The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography by Sidney Poitier ~ Book Review

Pages: 243

Published:  April 5, 2000

Format:  Audiobook

Awards:  Audie Award for Nonfiction, Unabridged (2001), Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album (2001)

 

 

This novel, published when Poitier was 73, is a philosophical reflection of his life, his accomplishments, and what makes for a life well lived in his opinion.  It is also about race, integrity, grit and perseverance.

Poitier was born on Cat Island, a tiny island in the Bahamas.  He was not aware of the color of his skin or what significance this would have on his life while on Cat Island.  Indeed, there was not even a piece of glass that would have showed him his reflection in his childhood home.  He lived a life of simplicity on the Island, with routines that could be counted on.   It wasn’t until age 10, when his family moved to Nassau that he saw his first automobile.  In Nassau, Poitier was swept up with a grew of kids that stole and he narrowly escaped going to jail.  His parents sent him to the US to live with one of his brothers and his family.  He began working as a dishwasher, but ended up auditioning for a role in a play.  He was told that since he didn’t read, he should work as a dishwasher or something.  He had never seen anything shameful in his work up until that point.  After that, a Jewish man began to teach him to read every night after work.  He worked hard and took acting classes drawn with a passion to acting from the start.

Poitier discusses the roles he was offered and refused because he did not feel the characters’ actions portrayed integrity.  He discusses  his feelings about being black and outsider in America.   He talks about his close friends, with whom he was often asked to sign an paper not to socialize with, because of their progressive views.  Of course, he always refused.  He speaks about how his value system, sense of self and integrity formed at an early age in a life of simplicity and how this grounded him.  He let his ideals and strength of character guide him, even if this meant refusing a role and going hungry.

He talks about the movies he was part of, the actors he becomes friendly with, and his rise to fame, and the breaking of so many race barriers along the way.  He speaks about his family, and his relationships with his two wives and children.

He is a gifted actor, writer and speaker.  To hear him reflect upon his life within which he overcame such adversity is inspirational.  One point that came through loud and clear in all of this was that now that are lives are more complicated and enriched in media, we have lost the simplicity that leads to quiet and profound reflection.

I’m not a big consumer of celebrity memoirs, but was challenged to read this as part of Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder Challenge.  Sidney Poitier is a brilliant actor whose movies I’ve very much enjoyed and I was so pleased to get to know the man behind the actor in this memoir.  I listened to the audio version, narrated by the author which has won numerous awards, as he is such a gifted speaker.  If you decide you are interested in this book and are wanting to learn more about this charismatic, talented man I would highly recommend listening to the audio version.

Oprah’s interview with Sidney Poitier

New York Times article from 1967 by Clifford Mason: Why Does White America Love Sidney Poitier So Much?

 

TTT: Books that have Been on my TBR List the Longest

Top Ten Tuesday is now being hosted by Jana at ThatArtsyReaderGirl.  Today’s topic is books that have been on my TBR list the longest.  I started this list 2 years ago, so they haven’t been on my list too terribly long.  Please let me know if you’ve read any of these, and your thoughts as to whether or not to leave them on my TBR or remove them!

  1.  The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea, is set in late 19th century Mexico during a civil war.  Sixteen year old, Teresita awakes from a strange dream in which she has died, only it wasn’t a dream.  Published in 2005.
  2. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, is the companion novel to Life After Life which follows Ursula Todd.  In this novel, Ursula’s brother, Teddy’s life is explored.  Published in 2015.
  3. Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran, is set in India in the mid-1800s during the Indian Rebellion against the British Invasion.  It is about Queen Rani Lakshmibai and the select group of women that surround and protect her.  Published in 2015.
  4. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is about three characters swept up in Biafra’s struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960s, and the violence that follows.  Published in 2006.
  5. Survival in the Killing Fields by Haing Ngor and Roger Warner, is a memoir of life under the communist Khmer Rouge regime, and Cambodia’s descent into a land of slaves and brutality.  This memoir is written by Academy Award winning actor from The Killing Fields.  Published in 1988.
  6. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, is a memoir about her marriage and the loss of her only daughter to complications of the flu.  Published in 2005.
  7. The Bees by Laline Paull is about a colony of bees where each bee has it’s own position.  This dystopian science fiction novel has been described as The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games.  Published in 2014.
  8. The Green Road by Anne Enright, set in a small town on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, is about Rosaleen, mother of 4 grown children who move off to new lands and the relationships they try to recover years later.  Published in 2015.
  9. Dirt Music by Tim Winton is set in Western Australia, about a man who’s family has died in a freak accident.  He begins a new relationship and is pulled back into his love for music.  Published in 2002.
  10. LaRose by Louise Erdrich, is a tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in Native American culture.  Published in 2016.

