Tag Archives: book review

“Stories of Dinosaurs” by Russel Punter

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The Usborne Young Reader collection has some good and funny books. My kid picked the “Stories of Dinosaurs” from the School library. The book has three stories. In one, a brave Kriposaurus fights a Megalosaurus. In the second, two carnivore Raptor brothers save their restaurant opening by successfully improvising with a vegetarian dinner. And the third story…..I’ll let you discover it together with your young reader.

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The Giving Tree

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I was looking to upgrade our bedtime stories. With Jessica Joelle Alexander’s recommendation http://www.jessicajoellealexander.com I found “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.

The book was first published more that 50 years ago.

The book teaches the value of nurturing relations in a mutually beneficial way. It helps to explain to children that a balanced give-and-take is a good foundation for friendships they begin to develop.

It is a heartfelt story of a relationship between boy and a tree. At first, their relationship is loving and mutually nurturing.

It is a story about faithfulness and borderless generosity: As the boy grows, so do his demands for entertainment and support. The tree is a constant supplier and satisfies all his needs with all it has until it becomes a stump. The tree demands nothing in return. It is just happy to be there for the boy.

A beautiful story for bedtime reading. For both children and adults.

“Jubilee” by Margaret Walker

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The novel is a true story of a girl born to a white plantation owner and his black mistress reflecting the times of the southern Civil War and the years of the promised Reconstruction. The author is the grandchild of the main character -Vyry. She heard the story in the family and researched the history of those   times for thirty years to write what is known as the “first truly historical black American novel”. New York Times called Margaret Walker “one of most memorable women of contemporary fiction”.

The  novel has 3 chapters marking the stages of Vyry’s life interlinked with historical events of the Civil War, slavery abolishment and beginning of reconstruction. Vyry is a survivor who get through pain and devastation again and again to keep her family well and to live to see her dream of having her children go to school to learn to write and read. Through hurdles and horrors she kept her faith and the love in her heart. And this to me is the main message of the book.

Her message to her son in preparation of his separation from her to go to school is worth a Nobel prize for peace, by me: “I wants you to be good and try to git along. Mind your manners and make friends with people. Friends and good manners will carry you where money won’t go. You is born lucky and it is better to be born lucky than born rich cause if you is lucky you can git rich, but if you is born rich and ain’t lucky you is liables to lose all you got. But you gotta use mother-wit long with education else you won’t be nothing but a fool. Get up in the morning early and say your prayers. Early bird catches the worm. And don’t you be mean and ugly in your heart toward nobody. Remember, sweet ways is just like sugar candy, and they catches more flies than vinegar. I wants you to be good and make a real man out of yourself”.

“Baltazar and Blimunda” by Jose Saramago

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My “To read all authors on the Nobel Prize for Literature list” brought me to 18th century Portugal. Jose Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for literarure in 1998. 

“Every man follows his own path in search of grace, whatever that grace might be” is the central idea of his “Baltazar and Blimunda” book. The book narrates in details the times of King Dom Joaa and of Padre Bartolomeu Lourenco de Gusmao, a historic figure and a pioneer of aviation. It is the story of “one handed solder who ironically became a manufacturer of wings”. Phrases like this had me spellbound from the first page. 

I was mesmerised by the central feminine character – not the queen, but an extraordinary ordinary women – Blimunda. Her mother was burn for witchcraft and she had a special gift of seeing what others do not see and the ability to collect the wills of dying. When the “wings” – the flying machine they built together with Padre Bartolomeu – took him away from her into the unknown she keeps looking for him, to find him in Lisbon, after nine years of continuous search throughout the entire country, in a procession leading to a fire burned by the inquisition. 

The book demands patience. It took me months of reiterated reading and putting it down. The “search of grace”, as we know it, is a painful process. Or at least humans are skilful at making it painful. Due to this and very long phrases, it is a challenging reading. It was the first time i read a book written in this style, and it was worth it every single page. 

“The high mountains of Portugal” by Yann Martel

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25489094This magic realism novel has three parts – Homeless, Homeward, Home, which, at first, seemed unrelated. Each chapter has a main character: Tomas, Eusebio, Peter. Again, they seem at first unrelated. Page after page, feelings of surprise, sadness, compassion, wonder, despair and of a relentless quest accompanied my reading. “What is this character looking for?” kept popping up on my mind. And on their journey, each of them chose to object.

