Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

homers-odysseyTitle:  Homer’s Odyssey:  A Fearless Feline Tale, Or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat

Author:  Gwen Cooper

Hardback:  289 pages

ISBN:  9780385343855

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart. Then Gwen’s veterinarian called with a story about a three-week-old eyeless kitten who’d been abandoned. It was love at first sight.

Everyone warned that Homer would always be an “underachiever,” never as playful or independent as other cats. But the kitten nobody believed in quickly grew into a three-pound dynamo, a tiny daredevil with a giant heart who eagerly made friends with every human who crossed his path. Homer scaled seven-foot bookcases with ease and leapt five feet into the air to catch flies in mid-buzz. He survived being trapped alone for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and even saved Gwen’s life when he chased off an intruder who broke into their home in the middle of the night.

But it was Homer’s unswerving loyalty, his infinite capacity for love, and his joy in the face of all obstacles that inspired Gwen daily and transformed her life. And by the time she met the man she would marry, she realized Homer had taught her the most important lesson of all:  Love isn’t something you see with your eyes.

Homer’s Odyssey is the once-in-a-lifetime story of an extraordinary cat and his human companion.  It celebrates the refusal to accept limits -on love, ability, or hope against overwhelming odds.  By turns jubilant and moving, it’s a memoir for anybody who’s ever fallen completely and helplessly in love with a pet.

-Inside dust cover of Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Okay… breathe…  I’m going to do my best to review this book on the its merits alone, and not gush about the author herself.  It would be easy for me to go on about how, upon hearing that my daughter, also named Gwen, loves animals and has a black cat, was really excited by the book when I got my advanced reader copy and wanted me to read it to her, emailed me for my address and not only sent her a signed copy of the finished book with a beautiful hand-written card and pictures of Homer, but also sent her a copy of the audio book.  AND that, with all that she’s got going on in her life with book-signings, fundraisers and feeling under the weather, she still takes time message us and even remembers my daughter’s cat’s name.  But this is a review of the book, not the author, so I will focus my attention on that.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper is a memoir of how the things that we might never choose on our own can be exactly what we need.  It is about recognizing value in someone or something and building your life around it.  It is about how, by looking at life and love through the eyes of another, we take on the traits we admire in that person.  In Gwen Cooper’s case, that person was a blind wonder cat, through whom she learned courage, how to love, and perseverance.

One thing I really like about this book is the format.  It’s set up as a journey from who and where Gwen was when she got the call from the vet about the eyeless kitten whom nobody wanted and would likely be put down if she, his last chance, didn’t adopt him, continues through jobs and moves and romances, and ends with what she has learned and insights she has gained through knowing and loving and living with Homer.  But, each chapter is also a tale in and of itself, making it a book that can be devoured straight through (honestly, it’s very hard to put down) or you can nibble on it and ponder each lesson.  Also, each chapter begins with a picture, usually of Homer, but occasionally of Scarlett or Vashti, Homer’s big sisters, and a quote from the other Homer, the Greek storyteller.

Another thing that I enjoyed with this book is Gwen’s sense of humor.  There are so many laugh-out-loud moments,  like bringing her date in and the two of them being greeted by a cat who not only discovered the tampons, but how to unwrap them, proudly carrying them in his mouth to show to his mommy.  Also, there is a quality to her writing that made me feel like we’ve been friends for years.

Like life, though, the book isn’t all sunshine and roses.  There are real dangers and some terrifying moments, like waking up to find a burglar in her apartment.  As well as the heart wrenching days after September 11th, when Gwen tried desperately to get back to her cats who were trapped in their apartment, just blocks from where the two towers had stood.

