Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Sense of Ending by Julian Barnes - Fiction

Julian Barnes in writing the novel entitled The Sense of an Ending portrays the realities of retirement. The main character, Tony Webster encounters his childhood friends--one of whom is no longer alive and the other has become ever present in his, now middle-aged life.  

It begins with a legacy left behind in a will that obliges him to meet up with his divorced wife and childhood friend.  This creates a new beginning which entails interacting with his past and reviving old relationships that cause him to rethink his own being and his sense of place in the world.  

It is a fascinating read as it enables the reader to reflect on his/her own lifestyle and the possibilities for the type of middle-aged life one could encounter or prepare for. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende - Historical Fiction

In A Long Petal of the Sea, the author, Isabel Allende, portrays the realities of escaping from the horrors of war. It is the 1930s and civil war has broken out in Spain. People are fleeing in large numbers; and it is here that Roser, pregnant and a widow, meets Victor. In order to survive amid chaos and uncertainty they engage in a marriage of convenience. Along with other refugees they find themselves on a ship to Chile.

While in Chile, Europe breaks out into world war. Roser and Victor create a life for themselves in Chile, all the while dreaming and hoping of returning to Spain. It is the hope of returning to Spain that keeps them going through the various challenges they encounter in Chile.

A Long Petal of the Sea is a historical fiction with layers of history entwined into the lives of Roser and Victor in Chile.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Agent Sonya The Spy Next Door by Ben Macintyre - Non-Fiction

Ben Macintyre details the life and times of a spy in the twentieth century. The reader learns about Agent Sonya: her trials, tribulations and sort of joy in her life. She takes up residence in a quiet Cotswolds neighbourhood in Britain unbeknownst to her neighbours of her true identity.  

On the surface, Agent Sonya is a an ideal housewife raising her two children.  In reality she is that brilliant and high functioning spy who has been wanted by the Chinese, Japanese, Nazis, MI5, MI6, and FBI. She is a Communist spy for Russia. 

Macintyre's prolific writing captivates the reader by the thrilling aspects of spying with drastic consequences for a democracy in its infancy after the WWII.  The author educates and informs the reader on the realities of being a spy. The story has a riveting plot that makes it a page turner.  It is an excellent read. 

Book Browse, as outlined below, summarizes the impact of Agent Sonya:
Ben Macintyre has conjured a page-turning history of a legendary secret agent, a woman who influenced the course of the Cold War and helped plunge the world into a decades-long standoff between nuclear superpowers.  Source: Book Browse

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese - Novel

Richard Wagamese in his writing of Indian Horse takes the reader on a learning journey about indigenous culture and lifestyle. 

Through the eyes of Saul, the main character, the reader becomes aware of the realities of being indigenous in a country that was part of their ancestral history.  Now they have to adapt to include the Canadian way of living.  This writing outlines the trials and tribulations that Saul endures as he tries to be indigenous as well as Canadian. 

The admirable theme in this writing illustrates the desire to reclaim their indigenous culture and way of life by thriving in both cultures. This entails descending into the depths of depression, heartbreak and the dark places of trying to survive.  Yet, through counsel and guidance of their elders and some pointed colleagues and teachers, Saul is able to straddle both cultures with reasonable success.  

There are surprises with vivid descriptions of  some downright low moments and then the highlights of the successes that bring resolution to being in both cultures.  As Saul grows from child to adult it appears he is at peace with both cultures and returns home in Northern Ontario to work with his people and contribute to their success. I highly recommend this novel.


Thursday, May 26, 2022

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma - Novel

Source: Review from The Atlantic 

Chigozie Obioma, An Orchestra of Minorities is a wrenching study of the sacrifices made for love. The arc of the chicken farmer’s attachment to the pharmacist-in-training Ndali Obialor begins not with a first date, but with near-tragedy, when Chinonso prevents her from jumping off a bridge. Their chance meeting months later births a desperate romance troubled by Ndali’s well-educated family, who won’t accept the humble farmer as her future spouse. Chinonso is in despair until the visiting Jamike offers him a slippery pathway to acceptance: traveling to Cyprus to receive more schooling, then returning as a man of stature—the kind of man Ndali deserves to marry.

