Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kiyo's Story

While reading my way through the recuperation from my foot surgery, I read a wonderful memoir, Kiyo's Story, by Kiyo Sato.  The subtitle is A Japanese-American Family's Quest for the American Dream.  Originally the title was Dandelion Through the Crack, suggesting how the spirit can bloom, despite unbelievable adversity.  This book won the 2008 William Saroyan Prize for Non Fiction and should be required reading in high school history classes to give young people an understanding of how political hysteria can sweep a nation into unthinkable behavior.

Kiyo was nineteen when she and her family, as well all of the Japanese -American communities on the West Coast, were sent to an interment camp; in the Satos' case, in Arizona.  Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was already a mindset in place: Japanese immigrants were not allowed to become citizens or to own land.  Their children, however, were citizens by reason of birth.  But following Pearl Harbor, and Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066anyone with 1/16 or more Japanese ancestry was suddenly declared a "non-alien". Curfews were established.  They were not allowed to travel more than a five mile radius from their homes.  Finally they were rounded up, and forced to abandon their homes, taking only whatever they could carry on the train to an interment camp.  The Sato family, like neighboring families, were fruit farmers; their fields would be untended.  Some farms were simply taken over by squatters.   

Kiyo Sato first acquaints the reader with her parents' lives before this tragedy.  Her father, Shinji, left Japan as a boy because of extreme poverty in his village.  He labored for farmers in California, returned to Japan to wed a pretty nurse, and saved enough money that, through the help of others who were citizens, he could obtain a parcel of land.  (At the time, Japanese immigrants were not allowed to own land.)

Kiyo's mother, Tomomi, worked side by side with Shinji in the fields, as did Kiyo and, later, her eight brothers and sisters. Slowly they brought the barren acreage to life until their produce was in demand and they had markets as far away as Canada.  The close-knit family lived frugally, with dignity, as did their neighbors, happy to be making their way in the Promised Land.

Skip ahead twenty years, and they are stripped of everything they worked for, on their way to a camp guarded with soldiers, living with minimal privacy in cramped, thinly partitioned rooms, eating meals in overflowing mess halls meant for 250 people.

This could have been a scaldingly bitter book.  Instead, it is a testimony to how the spirit can triumph.  Kiyo's Story charts the course of lives lived with integrity, no matter what the injustice: Some young men, including one of Kiyo's brothers, enlist in the military to show their loyalty.  The Satos and fellow inmates farm the land in camp, bringing flowers and crops out dessert soil.   Classes are started for the children.  Adults hold meetings to resolve festering problems.  

Their repeated reminder to each other is, "For the sake of the children . . . ." They bend gracefully to what cannot be helped and hope for the future, rather than breaking down. Shinji never loses faith that this will pass, they will return home, and he and Tomomi will one day be granted citizenship -- which does come to pass.  Tomomi is selfless in her devotion to family and friends.  Both show their trust in life by deeds rather than words.  

I cried several times while reading this book, not just because of the sadness they experienced, but in the deeper recognition of how they triumphed over hardships that could have destroyed them. Tomomi's gentle spirit shines as she takes unceasing care of her family.  Shinji, a farmer with the soul of a poet, writes haiku and nurtures beauty.  The devotion and wisdom of both permeate every thing they do.  This is a book to be read more than once -- one that shows the true meaning of abundance and grace.

Kiyo's Story can be purchased here, and here, and here.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The French Connection

While getting ready for my surgery, I started accumulating books over the past few months, some from used book stores and some from Borders. (Alas, I won't be doing the latter anymore.)  Some were adult books, and some were children's books. I started on the adult stack first, and was I ever surprised: Apparently my week in Paris a couple of summers ago burned its imprint into my unconscious; five of the books take place either partially or entirely in Paris. They are too many to review, so consider this post a thumbnail sharing of each.

I'll start with my least favorite first, Gourmet Rhapsody, by Muriel Barbery. I'm sorry to put it that way, too, because my purchase was motivated by how charmed I had been by Barbery's first book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. In Hedgehog, a young girl has given herself a date on which she'll commit suicide unless she can find enough reasons not to. I know that sounds like a morbid story, but the book captures small, luminous moments of beauty that make life truly worth living. So I was expecting to be deeply moved again in Gourmet. Nope: A food critic lies on his deathbed, hoping to capture a favorite flavor that he can't quite identify in memory. Acquaintances and family each have a turn at sharing what they recall about this thoroughly unlikeable man. That's it, folks. some exquisite writing, because this author cannot turn out a bad line, but for me, the plot was . . . missing in action (pun intended).

