Monday, October 13, 2014

FLORA: A NOVEL, BY GAIL GODWIN

BOOK DISCUSSION DATE AND TIME: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2014, AT 1:00 PM. 

Isolated in a decaying family home while her father performs secret work at the end of World War II, 10-year-old Helen, grieving the losses of her mother and grandmother, bonds with her sensitive young aunt while desperately clinging to the ghosts and stories of her childhood. (NovelistPlus)


BookList:
/* Starred Review */ Godwin, celebrated for her literary finesse, presents a classic southern tale galvanic with decorous yet stabbing sarcasm and jolting tragedy. Helen, a writer, looks back to the fateful summer of 1945, when she was a precocious, motherless 10-year-old trying to make sense of a complicated and unjust world. Young Helen lives on a hill in North Carolina in an old, rambling, haunted house that was once a sanatorium for folks she calls the Recoverers. Raised by her immaculately turned-out, tart-tongued, and stoic grandmother, whom she worships, Helen is bereft after Nonie’s sudden death. Worse yet, her father is summoned to work on the secret military project at Oak Ridge. He recruits a 22-year-old Alabaman cousin to stay in his place. Sweet, emotional, and seemingly guileless Flora is no match for feverishly imaginative, scheming, and condescending Helen. When a polio outbreak keeps them at home, and a war veteran begins delivering their groceries, tension builds. Godwin’s under-your-skin characters are perfectly realized, and the held-breath plot is consummately choreographed. But the wonder of this incisive novel of the endless repercussions of loss and remorse at the dawn of the atomic age is how subtly Godwin laces it with exquisite insights into secret family traumas, unspoken sexuality, class and racial divides, and the fallout of war while unveiling the incubating mind of a future writer. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling Godwin is always in demand, and with early accolades for this tour de force from the likes of John Irving, requests will multiply. -- Seaman, Donna (Reviewed 02-15-2013) (Booklist, vol 109, number 12, p25)
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ Narrator Helen Anstruther, “going on eleven,” is the relentlessly charismatic and wry star of this stirring and wondrous novel from Godwin (Unfinished Desires). In the summer of 1945, in the mountains of North Carolina, Helen is trying to make sense of the world since her beloved grandmother’s death. When her father leaves to do “secret work for World War II” in neighboring Tennessee, this becomes much more challenging, and Helen, motherless for years, is left in the care of 22-year-old Flora, a delicate and, Helen might say, hopelessly effusive relative. Helen has grown up in a rambling old house that once served as a home for convalescent tubercular or inebriate “Recoverers” under the care of Helen’s physician grandfather. For a precocious girl who has lost everyone who’s ever loved and known her, the house becomes a mesmerizing and steadfast companion. Though Flora initially appears to Helen as little more than a country bumpkin, their time together profoundly transforms them both. Godwin’s thoughtful portrayal of their boredom, desires, and the eventual heartbreak of their summer underscores the impossible position of children, who are powerless against the world and yet inherit responsibility for its agonies. Agent: Moses Cardona, John Hawkins & Associates. (May) --Staff (Reviewed February 11, 2013) (Publishers Weekly, vol 260, issue 06, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ Ten-year-old Helen is a precocious, imaginative child who must spend the summer with her guardian, Flora, while her father is in Oak Ridge, TN, during the last months of World War II. Helen is a "haunted little girl" who lost her mother at age three and whose grandmother, who raised her, has just died. She and her late mother's cousin, 22-year-old Flora, are isolated in Helen's family house on a mountaintop, quarantined from the polio that threatens their community. Helen is resentful of her caretaker, Flora, who cries easily and appears to Helen to be unsophisticated. But Flora is singled-minded in her attempts to do right by Helen. The aftermath of that formative summer will steer the course of Helen's life and haunt her forever. VERDICT A superbly crafted, stunning novel by three-time National Book Award award finalist Godwin (A Mother and Two Daughters ), this is an unforgettable, heartbreaking tale of disappointment, love, and tragedy. Highly recommended.— Lisa Block, Atlanta --Lisa Block (Reviewed May 1, 2013) (Library Journal, vol 138, issue 8, p73)
Kirkus:
/* Starred Review */ Godwin (Unfinished Desires, 2009, etc.) examines the intricate bonds of family and the enduring scars inflicted by loss. In the summer of 1945, 10-year-old Helen Anstruther has just lost Nonie, the grandmother who raised her after her mother, Lisbeth, died when she was 3. Helen's father, the discontented, hard-drinking principal of the local high school in Mountain City, N.C., needs someone to stay with her while he does "more secret work for World War II" in Oak Ridge, Tenn. So he asks her mother's 22-year-old cousin, Flora, and, when one of Helen's best friends comes down with polio, insists that the pair remain at home to avoid the risk of infection. It's a bad idea: Weepy, unbuttoned Flora seems like a dumb hick to snobbish little Helen, who at first makes a thoroughly unappealing narrator. But as Godwin skillfully peels back layers of family history to suggest the secrets kept by both Nonie and Lisbeth (some are revealed; some are not), we see that Helen is mean because she's terrified. She's already lost her mother and grandmother, she's afraid her polio-stricken friend will die, and another close friend is about to move away--after delivering some home truths about how "you think you're better than other people." Helen got this trait from Nonie and both her parents, we realize, as Flora's comments gradually reveal how cruel Lisbeth was in her eagerness to leave behind her impoverished background. As usual with Godwin, the protagonists are surrounded by secondary characters just as fully and sensitively drawn, particularly Finn, the returned soldier whose attentions to Flora spark Helen's jealousy and prompt the novel's climax. Not all mistakes are reparable, we are reminded, but we learn what lessons we can and life goes on. Unsparing yet compassionate; a fine addition to Godwin's long list of first-rate fiction bringing 19th-century richness of detail and characterization to the ambiguities of modern life.(Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2013) 

 

THE DINNER: A NOVEL, BY HERMAN KOCH

Book Discussion date and time: Thursday,  October 23, 2014, at 1:00 PM.

