RECKLESS DAUGHTER: A PORTRAIT OF JONI MITCHELL

DAVID YAFFE

Joni Mitchell fans this book is for you. It is less about her life and more about her music. She once said she paints her joy and sings her sorrow. The book has tons of fasinating facts about the her lyrics. “You said you were as constant as the northern star. I said constantly in the dark, where’s that at?” was written about Leonard Cohen. I read the book with my computer at hand, so I could plays songs on You Tube that I wasn’t familiar with. The defining act of her life was making an adoption plan for her child when she was an unknown singer-songwriter in Toronto. It is refered to in song through out her writing career. It brought back memories of seeing Joni in concert and of loving her music. Fans will not want to miss this.

A TWO-SPIRIT JOURNEY: An Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojbiwa-Cree Elder

MA-NEE CHACABY

 No one should have to endure the shocking amount of sexual and physical violence this woman endured from childhood. As a child she had the support and guidance of her grandmother who saw the two spirits in her and knew she would have a difficult life. Her step-father taught her how to hunt, trap and survive in the wilds, yet ended up sexually assaulting her. Her abusive mother sent her to marry a man who would torture her for years. It is no wonder that she became addicted to drugs and alcohol. When she finally embraces her two-spirit orientation, she discovers that despite two-spirit teachings being a long-standing indigenous tradition, a new kind of abuse — virulent homophobia — soon comes her way, both from the aboriginal reserve community and from the white community residing nearby in Thunder Bay.

That all this sorrow and pain happened in this country is a national shame. The solution she puts forward, by the example of her exemplary life, is for our government and her own community to support the myriad of programs and teachings Ma-Nee Chacaby and women like her have introduced over decades. From groundbreaking and controversial AIDS awareness programs in the 1990s to the work she continues to do today, both with her own family and her extended reserve family, her life and this memoir ultimately serve as handbook of hope.

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.

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS

LAURIE FRANKEL

Penn and Rosie have four rowdy, rambunctious boys who they teach they can be anything they want to be. They want to have a girl but of course, they end up with another boy. But Claude is different. Claude is quieter and calmer than the other boys ever were. At three Claude starts wearing a dress and saying he wants to be a girl when he grows up. The family motto is you can be anything you want to be, so the parents take this in stride. For pre-school Claude wore pants to school then changed into his dress when he returned home. When Claude starts kindergarten he starts wearing dresses and skirts to school and adopts the name Poppy. After a playdate gone horribly wrong with a gun-toting homophobe father the family flees to Seattle for greater acceptance. There they tell no one that Poppy is both a girl and a boy. But secrets have a way of getting out.

Terribly well written, THIS IS a page-turner. It’s the best book I’ve read for some time.

COUNTRY OF RED AZALEAS

DOMNICA azRADULESCA

Azaleas takes place during the Bosnian War (1992-1995), when Serbian soldiers practiced systematic genocide and raped an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 Bosnian women in “rape camps.” In spite of the violence, Lara and Marija — a Serb and a Bosnian, respectively — remain closer than sisters, even in the face of separation and tragedy. The two meet when both are schoolgirls in Belgrade and become inseprable. As college students, they spend hours in cafés discussing politics and philosophy. When war breaks out, Lara leaves for the United States with her new American husband, Mark, while Marija returns to Sarajevo to become a war reporter behind Bosnian lines. Mark tries to help Lara adapt to American life. Some of the most amusing parts of an otherwise unsettling novel are Lara’s attempts to understand concepts such as stay-at-home mom and take-out food. After having a baby, Lara begins a doctorate at the university and throws herself into her studies. At a conference in Paris, Lara meets a handsome, North African named Karim, with whom she has an affair, leading to a devastating divorce. When Marija surfaces in California, Lara races to join her, but finds her vastly changed. Still gorgeous, wild, and irreverent, Marija now has a glass eye and a reconstructed face. Furthermore, she suffers moments of deep dejection and fits of sobbing. Marija presses Lara to help her find her child born from violent rape.

“When I looked at her,” says Lara, “I saw the full horror of that day in July 1995 displayed glaringly on her face. The gushing of blood, the obscene panting, the muffled screams, flesh, organs, guns, screams begging for death, sighing for death, screaming the sharpest scream across the black earth. It all passed for one second on Marija’s face like an apocalyptic cloud. The next second it was gone.”

Despite some horrific scenes, Country of Red Azaleas is an uplifting and optimistic novel. The strength and determination of both protagonists, their love for one another, and their yearning to create a better future for themselves and their children surpass the traumas they have suffered.

 

THE BOOK OF MEMORY

PETINA GAPPAHMemory

Memory starts with a bold thunder clap: in the first two sentences we learn that there has been an ugly death and that Memory was sold by her parents to a strange man, Lloyd. Immediately your mind wonders why a man is buying a child? Memory’s family was poor, “but everyone was poor so nobody knew they were poor.” Her skin would blister and burn because she was an albino. Her mother had little gentleness and kindness. The novel takes place in a Zimbabwean prison where Memory is serving a life sentence for murdering Lloyd.  In preparing for an appeal she is given a notebook and asked to write about her life. These musing make up the body of the book. A wonderful exploration of the themes of memory and forgiveness.

