Motherhood From the Frontline

This was my “rainy day” post from BethFishRead’s Bloggiesta mini-challenge… Enjoy :-)

When it comes to children… especially when they’re your own and you can’t drive them out to the country and dump them because they know their addresses and how to get home… sometimes SANITY is a battle ground, and I feel like I’m battling them for it.  AND, I’m losing.

First off, the odds aren’t in my favor.  There are THREE of them and ONE of me.  Then you gotta add the 3 cats and the dog to that number, because they tease each other with the pets… “Look Maggie, your cat loves me more than you” wait for it “MOOOOOOOM!!!!  Maggie hit me!”  Well, the math adds up to 374 of them to the half-wit ME. 

Seriously, I used to have brains.  I did.  I once took the Mensa test and was well above the entry number.  My IQ, last I checked, is 168.  But see, that was before kids.  Nowadays, I’d be shocked if I could beat out a bunch of Broccoli in a game of Boggle.  My mom always said, “Insanity is hereditary… you get it from your kids!”  And the older they get, the more I realize she’s RIGHT.

I watched a program on PBS about negative emotions the other day… okay, I just watched a segment of the show while COPS was on commercial break, but still… and they said that negative emotions like stress and fear burn memories deeply into your psyche.  That’s why everyone remembers where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001, but few remember what they were doing on September 10th, the day before.  It is ALSO why my mom STILL remembers EVERYTHING I EVER did as a kid, and points out that “Paybacks are a BITCH!” whenever I’m word-vomitting what dastardly deeds the girls have been up to lately. 

Really, I began to understand what my actual role as a parent was when Sam and Gwen were about 7 and 8.  We had went to the mall and had stopped into the store where a friend worked.  Because I was engaged in adult conversation, and because I had taken longer than the generous minute and a half they allowed for such foolishness, the girls began to get antsy and started running around the store.  After a few loud rounds of “THWACK!  Mom!  She hit me!”, I made them sit in time out and confined each of them to their own tile square on the floor.  That I hadn’t set them far enough apart soon became evident when their arguing and tattling reached my ears.  And what were they fighting over now?  A piece of tracked in DIRT.  DIRT!  My darling dimpled dears were debating the ownership of a clod of DIRT!

So what role did I discover I was truly filling?

Wild animal handler.  I’m just here to make sure they don’t get loose and annoy the public.  I feed them, clean their cage and try to learn ‘em some manners, but mostly, I’m crowd control.

OH, and I used to hear or read the statistics that some parents only spend about 3 minutes of quality time conversing with their children and I’d think “How horrible!  What terrible and selfish parents can’t make time for their kids?!”  THEN I got teenagers and NOW I think, “GOOD GAWD!  3 minutes?!  They deserve an award!  At least a medal for bravery!”

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Title:  The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Author:  John Boyne

Paperback:  215 pages

ISBN:  9780552773805

Book Challenges:  War Through the Generations World War II Reading Challenge

‘I’m Shmuel,’ said the little boy.

Bruno scrunched up his face, not sure that he had heard the little boy right.  ‘What did you say your name was?’ he asked.

‘Shmuel,’ said the little boy as if it was the most natural thing in the world.  ‘What did you say your name was?’

‘Bruno,’ said Bruno.

‘I’ve never heard of that name,’ said Shmuel.

‘And I’ve never heard of your name,’ said Bruno.  ‘Shmuel.’  He thought about it.  ‘Shmuel,’ he repeated.  ‘I like the way it sounds when I say it.  Shmuel.  It sounds like the wind blowing.’

‘Bruno,’ said Shmuel, nodding his head happily.  ‘Yes, I think I like your name too.  It sounds like someone who’s rubbing their arms to keep warm…  I’m nine,’ he said.  ‘My birthday is April the fifteenth nineteen thirty-four.’

Bruno’s eyes opened wide and his mouth made the shape of an O.  ‘I don’t believe it,’ he said… ‘my birthday is april the fifteenth too.  And I was born in nineteen thirty-four.  We were born on the same day… We’re like twins,’ said Bruno.

-The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, pages 109-110

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is a story of friendship told through the eyes of Bruno, the nine-year-old son of a concentration camp Commandant.  Uprooted from friends and the only home he’s ever known, Bruno hates his new home in “Out-With,” his mispronunciation of Auschwitz, and makes sure everyone knows it.  But one day, when he goes out exploring the area around his house, he meets a boy his own age on the other side of the fence where everyone wears striped pyjamas all day.  The two quickly become friends, and meet as often as possible at the same time and spot everyday from then on.

