Friday, July 31, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The character studies in this Pulitzer Prize winning book were amazing. I found the weaving of the past and the present effective. I was grateful for my 13 hours of college Spanish, though, because Diaz intersperses Spanish sentences in with English sentences (and they are never footnoted so that non-Spanish speakers fully understand what has been said). Much of the Spanish are extremely vulgar language...and this book is not one for those who do not want to read vulgarity and adult content.

Especially interesting for me is the historical story of the dictator, Trujillo, and the effect of his 30+ year reign in the Dominican Republic. While we were concentrating on Hitler's genocide in Europe, in a country not far from us great atrocities were being committed upon the people there. Enlightening.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams

The book is not light reading, but is not a difficult read, either. I found the material extremely informative and enlightening, especially since I have spent more than 20 years as a State PTA leader. The events of this book overlap and deal with many of the same issues as why the National PTA was founded...child labor issues, poor public education, the importance of the arts, an understanding of other cultures, etc. Jane Addams has long been one of my socio-political heroines. She put into action her concerns with society...making her a true hero in my estimation!

One intersting thing about the book is to see how much things stay the same the more that we change. Does this situation sound at all vaguely familiar?...The situation is that President McKinley has been assassinated by a foreigner with anarchical leanings. A newspaper man of foreign origins in Chicago had been writing a lot of pieces that were antagonistic to the way government was running and had some anarchist leanings. He, along with many other foreigners were arrested immediately following the assassination. Here is Jane Addams description of the situation:'Perhaps it was but my hysterical symptom of the universal excitement, but it certainly seemed to me more than I could bear when a group of individualistic friends, who had come to ask for help, said: "You see what comes of your boasted law; the authorities won't even allow an attorney, nor will they accept bail for these men, against whom nothing can be proved, although the veriest criminals are not denied such a right." Challenged by an anarchist, one is always sensitive for the honor of legally constituted society, and I replied that of course then men could have an attorney, that the assassin himself would eventually be furnished with one, that the fact that a man was an anarchist had nothing to do with his rights before the law! I was met with the retort that that might do for a theory, but that the fact still remained that these men had been absolutely isolated, seeing no one but policemen, who constantly frightened them with tales of public clamor and threatened lynching.'(Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. 1910. New York: Penguin Books Ltd. 279-280.)

It is a sad statement about a government who upholds the Constitution of the United States with its Bill of Rights as the greatest, most imspired document for governing a people (and I firmly believe that it is), and yet fundamental civil liberties can be so disregarded by those in power in out nation. What a shame!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy's command of the language is amazing. This was a difficult read because of the dark nature of the post-apocalyptic situation at the center of the story. Nevertheless, the prose is wonderfully rich, lyrical, poetic.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys is written to be the prequel to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It tells the story of Rochester's "insane wife" that he keeps locked away. I believe that it is a great read for those who have enjoyed Jane Eyre.
In Wide Sargasso Sea, Ms. Rhys deals with feminist themes of the controlling patriarchal world, particularly of the 19th century. She explores the descent into "madness" by the main character, Bertha Antoinette Mason as she is forced, little by little, to lose her own identity for one forced upon her by men. Also an interesting look at the issues around race and prejudice. Beautiful descriptions of the Caribbean nations the book is set in.

Onion John

I had almost been discouraged from reading this book, right now, because I read a review from someone that the book hardly deserved to be a Newberry Award winner. Because I have made a commitment to read all the Newberry Award winners, I plowed ahead...and boy, am I glad that I did. I thought that the book was one of the best that I have read. I was frustrated by some poor editing of serious punctuation problems. That was the only problem that I saw in the book.
Onion John carries the important message of how we, as adults, trying to force our ideals of what a better life is upon other people. We, as Americans, do this so often to other countries, as we try to "improve" their standard of living. In reality, the people are very happy with the life that they are living. Andy Rusch's father is so busy trying to live his dream through his son and in trying to look good in the eyes of others by "improving" the living situation of Onion John. He does major harm to both as he endeavors to do this.
At a town meeting, Ernie, the reporter says:
"'Hasn't it become pretty obvious?...What we think is proper and what John thinks is proper, they're two different things. What are we trying to prove to him, that he's wrong?'"
I highly recommend Onion John to all interested in good literature with a great message...a message that we, as adults, should take very seriously!

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah is a powerful book that I consider a must read for anyone interested in what is going on outside of their small, safe world. Ishmael Beah describes how he, as a boy of 13 years of age, could participate as a boy soldier, committing hideous acts upon civilians as he was forced into labor in the army of Sierra Leone. He talks of how starvation, drugs, violent videos, and planting a desire to avenge the deaths of their families were used to induce children to act in unnatural ways.