 

All the Names They Used for God: Stories by Anjali Sachdeva ~ Book Review

Pages:  272

Expected Publication Date:  February 20, 2018

Format: E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

 

“Wonder and terror meet at the horizon, and we walk the knife-edge between them.” These words end the introduction to this powerful, haunting collection of short stories.  Sachdeva explains in her introduction that in old times people knew better than to trust their gods.  “Gods” enter these stories in unexpected, sometimes wondrous and sometimes terrifying ways.   I put “gods” in quotations because what enters into these stories is never called god or what is expected of god, but instead is a force, a magical entity, something otherworldly that is hard to put a name to.

Sachdeva’s stories take place in many locations around the globe and at many different time periods, some past, others present and one in a horrific dystopian future.  Sometimes this magical presence offers harm or mischief into the character’s life and at other times it offers comfort, but most often both occur.  Even when this magical entity is helping the characters out of a horrible situation, there is a terrible flip side to it. For example, the young women kidnapped in Abuja are able to fool their captors by looking into their eyes and hypnotizing them.  They continue to use this skill in their lives as they evade not only their captors, but to their advantage to steal from others.  And on a deeper level, even though they have escaped their captors, they can never return home as the innocent young girls they were.  They have irrevocably changed.  In another story, a newly-wed fisherman becomes enamored of the mermaid he encounters off the coast of Newfoundland.  However, as his enamorment of the mermaid grows, the rest of the world fades in beauty and interest for him.  Now, this mermaid is in love with a giant great white shark and sings to bring fish to the shark so he will be well fed and not wish to eat her.  This makes the fisherman extremely successful when fishing in these parts, however, there is an extremely disturbing development when tropical fish begin to fill their nets.

These stories are deep and convoluted.  They force the reader to ponder serious questions.  There are dark mysterious forces at work within these stories, but such ethereal beauty as well.  I thought these stories were incredibly well conceived and executed.  There is something unnerving and unsettling about them that touches upon something real that is hard to put into words.  The title is so appropriate because there is so much we cannot quite perfectly describe but feel, and many ascribe it to Gods or higher being.  I would highly recommend reading this!

 

Anjali Sachdeva’s Website

Kirkus Review for All the Names They Used for God

Martie’s Review at Leave Me Alone I am Reading and Reviewing

 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio ~ Book Review

Pages:  316

Published:  February 14, 2012

Format:  Hardcover Book

Intended Age of Reader:  8-14

Awards:  Josette Frank Award (2013), Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee (2013), West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award (WAYRBA) for Younger Readers (2013), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (2014), Charlie May Simon Children’s Book Award (2014) Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for Preis der Jugendjury (2014), New Mexico Land of Enchantment Award for Children (2014), Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children’s Literature (2013), Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice for Grades 3-5 (2015), NAIBA Book of the Year for Middle Readers (2012), Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (2013), Washington State Sasquatch Award Nominee (2015), Bluestem Book Award (2014), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Middle Grade & Children’s (2012), Carnegie Medal Nominee (2013), James Cook Book Award Honorable Book (2013), North Carolina Children’s Book Award (2014), Premio El Templo de las Mil Puertas Nominee for Mejor novela extranjera independiente (2012), Rhode Island Children’s Book Award (2014), FAB Award Nominee (2014)

This is the best kind of book:  humorous, kind, loving, warm, full of insight and intelligence, full of great references to other great books and fairy tales, full of precepts and expressions to ponder and discuss.  This is a book that will make you think, laugh, cry, and want to be a better, kinder, more loving, more thoughtful person.  I read this with my kids and am so grateful for the experience.  Everyone should read this book!

I have kept this purposely brief as so much has already been written and discussed about this book already.  Here are some references for further discussion.

Review by Maria Russo in the New York Times

Reading Group Guide for Wonder

Discussion Questions by ThoughtCo.

