Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Meeting of November 25, 2013


We had a lovely time discussing Carla’s choice, Little Bee by Chris Cleave. In honour of the Nigerian theme, Beth treated us to African cassava and plantain chips, samosas, banana cake and coconut macaroons, along with Canadian cheeses and Mediterranean olives. The house was decorated with African photos, including one of a beach, so important to the story. Carla, Betty, Colette, Jane, Linda, Janet, Jolene, and Beth were in attendance.

Carla explained that Chris Cleave is 38 years old and works as a journalist in London, England. The character Charlie was loosely based on Cleave’s young son. Incendiary was Cleave’s award-winning first novel. Little Bee was published under the title The Other Hand in the UK. Cleave’s writing is based on real-life events that have impacted him personally, including the story of an Angolan refugee who hanged himself to save his son from deportation from England in 2001, and also Cleave’s student work in a detention camp. He explains that he tries to write about serious matters in an accessible way, incorporating humour when possible. He is not trying to treat dark subjects lightly, but hopes instead to expose darkness to the light.  

Almost all the ladies said that they would not have picked this book up originally had it not been a club choice, but in the end most appreciated it for its educational value. The “Greek chorus” of girls back home in Nigeria was one interesting aspect of the author’s writing style. On the other hand, the beach scenes were very disturbing, even causing nightmares. The book did provide insight into the plight of many refugees and caused us to think about how insulated we are in our democratic society, where environmental issues are discussed long before people and natural resources are severely impacted. We also commented on the contrasts: two worlds, two English dialects, two points of view.  Sarah and Lawrence were unpopular, though the moral choices of all of the characters made for interesting discussion. There was disagreement over the ending. Most felt that Little Bee would not survive, though the author (and Carla and Jolene) were more optimistic.

For homework, we decided to try an idea from the author himself. He suggests that we make up proverbs of our own, and come prepared to recite them gravely next book club. As Little Bee says, “I have noticed, in your country, I can say anything so long as I say that is the proverb in my country.”  (page 180)

January will also be our “Academy Awards” night, so get your votes to Michèle, using the list at the side of this blog. While you’re looking at the 2013 titles, be aware that the order of 2014 choices and houses is under review. One other assignment:  Beth suggests discussing the first line of every book club choice in the coming year. Good ones should generally not begin with a discussion of weather (the “dark and stormy night” idea).  

Merry Christmas, and happy reading.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Meeting of October 28th 2013

Michèle hosted this month's meeting. Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley were present.  Since our book this month Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie presented by Jane had a Chinese theme, we were served appropriately themed food.  Michèle indicated that she had fun preparing Fire and Spice nuts,  Lemon Chicken, Asian style Cabbage rolls and Almond cookies with green tea ice cream.

This book generated a lot of comment and discussion.  Most of us enjoyed the book and found that it gave us a better understanding of China's Cultural Revolution and its impact on what could be considered China's elite in the late 1960s.  The two main characters in the story are two young men, Luo and the narrator in their late teens who are sent to the countryside to be "re-educated".  Both are from families of professional parents who had access to books by foreign authors such as Balzac, Stendhal, Dumas, Flaubert and many others.  All of these authors, any literature that was not Chinese was banned. The story revolves around the discovery that a young man in another village has a suitcase full of banned books and the two young men's desire to obtain the books.  They are hungry for the diversion that such literature can bring for them. They have met a tailor who has a beautiful young daughter, the little Chinese seamstress, and Luo who is infatuated by her, wants to "re-educate" her by reading to her from these books.

We all found that the author was very good at describing the surrounding countryside, giving us vivid description of the mountain scenery.  He was also very good a depicting the atmosphere when Luo and the narrator told stories to the chief and the villagers after viewing movies in a nearby town.  We discussed extensively, Luo's relationship with the seamstress, his desire to "re-educate" her and the parallel between what was happening to them and what Luo was doing to her.  We also found that there was a fair amount of humour in the book, the chief's rotten tooth incident, the buffalo they pick to sacrifice, the scene when Luo and the narrator are hidden under the beds as examples.

Beth gave us the title of a book Life and Death in Shanghai that is a memoir written by Nien Cheng about her experiences during and after the Cultural Revolution. Those who want to know more about the impact on the elite might want to read this book.

Jane, in introducing this book, gave us some information about authors such as Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo and Gustave Flaubert among others.  She also talked about Bernard Pivot's program on French television, Apostrophe.  Mr. Pivot's program was very popular in France and Québec and he interviewed Dai Sijie in 2001. Those who understand enough French might want to take a quick look at this video of the interview.  In the interview Dai Sijie admits that this novel is partly biographical.  The video is a little over 7 minutes.

Some of our members have seen the movie that was directed by Dai Sijie and said that it is very similar to the book with the exception of an ending that has the two young meet 20 years after their "re-education".  It is well worth watching.

Thank you Jane for a great read!