THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE

LISA SEE

East meets west as the world impinges on the Akha hill tribe in Hunnun province in China. One of the most interesting themes is the exploration of the Akha culture. Young teens are encouraged to explore their sexuality but if a baby is born out of marriage it must be killed. Twins are considered to bring bad spirits so they must be killed as well.Elaborate cleansing ceremonies help protect the individuals, the families and the village. Li-yan falls in love with San-pa but San-pa is born on Tiger Day, while she is born on Pig Day, so their parents see them as an incompatible match. But their love overpowers tradition and taboo, resulting in Li-yan’s pregnancy.  Tradition is broken and the child is not killed. Li-yan is allowed to take her baby to an orphanage. When foreigners arrive from Hong Kong in search of a renowned, aged tea called Pu’er, Li-Yan is the only one who can translate. Girl is over melodramatic, the worst of the worst and the best of the best happen to Li-yan but the story of tea binds the narrative together and makes an interesting read.

THE PARCEL

ANOSH IRANI

“I am reviled and revered, deemed to have been blessed, and cursed, with sacred powers.” Madhu is a eunuch, a hijra, a third sex living in a community of hijras. Once she was the crown jewel of the brothel.  Her “arsehole,” she recalls, “was a cash crop.” Now at 40 she begs on the street. One day Madhu receives a call from Padma Madam, the most feared brothel owner in the district: a “parcel” has arrived – a young girl from Nepal, betrayed and trafficked by her aunt -“And the truth was a ten year old girl had been sold into slavery.” And Madhu must prepare her for her future of prostitution. Madhu took pride of opening the parcel gently much differently than the pimps would do, though the parcel was still kept in a cage.

“Born and bred to mortify,” Madhu is a breathtaking figure, admirable despite that fact that the “very things that made one human – love, hope, health – had been ripped from her calmly and precisely, the way a syringe extracted blood.”  The Parcel is not an easy read but it does grip you by the heart and squeeze.

 

THE BREAK

KATHERINE VERMETTE

The Break is a haunting book full of both love and hate. On a cold winter night, two girls are violently assaulted in an empty lot. One was raped with a beer bottle. The Break shows how the violence affects the families and community, a large rock thrown into a body of water. The raped victim’s aunt saw the assault from her house and called the cops but being night did not comprehend what was really happening. Could she have done more? The girl who was the ringleader of the assault reminds me of Serena Nicotine a troubled sociopath I taught in grade two, who when a teen drowned a little girl, then later when in a halfway house stabbed the attendant to death.

Unfortunately, The Break was the first book voted off the Canada Reads program on CBC. I would have enjoyed hearing the discussion of this great book.

WALKING WITH OUR SISTERS

Travelling Art Display (it is not a book but it tells serious and significant story)w1

Walking With Our Sisters is a commemorative installation that features nearly 2,000 pairs of handmade moccasin tops, or “vamps”, to honour indigenous women, along with children and two-spirited people, who have been murdered or have disappeared in Canada. The vamps are made with love and longing by the women’s families.

The vision for the vamps is they’re unfinished, Vamps usually get sewn into moccasins. But they’re to symbolize lives that have been cut short. They are all beautiful works of art. The sadness is the realization is that each pair of vamps represents a murdered or missing first nations woman.They are not forgotten.  They are sisters, mothers, daughters, cousins, aunties, grandmothers, friends and wives.  They have been cared for, they have been loved, and they are missing. There is a special circle of small vamps for children who were taken from their families to residential schools who never returned.

w2Experiencing the exhibit is a ritualized process. Volunteers guide you so you get the most out of the experience. Women are loaned wrap-around skirts. People can smudge if so inclined. Women and men can smudge with sage. Sweetgrass is men’s medicine; only men can light the sweetgrass and used it to smudge. The smudging process cleanses and purifies. Next we were introduced to an elder, then given tobacco to carry in our left hands – closer to the heart – as we walked the exhibit. As we viewed the Residencial School Circle the elder came and told us her story of being taken from her family and sent to residential school. It was an incredibly moving experience.w3
Everyone should see this exhibit.

w5

DON’T LET HIM KNOW

SANDIP ROYdon't

Don’t Let Him Know is a novel told in linked short stories but reads as a coherent novel. It tells the story of a family blinded by its secrets, some small, a grandma hiding sweet chutney in her bedroom for a treat at night, some huge, a husband hiding the truth about his relationship with a man.  As the book begins, Romola, now a widow, is visiting her son Amit in Northern California, where he lives with his American wife and young son. One evening, he gives her a letter he has found in an old address book, sent many years before from a former lover named Sumit.

