THE HUNGRY GHOSTS

SHYAM SELVADURAI

“In Sri Lankan myth, a person is reborn a peréthaya [hungry ghost] because, during his human life, he desired too much” When his father died,six-year-old Shivan’s mother and sister moved with him into his maternal grandmother’s house. Daya was an angry and demanding woman who refused to talk to her daughter. Shivan, the grandson, became the golden boy, the reason she would take the family in. While he soaked up his grandmother’s recounting of ancient Buddhist tales about ghosts who haunt their future selves until past wrongs are redeemed, Shivan also chafed against her hold on him as he aged. He persuaded his mother to move the family to Canada, as much to get away from Daya as to flee the escalating conflict in Sri Lanka. Not that he could really escape—neither his grandmother nor his troubled country were anywhere near finished wreaking havoc in Shivan’s life. On an extended visit back to Sri Lanka, Shivan was taking over his grandmother real estate business until his grandmother had his lover killed.

Ghosts is a well written book. But when Shiven’s affair with Michael goes south I wanted to tell the young men to grow up. It could have used some paring down.

MISCHLING

AFFINITY KONAR28664920

Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz physician who not only sent countless men, women and children to the gas chambers, but also performed grotesque experiments on selected prisoners — especially twins, whom he eagerly sought out upon arrival. Konar makes the emotional lives of her two spirited, twin narrators piercingly real, as they recount, in alternating chapters, the story of their efforts to survive: Pearl, once the more outgoing of the sisters, becomes more methodical, more focused on memories to get through each day; while Stasha grows feistier and more cunning — “a creature capable of tricking her enemies and rescuing her loved ones.”

Once inseparable, the twins are broken in different ways by Mengele’s repulsive experiments, which damage Stasha’s hearing and sight; and leave Pearl in an isolated cage, her ankles snapped and her feet smashed.

Mischling is a dark book but light radiates in the girls’ strength and will to survive. It’s a great read.

Forgiveness “did not remove my pain or blunt my nightmares. It was not a new beginning. It was not, in the slightest, an end. My forgiveness was a constant repetition, an acknowledgment of the fact that I still lived; it was proof that their experiments, their numbers, their samples, was all for naught — I remained, a tribute to their underestimations of what a girl can endure. In my forgiveness, their failure to obliterate me was made clear.”

Mischling (“mixed-blood” in German) was the German legal term used in Nazi Germany to denote persons deemed to have both Aryan and Jewish ancestry.

THE WONDER

EMMA DONOGHUEimgres

Wonder like Donoghue’s previous novel, The Room, is about the lengths a person will go to protect a child. Lib, an English nurse, trained by Florence Nightingale, is hired to see if Irish girl, Anna O’Donnell, said to have gone four months without sustenance, is truly fasting. Anna, the 11-year-old daughter of a poor farmer in a desperately poor region, is surviving (her family claims) on a diet of water and prayer. Lib’s task is to watch over her to see whether she is telling the truth. She’s to report her findings to a committee of local people eager to refute criticisms that their community is perpetrating a backwater fraud. They want to believe that, in these years of privation and difficulty after the potato famine, they’re witnessing a genuine miracle.

In an author’s note, Ms. Donoghue explains that the novel was inspired by several dozen cases of the so-called Fasting Girls in Europe and North America, who claimed to go for long stretches of time with no food.

The ending is great! An excellent read.

THE UNQUIET DEAD

unquietAUSMA ZEHANAT KHAN

An unusual death.   A man fell off a cliff. But was it an accident, a suicide, or a murder. Who was Christopher Drayton? A wealthy patron of the arts, supporting the new museum of Andalucia, the Spanish state with most Moorish influence. But could he be Drazen Krstic, the driving force behind theSrebrenica massacre of 1995, in the genocidal war that followed the break up of Yugoslavia. Esa Khattak, head of Toronto’s Community Policing Section, and Rachel Getty, his sergeant, handle minority sensitive cases, are tasked to find a solution to this case.

