Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Portrait of an Artist

Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale

To try to describe the plot of Patrick Gale's novel "Notes on an Exhibition" is as difficult a task as to try to explain a piece of abstract art. In fact, this novel is less of a story than it is a portrait of a personality and the life around her. The action of this book revolves around Rachel Kelly, an artist who came from Canada and lived most of her life in Cornwall. What's more, Rachel is bipolar (manic-depressive), and this affects not only her own outlook on life, but also all those around her as well as her art. With nothing is truly obvious from the outset of this book, the full story is only revealed once you've finished reading the last page.

Friday, September 26, 2014

When Souls Collide

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Alma Singer is almost 15 years old. She was named after every girl in a book called "The History of Love." Alma believes that she can find the real Alma from the book. She doesn't know is who Leo Gursky is, that he was the real author of this book, that he's in New York or that he's never stopped loving Alma Mereminski, the woman he wrote about 60 years before. Leo Gursky is a survivor - he survived the Holocaust, Alma leaving for America and even finding out that the woman he loves is married to another. What Leo doesn't know is that his book, "The History of Love" also survived the trip from Poland to South America without him, was translated from Yiddish into Spanish, and although very few people read it, is now being translated into English by Alma Singer's mother.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Plowing Through the Family Problems

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - Marina Lewycka

Nicolai is an 86-year-old immigrant from the Ukraine, living in Peterborough, England, who has been a widower for about two years. The loss of his wife was a blow to him, but he has begun coping. One way is by writing his book - A Short History of Tractors. He's writing it in Ukrainian, of course, but he's also translating it into English. In fact, everything seemed to be going fine until he told his two daughters, Nadezhada and Vera, that he was getting married to a woman more than half his age and hardly knows, who is on her way back to England with her young son. This isn't a crime, especially with life so difficult in the Ukraine and if her son really is the genius his mother makes him out to be, a superior education in England is something any mother would want. Finally, having someone around to care for an aging parent can't be so horrid. It seems there should have been few objections from his daughters. Everything will be fine, right? Well, not with a woman like Valentina, it won't!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stories that reveal much but say little

White Tiger on Snow Mountain by David Gordon

I've always believed that short stories are far too under-appreciated. However, I continue to live in hope that since Alice Munro received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature for her career of writing only short stories, more people will become interested in and have respect for this format. I'm pleased to say that David Gordon's book reminded me just how fascinating the art of short stories can be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Masters of Misogyny

The War on Women in Israel: How Religious Radicalism is Smothering the Voice of a Nation by Elana Maryles Sztokman

When I began reading this book, I was truly hoping that I wouldn't be learning anything new. I thought I was fully aware of how the Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) parties manipulated the governments they've sat in coalitions with. I thought I already grasped the significance of their dealings and wielding of their disproportionate power, which crept into almost every area our lives. After all, I've lived here for over 35 years, and I don't shy away from the news. In fact, I did know quite a lot, mostly because I've been involved with some of the organizations and people fighting to overcome these inequities. However, Sztokman's book made me realize that even I had some gaps in my knowledge of just how dire the situation has become.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Take the Time to Travel with This Book!

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This is such a well-known book it is almost redundant to bother summarizing the plot - especially since they made a movie out of it (which I refuse to watch). However, for the uninformed, this is the story of Claire and Henry. Claire is an ordinary girl but Henry has a genetic condition. No, he isn't dying, he just sometimes disappears, only to show up at another time and place in his own life - either his past or his future. When Claire first meets Henry, he was 36 and she was six, and this is their love story.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cauliflower Gratin vs. Trout Amandine

The Author and Me by Eric Chevillard

This is more of a dialog between the author and his protagonist than a straightforward story. In the story part, we have a man speaking to a woman, telling his tale of woe because someone brought him a cauliflower gratin instead of the trout amandine that he asked for. Inserted into the text, as asides to the story, the author adds footnotes to help the reader compare the author to his protagonist.