“Romola sat there in Amit’s armchair slightly stunned,” Roy writes. “After all these years how could she have been so careless? She knew she had saved the letter, unable to destroy it the way she should have years ago. She remembered reading it and rereading it, each word striking her like a sledgehammer, cracking her open over again and again.”

All the characters are bound by traditions, time and secrets. They hold a mirror to our own secrets and misgivings.

A good read.

THE REASON YOU WALK

WAB KINEW

“To be hurt, yet forgive. To do wrong, but forgive yourself. To depart from this world leaving only love. This is the reason you walk.” Deeply spiritual,
Wabwab2walk is a combination of biography of Kinew’s father and memoir of  his own spiritual journey. Much healing takes place in this history. It is a must read for anyone interested in First Nations issues. Kinew’s description of the Sun Dance ceremonies is particularly powerful. “I could feel the peg push through [ my pectoral muscles] and spun. I felt the blood dripping down. I sensed the air in the cuts; I could taste it. The elders say that when you are cut you are fresh and open to everything around you, vulnerable to the spirit world.”

Reconciliation on an individual level and the national level is an important theme. “Reconciliation is not something realized on a grand level, something that happens when a prime minister and a national chief shake hands. It takes place at a much more individual level. Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different between them needs to be respected.”

“More than any inheritance, more than any sacred item, more than any title, the legacy [my father] left behind is this: as on that day in the sundance circle when he lifted me from the depths, he taught us that our time on earth we ought to love one another, and that when our hearts are broken, we ought to work hard to make them whole again. This is at the centre of sacred ceremonies practised by Indigenous people. This is what so many of us seek, no matter where we begin life. This is the reason you walk.”

Read this book!

 

ALL INCLUSIVE

allFARZARA DOCTOR

All Inclusive follows two main characters in their intertwining stories. Ameer works and lives in a Mexican all inclusive resort. It is a heavenly environment but on occasion disgruntled tourist are difficult to placate. The resort offers Ameer opportunities to satisfy her sexual needs with couples. Then in a week the couple leaves so no awkwardness. That is until someone lodges an anonymous complaint that puts Ameera’s job on the line. Even though she is on probation she continues her exploration with three-somes.

We also follow Azeez, a newly graduated PhD who surprises himself by successfully hitting on a girl. A one night stand. The next day he flies to India to rejoin his family. How the stories come together is unusual and surprising, a simple twist of fate.

A good read.

Article: conversation with Farzara Doctor

ABOVE US ONLY SKY

ONLY SKYMICHELLE YOUNG-STONE

This powerful novel takes the reader to the heights of angels and to the depths of comparing life under Nazi occupation and life under Stalinist Soviet occupation.

Prudence was born with wings. The doctors called them protuberances and amputated them when she was five months old. What she didn’t know was her aunt in Lithuania still had the wings she was born with. “I come from a long line of leggy bird women, women to whom I am allied by blood and birthright. The Old Man (her father’s father) knew our history. When we finally met, he told me about the birds.” Prudence learns the stories of her ancestors. The stories go into  the history to the struggle of native Lithuanians, who must fight Cossacks, suffer under the Nazis and endure Stalin’s harsh rule  Eventually Old Man takes the family back to Lithuania to discover their heritage.

This is definitely a must read.

THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY

fryRACHEL JOYCE

“The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday,” reads the first sentence of Pilgrimage. Fry is a milquetoast of a man, retired, but dresses in a shirt and tie. When the lawn is mowed he doesn’t have much to do but sit on his chair. His wife Maureen doesn’t say much except to berate him. Harold and Maureen’s marriage went stale a long time ago, to the point where Harold thinks of her as “a wall that you expected to be there, even if you didn’t often look at it.”  The letter is from a friend and co-worker Queenie who is dying at a hospice that is 627 miles north of Harold’s home near the English Channel. When Harold reads the letter, he responds with a tearful “I um. Gosh.” He writes her a postcard and walks down his road to mail it. When he gets to the first post box he decides to go to the next one. Eventually he writes her another letter saying that he is walking to see her and that she must hang on until he gets there. Fry heads out with only the clothes on his back. “If we don’t go mad once in a while, there’s no hope.” The pilgrimage changes not only Fry but also his wife Maureen, his neighbour Fox and all the people who come in contact with him along the way.

Pilgrimage is a must read. It was short listed for the Mann Booker Prize.

“… He went under the stars, and the tender light of the moon, when it hung like an eyelash and the tree trunks shone like bones. He walked through wind and weather, and beneath sun-bleached skies. It seemed to Harold that he had been waiting all his life to walk. He no longer knew how far he had come, but only that he was going forward. The pale Cotswold stone became the red brick of Warwickshire, and the land flattened into middle England. Harold reached his hand to his mouth to brush away a fly, and felt a beard growing in thick tufts. Queenie would live. He knew it.”

