Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Bridal Wreath and When the Elephants Dance

For May we conquered two books. No secret, no breaking it up, just two full books. I am not sure if this was a great idea, because May is crazy busy for families, moms, and teachers (which we have in our club) but we did it anyway.

Our first pick was The Bridal Wreath, by Sigrid Undset

There was some personal investment in this pick as one of our members was raised in a life rich with Swedish heritage. We met at book club surrounded by by Swedish food and talked of traditions. The food was a great way to start our discussion, which focused on both the story, which tended to be a little bit dreary, and the culture, which was historical and foreign to so much of what we know.

Kristin Lavransdatter is A Norwegian coming of age heroine, juggling the life of appearances, family, and love. Her life with her family is one of hardship and the story is not a happy one by any means. This book is also only the first part of the story, which is usually now found as a trilogy. The language of the book at times was difficult, as well as the names of the characters, but the story is considered a classic to many.

Our group was really divided on whether or not we enjoyed the book. Many felt the wording and names made it difficult to enjoy the flow. A few didn't care for the story and disliked the book, while still some loved the cultural exposure and historical journey the books was, in spite of it's depressing nature. For readers who love books with a classic feel, aren't afraid to tackle a language style that may feel foreign to them, and are interested in the general historical setting and myths this book would be an interesting choice. It was a good pick for us and being split on a book sometimes adds to the discussion.

Next we discussed When the Elephants Dance, by Tess Uriza Holthe.

This book depicts the survival of a Philippine family and their friends as they are trying to hide from the horrors of WWII and it's affect on the Philippines. As Japan and America seek control over the land the cruel means of war ultimately ruins all they have. This book has two main plot lines: the first being the survival of the family. They are searching for food, searching for each other and trying to avoid the cruel Japanese. The second plot line is the stories they begin to share with each other while in hiding. Both mythical and heart wrenching, each one brings a history to the table. The war is violent, riddled with torture, rape, and violent killings. The book is not afraid to depict these scenes. The stories shared and personal and strange, beautiful and fun, varying from each story teller.

We pretty much all were just amazed by the book and the stories told. It is a story of hope and family and love amidst horror and violence. It will open your eyes to a part of Philippine history that most of us live unaware of. The book is well written and characters very rich. This was a great discussion book.

Next month will be reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and stay tuned for a few snapshots from our reading retreat!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Three Cups of Tea- March Read- plus the SECRET book

Well, we finished Three Cups of Tea (or most of us finished Three Cups of Tea) with a lot to say about it. We loved the story of Greg and his drive to accomplish his task- fulfill his promise to build a school after failing to climb K2.

We were amazed with some of the side notes of the life of a mountain climber. The months without showering, the cold weather climbs, and the mangy lifestyle off the mountain. But then again, the determination, the goal setting, the fearlessness of the lives is equally stunning.

His story is filled with obstacles and problems, enough to stop a regular person in their tracks- but not Greg. He makes it happen.

The biggest debate over the book was the writing. I felt like it was reading a really long report written by a smitten high schooler. Some of the members felt the writing was too scattered, and the absence of a first person narrative kept us fro really connecting with the main character. Some felt the writing wasn't great, and the author seemed to dollop just a little too much praise on the hero of the story. Others, however, had no problem getting caught up in the story and enjoying it for what it really was- a triumph of one person truly making the world a better place.

Our second book, also our secret book (no bashing allowed) was The Violent Bear It Away, by Flannery O'Connor.
Here is the advice form our book club on this book. Do your homework first. The book is littered with symbolish, types, and spiritual messages on different levels. If you read it straight as a Southern-Gothic (do I feel kind of cool saying that? Of course I do) you will miss what the author is trying to create.

You will question yourself on the many symbols of confession, baptism, Christ and the sacrament, and the call to destiny. It will not leave you unaffected as the violence of the novel will grab your attention as it whispers the message along the way. All of this being said, however, needs to be post scripted with another tip; don't take the book to seriously. When and uncle is telling his nephew to just roll his dead body down the stairs to get momentum to his future gravesite it is okay to laugh to yourself. There a lot of sarcastic and funny moments to be enjoyed.

My personal note is to remind you to read this with a friend. You will need to discuss it, pick their brains, and bounce off ideas form each other. I still find myself pondering this book and why the author chose to write it the way she did. When that happens weeks after I have finished a book I know I read something special. This is a departure fro your typical read, and we all appreciated that.
For next month: read Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls and our next secret book, The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve. (Chills just went up my spine).

Come ready to argue, cry, or cuss. But come ready to discuss.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Escape From Rwanda with John Bizimana

Our January book club was a special event that included dinner and a discussion with the author of Escape From Rwanda, John Bizimana. I knew it would be an interesting discussion when he walked in, surrounded by many friends, and quietly whispered to the girl next to him..."wow, this is so weird. They are all holding my book. " Yes, John...that's how we roll!

John's story (working title A Wayfaring Man tossed out by publishers) is one of adversity, but amazing hope. John was just a boy as his mother gathered up her children and a few precious belongings and trudged out of the genocide smitten land of Rwanda. The details of the story are what followed after. Living one life while dreaming of more. Struggling to find a place to fit in, struggling to find something to believe in. In spite of the horrific event from his childhood you could say he really just struggled with the same things we all do, and that is what makes his story so universal.

This little memoir style book is very inspirational. If a man can be as gentle, kind, and humble as John is after what he has seen, then can't we all be that way? We discussed the tragedy of Rwanda, the lands where he lived, the languages he speaks. We discussed his memories and our own feelings, and the little miracle it is that someone heard his story, encouraged him to share it, it crossed the desk of a publisher (without an agent attached to promote it) who also felt it was a story that needed to be told, and now it can be found on the shelf at the book store.

While John softly concludes "I'm not a writer" we all have to disagree. There are different types of writing, and different reasons to read. If someone can write a book that inspires you to have more hope, to dream a little bigger, and to remember to thank God for the miracles we sometimes call coincidence then I say you have earned the title.

If just one reader (like me) picks up his story and walks away determined to learn more about Rwanda and the reasons why something so maddening could happen, then you've done your job. In learning how something like this can happen we also learn some other critical to keep it from happening again.

For this reason, I will be forever grateful I read this story- and met the life behind it.

you may also like to read another member's review at My Way. Click for more insight!