Echo Maker. London: Picador, 2007.
Reason read: November is National Writing Month. I chose Echo Maker for the category of National Book Award Winner.
What would you do if your only brother, the younger sibling you have protected since birth, has a terrible automobile accident that leaves him utterly convinced you are not kin; that you are an imposter? According to him you are a replica, a fake, a fraud, a well trained actor down to the very last identifying detail. Maybe even a highly technical robot with lifelike emotion and memory? Mark’s neurological condition is called Capgras and he swears Karen is a copy of his flesh and blood sibling. Despite facing haunting hometown memories and more than six months of Mark not recognizing her, Karen separates from her job and sells her home in order to become his legal guardian. Even world-famous neurologist and best selling author, Gerald Weber, is stumped by Mark’s condition. He comes to study Mark not only to answer Karen’s cry for help, but to stroke a faltering ego. The introduction of Dr. Weber allows author Powers to include such psychological disorders as Fregola Syndrome, Synesthesia, Pleiotropy, Agnosia, Dyscalculia, Tinnitus, Acrophobia, Sundowner Syndrome, Amnesia, Charles Bonnet Syndrome, Aphasia and Klurer-Bucy Syndrome. It gets a little heavy at times. Then there’s too-good-to-be-true Barbara. She arrives on the scene as an aide in the hospital but something seems off with her as well. People cannot help but fall in love with her without really understanding why. If Mark’s medical condition wasn’t enough of a plot, Powers has thrown in a political and ecological battle over a preserve with tourist-drawing cranes which migrate to the area every year. Are the cranes and Mark’s accident connected?
Confessional: I would have liked Dr. Weber’s story to start earlier in the book. He arrives on the Nebraskan scene after Karen invites him to study her brother’s case. From there, he is intertwined with the saga but it would have brought more context to his involvement if the reader had been able to follow his journey sooner than meeting Mark.
Lines to like, “Home was the place you never escaped even in nightmare” (p 8),”Disaster trumped the past and gave her temporary asylum” (p 46), and “She curled into the threat of doing this again” (p 58). I could go on and on and on. Echo Maker has dozens of great one-liners.
Playlist: Brahms, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Schubert…and I am sure there were more. For the first time in my life I lost a library book. I have no idea what happened and it confounds me.
Author fact: I have a total of nine works to read by Richard Powers. I have finished three with six to go.
Book trivia: This should have been a movie. It was almost a Pulitzer winning book.
Nancy said: Pearl called Echo Maker brilliant and thought provoking.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Nebraska: the Big Empty” (p 148).
Duncan, David James. The Brothers K. Read by Robertson Dean. New York: Dial Press, 1996.
Reason read: April is National Sibling month. April is Easter. April is spring training month for baseball. April is Humor month. The Brothers K has all these elements and more.
To say this is the saga of one family in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington would be only somewhat accurate. To call The Brothers K a book about baseball and religion would also be somewhat accurate. Papa Hugh “Smoke” Chance was a talented enough pitcher to be drafted into the minor leagues and was on his way to the majors. Mama Chance was an extremely devout Seven Day Adventist. Baseball and religion. As with any parents of influence, their themes are the backbone of The Brothers K. Arguably, there is a great deal of sports play by play and religious fervor, as other reviewers have pointed out. What saves The Brothers K from being long winded and tedious is narrator and youngest son, Kincade Chance. His humor and sharp wit keep the plot from getting too bogged down. Interspersed with his story is older brother, Everett’s school essay and biography about the family patriarch.
Despite there being six children in the Chance household, only eldest Everett, middle brother Peter, and next to youngest brother Irwin have significant stories. Kincade doesn’t share very many details about himself and even less about his science obsessed twin sisters, Winnifred and Beatrice. Everett grows up to be an outspoken politician against the Vietnam War. Peter becomes the perpetual student; first studying at Harvard, then Buddhism in India. Irwin’s tragic story is that he sent to Vietnam and forever changed.
As an aside, I have a friend who always says “darn tootin'” whenever he is absolutely sure of something. Until The Brothers K I had never heard anyone else say that.
Author fact: Duncan also wrote River Why and My Story as Told by Water, both on my Challenge list.
Book Audio trivia: Robertson Dean’s reading of The Brothers K is fantastic.
Nancy said: Pearl called Brothers K “engrossing” (“Brothers and Sisters”),
“well-written and interesting” (“Families in Trouble”), and a novel “complicated by the whole Oedipal shtick” (“Mothers and Sons”).
