Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Past Reads (Catching Up!)

I'm embarrassed to admit that the only Orange Prize books that I had read prior to joining this project were Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin and Zadie Smith's White Teeth. I also admit that the following is pretty thin, since it has been years since I have read either one, but wanted to get them posted for completeness...

What I remember about The Blind Assassin which I read years ago, is that I loved it despite reading it while I had a raging fever staying in a hostel while trying to attend a group therapy conference in Philly one year. I honestly don't remember at this point even what the book was about, except for a pair of scenes in my head, one involving a country house and one of the dark apartment where a woman meets her blind assassin lover. What I do know is that when read it, it instantly turned me into an Atwood devotee. I thought it was a brilliant and fascinating book. Reading Goodreads reviews of the book makes me feel better about having only a lasting impression rather than a memory for plot. Sounds like the plot itself is book within a book and the story of two sisters (in the house I am picturing) trapped in a society that did not appreciate their potential as women. I remember thinking it absolutely deserved the Booker Prize it won, which was what led me to it in the first place.

White Teeth was one of many amazing books that I listened to during my commute to the college where I taught in suburban Atlanta back in the years between 1996 and 2005. I remember loving this one as well. It was a wild tale of immigrants in England, told with emotion and humor throughout. Again, because it has been years, I haven't got the clearest memory of the book, but remember enjoying every minute of listening to this over-the-top tale!

The Poisonwood Bible

This is a slightly modified version of the review I posted for this book on my own blog: A bunch of people in my Around the World group were all reading The Poisonwood Bible together this week. As anyone who read about me being stuck in Australia already knows, I used this book as a reward for getting through Voss, and really enjoyed my reward. In the time I was reading it, I drove from Philly to Atlanta with a preschooler and a bulldog in tow. Now that I'm here, I'm helping out a friend with severe vertigo and a sheltie on chemo (who eats homemade food that is a little tricky to dish out, never mind make, when the world is spinning), so it's not exactly a great reading week. The preschooler had 5 vaccinations the other day, and is either sick in relation to that or independent of it, but that is probably the only reason I have actually already finished this book. She's sleeping much more than usual.

I loved the book. I read a lot of Kingsolver in the 90s and really enjoyed her work, but hadn't read anything she had written since. This was wonderful to read from page one, with chapters alternating between distinctive voices of 4 daughters and their mom narrating the experience of being dropped into the wilderness of the Belgian Congo of 1960 by a missionary patriarch with survivor guilt from his experience in the military in the South Pacific. You will grieve over what the "first world" has done to Africa and what one man's ego has done to his family as you follow the maturation of the women in this tale. Below is my Goodreads review.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book and the different voices of the women in this missionary family whose lives are variously transformed by their time in the Belgian Congo. Tragic naivete is replaced by different types and levels of insight in the 5 women. Kingsolver clearly loves the country and its people.