Category Archives: Fiction

Review: Blue Diary

Blue Diary, by Alice Hoffman, takes on several moral questions within the pages. Lies are the foundation of the story, and they set off a chain reaction of events.

Ethan and Jorie have been married for fifteen years. They have a son, named Collie. Their marriage appears to be stable, loving and filled with joy. Everyone in their small town feels the same way, whenever they see the two together.

Enter Kat, a young girl who happens to be watching a TV show that shows Ethan’s photograph, and depicts him as a murderer of a fifteen-year old girl. Her best friend, Collie, is the son of a supposed murderer. She is in shock.

That shock turns to a moral question, and one she fulfills by telephoning the police from a telephone booth, in order to have him investigated.

Ethan is arrested and brought to jail. Jorie is in total shock and denial, as is her son. She can’t imagine how the man she married could possibly be a murderer. Herein lies a question: Do we ever truly know the person we are married to? Know in the sense of their moralistic and ethical standards.

Ethan has depicted himself to be upstanding, a hero who has saved the lives of a few people, a volunteer in the fire department. He is a man who is esteemed by the majority of the citizens residing in the town. They have nothing but respect and admiration for Ethan, who in fact, is actually Byron Bell, a murderer.

Superficiality and deceit, denial and truth, are at the heart of this novel. Hoffman depicts the family’s reactions, as well as the town’s reactions quite vividly, leaving nothing to the imagination. We visualize everything, and we are privy to Jorie’s innermost thoughts, as well as Kat’s thoughts, and the thoughts of others of importance in the story.

I didn’t really like the characters in the book, not even Kat, who wrestles with seeing the outcome of her decision to turn Ethan in. I didn’t like the fact that the e-book I borrowed was poorly edited with many errors, quite liberally. I am glad I didn’t pay for the book.

The truth comes back in a haunting fashion, evoking moral questioning within the pages. Can one who has murdered an innocent teenager redeem himself over the course of fifteen years? Has he paid for his crime, by being an upstanding citizen? Do his decent deeds warrant forgiveness and a legal pardon, or were they part of his personal quest for respect in case his past was revealed? Does he truly love his wife, or is his selfishness still a vital part of his soul?

So many questions, but this reader answered them all, to herself.
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Excuse the update, I forgot to link the book.

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Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven. by Emily St. John Mandel, is an interesting read on how the end of the world, our world, affects the few survivors that remain.

I say “few survivors”, because a flu pandemic, known as the Georgia flu, has literally killed off about 99 percent of the entire earth’s population. The flu was transported and transpired in a matter of days, and for some in a manner of hours. The effects of the pandemic created a wasteland of sorts. Cars left on the highways and freeways, and roads to the airport. Some left empty, some with the deceased. There was no electricity, no gas that was usable, little food, and no comforts of home, obviously.

Survivors ravaged empty homes of everything they could use, leaving the interiors a shell of a house. People slept wherever they could. There was a bit of lawlessness, but not so much of that as there was a lackluster mood, a mood of concentrating on coping, and of traveling back to the past. The past was a big part of the story line, as it kept jumping from then to the current situation.

The memories never leave the survivors, and it is almost as if they are reliving their lives in a time warp or continuum through the past. There isn’t much hope emanating.

Learning to survive with basically no comforts is a central issue, and one that is consumed by a traveling Shakespeare company, created by a former actor. His role seemed to be a bit of a farce, in my opinion. He wasn’t entirely present in a majority of the novel, yet his presence was certainly felt by the survivors, as they tried to travel to where he was located. He reminded me of a mythical character, who sight unseen, manages to rule society through his former actions of legendary proportions.

I didn’t find the reality of the fact that art, in all its forms, became a central theme of the novel. For me, there were more immediate concerns that needed caring for. The basics of life were of vital importance in my way of thinking. I did not find that surviving in order to watch a traveling Shakespeare company was primary over other survival skills and necessities.

Yes, the plays and music brought cheer, but they also brought a sense of melancholy to those who watched. The past was revisited in their present.