Reading Group Guide by LitLovers

T5W: 5 Hidden Gems in the Short Story Collection Category

Today’s Top Five Wednesday is about hidden gem books in a particular genre.  I feel like the entire genre of short story collections is frequently overlooked which is such a shame.  I love how these stories loosely connect by some thread or sliver of a theme that runs among them.  Here are 5 short story collections I would highly recommend!  Have you read any of these?  What are some of your favorite little-known or well-known short story collections?  Top Five Wednesday is a meme hosted by Samantha and Lainey with a different suggested topic each week.  If you’d like to check it out on their Goodreads community page, click here.

  1.  Kissing in Manhatten by David Schickler – This is a short story collection about various people living within the same building in Manhattan.  There is something magical within these stories.  There is love which can be exhilarating or terrifying.  The characters come together in the end in a strange way.  This is a book that made me laugh, shiver and feel for the characters.
  2. Man & Wife by Katie Chase – This debut short story collection was published in May 2016.  There are several common themes threading their way through the stories including:  societal gender roles, the competition among and between girls and women, the vulnerability and seeming powerlessness of women in many cultures and the ways in which they are able to rebel, and pasts that once seemed laid to rest that come back to haunt.  The stories are powerful and affecting.
  3. The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen – This short story collection published in February 2017 by Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Sympathizer is about Korean refugee experiences in America. The writing is incredible.  The stories themselves are beautiful, emotion-laden, with excellent character development and complexity.  The true nature behind the characters are revealed in unexpected ways.  The tension created by the juxtaposition of Vietnamese culture in affluent America (as well as the converse) are explored.  These stories are not simply an exploration of Vietnamese culture and the refugee experience, but transcend that with the stories evoking so much truth about humanity that simply involve refugees as characters.
  4. Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez – This debut short story collection translated from Spanish was published in English in February 2017.  These short stories invoke living nightmares and nightmarish creatures that dwell just below the surface of normal life and enter into these stories in unexpected ways.  There are ghosts of the past, horrific creatures, and a sense of the clairvoyance.  This Argentinian writer weaves horror stories that bring up horrors of Argentina’s recent past and provides social commentary in unexpected ways.
  5. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz – This short story collection is about relationships of all kinds:  familial, sexual, romantic and cultural.  Yunior is the Dominican narrator of all the stories except one and the stories take place at various points in Yunior’s life and development.  The writing is incredible.  The stories are emotional, witty, and so well done.

 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  496

Published:  February 7, 2017

Format:  Combination of hardcover book and audiobook

Awards:  National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2017), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Historical Fiction (2017), Reading Women Award for Fiction (2017), Litsy Award for Historical Fiction (2017)

 

This epic novel was conceived by Min Jin Lee in 1989 when she was a student at Yale and listened to a talk by a Protestant missionary who had worked among the Zainichi (Koreans who moved to Japan during colonial rule and their descendants).  The seed was planted and after going to law school and practicing successfully for 2 years, she quit to write this novel, which she abandoned and then returned to with renewed enthusiasm when the opportunity to live in Japan presented itself in 2007.  She was able to interview both Koreans and Japanese living in Japan to gain greater insights and perspectives which greatly broadened the scope of her novel.

This novel spans eight decades, four generations and two wars.  The novel begins during colonial times in Korea.  Korea is under imperial rule, having recently been annexed by Japan.  Hooni, born with a cleft lip and club foot is the only surviving son a fisherman and his wife who own a lodging house in Yeongdo, and island village a ferry ride from Busan.  Not thought marriageable due to his deformities, his mother is quite pleased when they are presented with the possibility of an arranged marriage to Yangjin, the youngest daughter of a poor farmer.  When Hooni dies of tuberculosis, Yangjin and their beloved daughter, Sunja take over the lodging house, and despite the hard work, they seem to be doing well for themselves and the lodgers considering the times.

At the age of 16, Sunja becomes wrapped up in an affair and impregnated by a wealthy Korean fish dealer, Koh Hansu.  When told of her pregnancy, Hansu reveals that he is married to a Japanese wife in Osaka and has 3 daughters.  A young boarder, Baek Isak, is told of Sunja’s predicament by Yangjin, who unburdens herself to this minister who has stayed with them for some months.  Feeling grateful for the care given in being nursed back to health when suffering a bout of tuberculosis, Isak decides to wed Sunja.  In this way, he can save Sunja from shame and give the baby a name and a chance in life.  Sunja and Isak move to Osaka together and into a small apartment with Isak’s brother Yoseb and Yoseb’s wife, Kyunghee.