THE SILENT SISTER

sisterDIANE CHAMBERLAIN

The death of her father has brought Riley MacPherson back to her childhood home which does not hold many happy memories. Riley’s family have never recovered from the suicide of her older sister Lisa. Riley was only a toddler when tragedy struck and has had to live with two parents who rarely mention their eldest child and a brother who has a lot of built up anger.As she hears stories from old family friends, sorts her father’s collectables and old paperwork she realizes that the reason for Lisa’s suicide was not depression. Riley’s whole life has been based on a lie; she even became a counsellor to help other teens. No wonder Danny is unable to forgive their sister for ruining their family’s life – she was a murderer who took the coward’s way out. The family secrets don’t end there. The revelations are parceled out so skillfully that disbelief remains suspended until the satisfying if not entirely plausible close.

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 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.

IN THE SANCTUARY OF OUTCASTS: A Memoir

outcastsNEIL WHITE

Daddy is going to camp. That’s what I told my children. But it wasn’t camp. . . .

Neil White wanted only the best for those he loved and was willing to go to any lengths to provide it—which is how he ended up in a federal prison in rural Louisiana, serving eighteen months for bank fraud. But it was no ordinary prison. The beautiful, isolated colony in Carville, Louisiana, was also home to the last people in the continental United States disfigured by leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease)—a small circle of outcasts who had forged a tenacious, clandestine community, a fortress to repel the cruelty of the outside world. White was able to relate to both inmates and patients alike. In this place rich with history, amid an unlikely mix of leprosy patients, nuns, and criminals, White’s strange and compelling new life journey began. He had an entire year to reset his his moral compass. Even though the memoir was not well written, I was sorry when it ended. I wanted to know more about the next stage of White’s journey.

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.

MADDADDAM

maddMAGARET ATWOOD

Maddaddam is a story of myth making as Toby explains the past to the Crakers the bio-engenireered creatures created by Crake before he killed everything else in the first book of the trilogy Oryx and Crake. Thanks you to Atwood for providing a synopsis of the first two volumes. I found it a great way to start Maddaddam with a refresher course. Toby tells the story of Zeb and his harsh upbringing by the Rev of the Church of PetrOleum and his eventual escape into a life on the run, first to San Francisco’s “pleeblands,” then to a job as a magician’s assistant, to survival in the Canadian wilderness after a “Bearlift” mission goes wrong, to New New York (on the Jersey Shore) and at last into work at a HelthWyzer laboratory compound, where he meets characters familiar to us as members of an underground movement. Toby’s telling of Zeb’s story is interspersed with the present-day defense of the compound and the unusual partnership they develop for mutual protection. Toby teaches the Crakers to read, write and to tell their own stories.atwood

Maddaddam is a book of hope and healing and renewal.

Read this book but do read the trilogy in order. It is terrific.

 

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.

BY BLOOD

ELLEN ULLMAN

AKA: Portrait of an Obsession

This is definitely a must read.

The narrator is a disgraced professor who refers to “the terrible darkness within me” and his “morbid and afflicted” imagination — without showing us much evidence of anything other than something to do about a boy and hanging out where students gather. While under investigation by the university for some unspecified infraction, he’s installed himself in a rented office, where he intends to prepare lectures but there is not indication that actually happens. In the office next door, Dr. Dora Schussler, psychotherapist, sees her patients. For most of the day she has a machine that creates white noise but one patient requests that the white noise is turned off allowing the narrator to hear every word. Thus his obsession begins.

He is taken with one patient: a young lesbian, also left nameless. It’s love at first listen, and not just because of the patient’s “creamy alto.” It’s her predicament. She is adopted and just beginning explore the secrets obscuring her origins. Our narrator comes from dreadful suicide-smitten stock — “My aunt Selma once said I had the temperament of Uncle Harry: Did this include whatever bad thing he had done with his gun?” — and this patient fills him with admiration. “Why,” he asks, “could I not learn the art of being parentless from these adoptees: these very models of self-creation?”

Assisted by the narrator’s discreet and creepy stage management, the patient’s inquiry will lead her to a group of Jewish orphans at Belsen in the last days of World War II. In Israel, the patient will also encounter something like a parallel self, an unsuspected sibling—also adopted—whose story of her own reunion with their mother casts light on the terrible meaning not just of why the patient was given up for adoption as a baby but why her mother never sought her out later on.

WRECKER

SUMMER WOOD

June, 65 San Francisco. Lisa Fay is evicted from the basement where she had been squatting. No money, no place to go and nine months pregnant she ended up birthing her baby boy in a park. Then walked to the hospital. With the help of a woman she met in the hospital she got a job and got by until she met a man who dealt drugs and got caught up in his business. When she went to jail for 15 years Wrecker at age three went to his Aunt, Lisa’s sister Meg, and Uncle Len. But Len was taking care of Meg like a child since an infection had damaged her brain. He couldn’t handle both Meg and Wrecker especially since  when he arrived he was scared and angry, exploding at the least thing, and quick to flee.

It’s true that his feats acquired the status of legends. The day Wrecker jumped from the barn roof  to bounce from the hay bales below. The day Wrecker was lost and they scoured the pond bottom for his body. The day Wrecker climbed into the pick up and released the brake, took it out of gear, and rode it all the way downslope into the field, where a big rock slowed it down by lodging itself in the oil pan. He seemed to need to feel his body collide with the physical world to know he existed.

He asked his communal living neighours, Melody, Willow, Ruth and Johnnie Appleseed for help and they raised Wrecker. He brought out the best in all the people and helped them become a true family.

A good read.