An airport also plays a major role, as all aircraft was literally stopped, from the moment of the pandemic’s beginning. In fact a plane was grounded and quarantined due to sick passengers. It sat far removed from the airport, throughout the entire novel. The reader is cognizant of the fact that the dead passengers’ bodies are on the plane. Many survivors have chosen to live in the airport, portioning off sections and making the section their home.

Chaos is depicted in many forms, and I must say that the author was brilliant with her word-imagery. Every aspect of the landscape is described so the reader does not have to really think too long on envisioning what is being portrayed.

I won’t go on any more with my thoughts. If I do, I will then be rambling in a negative manner. The book has gotten mainly excellent reviews and awards, and I don’t want to spoil anything for you, a possible reader.

I read Station Eleven for a book club. It is not my usual story line read. Did I like it, yes and no, more on the negative side than the positive side. The book was dark, and unbelievable in sections, as far as I am concerned. But, I did read it all the way through. It does have a moral of sorts, which is a plus.

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Review: Aquarium: A Novel

The novel, Aquarium, by David Vann is a novel that takes place in 1994, and is narrated by a twelve-year old girl named Caitlin Thompson.

Caitlin lives alone with her mother, Sheri, in a small apartment. There are just the two of them, and her mother is a hardworking single mother. When Sheri comes home from work she just wants to flop on the bed. And, at times, Caitlin flops down with her.

Sheri can’t afford child care, so Caitlin spends her after school hours at the Seattle Aquarium. It was less expensive to buy a season pass, than pay for child care for Caitlin who is not legally allowed to be home alone.

While at tne aquarium one afternoon, she meets an elderly man. He begins speaking to her regarding the fish they are looking at. This interaction continues each day after school, and a friendship begins to form between the two of them. She trusts him, completely, and is not afraid of him. Eventually, he tells Caitlin he would like a favor of her-he wants to meet her mother.

Once the meeting takes place, trouble begins. ‘Trouble’ is actually an understatement and putting it mildly. I must admit that I was shocked at Sheri’s behavior, after she sees the elderly man. I was horrified regarding her actions.

Enough, if I go on any longer, I will give the story line away.

I found Vann’s writing to be lovely when he was writing about the aquarium, and the fish and other sea life that live within the aquarium environment. His word-images were beautifully written. They were masterfully crafted images that illuminated aquarium life. I have been to aquariums several times recently, and I could visualize what his writing depicted.

I also was captivated by how Caitlin compared her daily life to an aquarium. Her apartment was her aquarium, her bedroom, her school, every facet of her life was an analogy to an aquarium. It was an interesting concept.

For me, the novel was a metaphor for survival, not only survival of sea life, but survival of individuals within an environment of hardship and adversity. Single mothers with little education have a difficult time tying all ends together in order to provide shelter, food and clothing for their child/ren. Within the pages, this becomes a primary issue.

As a whole, I was not overly happy with the story. Aquarium is a dark and haunting novel, and not one that I found to be a positive read (other than the word-images of aquarium life). Yes, it is true, Caitlin was a sweet girl, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy me.

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Review: Missing Mom: A Novel

Joyce Carole Oates never ceases to amaze me, not only with her story lines, but the depth of the characters in her novels.  In her novel, Missing Mom , a tribute to her own mother, who is no longer living, Oates has gone one step beyond herself, and given us insight in a magnificently crafted novel.  I feel that this book must have been a catharsis, of sorts, for Oates, to help her through her devastating loss.  She most certainly must have helped others, dealing with the loss of a mother or a father.

Having lost my own mother 11/11/2004 (Veterans Day of all days), this story line captured my attention, and I could not put the book down until I had finished it, reading it straight through, overnight.  It was a sobering and compelling read, and filled with true-life situations.  This reader could feel the pain that emanated between the lines. I saw myself in several of the painful situations.

In the character of Nikki, I saw the reality of what denial can do to a person.  She had several dimensions, but most of them were superficial.  In the end, she became the person she feared she would become.  Realizing that she had become that person, she slowly adjusted to that facet of her being.  Oates illuminates the varied phases and emotional conflicts quite brilliantly.

Nikki’s mother was constantly in her life, although, no longer living (I can definitely empathize and relate to that aura).  From her clothes to the house decorations, to the entertaining of friends/family, we see she is her mother’s daughter, guilt-ridden, yet caring and loving, at the same time.  Loss has no barriers in the time continuum.