In Osaka, Sunja gives birth to two sons, Noa and Mazasu.  Their lives take many twists and turns and at times seem very uncertain.  Feeling the need to help support the family, Sunja and Kyunghee begin to sell kimchee and candy.  This hurts Yoseb deeply, as he feels he needs to be the one to provide for the family.  Isak is imprisoned on trumped up charges and only is released when it seems he is very near to dying.  Sunja and Kyunghee’s kimchee and candy making businesses are doing very well.  It is only on the brink of the end of WW2 when Koh Hansu reveals that it was his restaurant supporting their success all along.  He reveals himself in order to evacuate them to safety, apparently (maybe too conveniently) having some insider knowledge and insight in the future bombings.

This novel follows these generations of the family and their uncertain lives in Korea.  They are never made to feel at home in Japan and are treated as foreigners even several generations later.  They must register every three years and could be deported at any time.  The Koreans face discrimination at every turn.  The children are relentlessly bullied at school.  Adult Koreans are barred from most jobs, and the only lucrative job available to Zainichi is in the Pachinko parlors, which are seen as shady and deviant.  Both Noa and Mazasu end up working in Pachinko parlors.  Mazasu’s son wants to as well once he realizes the truth about  how he was used by the high end real estate firm where he worked after coming back from America.  Pachinko symbolizes what the family can attain, but it also symbolizes the chaos of their lives.  This game has a steel ball zipping along like in a pinball game and depending on little maneuvers of the pegs, their lives could go in many different directions.

This novel explores so many themes along the way.  There is the effect of poverty on a family and community,  the accumulation of wealth through generations and its effect on the individuals,  suicide, Japanese culture and its’ predjudices, and the roles of men and women and how they change across these generations.  The universal narrator not only follows the members of this family, but it follows other individuals whose lives intersect with this family to illustrate other points.  Hansu, is a Korean collaborating with the Japanese has an affair with Sunja, but hadn’t admitted he was married.  Haruki, is gay, but closeted.  His wife spies him having sex with a man.  Phoebe is Korean American and has no tolerance for the way Koreans are treated by the Japanese.  Hana, whose mother was the town slut, ends up working in a hostess cafe and acquires AIDS.

There was so much to love about this novel.  I loved learning about this part of history.  I felt like I was able to get to know the Japanese culture better through this novel and particular the experience of the Zainichi.  I loved the Japanese and Koreans words that were infused into this book that have no direct interpretation into English.  The storytelling is marvelous.  As there were so many characters’ stories represented within this novel, at times, I wished to hear more about certain ones, but mostly I was quite satisfied.

Map of Busan and Yeongdo from Lonely Planet

 

 

 

 

 

Map of the Japanese Empire in 1920 from Educational Technology Clearinghouse

 

 

 

 

Map of Japan from World Atlas

Pachinko Machines

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  In the forward, Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, describes Hansu as a romantic hero comparing him to the likes of Mr. Darcy and others.  Do you agree with this description?  Why or why not?
  2. Isak proposes to marry Sunja.   What are his motivations behind this?
  3. In both Korea and Japan, certain qualities such as disability, being foreign, going against social norms (pregnant out of wedlock), being LGBTQ make people outcasts.  How does this manifest in the book? Do you feel that this is similar in other parts of the world?  Does Japan take this to a more extreme degree than other countries?  Why or why not?
  4. We never learn if Haruki’s wife confronts him about what she witnessed in the park.  What do you imagine happens?
  5. How do you interpret the meaning of the title?  Do you think it is a good title for this book?
  6. Why do you think there is so little literature about the Korean experience in Japan?
  7. Discuss and compare the relationship Sunja experiences with Hansu and Isak.  Why do you think Sunja keeps dreaming about Hansu towards the end of the novel?  Why does she feel closer to Isak once he has deceased?
  8. It is said repeatedly in this book “a women’s life is endless work and suffering.”  Why?  Do you think the female characters suffer more than the male characters?
  9. Suicides figure prominently in this book.  Why does Noa commit suicide?  Why does Noa’s wife’s father commit suicide?  Why are suicide rates so high in Japan?
  10. Hana works at a hostess bar.  She seems to be practicing for this with Solomon.  Why do you think she feels her life must go in that direction?
  11. Christianity is not practiced widely in Japan or Korea, yet plays an important role in this book.  Discuss the role of Christianity in this book and how the family is affected by it.
  12. Yangjin is very reproachful of her daughter on her deathbed.  Is this her true feelings that she has been hiding or something else?
  13. Noa takes the news of his true biological father hard.  He renounces his mother and brother and passes as Japanese.  Did this surprise you?  Did it fit with his character to do this?  Why or why not?
  14. The parent child relationships change across generations. How so?  Why is Yangjin critical of Sunja’s adoration of her children?
  15. Discuss the following quote:  “Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.”  Do you think that by “becoming Japanese” Noa rectified his situation?