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Meeting at an Amsterdam restaurant for dinner, two couples move from small talk to the wrenching shared challenge of their teenage sons' act of violence that has triggered a police investigation and revealed the extent to which each family will go to protect those they love.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, BY ANTHONY DOERR

BOOK DISCUSSION DATE AND TIME: MONDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2014 AT 1:00 PM
"From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work"--. (novelistplus) 
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Reviews

BookList:
/* Starred Review */ A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. It rests, historically, during the occupation of France during WWII, but brief chapters told in alternating voices give the overall—and long— narrative a swift movement through time and events. We have two main characters, each one on opposite sides in the conflagration that is destroying Europe. Marie-Louise is a sightless girl who lived with her father in Paris before the occupation; he was a master locksmith for the Museum of Natural History. When German forces necessitate abandonment of the city, Marie-Louise’s father, taking with him the museum’s greatest treasure, removes himself and his daughter and eventually arrives at his uncle’s house in the coastal city of Saint-Malo. Young German soldier Werner is sent to Saint-Malo to track Resistance activity there, and eventually, and inevitably, Marie-Louise’s and Werner’s paths cross. It is through their individual and intertwined tales that Doerr masterfully and knowledgeably re-creates the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers.High-Demand Backstory: A multipronged marketing campaign will make the author’s many fans aware of his newest book, and extensive review coverage is bound to enlist many new fans. -- Hooper, Brad (Reviewed 04-15-2014) (Booklist, vol 110, number 16, p23)
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ In 1944, the U.S. Air Force bombed the Nazi-occupied French coastal town of St. Malo. Doerr (Memory Wall ) starts his story just before the bombing, then goes back to 1934 to describe two childhoods: those of Werner and Marie-Laure. We meet Werner as a tow-headed German orphan whose math skills earn him a place in an elite Nazi training school—saving him from a life in the mines, but forcing him to continually choose between opportunity and morality. Marie-Laure is blind and grows up in Paris, where her father is a locksmith for the Museum of Natural History, until the fall of Paris forces them to St. Malo, the home of Marie-Laure’s eccentric great-uncle, who, along with his longtime housekeeper, joins the Resistance. Doerr throws in a possibly cursed sapphire and the Nazi gemologist searching for it, and weaves in radio, German propaganda, coded partisan messages, scientific facts, and Jules Verne. Eventually, the bombs fall, and the characters’ paths converge, before diverging in the long aftermath that is the rest of the 20th century. If a book’s success can be measured by its ability to move readers and the number of memorable characters it has, Story Prize–winner Doerr’s novel triumphs on both counts. Along the way, he convinces readers that new stories can still be told about this well-trod period, and that war—despite its desperation, cruelty, and harrowing moral choices—cannot negate the pleasures of the world. (May) --Staff (Reviewed February 17, 2014) (Publishers Weekly, vol 261, issue 07, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ Shifting among multiple viewpoints but focusing mostly on blind French teenager Marie-Laure and Werner, a brilliant German soldier just a few years older than she, this novel has the physical and emotional heft of a masterpiece. The main protagonists are brave, sensitive, and intellectually curious, and in another time they might have been a couple. But they are on opposite sides of the horrors of World War II, and their fates ultimately collide in connection with the radio—a means of resistance for the Allies and just one more avenue of annihilation for the Nazis. Set mostly in the final year of the war but moving back to the 1930s and forward to the present, the novel presents two characters so interesting and sympathetic that readers will keep turning the pages hoping for an impossibly happy ending. Marie-Laure and Werner both suffer crushing losses and struggle to survive with dignity amid Hitler's swath of cruelty and destruction. VERDICT Doerr (The Shell Collector ) has received multiple honors for his fiction, including four O. Henry Prizes and the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award. His latest is highly recommended for fans of Michael Ondaatje's similarly haunting The English Patient .— Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC --Evelyn Beck (Reviewed February 1, 2014) (Library Journal, vol 139, issue 2, p62)
Kirkus:
/* Starred Review */ Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect. In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She's taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure's father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children's House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he's put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she's broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure's father's having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major. Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.(Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2014)



Thursday, August 14, 2014

SWEET TOOTH, BY IAN McEWAN

BOOK DISCUSSION DATE AND TIME:  MONDAY SEPTEMBER 8, 2014 AT 1:00 PM.


Cambridge student Serena Frome's beauty and intelligence make her the ideal recruit for M15. The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. England's legendary intelligence agency is determined to manipulate the cultural conversation by funding writers whose politics align with those of the government. The operation is code named "Sweet Tooth." Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is the perfect candidate to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley. At first, she loves the stories. Then she begins to love the man. How long can she conceal her undercover life? To answer that question, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage: trust no one. (Random House)



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2014 LONGLIST ANNOUNCED

LONDON — Karen Joy Fowler and Joshua Ferris were among four American novelists who made it onto the 13-strong longlist of the 2014 Man Booker Prize, which for the first time is open to all novels originally written in English and published in Britain.  http://nyti.ms/1luyBOZ