I found Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper to be moving and inspirational, at times hilarious and touching, and am thankful that there was a vet who refused to accept that an eyeless kitten was better off being put down, that Gwen Cooper was in the vet’s contacts list and opened her heart to him, and that she has shared Homer and his wisdom with all of us.  I give Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s one of my favorites and I’ll be rereading it again and again :-)

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg

home-repairTitle:  Home Repair

Author:  Liz Rosenberg

Paperback:  352 pages

ISBN:  9780061734564

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

But it was more than facing the clutter and the mess, this grip of cold gloom that surrounded her.  She had never been prone to depression, not even after Ivan died, but what she suffered now felt like a disease of the soul.  She wandered aimlessly around the house.  The flowers in their clay pots out on the front porch were long dead and withered.  A few brown leaves stuck out from the stems.  She seemed to be staring at the demise of everything.  Everything she’d already lost, all the losses still to come.  It all headed toward grief in the end.  Humans were soap bubbles, clinging to any solid surface.  They rested briefly, then were gone.  Her mother would be gone soon, and not long after, it would be herself, and one day even her own children…

A chill stabbed her heart.  Why on earth bother?  Why clean, take out the trash, make the beds.  Why not let it all alone to rot?

- Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg, pages 183-184 (ARE)

I’d first like to thank Jennifer, aka Book Club Girl, for the opportunity to read Home Repair and participate in a discussion with Liz Rosenberg, the book’s author.  You can listen to her July 8th broadcast on Blog Talk Radio with the author by clicking here.  It was my first time participating in a live discussion with an author, and was an interesting experience.  It would definitely be more interesting to have the author’s voice at a book club discussion more often.

One of the things that sticks out most for me with Home Repair is that it truly has a feeling of authenticity.  Often in books, when the tragic or fantastic occurs, it feels contrived or manufactured, a vehicle for the author to get the characters from one point to another, or to teach a lesson.  However, with this book, the events feel natural.  When Eve and her seventeen-year-old son, Marcus, get into a fight about him going for a ride in his friend’s new sports car, it had a very familiar feeling to me, a mother of two teens of my own.  The events that followed the argument also felt familiar and made me think back to something that had happened within my own family.  Another aspect of Home Repair that I kept thinking of while reading it was that the characters were very real to me.  At times I could see my own mother in Charlotte, Eve’s mom, with Eve playing my part, at other times Mrs. Dunrea could’ve been me.  Also, Rosenberg has set Home Repair in her home town of Bignhamton, New York, adding even more realism to the book.

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg begins on a bright, sunny and unseasonably mild day as Eve holds a garage sale to clear out some of the clutter in her family of four’s life.  As the day progresses, she becomes aware that her husband, Chuck, has taken the opportunity to clear out for good.  Eve is left with the task of explaining to her two children, Marcus and Noni, that he’s left them, and to somehow manage to dig down within herself and soldier on.  The book takes us on a year journey as Eve rediscovers who she is, develops friendships and connections with new and different people, and deepens her relationships with those she already knows.  When her mother moves up from Tennessee to “help,” Eve is faced with her mother’s own eventual mortality and humanness, as she struggles in the in-between land of mother caring for her own children while being a child caring for her mother.  Home Repair is the story of healing, family and friendship that will stay with you and gives hope that “This too shall pass.”

“Why does anyone get married?  Why do middle-aged men leave their wives, or women abandon their families and run off to Tahiti?  Why does anyone bother to become friends with anyone, or adopt a child, or own a pet, for that matter?  We’re all going to die sooner or later, if that’s what you’re thinking,”  Charlotte said.  “That’s life.  Nothing we do can change that.  We’re all going to someday say good-bye.  We’re all going to have to cry, little girl,” she said, putting one hand out to touch Eve’s hair.  The touch did not quite happen, but hovered, and then settled back down, like a butterfly, still quivering.  “We might as well be happy while we can.”

-Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg, page 324 (ARE)

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg is a comfort, homey read that reminds us that we’re not alone and gives us hope.  It tells us that we’re stronger than we think and love is the best home repair.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

They Plotted Revenge Against America by Abe F. March


Title:  They Plotted Revenge Against America

Author:  Abe F. March

Paperback:  254 pages

Date Published:  February 3, 2009

Publisher:  All Things That Matter Press

ISBN:  9780982272220

“Pandemics happen,”  U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt had said.  There have been ten in the past 300 years, and “we’re overdue and under prepared” for the next one.  Would America be ready for a flu pandemic at least as deadly as the one in 1918 that killed roughly 50 million people worldwide, including 500,000 in the USA?  David and his scientists didn’t think so.  The scientists working with David were scientists for hire and worked underground.  Knowing the strong arm of the Mossad, they were trusted to keep any work they did secret and confided only to the originator.  They were now assigned to work on a deadly virus…. people had become more vulnerable today than in 1918 because many more now lived in cities that are dependent on food brought in for outside.  In a disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane, help can come from outside the region, but with a pandemic, there is no outside.

