Monday, September 17, 2007

Books Read

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi
One of the perils of working in a library: you'll come across books of a type that you usually never read, something about the cover grabs you, you check it out and you read it anyway. This graphic novel looks less like a comic book and more like a personal visual diary. Marjane relates the tea-time anecdotes of the Iranian women that gather at her grandma's house. Marital and sexual histories, and their blunt practicality kept me reading. Very quick read, as I'm not one to linger over the graphic novel art. Great peek into the lives of Iranian women. If I happen across Marjane's comic book autobiography, Persopolis and Persopolis 2, I just might check those out too.

Several by Tamora Pierce
I went back to the beginning of the Tortall books. Ms. Pierce has many quartets. I listened to Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book in the Song of the Lioness quartet. The library doesn't have the rest on CD, so I read the 2nd: In the Hand of the Goddess. Alanna always wanted to be a knight, but there hasn't been a lady knight in Tortall for over a 100 years. She plots with her twin brother, who doesn't want to fight, but to do magic. She goes to the castle disguised as a boy, Alan, and he goes to her original destination where he will study magic. It's a compelling listen, a girl disguised as a boy, learning the ways of a feudal castle, as well as reconciling herself to her own strong magic. In the second book, she learns to overcome her fear of love.

I'm also listening to the Circle of Magic quartet, got all four books on my ipod nano. (I guess it's my ipod now.) Four children are found and rescued that have remarkable magic related to the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. They have corresponding talents: gardening, weaving, smithing, and weather manipulation. Each child did not fit well in their previous lives in one way or another. At Winding Circle, they learn discipline and cooperation as they learn how their magics work together. These continue to keep me walking.

Among the Betrayed by Margaret Peterson Haddix
3rd in the series about the Shadow Children. A girl imprisoned by the Population Police is given the choice of spying on her cellmates, or certain death. A smart kid will see what's coming. Again, good read for the reluctant reader, but I'm done. Nobody let me read any more of these.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
I followed one war book with another. Not my usual pattern, but this one is also for a book group. Holocaust escapees couldn't bring themselves to read the notebooks of their mother, Irene Nemirovsky. It was enough for the sisters that they had them. Sixty years later this unfinished work is now available, the ending forever to be something "God only knows" as the author wrote in her notes. Also from her notes, I get the impression she was working on creating something greater than Tolstoy. Originally from Russia, she escaped the Bolshevik revolution to live in France. Though unfinished and essentially a first draft, this is some great writing (and translating).

What we did get for posterity are two novellas, Storm in June and Dolce. It was to be like a musical suite, and Dolce was indeed sweet, soft, and gentle, but with a threatening undercurrent. Storm in June was a swirling mass of characters, so many that I started keeping notes, only to find there were only a few, most of them different, characters in the second part. Most of the characters were unlikeable, concerned only with preserving themselves and their way of life: "Christian charity, the compassion of centuries of civilisation, fell from her like useless ornaments. revealing her bare, arid soul." While looking up dolce, I also found dolce vita: "a luxurious self-indulgent way of life." The image of a hurricane was also invoked, with Dolce like the still calm eye of the storm. I already knew the other side of the storm would be embodied by Irene's own death.

I was intrigued by the contrast of human behavior with animal behavior throughout, and the symbolism invoked. While the people fretted, spoiled children yowled, the kitten played, unaffected by the human deeds of war.

Some moments:
When the Germans were occupying the village in Dolce: "The soldiers were singing; they had excellent voices, but the French were bemused by this serious choir whose sad and menacing music sounded more religious than warlike."

Perhaps the softest moment in Dolce:
"The breath of wind that moved them was still chilly on this day in May; the flowers gently resisted, curling up with a kind of trembling grace and turning their pale stamens towards the ground. The sun shone through them, revealing a pattern of interlacing, delicate blue veins, visible through the opaque petals; this added something to the flower's fragility, to its ethereal quality, something almost human, in a way that human can mean frailty and endurance both at the same time. The wind could ruffle these ravishing creations but couldn't destroy them, or even crush them; they swayed there, dreamily; they seemed ready to fall but held fast to their slim strong branches--branches that had something silvery about them, like the trunk itself, which grew tall and straight, sleek and tender, tinged with greys and purples."

Children turning a well-groomed garden into a jungle: "Suddenly she envied these children who could enjoy themselves without worrying about the time, the war, misfortune. It seemed to her that among a race of slaves, they alone were free, "truly free," she thought to herself."

A German who is falling in love with a Frenchwoman: "We Germans believe in the communal spirit--the spirit one finds among bees, the spirit of the hive. It comes before everything: nectar, fragrance, love...But these are very serious thoughts. Listen! I'll play you a Scarlatti sonata."

The woman:
"We're becoming slaves; the war scatters us in all directions, takes away everything we own, snatches the bread from out of our mouths; let me at least retain the right to decide my own destiny, to laugh at it, defy it, escape it if I can. A slave? Better to be a slave than a dog who thinks he's free as he trots along behind his master. She listened to the sound of men and horses passing by. They don't even realise they're slaves, she said to herself, and I, I would be just like them if a sense of pity, solidarity, the "spirit of the hive" forced me to refuse to be happy."

The German: "In the heart of every man and woman a kind of Garden of Eden endures, where there is no war, no death, where wild animals and deer live together in peace. All we have to do is reclaim that paradise, just close our eyes to everything else. We are a man and a woman. We love each other."

"Reason and emotion, they both believed, could make them enemies, but between them was a harmony of the senses that none could destroy; the silent understanding that binds a man in love and a willing woman in mutual desire."

In her notes, the author's deepest conviction:
"What lives on:
1. Our humble day-to-day lives.
2. Art
3. God"

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