Min Jin Lee’s website

Interview with Min Jin Lee by Joe Fassler in The Atlantic

Review of Pachinko by Krys Lee in The New York Times

BBC article about suicide rates in Japan

The Book Report’s Reading Group Guide for Pachinko

 

 

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  352

Published:  January 9, 2018

Format:  E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

 

I absolutely loved this book!  It was incredibly well written and forces the reader to ask important questions of themselves.  It is a wonderful exploration of mortality what comprises a good life or a life well lived.  Most of all, it was simply a delicious read… a book that pulls you in and unravels beautifully.

The premise is that 4 siblings living in New York City in 1969, aged 7,9, 11 and 13, set out to visit a psychic to learn their futures.  They enter her apartment one at a time and are each told the date of their death.  They do not share this information with each until about a decade later when they are all up on the rooftop of their home chatting one night, while home for their father’s funeral.  The only one who does not share his death date is Simon, the youngest, who simply says “young.”  From here, the book tells the story of the life lived by each sibling in chronological order of death dates.  Unbeknownst to them, this marks the last time the four of them are all together.

Simon’s story is first.  Klara, the only family member recognizing that Simon is gay, invites Simon to run away with her to San Francisco the following morning.  Simon does and embraces the freedom to be openly gay, practice ballet and sleep around.    He does enter into a serious relationship with Robert, a handsome dancer.  However, Simon feels that he is not meant to have the life with a career, house and partner.    “If the prophecy is a ball, his belief is its chain;  it is the voice in his head that says Hurry, says Faster, says Run.”   Just when he seems to have accepted that he might deserve love, Simon dies of AIDS before AIDS even has a name.  He has lived life fully and sometimes recklessly.  He has run away from home without finishing high school.  He hasn’t seen any of his family members in all the years he was in San Francisco, aside from Klara.  Has the knowledge of his death date forced him to live recklessly and hard, to take chances?  Or have these things just led to early death?

Klara’s story follows.  Klara, named after her maternal grandmother, has been obsessed with magic from a young age, having looked up admiringly at the life of this woman (her namesake) who had performed the “jaws of life” through Times Square.  It is a death defying act where she would slide from the top of a circus tent to the bottom suspended only from a rope that she holds in her teeth.  Klara begins performing her own act in San Francisco and calls it “The Immortalist.”  Klara ends up marrying Raj and has a daughter.  As Raj takes more and more control over the act and the magic, Klara slips more and more away and into alcohol.  Klara has always believed in the magic.  She begins to believe in the reality of it as well.  She hears Simon and Saul talking to her through raps in the floorboards.  She produces a strawberry during a magic trick that she hadn’t expected herself.  Her magic is her religion.  The reason she practices magic is the same reason a rabbi practices Judaism:  to give people faith.  “Klara has always known she’s meant to be a bridge: between reality and illusion, the present and the past, this world and the next.  She just has to figure out how.”  She feels that she must prove that the old woman’s prophecies were correct.  In taking her own life, does she accomplish this?

Daniel is an atheist because of the old woman.  He feels angry and ashamed.  He has vowed that no one could have so much power over him, whether it’s a person or a deity.  Daniel feels wounded and bitter over the drift of family.  He is married, childless, and recently suspended from his job when he invites Raj and his daughter to visit them over Thanksgiving.  Daniel’s job has been working for the military deciding which men are fit to go into combat.  Daniel and Raj end up fighting bitterly criticizing either other deeply.  He, like Klara, begins drinking more.  He becomes obsessed with old woman as the date of his death approaches.  Upon learning that the FBI has stopped their pursuit of her, he pursues her himself.

Finally, Varya who has been granted the longest life, has devoted her life to her career which focuses on aging and longevity.  Varya worries that her primary motivation is fear.  “Fear that she had no control, that life slipped through one’s fingers no matter what.  Fear that Simon and Klara and Daniel, had, at least, lived in the world, while Varya lived in her research, in her books, in her head.”  She works with primates and part of the research is to show that by restricting  food, the monkeys they will live longer.  The monkeys are stressed, emaciated and now self-harming.  A young journalist, named Luke, has been granted the rare opportunity to interview and follow Varya over the course of a week to learn more about the research in this highly secure facility.  At the end of the week, Luke finally reveals to Varya that he is not a journalist, but works at Sports Basement in retail.  He is her biological son, the one she gave up for adoption after a brief affair with her professor in college.  Varya is forced to re-examine her life.  She connects with Robert, Simon’s parter.  She admits to Gertie the story of the fortune teller.   She finally comes to accept her own mortality.

