|The Poisonwood Bible
With 17 in attendance, this was one book we totally agreed earned above our normal 4. Never have we read a book where we found no fault in any literary sense. The story is that of a Baptist minister who takes his wife and four daughters into the Congo in 1959 as missionaries. The story is told in five voices, each chapter being that of the mother (in the present looking back) and the individual daughters at the time of the story. Although the story is fictional, the history of Africa and the Congo is true. Ms. Kingsolver writes of the culture, tradition, and way of life very accurately and descriptive. An amazing read and well worth reading again.
This story is told mostly in narrative form by "Francesca". It reminded me of a Virginia Wolff novel. The story jumps from past to present as Francesca tries to decide the future of her life and retaining her identity. There was a subtleness to her comments. As one member stated, "The author had to work hard, or be very bright, to create the sensation of a person who appears to be of shallow character who is however, really a lost soul whose life rains down on her much like the ashes from St. Helen's or Chernobyl, causing a cancer that stifles her and kills her happiness" She uses the ashes of both as symbolic of things that happened in her life and that of the others. The title was misleading. She meets a Russian who we assume she has an affair and falls in love with. We thought that was the "My Russian" But throughout the book, she refers to Russians and Russia in different ways. I thought it ended pretty flat and neatly. I myself was not that impressed with the book although we did have a good discussion.
I am distressed to say I was sick for this meeting and missed what I hear was a wonderful discussion for such a small book. Written in 1987 at the age of 27, there was much praise for the author who wrote in the voice of a 10 year old girl who came from a bad home life, was tossed around to unwilling and unloving relatives, and ended up in a foster home where she assumed their last name was Foster since she was told they were the 'Foster" family. Ellen and the book struggles with feelings of racial relationships. It is never quite clear as to the race of Ellen's father. We all had our own ideas. Some questioned the abilities of a 10 year old but a 10 year old under such circumstances can become very bold , brave and daring. She was a survivalist. Oprah listed this book under her book club and also made it into a made for TV movie which is available on video ( check your library ). There is a discussion list for this book which really aided in the discussion.
|The Tortilla Curtain
|T. Coraghessan Boyle
The ratings really varied on this. We rated from 1-4 but averaged out to 2.5. The Tortilla Curtain is a 3 barbwired fence with tortillas hanging on it to separate the border between Mexico and California. The fence goes into the ocean. The story is told in the parallel lives of Candido and his wife, America, two illegal Mexican immigrants and that of Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher, two American citizens living in a bedroom community. When Candido and Delany's lives cross paths, the story begins. It was a hard read. When you read the life of Candido and America, you feel for them and their pain. You also can't wait to get to the next chapter and be done with their lives for awhile. The following chapter is that of Delaney and Kyra, how the illegal immigrants effect their lives and change their liberal views once they see a problem in their own backyard. We had a very "lively" discussion, more on the issue of illegal immigration and immigration as a whole, than on the book. I felt Mr. Boyle did a very good job showing both sides of the "fence". He had no answers, as there aren't any. He just presented both sides and left it at that. I found very good information on the author along with an interview with him on this book and a list of discussion questions.
|Their Eyes Were Watching God
|Zora Neale Hurston
Written in 1937, this book was criticized by white and black authors alike. They felt as a woman writer, she made it seem that it made the black life a little too easy, too romantic, that there never could be a town entirely owned by blacks, as Eatonville was (and this is true). The book was out of print for over 30 years until re-found and brought back to life through African American Literature and Woman Studies. There is a wonderful Foreword at the beginning of the book that explains the history and the discovery of Zora's literary and lifetime achievements. The story is fairly simple. The character, Janie, begins her life with her Grandma, still living with former slave owners, not even realizing she is black (actually mulatto). She feels like she should be free to do as she wishes but finds herself married, arranged by her Grandmother, for security reasons. She is awaiting the love she feels is suppose to come, which doesn't, takes off with another man who strikes her fancy, and eventually finds a third with whom she finds fulfillment. The story is that of a woman who grows through her relationships and life experiences, though very trying at times (but isn't that life?). In the end ,she seems to come full circle and content with the way her life has gone. The most interesting part of the book to me was Janie's voice. She seemed to be quiet at the beginning with us only really hearing her inner thoughts. Yet, as she grows, she speaks out more and lives more. Her thoughts though were so poetic. She described scenes and feelings in a way that was so descriptive and unique. Some passages were wonderful. We had to read them out aloud. In a literary sense, Zora narrates in what you would consider the normal English language. Yet, when she speaks in characters, it is the language of the Black South. To read it out loud, you can really hear the rhythm of the language. It took a few chapters for us to get into the language but what wonderful writing.
|The Weight of Water
This meeting was held on our annual pontoon boat ride We always seem to read a boat book for the occasion so that we are on the water too. Our ratings varied from 2's -4's averaging to our 3. This book is actually based on the true story of a murder that occurred in the Isles of Shoals on March 5, 1873. The trial transcripts are the only authentic writings and the outcome is still being debated today. The rest of the story is fictional. This is a book that needs to be read twice and then discussed. The second time I read it, I picked up on things I missed the first time. Then during discussion, much more came out that I had missed. Also, some of us had different opinions even after the discussion of some of the intimacy aspects of the book. The story is narrated by Judy, a photographer, who is doing a story on the Smuttynose Murders. She comes across the actual transcripts of the murders and a handwritten letter from Maren, a survivor of the murders. Ms. Shreve writes in the present and past tense at times confusing the reader which time she is in. As you read though, you discover when she writes from the present and the next paragraph is in the past then present again, it is because Judy is actually reading or thinking about the past and then brought to the present by an interruption of her thoughts with present life. Some chapters are written in the past when it is Maren's story being told so that you know which century you are in. This book had many parallels between the present and past characters. The more we discussed different characters, relationships, lifestyles, actions-one quick moment in time-, we realized how subtle the author was including these and how much more to this book there is that meets the eye. It was as if we were peeling away a layer at a time or digging deeper and deeper into the book. That is why it should be read more than one time and discussed. There were so many different relationships between people and the similarities of the people, it was just amazing. If you want to dissect a book, this is a wonderful choice.
