Thursday, May 19, 2016

Book Review: A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay

Elizabeth Hay in her novel A Student of Weather focuses on a family living on a farm in Saskatchewan. They are a family of three—two daughters, Lucinda and Norma Joyce and the father, Ernest. They interact with Maurice Dove who is on a research study in Saskatchewan. Eventually the reader learns that the mother died and so did a brother.

Lucinda is attracted to Maurice and so is Norma Joyce who is only nine years at the time. The reader is exposed to the interactions among the family. Then comes Maurice who brings some excitement to this family. He is from Ottawa and is sent on a research study to Saskatchewan.

It is a tale that is sometimes difficult to follow as it is written in a style that encompasses a monologue and repetitive descriptions of what is evident in the scenes deftly created by the author. The reader is introduced to the flatlands of the Prairies, its weather patterns which has an enormous impact on the lifestyles of the farmers like Ernest. On completion of his study Maurice returns to Ottawa. During his time in Saskatchewan he becomes a regular feature in the lifestyle of Ernest and his two daughters.

Hay then moves the setting to Ottawa as Ernest has inherited a property from his brother living in Ottawa. There is a re-connection with Maurice Dove in a strange but intriguing manner. Norma Joyce is fallen deeply in love with Maurice that leads the reader to figure out this relationship. Maurice moves to New York City on a work assignment.  Norma Joyce runs away from her family in Ottawa and lives in New York City. She wants to become part of Maurice’s life. Once again the reader is treated to life in New York City during the 1930s. Eventually Norma Joyce returns to Ottawa to stay. There are changes within her family.

Throughout the novel, Hay creates sentences that are profound and sometimes lighthearted. As a reader, it gave me pause even though I was confused with some of the scenes and could not easily follow the stream of consciousness style of writing adopted by Elizabeth Hay.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Writing Historical Fiction

My first historical fiction
For me writing historical fiction facilitated the creation of a migrant’s story that covered historical events and facts of an era gone by. Research provided a voluminous amount of information to sift through and then there were the interviews and recollections of the people who lived through the era I was writing about. I was faced with a curious imagination of how to shape the different characters within that time frame. A series of back stories were created to sort through the data that allowed me to decide what would be obvious to the readers.

I was energized by the stack of information that I reviewed with care and thoroughness. Some of the back stories were clearly evident in the story while others remained invisible to the readers as I let my story develop from a street-level viewpoint of the protagonist who was a tradesman. The interactions through dialogue illustrated the authenticity of the era and the setting of the story as did the physical movement of the characters from one place to another. It was a gradual introduction of modes of transportation as they progressed in that era. The historical facts and events had a direct impact on the lives of the characters. It gave rise to conflict and angry disagreements that portrayed a lack of a sense of belonging to a troubled yet beloved country. But there was happiness, marriage, love, success and tragedy. I constructed the twists and turns within the story. I described the acceptance of the status quo by the characters and the effect of the unfolding history on the lives of ordinary people. There was political turmoil stemming from the decisions made by political leaders who did not appear to be cognizant of how their decisions adversely affected the people.

It was a challenge to sort through the interviews and recollections as it appeared that the same incident or event was recounted differently. Hence I chose the information that would suit the characters for the story I created keeping intact the historical framework. I became inquisitive when the social justice issues surfaced along with the impact of a close-knit community. I incorporated these nuances that caused frustration and deep disappointment within the story.

Writing historical fiction was an inspiring experience. I created a story with a historical backdrop that embodied pertinent issues that inform the readers who may not be aware of that time in history in a faraway land.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Puerto Escondido, Mexico

One end of Zicatela Beach
For our 2016 winter escape from Toronto we went to Puerto Escondido located in the State of Oxaca on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Within the first week of January we comfortably settled in our apartment in Rockaway Hotel. It is perfectly located on the main street across from Zicatela Beach. We strolled along the beach, stopped by a beach restaurant, Greko and relaxed with beer and some chips dipped in guacamole. As we watched the waves swell up to heights we’d never seen before, we felt at ease with the gentle ocean breezes brushing against our faces. We looked at each other, nodded and declared that we finally found our place in the sun. Yes, this will become our winter escape. Today Zicatela Beach is well known internationally as a surfer’s paradise. The waves attest to making it an adventurous surf ride for any surfer.

