The South

Colm Toibin’s The South is about Katherine Proctor, a woman who is coming into her own in the 1950’s. She abandons her husband and child after she learns the type of man she married and thinks her son is just a miniature version of him. She leaves Ireland and heads to Barcelona to begin her new life. She came from a wealthy Protestant family and her mother supported her while she led an artistic life in the Pyrenees with her Spanish revolutionary lover

Throughout the story Katherine isolates herself from everyone, even when she’s in a relationship or with friends. She always keeps her distance and surrounds herself with men who do the same thing. Toibin writes her as such a sad and discontent character. She has immense control over her life, especially for the time period, but doesn’t take control of her own happiness.

Toibin is economical with words, but doesn’t hold back with emotions. There is so much depth to the emotions, specifically with Katherine and her children, that I needed to take a break while reading this book to prevent the sadness from overwhelming me. Maybe its because I have children, or the style allows the reader to put their own emotions onto the characters since nothing is spelled out, but the emotions that ran beyond the words was so powerful.

This book was a great story about a woman trying to live her life freely but being stifled by her isolation. Colm Toibin is a great writer and this is a wonderful example.

Read May 2013

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon captures the story of Kamila Sidiqi during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan in The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep them Safe. Kamila’s story is about how she survived and prospered under the Taliban rule by starting her own dressmaking business with her sisters and taking a huge risk in trusting those she sold the dresses.

Not only did Kamila support her family after her parents and older brother had to flee Kabul, she started teaching neighborhood women the same skills she learned so that they too could support their families. The story really is amazing, not just for the sisters story of survival, but for the information about the era that was included in the story. Its remarkable that the Taliban somehow believe they are doing whats best for their country from a religious stand point, but make no common sense policies to help the people who actually live there. Although with the dressmaking business, Kamila and her family survived the time without too much hardship and the support of the community around them.

While the story was/is remarkable for such a young woman during that time, in that place in the world, to do what she did, I don’t think the writer did a great job portraying Kamila. Her portrayal seemed childlike and inexperienced, too idealistic. But for Kamila to have done what she did and have the amazing learning opportunities, she cannot be naive or innocent in the business world. She may be idealistic, but her ideas are based in reality and she has made unbelievably smart decisions to survive and made great sacrifices to help others. I think in trying to show the danger Kamila was in, Lemmon ends up showing her as fragile and small, when under the circumstances she must have been huge.

Even with that criticism, this book is still a great read. Bringing an unknown world to the reader while telling a brave woman and her family’s story.

Read April 2013

Kindred

Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred is a tale of a black woman living in 1976 who is transported back to 1815 on a plantation in Maryland where her ancestors are living. Dana is somehow called whenever Rufus, a white child of slave owners, finds himself in a dangerous situation. Dana’s quest becomes ensuring that her ancestors survive the devastation of the plantation and in order to do that she must protect Rufus whenever he calls her back.

Along the way, Dana has to deal with typical time travel dilemmas while dealing with the horrific fate of slavery and the conventions of the time. In order to fit in to the time period while she’s stuck in the past, Dana has to pass for a slave and learn to behave like a slave. All while teaching and learning from her “owner” Rufus and trying to teach him about racial equality and human relationships.

This book is ultimately about slavery and slaves. There are some gruesome scenes which I think are necessary in order to tell the story. Dana has to go through a learning experience with the reader. She, like the reader, knew about slavery, but to witness and be an unwilling participant forces both to face the truth of slavery in a personal way. Butler captured not just what it might have been like to be a slave, but what it would be like to be a mother, a father, a friend under the most horrifying circumstances.

Butler writes very simply, almost as if written as young adult fiction. Her characters and scenes are written simply, but Butler is able to weave a deep undercurrent of emotion that makes the reader hurt with the characters.

This book should be taught in high schools to teach history as well as compassion for each other. It was a horrible story told with the right touch of emotion and history.

Read April 2013

The Siren

Alison Bruce’s The Siren involves two friends story, murder, and a missing child. From the beginning we know the women, Kimberly and Rachel, are hiding out and ready to take off and find a new hiding spot, but we don’t know what they’re running from or why. When one is murdered and the other’s son disappears, Detective Goodhew tries to piece together the crimes, current and past, and bring back Riley.

From the beginning I had no empathy for Kimberly. She’s caught in lie after lie. I felt like Bruce was trying to force me to like Kimberly or blame me for not liking her just because she was a beautiful young mother. In a crime novel, its not always necessary to have empathy for the victim, but usually theres a bit of concern or something. I think part of the reason that her child was involved was to provoke this reaction in the reader, but I didn’t feel it and it felt forced.

Also, the Detective is a young, rebellious, officer who doesn’t play nice with other police and goes off on his own to try to find the kidnapper. Maybe there was more history in the previous novel about why he deserved the freedom that he had within his police work, but he didn’t seem to be doing an incredible job.

This novel fell flat to me. There was something missing and the characters didn’t feel real. I can’t explain exactly what it is. Do we need to care about the victim to care about a crime? In a crime novel, does the Detective have to have some special skills to break the case in order for the book to stand? I wouldn’t think so, but something didn’t fit. Maybe its the combination of lackluster main victim and police work. Maybe the story wasn’t told in a way that captivated me or that I believed.

Read April 2013