One of the things I like about this book is Boyne’s layered subtleties.  Bruno, the naive and sheltered innocent, passes along clues of his mother’s infidelity, drinking and depression, as well as the competition that goes on between Gretel, his twelve-turning-thirteen year-old sister, and his mother for the attention of the young Lieutenant Koltor.  Bruno witnesses but can’t quite grasp the difference between him and his family and the people on the other side of the fence, asking different people about it with varying degrees of failure to get a satisfactory answer.  His father tells him the others aren’t people -not really, not in the way we think of.  The Lieutenant calls them a derogatory name that is never passed along in the book.  Gretel comes the closest to answering him, failing only because she herself doesn’t understand it, either, telling him that the people on the other side were Jews and they were The Opposite, and The Opposite hate the Jews.

There are a few things that just got under my skin with this book, however.  For instance, if these people are German, then I assume they speak German in their thoughts as well as conversations with one another.  I found it mildly irritating that Bruno would think “Auschwitz” would sound like “Aus mit” (the direct translation “Out-with”).  Or that he would hear “Der Führer” and think people were calling Hitler “Das Wut”.  Also, there are a lot of repetition in the book.  Okay, I get it… Father’s office is “Out of bounds at all times with no exceptions.”  I got that the first time.  And I caught it on page 1 that Bruno had some stuff that belonged to him and were nobody else’s business.  Another thing I really wish Boyne had added to the book was how Bruno and Shmuel would have spent their birthday.  No doubt Bruno would have had a party with cake and a big dinner, but how would he have shared the special day with his “twin”?

Boyne’s storytelling in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is reminiscent of Scout’s recounting in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, though not as well-done nor is Bruno as developed as a character as Scout was.  In Boyne’s attempt to reach as broad an audience as possible, the story is a bit like thin gruel.  Everyone can digest it, but it hasn’t got very much flavor.  If you are looking for a good book that glimpses the lives of the people during Nazi Germany, I’d recommend The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  The writing is magical, the storytelling point-of-view is unique, and the depth of even the tertiary characters are better than Bruno’s.

Still, I’m passing this book on to my kids.  I think it’s a good book to introduce young and reluctant readers to the subjects:  The Holocaust, racism, hate, friendship, loyalty, love.  I think 4th and 5th graders, particularly boys of that age, would enjoy this book the most.  For me, a mom with a children the same ages as Bruno and Gretel (not to mention the same relationship as the bickering siblings, as well), I found Bruno to be an exasperatingly annoying little whiner at times. 

I give The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne 3 out of 5 stars.  It’s an acceptable read, but for me, as forgettable as Bruno found his three best friends for life.   In a year, I doubt I’ll even remember their names.

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In 2008, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was made into a movie.  I’ll have to put it on the top of my Netflix Queue, it looks fairly good.  Maybe they’ll address the birthday issue for me in it.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Title:  The Namesake

Author:  Jhumpa Lahiri

Paperback:  291 pages

ISBN:  9780618485222

For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy – a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts.  It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding.  Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.

-The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, pages 49-50

My first experience with the Ganguli family happened two years ago when I brought the DVD copy of the movie home from the library.  I thought then that it was a beautiful and rich story, and was excited to find out it was also a book.  After a few months of picking it up and putting it back, I finally bought a paperback of it from Waldenbooks about a year or so ago, but it sat on the shelf since then… calling to me whenever I looked in the general area of the bookshelf where it sat.  And after reading Confessions of a Shopaholic, I decided it was time for something a little more lasting and meaningful, so I finally began the journey and story of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, and their children Gogol and Sonia.

When thinking about how to describe The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, the word that keeps coming to mind is “quiet”.  Lahiri slowly weaves a beautiful tapestry of the love and living and feelings of being an immigrant family.  The different customs and how the culture of the land in which you live can so overtake you and change you in ways you can’t even realize.  First and foremost, it is a love story:  The love of a man and wife, the love of parents for their children, the love for one’s family, and the love of one’s homeland.  It’s also a story of the journey we all must take of self-acceptance, and, after that, the acceptance of others.  Of course, the “Indian-ness” of it is also beautiful and intriguing.