This reader felt Nikki’s loss, felt her denial, felt her pain, and watched her take baby steps in healing.  Even though she continued to heal and move forward, I understood that she would always be missing her mother. The void of loss would be a constant for Nikki, yet the will to find a sense of acceptance resonated quite vividly.

The bereavement process is a difficult time in a person’s life.  Joyce Carole oates has written a story line so poignant, heart-wrenching and a story extremely filled with the consumption of death and its after-effects and after-affects, in her novel, Missing Mom.

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Review: Waiting For Robert Capa

Waiting For Robert Capa: A novel, by Susana Fortes, is a book that held my interest from beginning until the end, not only because of the photojournalism aspect, but also due to the romantic interests, and the historical aspect.

Andre Friedmann, was a struggling photographer, living in Paris. He was a Hungarian exile.  He had an assignment to take pictures for publicity purposes for a life insurance company. Within that realm, he finds a woman named Ruth Cerf, and asks her to model for him.

Ruth was suspicious, and told him she was bringing a friend along.  Her name was Gerta Pohorylle.  From there, begins a story line that mingles fact with fiction, and encompasses a story of romance and photojournalism like you have never read before.

Andre and Gerta become known as a couple.  And, couple, they did (pun intended).  They were two young and brilliant individuals trying to maintain a relationship and garner assignments in Spain in order to document the war.  And, in order to do so, Gerta came up with the bright idea to change their names in order to gain recognition.

First she changes Andre’s name to Robert Capa, eliminating his Jewish surname.  She becomes his self-appointed “agent”. Eventually she changes her name to Gerda Taro.  She wanted to be independent, and be recognized for her own work, rather than her photographs be included in Robert’s work without a byline. She literally became the first female war photographer who involved herself in the midst of battle.  He became infamous in the world of photography for his extremely hardline images, leaving nothing to chance or to the imagination. To say they found themselves in unbelievable circumstances, is an understatement.

They were right there, within the action, each one, documenting war through photography, putting their lives at risk in order to capture the ravages and horrors of war.  Those efforts and circumstances changed the face of war photography forever.  From that point forward, war was seen by millions of individuals in ways that they never imagined.

His photographs depict tumultuous moments.  Robert’s photograph “Death of a Loyalist Militiaman“, became the poster child, so to speak, for the Spanish Civil War.  It is an incredible image, and one that depicts the moment of one man’s death, literally.  With one click of the camera, he captured death as it occurred.  He never lived that image down, due to speculation that it was staged.  He denied it, but there were the nonbelievers. It followed him for the rest of his life.

As a side note-I knew of Robert Capa’s war photography, especially his work regarding D-Day, and other images during that document World War II.  I knew of Gerda Taro.  But, I did not know about their relationship.

I won’t go any further with details, because the novel is too compelling and intense.  Suffice it to say, the love story is depicted with realism and deep intimate moments.  The war angle and photography moments are intensely written and portrayed. Susana Fortes is masterful at keeping the reader interested, and masterful in illuminating her word images.

I recommend Waiting For Robert Capa: A Novel, to everyone.  The historical information, alone, makes it more than an excellent read.  Combine that with the romantic story of two brilliant individuals whose work will live on, and keep their brilliance and efforts alive, and you have a book difficult to put down.

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To view some of the incredible photographs that were taken by Robert Capa, visit Magnum Photos. I was absorbed in all of them, but the ones from Italy 1943-1944 spoke to me, as my father was involved in the liberation of Italy. I was also amazed at the D-Day photographs, and remember seeing many of them while growing up, in various literary magazines and in newspapers.

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Review: Dora Bruder

Dora Bruder, by Patrick Modiano (translated by Joanna Kilmartin), is a book that was an intriguing and compelling read for me.

From Modiano’s first spark of interest in Dora Bruder’s life, to his final analysis, the story line is structured much like a detective story, and an ongoing investigation that he becomes obsessed with. His interest in her life began when he read about her in an old newspaper from 1941.