In rendering his protagonist’s journey to Cyprus, and the scene that greets the unknowing Chinonso when he arrives, Obioma recasts Homer’s Odyssey. For both tales’ heroes, “mere survival is the most amazing feat of all.” But where Odysseus thrashed “under Poseidon’s blows, gale winds and tons of sea,” Chinonso is betrayed by his fellow man. The experience never plunges him into the underworld, but in a letter to Ndali, he writes that he “went to hell” in Cyprus. Obioma conveys Chinonso’s trials with an eye toward the quotidian horrors that many African migrant farmers face in real life.

Though Chinonso is driven by love—the most human of pursuits—neither his classed countrymen nor most of the Europeans he encounters are willing to extend him compassion. Obioma emphasizes that many of these obstacles stem from Chinonso’s visible Africanness—Europeans mock the man’s hair, deny him work, and scoff at his inability to speak Turkish. In Cyprus, he is “a wayfarer in a foreign land”: maligned, mistreated, even jailed for a grievous crime he didn’t commit.

Obioma depicts the indignities the farmer faces with rich details, at times even appearing to revel in the contours of his protagonist’s suffering. Describing Chinonso at one point, he writes: “All the world becomes dead to a man like him in such a time as this, and therefore all the pleasant memories, all the images that would have brought him pleasure, mean nothing in this moment. Even if they had been gathered in his mind in their multitudes, they would merely accumulate in abysmal futility, like a stack of gold in the mouth of a dead man.”

The novel exalts the mouth as a site of power, benevolent or otherwise. Obioma homes in on words unsaid, covenants broken, and kisses tendered. For the author, this attention isn’t new. His prior work was also preoccupied with the mouth as a locus of communion between spirits and flesh. Obioma’s debut, The Fishermen, told the story of four brothers whose lives are forever changed by a prophecy that one of them will kill the eldest among them: An eccentric homeless man, whom some of the town’s residents believe to be possessed by spirits, effectively speaks the galling betrayal into existence when he shouts it at the boys.

Though that novel bore the marks of a Greek tragedy, it unfolded entirely via the recollections of the youngest brother. An Orchestra of Minorities, by contrast, has no human narrator. If The Fishermen detailed the downfall of prideful men with earthly gravity, then Obioma’s latest meditates on the psychic turmoil of the downtrodden. It begins with a reflection from Chinonso’s chi, or guardian spirit, which narrates the story and refers to the farmer as his “host.” The being watches over Chinonso as his journey unfolds, and advocates to celestial judges on his behalf when the farmer transgresses.

Drawing from local spiritual traditions, Obioma sketches a topography of Igbo spirits through the chi’s incantations, which also serve to structure the novel. The author deftly weaves ancestral knowledge into the contemporary tale of Chinonso even as he gestures toward the country’s younger religious conventions. (He’s careful to attribute Christianity, and images of “Jisos Kraist,” to the white man.) An Orchestra brings to mind the more brazen boundary transgression of another recent novel, the Igbo and Tamil author Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, which explored the dissonance of multiple spiritual beings inhabiting one human body. Obioma, though, sticks with Chinonso’s chi and hews closely to classical conventions even when invoking the Igbo spirit. Both his tautology and his prose hint at a fascination with Aristotelian philosophy. Consider this reflection from Chinonso’s chi, recalling Ndali’s first visit to the young man’s farm:

Guardian spirits of mankind, have we thought about the powers that passion creates in a human being? Have we considered why a man could run through a field of fire to get to a woman he loves? … Have we contemplated the physiognomy of love—how some relationships are stillborn, some are retarded and do not grow, and some fledge into adults and last through the lifetime of the lovers?

