Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Road Home by Rose Tremain (Jill)

The Road Home
By Rose Tremain
Completed September 27, 2008

The Road Home was the Orange Prize winning novel by Rose Tremain – a story of Lev, a Russian immigrant living in London. Lev immigrated to Britain after the mill in his village closed, leaving him without a means to support his mother and daughter. The decision to leave his family was a hard one, but soon Lev discovered that his journey to survive in London would be even harder.

Lev’s journey led him to a renowned restaurant where he discovered two newfound passions: cooking and Sophie. Lev watched as the chefs prepared their meals, learning every ounce in hopes that he too would become a chef. Sophie worked in the kitchen, and with her, Lev learned that he could feel love and passion again as he dealt with the sudden death of his wife, Marina.

The Road Home superbly discussed the hardships and the making of one’s way in a new country. It also dealt with the themes of home. “Home is where you heart is,” as the saying goes, but it also is where you are at that moment, even if it’s a temporary arrangement.

The most profound aspect of The Road Home for me was the excellent characterization created by Tremain. Lev was so human – fallible one minute, honorable the next. Filled with selfishness and then selflessness, he was the type of guy you could root for, despite his mistakes. Other male characters also livened up the story. Rudi, Lev’s best friend in Russia, was funny, rude and vulnerable, dependent on Lev’s admiration and friendship to help him live a better life. Christy was Lev’s landlord – a high-spirited Irish man, suffering from a divorce and the custodial loss of his daughter. It was a delight to read about such interesting men – they really made this story.

This is my second Tremain book, and while I enjoyed The Colour a little more, The Road Home was smart and provocative with memorable characters. I would highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy a good character-driven story, and I look forward to reading more from this talented storyteller. ( )

Friday, September 26, 2008

Terri - Quarterly Check-in September '08

Just a quick check-in and update on what I've read since the end of June. Orange July was amazing, probably my most favorite reading month ever. I read almost everything on the list I made and added one I hadn't intended. Here's what I've read since June:

  • The Girls
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • The Idea of Perfection
  • The Tenderness of Wolves
  • The Namesake
  • Sorry
  • The History of Love
  • When the Emperor Was Divine
  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian
Everything on the list was at least 4 stars out of 5 except The Namesake and Short History of Tractors, which were both 3.5

Now, I'm already looking forward to Orange January!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Laura's Review - Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
307 pages
Kimbali is the 15-year-old daughter of a wealthy Nigerian businessman. Her father, Eugene, is adored by the community for his philanthropy. Their home is spacious, luxuriously furnished, and immaculate. But within his home Eugene rules with an iron hand, guided by his fanatical religious beliefs. He keeps his children on a tight schedule and closely monitors their activities. He is estranged from his own father because of his refusal to convert to Christianity, and his children’s visits with their grandfather are limited to 15 minutes. When Kimbali and her brother Jaja are allowed to visit their Aunty Ifeoma and her children, they experience love and laughter for the first time. Kimbali is intimidated, afraid that she is going against her father’s will, and against God. She is also embarrassed by her lack of basic household skills. Jaja adapts more easily to his cousins’ lifestyle, and finds satisfaction in household chores, tending the garden, and playing sports with local boys. They both return home changed by the experience.

All of this unfolds against a backdrop of Nigerian political unrest which threatens the lives of several characters. But this story is primarily a coming-of-age novel: Kimbali’s process of self-discovery continues, and Jaja begins to resist his father’s authority. Their abusive home environment is increasingly evident. This was Adichie’s debut novel; it was long-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize and made the Orange Prize shortlist the same year. While it was not as compelling as her second book, Half of a Yellow Sun (my review), it is beautifully written and filled with believable characters. I found the symbolism behind the purple hibiscus particularly moving:

Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, do do. (p. 16) ( )
My original review can be found here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (Nicole)

Originally posted here on July 16, 2008.

Beautifully written, this book reminded me of reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  The "unreality" of it all.  Not meant to be taken literally.   Loved the way the narrator was upfront about what happened later in the story because then our concentration is on how it all unfolds.  Great use of the omniscient point of view.  The narrator puts his spin and interpretation of events as they are unfolding.  People coming together and crossing the artificial boundaries that we put up to separate ourselves.  The characters are able to find themselves as they are being held hostage.  Their needs and wants, and also those of the hostage takers, are reduced yet intensified with their limitations as hostages. (I'm sure there is a better word for hostage takers, but I can't think of one now. Captors?)

It was interesting to hear another friend's perspective on this book.  I had heard before reading it that it was either hated or loved.  After talking with my friend who hated it, I better understand the polarization.  Suspension of disbelief is necessary to enjoy this book.  Her main reason for not being able to enjoy the book was predicated on her belief that that people in a hostage situation wouldn't behave in this way, and she has a point, they wouldn't. However for me, it wasn't so far from the realms of possibility.  In horrific situations people do amazing things to adapt, and will often identify with their captors.  I was willing to suspend disbelief because I was caught up in the greater beauty of the connections the characters starting making with themselves and with each other.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys beautiful and lyrical prose in a tale that leans heavily on the fantastical.

Nicole's Reading Goals and Progress

Hey Everybody!

I'm finally getting the opportunity to post my progress for the Orange Prize. I have all the books below in my library.  I have read the ones in bold and I will post the reviews here separately. I guess my starting off point will be to read what I have first.  We'll see how it goes!

Award for New Writers - Winners and Short Lists: 2005- Present
Lucky Girls, by Nell Freudenberger

Orange Prize Fiction Winners and Shortlists: 1996 to the Present

The Road Home, by Rose Tremain - WINNER

Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - WINNER
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith - WINNER
The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver - WINNER
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

Property, by Valerie Martin - WINNER
The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett- WINNER

The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

Paradise, by Toni Morrison

Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood