Category Archives: Historical

74. Mãn (Kim Thúy)

man-fall2014-thumb-175x272-377190After enjoying the novel Ru, I was very excited to read the next book by Kim Thúy which was translated from French to English.  The story alternates between Mãn’s early life as a child in Vietnam and her present life, as a wife and mother, in Montreal.  This Canadian author has shared that this is her most personal work to date.

“Mãn, which means “perfectly fulfilled,” or “may there be nothing left to desire,” or “may all wishes be granted.”

During the Vietnam War, Mãn follows her Maman during her work as a spy.  As she ages, she is married to a man and sent to live in Montreal.  Like her name, Mãn, lives a life of satisfaction.  The couple open and run a Vietnamese restaurant together.  This restaurant becomes very popular and patrons enjoy their daily specials which are reminiscent of their homeland.  Mãn enjoys the freedom of her life and cooking in Montreal but is trapped in her “satisfied” life – between her homeland where she would not longer fit in and her new life in Canada where her children are growing up.

The restaurant leads to the development of a cooking school and to a published cookbook.  Through her success, she travels and meets the love of her life in France.  Luc is a married, Vietnamese cook who shares her love of the special dishes of their childhood.  Again, Mãn lives in two words – between the steady life with her husband and children and the passionate love she feels for Luc, who has his own family.  While the relationship is gently shared, the reader wonders if her husband had any idea?

This is a thoughtful story built of short chapters which capture snippets of time and history.  The emotions and feelings are often described through the painstaking traditional dishes that Mãn takes time to make for others.  It is interesting to learn more about Vietnamese culture and food through her novel and although I enjoyed this story, I would recommend that others read Ru first.

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Filed under Canadian, Fiction, Historical

71. The Boston Girl (Anita Diamont)

boston-girl-9781439199350_lgAfter enjoying The Red Tent, I was very excited to read another novel by Anita Diamont.  Both stories include themes of feminism and strong female friendship but The Boston Girl was a totally different but enjoyable experience.  Although it was slow to start, the conversational tone and strength of the main character Addie, kept me engaged and reading right through to the end.

The novel began with 85 year old, Jewish grandmother (Addie) being interviewed by her youngest grand-daughter and namesake.  Addie described her early days, living in a tenement with her Mameh and father who had emigrated to the United States.  Addie had been born in 1900 and life was not easy for Addie and her two sisters.  School was not a priority, they had to work at a young age and to deal with Mameh who complained about everything and who never seemed happy.

As Addie grew, she had to quit school although she was bright, wanted to learn and had goals of becoming an independent woman.  She spent time with the Saturday Club, a library group of single, likeminded women.  Addie had a number of jobs and slowly continued her education.  She eventually met the love of her life and shared that experience with her grand-daughter.

This book describes a proud Jewish woman, the beginnings of feminism and the strength of families. It shares some Jewish heritage and gives a historical perspective of the early 1900s including emigration, influence, war and the depression.  It is another book that girls should read, sharing the experience of woman that came before us and making us realize that like Addie said “Don’t let anyone tell you things aren’t better than they used to be.”

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68. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)

Unknown-6Although I have watched the Christmas Carol in movie and cartoon format, I have never read the original Charles Dickens text.  As we get closer to Christmas, I thought that I would try and get into the festive spirit by reading about Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.  Through visits from three ghosts, he learns lessons and is able to change his future by changing his present.

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge.  “But if the courses be departed from the ends will change.  Say it is thus with what you show me!”

The narrative is very descriptive and is indicative of 1843, when the novella was written.  Having seen different versions of the movie, it is easy to picture the ghosts described and to hear Tiny Tim as he exclaims “God bless us, every one!”  This enduring story of redemption and second chances is one that everyone should read.  The message is important, not only at Christmas but year round as we need to be kind and thoughtful to others.  Everyone should read the original story at Christmas!

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.  I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.  The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  I will to shut out the lessons that they teach.  Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”

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Filed under Christmas, Fiction, Historical, Made into a movie

Best Books for Gifts

Unknown-4As we get closer to Christmas, what are your favourite books that you would buy as a gift?  like for a gift? or have waiting on your nightstand for reading over the holidays?

I will start with my choices:

I would gift:  Girl Runner (Carrie Snyder), Where the Air is Sweet (Tasneem Jamal) or Three Day Road (Joseph Boyden) – these were all fantastic books that I read this year and all are Canadian authors.  I have recommended all these choices for Canada Reads.

I would like:  Boston Girl (Anita Diamont), the second book from the author of the Red Tent which was a book club read in November.

I would like to read:   Lost in the Barrens (Farley Mowat), Trust Inc:  52 Weeks of Activities and Inspirations for Building Workplace Trust (because my good friend Dominique O’Rourke is published in this book filled with inspirations from the “world’s leading experts”)

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Filed under Canadian, Fiction, Historical, Leadership

65. All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

allthelight-209x300This piece of historical fiction has been on best seller lists and promoted by bookstores this year.  After devouring it in two days, I can see why.  The story is set in both France and Germany during the second World War.  The narration alternates between Marie-Laure, a young blind girl  and Werner, an orphaned German boy with a talent for fixing radios.  The characters live through the loss and adversity of war as their stories are artfully woven together.

Marie Laure and her devoted father lived in France.  Her father worked in the museum and used his spare time as a craftsman building models of miniature houses depicting their neighbourhood to teach Marie Laure independence despite her lack of sight.  As the war advanced, they fled their home and moved in with her Great Uncle who had been mentally impacted during World War I.

Werner lived with his younger sister with a foster mother and was destined to work in the mines where his father had been killed.  He had a quick mind and a thirst for knowledge.  He found a discarded radio and his talents, became known for fixing radios which led to his selection for a school to prepare young boys for Germany’s war effort.  His education was not only in radio intelligence but he quickly learned of the cruelty of others during war.

Although I would like to share more, I don’t want to ruin the story.  This novel is an important read highlighting the the goodness in people despite the horrible circumstances of war.   As the stories meet, not everyone has a happy ending but I appreciated how the author provided an overview of the trajectory of the characters after the war ended.  This book is deserving of the praise and recommendations it has been given!

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Filed under Fiction, Historical

55. Where She Went (Gayle Froman)

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A sequel to the book (and movie) If I Stay (#37), Where She Went picks up the story of Mia and Adam, three years after the fateful accident that killed Mia’s family.  To ensure that this was age appropriate for my daughter, I read this young adult novel and came to understand the effects of Mia and Adam’s grief as they lived their separate lives.

Mia’s physical wounds had healed and she had been accepted and graduated from Julliard.  She was living her dream of Cello performances yet was alone and experiencing survivor’s guilt.  Adam’s band had become a great success but he was alone, unhappy, not getting a long with the band, struggling with the attention of fans and journalists while self-medicating with cigarettes and prescription medications.  Both were lonely.  Both were grieving their loss alone.

Adam happened upon one of Mia’s performances and they spent the night visiting Mia’s favourite places in New York while tentatively talking about their “break up” and past.  Through this trip, the couple comes to understand the ramifications of Adam’s pleading promise to Mia as she decided whether to live or die following the accident.

This was an easy read and it was nice to find out what happened to the couple in the aftermath of the terrible accident.   As for age appropriateness, while there were adult-type references, there was no description of the actions.  It is really more a book for teens than pre-teens.

(241 e-pages)

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52. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)

UnknownThis biblical story highlights the strength and reliance of women as they experience friendship, love, hope, birth, misfortune, abuse and death through generations. The epic tale is told by Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob (sister of Joseph), and spans her lifetime. As the sole daughter in a large family, Dinah is allowed to share time with her mothers and aunts within the red tent where the women pass their time of menstruation together, sharing fellowship, gossip, secrets and passing down the stories of their family history. She learns the art of midwifery and her skill becomes well known and sought out by others in a time where childbirth often resulted in death.

Although Dinah grows up loved by her mother and aunts, as she becomes a woman, her life enters turmoil due to the greed and hateful attitudes of her older brothers. She falls in love and the consummation of this relationship sparks dramatic violence, murder and deceit. From this passion, she births a son who she must share with his more powerful grandmother.

As she ages, she finds support and strength through another woman, in her friendship with a fellow midwife named Meryt. With encouragement from her friend she marries again, finding mature love with Benia. Through coincidence, her son requests her presence at the birth of his employer’s son.   While attending this birth, she discovers that the father is her long-lost brother, Joseph connecting her with the past as she learns what has happened to her birth family during her absence.