One of the things I find fascinating from this book is the realization that all people everywhere share the burden of growing up, of culture, and of the hopes and expectations of their parents.  For the majority of us, we caring these burdens among our own people… fellow humans who share similar experiences in this and this helps us not feel so alone.  However, for those who have left their native lands, there can be a constant ache and isolation as they endure the struggles of life without the ability to lean on someone who can understand how they feel.  What’s more, the first generation born in another land are even more isolated, having one foot in the old and new country, they can neither relate to their parents who have no understanding of the way things are in their adopted homeland, nor can they fully relate to their peers who either don’t have any concept of their home life or they find it a curiosity.

Interestingly, after reading this book, it has made me take a second look and given me a deeper respect for Maggie’s dad, who left his own homeland of Vietnam more than ten years ago and has recently become a naturalized US citizen.  Not that I didn’t have respect for him before, but rather gained a bit more empathy for him.  It’s also given me another perspective with Maggie, who made a passing comment recently how she sometimes wishes she was either all Vietnamese or all white, as being both sometimes makes her feel outside of either culture.

For it’s quiet beauty and it’s lasting effect, I give The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri 4 and a 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Read-a-Thon ~ Ahh… Peace and Quiet!

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Sammi has gone to her friend’s for the night, and I just sent Mags and Gwen to the Y for open swim and told ‘em not to come back until it closed (4 o’clock). Now, maybe I can get some real reading done!

After upturn laundry baskets (hunting for bathing suits), and piteous cries bemoaning their wretched fate of forced march to their dooms in the swimming pool of torment, my ears are ringing from the lack of sound. The starting and stopping of reading has made me nearly forget which book I’m even reading at the moment!

So I thought I’d take a sec for an update. I’m going to forego another until I finish How to Be a Villian, which is funny! I keep thinking about Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil, and many other evil-doers of film and TV. Even a few of the book giants, too :-D

In the pursuit of evil henchmen, the mean English teacher is highly recommended, as she (or he) has the power to make heroes wilt at the mere thought of her (or him).

Reading Update:

Empire Falls by Richard Russo ~ finished
The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis ~ Chapter 4, read.
How to Be a Villian by Neil Zawacki ~ pages 88 – 121 read, 39 more to go.

and Maggie’s back. She dropped her swimsuit and had to come back for it. lol… What a day!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Title:  The Book Thief

Author:  Markus Zusak

Paperback:  354 pages

Publisher:  Transworld Publishers (div of Random House)

Publish Date:  2005

ISBN:  9780552773898

Miscellaneous: Don’t forget to check out this review’s companion post. It includes info on The Book Thief‘s future as a movie, and several quotes from the book I wasn’t able to work into this review.

On June 23, 1942, there was a group of French Jews in a German prison, on Polish soil.  The first person I took was close to the door, his mind racing, then reduced to pacing, then slowing down, slowing down…

Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born.  I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks.  I listened to their last, gasping cries.  Their French words.  I watched their love-visions and freed them from their fear.

I took them all away, and if ever there was a time I needed distraction, this was it.  In complete desolation, I looked at the world above.  I watched the sky as it turned from silver to grey to the colour of rain.  Even the clouds tried to look the other way.

Sometimes, I imagined how everything appeared above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye.

They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 358

I finished The Book Thief  by Markus Zasuk on Tuesday, but have not been able to stop thinking about it since.  Normally, I sit down and write the review as soon as I finish a book, then pick up the next book and move on.  However, when I read the last words of The Book Thief :

A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR:  I am haunted by humans.

I found myself not wanting to let the book go.  I told myself I wanted to wait to review it so it could sink in and ruminate.  I had already posted it on BookMooch figuring, like most books, I wouldn’t want to reread it, and it was mooched up right away, but now I don’t want to give it up.  I have put off starting Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince because I don’t want to put anything else in there ever again.  All of this is utterly baffling to me because I have never had an attachment or a reaction to any book like this.

The book itself, plot-wise and such, is easy to sum up.  It is the story of Liesel Meminger, the book thief, who comes to live the Hubermann’s at age nine as their foster daughter.  On the way to Molching, where the Hubermann’s live, Liesel’s younger brother dies and is buried in a cemetery at the next stop.  It is in this place she “steals” her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, after it falls out of the pocket of the apprentice gravedigger.  As the novel progresses, Liesel makes friends with other children on Himmel (a word that means “heaven”) Street, the Hubermann’s take in and hide a Jew, and Liesel discovers the awe-inspiring private library of the mayor’s wife, from which she liberates a book now and then.  All this is told by the book’s narrator, Death.