RIPPER

ISABEL ALLENDErip

Allende is one of my favourite authors. Ripper, her first crime novel, is not one of her best but is still worth reading. One of Allende’s strengths is her capitivating characters and Ripper abounds with these. Healer and tantric therapist Indiana, is the heart of the novel. Her daughter Amanda is a geek wizard whose on-line friends tackle the task of uncovering the identity of the serial killer stalking San Francisco. At the first murder, “The Case of the Misplaced Baseball Bat”, where a school security guard is found dead by a class of fourth-graders, bent over a vaulting horse with a baseball bat stuffed into his rectum, she seizes on the occasion to rethink the strategy of Ripper, the interactive mystery game she plays online with “a select group of freaks and geeks from around the world.” The brainy players — including a paralyzed boy in New Zealand, a Canadian girl with an eating disorder and Amanda’s grandfather — will match wits with the real killer. Amanda’s father, bad news in high school when he seduced Indiana, is now deputy chief of police who is conducting an investigation into the serial killer but has trouble keeping up his daughter and her cohorts. Indiana has two main men in her life, one an ageing playboy, the other a disabled ex-navy Seal – are central players in the drama too, one ending up a murderee and the other a suspect for the series of deaths.

Lots of fun. Great writing.

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.

THE WORLD’S STRONGEST LIBRARIAN: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength and the Power of Family

librarinanJOSH HANAGARNE

Josh Hana­garne is a librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library which the way he describes it must be the most beautiful library ever. Hanagarne the Dewey Decimal System as chapter headings. We’re treated to personal stories that fall into the Dewey taxonomy as topics such as 011.62 — Children — Books and Reading; 616.89075 — Diagnosis, Differential; 289.3 — Mormons Missions; 613.71 — Bodybuilding; 155.432 — Mothers and Sons; and 616.042 — Abnormalities, Human. It was a clever tactic and it illustrates the wide range of topics covered in this memoir. Hanagarne is born into a mormon family and you couldn’t ask for a more supportive family. His parents “had a knack for making everything into a game. Learning was a reward. And when I came home from school, instead of asking, ‘How was school today?’ they’d ask, ‘What did you ask today?’ ” His love of books started early. On his first visit to the bookmobile, he grabbed the biggest book in sight, “The Tommyknockers,” by Stephen King, which “was full of swearing and I was uneasy during a section in which a woman’s picture of Jesus began talking. People had sex, lost their skin, murdered one another, and wrecked their town. And there were aliens. I couldn’t get enough of it.” Adolescence brought the first signs of Tourette’s: tics, blinking and yelping, as well as involuntary noises, including the “hooting baby owl sound and the slobbering dog just finishing a round of wind sprints.” And of course he loves libraries. “Libraries have shaped and linked all the disparate threads of my life. The books. The weights. The tics. . . . The library taught me that I could ask any questions I wanted and pursue them to their conclusions without judgment or embarrassment. And it’s where I learned that not all questions have answers. As a librarian, saving lives and worlds isn’t in my purview, although if I could put those on my resume with a straight face, I would,” concluding that “at its loftiest, a library’s goal is to keep as many minds as possible in the game, past and present, playful and in play.”

Librarian is a good read. You’ll like it.

POLISHING THE MIRROR: How From Live From Your Spiritual Heart

RAM DASS with Rameshwar DasRamDass

Ram Dass is a veritable saint for our time and place. I have often found his books too much the same – his life journey with words of wisdom. But this book is a great step above the rest. It still tells his life story and there are many words of wisdom but somehow it is told in a new, refreshing way. Possibly the addition of the second writer made the difference. I am sure that since his stroke he would need help composing a new book. I loved this book and recommend it to all who are interested in spiritual development. Here a some of my favourite quotes”

“The power of God is within me. The grace of God Surrounds me.” Though I would replace God with the One.

“May all being be free from danger.  May all being be free from mental suffering.  May all being be free from physical suffering.  May all beings know peace. I am. OM”

“I look like an old fart, but I am dancing inside. And what a joyful, joyful dance! The love play of the soul. You can join any time, because it’s always going on.”

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.

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING

Ruth2

RUTH OZEKI

“Forget the clock. It has no power over time, but words do.”

This is a book everyone will love. Ozeki is am amazing writer, juggling themes of time, metaphysics, suicide, history, time travel, zen Buddhism,  Japanese history, computer science, 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as others. TIME also has an interesting structure. The author is a character in the novel though she is always referred to as Ruth, never as I.