This a great mystery. Don’t miss it. I want to read more of her books. Her next is the Language of Secrets.

This is a LINK to a Bosnian woman’s victim’s statement to a UN’s inquest. Khan had an extensive author’s note at the end of the novel.

SAD PENINSULA

MARK SAMPSON

The sad peninsula is Korea. Invaded and colonized by Japan in 1910, Koreans were forced to become Japanese in language and custom. One of the worst atrocities was the imprisonment and rape of young girls as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers. Eun-young was a Korean comfort woman sent to China. She was repeatedly raped and tortured as many as 35 times a day.The narrative relies less on sex and more on her emotions, what she thought about, day-to-day events, her relationship with her close friend and their struggle for survival.  Sad is a difficult read but it is important that these stories are told. Eun-young’s story is balanced by the story of Michael, a Canadian man teaching English in present day Korea. He meets and falls in love with the niece of Eun-young.

This was published the day I finished the novel. Check out some of the links. And read the book.

Reparations for the “comfort women”

Yong Soo Lee, a Korean woman forced into sexual slavery by Japanese forces, in Virginia to raise awareness on behalf of fellow survivorsSarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

  • Japan has reached an agreement with South Korea to apologize and provide restitution for the widespread, systematic kidnapping and rape of so-called “comfort women” by the Japanese Army during World War II. [The Diplomat / Yuki Tatsumi]
  • If you aren’t familiar with the stories of the “comfort women,” these testimonies from a UN report, compiled by NPR’s Elise Hu, are a horrifying, but necessary, place to start. [NPR via Tumblr / Elise Hu]
  • As Vox’s Max Fisher explains, the horrific treatment of the “comfort women” was easily swept under the rug after the war: by Japan, by the Allies, and by Korea itself (women were often blamed for their own rapes). [Vox / Max Fisher]
  • It took until 1993 for Japan to issue a formal apology to South Korea — and that apology ended up prolonging the controversy, as Japanese conservatives pushed back against it and claimed that South Korean women were volunteers. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan]
  • Japanese nationalism is, if anything, more prominent now than it was then. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been relatively unapologetic for Japan’s behavior during the war, and has rolled back many of the isolationist policies that were designed to protect Japan from returning to the imperialism of its past. [Washington Post / Max Fisher]

US CONDUCTORS

us conSEAN MICHAELS

Us Conductors , is a fictionalized account of the mid-section of Termen’s life. Dubbed the “Russian Edison” for his brilliant, wide-ranging innovations with electricity, Léon Termen née Lev Sergeyvich (1896-1993) invented the electronic instrument known as the theremin by chance while working on an early motion sensor prototype. Beginning and ending in the Soviet Union, the novel’s prime focus is the decade Termen spent enjoying the fruits of capitalism in Depression-era New York, where his invention made him, for a time, the toast of the town. Termen lived at the Plaza Hotel, hobnobbed with Einstein and Glen Miller, and — in Michaels’ telling at least — danced and drank till dawn at the speakeasies that flourished during Prohibition. That Michaels has Termen narrate much of the novel from the hold of a Russia-bound cargo ship on which he’s held captive on the eve of the Second World War offers a nudge that the good times didn’t last.

The cornerstone of Michaels’ story is Termen’s unreciprocated love for fellow Russian émigré Clara Rockmore, the theremin’s beautiful foremost virtuoso. (All that’s really known of their relationship is that Termen proposed to her, and was turned down.) Michaels sometimes overplays the geek card here: “It was you I felt in my electromagnetic field,” he moons.

There’s no mistaking the pride in Michaels’ Author’s Note declaration that Us Conductors is “full of distortions, elisions, omissions, and lies.” Most readers, however, won’t know where the truth ends and the lies and omissions begin.

