Author: Kim Church
Genre: Literary Fiction
Setting: Carswell, North Carolina | California
Book design by Steven Seighman
Published March 18th 2014 by Dzanc Books
eBook version by Open Road Integrated Media
“Once upon a time, I was pregnant. A baby grew in me. I read to him. Once upon a time, I was a mother.”
When we were younger, we all believed that we were meant to fly. The path that lay before us seem to be limitless and every nook and corner is a possibility and an opportunity waiting for us. As we grow older, however, we come to realize that not every path conforms to our original dreams and aspirations. Some paths lead us to disappointments and regrets, lost love and perhaps even broken friendships. We were also fueled with that reckless, almost innocent impression that whatever we do (or not do) will have consequences that will only affect us and no one else. In reality, this is not true as we will find out sooner or later. As they say, reality bites.
Byrd, Kim Church’s debut novel is a touching and life-affirming story that explores the all-too-familiar instances in which our secrets, actions and decisions shape not only our own lives but our loved ones’ as well. As the characters in Byrd will later find out, life can become unforgiving at times, and the past will always find a way to catch up with us.
In Byrd, we come to know Addie Lockwood and how her life intertwines with Roland Rhodes. Both of them have their own dreams about the life they want to lead, but neither of them makes mention of being together. Their friendship (I’m using this word on purpose instead of intimate relationship as their relationship seem to be quite vague even to both of them) lasts until they graduate high school. They then lead separate lives, trying to make their dreams a reality. When they meet each other again, years later, it leads to a pregnancy that Addie and Roland aren’t quite ready to deal with. While Roland provides a small amount of comfort and care, we come to know that it’s the only thing he can give to Addie. Unknown to Roland, Addie gives their child up for adoption. Mired in a feeling of pervasive loneliness and uncertainty, Addie tries to estrange herself from her family as she tries to make sense of what she has done.
Through alternating point of views, what unfolds is a story about the characters’ present struggles as well as their past. Byrd portrays a cast of characters that are as real as you and me, as well as circumstances that are almost too familiar, affecting us in many ways. While I sympathized with all the characters, I felt an unconditional affection for Addie. She seems to be craving for love yet she doesn’t know that when you force love into your life, it can escape just as easily. Perhaps she is trying to find someone to fill up the space left by the child she gave up. The letters Addie writes to her child made me sad for her and her child as well.
It may all seem too sad to read, but underlying all these struggles and regrets is the message of hope and love. It shows how dealing with life’s problems and accepting love from others (even if we think we don’t deserve it because of our past) become a testament to life itself. Byrd brings us a message that people will always have the tendency to care and forgive in spite of our past. There are lighthearted moments, of course, and while some of the letters from Addie made me sad, there were times too that her humor showed in her letters, and I found myself smiling (and no, Byrd is not an epistolary novel). I also like Addie because of her love for books and her music tastes. A couple of books (mostly classics) and songs were mentioned in Byrd such as Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from my Friends“ (I love this song!) and Joni Mitchell’s “For The Roses“, just to name a few (the rest you have to discover for yourself ;) ).
Kim Church’s writing is straightforward, meaningful and thoughtful. She handled the development of characters quite well as they try to deal with their issues. It took me some time to get used to the shifting point of views but for the most part the story moves along at a good pace. The author’s treatment of the characters and their predicaments were realistic and heartfelt so it was easy to sympathize with the them. I do not know what to make of the ending but I felt hopeful. I am being vague here but only to make certain that future readers will pick up this book to personally experience the story. I wouldn’t say I loved this book but I really liked reading it.
The heart and soul of Byrd revolves around the notion that our decisions and actions can affect other people, especially those closest to us, in more ways than we can ever imagine, but it also fills us with an overwhelming sense of hope. It seems to attest to the fact that life may not be what we always expect it to be, but when things become too difficult we will always have faith, hope and love to hold on to.
Ways of Going Home
Author: Alejandro Zambra
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Genre: Literary Fiction, Latin American Literature, Contemporary Fiction Illustration on title page by Charlotte Strick
Setting: Santiago, Chile
Published January 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux<!--more-->
"It's strange, it's silly to attempt a genuine story about something, about someone, about anyone, even oneself. But it's necessary as well."
- Alejandro Zambra
Before Ways of Going Home, I have not read any book from Alejandro Zambra. I can tell that this is a very personal piece of metafiction which lends voice to writers and explores how their lives are a constant search of what and how to tell a story. His writing is simple but he writes from the heart. There is this sense of sincerity within the lines, made more palpable by his unadorned writing.