… Bird and fish virus were the ideal candidates for David and his scientists.  The initial target would be the northeastern part of the United States.  The forests and waterways would be used to begin the infestation of both fish and birds whose virus would be transmitted to millions of Americans.

-They Plotted Revenge Against America by Abe F. March, pages 30-31

They Plotted Revenge Against America by Abe F. March is glimpse into the minds and motivations of a group of would-be terrorists.  Christian, Jew and Muslim, they are bonded in their desire to punish Israel’s biggest supporter in the hope of removing the teeth of the Israeli bite.  The plan is simple:  Go to the US, blend in, observe fish and wildlife in the Northeast and poultry farming in the South, then release viruses that will transmute into a deadly flu, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. 

However, it is much easier to maintain their hatred for the US and desire revenge for their families deaths while living in the Middle-East.  Once in America, the teams meet and get to know the people who live in the places they are planning to infect; they begin to have second thoughts and feel guilty, seeing their new friends as their potential victims and not enemies.  Things become even more complicated when one of them is detained and interrogated, another falls under the suspicion of a community member, and David, the leader, becomes romantically involved with Samantha, the team liaison.

While this book has moments that seem preachy/teachy about the evil, white-devil America and her meddling in Mid-eastern affairs, it is an intriguing read.  As I read this book, Obama-Netanyahu met and “agreed to disagree” about Israeli-Palestinian settlement and peace, and the Swine Flu scare had schools closing in random locations across the US, which added some tension to my reading.  I couldn’t help but look at H1N1 with a suspicious eye and think that that might be the work of terrorists… interesting how a deadly, potentially-pandemic-capable virus broke out in a popular vacation spot around the time of US Spring Break.

While I don’t believe the author is anti-American, infact March served in the US Air Force from 1957-1961, They Plotted Revenge Against Americamight be viewed as excusing, even condoning, terrorism against the US by more Conservative, right-wing, politically impassioned people.  In much the same way as some Christians jumped on Harry Potter with both feet, proclaiming it “of the devil,” this book might not be received by those who are strong supporters of Israel and believe in US involvement in the Mid-East.

For the most part, I enjoyed reading They Plotted Revenge Against America by Abe F. March, and it will stick with me for a while.  I give it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

If you’d like to read other reviews of this book, I reccommend the following:

The Book Tiger

Malcom’s Round Table

The Book Thief companion post

I decided to make a second post for The Book Thief, as my review was taking on an extended life of it’s own and would have eventually grown beyond 3000 words.  Since a lot of what is in this post isn’t a review of the book itself, I thought it best to put the following in a companion post.

Other thoughts about and quotes from The Book Thief:

Last week’s “Booking Through Thursday” question had to do with books made into movies, including the question “What book would you NOT want to be made into a movie?”  At the time, I really didn’t have an answer for that question, but NOW I do.

I don’t ever want to see The Book Thief made into a movie.  One of the major points of beauty with this book is the writing itself.  Zusak’s poetic and illustrative narrative cannot POSSIBLY be translated to the screen.  It is the word pictures and imaginative imagery that make The Book Thief so special, and I believe that when this book is presented in an acted-out format it will simply become just another sad, hard-knock-life, World-War-Two story like so many others that line the video store’s shelves.

Sadly, it is already optioned and in the pre-production stage with a tentative release date of 2010.  *sighs and cries*   Honestly, tell me how the following passage can be “re-formatted” for the big screen:

     …For some reason, dying men always ask questions they know the answer to.  Perhaps it’s so they can die being right.