The first character – Tomas   – objected to the loss of dear ones by back walking in “Homeless”. Another character – a priest – objected to slaves’ life injustices  by having a monkey on a crucifix he donated to a church. In “Homeward” the objection is less explicit until the coroner sews a body shut with the deceased’s wife inside. In “Home”, a senator objects to his wife death by finding companionship in an ape he buys from a research center. They both object to the civilisation by taking refuge in his parents village in the high mountains of Portugal. They all object to the grief which took them away from home, as each understand it.

The multidimensional concept of home appears to me like a bridge between the seemingly unrelated parts. It made my understanding of the trilogy whole and complete. It still left many questions unanswered. But who said magic realism is about answering it all?

“The desert” by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

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My next stop on the “Read all Nobel price in Literature” journey took me to North Africa, as seen by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. Le Clezio received the Nobel prize for literature in 2008.He wrote “Désert”/”The desert” in 1980.DesertClezio
The desert appeared to me as a metaphor for human misery and emptiness, but also for wholeness and its intrinsic happiness. The human misery and happiness are told through stories of descendants of a man believed to be holy by his North African nomadic people. The story’s two main characters are a boy, Nour, and a girl, Lalla. It is such a beautiful story that I read it every time I wanted to escape the daily routine.
Lala takes you places. I loved to read it on my flights back home and to be mentally in the places Lala took me and see what she saw from the harshness of the desert to the brutality of the streets of Marseille inhabited by the once nomadic by lifestyle or spirit people, and further to the glamorous life of the most photographed face. At times, Lalla’s silent pain and suffering are hard to read about. It is also symbolic for a group of people affected by colonisation and its consequences.
Desert signAs if harshness breeds love, Lala, also called Hawa, who cannot write, adopted a small heart as her signature. This sign you’ll find on the books’ page adds to the symbolic heights this books takes you to. Lala, also called Hawa, is a gift of love. If you try to find out who she is her answers will teach you a thing or two on humbleness.
Le Clezio amazed me with the pallet of styles he interchanges smoothly, softly, delightfully. I loved the book as it created a refuge for me from daily noise. I was almost upset, when the story took the turn of war and fights. The fight between the ever symbolic good and evil, “civilised” and those whom they call “fanatic”, a general and a desert warrior. The author gives his perspective on the beginning of 20th century events in North Africa. Le Cezio is tough on those who call themselves Christians. Is money their true religion, he asks. As if hunger, wariness, sickness and despair were not enough, natives had to be massacred and had to see their leader die, alone, abandoned, denied and forgotten.
This book left a bitter-sweet taste and a desire to read more by Le Clezio, the French writer with Mauritian origins.

“The One I Was” by Eliza Graham

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untitled“I am ready to be happy now”, the end line of the book, got me intrigued as it kind of resonates with my current mind set. It had also good recommendations on goodreads.com.
I read it almost in one go, which is my indicator of the quality of the writing. Page after page, my mind was traveling back and forth in time, from late 30s in England and in Germany to modern times. I admired the ease and elegance with which the author balanced through extremes of the history of anti-semitism in the nazi Germany, on one hand, and the benevolent goodwill of a British family who provided a home to six Jew boys who had the chance to get out of Germany in a Kindertransport/special train, on the other hand, all interlinking very personal stories of its many lively characters.
The book is a splendid tribute to empathy. Towards others and towards the self. In search of forgiveness, Rosamond Hunter chose a career of an end-of-life nurse. It brought her to her childhood home – Fairfleet – when she accepted to take care of Benny Gault, known to her as Benjamin who first came to Fairfleet, England, in 1939, having fled Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport train. She spends with him his last days and they revisit together their life stories. They discover the love they shared for Harriet – Rosamond’s glamorous grandmother who was war time pilot – and Benny’s benefactor. Benny confined to Rosamond his life-time secret of having took the place of a Jewish boy, his beloved friend, whom he helped pass the medical exam and who died on the day the Kindertransport train was leaving Germany. Will let you discover why he did that as it is also a lesson of empathy and forgiveness in a son-father relationship.
Graham’s characters are quite complex. Rosamond is a loving daughter who also adored her grandmother, a proud sister, a professional truly dedicated to the last breath of her patients, a lover who would not settle for second best when it comes to men in her life, a women who experienced pregnancy loss only to understand that having life to continue through her is what is she wants most. Will let you discover the rest.
The book is from a mental shelf where I store books which make me subtly smile when I think about its characters.