Summarizing the book is simple.  Explaining and conveying how it effected me, the reader, is anything but.  First of all, Zusak writes with a poetic beauty that captures the way children take in the world around them.  He often crosses the communication of the five senses:

At times, in that basement, she woke up tasting the sound of the accordion in her hears.  She could feel the sweet burn of champagne on her tongue. -p. 365

One line I remember but was unable to find said something like “The smell of the sound of my footsteps,”   and there are so many more lines like these in the book.

Another concept Zusak descriptively conveys is the power of words.</p>

Once, words had rendered Liesel useless, but now, when she sat on the floor, with the mayor’s wife at her husband’s desk, she felt an innate sense of power.  It happened every time she deciphered a new word or pieced together a sentence. -p. 154

She couldn’t tell exactly where the words came from.  What mattered was that they reached her.  They arrived and kneeled next to the bed. -p. 246

After a miscarriaged pause, the mayor’s wife edged forward and picked up the book.  She was battered and beaten up, and not from smiling this time.  Liesel could see it on her face.  Blood leaked from her nose and licked at her lips.  Her eyes had blackened.  Cuts had opened up and a series of wounds were rising to the surface of her skin.  All from words.  From Liesel’s words. -p. 273

Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. “I will never fire a gun,” he said.  “I will not have to…”  His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible…  He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany.  It was a nation of Farmed thoughts. -p. 451

Frighteningly, it was exactly through the power of words and a healthy dose of charisma that Hitler was able to accomplish all the evil that was done in his name.  He himself didn’t do the physical work, that would have required him to be in several places at once making that impossible, but through the words of his speeches and policies others took up his cause.  Even more frightening is that his words are still used and followed to this day by some.

Also, through the use of Death, the ultimate impartial onlooker, as narrator Zusak is able to make epiphanic observations about human beings:

In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer – proof again of the contradictory human being.  So much good, so much evil.  Just add water. -p. 171

I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men.  They are not.  They’re running at me. -p. 182

Death also points out that, beginning with houses of cards and sandcastles, humans “watch everything that was so carefully planned collapse and… smile at the beauty of destruction.”  And he states a couple of times that the human child is much cannier than the adult.

By far, however, the most important observation Death makes, the concept that sets the tenor of the entire book is this:

AN OBSERVATION
A pair of train guards.
A pair of gravediggers.
When it came down to it, one
of them called the shots. The
other did what he was told.The
question is, what if the

other is a lot more than one?
-p. 30

What happens when there are a lot more people who simply do as there told, without question?  What happens to a society when a madman can rule through eloquent speeches, expressing ideals of hatred, and inspiring others to carry out morally reprehensible acts of violence and wickedness?

The Book Thief by Markus Zasuk is haunting and breath-taking, poetically beautiful and filled with truth.  Death often expresses sardonic, almost bitter, statements of irony, all the while telling the reader he is impartial.  He points out both the evil and the good of humans, expresses both disappointment and admiration of the species among whom he walks and collects.  It is a Homeric work that is full of joy and sorrow, anger and forgiveness, love and loss.  It is the story of a handful of people in Nazi Germany during 1939-1945; adults, children, Catholic, Nazi, and Jew, the “free” (was anyone truly free then?) and the hidden, the epitome of the “master race” and the persecuted and annihilated.

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If you’ll take a look to the right, you’ll notice I’ve added a new widget in the sidebar labelled “Mt. TBR Hall of Fame.”  This is my Top 10 favorite books of all-time.  This, honestly, is an imprecise feat, as I know I’ll think of a book that I liked better but forgot, or I’ll read a book that will replace a book on here, and that is okay because I can always edit it.  When I added the widget, I was in the middle of reading The Book Thief, but it had already impressed me enough to be listed in 6th place… and I hadn’t even finished it yet.  And after finishing it and digesting it and writing this review, it has moved up to first place.

Obviously, as The Book Thief by Markus Zasuk is now my all-time favorite book, I give it 5 out of 5 stars.  It should be included in school curriculum alongside The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s NightThe Book Thief has both historicity and literary eloquence, and will undoubtedly become a classic.

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Again, don’t forget to check out this review’s companion post.

The Tutu Ballet by Sally O. Lee

Title:  The Tutu Ballet

Author:  Sally O. Lee

Illustrator:  Sally O. Lee

Paperback:  36 pages

Publisher:  BookSurge Publishing

Publish Date:  2008

ISBN:  9781439209165

Ms. Berry had her hands full with this class. She tried very hard to get all her students to plie at the same time, or jump at the same time, but they would all fall back to their favorite dance steps and it would result in mayhem.

Fillippo would bump into Harriett with his jumps and Beminda would accidentally kick Mirabel with her famous left kicks.

Sometimes it looked more like a boxing match rather than a ballet class.

-The Tutu Ballet by Sally O. Lee, pages 24-25

Guest Review by Maggie

The Tutu Ballet by Sally O. Leeis about the students of Ms. Berry’s ballet class wanting to only do their favorite moves. Belinda the Bear only liked to do kicks, Fellippo the Fox only liked to do jumps, Mirabel the Mouse only plied, and Harriett the Hare like to twirl. This made class clumsy and a big mess with everyone hurting each other.

What I liked about this book is that it’s about ballet. My favorite part was when everyone in the class was going crazy and falling on each other.

The only thing I did not like about this book is the words are hard to read. I wish they had been typed up on the computer instead of hand written. The letters were small and the words sometimes ran together and made it hard for me to read.

I thought the message of this story is friendship and working together. I give The Tutu Ballet by Sally O. Lee 4 out of 5 stars.

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The Kool-Aid Mom’s review 

The Tutu Ballet by Sally O. Lee is a cute little story of a group of ballet students who prefer to do their favorite moves instead of performing the ones their teacher directs them.  I suppose it may have to do with their ages, though that information is never given, or it may just be that this particular group struggles with paying attention as the quote given suggests that not all the classes are this way and that they fall back into doing their favorite steps.  But, for what ever the reason, the class presents a challenge for the former prima ballerina teacher Ms. Berry in creating a recital program.

What I found interesting with this book is that Maggie, age 10, and I, an adult and parent, understood two different messages.  She saw it from the point of view of the children and came away believing the message was friendship and unity.  Whereas I, viewing it from the “gotta get things done” and “we need order” point of view, understood the book to be about creative problem-solving.

As with her previous book, The Rabbit and the Snowman, Lee both wrote and illustrated this book.  The artwork is warm and inviting, not clean and realistic as with some children’s books but rather having that feeling of a child’s imagination.

The Tutu Ballet by Sally O. Lee offers a pleasurable few minutes of togetherness through reading with a child and gives easy-to-pick-out conversation starters and points of discussion. I also give The Tutu Ballet 4 out of 5 stars.

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Support independent authors and buy a copy today!

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

Title:  The Last Battle

Author:  C. S. Lewis

Paperback:  767 pages

Publisher:  HarperCollins

Publish Date:  2001

ISBN:  0066238501

Miscellaneous:  The copy I have read is in a complete book.  There aren’t 767 pages in The Last Battle alone.

 

 

 

“Look!  What’s that?”

 “What’s what?” said Puzzle.

 “That yellow thing that’s just come down the waterfall.  Look!  There it is again, it’s floating.  We must find out what it is.”

 “Must we?” said Puzzle.

 “Of course we must,” said Shift.  “It may be something useful.  Just hop into the Pool like a good fellow and fish it out.  Then we can have a proper look at it.”

 … He flung it down in front of Shift and stood dripping and shivering and trying to get his breath back.  But the Ape never looked at him or asked him how he felt.  The Ape was too busy going round and round the thing and spreading it out and patting it and smelling it.  Then a wicked gleam came into his eye and he said:  “It is a lion’s skin…. We’ll make this skin into a fine warm winter coat for you.”

 …As soon as he was alone Shift went… into his little house.  He found needle and thread and a big pair of scissors… Then he came down the tree and shambled across to the lion-skin.  He squatted down and got to work…

 Late in the afternoon Puzzle came back.  He was not trotting but only plodding patiently along, the way donkeys do…  “Come and try on your beautiful new lion-skin coat,” said Shift.

 … The skin was very heavy for him to lift, but in the end… he got it on to the donkey… No one who had ever seen a real lion would have been taken in for a moment.  But if someone who had never seen a lion looked at Puzzle in his lion-skin he just might mistake him for a lion…  “If anyone saw you now, they’d think you were Aslan, the Great Lion, himself.”

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, pages 671-673

 

Thus begins the great deception and the beginning of the end of Narnia.  Shift the Ape manipulates and bullies Puzzle the Donkey into believing that Aslan himself wants them to go to the people of Narnia and claim Puzzle is really the Great Lion, and to rule the land through this pretense.  Puzzle has been used by Shift for so long (under the guise of “friendship,” though “servitude” might better describe the Donkey’s side of the relationship), that he is unable to stand up to the damn, dirty Ape (nod to Heston and “Planet of the Apes” hehe).

It is through this false-Aslan that Shift enslaves the land of Narnia, using the Animals as slaves and threatening anyone who dares to question his authority with the Wrath of Aslan.  “He is not a tame lion” is repeated over and over to fill their minds with terror, and, even when they know this new “Aslan” is the opposite of everything they’ve always been taught is the nature of the true Aslan, the Narnians are unable to throw off the Ape’s bonds and fight back.

Even when Shift brings in Calormene soldiers and announces that the Narnian Animals are to be sent to work, and all their wages are to be paid to “Aslan’s” treasury, for only “Aslan” can care for their true needs.  Compounding a lie with a lie, the Calormene Captain and Shift tell the Animals that Tash, the Calormene god to whom men are sacrificed, and Aslan are one in the same; two different names for the same person.  This new god is called “Tashlan,” the meshing of the two names.

When Tirian, the last King of Narnia, calls on Aslan to rescue his country, the Great Lion is silent, so Tirian, remembering how children from another world had saved Narnia in it’s darkest periods of history, calls on the friends of Narnia to come and save his land.  And, after a vision-dream of the seven legendary Friends sitting down to dinner and seeing the phantom of Tirian among them, he is surprised by the appearance of Jill and Eustace.  Along with Jewel the Unicorn, who is Tirian’s best friend, the two children and a Dwarf named Poggin, the stage is set for the last battle of Narnia.

 

In the shadow of the trees on the far side of the clearing something was moving.  It was gliding very slowly Northward.  At a first glance you might have mistaken it for smoke, for it was grey and you could see things through it.  But the deathly smell was not the smell of smoke.  Also, this thing kept its shape instead of billowing and curling as smoke would have done.  It was roughly the shape of a man but it had the head of a bird; some bird of prey with a cruel, curved beak.  It had four arms which it held high above its head, stretching them out Northward as if it wanted to snatch all Narnia in its grip; and its fingers – all twenty of them – were curved like its beak and had long, pointed, bird-like claws instead of nails.  It floated on the grass instead of walking, and the grass seemed to wither beneath it…. [They] watched it… until it streamed away… and disappeared.  Then the sun came out again, and the birds once more began to sing….

“I have seen it once before,” said Tirian. “But that time it was carved in stone and overlaid with gold and had solid diamonds for eyes…. [It was in] the great temple of Tash… carved above the altar.”

“What was it?” said Eustace in a whisper.

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 712

 

 The entrance of the Calormene god Tash takes this final fight into the realm of the supernatural, as it becomes the epic battle of the ultimate good, Aslan, and his antithesis Tash:  Life versus Death.

 The message of The Last Battle, I believe, is this:  We are not always meant to win the good fight, only to FIGHT the good fight.  Early on in the book we know this is a lost cause, the side of evil will prevail, and the heroes’ lives  will be forfeit.  But, even then, Aslan will have the final say.

 In The Last Battle, Lewis also addresses two major questions of Christianity.  First, how can a person who has known the goodness and greatness of Christ turn his or her back on Him, choosing, instead, their own will.  Second, what of those people who have never heard the Gospel and therefore had no chance to believe?  Will He condemn them to Hell?

 Missing for the Friends of Narnia is Susan, and somehow I knew this immediate when I counted eight helpers of Narnia, but only seven Friends of Narnia.  Somehow I knew the missing person was Susan.

 

“Sire,” said Tirian… “there should be another… Where is Queen Susan?”

“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”

“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says ‘What wonderful memories you have!  Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.”

“Oh, Susan!”  said Jill.  “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations.  She always was a jolly sight to keen on being grown-up.”

“Grown-up indeed,” said the Lady Polly.  “I wish she would grow up.  She wasted all her shool time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 741

 

Susan turned away from Narnia and Aslan and, instead, made vanity and things of the world her focus.  BUT, Lewis did not say she could not become a Friend of Narnia again.  Further, someone had to survive to tell The Chronicles of Narnia.

 As the Seven plus Tirian go “further up, further in,” they meet a Calormene who tells them of his meeting Aslan:

 

“Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him.  Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.  Both the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my fourehead with his tongue and said, ‘Son, thou art welcome.’  But I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.’  He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service to me.’ Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’  The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, “It is false.  Not because4 he and I are one, but because we are opposites – I take to me the service which thou hast done to him.  For I and he are such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.  Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.  And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.  Dost thou understand, Child?’  I said, ‘Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.’   But I said also (for the truth constrained me), ‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’  ‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly.  For all find what they truly seek.’

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 757

 

 Honestly, it was impossible to review this book without incorporating the religious aspects of it.  That is not to say it can’t be enjoyed without being religious.  It stands alone as the heart-wrenching finale of a much loved and favorite literary classic series.  I couldn’t help but cry at the end; for the beauty, for the Friends, for all who had been were together again… and for Susan, who, by her folly, missed the train (if you’ve read this, or when you do read this, book you’ll get that reference).

 The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis is beyond words, and I sigh with a bittersweet happiness, as I have come to the end of my journey through Narnia.  I leave you with the last paragraph of the last book of Narnia:

 

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page:  now at last they were beginning Chaper One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read:  which goes on for ever:  in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 767

 

5 out of 5 stars.

hated it!didn't like itit was okayliked itLoved it!

When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale

Title: When We Were Romans
Author: Matthew Kneale
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Double Day
Publish Date: July 22, 2008
ISBN: 9780385526258

I had seen mum when she got worreid but I never saw her like this, this was worse. I said “mum, its time to get up, don’t you want your breakfast” but she just talked really quietly so I could hardly hear, it was like she was yawning, she said “I think I’ll just stay here, Lawrence, I’m a bit tired.” I said “but you can’t mum, we’ve got to go to Rome, remember” but she didn’t say anything, she just lay in her bed looking up at the cieling with her eyes. I could feel my breathing going fast and Jemimas lips were going all wobbly like she would cry, she said “whats gone wrong with mummy” and I didn’t know what to do, I thought “what about our breakfast?” I thought “I don’t know where we get it, we can’t go without mum” and suddenly I wanted to cry too. But then I thought of something, it was like I just notised it, I thought “I cant get upset too actually or there will be nobody left.”

When We Were Romans is a story of a family in crisis, fleeing from their home to escape the children’s stalking father as told by nine-year-old Lawrence. Through Lawrence’s eyes we witness and feel the life of a child who has no choice or control in his life and must go with and take care of his mentally ill mother. In this, Lawrence is both a helpless child desperate for his mother’s affection and care giver who must watch her carefully, always ready to do or say whatever he must to keep her from slipping into a deep depressive state.  (I kept wondering if she was a bipolar, borderline personality, or had paranoid schitzophrenia.)

It is heartbreaking to watch Lawrence struggle with being a typical older sibling who feels his baby sister is favored (and sometimes he’s right, as Jemima screams and bites until their mother gives in), and with being the man of the family, responsible for Jemima’s care and his mother’s safety. Several times his mother loses herself and Lawrence feels panicked about what he could do as a child.

As the book progresses, Hannah (mum) descends deeper into her delusions. When her friends disagree with her and try to get her to see that what she says is not possible, she tells Lawrence their father has turned them against her. She finally comes unhinged as she is certain their father has taken up residence in the building next door, sneaks in their house and poisons the food, and at one point she tells Lawrence he’s poisoned their tap, too. When Lawrence expresses his doubts about what his mother says, Hannah withholds love and affection until he finally gives in and agrees to everything she tells him.

A bit later the door opened and mum looked in, she was still cross, I could see it. She said “hurry up Lawrence, we’re going out to get some breakfast at a cafe.” I thought “that’s strange, why does she want to go outside to a cafe when shes worried dads out there?” But then when I got up I saw there were two garbage bags by the door and I understood, I thought “oh yes of course, mum has thrown away all our food in case its poissoned, so we have to go out.” I thought “I hope it really is poissoned or thats a big waste of food”

For me, this was a hard read. Not in the sense of densness or poor writing, Kneale is an amazing writer, never jumping out of Lawrence’s voice, and the language was so simple, just like a nine-year-old would write. What made it hard was that I’ve had a past where I was a mom and struggled with mental illness at the same time. It’s amazing how much children see and understand that, years later, I’m still shocked and embarrassed by the things they remember. To understand what young Lawrence is feeling, both dependant and caretaker, always tiptoeing around to see how mum’s feeling at this minute, which could turn 180 degrees the next. To hear his frustration, hurt, anger, and devotion breaks my heart for him… and for my kids, as well.