But, next I read Cara Black's  Murder in the Bastille.  Black is one of my favorite mystery writers.  Her series stars Aimée Leduc, a private eye for white collar techie matters who keeps getting dragged into murder cases instead.  To read any one in the series is to get a free trip to Paris.  Black knows that city inside and out and places each new mystery in a different neighborhood.  Because Aimée grew up in Paris, naturally she has little snippets of memory about buildings she passes or bridges or streets she traverses, and so in a completely non-intrusive way, the reader picks up scraps of French history and art history while Aimée chases or runs from the bad guys.  Black's website is equally interesting: Press here and go take a peek.

Then I read The Girl at the Lion d'Or by Sebastian Faulks.  This is a  carefully sculpted story of a young girl cast adrift following World War I.  It takes place in a small village outside of Paris where Anne has taken employment as a waitress in the Hotel Lion D'Or of the title.  Her story unfolds by degrees: Her father was falsely accused of cowardice at  Verdun and shot.  Because of accusations, Anne and her mother were hounded out of their village and went to Paris.  With no one to turn to after her mother dies, Anne hopes to find a new life at the Lion D'Or.  She falls in love with a married man, a relationship that traces a doomed arc.  Ultimately this is a sad, haunting story about what it means to be a survivor.

The last two books of this French Connection are choices strangely related, though I didn't notice it at the time, since I bought them on two different occasions.

I had never read The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas (one of oh, so many classics I've never read, although I had seen different movie versions of the story.)  So, I picked it up one day, thinking it was about time, and put it in my TBR stack.  Well, this story rocks, and so does the writing!  There really is a reason why some books become so renowned.  The very first chapter sets the stage for the book: Three important characters are introduced: the hotheaded D'Artignon, who wants to be a musketeer, the mysterious, mustached stranger, who steals his letter of introduction to Treville, and the lovely but dangerous Milady.  From that point the story moves from adventure to adventure, building  momentum and tension to the very last.  I loved this book and will probably read it again.

Imagine my surprise when I started reading The Club Dumas, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.  I was drawn to this book for a number reasons: the author is Spanish, and I'm trying to find Spanish writers translated into English to get more of a feel of Spain. (This is in English, by the way.  I'm a long way off from being able to read a book in Spanish.)  Also, part of the story takes place in Paris (yes, Paris).  It's about books and book collectors.  And it's a mystery.  (And I love mysteries.)  So, I thought, "Hey, this looks interesting."  Well, it is.  And also very weird.  I think at times it borders on magical realism, since there is one mysterious character I still couldn't figure out even at the end, when loose threads are tied up.  But an intriguing part of the mystery is how the main characters start falling into the roles of various characters in The Three Musketeers.  There's a parallel mystery involving a book by a heretic burned at the stake hundreds of years ago, but the Musketeers connection is what added spice to the mix for me.  I also appreciated that, while dead bodies appeared periodically, the author didn't dwell on all the gory details of the corpses and concentrated instead on the story.

That's it for today.  I'll be posting about other books from my stack later, but these five seemed to belong together in the same post.  Meanwhile, since I've off my usual track of talking about Children's books and YA's, if any of you have good mysteries to recommend, please include them in your comments.  Look forward to reading both comments and suggestions.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review -- Dissolution

Normally I review chidren's or YA books on this blog, but during my recuperation period I've been catching up with some adult reading. What a treat, really. I love kid lit, but occasionally I miss, you know, fat paragraphs, long sentences, bigger vocabulary. So I'll be reporting on those good reads for awhile, some as reviews, and some simply as musings on what I've read.

Recently I had the pleasure of reading J. L. Campbell's fine book, Dissolution, set in contemporary Jamaica.

Sherryn and Reece (short for Maurice) have a nice home, a passionate relationship, and five children that brighten their lives. Reece owns his own business. Sherryn has her own home business baking and decorating cakes. Life is good. Then one day the doorbell rings, and Sherryn opens the door to find a scantily clad, bejeweled woman who thrusts a young boy into the room -- a boy who looks exactly like Sherryn's husband and is even named Maurice. Thus begins a painful journey for both Sherryn and Reece as they struggle with the unintended consequences of a festering and prolonged quarrel that led to Reese's sole one-night stand five years earlier.

Both Sherryn and Reese are likeable characters with a mixture of sterling virtues and all too human flaws.  Reece grew up in a ghetto, abandoned by parents, semi-raised by another tenant, and determined to make something better of his own life.  He's a good father, a devoted husband, a proud businessman.  But he can't break ties to friends in his old neighborhood, especially Ronald, who seems always in trouble.  And his early life has made him controlling, wanting to keep his wife dependent.  Sherryn has a big heart, loves her husband and family and friends.  But, when angry, she shuts down and won't communicate, resorting to the cold, silent treatment.  And she's very independent.

Gloria, the one-night stand, has been blackmailing Reece for years.  She has two other children by another blackmail victim, vindictively delivering the children to their fathers when they don't agree to her higher priced silence.  Ronald proves a complicated friend: He's the one friend Reece can talk to, but solves many of his own problems by violence and gives very poor advice.