Termen’s biography abounds with enough improbable elements that it hardly requires fictional enhancements. In 1938, he was reportedly abducted from his New York studio by Soviet agents and sent — unbeknownst to his friends and wife, the African-American dancer Lavinia Williams — to perform hard labour in a Siberian gulag as an enemy of the state (which he wasn’t). Later, he was moved to a science prison, where he helped develop espionage technology, including the bugging device known as “The Thing”: a wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States that hung conveniently inside the American Embassy after it was presented to the ambassador by Russian schoolchildren.

Us conductors won the Giller Prize. It is a must read.

I borrowed much of this review from the Toronto Star.

ISLAND OF A THOUSAND MIRRORS

nayomi-munaweer_1368278394NAUOMI MUNAWEERA

When a dark cloud of racism descends on a country you know only pain suffering will follow. Island tells the story of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the majority Buddhists against the minority Hindus Tamils. “They are taking our land. They are taking our jobs. They are darker than us. They should go back where they came from.” Similar words to other racists situations. Yasodhara Rajasinghe; her sister, Lanka; and their best friend, Shiva, grow up in the same house in Colombo — the Sinhala (Buddhist) girls downstairs and the Tamil boy upstairs, in a partition that matches their island’s. When the Tamil family first occupy the top floor their is much strife but as time passes the families grow to love each other. Of course the children see no difference between the two households. When the violence that has stayed latent finally explodes, the residents of the house are thrown to the wind, navigating difficult, self-consciously new lives in the United States.  But the reader is taken back to Sri Lanka where Saraswathi, a Tamil teenager is brutally attacked by Sinhala soldiers. Damaged goods, no man would marry her, she would only bring shame to her family. Her parents take her to become a soldier of the Tamil Tigers. The two stories are brought together in an explosive ending.

I enjoyed learning about the civil war in Sri Lanka. Well written, Island is a good read.

 

 

WHEN THE EMPEROR WAS DIVINE by JULIE OTSUKA and THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by TAN TWAN ENG

emperorThe synchronisity of books. Divine is about the internment of Japanese-America citizens during world war two. I enjoyed the simplicity of the writing. It starts with a woman seeing a sign in a window as she was returning a book to the library. When she got home she started packing. At first the reader does not know what is happening or why. The father, who has always been a dapper man, is taken at night. Not allowed to dress he is forced to leave in his pajamas. They don’t see her husband or their father again until after the war, over three years. At first the family is housed in a converted stable in San Francisco. Later they are taken to a camp in the desert where it is hot, dry and dusty all the time. The boy, only 7 when his family is forced from its home. He passes his days in the camp playing marbles and Chinese checkers — or ”cops and robbers and war. ‘ Kill the Nazis! Kill the Japs!'” Otsuka isn’t shy about showing how the children become caught up in the anti-Japanese hysteria. She’s frank as well about the family members’ efforts to erase all trace of Japanese character or culture as they succumb to the complex shame of being falsely accused.  Before they left the mother prepared her family for departure: burying the family silver, destroying all Japanese memorabilia (kimonos, tea sets, opera records, letters from relatives in Japan), disposing of the family pets. Divine is a good book but there are several Canadian books on the same subject that are much better, for instance Obasan by Joy Kogawa.

garden-of-evening-mistsThen I picked up Evening Mists, which is about a British-Malasian woman Yun Ling Teoh who’s family was incarcerated during WWII by the Japanese. Her sister was immediately selected to be a “comfort woman”; what a horrible euphemism for a condition of repeated forced rape. One of the officers said that she was one of the lucky ones. That the comfort women in larger centres had to service many times more men. The main character worked in the kitchen and would steal left overs from officers plates. When she was caught the officer cut off two fingers from her dominant hand. Many men and women died in the camp and more came to replace them. They were digging mines. The women were carting stones away by hand to dump them. When the war ended, the guards forced all the prisoners into the mines and blew them up. Ling escaped because she had become a translator for the camp officials. After the war she set out to acutalize her sister’s dream of creating a Japanese garden. She went to the Malaysian highlands to request Aritomo, who had been the emperor’s gardener to help her build a garden for her sister. He refuses but told her he will teacher her by having her work for him in his garden. The garden called Evening Mists is where she learned about the art of borrowed scenery, “taking elements and views from outside a garden and making them integral” to the garden itself. Evening Mists was the masterpiece of Aritomo, who eventually helps heal the trauma of her imprisonment. She goes on to study law and becomes the second female judge in Malaysia. Evening Mists is a book I highly recommend.

