Saturday, October 21, 2017

October books

I read two excellent books this month; Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing and LaRose by Louise Erdrich.  Both are family sagas retelling the stories of several generations. 

Homegoing traces two half-sisters born into two different villages at a difficult time in Ghana's history. Tribes are busy waging war against each other and collecting slaves to make money and win favor from the white Europeans. 

Effia is forced to marry an Englishman and goes to live in the Cape Coast Castle. The marriage is a business deal arranged by Effia's mother to bring fortune to the village and to push her daughter away from the village and her intended husband, the chief Abeeku so that she may have a more profitable life.

Abeeku stood up so that he was facing her. He ran his fingers along the full landscape of her face, the hills of her cheeks, the caves of her nostrils. "A more beautiful woman has never been born," he said finally. He turned to Baaba. "But I see that you are right. If the white man wants her, he may have her. All the better for the village." (15)

Effia's half sister Esi is also promised in marriage to a man in her village. Her father is is a brave warrior, a Big Man, and she's grown up in being adored by her family and community. One night warriors come to her village and she is told to run into the woods where she sits in a tree but is still found and with pelting rocks hitting her she falls to the ground.

She was tied to others; how many, she didn't know. She didn't see anyone from her compound. Not her stepmothers or half siblings. Not her mother. the rope around her wrists held her palms out in supplication. Esi studied the lines on those palms. They led nowhere. She had never felt so hopeless in her life. (43)

And thus both sisters' fortunes are changed even as both are sold as product. Esi is chained up in the basement dungeon of Cape Coast Castle while her sister lives above. Eventually Esi is shipped off to work the American slave trade. Each chapter relays the tale of a descendent of each sister and in this way you are awarded this amazingly rich historical yet very personal account.

The New Yorker review (I liked it more than they liked it but it does a beautiful job of describing the era)


In LaRose Louise Erdrich gives the reader many parallels to Homegoing's history. American English did their best to negate both cultures. LaRose, told mostly through the present, tells the story of Landreaux and Emmeline's grief after a tragic accident kills their friend and neighbor's son, Dusty. Through back and forth chapters we understand the depth of the grief felt by both couples and through side stories Erdrich interjects the history of Emmeline's family and how tragedy and wisdom often walk together. The characters Erdrich brings to life are interesting and multidimensional. 

Outside the circle of warmth, the snow squeaked and the stars pulsed in the impenetrable heavens. The girl sat between them, not drinking. She thought her own burdensome thought. From time to time, both of the men looked at her profile in the firelight. her dirty face was brushed with raw gold. As the wine was drunk, the bread was baked. Reverently, they removed the loaves and put them, hot, inside their coats.  The girl opened her blanket to accept a loaf from Wolfred. As he gave it to her, he realized that her dress was torn down the middle. He looked into her eyes and her eyes slid to Mackinnon. The she ducked her head and held the dress together with her elbow while she accepted the loaf. (99)

Both novels illustrate the simple fact that women have been battling men for centuries. How brave and bold it is that we hope to raise our children to accept a different norm.  I know I expect my daughter to be strong and resourceful and I expect my son to treat all women with due respect.


We read LaRose for book club this month and I celebrated by making this Wild Rice Salad. It was delicious and I would make it again. I'll read anything with Erdrich's name on it-I love her young reader's Birchbark House series-and read it with my school book club every year. One of my life goals is to read all of Erdrich's stories and to make it to her Minneapolis book store.

New York Times review for LaRose.

Happy October!!










Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Listening to Garth Stein


Our local library has a list of featured authors that speak throughout the year and mostly they are local authors but tonight Garth Stein was in the house!  I remember reading The Art of Racing in the Rain (2008) soon after it came out in paperback.  I believe everyone in the house read it at one point or another and our one loved copy obviously travelled off on its own journey as I could not find it anywhere in my book (over) loaded home. I thought it would be easy to find it and get that one signed...
Enzo is a lovely canine narrator, a deep thinking dog and the book should appeal to all dog lovers, want-to-be dog owners, or any human with a heart. I remember crying and writing quotes from the book onto scraps of paper.

Garth was eloquent and humorous to listen to and he told story after story of his family, his wife, the struggle of being a writer and how the book came into being and how his agent would not accept it. If I ever actually publish any one of my stories this is the part that I fear. I'm an awful public speaker (unless my audience is made up of elementary kids) and could maybe speak extemporaneously for about 10 minutes. We'd have to go to questions pretty quickly. I could handle the signing part though, one on one interactions, but I don't like getting my picture snapped so that might be an issue. We will cross that bridge when we get to it.

After the event he signed books near a table where his books were on sale through our local university bookstore. During part of the q and a session I spent some time on my trusty Goodreads app and looked up several of his other books.  His latest one, A Sudden Light, about a timber families fortunes and misfortunes had a few negative reviews so I stayed away from that one. My friends Rich and Kay did buy it though and so I'll wait to hear what they think.  Two of his earlier books had more interesting reviews, to me, so I went with these (yes, I bought them both and had them signed).

Raven stole the moon (1998) is part magical realism and Native American folklore-right up my reading alley. How Evan broke his head and other secrets (2005) tells the tale of a young rock and roller who meets his long lost son at the age of 14. I'm excited to read both of them after I finish the three other books by my bedside and La Rose by Louise Erdrich, our Good Spirits book club choice for October. It is wonderful to live in such a literature-rich household-I never, ever, ever even think the word "bored".


I was completely unaware that he has a young reader's version of The Art of racing in the rain and several picture books devoted to Enzo.









Sunday, October 1, 2017

October is...


changing colors
swirling leaves
a chill in the air
sweaters;
holding back on the coats
pumpkins and skeletons
apples and ghosts
summer's last days of warmth
give way to crackling fires
s'mores
hot cider in cups
crisp and crackling
life turns