Saturday, May 5, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from The Poisonwood Bible to A Town Like Alice

The Poisonwood Bible - Kingsolver, Barbara
Out of Africa - Dinesen, Isak   Chocolat - Harris, Joanne    A Year in Provence - Mayle, Peter    Under the Tuscan Sun - Mayes, Frances Random Passage - Morgan, Bernice   A Town Like Alice - Shute, Nevil

The starter book this month is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a book our club read in 2001 and still holds the title for most divisive book we have read. It was an equally divided group with half loving the book and the other half just as vehemently hating it.
This is the story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. It is the tale of one family’s tragic undoing and reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.  

Considering links that would take the main characters to other countries with the resultant effects on themselves or the new country, we might follow The Poisonwood Bible with Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. 

Out of Africa is Isak Dinesen's memoir of her years in Africa, from 1914 to 1931, on a four-thousand-acre coffee plantation in the hills near Nairobi. She had come to Kenya from Denmark with her husband, and when they separated she stayed on to manage the farm by herself.  Her account of her African adventures was written after she had lost her beloved farm and returned to Denmark.

Then on to France with Chocolat by Joanne Harris. This is a timeless novel of a straitlaced village's awakening to joy and sensuality - every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere. The book illuminates Peter Mayle's South of France with a touch of Laura Esquivel's magic realism. 

Speaking of Peter Mayle, we might link to his humorous book, A Year in Provence. In this book, the British Peter Mayle moves into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January's frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine.  

And in the spirit of A Year in Provence, we might link up with Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. The American Frances Mayes entered a wondrous new world when she began restoring an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. There were unexpected treasures at every turn: faded frescos beneath the whitewash in her dining room, a vineyard under wildly overgrown brambles in the garden, and, in the nearby hill towns, vibrant markets and delightful people.  

The next linking change of country might be found in Random Passage by Bernice Morgan. Forced to flee England, the Andrews family books passage to a fresh start in a distant country, only to discover a barren, inhospitable land at the end of their crossing. As the ‘distant country’ was Canada and the barren, inhospitable land was the east coast of Newfoundland, it was a particularly interesting read for our Canadian book club. 

Changing countries again, A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute follows its enterprising heroine from the Malayan jungle during World War II to the rugged Australian outback.

And thus we travel through the Belgian Congo to Kenya, to the south of France, to Italy, the east coast of Canada, the Malayan jungle and the Australian outback, all with books our club has read.

If you wish to read the memes of other contributors you can go to Six Degrees of Separation 

Meeting of April 23rd, 2018

The April meeting of Muse & Views Bookclub was hosted by Jane at Colette's home.  Present were Colette, Janet, Linda, Michèle, and Shirley.  Jane though she could not attend, provided us with very nice cheese from Québec, pickled vegetables and turkey sausage and of course wine.  Colette provided a very nice dessert, coffee and tea.

This month we discussed Michèle's book choice Kamouraska by the Québec author Anne Hébert. Born in 1916, in Sainte Catherine de Fossambault, about 40 km north-east of Québec City  Anne Hébert was the eldest of four children. Her father was a civil servant, of acadian descent.  Her maternal grandfather, Eugène Étienne Taché was the architect of Québec parliament buildings.  His grandfather was Lord Achille Taché of Kamouraska.  

Anne Hébert, in international French literature is a well known and respected author. She wrote 10 novels,  poetry,  plays and a book of short stories.  She also wrote 8 film scripts including those for Kamouraska and Les Fous de Bassan. She won 20 literary prizes in Canada and France including the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry and fiction and the Prix Fémina in 1982 one of France’s most prestigious prizes for her novel Les Fous de Bassan.  Kamouraska, Les Fous de Bassan and a short story, Le Tourent were made into films.  

Kamouraska is based on a true story of the murder of Le Seigneur (Lord) Achille Taché of Kamouraska in 1839 by an American doctor George Holmes who was in love with Taché’s wife Éleonore d’Estimauville.  Anne Hébert took this fact  from her family history and created what many of us saw as a gothic novel about a young woman, Elizabeth who married a brute of man when she was 15, conspired to kill him with her lover doctor who was a childhood friend of her husband. The book begins with Elizabeth at the death bed of her second husband Monsieur Rolland.  He is afraid to be alone with her, he knows what happened to her first husband.  Elizabeth relives her life through nightmares and her thoughts.  

Most of us found this novel a difficult read.  One member felt she was in a nightmare belonging to someone else.  Beth gave a good description of how she read the book and many of us felt the same. "There’s the sense of isolation in the narrator’s painful, horrific experiences and frustrations, and the claustrophobia of the endless swirling vortex of her memories, nightmarish fears and justifications.  We keep trying to decipher what really happened.  We also keep trying to decide how we feel about her.  It’s a very vivid picture of the remote place and society as she experiences it, but exhausting and bitter to read.  Seems to me like a gothic novel  -  sort of like Wuthering Heights. "

We all found the novel frustrating to read, difficult to understand in some parts but as Carla said, "the book was well written and the nightmarish quality had a great affect on us as readers." 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from Memoir of a Geisha to Medicine Walk

Memoir of a Geisha by Arthur Golden -  published in 1997, It is the only novel he published.  Mr. Golden studied Japanese Art in his undergraduate studies at Harvard an M.A. in Japanese history at Columbia. 