LOVERS AT THE CHAMELEON CLUB

les-coupleFRANCINE PROSE

Lovers captures the bohemian art scene in the ’20s and ’30s, as well as the dark days that followed. Louisianne “Lou” Villars, a talented athlete, travels to Paris as a teenager, hoping to someday compete in the Olympics, but after her coach sexually assaults she ends up checking coats at the Chameleon Club, famed around the city for its gender-defying patrons and cabaret. She is thrilled to find out  that at the club and beyond she can dress like a man. Lou is based on Violette Morris who was photographed with her lover, became a race car driver and eventually worked for the nazis. There is a cast of characters to tell the story: the visionary and egotistical photographer Gabor Tsenyi; Lily de Rossignol rich from the auto manufacturing of her gay husband and Gabor and Lou’s benefactress; and Nathalie Dunois, Lou’s biographer. But the novel goes on too long — it would have been better if it had been better edited but still worth the read.

le-monocle-via-civilly-unioned

CUTTING FOR STONE

cutting-for-stone220ABRAHAM VERGHESE

Marion and Shiva Stone are born one sultry day in 1954 in Addis Ababa, the same day their mother — a nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise — dies of complications from her hidden pregnancy. The boys are conjoined at the skull, separated at birth, still they feel an amazing connection. The twins are raised by Dr. Kalpana Hemlatha, a strong willed woman known as Hema, and Dr. Abhi Ghosh, both immigrants from Madras and both doctors at the hospital where the boys’ natural parents also worked. Missing Hospital, it’s called: “Missing was really Mission Hospital, a word that on the Ethiopian tongue came out with a hiss so it sounded like ‘Missing.’ ” They grow up amid the political turmoil of Ethiopia. They both learn medicine beside their parents, Marion along side his surgeon father, Shiva with his gynecologyst mother. In 1979 Marion flees, first to Nairobi and finally to New York, where he qualifies as a surgeon. Shiva, too, goes into medicine, specializing in treating vaginal fistula, for which work he is acclaimed. In New York Marion finds his long lost father the famous transplant surgeon Thomas Stone, who fled at their birth and the death of his lover Sister Mary Joseph Praise.

“How beautiful and horrible life is, Hema thought; too horrible to simply call tragic. Life is worse than tragic.”

“My father, for whose skills as a surgeon I have the deepest respect, says, “The operation with the best outcome is the one you decide not to do.” Knowing when not to operate, knowing when I am in over my head, knowing when to call for the assistance of a surgeon of my father’s caliber–that kind of talent, that kind of “brilliance,” goes unheralded.”

Stone is a great read. You learn a lot about Ethiopia and medicine.

THE VISIONIST

visionRACHEL URQUHART

Polly Kimball “accidentally” sets fire to her family’s farm, killing her father. To escape from whatever fate awaits her, Polly and her younger brother Ben are sent by their mother to live in the Shaker community, City of Hope. Shakers would take in children under the condition that they must remain in the Shaker community and follow the strict Shaker rule. It’s Massachusetts, 1842, a high point in the Shaker culture. It’s not long after Polly’s arrival that she finds a kindred soul in Sister Charity, a young Shaker outsider with mysterious marks covering her body. For the first time ever, Polly thinks that she might find the peace that she has always been looking for. But what the girl doesn’t know is that Simon Pryor, a fire inspector, is searching for her and other survivors of the Kimball farm fire. He works for a rich land owner who wants to take over the land so he can profit from it by selling it to a miller who can use the stream flowing through it. He needs to find Polly’s mom to purchase the land cheaply.

The Visionist is an excellent read, a page turner at times.

