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.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Meeting of October 26, 2015

Our host this month was Colette. Present were Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda and Michèle. Our book this month was Jane's choice All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The story takes place in France and Colette served some delectable french cheese and mini-omelets inspired by a passage in the book "Eggs crack. Butter pops in the hot pan................all of Marie-Laure's attention is absorbed by the smells blooming around her: egg, spinach, melting cheese."  Colette also served a peach cheese cake again inspired by what Madame Manec served Marie-Laure "....Marie-Laure can hear a can opening juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she's eating wedges of wet sunlight." 

Anthony Doerr is an American author who has written many short stories and published two collections of short stories, a memoir of his time in Rome and two novels.  All the Light We Cannot See is his second novel.  It took him 10 years to write it.  He first started with the idea of telling a story about radio transmission and the wonder of being able to hear someone speak who could be very far away. In a visit to France he visited the walled town of St. Malo and decided to use it as the setting of his story.  He also became interested in all the treasures and art in Paris that were hidden away before the German invasion and incorporated these three subjects into the story. It won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The story has two main characters, Marie-Laure who is a young blind french girl whose father is the locksmith at the Paris Museum of Natural History and who finds herself with her father escaping to the town of St. Malo.  The other character is a young German boy Werner who with his sister are orphans. Werner because of his talent for fixing radios finds himself in a military school for talented boys run by the Nazis. He also finds himself in St. Malo with Nazi officers.

Everyone enjoyed the book. All thought the characters were well developed and that there was no stereotypes, for example, not all Germans are villains. We learn to understand and like both Marie-Laure and Werner. Marie-Laure's relationship with her father is touching.

One of our members summarized the writing and what is encompassed in the story very well. "The writer brought together many currents underlying the war in an original way: industrialization and technology; human talent and creativity; art and historical treasures; love, compassion, bravery and sacrifice, etc. " Thank you Beth.  Also though we all enjoy a happy ending, everyone agreed that the tragic ending of this story was realistic and appropriate.  All in all, a very well written story.

We also discussed the meaning of the title All the Light We Cannot See.  There are references to light and the lack of light in many places in this book.  First of all, Marie-Laure's blindness and in one of the broadcasts about light that Werner and Jutta listen to, there is a revealing description. "What do we call visible light? We call it color. But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible." 

Thank you all for an excellent discussion.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Meeting of September 28, 2015

Muse & Views Bookclub was hosted by Jolene.  Present were Betty, Colette, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  Jolene served smoked salmon and cheese on crackers, wonderful little meatballs and a quite wonderful vodka Mojito in honour of Russia.

The book this month, Colette's choice was Us Conductors by Sean Michaels.  Colette chose it because it won the Giller Scotia Prize in 2014 and the story has a historical significance.  Sean Michaels who now lives in Montreal, grew up in Ottawa and attended Glebe Collegiate. Mr. Michaels created a well-known and well regarded mp3 blog called Said the Gramophone that tracks the rise of new musicians and bands and is credited for opening doors for bands such as Arcade Fire and singers such as Basia Bulat.  Mr. Michaels has also written music reviews for The Globe and Mail, The Wire, The Guardian and the National Post among others.  He has also written travel articles and short stories. Us Conductors is his first novel.

Us Conductors is historical fiction inspired by the life of a Russian Inventor Léon Theremin and a musician Clara Rockmore. Among the many inventions credited to Léon Theremin, his most famous invention is the musical instrument the theremin.  The theremin is considered the first  electronic musical instrument.  It is often used as background music in series such as Midsomer Murders as it's sound can be eerie and project doom.

All members enjoyed the book especially because though the story is fiction, it gave us the opportunity to learn about the Theremin as a musical instrument, about Léon Theremin himself, though as a fiction not everything was true. We also learned about Clara Rockmore and her music and in the second half of the novel, about the Russian prison system.

The book was very well written, as a letter to Clara.  The writing style reminded some of us of a book we read previously Rules of Civility Amor Towles. The first half of this book takes place in the 1920's in New York, in bars and dance clubs as in Rules of Civility. 

We wondered about the title and Jolene as she often does found us a good explanation. To play the theremin you stand in front of the instrument with your hands in air and you move them through the electric current to make the musical sound, as a conductor. As to the "Us" it could be that in our lives we are all conductors.