The first connection is to Japan and the link to this country. The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd - published in 1977 it is a story about an Scottish woman who scandalized the European community in Asia.  Mr. Wynd was a Scottish novelist born in Japan. He grew up speaking both English and Japanese.  

Staying with the theme of connections by country our next book is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodieby Scottish novelist Muriel Spark.  This novel, about a teacher in a private girls’ school is about coming of age and betrayal. 

The are many stories about coming of age but the most endearing is Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  An orphan girl full of spunk, imagination and wanting so much to be part of a family. As we all know, Ms. Montgomery is  an internationally known Canadian author. And skipping back to the beginning of this chain, Anne of Green Gables is wildly popular in Japan.  Japanese tourists, after the Americans, are the most frequent visitors of Green Gables in Prince Edward Island. 

Anne of Green Gables, considered a classic in Canadian literature, our next connection is to another Canadian classic, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler, a book about morality, materialism, alienation and greed among other themes.  It is a book about a Jewish boy as he grows up and his relationships with his family members. 


The Chosen by Chaim Potok is a story of a Jewish boy Reveun, his family and friends and his relationship with his father and friend Danny.  The pursuit of dreams and goals, father/son relationships and the strength of friendship are strong themes in this book.

Going back to a Canadian author, Richard Wagamese, an indigenous author wrote a beautiful novel Medicine Walk about a father/son relationship and despite conflict, the bond of family.

From Memoirs of a Geisha based in Japan, to Scotland, the U.S.A. and then to our native land Canada with Medicine Walk.  

 So there is our meme for this month.  This is our 12th contribution to Six Degrees of Separation (click on the link to see what others have contributed) and we are still using only books we have read.  Michèle is responsible for this month's work.   

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Meeting of March 26, 2018

The Piano Maker
The March meeting of the Muse and Views Book Club was hosted by Carla and attended by Beth,  Shirley, Sharon, Jane and Betty. As the majority of this month’s book, The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka, was set in Canada, Carla chose a selection of local cheeses and sausages. She also offered tastes of grapple, which is described as an apple that tastes like a grape and which is actually an apple that has been infused with artificial grape flavour. Grapple is also described as two species that have no business being together combined to produce something beautiful and odd and which definitely relates to our book. Her wine selection this month was in direct correlation with book scenarios. Not to give too much away, but one of the wines was called D’Ont Poke the Bear and another was Twist of Fate. Carla’s delicious Pavlova and tea completed the evening’s food, wine and discussion.
Betty presented this month’s book and provided interesting information about the author. Kurt Palka was born and educated in Austria. He began his working life in Africa where he wrote for the African Mirror and made wildlife films in Kenya and Tanzania. He has worked and written for American and Canadian publications and as a Senior Producer for the CBC.
It was while he was living in a rooming house in Johannesburg that Palka first learned about pianos. While travelling the hot, dry back roads of South Africa with a fellow roommate, an itinerant piano tuner, the impression of watching this master at work left a lasting impression on him. Years later Palka was working in France, staying at a pension in Nice where there was a Bösendorfer in the music room, and most evenings it would be played. This time, it was a young woman who came to tune the piano but this time not with tuning forks but with her highly sensitive ear.
Set in a fictional town on Nova Scotia’s French Shore in the 1930s, it follows Hélène Giroux, a mysterious French woman with a troubled past. When she arrives in town, she joins the church as a choirmaster and pianist, dazzling the small, insular community with her talent, refined elegance and stories of the piano factory her family owned in prewar France. After the Great War left her both widowed and destitute from the ruin of her family's piano-making business, Hélène had left France for England and, eventually, Québec. A series of weighty, enigmatic references – to a jail, an institution, dreams about an accident in a "cave of horror" – suggest Hélène is trying to escape some kind of trauma in her recent past.
The Piano Maker offers interesting characters and a story that goes from France to Canada, taking detours into Indochina and Africa. It illustrates the development of a piano-making company, the horrors of WWI, the market in the early 20th century for ancient treasures from exotic countries and the harshness of Canadian winters in Western Canada. There is an intrigue and you find yourself rooting for Hélène Giroux. Despite so much going on in the novel, it is not even 300 pages long, it is concise and has little irrelevant descriptions or scenes.
It was noted and appreciated that, reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird and Snow Falling on Cedars, part of the story was told by the use of a trial. There was a lyricism to the writing with the story being told as an onion being peeled. The discussion of the making of a piano with all the woods used and the processes was an interesting diversion.
While the general consensus was that this was an enjoyable, quiet and easy read, there were some distractions. A negative point was made with reference to the priest insisting Hélène go to confession which would definitely not have been done, particularly in that era. There was also a discordant note out of time where Hélène’s daughter who lives in England calls her ‘mother’ and then suddenly it becomes the American ‘mom’.
Questions remain. Why would Hélène go off with Nathan after he had bilked her of all her money? Would an unmarried couple travel together easily in that time period? 
Thanks Betty for another interesting read.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation - from The Beauty Myth to No Great Mischief

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf is the starter book. The book cover says, ‘How images of beauty are used against women’. It's the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society's impossible definition of "the flawless beauty."