As the days and weeks went by we learned the history of Puerto Escondido. Its name originates from Escondida meaning hidden woman. Legend indicates that the pirate, Andrés Drake, brother of Sir Francis Drake, captured an indigenous woman and kept her on board the ship. He stopped at the port for a rest and during this time the woman jumped off the ship, swam to the beach and disappeared into the jungle never to be found again. By the early 20th century, its name evolved to Puerto Escondido.

Along the "El Adoquin"

As we walked and discovered the different parts of Puerto, we reached the tourist centre, locally known as “El Adoqin.” There are restaurants, cafes, night clubs, night markets and many shops along the paved sidewalk. There is also the treacherous walkway over narrow paths, stairs and bridges that takes you to the lookout point, called Sueño Posible (Possible Dream) just below the Lighthouse.


Below watch the video: The Morning Routine on Playa Principal
(Source: Puerto Escondido: Wikipedia)

At the end of March we returned to the cold, snowy spring in Toronto.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Book Review: Social Engineer by Ian Sutherland - Fiction

In his novella Social Engineer, author Ian Sutherland reveals to the reader the ease with which a corporation’s computer system can be accessed through skillful manipulation by computer hackers; there are the white hat computer hackers and the black hat computer hackers. The author succinctly describes the differences between these types of computer hackers.

Sutherland portrays the white hat computer hacker illustrating how computer systems of corporations are vulnerable. He explains how these computer hackers unscrupulously and with untoward tactics gain access to the corporation’s system and widely open the system to steal the corporation’s secrets. The main character, Brody Taylor, demonstrates how unbelievably simple it is to access the corporation’s computer system.

There is deceit, love, suspense and most important a genuine means of earning a living on the part of the white hat computer hacker who ultimately comes across as a performer. Throughout the novella there are significant details that uncovers the role of the white hat computer hacker.

A cautionary tale of warning to anyone who is a regular user of smart devices and computer technology.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Review: Beach Music by Pat Conroy - Fiction

In Beach Music, the author Pat Conroy takes the reader to Waterford, a small town in South Carolina. The main thread of the story evolves around an Irish Catholic family of five boys raised by Judge McCall and his wife Lucy. It is narrated by the eldest son, Jack who weaves in the stories of his friends and neighbours.  It is a raw and  emotional tale of abusive fathers and loving mothers  There is anger, laughter, good times and bad times that are described with the use of strong hateful  and loving words as befitting the various scenes and events in this story.

The vivid and war-like descriptions of student life during the turbulent sixties illustrate that every part of America was affected by the Vietnam War and did not escape Republican South Carolina. Through Jack’s Jewish neighbours in Waterford, the horrors and sickening atrocities of the holocaust are retold in heartbreaking prose that continued to affect the emotional  lives of their Jewish children settled in Waterford.

It is a tale that takes Jack and forth to Rome in Italy and the small town of Waterford in South Carolina.  The contrasting lifestyles are highlighted with suspense, romance, death, cancer and even a terrorist attack at Rome Airport.

As is typical of novels by Pat Conroy, this is yet another one that engages the reader in a way that arouses the many senses and emotions as the story gradually unravels through the lives of the people in a small town in South Carolina.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Book Review: Finding Peace by Jean Vanier - Non-fiction

Review by Robert Wiersema: Quill and Quire: November 26, 2003

We live in a tumultuous and disheartening time, a time to which only cynicism seems the appropriate response, a bulwark against outright despair. It seems odd, if not naive, to suggest that there might be room for hope, that there might be the potential for peace.

Finding Peace, the latest book from humanitarian and author Jean Vanier, dares to suggest the radical possibility of peace in our time. It is easy to reflexively dismiss such an idea, but Vanier is a realist, and Finding Peace explores the process of creating peace in a plainspoken, tough-minded manner that manages to suppress cynicism. As Vanier notes, “The journey of peace-making is not easy. It may be easy to be a lover of peace, but it is more difficult to be a worker for, a maker of peace day in and day out.”

