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!