Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Meeting of November 28, 2016

We met at Beth's home to discuss Shirley's book choice,  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Michèle and of course, Shirley.  Beth served very nice rolled finger chicken and beef sandwiches, a dip and vegetables, lovely olives and cheese.  She also served a wonder Irish apple cake.

Shirley introduced the author.  Christina Baker Kline was born in England and raised there and in the United States.  She studied literature at several American and British universities including Yale and Cambridge.  She also taught at several universities, literature, writing and women's studies.  She has written several books including 5 novels and several non-fiction books.   Orphan Train is her latest novel.  She presently lives in New Jersey with her husband and sons.

Ms. Kline's idea for this novel Orphan Train came from her mother-in-law's grandfather's story that she happened upon one holiday time when they were snowed in.  He had been as a child taken west from New York on a train.  The idea of taking children from New York to the mid-west came from a methodist minister who wanted to rid New York of underage criminals and vagrant children.  Taking them west would allow farm families in the mid-west to take the children in and would be free labour for them.  The program began in 1854 and went on to 1929.  After several years of research and interviews, Ms. Kline was able to create several characters such as Niam and Dutchy.  The novel begins in 2011 and there are two main characters, Vivian who is a 91 year old woman living in a huge old house and 17 year old Molly who is a ward of the Children's Aid Society living in a foster home.

The story begins with Molly who was caught stealing a library book and must do 50 hours of community work to pay for her sins.  She finds herself doing the community work by helping Vivian clean out her attic.  As the two begin to go through boxes, Vivian tells her story and her life as a child on an orphan train.

It was unanimous, all of us enjoyed the book.  We felt that the author had done considerable research not only about the Orphan Train project but also about the conditions in America for new immigrants, the conditions in Ireland that required many to immigrate. Beth said that the book had the feel of an old fashion novel.  The historical aspect of the novel satisfied the need of many of us to learn something from a book.  With the two characters Niamh Power and the young boy Dutchy that she meets on the train we are given good descriptions of what happened to many orphans who were given to families in the mid-west.  The descriptions of the families where Niamh finds herself are well developed and we find out quite a bit about the families  who went west in the late 19th and early 20th century. It gives us a good idea of how these children were treated both badly and well and how easily they were considered almost as "property", changing a child's name without hesitation.

Molly the 17 year old who comes into Vivian's life to help put order in the attic soon finds herself engrossed in Vivian's life.  As boxes are unpacked, we learn how Vivian coped and survived.  We also learn about Molly, who has lived and survived quite a lot in her 17 years.

Several of us talked about how a past can be seen to be better than it actually was.  Vivian talks about her life in Ireland before her family imigrated to America and paints a better picture than what was reality.  In the prologue, that begins "I believe in ghosts.." she talks about the positive things she remembres about her gram, her da and her mam.

We talked about the reasons there were so many orphans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many parents died young because of plagues, industrial accidents, children who were abandoned because families could not cope.  There are many classic novels written about orphans, two are mentioned in this novel,  Jane Eyre and Anne of Green Gables. There are others,  David Copperfield, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and many others.  The old fashion feel of the book comes from the two main characters, Vivian and Molly who were in fact both  orphans.

Some of us liked that we learn what happened to everyone at the end.  We know that Maisie was adopted, married and had a family.  We know that Carmine was adopted by a good family.  Vivian meets the daughter she gave up for adoption.  Some of us however, wanted a few more chapters to find out how Vivian and her daughter got along, what happened to Molly as she aged out of the Children's Society system at age 18.

The discussion was lively and interesting.  Thank you Shirley for a good choice!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Meeting of October 24, 2016

We met at Shirley’s home to discuss Jane’s choice, The Reason You Walk, by Wab Kinew.  Present were Jane, Shirley, Linda, Beth, Betty, Colette, Carla, and Jolene.  Shirley served  a wonderful selection of cold cuts, cheese, quacamole and dip, as well as meatballs, mini wild rice and mushroom quiche followed up with a delicious berry crumble and ice cream, all gluten-free.

Jane introduced the author as a rapper, chief, father, journalist, politician and university administrator.  He defended The Orenda on Canada Reads.  He holds a master’s degree in Indigenous Governance.