The voices suddenly all sounded the same.
     Robert Holtzapfel collapsed to his right, onto the cold and steamy ground.
     I’m sure he expected to meet me there and then.
He didn’t.
     Unfortunately for the young German, I did not take him that afternoon.  I stepped over him with the other poor souls in my arms and made my way back to the Russians.
     Back and forth, I travelled.
Disassembled men.
     It was no ski-trip, I can tell you.

     As Michael told his mother, it was three very long days later that I finally came for the soldier who left his feet behind in Stalingrad.  I showed up very much invited at the temporary hospital and flinched at the smell.
     A man with a bandaged hand was telling the mute, shock-faced soldier that he would survive.  “You’ll soon be going home,” he assured him.
     Yes, home, I thought.  For good.
     “I’ll wait for you,” he continued.  “I was going back at the end of the week, but I’ll wait.”
     In the middle of his brother’s next sentence, I gathered up the soul of Robert Holtzapfel.
     Usually, I need to exert myself, to look through the ceiling when I’m inside, but I was lucky in that particular building.  A small section of the roof had been destroyed and I could see straight up.  A metre away, Michael Holtzapfel was still talking.  I tried to ignore him by watching the hole above me.  The sky was white but deteriorating fast.  As always, it was becoming an enormous dust sheet.  Blood was bleeding through, and in patches, the clouds were dirty, like footprints in melting snow.
     Footprints? you ask.
Well, I wonder whose those could be.

     In Frau Holtzapfel’s kitchen, Liesel read.  The pages waded by unheard, and for me, when the Russian scenery fades in my eyes, the snow refuses to stop falling from the ceiling.  The kettle is covered, as is the table.  The humans, too, are wearing patches of snow, on their heads and shoulders.
     The brother shivers.
The woman weeps.
     And the girl goes on reading, for that’s why she’s there, and it feels good to be good for something in the aftermath of the snows of Stalingrad.

 -The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, pages 475-477

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Nazi soldiers march some Jewish prisoners back to the work camp in Dachau, the “parade” makes its way through Molching.   The following quote describes this event:

On Munich Street, they watched.
     … They watched the Jews come down the road like a catalogue of colours.  That wasn’t how the book thief described them, but I can tell you that that’s exactly what they were, for many of them would die.  They would each greet me like their last true friend, with bones like smoke, and their souls trailing behind.

     When they arrived in full, the noise of their feet throbbed amongst the road.  Their eyes were enormous in their starving skulls.  And the dirt.  The dirt was moulded to them.  Their legs staggered as they were pushed by soldiers’ hands – a few wayward steps of forced running before the slow return to a malnourished walk.
     … The suffering faces of depleted men and women reached across to them, pleading not so much for help – they were beyond that – but for an explanation.  Just something to subdue this confusion.
     Their feet could barely rise above the ground.
Stars of David were plastered to their shirts, and misery was attached to them as if assigned. “Don’t forget your misery…” In some cases, it grew on them like a vine.
     At their side, the soldiers also made their way past, ordering them to hurry up and to stop moaning.  Some of those soldiers were only boys themselves.  They had the Fuhrer in their eyes.
     … Liesel was certain that these were the poorest souls alive…  Their gaunt faces were stretched with torture.  Hunger ate them as they continued forward, some of them watching the ground to avoid the people on the side of the road.  Some looked appealingly at those who had come to observe their humiliation, this prelude to their deaths.  Others pleaded for someone, anyone, to step forward and catch them in their arms.
     No-one did.
Whether they watched this parade with pride, temerity or shame, nobody came forward to interrupt it.  Not yet.
     Once in a while, a man or woman – no, they were not men and women, they were Jews – would find Liesel’s face amongst the crowd.  They would meet her with their defeat, and the book thief could only watch them back in a long, incurable moment before they were gone again.  She could only hope they could read the depth of sorrow in her face, to recognise that it was true, and not fleeting.
     … She understood that she was utterly worthless to these people.  They could not be saved, and in a few minutes, she would see what would happen to those who might try to help them.

In a small gap in the procession, there was a man, older than the others.
     He wore a beard and torn clothes.
His eyes were the colour of agony, and weightless as he was, he was too heavy for his legs to carry.

-The book Thief by Markus Zusak, pages 398-400

I particularly love the line, “His eyes were the colour of agony,” and hate to see that lost when it’s on screen. 

One line in the previous quote that I find particularly chilling is, “Some of those soldiers were only boys themselves.  They had the Fuhrer in their eyes.” 

We often consider Hitler’s greatest evil being the systematic devastation of an entire people group.  Certainly, his “final solution” that brought about the deaths of approximately 6 million Jews, what is more commonly referred to as The Holocaust, was an unimaginably horribly wicked thing.  However, not to sound dismissive, those six million people are dead and gone.  If it had ended there, it would have been an appallingly grotesque act of a fiend.

No, the greatest evil still being perpetrated by Hitler was the indoctrination of childred.  “They had the Fuhrer in their eyes.”  Those boy soldiers grew up and taught their children the doctrines of hate.  And when those children had children of their own, they too passed on the poisonous cancer of intolerance.  As terrible as these beliefs are for those to whom they are directed, the worst pain of all is inflicted on the believers themselves.  They will never know peace and love, and they will never truly experience a sense of self-acceptance.  Hate only breeds more hate.  And in this way, Hitler still lives on and continues to enslave and destroy his followers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The following quote describes the residents of an undamaged Himmel Street returning home after an air raid:

The only sign of war was a cloud of dust migrating from east to west.  It looked through the windows, trying to find a way inside, and as it simultaneously thickened and spread, it turned the trail of humans into apparitions.
     There were no people on the street any more.
     They were rumours carrying bags.

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 390

ARGH!  I just can’t see a movie being able to give you that.  “They were rumours carrying bags.”  They can make the set smoky, and they can have people trudge in front of the camera, but how can it ever fully express them as rumors?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One of the stresses in the Hubermann household is that Hans isn’t a card-carrying party member.  Because he gave a Jewish shop owner back a little bit of his dignity by painting over an anti-Semitic slur on his door, Hans had never been approved membership.  Without being a member, people were reluctant to hire him as a painter.

What probably saved him was that people knew he was at least waiting for his application to be approved.  For this, he was tolerated, if not endorsed as the competent painter he was.
     Then There was his other saviour.
It was the accordion that most likely spared him from total ostracism.  Painters there were, from all over Munich, but under the brief tutorage of Erik Vandenburg and nearly two decades of his own steady practice, there was no-one in Molching who could play exactly like him.  It was a style not of perfection, but of warmth.  Even mistakes had a good feeling about them.

-The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak, page 191

Hans’ accordion had belonged to Erik Vandenburg, his friend and fellow soldier in World War I and the man who saved Hans’ life.  Hans and Erik had passed the time learning and playing the accordion, and in the years that followed Hans had developed his own special style that was much loved in his community.  Ironically, Erik Vandenburg was a Jew.

And being a Jew in Nazi Germany was the least desirable position of all, as the following quote points out:

You could argue that Liesel Meminger had it easy.  She did have it easy compared to Max Vandenburg.  Certainly, her brother practically died in her arms.  Her mother abandoned her.

But anything was better than being a Jew.

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 168

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Liesel first comes to live with the Hubermann’s at nine years of age, she is completely illiterate.  As Hans works with her, first teaching her the alphabet then words and sentences, she begins to understand and sense the power bound within the covers of books, and books themselves become objects of priceless worth.  So, when Liesel first steps into the personal library of Mayor’s wife, she is overcome with joy at the sight of it:

“Jesus, Mary… “

She said it out loud, the words distributed into a room that was full of cold air and books.  Books everywhere!  Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving.  It was barely possible to see the paintwork.  There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the grey, the every-coloured books.  It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen.

With wonder she smiled.

That such a room existed!

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 141

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The last of my little post-it flags have been removed from my book, and I’m out of quotes.  I think I can finally part with my copy of The Book Thief, it’s destined for a fellow BookMoocher, though I guarantee I will grab any… and every, in all likelihood… copy I come across in the future.  I know I will re-read this book again, and probably more than once.

The final quote I’ll end this post with is the first few lines of the book:

First the colours.
     Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
     Or at least, how I try.

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 13

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

Title: Exit Ghost
Author: Philip Roth
Hardcover: 292 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Publish Date:2007
ISBN: 9780618975477

What surprised me most my first few days walking around the city? The most obvious thing – the cell phones. We had no reception as yet up on my mountain, and down in Athena, where they do have it, I’d rarely see people striding the streets talking uninhibitedly into their phones. I remembered a New York when the only people walking up Broadway seemingly talking to themselves were crazy. What had happened in these ten years fo there suddenly to be so much to say – so much so pressing that it couldn’t wait to be said? Everywhere I walked, somebody was approaching me talking on a phone and someone was behind me talking on a phone. Inside the cars, the driver were on the phone. When I took a taxi, the cabbie was on the phone. For one who frequently went without talking to anyone for days at a time, I had to wonder what that had previously held them up had collapsed in people to make incessant talking into a telephone preferable to walking about under no one’s surveillance, momentarily solitary, assimilating the streets through one’s animal senses and thinking the myriad thoughts that the activities of a city inspire. For me it made the streets appear comic and the people ridiculous.

-Exit Ghost by Philip Roth, pages 63-64

Nathan Zuckerman is man in the twilight years of his life. As an author, words and ideas have been his medium to work and creation, yet, now age seventy-one, senility and his growing “word salad” difficulty has begun is slowly robbing him of his ability to write. Once virile and in control of his destiny, a prostectomy has rendered him impotent and incontinent. And, after ten years of New England solitude, the hope of regaining some bladder control from a medical procedure has brought him back to the cosmopolis of his exodus, New York City, where he likens himself to Rip Van Winkle, returning from his twenty-year nap and finding the entire world changed.

In his week-long stay, he makes connections with three people who that threaten to irreversibly alter his chosen isolation and reality. With the first, he makes a rash decision to answer an add to swap homes and meets the young and seductive, Jamie Logan, who inspires a fantasy affair in Zuckerman’s mind and reawakens his all-but-lost desire for female company. His second, the serendipitous running into of Amy Bellette, the mistress of his literary icon, Manny Lonoff, reminds him of both his youthful past and his ever-creeping mortality. The third connection he makes is with Richard Kliman, an abrasive, tenacious wanna-be literateur, who believes he has discovered Lonoff’s “great secret” and wants to write his biography, exposing the author’s shameful “crime” in the titillating tell-all fashion of the modern biography, a genre of current writing that is more Weekly World News than World News.

Meeting these three people force Zuckerman to face and accept the realities that his isolation has allowed him to ignore: He is getting old, each day bringing him closer to his own life’s end, and after his death he will no longer have control of that life he lived, as some young writer wanting to make a name for himself may decide to write the expose of Nathan Zuckerman. In the end, he asks himself this questions: Once I am dead, who can protect the story of my life? How will I have failed to be the model human? What will be my great, unseemly secret?

************************************************

Exit Ghost  is my first experience reading Philip Roth, but I don’t plan on making it my last. Slow going at first, I wasn’t sure I would really be able to get into it. How can a mid-thirties, single mom understand and relate to a septuagenarian man? How can I, a moderate to conservative Republican from the mid-west, relate to a liberal Democrat New Englander? I’m a product of the Eighties and Nineties, he is a product of the fifties and sixties. I’m a W.A.S.P. and he a Jew. I am in the Summer of my life when all my body parts are where the good Lord put them, and work within normal parameters. He is entering the Winter of his, incontinent, showing the beginning of dementia, with a mutinous body. I’m aware death will someday happen, though not many I know have experienced it. Zuckerman is facing it’s certainty, many of his friends and contemporaries having already passed through that gate.

However, for all this lack of commonality, Roth manages the miraculous; for a time, a young woman in her prime became an aging man in his decline.

Winner of several prestigious awards, Philip Roth is a skilled, intelligent yet readable, wordsmith. He references Joseph Conrad (an author I have not yet read, but I do have Heart of Darknesson Mt. TBR) often in Exit Ghost, and I found his writing style to be reminiscent of Faulkner (not surprisingly, he has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times).

For it’s ability to transport the reader to a life completely foreign and unimaginable, as well as for it’s well-written and memorable passages that are sure to be included in quotable literature books, I give Exit Ghost by Philip Roth  five out of five stars.

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

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Title:  The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

Author:  Michael Chabon

Soft Cover:  411 pages

Publisher:  Harper Perennial

Publish Date:  2007

ISBN:  9780007149834

Miscellaneous:  This is a P.S. edition

Nine months Landsman’s been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered.  Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of 208, a yid who was calling himself Emanuel Lasker.

-The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, page 1.

This first paragraph of Michael Chabon’s book about Jews living in the Federal District of Sitka as an interim homeland after Israel failed after three months of Statehood in the alternate timeline of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  Now, as the Sitka District is two months from reverting back to the control of the state of Alaska, homicide detective Meyer Landsman, occupant of room 505 of the Zamenhof, a hotel that’s only half a step up from a flea bag flop house, is called on by the night manager to investigate the murder of a man in room 208.  It is apparent from the start that the man is not who he claims to be, and the only clues Landsman has is the bullet hole in the man’s head, a chessboard in mid game, a book of 300 chess moves and the evidence of heroin abuse.

Throughout the book, the reader is able to see and feel the inside world of a Jewish community.  With it’s humor and sprinkling of Yiddish words and phrases, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union begins as a murder mystery but spreads to include the prejudices not only from the outside world, but those within the sects and families within the Jews of the Sitka District and outlying areas, and the political manipulations going on from Washington, D.C. and the Sitka bosses.

As a murder mystery, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is good, but what I really loved about the book was its use of the game of chess as a metaphor and to foreshadow the events in the story.  The use of strategies and tactics to reveal the nature of the characters.  And it is the game that was forever stop mid-play in the dead man’s room that ultimately leads to the capture and confession of the killer.

Besides chess, murder, and Jewish culture, the book deals with the universal nature of a child’s desire for the approval and acceptance from his or her parents, even when that child is a burly man in his thirties and a father himself.  Homosexuality, drug use, alcoholism, and the supernatural all make appearances in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

While I did enjoy this book, I have to say I had hoped it would be more compelling.  I reached the end of the book with the sadness often felt at the departure from the world and people within the covers.  The book didn’t really impress me much, and it will probably be forgotten in six months.  I give The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon 3 out of 5 stars.  It was good but not great, interesting but not a page-turner.

 

hated it!didn't like itliked itLoved it!

Don’t forget to enter to win your choice of a Borders, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble gift card for $5, $10, $15, or $25! Click and read my Buy Books for the Holidays post for details!

One More Year by Sana Krasikov

Title:  One More Year
Autor: Sana Krasikov
Pages: 196
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (a division of Random House, Inc.)
Publish Date: August 2008
ISBN: 9780385524391

She was tired, tired of waiting for some big event to happen in her life, while things only dragged on and on… Everything in her life was about waiting.

-Better Half, p 91

.
.

One More Yearis a collection of eight short stories by Sana Krasikov. It is a lopsided effort. A couple of the stories are brilliant, one is a one of the worst things I’ve read lately, and the rest are, mneh.

Unfortunately, the first story in this book, Companion, is about a Russian divorcee named Ilona. She lives in an apartment with Earl Brauer and their relationship is never clear. Is she the live-in nurse? Is she just a friend and roommate? It is a confusing arrangement, and the only thing I am certain of is that Ilona is a self-centered twit who isn’t worth my time to read about. Earl isn’t much better, but at least I can understand a feel a slight twinge of sympathy. He’s lonely and she’s a user, but where he also loses me is that he’s manipulative. This story was so bad, I would have pitched the book had it not been an ARC to review. 0 stars for this one.

The two stories that I felt were brilliantly written and had great character development were Asal and The Repatriates. Asal is the story of Gulia, the unofficial wife of Rashid, who was previously married to a druggie wife-beater with an overbearing mother. She wants Rashid to divorce his legal wife so they can marry, just like he promised. When he won’t do this, she leaves for America to let him stew in his juices. When the call finally comes that he’s going through with it, Gulia’s joy is short lived. (4 out of 5 stars)

It wasn’t despair that had made Nasrin do it, she thought, it was simple vengeance. How did one compete with insanity, she wondered.

-Asal, page 65

.

One thing that I liked about The Repatriates is that it shows the occasional immigrant who, upon coming to the US, believes their homeland is the best in the world. I’ve known several Vietnamese who talk this way, and have a Cuban friend who is always on about the marvelous things communism has done for his country. But they always do this with their feet planted firmly on the green grass of a free country, which always irks me.

The first line of The Repatriates tells it all:

The last days of Grisha and Lera Arsenyev’s marriage might have been a story fashioned out of commonplace warnings.

It’s the story of religious fanaticism, delusions of grandeur and trickery, and what it’s like to wake up and realized you’ve been duped by someone who was supposed to love and honor you. (4 out of five stars)

The rest of the stories are mostly just okay. Some are better than others, but nothing I’d buy a book for.

Maia in Yonkers: Maia came to New York City to work for more money than she could make back in the Ukraine. She flies her teenage son to visit her, and he proves that Americans don’t have the corner market on surly teens. (2.5 stars)
Debt: Seems to be about my relatives… Lev and his wife receive an unexpected visit from his niece and her husband. But, like my relatives, she’s come to ask for money. AND like my relatives, if he tells her no, she’ll write him off as a selfish money-hoarder. (2 stars)
Better Half: After staying in America, Anya marries Ryan who turns out to be a pot-smoking dreamer who’s abusive and paranoid-jealous. He hides her paperwork she needs to get her permanent alien status, among other butthole things, and yet… ugh, I wanted to slap her. (3 stars, maybe 3.5)
The Alternate: A man seizes the opportunity to have dinner with the daughter of his old college sweetheart with the hope of an affair. Mneh… (1 star)
There Will Be No Fourth Rome: Another stupid woman putting her freedom on the line for her boyfriend. DUH! Nona says it best in this story, “Don’t you just wish you could kill people lie that with your thoughts?” You see, that’s why I choose to stay single.(3 stars)

This book could be renamed “Women Waiting Around for Their Boyfriends to Divorce Their Wives”. The title “One More Year” comes from the second story; Maia tells her son she’s staying in America for one more year, to which he reminds her she said that last year.

What this book does well is present a picture of Georgia and Moscow the west has not seen. A world of dower-faced, bitter people who are only after what they can graft and out-right steal from anyone, even their friends and family… especially their friends and family. I suppose, if this is a true portrait, it is a mentality born from so much poverty and oppression. Even after they leave the old country and set up in America, they bring the same mindsets with them. In this, Krasikov’s characters are real and imperfect, even if they are loathsome.

However, I think Krasikov tries to put too many characters in her stories, making it impossible to develop them properly. It’s possible they’d make better novels. Another problem I had with this book is I found several parts confusing; places I wasn’t sure who was saying what or what was even going on. There were several times I came jerking to a stop over punctuation, sometimes too much and others not enough. One of those times was a sentence with a comma that tore up the effectiveness of the thought. I read and reread it, trying to figure out what she had meant to say, finally saying, “I hate that sentence” before moving on. I think the fact that the first story was so bad the rest of the book was tainted by that.

For much of this book, I can’t help but think One More Year is the kind of commercialized book Nam Le wrote about in The Boat‘s first story: Ethnic lit for ethnic sake, not for the quality of the writing. “She’s from the Ukraine! Buy her book!” Oddly enough, like Nam Le, she’s a Iowa Workshop writer. Hmm… maybe the fellow student in “Love and Honor” wasn’t from China after all.

After totalling up all the stars and dividing by 8, One More Yearreceives an overall 2.5 stars. Mneh.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 494 other followers