The first link might be Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion.

Make a left turn here to a memoir by Tony Judt with his Memory Chalet. The memoir is presented as a series of essays which chart some experience or remembrance of his past and is simply and beautifully arranged as a Swiss chalet - a reassuring refuge deep in the mountains of memory.

The next link might be The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew. This is a moving memoir of a father-son reconciliation. Invoking hope, healing and forgiveness, The Reason You Walk is a poignant story of a towering but damaged father and his son as they embark on a journey to repair their family bond.

Moving to an autobiographical fictional memoir, Ru by Kim Thuy, blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction. Ru is the story of one woman's life as she leaves a privileged life in Vietnam with her family, survives the harrowing experiences of a refugee camp, and finally immigrates to Montréal.

In Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt looks back on his childhood with humour and compassion. His story begins with, “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

From Irish immigrants to Scottish immigrants, we might link to Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief, the story of a fiercely loyal family and the tradition that drives it. The MacDonalds face seemingly unmitigated hardships and cruelties of life. And through these lovingly recounted stories-wildly comic or heartbreakingly tragic-we discover the hope against hope upon which every family must sometimes rely.

So there is our meme for this month.  This is our 11th contribution to Six Degrees of Separation (click on the link to see what others have contributed) and we are still using only books we have read.  Shirley is responsible for this month's work and there are no repeats this month.   

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Meeting of February 26, 2018

We met this evening at Janet's home to discuss Carla's choice, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.  Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Shirley and Michèle via Skype from sunny Florida.  As the book is set in France, Janet had some wonderful French cheese, pâté, French wine and for dessert, tarte aux pommes with crème chantilly.

Everyone enjoyed The Nightingale. This is the second book we have read by Kristin Hannah, so those who would like some information on this author can click on the link.  This story is about two sisters in France during World War II and how each coped with the tragedy and events of war.  Vianne, married and living with her daughter in a small village while her husband is fighting endures the humiliation of Nazis living in her home and overtaking the village. Isabelle, the younger single sister who lives in Paris with her father, eventually finds her calling helping those of the resistance escape from France once they are denounced.

The character development of the two sisters is excellent.  We really get know each sister and understand in each of their circumstances how and why they react to events in their life.  Vianne, a mother, will do anything to protect her own child and finds a way to protect and keep her best friend Rachel's, son.  Though her sister Isabelle does not understand how Vianne can allow a Nazi to live under her roof, Vianne knows the consequences of refusing and finds ways to live with it and protect her daughter. She accepts the food and gifts from the first officer so her daughter can eat properly and she endures repetitive rape by the second officer to protect her daughter from the same fate.  Isabelle, younger more of a rebel and without the responsibilities of a family, finds a way to help her countrymen in the Résistence.

Many of us enjoy historical novels that allow us to learn and this novel packs it in. We learn about how the Nazis with the help of some French collaborators rounded up Jews not only in big cities such as Paris and Lyon but also in small villages.  Though we did learn about the the French fleeing Paris in Suite Française by Irène Nemirovsky, there are different aspects and details in this book. In All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr we learned about the Résistence and in The Nightingale, Isabelle's involvement gives us more information.   Kristin Hannah's research for this book was extensive.

Thank you Carla for choosing this book and Shirley for recommending it.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation - from Lincoln at the Bardo to Orphan Train

There are a surprisingly large number of books that the tragic death of a child is the catalyst for a story.  Muse & Views Book Club has not read Lincoln in the Bardo but over the years we have read several that include the tragic death of a child. Like one of our members said, there is a lot of sadness in this meme.

Beginning book – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders tells the story of tragedy, the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son and a spin into the supernatural.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – from the violent death of Susie Salmon, we learn how she died and the tragic effects on her family from her seat in heaven.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – The death of a child has an impact not only on parents but also on the surviving children.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay – The discovery of the skeleton of a child in a hidden closet is the catalyst for this horror story coming from historical realities of World War II.

Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards – In this story the tragic accidental death of a child is a catalyst to the story of poverty, envy and hatred in a small town.

A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton – the tragic accidental death of a child this time, reveals how idealism and unrealistic dreams of life on a farm takes a mother to the brink of depression and its tragic consequences on her life, her family and the community that has not accepted them in their fold.

Orphan Train by Kristina Baker Kline – Children finding themselves orphaned when poverty-stricken parents die of influenza and other epidemics, some taken by train towards western states and provinces to be adopted by farm families die of neglect or from violent encounters.

To see how others connected Lincoln in the Bardo to other titles, see Six Degrees of Separation