Intelligent, moving, magical and lovely… there is just so much to enjoy within this book.  The premise is awesome.   The writing is excellent.  This is a book full of characters to love, empathize with and worry about.  It brings up all kinds of questions for the reader, making it an excellent book club book.

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Discuss the title and it’s meaning/s in the novel.  Consider the Immortalists Jews, the Roms, Klara’s act and the characters themselves.  Do the characters wish to be mortal or immortal?
  2. How does knowing the date of their death affect the way they live?
  3. Daniel feels that the woman who gave the children their dates of death should be punished.  Why do you think he feels so strongly about this?   Does he believe her?
  4. Is it human nature to assume we will live a long life until faced with a life threatening diagnosis?  Does not knowing the date of our death confer a certain momentary immortality?
  5. Eddie O’Donoghue is like a thin thread that weaves through the siblings’ stories linking them together in some way.  Discuss the significance of this character and what he adds to the novel.
  6. When Daniel is researching the Roms, he writes down two proverbs: “our language is our strength” and “thoughts have wings.”  Why?
  7. Raj argues that magicians are analysts.  Klara tried to reveal some greater truth through her magic.  Discuss the contrast between these two ideologies, how it affected their marriage and lives.
  8. What is the relationship like between Raj and Ruby?  Does Ruby seem more like her mother or her father?
  9. Ruby develops a closeness with Gertie.  Why do you think she does this?
  10. The children are afraid all their lives to share their visit to the old woman with their mother Gertie.  When Varya finally tells Gertie about the visit, how does she respond?  Did this surprise you?  Do you think that hearing such a prediction in childhood versus adulthood would affect the person differently?  In other words, do you think that because they were children they gave this old woman’s words more credence?
  11. Do you think the old woman’s predictions were accurate or that the siblings’ reactions to the predictions made them accurate?
  12. Would you want to know the date of your death?  Why or why not?
  13. How do you think that knowing the date of your death would affect the way you lived?
  14. The children having grown up in a very religious household each abandoned religion.  Why?
  15. Do you feel that the old woman was doing a magic trick in giving the children their dates of death or was their some real  truth and foresight to her predictions?

Chloe Benjamin’s website

Review by Jean Zimmerman on NPR

LitLovers Discussion Questions

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  564

Published:  September 16, 2014

Format:  E-book

Awards:  Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee (2015), Specsavers National Book Award Nominee for UK Author of the Year (2014), Walter Scott Prize Nominee (2015), Kirkus Prize Nominee for Fiction (Finalist) (2014), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Historical Fiction (2014) Europese Literatuurprijs Nominee (2015)

 

Wow!  What an incredible book.  Sarah Waters has created a marvelous piece of historical fiction set in England 1922 in a genteel Camberwell neighborhood.  The war has ended.  Many have died, including the protagonist’s two brothers and her father.  Those that returned from the war are disillusioned.  Frances Wray and her mother are left bankrupt by their father who squandered away their money.  They have dismissed the servants and are now taking in boarders.  Frances does all the cleaning and cooking herself, while her mother is out, so that she will not have to watch her daughter stooping to that occupation.

The boarders who become “the paying guests” are a young couple of the clerk class, Mr. and Mrs. Barber (Leonard and Lilian.)  Mr. Barber is talkative and makes Frances uncomfortable with his innuendos.  Mrs. Barber hides herself away at first, but soon she and Frances develop a close friendship.  As they grow closer, Frances divulges to Lilian that she had been in love with a woman, Christina, but was made to put an end to the relationship by her parents.  In a time when London has been devastated by war, the family brought down by multiple deaths and financial ruin, certain societal norms are not to be challenged.

The knowledge that Frances is a lesbian or had a lesbian lover seemingly creates a tension or barrier to their friendship.  Lilian avoids Frances until the night of Lilian’s family party which she had invited Frances to many weeks prior in Mr. Barber’s stead as he had a supper to attend that evening.