Ruth lives on an island on the west coast of British Columbia. Out for a walk on the beach she discovers a Miss Kitty lunch box. Inside wrapped up in plastic to keep it safe is the diary of a sixteen year old Japanese girl, Nao,  an antique wristwatch and what turns out to be the diary, written in French, of her uncle, who died as a kamikaze pilot in the Second World War. Ruth and her husband Oliver begin to read the girls diary. She Ruthhad been born in Japan but moved to Silicon Valley for many years as her dad was a computer programer. When the dot com bubble burst they went back to Japan in poverty and shame. When Nao starts school in Japan, she is regarded as a foreigner is and is mercilessly bullied. Her only solace is writing about her grandmother, Jiko, a 104-year-old “anarchist feminist Zen Buddhist novelist nun,” with a long history of lovers, both male and female. Jiko helps Nao understand that  “time beings” are beings who understand that “everything in the universe is forever changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”

“I have a pretty good memory, but memories are time beings too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves for a while they are beautiful, and they they fade and die.”

Run out right now and get this book!

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE

oceanNEIL GAIMEN

Gaimen has given us a dark dream of a novel, at times a nightmare. The forces of good and evil fight over the heart and soul of a seven year old boy. It is also about the fleeting and changing nature of memory. The narrator returns to his childhood home for a funeral. He is drawn to return to the house at the end of the lane. As he sits by the ocean that looks at times like a duckpond or a pail of water, childhood memories flood his consciousness. When he was a boy a horrible darkness was released in the neighbourhood when a man committed suicide in his family vehicle. Luckily he had the protection of the three women who live in the house at the end of the lane. Lettie, his friend promised to protect him no matter what would arise, was a couple of years older than him but had the wisdom of the ages. Her grandmother Mrs. Hempstock and her mother Old Mrs. Hempstock have amazing skills. They could even take time apart and sew it back together in a new and changed way.NeilGaimanSandman

Ocean is a must read. It is the type of book you can read in a single session it is so intriguing.

MAYA’S NOTEBOOK

maya allende1ISABEL ALLENDE

As an infant Maya is abandoned by both her mother and father so her loving Chilean Nina (Grandma) and Popo (Grandfather). She had a very happy childhood with a strict Nina and an indulgent Popo. But when Popo dies her grief is so profound her life falls apart. She assumes a goth persona and starts skipping school and taking drugs. Eventually she runs away to Los Vegas where she is taken under wing of a drug dealer, so at least she isn’t living on the streets. But she has to deliver drugs and get the money. For this she gets shelter, food, nice clothes and drugs. She sleeps during the day and works at nigh, But eventually she does hit bottom. A friend rescues her and gets her into rehab; then Nina sends her to a small island in Chilli to avoid the mafia who may be looking for her.

Allende is a wonderful writer. This is definitely a must read.

Also two of my favourite nonfiction works are by Allende. PAULA is her memoir about her daughter’s death but of course it is so much more. APHRODITE is a natural history of the senses brilliantly written and funny too. I took Aphrodite to a literary potluck and choose a recipe from her book Nun’s Nipples, meringues dipped in chocolate. So much fun.

All three are must reads.

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 TRIAL OF FALLEN ANGELS

angelsJAMES KIMMEL, JR

Brek Cuttler, a big name astronaut  and later lawyer, found her self on a deserted train platform. She is covered in blood and there are three holes in her chest. The transition between living and dead isn’t an easy one. And for victims of violence, it may be even more difficult. Cuttler isn’t ready to look at all her memories, especially of how she died and what happened to her little pre-school girl. She is told she is Shemaya Station and that because she is a lawyer she will be a presenter, similar to a defense attorney, only without the arguments. Souls are presented in the Courtroom for determination of where they will spend eternity. To present a soul, Cuttler is given awareness of all the soul’s memories. Presenters practically relive the soul’s lifetime. She learns how here life is connected to other souls even through the past generations. “If I had remembered everything, I could not have possibly known how deeply interconnected my life had been to so many different people.”

angels1Angel‘s is a spiritual thriller, an amazing book.

 

THE NO-NONSENSE GUIDE TO THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD

CHRIS BRAZIERhist2 history

The magazine New Internationalist publishes No-Nonsense guides on multiple topics. They are all brief, concise and easy to read. Brazier does an excellent job of summarizing the history of the world in 150 pages. And he covers the world’s history not just the western hemisphere’s.He has some interesting analysis I found this of particular interest: the Russian “revolution was highjacked by the ruthless dictator Stalin – blow from which the Left worldwide has still not recovered.”

It is a good quick read. It reminds me of

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Howard Zinn.