KOLIA

kolia

PERRINE LEBLANC

Kolia was born in one of the infamous Soviet labour camps in Siberia when Stalin was dictator. He “had the remarkable good fortune of remaining with his mother until she disappeared, which might explain how he learned to express himself with something other than primal noises and to piss standing up like the men who lived around him.”  After the disappearance of his mother, Kolia meets Josef, a fellow gulag resident, who teaches him to read and write in Russian and French, rudimentary calculus and “how to survive in the shithouses of the U.S.S.R.” Eventually Josef  disappears, too, and Kolia,  a teenager, is alone. “He still didn’t look quite like a man. In fact, it was difficult to determine Kolia’s age. He knew absolutely nothing about society and its conventions.” After the death of Stalin Kolia and others are released from prison to integrate into society. He ends up in Moscow and becomes a successful circus clown.

The rise and fall of the USSR is an interesting back story for Kolia. It is a good read.

 

THE ORENDA

JOSEPH BOYDENboyedn

o·ren·da:   a supernatural force believed by the iroquois Indians to be present, in varying degrees, in all objects or persons, and to be the spiritual force by which human accomplishment is attained or accounted for.

Boyden describes the forces that led to the decimation of Canada’s First Nations culture. The novel is set in is set in mid-17th-century Huron territory, during a period of brutal skirmishes between the Huron and the Iroqouis, just as the Catholics launch their campaign to convert aboriginal peoples. The story is told by three rotating voices. The vengeful Bird, whose beloved family was murdered by the Iroquois; the equally vengeful Snow Falls, the Iroquois girl he kidnaps partly to assuage this loss; and Christophe, sent by his superiors in New France to convert the natives. The novel opens in winter, and with bloodshed. The great Wendat – Huron – elder and warrior, Bird, massacres a party of Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, and kidnaps a young girl. She is called Snow Falls, and Bird, haunted by the slaughter of his own wife and children at the hands of his arch-enemy years before, insists on making her his own  child. “She contains something powerful,” he thinks. This seems to have been a common practice at the time. Also taken as prisoner was a “Crow,” or Jesuit, who the Haudenosaunee party had been escorting home to torture to death.  Bird finds him “big, thick through the chest and clearly strong,” he asks, “is he not the most awkward man I’ve ever met?” Snow Falls, carried by the big Jesuit through the snow, is neither grateful nor impressed. When the “other prisoner” bends over her, “he smells so bad that I want to throw up, his breath stinking like rotted meat.” She wants to kill Bird in revenge and be rid of the foul-smelling Crow.  The priest believes the native peoples are less than human. “Forgive me, Lord, but I fear they are animals in savagely human form.”

This page turner is a must read for all.

The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

junot190JUNOT DIAZ

Oscar, who’s family is front and centre of the novel, is “not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about — he wasn’t no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy.” Oscar is a fat, self-loathing dweeb and aspiring science fiction writer, who dreams of becoming “the Dominican Tolkien.” He’s one of those kids who tremble with fear during gym class and use “a lot of huge-sounding nerd words like indefatigable and ubiquitous” when talking to kids who could barely finish high school. He moons after girls who won’t give him the time of day and enters and leaves college a sad virgin. He wears “his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber”; he “couldn’t have passed for Normal if he’d wanted to.”

Oscar’s beautiful sister, Lola — a “Banshees-loving punk chick,” becomes “one of those tough Jersey dominicanas” who order men about. Yunior, Oscar’s college roommate and Lola’s onetime boyfriend, do their best to try to get him to shape up. They try to get him to eat less and exercise more, to leave his dorm room and venture out into the world. Oscar makes a halfhearted effort and then tells Yunior to leave him alone. He goes back to his writing, his day-dreams, his suicidal thoughts. Yunior begins to think that Oscar may be living under a family curse, “a high-level fukú”, which has doomed him, like his mother, to lasting unhappiness in love.