The switching perspective, between author and character left me a little confused but I eventually got used to it. This is not, I guess, meant to fault the author. I found out recently that there are some books that I really need time to get into. Mr. Zambra's technique or methods of presenting a story is somewhat different. While most of the books I've read are more 'flowing', Ways of Going Home was a little disjointed for my taste. At times it left me frustrated.
That's not to say that I didn't like this book. His reflections about life and writing are fascinating. I liked how he presented the ambiguities of our youth and how growing up changes us. I guess, for most of us, in our younger years, we have led a life dictated and influenced by our parents and yet inevitably, almost inexplicably, we morph into something completely new and distinct from them. Our opinions may set us apart from them, our preferences may differ, our life views and all the other things we didn't care about when we were children are there for the taking, whether we like it or not.
In the book, the main character's view about his parents vary- ranging from affection and love, to sometimes being incongruous. At times he becomes too critical of his father and mother, making them guilty of things they did in the past. It seems to me that the character in the story is still trying to come to terms with his past, his uncertainties-even his guilt, are directed towards his parents. Mr. Zambra also tackled how our parents' choices are weaved into our lives. A single decision can change everything. This is exemplified in Claudia's life - a character in the first part of the story. She had to endure a life without her father, who had to assume a new identity during Augusto Pinochet's regime. Life those days were tumultuous and violent, and as such people were living in fear. Mr. Zambra believed that this fear was only present in adults at that time- children being spared the 'true' story. In a way, their ignorance and innocence have protected them and in doing so, their lives seem to be 'another' story- completely different from the lives their parents have to face day by day.
It is a tough book to read but there are rewards to be collected from reading it. I find that his insights are universal and timeless. The veracity of the story is palpable all throughout. There's a feeling of nostalgia as he recounts his childhood. Somehow I was reminded of how carefree it is to be a child- oblivious to the world's difficult times and issues, and how everything seems to be an adventure of some sort.
I guess writers will appreciate this book more. In a way, it opened my eyes into the world of writing and how at times a writer struggles and gets 'lost' at some point of the story. It's also evident from the book how personal experiences mold a story they want to tell. In the end though, as Alejandro Zambra said so well, "I knew little, but at least I knew that: no one could speak for someone else. That although we might want to tell other people's stories, we always end up telling our own."
The Light Between Oceans is a timeless, heartbreaking and deeply-moving novel about good people who thrust themselves into a world of confusion, despair and tragedy because of their bad decisions, and who try to redeem themselves at the cost of their loved one's trust and loyalty. What bores into our minds and hearts is the uncertainty of how far they would protect each other and to what extent. This results in a novel that is both thought-provoking and suspenseful, making you want to turn the pages, demanding your full attention.
I like the unhurried pace of the story- slowly building its plot with vivid descriptions of a place and time I will never have the chance to experience. It is in those vivid descriptions that I felt swept up in the story, offering a lucid and distinct world that had my imagination running wild. The attention to detail is evident throughout the book and the author did this very well - thorough and simple, but never boring. By the first few pages, I found myself wanting more, unable to set the book aside. I found myself immersed in the story; engaged in the narrative as the author slowly unfolds the thoughts and motivations of each character. It's fascinating that the author can evoke a variety of emotions so easily from me. I held my breath while a myriad of twists and turns and surprising revelations unfold. I felt the dread and desperation the characters felt when the truth was revealed. I was afraid for them.
I found that the author developed the characters brilliantly. These are rich characters that engage you right from the beginning, and as I saw their 'moral decline', I can't help but be a quiet spectator - joining them in compassionate and sympathetic silence, as if this will help them in any way. I felt a deep connection with these characters and I was really hoping for the best, but also expecting the worst. Somehow it felt like me and the characters were in a dark room together, trying to feel our way with our outstretch hands, trying to catch any hint of light, or in this case, for any sign of redemption. I kept telling myself that these characters are good and how unfortunate it was for them to become tangled in a web of lies because of their circumstances and love for each other. The complexities and transformations each character possesses and undergoes were fascinating. The author has captured their distinct voices, individual characteristics and variety of emotions so well.
It is a great story and M.L. Stedman has told it incredibly well. She has brought together all these elements that make me consider a book to be a great one - a great story, beautiful writing, rich and interesting characters, and a thought-provoking and powerful narrative. I loved how the story affected me emotionally and how it endeared me to the characters, no matter how 'flawed' they'd become. I am not shy to admit that I cried in most parts of the book. The emotions, tragedies, regret and confusion were so real, I had to convince myself that these are not true people, living in our modern times. And that is one thing that made me like this book even more - it is timeless. It makes us think of what we would have done had we been subjected to the characters' circumstances.
