Thursday, September 27, 2018

Meeting of September 24th, 2018

The September meeting of Muse & Views was hosted by Michèle. Present were Beth, Colette, Janet, Linda and Michèle.  We were served some wonderful hors d'oeuvres, a fig and walnut spread, spicy olives, small rolls of salami and mini-pizzas, red and white wine of course.  Shirley's wonderful Pot à la crème was served after our discussion with tea for everyone.

This month's book presented by Colette was They Left us Everything by Plum Johnson.  This is a memoir that Ms. Johnson writes as she is emptying the family home after the death of her parents, her father and then her mother.  A process that she thought would take 6 weeks eventually took 16 months. She writes about the toll 20 years of taking care of her parents took on her life, the resentment she felt that it was left to her, the constant trips to the family home from her own home in Toronto to see to her parents needs and whims.  As she goes through each room of her family home, she catalogues everything and she describes life as it was growing up.  We learn of her parents' relationship, the ups and downs, her parents' characters and the impact of their many moves before they settled in the Oakville home.

All of us talked about our own experiences with parents and what they have left us.  Several of us understood her attitude before the death of her parents, the resentment she felt and appreciated the feelings she had while she was slowly going through the house, cataloguing, throwing away, selling her parents' possessions.  Some of us regretted not using the time before to allow our parents and older family members tell of of their lives and putting it on paper so it remains with us and our children and relatives.

We talked of all the articles and advice books that have appeared in the last years on how to deal with aging parents, illness, finances, how to encourage family members to downsize, to get rid of "stuff". Yet this memoir They Left us Everything,  shows how often parents gave us everything, family life, memories, our history.  Ms. Johnson came to appreciate the chance to relive memories of their family life as she cataloged, sold and threw out parts of her family life in the 16 months it took her to finally close the house and sell it.

Many of us saw the house itself as one of the characters as Ms. Johnson went through the house we were able to visualize it both inside and outside.  As she described family gatherings, weddings, parties that were held in the home and in the garden, we could "see" the home as it existed with the family.

We all enjoyed the book, found it brought back memories for some and gave some of us with living parents an new perspective, different that what is usual.  Books may give us ways of dealing with illness, downsizing, finances but our family memories are in our family homes and possessions they have collected.

Thank you Colette for a good recommendation that came originally from Sharon.

Meeting of June 25th, 2018

The June meeting of Muse & Views was hosted by Linda.  Present were Beth, Betty, Colette, Jane, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  This month's book, Brooklyn by Colm Tobin was presented by Beth.

Colm Toibin is an Irish writer currently a professor of Humanities at Columbia University in New York. He is also Chancellor of the University of Liverpool.  He worked several years as a journalist and has written six novels, published two books of short stories and has also published non-fiction books and poetry.  Several of his books reflect on life in Ireland and he has relatives, his grand-father and uncle, who were members of the IRA.

Brooklyn his sixth novel, tells the story of a young woman who is encouraged to move to Brooklyn in the United States so she may have a more productive life.  She battles severe homesickness but eventually adapts, working, taking bookkeeping classes and participating in a social life. She meets an Italian young man and eventually falls in love with him.  When her sister suddenly dies in Ireland, Eilis goes back to Ireland to mourn and eventually finds herself in a dilemma.  Should she stay in Ireland or go back to Brooklyn to Tony who she secretly married before leaving?

Our members all enjoyed the book, found it to be a good enjoyable read.  Mr. Toibin describes well life in a small Irish town, the jealousies, the despair, the limits that were part of many European countries in the 1950's after the war.  When Eilis immigrates to Brooklyn, she lives in a rooming home owned by an Irish woman and much of her life is still rooted in Ireland.  However when she meets Tony who comes from an Italian family, she is exposed the the opportunities of life in America.

We found that Eilis really let life happen to her rather than being proactive.  Her sister arranges for her to meet the priest who will convince her to move to America, she lets her sister make the decision for her.  In America she is influenced by Father Flood and eventually by her boyfriend Tony.  She is easily manipulated not a decisive person.

Colm Toibin's writing is not overly descriptive, he gives us enough information and description of life for us to easily imagine the difficulties of life after the war in Europe and the opportunities of life in America that encourage people to immigrate.  The story was a good read.  It was made into a movie in 2015 and was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  Thank you Beth for an excellent choice,