There is a lot of Dominican Republic history, especially the dictator Trujillo: “Homeboy dominated Santo Domingo like it was his very own private Mordor; not only did he lock the country away from the rest of the world, isolate it behind the Plátano Curtain, he acted like it was his very own plantation, acted like he owned everything and everyone, killed whomever he wanted to kill, sons, brothers, fathers, mothers, took women away from their husbands on their wedding nights and then would brag publicly about ‘the great honeymoon’ he’d had the night before. His Eye was everywhere; he had a Secret Police that out-Stasi’d the Stasi, that kept watch on everyone, even those everyones who lived in the States.”

This novel earned Diaz the Pulitzer Prize. An excellent read.

 

THE PLUM TREE

plumELLEN MARIE WISEMAN

Christine Bolz is a young German woman in love with her employer’s son Isaac Bauermen, a young Jewish man. The date is 1938, just before World War II. Unfortunately the author gets bogged down in long descriptions of the town and its citizens delaying the time the narrative gets to the meat of the matter. So skim the first half of the book. It gets interesting when Isaac is take away by the Nazis. He is brought back to his hometown to do forced labour. Christine helps Isaac escape and hides him in her attic without letting her family know what she is doing. The house gets searched as all houses in the village are. Isaac is not found. But months later the nazis are back for another search and he is found. Both of the young lovers are sent to the SS‘s death camp at Dachua. Christine is assigned to clean and cook for Jorge Grunstein one of the commanders. She spends the day cleaning, gardening and cooking for the Lagarkommandant. Grunstein relays to her is story of trying to tell the world about what was happening to the Jews in the death camps but no one would listen.

amenGrunstein’s story is much better told in the movie AMEN by the wonderful director Costa-Gavras. The book is about a young woman. The movies is about Grunstein. The movie is a must see. The book is alright.

LONG LEGS BOY

boyBENJAMIN MADISON

When Modou’s parents are both dead from AIDS and his entire village is decimated he seeks help from an African  holy man, Alhaji, who takes care of boys who have no parents. Of course there are chores for all the orphans but there are also lessons to teach them the Koran. Reba Brecken, country director for Rights for Kids Coalition comes to their compound to check that the boys are being well taken care of. She believes the children should not have to work, and that they should be with their families. Unfortunately she is blind to the reality of life in Africa. News of another man who helps boys in need that his compound had been shut down and the boys sent off to various villages, Alhaji decides to move the boys to the capital. In the city the boys have no work so they must go beg to help support themselves. But the government doesn’t like street kids and rounds them up and dumps them at various villages after beating them. Most of them slowly and painfully make their way back to the capital. Modou has the gift of speed. He whizzes through the market earning money by quickly delivering messages and packages. He is also so fast that he can avoid the police who look foolish being unable to catch him. He earns the name Toofas (Toofast) and becomes a creature of myth and legend.

The part of the story where Modou becomes a rallying figure for rebel forces is overdone and unbelievable. But the rest of the novel is great. It highlights how the best meaning aid worker can create an even bigger problem by not comprehending the whole picture. A cautionary tale.

A must read.

THE HEADMASTER’S WAGER

 lam2 lam3VINCENT LAM

Percival Chen (Chen Pie Sou) is the headmaster of the  Chen Academy of English in Cholon, just outside of Saigon. It is a most successful business, especially after the school gets American accreditation.  A Chinese expatriate from Shantou, Percival has done well, first in his father’s rice trade, then in the business of English lessons. He is fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage. When his son, Dai Jai, becomes involved with one of the school’s female students, Percival warns Dai Jai of the deceitful nature of such Annamese women. He reminds Dai Jai that the two of them are wa kiu, overseas Chinese, who, no matter where they go in the world, must remain Chinese. He must marry a Chinese woman. Foolishly Dai Jai proclaims his Chinese patriotism in school refusing to take state mandated Vietnamese language lessons. Percival cannot both keep the boy in Vietnam and keep him safe. Believing it is for the best, Dai Jai is sent away to China at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Chen’s gambling addiction is revived with out his son. In a game of majong he wins the most beautiful prostitute Jacqueline. A mixed race Vietnamese her exotic beauty entrances Chen. He tries to stay on the political sidelines but inevitable is pulled into American War. When he finds out the truth about his young lover, his world falls apart.