The Reason You Walk follows the lives of Wab and his father Tobasonakwut, himself a survivor of residential schools.  Tobasonakwut faces death with strength, courage, grace and forgiveness.  Reconciliation between father and son is also a large part of the story.

Reaction to the book was fairly uniform.  While the book was informative and interesting, the writing style was not very appealing.  Since the author is a good speaker on CBC, some wondered if an audio book would have been more effective.   We appreciated details about indigenous culture and the background to Truth and Reconciliation.  The ending, with Wab’s sons singing and telling their dying grandfather that they loved him, was moving and appreciated by all.  However, it would have been helpful to have more explanation about how Wab managed to manoeuvre so well between the indigenous world and outside culture. 

We had a good discussion about spirituality in the book.  The focus on fasting and prayer in native culture was gripping; however, the Sundance dances were hard to fathom, with flesh tearing so foreign to our group.  At one point, Wab’s father offered a feather to church leaders, a momentous gesture.  In answer to the criticism that Christ seemed absent from much of the depiction of Christianity, some pointed out that “the reason you walk” embodies Christian values—understanding of the Creator, His motivation, love, and our ultimate destination. 

 Because many in the group work daily with indigenous peoples, or have done so in the past, the educational value of the book compensated for its literary shortcomings.  One final comment was “the more you find out, the less afraid you are—on both sides.”

Monday, October 3, 2016

Books and Meetings 2017

The list will be updated as members choose their books

Monday January 23rd -  Janet's book choice, Commonwealthby Ann Patchett, Colette hosting

Monday February 27th - Carla's book choice, The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue, Janet hosting

Monday March 27th - Jolene's book choice, The Mockingbird Next Door, Life with Harper Lee, by Marja Milles, Carla hosting

Monday April 24th - Michèle's book choice, Maman's Homesick Pie, by Donia Bijan, Jane hosting

Monday May 29th - Linda's book choice Matrons and Madams by Her Excellency Sharon Johnston, Linda hosting

Monday June 26th - Beth's book choice, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, Jolene hosting

Monday September 25th - Colette's book choice, The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, Michèle hosting

Monday October 23rd -  Jane's book choice, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan, Shirley hosting

Monday November 27th - Shirley's book choice, Home Front by Kristin Hannah, Beth hosting

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Meeting of September 26, 2016

This month's book was Colette's choice The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel. Present were Beth, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Michèle and Shirley.  Jolene was our host.  She had on the floor part of food she had prepared for us, as Odo liked it in the third novella of this book.  She also wore a Portugal t-shirt and had other momentos from Portugal in the house. As it happens also, there is a painting of a rhinoceros on the wall of her home reminding us of the reference to the fables  rhinoceros in Portugal. We can always count on Jolene to set the mood! Jolene had a very nice variety of cheese and crackers, my favourite spread fig and walnut and excellent chicken and pineapple skewers.  She served us parfaits of vanilla ice cream with pineapple and strawberries.

Yann Martel divided this novel into three parts in three different eras, a story called Homeless with Tomas in 1904,  the second story Homeward set in the 1930's with pathologist Eusebio and the third story Home set in the 1980's with Canadian Senator Peter.  All three men are dealing with grief, loneliness and the loss of their wives and in Tomas' case also the death of his son and father.  Chimpanzees are present in all three stories, in passing through in Father Ullyses' diary in Homeless, more directly in Homeward with Eusebio stitching a chimpanzee along with a dog and his wife into a dead man's body following the autopsy and very prominently in Home with Odo the chimpanzee as Peter's constant companion.

Yann Martel has written this book in the literary genre of magical realism.  The Merriam-Webster online dictionary describes magical realism as a "style incorporating fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction."  There are certainly incredulous incidences in Martel's stories and several allegories related to love, loss faith and religion.

As a group, we were certainly divided.  The majority did not like the book.  They found the stories and their themes difficult to understand.  What was the meaning of Tomas' voyage to discover the religious icon?  What was the meaning of the difficulties he had.  In the second story, several, who know the bible well, found many inaccuracies in the bible references and therefore the comparisons with Agatha Christie's novels seem to make no sense.  What was the meaning of such a strange autopsy and what did it mean that Eusebio sewed back into the man's body, the chimpanzee, the dog and the wife? In Home, Peter's relationship with Odo the chimpanzee could be considered weird and the end leaves us with many questions, what does it mean when Odo holds Peter as Mary held Jesus after the crucifixion.  It was not a book that they enjoyed and some finished feeling somewhat inadequate.

A few of us enjoyed the book but it really meant reading the stories without questioning the meaning of the allegories and suspending your disbelief.  We have one member who has decided to eventually re-read the book with the intention of understanding the symbolism and the references to religion and faith. We may eventually have a further discussion about this book.

Despite the divergence of opinion there is great camaraderie in our group and there was no difficulty in accepting everyone's opinion.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Meeting of June 27, 2016

This month's book was Betty's choice A House in the Sky - A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett.  It is an account of Canadian independent journalist Amanda Lindhout's kidnapping in Somalia. Our host Linda had wonderful pinwheel sandwiches, cheese and crackers with smoked salmon.  Red and white wine of course, and a very nice New York style cheesecake with tea and coffee. Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.

Ms. Lindhout has been in the news lately because one of her captors has been arrested in Canada by the RCMP and she has also given support to Alison Azer, the Canadian woman whose children were taken to Iran by her former husband.  Betty gave us a synopsis of the press articles that have recently appeared.  For example, Ms. Lindhout agrees that governments should not pay ransom money but she feels that family who choose to raise the money should not be harassed.

We had a very animated discussion about this memoir.  We agreed that the book was very well written, a page turner and as she recounted her experiences, there was not a feeling of "woe is me". It was written with clarity and power. Sara Corbett steered the writing style well.

However, we all felt that Amanda made several poor choices throughout her travels that finished with the worst choice she made when she went to Somalia despite being discouraged by several people including her mother and seasoned journalists.  We all felt that she was naive at best and stupid not to heed the opinions of others.  We disagreed somewhat on the reasons why she kept choosing more and more dangerous countries in her travels. Several were irritated and angry by her poor choices and lack of forethought. Some of us felt she had no real guidance as a child from her mother or her father.  Chaos, violence and uncertainty were the norm in her childhood. Her refuge was found in the National Geographic magazines that she read and she dreamt of seeing the world. For whatever reason, she chose countries that were more and more unstable as if she was convincing herself that nothing would go wrong.

We also discussed her on and off boyfriend, Nigel Brennan.  Few of us liked him, some did, but even though he was older than Amanda, we all felt he had a weak personality and easily manipulated.  He lied several times to avoid conflict with Amanda and other women in his life.  Nigel wrote a book in 2011, The Price of Life, co-written with his sisters.

During her captivity, Amanda was very resourceful and clever.  She used everything available to her to survive, to influence her kidnappers, to stay sane and to allow her to tolerate the indignities, the violence and cruelty she endured.  She convinced Nigel early in their captivity that it was to their benefit to convert to Islam. She requested English versions of the Koran for herself and Nigel. She learned the required prayers.  Until they were separated, she and Nigel befriended the young guards, learned about their life, their goals.  However when they were separated, the guards' attitude towards her changed. She was kept in a dark room, she could no longer read. Any small pleasures she had such as scented soaps, were taken away and Amanda was raped and beaten.  During this period she coped by making mental lists of good experiences she had had; it is at this time that she created "The House in the Sky"  where she could mentally go and find herself with her mother, friends and family.

Amanda and Nigel spent 460 days in captivity and were finally released when their families, with the help of a private organisation, managed to raised enough money to satisfy the kidnappers.  Amanda created the Global Enrichment Foundation that provides Somalian women and girls with the opportunity to empower themselves through education and training.  Amanda spends a lot of her time raising money and awareness for the Foundation.

It is not a book that you "enjoy" however one that allowed us to become aware of the dangers journalists and travelers confront in countries such as Somalia.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Winners of the best book of the year - Academy Award of the Muse & Views Bookclub

Shirley's choice A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Beth's choice Do not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Carla's choice of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Jane’s choice of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Beth's choice of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Betty's choice of Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Betty's choice of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Shirley's choice  for Secret Daughter by Shilpi Soraya Gowda

Shirley's choice for The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Colette's choice for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Michèle's choice for A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Linda's choice for City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre

Jolene's choice for No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

THE Jolene Bale AWARD - Book that inspires encouragement, gratitude, joy, positive influence, acceptance, uplifting, faith, and/or compassion

Shirley's choice - A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Meeting of May 30, ,2016

The book this month was No Relation by Terry Fallis, Linda's choice.  We met at Michèle's new home and she served a fig and walnut dip with vegetables, pear, chèvre and procuitto tarts and a pâté. In honour of Marie Antoinette in the novel, we had a fancy chocolate cake.  Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Jolene, Linda and Michèle were present.

The author Terry Fallis is a Canadian from Toronto who was educated as a mechanical engineer but never practiced.  He developed a career as a political strategist working with politicians both at the federal and provincial levels.  He maintained a blog mainly as a political pundit and at one point decided to try his hand writing a novel.  His first novel, The Best Laid Plans, he self-published and it was later picked up and published by McLelland & Stewart. It won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and won the Canada Reads competition in 2011. He has written to date, 5 novels and is presently working on a 6th novel.

Everyone enjoyed this book, the second novel we have read by Terry Fallis.  It is a funny, insightful novel that tells the story of a man who shares his name with the American author Ernest Hemingway, with a slight difference in spelling Earnest Hemmingway.  He forms a self-help group with other persons who have names of famous persons and together they help each other out with their frustrations that come from sharing a name with a well-known person.  A camaraderie and close friendship develops between the members of the group and their experiences make for funny and often poignant situations.  There is also a second story in this novel about Earnest's family business called Hemmingwear that adds to the complexity of the novel.  All agreed that the book was very enjoyable, easy to read and interesting giving us chuckles and out right belly laughs.

Jolene was intrigued by the cover design that has a bear and a person dressed in a bear costume facing each other.  After some discussion we came to the conclusion that it must represent Ernest Hemingway, the American author who was a bit of a bear in stature and look and who apparently had a real bear as a friend and the principle character of this novel Earnest Hemmingway.

Thank you Linda for a great read!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Meeting of April 25th 2016

Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Linda, Michèle, Shirley were all present, all members of our Book Club were with us. Jane hosted and we had some wonderful cheese, a nice variety of crackers, wonderful compotes and jellies.

Our book this month was The Memory Chalet By Tony Judt, Michèle's choice.  Tony Judt was born London in 1948 of secular Jewish parents who were British Citizens.  He did a B.A. at  Cambridge, then a year at l’École Normale  Supérieure in Paris and then obtained a Ph.D. in History from Cambridge in 1972 specializing in French History.  He taught at several colleges and universities in England and the U.S. before settling in New York in 1987.  He is known for his academic books, essays and he was also a frequent New York Review of Books.

In early 2008 he was diagnosed with ALS and he died in late 2010,  two years after being diagnosed. The Memory Chalet was published after his death.  The book is a memoir,  some saw it as a diary, of his most vivid memories of childhood and life as a student and a young professor. Since ALS robbed him of the ability to write or even type, he would during the night write whole stories in his head and "park" them in one of the rooms of a Chalet he had been to with his parents as a child. In the morning he would retrieve them and dictate them to an assistant.  The idea came to him from Jonathan Spence's book The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci in which Spence describes a method used by European scholars for centuries. Matteo taught the Chinese the Western memory technique which was to associate ideas with images and locate those images in fixed spatial relation to one another.  Hence the Memory Chalet with different rooms that could be filled with memories. 

Most liked the book and found Judt's excellent writing allowed us to visualize the experiences he was describing such as his neighbourhood Putney; Paris as a student in the late 1960's when students were protesting everything and anything; his experience in a kibbutz and his reflections on the positive and negative impact on his life.   He was very honest about and insightful about his life and experiences. We were impressed by the detail of the information he was able to provide, all from memory.  We felt that the preface was just long enough to allow us to understand ALS and how it affected him and then he barely mentionned it through out the chapters describing different aspects of his life.  He finishes with a reference to trains, his favourite mode of transportation.
"We cannot choose where we start out in life, but we may finish where we will. I know where I shall be going nowhere in particular on that little train, forever and ever."
Several of us reflected on the idea that it was his way of seeing eternity. Trains were his favourite place to be.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Meeting of March 21, 2016

Our book this month was The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, Jolene's choice. We met at Carla's home. She served a lovely array of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, topped off the evening with Pavlova and fruit, in honour of Australia, Simsion's home. Shirley, Beth, Carla, Janet, Colette, and Jolene attended.