Also sprinkled throughout the book are scientific stories about space, Emperors and Popes. These are different tidbits from the books Lawrence was reading and at first seemed non-sequiter, but as I began to try to figure out how they fit within the text (I was certain an author of Kneale’s talent would just throw them in for filler) I began to see how they reflected what was going on for Lawrence. As he talks of “The Great Attractor” and the sun expanding out and burning up the earth before imploding on itself, I can see this references the pull his mother had on him. The stories of Popes and Emperors displayed madness and murder at it’s nth degree. The story of Nero trying to kill his mother Agrippina is was particularly interesting as I couldn’t help but wonder if this was Lawrence’s subconscious wish.

Amazingly simplistic and deeply intuitive, When We Were Romans is a prize worthy work. However, if you are put off by spelling and grammatical errors, I do not recommend it. As I said, it is written from Lawrence’s point of view and is full of the type of mispelling and grammar trouble typical of a child. But if you are able to look past that and enjoy books of family drama and suspense, then I definitely suggest adding When We Were Romansto your own Mt. TBR.   4.5 stars out of 5   This story will be with me for a while.

Mishka: An Adoption Tale by Adrienne Ehlert Bashista

Title: Mishka: An Adoption Tale
Author: Adrienne Ehlert Bashista
Illustrator: Miranda R. Mueller
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: DRT Press
Publish Date: 2007
ISBN: 9781933084015

Mo sat high on a shelf in an airport gift shop.
Every day he watched as people rushed by. He wondered where they were going, and what they were like. Often, he’d see a mother and a father and some children and he’d long for them to come into the shop and buy him, but no one ever did.
More than anything, Mo wanted a family. He wanted a home.

Mo’s feelings echo those of any child living in an orphanage, watching people and families going about their own busy lives. When Mo finds himself in the company of a man and a woman, he wonders where they’re going. When they land in Russia, he asks if it’s their home. And at the orphanage, he wonders who they are seeing. Throughout the whole book, it’s Mo’s uncertainty that we hear, which of course reflects the child’s feelings.

It is for these children Bashista has written Mishka: An Adoption Tale. This is quite a beautiful book, both the detailed illustrations and the story are captivating and heartwarming. Mishka walks the reader through the process: the initial visit between prospective parents and child, then claiming the child and getting the paperwork in order, and finally the going home. However, it’s not an “instructional” or even a chronicle of events, instead it’s written from the point of view of Mo the bear who is the thread that connects the couple and the child throughout the story.

I really enjoyed this book, and I’ve read it three or four times already. I just can’t stop smiling whenever I look through it. Mo the bear’s body language and facial expressions change on each page, expressing the feelings of the moment. He is the ball in the game of catch, and he is the comfort object during the couple’s absence.

Maggie’s review:

I really loved this book. I liked Mo the bear and want one of my own. They should make a Mo to sell with the book so I can hold him while we read the book. My favorite part is when the man and the boy play catch with Mo as the ball. I think this book is so sweet! And I love the drawings, they’re pretty. The book has two stories in it. One story is about the little boy’s adoption. The other story is about Mo the bear getting a family and a home. I thought the part at the beginning when he’s on the shelf and nobody wants to buy him is sad, but if somebody had bought him then he wouldn’t have been Yuri’s Mishka. This book is for children in Russia who are getting adopted. I give this book 100 stars out of 5 stars. I really really liked it!

Mishka: An Adoption Tale is a perfect book for a classroom reading time book for ages 4 through 8 (though, Maggie’s 9 and loved it, too). It’s a wonderful conversation-starter and I found myself, quite unexpectedly, telling Maggie about how I had considered giving her up for adoption while I was pregnant with her. We talked about that for a while, as I explained to her that I had thought of it because I had wanted her to have the best life possible. I couldn’t do it, obviously, and I’m very glad I didn’t. I think the process makes her special to me because I chose to keep her. And I think adopted children are loved with that same special love because they were also chosen.

The ability of a book to draw out discussions of more difficult subjects without effort is a characteristic of an exceptional book, as is the ability to carry the reader along without the reader seeing the process, and Mishka does this.

I give Mishka: An Adoption Tale by Adrienne Ehlert Bashista five out of five stars. :-D

Don’t forget to enter to win a signed copy of Mishka: An Adoption Tale!

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