An engaging look at the lives of Chinese people living in Vietnam and the culture of Vietnam in a time of devestating upheaval.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE BANYAN

Vaddey-Ratner1VADDEY RATNER

AKA: Life in the Killing Fields

When Ratner was 5 her life as she knew it ended. The Khmer Rouge (communists) descended to destroy Cambodia. Coming from a royal family meant her family’s lives were in danger more than most. They had to hide who they were and deny their true selves. When the Khmer Rouge first is taking over, the father says, “I could send you out of the country to France.” My heart shouted, “Go, go.” But of course had they left Cambodia there would be no novel. For four long years Ratner and her family lived in work camps and endured forced labour and minimal rations. They saw their family dwindle as members were killed or died. Banyan is not an easy book to read but an important record of a holocaust.killing

“A shaft of light fell on the front of the house and spilled into the open hallway from the balcony. I imagined it a celestial carpet thrown from the heavens by a careless tevoda—an angel. I ran toward it, my steps unencumbered by the metal brace and shoes I normally wore to correct the limp in my right leg.

Outside, the sun rose through the luxuriant green foliage of the courtyard. It yawned and stretched, like an infant deity poking its long multiple arms through the leaves and branches. It was April, the tail end of the dry season, and it was only a matter of time before the monsoon arrived, bringing with it rains and relief from the heat and humidity. Meanwhile the whole house was hot and stuffy, like the inside of a balloon. I was slick with sweat. Still, New Year was coming and, after all the waiting and wondering, we’d finally have a celebration!”

Another good book about this time is

FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

AWAY

away-urquhart-jane-hardcover-cover-artJANE URQUHART

Away tells the story of four generations of family history from Ireland just before the famine of the mid-19th century, through desperate emigration to Canada and final settlement and prosperity on the shores of Lake Ontario. Away is set set in 1842 on a small island at the northernmost tip of Ireland. After a terrifying storm Mary O’Malley, a peasant’s daughter who is young, flame-haired and beautiful, finds a dying sailor amoung the flotsam of a shipwreck.  She falls asleep in his arms, only to be woken by a fearful crowd of neighbours who are convinced that her soul has been taken over by otherworldly forces and that she is now, as they see it, ‘away’. The handsome sailor had died in her arms. The local schoolteacher, Brian O’Malley, marries her and takes her to the mainland just in time for the great potato famine. Although the English landowners are disparaged in the book, their landlord finances their emigration to Canada. Of course the first years of homesteading in Northern Ontario are extremely trying. Eventually, after her second child is born, Mary wanders away into the wilderness. The story shifts to the second generation, Liam and Eileen.

This is my second reading of Away. It is awash with good writing. A jewel of a book. Definitely a must read.

THE IMPOSTER BRIDE

bride

NANCY RICHLER

Nancy Richler’s third novel is a family drama set in postwar Montreal, where Polish Jew Lily Azerov has come via Palestine to marry a man she has never met. When her fiance sees her his snap decision is that she isn’t for him. When his brother, Nathan, goes to apologize he proposes and soon they are married. The book is narrated by by Ruth, Sol and Elka’s daughter. The couple meet at Nathan and Ruth’s wedding that Elka and her mother Bella crash because back home Bella had a cousin named Lily Azerov. But at the wedding she realized that the bride was not her relation.

When Ruth is 3 months old, her mother Lilly went out for milk and never returned. When they checked the fridge there were many bottles of formula and a bottle of milk. The family gathered around Nathan to help raise Ruth. Elka became a surrogate mother. When she was 6 her mother sent her a chunk of quartz along with a note, written in Lily’s hand, detailing when and where the rock was found. This is the trigger that starts her wondering about where her mother could be and what had happened.  More packages arrive over the years and Ruth’s curiosity about Lily grows.

Imposter Bride is an engaging novel. A good read.