All of the characters are beleveably portrayed, including the children.  I feel I would recognize any one of them were I to meet them in person.

As for plot, the author keeps things moving:  Stunned by her husband's infidelity, Sherryn is nonetheless filled with compassion for the little boy, Maurice Jr., who has obviously been neglected and mistreated. She can't help nurturing him, while still torturing herself about what kind of relationship exactly her husband had with Gloria.  Their children accept the situation, but even as Maurice is welcomed into the family, Sherryn cannot forgive her husband.  All of this is just for starters!  Then, when things seem to be getting better, they get worse.  Just when you think they can't get any worse -- they do.  Lots worse!  Before the books end someone is murdered.  Who is the victim?  And who did it?

You'll have to read the story.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I'm Back -- Sort Of . . .

The foot is progressing, thanks to the good care I'm getting from my wonderful hubby -- ice packs, great meals, juice, my stack of books I've saved for this period, bringing them to me on request. I've felt like a queen. So, last night I knighted him. (I tapped him on the shoulder with my hand, since we don't have swords and shields lying around the house.)

I've been reading like crazy, and in a day or two I'll start reporting on them. But today I want to pass on two nice awards Richard Hughes gave me. (what a nice thing to come back to!)  Mosey on ovr to his site and enjoy his posts.  He writes about Paris, reviews e-books, shares some of his stories and has an all around interesting blog.  Meanwhile, thank you, Richard, I really appreciate it.

Here are the awards.

 I am supposed to thank the sender and refer readers back to him/her,
then pass it on to five or more others, and then tell seven things about myself that others might not know.

So, here are my five new candidates (but, oh, there are really so many
good bloggers out there.  It's hard to choose!)

1.  Lia Keyes, the founder of Scribblerati (a wonderful writer site; come join) and an all around whirlwind wonder, whose blog keeps you informed about the writing world, tips on writing all kinds of fiction, although her specialty is Steampunk, and who manages to write a trilogy, while hosting chats . . . Oh, it just goes on and on.  Go check out her site.

2.  Hope Clark, a writer with an interesting blog who also has a fabulous newsletter, Funds For Writers, that posts new markets, new contests, new conferences, retreats, grants; you name it.  Visit her blog and subscribe to her newsletter.  I always find something of value at both sites.

3.  Michelle Fayard, blog hostess at Bird's Eye View and pre-published author, who interviews authors, reviews books, and greets the writing world with infectious enthusiasm -- and also had an agent request to see more pages of her work.

4.  J. L. Campbell, who has three different blogs, but my favorite one is The Character Depot, where she raises interesting issues that arise during a WIP, invites guest authors to address issues writers worry over, and always provides food for that.  once you are at her site above, you can explore the other two blogs as well.  (One is devoted to book reviews.)  I had the good fortune to win a copy of her e-book, Dissolution, a good read that I'll be addressing later this week.

5.  Rosi Hollinbeck, who does it all:  shares the ups and downs and angst of the writing life, passes on good articles and contests (and has been winning some of those contests as well), and writes some great reviews.

I am going to stop at these five for now, saving some others for the future.  But check them out; you won't be disappointed.  Meanwhile here are seven new things about me:

1.  This first will only be new to those who have met me online.  I'm a vegetarian.  I do eat fish and seafood and also dairy products, but nothing that runs on four legs or flies.  I was never a big meat eater to begin with, but when I started cooking for my vegetarian husband, a truly wonderful food world awaited me.  Trust me when I say "Yum!"

2.  One of the great triumphs of my life was learning to cook a wonderful South Indian rice cake called iddli.  (My husband is from India.)  You'll never know how many years that took, even with help and demos from my sisters-in-law and numerous nieces.  It's not an easy treat to make, and when it started coming out consistently right I knew that . . . I'll find an agent and a commercial publisher yet!

3.  I'm getting ambitious in my Spanish lessons: my goal is to be able eventually to read a novel in Spanish.  Well . . . maybe a novella.

4.  I confess to never having read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings.  They are on my "someday" list, but (a second confession) other books are on the "sooner than someday" list.  (I'm sure when I get to Hobbit and Ring I'll kick myself for taking so long.)

5.  I love my Mac.  I'm saying this now, because when I first got it, I had to make a complete adjustment from so many years of working on Microsoft, and I often ranted about how everything as located in different places.

6.  I have menioned before that I'm not a dessert person, but once in a blue moon, I love coffee ice cream.  I think I'm a coffee person.  I love cafe con leche, too.

7.  I wrote a poem to a spider this week.  It was traveling aross my ceiling as I lay captive in bed -- my foot elevated on four pillows -- and prayed fervently that the critter would make it to the far wall before losing traction and falling on me.

That's it for today.  Happy blog-hopping.