Written in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Finding Peace explores what it means to be a maker of peace, through first examining the causes of conflict. Vanier envisions conflict arising in a system of concentric circles – cultural, political, societal, familial – centred, at base, on conflict within each individual. It is only through resolving internal conflict, then moving outward, through family and community to culture and political systems at large, that conflict can be resolved.

The key word is “resolved.” To Vanier’s mind, working for peace is not merely working for a return to the status quo, to the relative (and precarious) balance of the world pre-9/11. Rather, Vanier writes of a paradigmatic shift in consciousness, a movement toward true peace, rather than a mere suspension of hostility.

It’s not an easy process. The creation of peace requires individuals not to merely live alongside others who differ from them, but to embrace their differences, growing beyond “isolation, separation and apparent indifference to one another” to breaking down “the barricades we erect in our daily lives.” The first of those barricades is within our own hearts and minds, in the breaking down of personal fears, pain and prejudices, and an embracing of life, happiness, and difference.

Vanier’s writing embodies his fundamental principles. While his Christian faith is clearly in evidence (to the extent of quoting from his own translations of the Bible), Finding Peace is a non-denominational text. The underlying tenets will be familiar to followers or scholars of Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism. In a text that relies heavily on religious themes and ideals, in which faith and God are recurring themes, Vanier manages to be open-hearted and inclusive.

Finding Peace is not merely a theoretical or textual exercise for Vanier. His exploration of the process for creating peace is rooted in his work in both L’Arche and Faith and Light communities, international networks of communities for people with intellectual disabilities, and in the Canadian correctional system. Vanier is keenly aware of the vast rifts that exist between people and cultures, and has participated, repeatedly, in bridging those gaps. His are words of experience, that, if heeded, could bring about profound change on a scale both personal and global.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Review by Viv Groskop
Source: The Guardian 14 September 2008

Le Figaro has described this book as 'the publishing phenomenon of the decade'. Elsewhere, there were comparisons to Proust. It sold more than a million copies in France last year and has won numerous awards. Does it match up to the hype? Almost. It is a profound but accessible book (not quite Proust, then), which elegantly treads the line between literary and commercial fiction.

The story flits between the confessions of two women: Renée Michel, a 54-year-old concierge in a Parisian block of luxury apartments, and Paloma Josse, a precocious 12-year-old girl, the daughter of one of the most bourgeois families in the house. Paloma has decided that life is meaningless and is making plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday.

The reader knows from the beginning that the two of them have more in common than they realise. But Renée must maintain her lowly position in the pecking order so that she can keep her job: she is an autodidact who adores Tolstoy, is a devotee of Japanese cinema and listens to Mahler. The inhabitants of 7 Rue de Grenelle would, apparently, be scandalised if they found out that their lonely, dowdy concierge was getting up to all these intellectual high jinks. Plus, Renée just wants to be left alone and has no desire to become the eccentric object of everyone's curiosity. 'To be poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age.' So she pretends to be far more stupid than she is. The upstart girl and the concierge are drawn together when the celebrated restaurant critic upstairs dies. A cultured Japanese man takes the apartment and shares Paloma's fascination with Renée. They decide that the concierge has 'the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant.'

All these strands provide Muriel Barbery - a Paris-born one-time philosophy teacher who now lives in Japan - with the opportunity to explore her favourite theme: philosophy as applied to everyday life. This element at least in part explains the attraction of the book in France, where philosophy is still a compulsory subject and most people have a basic knowledge of the great thinkers in a way we don't in the UK.

Despite its cutesy air of chocolate-box Paris, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is, by the end, quite radical in its stand against French classism and hypocrisy. It's intriguing that her compatriots have bought into it so enthusiastically. Clever, informative and moving, it is essentially a crash course in philosophy interwoven with a platonic love story. Though it wanders in places, this is an admirable novel which deserves as wide a readership here as it had in France.

Comments from Maria Lynch: I particularly found this novel very interesting and a good read because of its philosophical themes throughout the novel.