Simsion has had quite a varied career, ranging from information systems consultant to wine distributor. He holds a PhD in data modeling. He has won several literary awards and is currently finishing a new novel, The Best of Adam Sharp. He and his wife Anne are planning to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, to research a joint book. 

The Rosie Effect picks up where The Rosie Project left off, telling the story of Don Tillman, his wife Rosie, and their friends and family. This time, Rosie is pregnant, and Don gets into all kinds of mishaps as he misreads social cues in his attempt to learn how to be a good father. Problems in his relationship with Rosie abound because he fails to communicate with her, all in a misguided effort to keep from stressing her during her pregnancy. 

Club opinions about the book were evenly divided. On the negative side, some were disappointed with it, especially after enjoying the first book so much. Comments were that this story was frustrating, even stressful, more contrived, less convincing, especially the communication breakdown between spouses. On the positive side, others felt that it was perhaps a mistake to over-analyze the story, that it was more appropriate to enjoy the comic elements and to appreciate Don as a charming, guileless romantic hero with a good heart. All of us were able to connect the characters and events to our own lives to a certain degree, though critics thought the Asperger's elements were overdone, especially in the first half of the novel.

In summary, our club comments seem to reflect quite well some of the professional reviews of the book, where opinions are also varied.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Meeting of February 22, 2016

Product Details

We met at Janet's for a discussion of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Carla's choice. In honour of the Swedish setting of the book, Janet served smoked salmon, Rye-King crackers, and Swedish apple pie, along with a lovely selection of cheeses and hummus. In attendance were Shirley, Janet, Jane, Colette, Jolene, Beth, and Carla, along with Michèle for part of the evening via Skype. Oh, and canine Angel attended to see if she could snag some salmon. Blackie, the Cat Annoyance, put in only a brief appearance.

Carla gave us background on the writer, who has been at various times a truck driver, journalist, blogger, and Sweden's most successful author (according to a vote taken in 2013). Backman's sense of humour is evident in interviews. About his move to writing, Carla quoted him as saying, "I write things. Before I did that I had a real job, but then I happened to come across some information saying that there were people out there willing to pay people to write things about other people, and I thought, 'Surely this must be better than working.'...Not to mention the fact that I can sit down for a living now, which has been great for my major interest in cheese eating." See JPL's Book-in-a-Blog
In addition to A Man Called Ove, Backman has written My Grandmother Sent Me to Tell You She's Sorry and a non-fiction book called Things My Son Needs to Know about the World. In May 2016, Britt Marie Was Here is scheduled for publication, and a movie based on Ove is apparently to be released in December. 
Everyone in the group loved the book, though title character Ove would not care about our opinions since we are not Saab drivers. The novel's appeal lies in its relatability-- we all know people like Ove, who appear unsympathetic at first but can later turn out to be neighbourly "superheroes" when the layers are peeled back. Even when we fail to find redeeming qualities in our curmudgeonly acquaintances, the book reminds us that human beings are complicated, and grumpiness may have its roots in personal tragedy. 

Some in our club found the beginning of the novel a bit tedious and the epilogue unrealistic (wouldn't wife Sonja have found a use for personal wealth in her life time, perhaps helping needy school children?), but we all agreed that Backman has an uncanny knack for dealing with heavy topics, then at just the right moment, adding comic relief to make us laugh out loud. 

The character Ove was first created in a blog, as the author thought about interactions with his own father. Backman says Ove is consistent from beginning to end, a man of rigid principle, and it is the readers' opinions of him that tend to change. Backman explains that comedy arises from Ove's disproportionate reaction to everyday situations. (You might consult the Laurie Grassi interview found here: Fredrik Backman on his best.)

Despite the book's light-hearted tone, our group was prompted to discuss such heavy topics as physician-assisted suicide (an issue current in Canadian politics) and Alzheimer's disease. In the novel, Ove's one-time friend Rune is being forced from his home by White Coats, and Ove will have none of it. 