At the party, Mrs. Barber dances freely with several gentleman and even with Frances.  After returning home, they find Leonard has been assaulted and is in the kitchen with a bloodied nose and face.  Later that evening, Frances and Lilian return to the kitchen and embark on their steamy sultry love affair making love in the pantry.  The love affair continues and their feelings continue to grow until Leonard is accidentally murdered which is ruled a homicide.  This leads to a coverup, incredible tension, outing of other affairs, and the need for deep secrecy of their own love affair.

This book is amazing on so many levels.  The historical piece seems so spot on and well done.  There was never a point where anything seemed even questionably out of the time period.  I felt as if I were dwelling in London in the 1920s alongside these characters.  The character building and tension that was created were so well done.  I must admit I was getting antsy during the investigation and the trial that seemed to go on for so long, but that was the point.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat.  It keeps me questioning Lillian’s motives while still hoping the romance will last.  This novel would make an excellent independent film with sexy enthralling characters.  It would be amazing!  It is an incredibly written book that I highly recommend to everyone.  The one caveat is that this book can seem to be going very slowly at some points, which didn’t bother me, but might not appeal to some readers.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What role does domestic work play in this novel?
  2. Discuss the role of class on the characters and their situations.
  3. How has war impacted these characters?
  4. Did you begin to doubt or question Lilian’s motives after Leonard dies?
  5. How do you imagine Lilian and Frances’ relationship will progress now that the trial is over?
  6. What impact did the murder and trial have on their relationship?
  7. Did you suspect Len of cheating?  Why don’t you think Lilian shared this information with Frances?
  8. Frances compares the notes of Lilian to the letters from Christina.  Discuss the similarities and differences.  Why is this important?
  9. Frances’ mother begins to treat Frances differently after Leonard dies.  Why do you think this is? What are her suspicions?
  10. Discuss the perception of lesbianism during this era.  Why was this out of the question for Frances’ parents to accept that she wanted to be with a female?
  11. Frances accuses Lilian of wanting to be admired which Lilian denies.  What do you think?
  12. Before Lilian arrives on the bridge after the trial has ended, Frances contemplates jumping off.  Do you think she was seriously considering suicide?   Why or why not?
  13. What is the significance in the end of Frances and Lilian being united by the words “I can’t?”
  14. There were several instances where Lilian wishes Leonard would die.  Do you think that his death was fully an accident?

 

Review in New York Times by Carol Anshaw

Sarah Waters’ website

Sarah Waters speaks about The Paying Guests in The Guardian

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  352

Published:  June 6, 2017

Format:  Audiobook

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction (2017)

 

 

 

This novel is based on the real horrors of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and Georgia Tann’s role there. It is set up as a mystery with two alternating points of view, May Crandall in the the past and Avery Stafford in the present.  Avery Stafford runs into May Crandall in a nursing home during a political event.  May recognizes Avery’s dragonfly bracelet and the connection between these two women slowly emerges.

May Crandall, who was born Rill Foss, begins telling her story to us from a riverboat on the Mississippi in 1939.  Rill Foss is the oldest of 5 children living on the Arcadia with her parents Briny and Queenie and her 4 younger siblings.   Her mother, pregnant with twins, is taken to the hospital after unsuccessful delivery at home and Rill is left in charge. While the parents are gone, the police come and take the children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, where they are subject to all manner of mistreatment and abuse.

The second narrator is Avery Stafford who speaks to us from present day Aiken, South Carolina.  She is a DA in Washington, but is currently being groomed to be the next Senator should her father’s health take a turn for the worse.  She is engaged to childhood friend Elliot, however no plans have been put forth for an actual wedding.  Her life seems to be about appearances:  marrying the right person, dressing the right way, being sure not to get involved in anything that could be misconstrued.  She feels her life has been planned out for her.  She lives her life concerned with outward appearances, propriety and political implications.

Avery Stafford is thrown off guard by the encounter with May Crandall, a resident of the nursing home she visits for political reasons.  May steals her bracelet and asks about Avery’s grandmother when Avery comes to retrieve it.  Avery questions her grandmother about their connection and realizes there is more to the story.  She wants to uncover the truth to protect the family name, feeling that their family may have been involved in something untoward.  Avery’s investigating leads her to Edisto Island, where she tells her family she is going for a bit of relaxation.  There she meets Trent and a slow burn of a romance develops between them as they unravel the secrets that have been kept hidden by these women all these years.

