Torontoc reads from her TBR tower in 2019
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I will set as my goal- 30 books read from my book towers- they have to have been in my possession for over 6 months.
1. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie I think that everyone must have read this book by now but I found it recently somewhere in one of my book towers. I enjoyed reading it. The author himself had been "re-educated" in the Cultural Revolution. He writes about two young teenagers who are sent to a remote village in the mountains and have been separated from their now disgraced middle class parents. They make the best of a bad situation and befriend the daughter of the tailor. They still have to work at manual labour but find ways to exchange back breaking work for other activities. They help another exiled teenager who would be able to leave if he can collect revolutionary songs from the local people. The story of how they try to hoodwink a very old miller is very funny. The boys mange to steal books - a collection of many European classics that have been translated into Chinese. How they use the stories to entertain the Tailor's daughter and some of the villagers shows cleverness. However they don't realize how the words and ideas of Balzac will change the seamstress's life. This is really good book to read!
2. The Lost A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn In this part memoir/history book the author searches for the true story of how his great uncle, aunt and cousins died in the Holocaust. Mendelsohn remembers his mother's father telling stories about his family-the Jaegers- in the town of Bolechow. (Part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, then Polish then Ukrainian.) His older brother, Shmiel had actually emigrated to the U.S. in 1913 but went back to his home town, prospered, married and had four daughters. Mendelsohn's grandfather had letters from Shmiel begging for help as late as 1939. The reader is introduced to the complex story of this family and the author's growing interest in finding out what really happened to them. Interspersed with telling of the trips to the Ukraine, Israel, Australia and Sweden with his brothers, sister and other friends, Mendelsohn writes about his study of the torah and the commentary of the scholar Rashi( 11th century French Rabbi) and recent scholar Rabbi Richard Friedman on several passages that seem to related to the search for the histories of the Jaeger family. The author meets many older people with stories about Shmiel and his family and the town-some true and some perhaps not true. Mendelsohn discovers that the stories of how the family lived is as important as how they died. Some of the people he interviewed have amazing stories of their own on survival.This book is about more than dead relatives. Mendelsohn discovers some heroes and heroines who helped his family. It is both historical and personal as the reader learns about one family and the different journeys they took to either life or death in the 20th century.
>7 Caramellunacy: this is the second time that I started to read this book- the first time I had to put it down but I am glad that I came back to it!
3. Strangers with the Same Dream by Alison Pick Alison Pick is a very interesting writer- she wrote a novel that drew on her own personal family history and then wrote a memoir about her conversion to Judaism. This novel is structured like a Japanese film. ( the name I have forgotten) There are three main characters, Ida, David and Hannah, and we read about the same history told from their points of view. The time is 1921 and the place is Palestine where all three are building a communal farm in the north of what becomes present day Israel. The plot is more about the relationships that develop and those that deteriorate than the political. Ida is a young impressionable newcomer to this part of the world having escaped from a pogrom where her father was killed. David is the leader of the group that is establishing the new farm. He had been sent from another community as he had made a terrible mistake that jeopardized the relationships between the Jewish settlers and the neighbouring Arab community. Hannah is David's wife and has much resentment towards David for his actions. The reader see that the building up of farmland came with many sacrifices- from malaria, lack of medicine to treat what are today common ailments to inexperience. The building of this new society was not easy or necessarily understandable to the modern reader. I think that the author does convey the terrible conditions of clearing swamp and stone ridden land, the contradictions of rules agreed to by the new settlers and the problematic dealings with the neighbouring Arabs who are depicted in a sympathetic way. I do think that part of the story does become a little melodramatic but it is an interesting book.
>8 torontoc: Rashomon? I'm fascinated by the sideways perspectives that those kinds of alternating viewpoints give!
>9 detailmuse: Yes- I agree
On Saturday night I saw a play - The Virgin Trial by Kate Hennig. This play had been produced at the Stratford Festival and this is a revival.The playwright has written three plays about the Queens of England- the first about Catherine Parr The Last Wife , this one about Elizabeth and the third-Mother Daughter about Queen Catherine and Queen Mary to be presented this coming summer.The weather was really cold ( -30C windchill) but since all the performances were sold out, I put on many layers of clothing and ventured out with two friends. We were glad that we did. The play concentrated on the time when teenaged Elizabeth was questioned about the behaviour of her stepfather Thomas Seymour and his intention for revolution against King Edward. The dialogue was contemporary and the costumes were set in moderns times as well. The portrayal of Elizabeth as a very smart young woman who cannot be bullied and who can hide her true thoughts was really riveting. The plot may take liberties with accepted truths but it was so interesting!And because of that i pulled out a biography of Elizabeth and re-read
4. Elizabeth The Struggle for The Throne by David Starkey Ah- what can i say- Starkey chose to concentrate on the young Elizabeth and the beginnings of her reign.He showed how she did negotiate through some dangerous situations when she was threatened with treason and later how she worked through the problem of Protestant versus Catholic religious practices. A great re-reread
5. Eternal Life by Dara Horn I am not sure about this novel. The idea is interesting but does it have a resolution in the plot? No. Do I understand the motivation of the two main characters? Not sure. Dara Horn writes well with a thorough grounding in Jewish History and religion that is a main thread in this story. My verdict is still out after finishing this read. Rachel is the daughter of a scribe in Roman occupied Jerusalem. She becomes the lover of Elazar the son of the High Priest. She marries another man but in order to save her son from dying, she undergoes a process that gives her eternal life. After she discovers that Elazar had done the same thing, Rachel meets him in different disguises throughout the years. After living a long life, if Rachel burns then she is reborn so it seems as an eighteen year old and can live a new life. The reader sees her dilemma as she tires of being reborn. I still have problems with where th plot leads us the reader.
6. The Golden House by Salman Rushdie In this novel the reader is introduced to a most unusual family who live in a big mansion that borders the Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District in Greenwich Village in New York City. Their story is narrated by a young man, Rene, who lives nearby. Rene manages to become a friend and observer of the Golden family as he imagines their lives as film that he wants to make. The Golden family appear suddenly in the area- they have come from India and are enormously wealthy. Nero ,the father has asked his three sons to take on names of Roman nobility. Each son has a story that will lead to tragedy. Nero marries a young Russian woman who will also change his life and that of Rene. The reader learns about corruption and the inter-gang rivalries that led Nero to leave India. Interspersed in the narrative are lengthy discussions about philosophy, literature, film, and the contemporary politics of the time of the Obama and later Trump presidencies. Those musings are not necessary in my opinion. This is not my favourite Rushdie novel.
7. Stroll Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto by Shawn Micallef I have had this book on my TBR tower for a while now. It was published 8 years ago and some of the chapters were published in a weekly Toronto magazine. However it is still a good read and a guide to walking around the city. The author ( who has columns in a daily newspaper and publishes a great urban magazine -Spacing) has chosen some usual and unusual places for his walks. Some obvious areas ( Kensington Market) are not covered. I did discover some places that I had not considered. The information is not all historical- there are thoughts about the people who live in the area and the future plans for change and development. Some of those plans have been finished and are very successful- the Regent Park plan and the West Don Lands. Some are still controversial-the Portlands area.
Micallef discusses areas all over the boundaries of the city. He gives a good mix of information that helps the reader understand the city. The book is nicely published by Coach House Press ( an important Toronto literary press) and has good illustrations and a nice fold out map by Marlena Zuber.
I read Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress years ago for my bookclub and thought it was okay, but then we met and discussed it and I realized how fabulous it was.
>12 torontoc: This is not my favourite Rushdie novel.
Ha! I agree, although of the 4 I've read, I can't say I loved any of them.
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