Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Meeting of March 25th, 2019

The March meeting was hosted by Colette.  Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  Colette had some wonderful cheese and crackers,  lovely savoury puff pastry hors d'oeuvres, a scrumptious amoretto cheesecake and of course, wine, coffee and tea.

This month's book presented by Betty was The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman.  Ms. Wiseman is a first generation American, her family immigrated to the U.S. from Germany.  The Plum Tree was her first novel, published in 2012.  It was inspired by the stories her mother told her of life in Germany during World War II. She has since written 3 more novels.

The Plum Tree follows a young working class woman and her family as they struggle through the chaos and devastation of World War II in Germany.  Before the war, Christine and her mother worked for an affluent Jewish family, the Bauerman's in their village and she falls in love with the young man of the family, Isaac.  As the war begins, she and her mother are forbidden from working for the Jewish family. Christine and Isaac try to see each other in secret but it eventually becomes impossible and dangerous and as the war continues, the Bauerman's are taken to the Concentration Camp, Dachau. The story chronicles the difficult life of her family and Christine's constant search for Isaac.

Members thought the book was a good read and found it interesting to have a story from the perspective of a German family.  There was a lot of detail about daily life during the war, the rations, the struggle to keep a kitchen garden so that vegetables and fruit were available for the family.  We learn what the family ate, the rye bread that the mother made, the eggs they gathered from the hens they managed to keep, the goat's milk they diluted to ensure everyone in the family had their ration.  Plum trees in the garden provided preserves in the winter.

There is significant description of the destruction of towns and villages, the air raids and shelters where villagers gathered when the Allied planes dropped their bombs.  There were also some horrendous scenes described from Dachau.

Some members expressed scepticism with respect to the love story since Christine and Isaac had little time together.  However one of our members told the story of her parents who knew each other for only a few months before her father was sent Europe during the war and their love grew and endured the long absence.  They also felt it was a bit incredulous that Christine could travel back to Dachau to look for her father and the plot that was concocted to prove Stefan's (a SS officer from their village) involvement in the atrocities committed in Dachau.  It did however add a lot of drama to the story.

The story does have a happy ending that is important for some of our members however we felt that it ended too quickly, everything tied up in a ribbon type of ending.  Though it could have been better edited, we felt it was a good first novel.  Thank you Betty for a good choice this month.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation from The Arsonist to A Boy of Good Breeding

The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire

The Stars Are Fire Alias Grace Sanctuary Line
The Hatbox Letters Letters from Wingfield Farm A Boy of Good Breeding

The starter book this month is The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper, a non-fiction book based on the devastating fires of 2009 in Australia’s Victoria State. It is the hunt for a fire-lighter. The Arsonist has been long-listed for Australia’s Stella Prize for the best book of the year written by a woman. It is not yet available in North America.

The obvious book to follow is our most recent read, The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. The book, though fiction, begins with an account of the 1947 fires in the U.S. state of Maine that destroyed 9 coastal towns, over 800 homes and left 2500 people homeless. It tells the story of a young wife, Grace, who does not know if her husband has survived the fires but she manages to thrive despite losing her home and the baby she was carrying.

What a lovely name, Grace, and that takes us to Margaret Atwood’s book Alias Grace, the tale of Grace Marks who has been convicted of killing her employer and his mistress. Though the book is fiction it is based on a true story of Grace Marks’ involvement in the killing of her employer in a Canadian town. Was Grace involved in the murder or simply an unwilling accomplice? But Grace has no memory of the day her employer was murdered and during her incarceration Dr. Jordan tries to bring back her memories of that day.

Memory is complicated and in Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart, Liz Crane has come back to live on the orchard farm once owned by her family. As she reflects on recent and past tragedies that have affected her family, she questions her memory of events and what others have told her. She wonders if her assumption of her idyllic safe childhood is reality.

Continuing on the theme of memory, in Beth Powning’s The Hatbox Letters, Kate Harding is having a difficult time moving forward and picking up the pieces of her life after the sudden death of her husband. In boxes of old letters and memorabilia from her grandparents’ 18th century home, she begins to see how the past is keeping her from moving on and creating a new life for herself.

Taking a completely different route, we link the next book by the title to Letters from Wingfield Farm by Dan Needles. This is a story of a stockbroker, Walt, who ditches his high finance life to work a farm on the edge of the Canadian Shield. He chronicles his adventures by writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper. As he struggles to make a life for himself and questions if he really belongs on the farm, the small community he lives in comes to life.

In Miriam Toews A Boy of Good Breeding, Knute moves from the city back to her small hometown of Algren with her daughter and life in small town Canada which allows Knute to understand where she truly belongs.

So this month we have gone from fires in Australia and the U.S., to the complications and effects of memories, to life-changing decisions. This month Michèle managed once again to link to books we have read as part of the Muse and Views Book Club but have not been previously used in the Six Degrees meme.

If you wish to see how others connected The Arsonists, visit the Six Degrees Blog