We all felt it was a positive read and all of us looked up information about the theremin, about the New York Jazz era and about Russia, Léon Theremin and Clara Rockmore.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Books and Meetings 2016

The list will be updated as members choose their books

Monday January 25th -  Janet's book choice One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Betty hosting

Monday February 22nd - Carla's book choice, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Janet hosting

Monday March 21st - Jolene's book choice, The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, Carla hosting

Monday April 25th - Michèle's book choice, The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt, Jane hosting

Monday May 30th - Linda's book choice, Michèle hosting

Monday June 27th - Betty's book choice, Linda hosting

Monday September 26th - Colette's book choice, Jolene hosting

Monday October 24th -  Jane's book choice, Shirley hosting

Monday November 28th - Shirley's book choice, Beth hosting

Monday, July 27, 2015

Meeting of June 22nd 2015

Muse & Views was hosted by Linda at Shirley's home. Present were Beth, Carla, Colette, Jane, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. Linda served some very nice English cheese and a wonderful dessert.

We discussed a classic novel, Beth's choice, The Prime of Miss Jeanne Brodie by Muriel Spark.

She was born Muriel Sarah Camberg in Edinburgh in 1918 and was educated in private schools in Edinburgh. She married Sydney Oswald Spark in 1937 and they moved to Rhodesia shortly after their marriage.  They had a son, Robin, in 1938.  Muriel soon realized that the marriage would not work and left to go back to the United Kingdom in 1944 leaving her son with his father.  She worked in intelligence during the war.  She began writing after the war, beginning with poetry and literary criticism. Her first novel was The Comforters published in 1956.  She published 22 novels. The Prime of Miss Jeanne Brodie published in 1961 was her most successful novel. It was presented as a play and a movie starring Maggie Smith in 1969. Ms Smith won an Oscar for her role as Miss Brodie. After living some time in New York she moved to Italy where she met an artist Penelope Jardine. They lived together in Tuscany until Ms Spark's death in 2006.

Since many of our members are or were teachers, the discussion was mainly about Miss Brodie's teaching methods and the influence she had on her students.  She was a charismatic person, who influenced a particular group, The Brodie girls, and excluded others.  She was able to get away with many indiscretions. It was interesting how much she could manipulate and influence her pupils in comparison with what is possible in today's society.  Miss Brodie had her definite preferences in her pupils and those not in her close circle clearly suffered.  She also more or less ignored the curriculum and taught using her own experiences as examples.  She talked about how she was in her prime and the experiences she had as a woman in her prime.  Some of the sections when she talks of her prime are entertaining and even hilarious.

In the end, one of the book's theme is betrayal.  She betrayed many of her students ignoring some and unduly influencing others to their detriment. And she was betrayed by one of her students. She never discovered who betrayed her.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Meeting of May 25, 2015

Muse & Views was hosted by Michèle. Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  Michèle served two dips, a guacamole and a salmon mousse with crackers and vegetables, wine, red, rosé and white.  We had a lovely Strawberry Cloud for dessert with coffee and tea.

The book discussed this month was Linda's choice, Tell by Frances Itani. She was born in Belleville Ontario and grew up in Montreal where she trained as a nurse.  She has lived in several countries such as Croatia, Germany and Austria.  She speaks English of course, French, German and some Japanese.  She presently lives in Ottawa.

This book, Tell, follows several of the characters of her former book, Deafening, that we read and discussed in September 2013. In Deafening the main character was a young girl, Grania, who is deaf. She is present only through correspondence in this book.  The main characters are two couples, Maggie and Em who have been married 25 years and Tress and Kenan a young couple. Tress is Grania's sister.  Both couples are grappling with marital problems in silence.  There are secrets untold and secrets to tell in this novel.

Kenan has come back from the ravages of World War I with both physical and psychological scars. He refuses to talk to Tress or others, refuses to go out of their home because of the physical damage to his face and body. Ms. Itani gives us an excellent account of the way Kenan's horrific physical injuries are markers for his wounded heart and soul. Tress turns to her aunt Maggie to try to find solutions to Kenan's uncommunicative behavior.

But Maggie has problems of her own with her husband Em.  There are secrets between them not discussed that are revealed only near the end of the novel. Their relationship has withered over the years. Late in the novel we find out that Maggie and Em had a personal tragedy that they have never discussed.  Maggie finds solace in other activities and in the director of the local choral society.

Most members really enjoyed this novel. They enjoyed her writing style, the attention to period detail, the discussion of a new author L.M. Montgomery for example. She describes well life in a small town, what is important to people, how they cope with winter.  There is a good flow to her writing. Some were a bit frustrated by the slowness of the novel at the beginning and some felt the end was a bit rushed.  However all felt that character development was excellent; we know the characters well by the end of the book.

Linda corresponded with Ms. Itani and learned that there will be a third book set after WW II with the same characters. There were several questions that are not answered in Tell that we hope will be answered in the last novel of  the trilogy.