The Light Between Oceans is a book to savor and immerse in. It is a compelling and touching story that makes you reflect on your own values and beliefs. While the themes in the book reflect on mistakes and regrets, the book also portrays the power of forgiveness and reminds us that people are essentially good. I loved this book and I highly recommend it.
Original review can be viewed in my blog.
FIRST BOOK FOR 2014
Date Started: January 2, 2014 | Date Finished: January 7, 2014
First lines: I was born a colored man and don't you forget it. But I lived as a colored woman for seventeen years.
Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction | A Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Oprah Magazine Top 10 Book of the Year
Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in Kansas who was ‘rescued’ by John Brown, the famed abolitionist. Because of Henry’s features and clothing, he was mistaken for a girl and was later known as ‘Henrietta’. This eventually became 'Onion' after he ate an onion considered by John Brown as a lucky charm. Onion reluctantly traveled with the Old Man (as Onion calls him) and his army, accompanying them in their incursions. To survive he needed to pretend he was a girl. He ends up liking the advantages of being one, such as not being assigned to do heavy tasks and getting pampered by the Old Man and certain people he meets along the way.
The story follows John Brown in the last years of his life through the eyes of Onion. As the story moves along, we find out that the Old Man’s focus was eliminating slavery through insurrection and violent means. John Brown was much feared by people of that time. His character was developed as a strong and unstoppable presence who inspires hate, adoration and fear in people. Some consider him a madman, a fanatic, a zealot or a martyr, but Onion later sees the Old Man in a different light. The Old Man was kind and accepting like a father, but feared and misunderstood like a wild animal. John Brown was a man of unbridled ambition and enthusiasm, who has a liking to praying for significant amounts of time, and referring to bible verses when lecturing his men and justifying his actions and cause. Through the Old Man’s leadership, sheer determination and perhaps even luck, he managed to lead his small army to some successful missions even in unfavorable conditions. However, his plans were often doubted even by his own sons and allies. In their eyes, he is an impractical and idealistic leader, risking all of his men’s lives through unrealistic decisions and plans. Despite this, a reader may find him/herself drawn to John Brown because of his ideals, way of doings things, and most of all his kindness. You sympathize with him because you know that people betrayed him and he was very dedicated to the cause. John Brown's character makes you wonder to what extent can we dedicate ourselves to a purpose. Are we willing to sacrifice everything for what we are fighting for? How much is enough? Onion often intuited that John Brown’s reckless actions, gullibility and susceptibility to bad luck (even in Onion’s presence) was a portent of the events to come.
The book allowed us to enter Onion’s mind and vision not merely to see the world as he sees it but to also identify with him. In Onion, we see a young man who is constantly debating with himself. There are times when he wants to run away from the John Brown’s army and his cause, but there are also times when his conscience confronts him, making him do the right thing, at least according to him. We also see a young man who has the capacity to love truly and care for another person. We are witness to his heart being broken and privy to the thoughts that inspire his decisions. There were times when Onion had to seek ways out of a dilemma, which often resulted in humorous moments that made me laugh out loud. With its brilliant, somewhat sarcastic dialogue, one can't help but find the book funny at times. Towards the end of the book, and inspired by a chance meeting with the Harriet Tubman, Onion has an inner dialogue where we became a witness to his thoughts about identity. Through these realizations, Onion confronts the enormity of the war he was helping to fight while also questioning what it means to be true to one’s self. I especially liked that part when Onion ran back to Harpers Ferry to join John Brown because for him, it was the right thing to do, even if it means risking his life.
At a very deep level, you can sense hope and faith amidst the struggles encountered by the characters. This is not merely a tale of John Brown and his fight against slavery and the struggles he faced. Most importantly though, at least for me, is that it's a story about the quest for identity where Onion tries to piece together the importance of 'being a man' and being true to yourself. It's also about sacrificing one's self for the greater good. At the end of the story, when John Brown was executed, Onion tells us about people singing John Brown's favorite song "Blow Ye Trumpet" inside a church while a Good Lord Bird circled up above it. The Good Lord Bird as John Brown described it before his execution is a bird that flies alone looking for the right tree to gnaw so as to give life to other trees. One would get the idea then that John Brown's fate wasn't necessarily a failure but something that would give life and motivation to future events.
While reading the book, I felt that I was somewhere else. James McBride’s writing has the ability to transport you into a new world and a different time, while engaging you with the story through the characters and events that transpire. Onion is a unique and original character. Surely he will linger in the minds of many a readers after they are done reading. The book makes you reflect on big issues about life and survival while providing insights about slavery, gender, racism and faith. This book propelled me to a world of adventure and suspense, while teaching me a thing or two about American history, but also of the importance of being true to yourself. The Good Lord Bird tells a great story and tells it brilliantly. What a great read!