Thanks, Carla, for a wonderful read. A warm relief as we work our way through this February weather.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Meeting of January 25, 2016

Betty hosted our first book club evening of 2016 at Colette’s house. Janet, Shirley, Carla, Beth, Jolene, Colette, and Betty were in attendance, with Michèle joining us via Skype. Betty served wonderful cheeses and salty/sweet snacks, along with some yummy cinnamon buns and cookies for dessert. We also announced the winner of our favourite club read of 2015—Jane’s choice of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The book under discussion this month was 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Janet chose the book because it is considered a classic in Central and South America, written by an author who won the 1982 Nobel Prize for literature. This was Señor Marquez’s most famous novel. As a pioneer of magic realism, he wrote stories that incorporated natural and supernatural elements seamlessly, using a technique he learned as a child from his grandmother. Janet explained that 100 Years of Solitude tells the entire history of Colombia through the eyes of a dysfunctional family living in the dead-end town of Macondo. The novel’s themes of solitude, war, and violence are common to Latin American culture. The circular, rather than linear, view of time is also obvious, where history recurs over several generations, names are repeated (Aureliano some 21 times), and cultures rise and fall.

Few in the group enjoyed the book. Most found reading it hard work, with the characters unsympathetic and hard to relate to from our North American viewpoint. Some pointed out that they were able to read and analyze the novel at an earlier period in their life with much less difficulty. We did feel that the group discussion was worthwhile, however. All agreed that it is important for us to read literature that stretches us and makes us look at the world from a different cultural viewpoint from time to time; that being said, no one feels the need to re-read this novel any time soon.

To read about Magic Realism in Yann Martel's new book, click here. The High Mountains of Portugal

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Meeting of November 23, 2015

Our host this month is Beth.  Present were Beth, Carla, Colette, Janet, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. The book this month, was Shirley’s choice The Lotus Eaters by Tatjani Soli.

Beth, provided cheese, spicy sausage, a wonderful pho soup and  key lime tartlets.

Born in Salzburg, Austria, Tatjani Soli moved to California to study at Stanford and stayed first making her name as a short story writer. The Lotus Eaters was her first novel.

The story The Lotus Eaters  covers love and obsessions, adultery, war photography, the Vietnam war, American distrust of their government,  shock, descriptions of Vietnam, in every shade of green. It questions if war journalism changes public opinion. Does it mean we become numb to all the violence? Some of the characters in the story are based on real persons. Linh was based on a real Vietnamese spy. Darrow and Helen are based on a journalist and a woman photographer..

Most of us liked the book, all mentioned that they learned a lot about Vietnam, the war, photo journalism. 

We learned a bit about Vietnamese culture and traditions. One of the traditions that stood out was the beautiful courting traditions in Vietnamese villages such as singing to each other from one side of the river to the other.

Ms. Soli was able to bring out the brutality of war, how even those fighting and those present to relay the stories of the war did not think of the suffering of the civilian population and humanitarianism was rarely present in her descriptions.  An example is Helen’s reaction to the child that tries to follow her as she is running through the streets at the beginning of the novel. They did not think of the civilians in a humanitarian way.

Ms. Soli also had very detailed descriptions of living in Vietnam, the culture, the landscape, the moutains, villages, the light where the sun fell.  

Helen, Darrow and Linh were well developed as characters,  Helen who had come to Vietnam in the beginning to find out what had really happened to her brother, becomes obsessed by photojournalism.  She sees herself as someone who can let those at home know what is really happening through her photographs. She is terrorized by all she sees but learns to mask her terror. When she takes a soldier’s picture and he dies minutes later, she just keeps moving.   In an interview Ms. Soli says “the rage that filled her felt good, weighted her like a good meal or a strong drink, felt better than fear. The rage filled her so that nothing else could get in.” Helen was probably suffering from PTSD when she went back to the States. 

Some of us wondered about the title The Lotus-Eaters. It comes from The Odyssey – Book 9.  What happens to those who eat the lotus fruit are as much the journalists and the soldiers.

The ODYSSEY – Book 9

Reluctantly, Odysseus tells the Phaeacians the sorry tale of his wanderings. From Troy, the winds sweep him and his men to Ismarus, city of the Cicones. The men plunder the land and, carried away by greed, stay until the reinforced ranks of the Cicones turn on them and attack. Odysseus and his crew finally escape, having lost six men per ship. A storm sent by Zeus sweeps them along for nine days before bringing them to the land of the Lotus-eaters, where the natives give some of Odysseus’s men the intoxicating fruit of the lotus. As soon as they eat this fruit, they lose all thoughts of home and long for nothing more than to stay there eating more fruit. Only by dragging his men back to the ship and locking them up can Odysseus get them off the island.