Thursday, February 7, 2013

January 2013 books

Hippolytus of Euripides, translated by David Greene
Published: 428 BC
Rating: 5

Handsome, strong, athletic, virile Hippolytus whole-heartedly worships Artemis, virgin Goddess of the Hunt.  He has absolutely no romantic interest in women and has gone so far as to call Aphrodite the "vilest of the Gods in Heaven."  Because of this, the vain Goddess of Love determines to punish Hippolytus by causing his step-mother, Phaedra to fall hopelessly in love with him.  In keeping these incestuous feelings a secret, Phaedra suffers mightily; becoming depressed and suicidal.

As in the vein of all Greek tragedies, nothing but death will finish the story.  There is much which resonates with me - see post on Josh' blog.

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
Published: 1970
Rating: 5
Authors web site

My foray into WWII continues with a third historical fiction series, this time by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Herman Wouk.  This work covers the time period from March 1939 to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and American's entry into the war.  At the center is Victor "Pug" Henry, a commander in the US Navy whose clear-thinking, dispassionate analysis and prediction of Hitler's surprising non-aggression pact with Stalin leads to an assignment as Naval Attaché in Berlin.  With ease, Wouk introduces us to other members of the Henry family who allow the reader to see and experience the European War from various points of view.

Wouk also shows the German point of view via a military treatise written by a fictitious General Armin Von Roon.  Pug finds this document after the war and since he is fluent in German and believes this should be read by the English speaking public, he translates this work in retirement, complete with commentary.  It is a clever and unobtrusive way to interject the enemy's philosophy, motives and decisions throughout the war.

Through his various positions, Pug ends up meeting, conversing with and forming opinions about all the major world leaders: Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and FDR.

And through one of his sons, Byron, we are introduced to a Jewish family, the Jastrows.  At the close of the book, the principle members of this family, Aaron, Natalie and her baby have been stuck in fascist Italy, trying to get back to the US.  Just days before their departure, Hitler declared war on the United States with Mussolini following suite.

The two books, Winds of War and War and Remembrance were made into a TV mini-series which I remember watching as a young mother.  I don't remember much except that the part which followed the Jastrows, American Jews in Nazi Europe was very sad (multi-tissues, red nose, puffy-eyes-the-next-day, sad).   In the past, I have shielded myself from books and movies which address the Holocaust.  I live just outside Washington DC and have yet to visit the Holocaust museum for this very reason.   However, since our own tragedy, my soul is willing to bear witness to the tragedy of others.

Peony In Love by Lisa See
Published: 2007
Rating: 2.5
Author web site

What began as a book that I loved digressed into one that I could hardly finish....such an unusual experience!

The narrator is Peony, a privileged, highly educated sixteen-year old girl living in 17th century China - in a time of bound feet (described in excruciating detail), servants, concubines and arranged marriages. She lives an extremely sheltered life, unable to venture outside the walls of her family's villa.  Books teach her about the world and similar to Madame Bovary, she is drawn to romantic literature and poetry.  Her dream is to find true love which is tragically elusive.  I cannot share more of the plot without spoilers so will stop here.  Suffice it to say that I wrote many quotes in my journal and may write a post on Josh's blog with my thoughts.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book was difficult.  Many scenes required the suspension of disbelief so great, I found myself spontaneously writing "really?" or "no way!" in the margins.  Upon reflection, I don't think the author set up the ghost world enough in the first part of the book to support what came later. Perhaps it was impossible to do so because of the choice of narrator, for how could a living girl know about the dead?  Would choosing a 3rd person, omniscient narrator accomplished it?  Maybe...but at the sacrifice of Peony's compelling, strong voice which really pulls the reader in.  This is a dilemma of which I have no good answer.

The Liar's Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr
Published: 1995
Rating: 5

Mary Karr is a memoirist (Cherry and Lit are her two subsequently published books) and a songwriter but first and foremost, a poet.  This is a literary memoir. Beautifully written.  Gorgeous sentences.  Describing the most horrific experiences a young girl could ever live through.  I can't even imagine what it took for her to access her memories and write this.

The following reviews are spot on.

"Her poetic touch illuminates a thousand sentences."  Texas Monthly

"Karr's most powerful tool is her language, which she wields with the virtuosity of both a lyric poet and an earthly down-home Texan."  New York Times

Here are samples of her prose.

Describing what she smelled upon entering her grandmother's room:
It's not just the smell of death, but the smell of something thriving on death, a smell you link up to maggots, or those bacteria that eat up corpses one cell at a time.
Describing her mother's eyes while driving:
Nothing showed in those eyes but the road's white dashed lines, which seemed to be flying off the road and into the darkest part of her pupils, where they disappeared like knives.
Thought provoking epigram at the beginning of her book by R.D. Laing from The Divided Self
We have our secrets and our needs to confess.  We may remember how, in childhood, adults were able at first to look right through us, and into us, and what an accomplishment it was when we, in fear and trembling, could tell our first lie, and make, for ourselves, the discovery that we are irredeemably alone in certain respects, and know that within the territory of ourselves, there can be only our footprints. 

No comments:

Post a Comment