Friday, July 5, 2019

Book Review: The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy - Fiction

Barbara Gowdy in her novel, The White Bone, takes the reader into the mind of the elephant. She imagines the emotions, thoughts and actions of the elephants in their daily routines of surviving in the wilderness of the sub-Sahara. 

The vibrant characters of the elephants in the herd are humanized in a manner that seems different and yet realistically portrays the lifestyle of the elephants. The nuances of each elephant are captured in their interactions that brings out the sense of humour as well as the likes and dislikes of each other that includes name-calling.

It is a matriarchal herd that stays close to each other as they move in the environs. They are in search of a safe place to stay as they pursue their quest to find that White Bone. The stunning descriptions of their movement through draught conditions highlight the endurance of the elephant. They pass by mutilated bodies of elephants killed by poachers or they pass by their relatives who appeared to have died of natural causes from dehydration. In this journey they sometimes lose track of one of their herd; they gather together and determine what could have happened to the lost one. But they move on. They fend off predators as they stop to have a drink and bathe in the rare find of water pools.

The White Bone is a remarkable representation of the elephant that illustrates the imagined mind of this majestic animal on her home turf. It brings a new sense of awareness of the wild life who live in their surroundings as we do in our surroundings. Brilliantly written!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean Pendziwol - Fiction

The Light Keeper’s Daughters is a captivating novel that is set on a remote island in Lake Superior. The story not only takes the reader into the lives of the Light Keeper and his family, but poignantly illustrates the duties of the Light Keeper and the isolation of this kind of lifestyle. And yet Pendziwol deftly describes the rich natural environs that become part of this family’s way of living.

Gradually the reader is faced with the beautiful relationship between the twins, Elizabeth and Emily—the latter being the silent one. There is a deep sense of family commitment and love. There are twists and turns that illustrate the history of the time period and the cultural nuances. In addition, there are family secrets that slowly unravel throughout the novel. 

But many years later, Elizabeth who is in a care home on the shores of Lake Superior discovers more family secrets with the aid of Morgan—a teenager sent to do community work at the care home. There are coincidences between Morgan’s life and the twins’ lives on this remote Porphyry Island. The Light Keeper’s logbooks reveal some of the family’s secrets that ultimately uncovers Morgan’s connections to this family. 

The author skilfully portrays suspense, love, loss, duty, and even murder in this engrossing yet touching tale of family and commitment to each other and the work of being a Light Keeper.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Book Review: The Color of Water by James McBride - Memoir

James McBride, an accomplished musician, journalist and author gives the readers an excellent rendition of his tribute to his mother in his memoir entitled  The Color of Water. His mother, Ruth is a white Jewish woman married twice to African-Americans during an era of segregation. With her first husband, Andrew McBride, they had eight children.  After his death the re-marries, Hunter Jordan another African-American and adds four more children to their family.

The author takes the reader through the various nuances, trials, tribulations and glaring realities of belonging to a large family of twelve children with bi-racial parents. Even though, it is a chaotic and poor family their mother ensures that the children go to the best Jewish schools; she stresses the importance of education. In spite of the discrimination and being shunned in the schools, the children survive and achieve what their mother expects of them.

There are sections where others in the family relate their stories. These tend to add a bit of confusion as the reader is not quite sure whose story is being told--sometimes it could be the mother or a sister.  It keeps the reader in suspense.

The Color of Water is a wonderful tribute to the mother, Ruth McBride Jordan. Fundamentally, it is a portrayal of family love in a dysfunctional kind of way and yet each child surfaces with an achievement that makes their mother proud.

Friday, April 12, 2019

TED Talk: A Tale of Passion by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is one of my favourite authors. This TED talk is enlightening, imaginative and inspiring.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Book Review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson - A Travel Memoir

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is hard. And that is the verdict by Bill Bryson, the author of A Walk in the Woods.

The narrative commences with Bryson’s curiosity of hiking this Trail and then getting ready to do the hike. After purchasing all the necessary equipment he proceeds to call a number of friends and acquaintances who would be willing to accompany him; he gets one volunteer from Iowa, Stephen Katz whom he has not seen or heard from in quite a while. Even though Katz is a recovering alcoholic, Bryson accepts him as his companion on this hiking trip. The Trail is approximately 2,000 miles or 3,500 km spreading from Georgia to Maine with a wide range of magnificent mountains, hills, streams, lakes and stunning views. 

While on the trail, Bryson takes the lead and soon discovers that Katz is unable to keep pace with him and moves forward, all the while, keeping an eye back on his companion. When they meet, Katz, who is overweight, is puffing, out of breath, cursing and defiantly tells Bryson that he had to ditch most of what he packed. And thus, the hike continues. Bryson recounts hilarious anecdotes of interactions with people they meet, share resting time or nights in the shelters. It becomes more and more difficult to conquer walking this Trail. They skip a great part of the Trail and take a ride to Roanoke, Virginia for a more pleasant or easier walk in these woods. After covering 800 miles or 1,300km they stop as each returns home. 

Throughout Bryson infuses humour, along with in depth descriptions of its history, the health of the woods and how this Trail has evolved over time. A Walk in the Woods is a travel memoir that captures the reader’s imagination and educates in an interesting, entertaining manner.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Book Review: The Secretary by Kim Ghattas - Non-fiction

Kim Ghattas, a BBC journalist, travelled with Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, on her diplomatic trips to the Middle East and Pakistan.  Ghattas describes the nuances of travelling with the Secretary.  Also, she captures the "behind the scenes" scenarios of each trip, the endless hours of travel and sometimes with very little rest or sleep in between these trips.

Ghattas, who was born and raised in Lebanon, describes the two sides of the coin, i.e. her thoughts of America while living in Lebanon and then compares it to what she is experiencing, as a BBC journalist, through a very different lens. She is able to witness and analyze the difficulties of being a superpower that tries to keep all countries on an even keel.

The author includes historical facts of the countries visited on this diplomacy journey. It brings a very good perspective of what America is trying to achieve in each of these countries. The reader gets a great view of how Hillary performs and her willingness to meet and spend time with the people in each of these countries.  It becomes an awe-inspiring reflection of this author's journey with the Secretary.

On a personal note, The Secretary is a page turner. Ghattas has a compelling style of writing with a genuine goal of describing the realities of the challenges that America faces in its foreign policy development and delivery.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Book Review: Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai

Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai is an extraordinary life story that takes the reader from Maathai’s childhood in rural Kenya to being a Nobel Laureate. Her continual optimism is evident throughout; whether she is walking through open doors of opportunities or confronting umpteen stumbling blocks. She persists and focuses on her goals. Her indomitable spirit rings through every action she takes to achieve her goals.

Maathai’s quest to save Kenya’s green space, by planting one tree at a time, led to her founding the Green Belt Movement. She empowers women to become active and create groups that would plant trees in their neighbourhoods. She becomes involved in the political arena, and against all odds strives to restore democracy in Kenya. Despite the prevailing issues as described by Mathaai, Kenya is a democratic country with timely elections.

In a stoic and graceful manner, she withstands the many challenges, some of a violent nature, from the Kenyan Government and persists in her raison d’etre to ensure the greenery of Kenya, equality for women, and good governance in Kenya.

Unbowed: A Memoir is a captivating life story from which many lessons can be learned, including the power of perseverance in order to achieve one’s goals and having the passion to make a dream a reality. Maathai illustrates how she did it. It is an excellent read.