Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Trains and Lovers

Trains and Lovers is a story of four strangers on a train who share their tales of love, and it is brilliant. Of course it could not be anything less than brilliant, as it was written by Alexander McCall Smith.

The train is traveling from Edinburgh to London. American Andrew has been to a conference and will return to his family in New York the next day. Australian Kay has been visiting Scotland, the birthplace of her father many years before. Sottish Andrew is moving to London for a job, and English Hugh is traveling home from a business trip. It is an average day on a train, but the stories they share with one another are extraordinary.

So simple, yet so powerful. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Buddha in the Attic

I have just read a book that affected me deeply, because I knew people who experienced this story. I knew people, and yet I never really understood what they went through. Until now.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is about the Japanese in California from about 1920 to the beginning of WWII. She tells the collective story of a group of "picture brides", who are hoping for a better life in the United States with husbands they only know through photos and letters. Upon arrival in San Francisco, they are mostly disappointed by the much older and poorer husbands than the ones they were expecting, but return to Japan is not an option. They speak no English and don't understand American customs, clinging to their own. They are forced to labor on the fringes of society picking our crops, cleaning our houses and doing our laundry, surrounded by suspicion and mistrust. They labor in childbirth, over and over, and continue to work in the fields. They don't give up, and expect their children to work just as hard. Through sheer determination they come to own their farms and businesses, and their children attend Stanford and Cal. Then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and these American Citizens lose everything.

The Buddha in the Attic is exquisitely written and powerfully told. It is bittersweet, poignant and heartbreaking. It is also the story of most of us who live in America, because most of us were immigrants at one time or another. It makes you think. As the saying goes: Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.


The Mysterious Benedict Society

I have a high opinion of children's/young adult literature. Of course I haven't read everything that's out there, and I know some of it is rubbish, but mostly it is terrific and sometimes brilliant. In fact, I think the children's book section should be re-titled as "Books for Interesting and Imaginative People of All Ages". So, if you're an interesting and imaginative person, I've got a great series for you!

The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy by Trenton Lee Stewart has very mysterious beginnings. A strange ad appears in the Stonetown paper seeking "gifted children looking for special opportunities". Dozens of children arrive at the specified time and place to take a test, but only Reynie, Kate, Sticky and Constance pass. Each have very different gifts, but they are the qualities that the great and good Mr. Benedict believes can save the world from the evil Ledroptha Curtain. (Don't you just love that name?!) The children embark on a dangerous and frightening adventure to Nomansan Island, and only if they work as a team can they succeed. (You might be detecting a theme by now.) Yes, as in most of life, teamwork is the key.

The adventure continues in The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and concludes with The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. (I love it when all loose ends are tied up.) I also adored the charming illustrations by Carson Ellis, who I think imagined the quirky characters perfectly. I hope you agree!