At first, I had to keep referring to the family tree page to understand the relationships of this family since Jacob had numerous wives and children. As the story unfolded, it was difficult to put down. It makes the reader consider the importance of taking time to share family history and to reflect on the quiet strength of the women, in a time where woman had little choice.  It celebrates the power of being a woman and engages the reader in a way that this book should spark interesting discussion at my next book club meeting.

(321 pages)

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42. Making Bombs for Hitler (Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch)

Unknown-7After attending the book launch (see previous blog post), Erin and I were inspired to read a selection of Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s books. We took turns finishing this novel during our holidays. In this companion book, a prequel to Stolen Child (#38), the reader understands what happened to the sister left behind.

Lida was sentenced to a work camp. She lied about her age, avoiding death in a “hospital” only to work long hours first in the laundry and subsequently doing the risky and delicate work of building bombs. Like her other novels, this novel teaches us part of the terrible history of WW2 and is a story of compassion, caring and hope as a group of children look out for each other in order to survive.

It is hard to believe that humans could treat others so terribly. It seems impossible that these actions (and worse) occurred in the last hundred years. This is another story that needed to be told and should be read by students everywhere!

(186 pages)

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Filed under Canadian, Fiction, Historical, young adult

40. The Dance of the Banished (Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch)

Dance-of-the-Banished  Following the launch of this terrific book last week (see post below), I devoured it as we relaxed beneath the trees on a campsite at the Pinery. Similar to this author’s previous novels, this story wove together history and a compelling story of injustice, hope and tenacity to survive in terrible conditions. This book also had a Brantford connection, which is a treat to read! 

This novel, Forchuk Skrypuch’s fifth book about the Armenian genocide, alternates between Ali and Zeynep who are writing in journals to each other during their separation. Ali leaves Anatolia to find a better life in Canada, settling in Brantford and working in a foundry. He ends up placed in an internment camp in Northern Ontario after being identified as the very people he was fleeing from. Zeynep remains behind waiting to join him, living with missionaries and helping at the hospital. During this time, the Young Turks were working to extinguish the Christian Armenians by killing the men and forcing the women and children to march through the desert, starving to their deaths. Zeynep continues to write in her journal, writing at the American consulate office, as the  importance of her journal and the documentation of these terrible crimes has been recognized.

Both Ali and Zeynep show incredible bravery and compassion as they help others avoid persecution. The author shared that while the book is fiction, “every single thing in my book happened”. This book is important to read and as Zeynep says,
“what I have witnessed is evidence of a terrible crime and the world must know about it, because, he says, that what we forget, we are bound to repeat”.

(231 pages)

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Book Launch: Dance of the Banished (Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch)

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After reading the Stolen Child by local author Marsha Forchuck Skrypuch (book # 38), Erin and I were privileged to attend today’s launch of her newest novel, the Dance of the Banished. This book was celebrated, along with the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the 100th anniversary of Canada’s first national interment camps, at the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. John in Brantford. One hundred plaques were being unveiled today across Canada at 1100 hours.

During his address, the Father of the Ukrainian church shared that “we need to remember history and sometimes it is not very pleasant”. This was in reference to the Ukrainian and Armenian people who travelled to freedom in Canada yet ended being labeled as the very people that they had escaped from. During a dark part of Canadian history, 100 years ago, these immigrants were rounded and placed in internment camps. While the seriousness of these camps was commemorated, Dave Levac, MPP (Speaker of the House) shared that the celebration was about the “power to overcome and never give up” and how it is important for Canada to acknowledge what happened, apologize and then bring the communities together. We enjoyed the dedication of the plaque, which included singing and prayer in Ukrainian, complete with incense and holy water.

Forchuck Skrypuch has done a great deal of research into her novels and she shared that although this new book is fiction, “every single thing in my book happened”. Erin was thrilled to have her Stolen Child signed and leave with 3 newly autographed books. I know that we will both enjoy these books and learn about Canadian and world history along the way.  Look for a future blog post about these books coming soon!

Congratulations Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch! Your novels honour history in a way that emphasizes hope, forgiveness and perseverance while reinforcing that we need to learn from this unfortunate history to ensure that it does not repeat itself. We are looking forward to reading your newest novel!

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