Date Started: December 27, 2013 | Date Finished: December 31, 2013
First lines: First the colors. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.
My friend, how do books make you cry? Is it the empathy you feel towards the characters? Is it a certain subject that seem vague yet detestable at the same time? Is it the relationships that come and go as the story progresses? Or is it the words that bear witness to a beautiful story?
This book brought tears to my eyes. In my case, rarely can a book do that multiple times. Why then was this possible? How can I start describing a book that affects you in that way without being over-sentimental or trite?
This is the story of a young girl living with her foster parents in Germany during World War II. Narrated by Death himself, we come to know about Liesel Meminger, the book thief. The novel relates to us her life, her relationships and the unrelenting suffering she and the people around her endure. We see the story of German civilians who were as much at risk as their 'enemies'. Despite this and the weighty subject of war and the Holocaust, the novel strives to bring to us the stories of the people at the time - the dangers they face, the choices they make and the love they share. While there are depressing tones in the novel, hope and goodness triumphs.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing thing about the novel is the narrator: Death. One would wonder why the author chose someone or something that most people fear so much. Yet Death, as we will later know, is an excellent observer, impartial, hardworking, someone (or something) capable of sympathy, and dare I say, not at all bad even with that 'threat' in the beginning of the novel. Now that let's you wonder. How can that be? Is Death capable of such things? Is he/she/it capable of empathy, humor, crying and appreciation of beauty? That fact in itself intrigued me.
The characters of the book were all memorable. They were rich and real. As a reader, we come to know the characters more than they know about each other. You feel that connection with them you can perhaps describe but never enough. Both their sufferings and triumphs are yours to feel. You empathize and care for them. Words are indeed powerful. With Markus Zusak's novel, his words encompassed a world of such character, one might ask if he was even there- if he knew these people.
I loved the idea that Liesel learned to read because of her foster father. Determined, Liesel stayed up at night together with Hans Hubermann, to learn how to read- slowly but surely. Then you realize that this love for reading, coupled with encouragement by the Jew they were hiding, eventually fuels her love for writing. In the end, words saved her. Literally. Can we really understand the complexities of words? How they create and destroy at the same time? Their power can never be underestimated, which is especially true if these words are spoken by those who know how to manipulate words.
Liesel is the center of the story but I especially love the character of Hans Hubermann. And why not? He is the epitome of love, kindness and good sense in the world where they lived in. An accordion-playing man, Hans teaches Liesel how to read and gives her the acceptance and love a young girl needs. That same man hides a Jew in the basement to fulfill a promise made so long ago. In my eyes, Hans is the perfect example that men are essentially good. Not only does Hans Hubermann show this, but even his wife, Rosa. Rosa can be foul-mouthed but deep inside, she is good and beautiful. Their love for Liesel were not shown in the same way; Hans being the kindly father that he is, and Rosa ever so generous with her name-calling and curses.
Perhaps I'm being too detailed with this review but let me just say that this a terrific book simply because it allows us to confront the difficult past, real emotions and the complexities of life. I think the book's appeal lies in the fact that it is so true to life, right down to the joys and sufferings, the innocence of the children and emotions they feel. Surely emotions are not standardized or set by race, color or gender. This book gives us a different perspective of the war. We are witnesses to the destruction and horror in World War II, but this novel isn't about the Holocaust or the war itself. It is a story of people trying to survive in that war, no matter what side they're in.
In my hands was a literary marvel whose words have the ability to thrust you into a world where the characters are alive and the emotions so blatantly real. Markus Zusak has woven perfect patterns with his words. His writing is beautiful and profound. The story holds you right from the start. Truly unforgettable, no doubt about it.
A book to be devoured and treasured. This book has now become one of my favorite books of all time.
Date Started: December 16, 2013 | Date Finished: December 26, 2013
First Line: Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being.
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize
Date Started: January 22, 2013 | Date Finished: January 24, 2013
First line: I'm on Kauai, in Hawaii, today, Friday, August 5, 2005.
"What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" by Haruki Murakami is my third book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 7 hosted by Dolce Belleza.
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Winner of the 2010 "Best New Series" Eisner Award | Winner of the 2011 "Best Continuing Series" Eisner Award | Nominated for the 2011 "Best Writer" Eisner Award | Nominated for the 2011 "Best Penciller/Inker" Eisner Award
Date Started: November 30, 2013 | Date Finished: December 5, 2013
First line: I know that some of you reading this are convinced humans are a myth, but I am here to state that they do actually exist.