BookLust Twist: You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. It will show up in a bunch of different places. For Brothers K it is indexed in Book Lust in three different chapters, “Brothers and Sisters” (p 46), “Families in Trouble” (p 82), and “Mothers and Sons” (p 160).
Maitland, Sara. Ancestral Truths. New york: Henry Holt & Co., 1993.
To be quite honest I don’t know how this came into my hands. I’ve already read one book in honor of National Sibling Month. This was supposed to be on the list for next year, or maybe even the year after that. I wasn’t supposed to read two sib books in one month. But, suddenly there it was and after I picked it up I couldn’t put it down.
Ancestral Truths is a bizarre tale about a woman who starts a journey climbing a mountain in Zimbabwe with her lover and ends it with her alone with an amputated hand and the nagging doubt of murder in her heart. Reliving her days in Italy and on Mount Nyamgani while on holiday with her large family in Scotland, Clare Kerlake tries to figure everything out. Did she kill her boyfriend? Can she live without her right hand? She comes from a large family and they all have baggage so it’s no surprise when the plot gets a little preachy and over the top. Religion, feminism, mysticism and witchcraft all play a part in this novel. It gets heavy at times but well worth slogging through.
Favorite parts: “She was an amputee, a cripple, stared at discreetly and pitied; or completely ignore, invisible in the embarrassment of strangers” (p 10). “‘You named me,’ Joseph once said irritably, ‘not only after the only married male virgin in the Church’s calendar, but after the only bloke in history who would take his pregnant girlfriend on a trip without booking in advance'” (p 110). Last one, “Clare had been embarrassed, self-conscious in her laughter while Julia was free in hers” (p 286).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Brothers and Sisters” (p 47).
Morrall, Clare. Astonishing Splashes of Colour. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.
This is the kind of book I could read a thousand times over. This is the style of writing I most identify with. Astonishing Splashes of Colour is so intimate and in-your-face I feel as if Morrall’s main character, Kitty, is leaning in to tell me deep and dark secrets, stories of embarrassing moments, and airing her dirty laundry with a wave of her hand and an air of factual nonchalance. She makes me squirm with her frankness, her vulnerability. Helpless and hopeless, Kitty is the me in the mirror.
Kitty is a thirty-something with something to hide. Her past has as many demons and devils as it does angels. Losing her mother at three years old, the knowledge of an older sister who ran away from home, the fact having four brothers who not only are disconnected from one another but only pretend to be connected to her, the frustrations of having a father who loses himself in painting and has episodes of pouting, the confusion of having an excessively neat husband who lives across the hall in a separate apartment, the heartbreak of a miscarriage Kitty insists on waiting for after school…then there are the colors. Kitty has the uncanny ability to see human emotion, human circumstance as a myriad of color. Her world is not black and white sane, but rather a rainbow of mental chaos. As if all this wasn’t enough everything turns out different from what one would expect. I couldn’t put it down…
Lines I can relate to: “I fight back a wave of giggles that threatens to ripple through me” (p 63). I laugh at inappropriate moments, too.
“I can’t decide which is worse, to not have a mother, or to not have children. An empty space in both directions. No backwards, no forwards” (p 65).
“I would have books around me even if I were blind. I need the smell” (p 138).
There are, of course, many more lines I could quote. This novel, this flash of brilliance definitely resonated with me.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Sibs” (p 201).
April is the month of settling in, days getting warmer and the promise of good music. March was moving, but April is all about adjustment. In the meantime, it is also about these books:
- Noblest Roman by David Halberstam ~ in honor of Halberstam’s April birthday
- The Punch by John Feinstein~ in honor of National Youth Sports Safety month (weird, I know, but it more appropropriate than you think -after “the punch” the NBA changed rules about fighting and how many officials were on the court during a game).
- The Jameses by R.W.B. Lewis ~ in honor of Henry James’ birthday this month
- An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David ~ in honor of National Food month
One of the things that struck me as odd is that this list is almost completely comprised of nonfiction reading. I didn’t plan it that way at all. So, I have added two more fiction books just to round out the reading, if there is time:
- Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall ~in honor of sibling month
- Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser ~ in honor of Fraser’s birthday
I did get word of an Early Review book, but I have no idea when I’ll get it – if at all. Since moving my mail has been really sporadic. I don’t know how book rate packages will be handled, if at all.