These questions, unanswered and perhaps also unanswerable, function partly to foreshadow the duress Chinonso will endure in pursuit of marriageable status. Even with his chi watching over him, Chinonso is changed by the external hostility he encounters. His journey is not only a physical one, Obioma suggests, but also a spiritual one. Where a less skillful author’s descriptions of inner tumult might register as clich├ęs, Obioma manages to elevate his characters’ transformations: In one scene, he writes that Chinonso “spoke with great care, as if his tongue was a wet priest in the sanctuary of his mouth.” Of the first blossoming of the central pair’s love, the farmer’s chi marvels:

It seemed that by some mysterious means, she had been able to read the intents of his heart, which had all along cast themselves upon his face like a presence. And she had come to understand, by some alchemy, that the smile he’d carried on his face all along was his body’s struggle to manage the solemn intransigence of its volcanic desire.

Because Obioma pays such remarkable attention to the power of language, it’s particularly striking how rarely the author brings that focus to bear on Ndali and the other women whose affections have buttressed Chinonso’s life. Depictions of Ndali veer between hagiography and dismissal; Obioma mostly portrays Ndali’s interior conflicts through her lover’s questions about her loyalty. An Orchestra of Minorities, which echoes the name Chinonso’s late father gave to singing birds, concerns itself chiefly with the actions and psychic rumblings of men. In this familiar formula, women all too often serve as either motivation or collateral damage. This is also notably, if also regrettably, classical.

Still, Obioma writes with an exigent precision that makes An Orchestra of Minorities feel at once timely and speculative. The novel aches with Chinonso. His triumphs are rare and hard-won. Obioma compels the reader to root for him, to see the poor chicken farmer’s story as an epic.

My personal review of this fiction:  It is a story that captivates the slice of life in this Nigerian chicken farm. The reader is taken through the class differences of these two individuals who have fallen in love. Chinonso is the chicken farmer while Ndali is a pharmacist in training. Yet that doesn't interfere with their being together, though Chinonso goes through a trying time trying to get an education in Cyprus. The story unfolds in many typical but culturally nuanced scenarios. 

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma is an interesting depiction of a class system that is evident in every culture. 

Friday, January 7, 2022

Pathways to Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander: Non-fiction


The author, Rosamund S. Zander, in Pathways to Possibility indicates that our childhood stories have a lasting impact on us even as we mature and become adults.  Some of these impacts have detrimental effects in adulthood. Hence Zander promotes that it is important for the individual to evaluate these stories and determine how they can be transformed to enable the individual to move productively in adulthood.

Zander describes some of these childhood stories that can be modified so that the individual would create ways to confront or transform these old stories into new possibilities. By doing this the individual can be rid of childhood hangups and drawbacks that hinder beneficial growth in adulthood.  

It appears Zander prescribes, for some, an intensive therapeutic time as the individual pays close attention to those stories that are holding the person back and not enabling the person to move forward for a fulfilling lifestyle. 

Pathways to Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander is an interesting read. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders - Non-fiction

George Saunders in A Swim in the Pond in the Rain evaluates short stories by four Russian writers set in Russia in the 19th century. The stories depict the way of life in Russia exposing the classism during that era.

Saunders uses these stories to train his students on how to write short stories. He dissects each of the stories, mulls about how each author presents the story giving a glimpse of life and culture in Russia. Certain components of each of the stories are pulled apart with an understanding of its meaning and portrayal of the characters in the stories.

Saunders delves into how the Russian authors could have depicted the stories in a different light. He suggests possible interpretations of the various scenarios in each of the stories. 

Throughout Saunders brings in short story writing techniques. It is a brilliant methodology of engaging the students in the art of the appropriate process of arranging words, phrases as well as incorporating metaphors and clever sentence structure to enable each short story come alive in the eyes of the reader.  

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders is a constructive handbook for writing short stories. It provides significant insights along with very good examples of how to engage the reader in a short story.