I loved reading May’s story.  It is compelling and written with a lot of heart.  I felt that Avery’s part was overwritten, and did not feel as believable or true.  There was too great an emphasis placed on her social and political position.  The romance felt like an unnecessary add on, somewhat cheapening the more important part of the story.  I also found that several of the facts didn’t quite make sense.  It very much bothered me that Grandma Judy was the baby girl twin given away.  If she has Alzheimer’s and remembers those best from early childhood, then May would not have been one of those people, as they did not meet until adulthood.  But, Lisa Wingate glosses over that with: “the love of sisters needs no words. It does not depend on memories, or mementos, or proof. It runs as deep as a heartbeat. It is as ever present as a pulse.”  Overall, this book is definitely an enjoyable read containing a historical piece that is both fascinating and horrific.

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think the sisters hid the fact of their adoption and their friendship with each other from their families and friends?  What role do you think Avery imagines her family could be implicated in as concerns the Tennessee Children’s Home Society?  Do you think those who adopted from Georgia Tann were complicit in her crimes?  Do you think they had some inkling of her nefarious practices?
  2. What clues did the Seviers have that Georgia Tann was not operating a morally sound operation?  What recourses were available to them to address the situation?
  3. What do you think motivated Georgia Tann in stealing children for adoption?  Why do you think she was able to get away with what she did?
  4. How did Georgia Tann change the face of adoption?
  5. Name the ways in which Georgia Tann’s industry violated the civil rights of the children and families involved?  Do you think that such injustices continue in modern day?
  6. May is surprised to be welcomed home by the Seviers.  She even learns that she can trust and love them.  Do you think it was necessary for her to return to the Arcadia and see Briny to feel this way?
  7. What is the symbolism of the dragonfly bracelet?  And what is its significance to this novel?
  8. Lisa Wingate has written more than 20 novels.  What was it about this one that made it such a hit and bestseller, do you think?
  9. I found myself wanting to edit to book in certain ways to enhance it.  If you could change this book in any way, what would you change?
  10. How did the inclusion of Avery’s story affect this novel for you?  Did it enhance or detract from the meatier story which was May’s?
  11. What are some of the morals that Lisa Wingate, a Christian inspirational writer, is attempting to get through to the reader in this novel?

Georgia Tann: Memphis Baby Adoption Scandal – Tube

Random House Book Club Kit

Lisa Wingate’s website

 

TTT: Top Ten 2017 Books I Have Not Yet Read… but Hope to Soon

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday is about books not read in 2017, but ones we hope to get to soon.   This is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.    Below are 10 books that piqued my interest in 2017, but I haven’t had the chance to read yet.  I have included the Goodreads blurb or an excerpt from the Goodreads blurb about each in italics.  Have you read any of these?  Any suggestions on which to read first?

  1.  Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – This was a National Book Award finalist and has been receiving rave reviews on Goodreads.  Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.  So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
  2. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward – This was the winner of The National Book Award for Fiction.  Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.   When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
  3. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders  – This was the winner of the Man-Booker Prize and is the first novel by an author whose short stories I have read previously.  February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.  From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
  4. We Were Eight Years in Power:  An American Tragedy by Ta -Nehisi Coates – This is an essay anthology about the Obama era by National Book Award winning author of Between the World and Me.  “We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. Now Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”
  5. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – This book has been widely read and acclaimed this year as warm, smart, and uplifting.   Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. All this means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
  6. Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I love Adichie’s books, both fiction and non-fiction, so as a mother of a daughter, I feel this is a must read.  Here are fifteen invaluable suggestions–compelling, direct, wryly funny, and perceptive–for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. From encouraging her to choose a helicopter, and not only a doll, as a toy if she so desires; having open conversations with her about clothes, makeup, and sexuality; debunking the myth that women are somehow biologically arranged to be in the kitchen making dinner, and that men can “allow” women to have full careers, Dear Ijeawele goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century. It will start a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.
  7. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman – Master storyteller, Neil Gaiman, presents his own version of norse mythology in this novel.  Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.
  8. American War by Omar El Akkad – This is a dystopian debut novel that sounds interesting to me.  Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.”
  9. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin – This horror novel written by an Argentinian author was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.  A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family.  Fever Dream is a nightmare come to life, a ghost story for the real world, a love story and a cautionary tale. One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language and translated into English for the first time, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange psychological menace and otherworldly reality in this absorbing, unsettling, taut novel.
  10. Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann – This true crime novel was a National Book Award Finalist for Non-Fiction.  In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.  Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.  In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

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