Dora Bruder was Jewish, and she was 15-years old at the time, and had literally disappeared off the face of the streets of Paris. Her parents placed an in the newspaper “Paris Soir”, which ran in the personal column on New Years Eve, 1941. “Missing, a young girl, Dora Bruder, age 15, height 1 m 55, oval-shaped face, gray-brown eyes, gray sports jacket, maroon pullover, navy blue skirt and hat, brown gym shoes.”

Once Modiano sees that notice, he begins to investigate every document, every crevice, every bit of information he can gather on her. His ten-year investigation leads him down streets he once lived on, down avenues he walked many times before, and into buildings and archives in order to garner as much information as possible. He speaks with people, from all walks of life. He is unable to let go of her, and his need to know sets him on a journey that also includes his own depictions of self-discovery.

Dora Bruder is short on pages, less than 140 pages, but it is filled with depth and intensity. Modiano’s quest for Dora Bruder, is also a quest for the answers to his own childhood, one that was filled with troublesome events, due to his Jewish father’s collaborations during the Holocaust. Within the realm of his difficult childhood, we see similarities between them, such as loss of a happy childhood, loss of a stable environment while growing up, and the loss associated with negative memories.

Modiano’s memories abound within the framework, as his research continually evokes thoughts of his own losses and life events. In essence, although the book is a novel, it is sustained by amazing facts and data. One might say it is a cross between fiction and memoir, due to the fact that Modiano’s life, itself, fills the pages through his reflecting upon his past.

For me, Dora Bruder, was masterfully written by Patrick Modiano. He had me deeply focused on the pains of loss, and how the past follows us throughout our life. His dedication to interviewing, dedication to research, documentation, and his physical involvement in walking the streets of Paris in order to gain more information is something to applaud him for.

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The Buried Giant

With his latest novel, The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro has written an intriguing and beguiling story line.

The framework begins with an aging couple, Axl and Beatrice. They have set out on a journey to find their son, who they haven’t seen in years. He lives in a village not too far from them. Within this composite, the elements of the story line are filled with myth, legend, fantasy, the firmness, or weakness, of memory, and the structure of community.

The name Axl means “father of peace”. A good point to remember in the story. Beatrice means “bringer of joy”, “guide”. Dante, himself infused a woman named Beatrice as a guide in his work, “Divine Comedy”. These definitions play an integral part in the story.

Memory is a predominant factor within the pages. We often choose to forget issues within our lives, issues too painful for us to cope with at a given moment. Eventually those issues can catch up to us, and our mind can slowly open up to reveal the past we tried hard to forget. Memory is also a part of the aging process, and often our ability to remember diminishes as we age. Fear of the loss of remembering can wreak havoc upon us.

Britons and Saxons are peacefully living side by side, due to the “fog of memory” thrust upon them. As time goes by, Axl and Beatrice begin to remember incidents and events from their past. Their memories are slowly awakened, as the memory fog subtly lifts. Is it due to their age, that their memories are unclear, or is it due to an unseen force put upon them?

Read the magical and mythical story yourself, in order to find the answer. Within the pages the reader is carried into a land of Arthurian composition. King Arthur’s nephew, Gawain, an old knight is one of the characters who Axl and Beatrice meet, along with a warrior and a young boy. They encounter dragons, sprites, ogres along their journey. The characters, intermingled with each other, present the reader with a masterfully written story line, leaving the reader to question many important issues.

The story line, in my opinion, is an allegory for humanity, humanity as individuals, couples, community, and as a part of the whole within villages, towns and countries. The allegory encompasses the customs, spirituality and cultures within the human condition, including superstition and how it is a life force for many.

The Buried Giant
, in my opinion, is also metaphor for life’s memories and the fear and struggles endured through love and loss. Mass hysteria and/or a form of mass hypnosis or mass suggestion, superstition and spirituality, through fear, plays a major role within the pages. Pagan and Christian alike fear each other’s rituals, and that fear breeds irrational thoughts, and escalates hate.

I applaud Kazuo Ishiguro for his brilliance in structuring a storyline that is filled with minute details, details so vivid, the reader can see them before their eyes. I also praise him for giving the reader much food for thought regarding humanity and the human condition.

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