|The God Among Us
This is Mr. Kempton's first novel. The story is basically of a young Baptist minister in his 20's who has never stepped outside of his own backyard into the real world. All his life, his life has been planned for him to be a Baptist Minister and he believes it himself that this was his path. He realizes his unhappiness and takes the opportunity after his parents death to seek out a dying unknown Aunt in Atlanta Georgia. This also gives him time to think about his own life. He immediately befriends a group of 3 roommates who he decides to "crash with" while seeking out his Aunt. What is interesting is that he does seek out on each of the characters their reason of leaving their church and loss of faith in God-though they are of different religions He faces issues he has not faced before or even known. There is sex, language, drugs, abortion, race, homosexuality, and the world of 20 year olds who are very different from him. He also learns of past secrets and issues of his family that were unknown to him. I think the best statement or thought in the book was that even after a person dies, they continue to change. Charles, as a preacher, falls too easily into this world, going with the flow of this new crowd without really thinking of actions or consequences. They may cross his mind but they don't stay there. He does not want to preach although at times he finds the right thing to say. I do believe a preacher would have stepped in more though out of habit in a few instances but we really don't see Charles develop as much as we would have liked. There were some really descriptive scenes of his past though and the valley that he grew up in that we liked. We did like the title as it represents "The God Among Us' as individuals and how these individuals relate. Mr. Kempton is now working on his 3rd novel.
|Under The Tuscan Sun
Ms. Mayes is a poet which is quite apparent as she beautifully describes the countryside, nature, the towns, people, her villa, and everything she sees through her eyes. This nonfiction book is from a journal she kept of her 5 years restoring an abandoned villa in Cortona. She and Ed ( she never mentions if he is her husband or not but we know that they are now married ) do much of the work themselves along with hiring help. The story read like a novel about their experiences as they restored the inside and the problems and fun they had doing it. The people they met and worked with along with friends they had met were interesting to read. Yet, when she goes sightseeing into the different towns, the reading takes a different tone. She goes from one Etuscan tomb to another, one chapel to another and I personally wanted to get on with the story. It is a wonderful book for anyone who wants to visit the Tuscan area as she ventures out to many small towns and describes what to see and where to go. There is quite a bit of history of the Etruscans since many of the stones, tombs, and artifacts of the area are still abundant. She writes often of food! She loves to cook and includes many of the recipes she uses and of different foods that they eat. It is unfortunate though that although I think she tries to explain what some of the food is, I was at a loss of some of the ingredients she was using which was disappointing. The book seemed to be 2 books in one and they interrupted each other. One was a travel book and the other, one of their personal life. We would have liked to have known more of their personal life and experiences. We never really got to know who they were. We didn't really have much of a discussion about the book itself but the fun part was that we went around the room and we each told where we would like to live after retirement, visit, or if we had a special place we would long to be.
|Big Stone Gap
Most of us agreed that this was just a wonderful, delightful book of a small town. The town is real, Big Stone Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The author grew up there for part of her life and although the story is fiction , some parts are based on fact such as Elizabeth Taylor campaigning there with her husband and getting a chicken bone stuck in her throat. There is a main character, Ave Maria Mulligan, but all the other characters have a meaningful role throughout the book. I won't say more so that you can enjoy this book yourself.
|The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing
This book was actually a compilation of short stories which explains why the flow of the novel seems to be disjointed at times. The main character is Jane. The first chapter starts with Jane at age 14. Each chapter thereafter, is of Jane and her relationships with men and family. We watch Jane as she grows and matures(?). Throughout the book is a theme of games and rules and how they play out it in her life. There are 2 chapters which you wait for Jane to appear. One is of a family that is slightly mentioned in another chapter and Jane is mentioned at the end . We enjoyed that chapter of the Solomon family and would have liked to have read a novel about them. The other you assume is of Jane, yet is written in the third person. The chapter which is titled" The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing" is wonderfully written. What we liked about the book is that the author gave Jane a very clever and witty voice. It is an enjoyable read.
|The Saving Graces
Could we get any closer to a 3? This was a wonderful story of the relationships between 4 women. They called themselves "The Saving Graces". They met twice a month for dinner and friendship. The book is written in chapters narrated by each woman: Emma, Rudy, Lee, and Isabel. Each has their own problems and they rely on each other for support and friendship. Each also has a different relationship with each other. All of us wished we could have such true and lasting friendships. It is a rare and beautiful thing. Like any type of relationship, friendship takes time, work and tolerance. This book is a true testament of the value of friendship. You end the book wanting to call your closest friends, make new ones or start your own club. I personally closed the book and immediately started to read it again since I knew the characters better and could pick up on things the second time around. This book was 50% autobiographical.