The Invention of Wings

Books I enjoyed:

Growing up on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, my history knowledge of the American (pre)Civil War era was fairly limited. Most of my information probably came from watching North and South episodes on television. Yeah…I know. I had and still have quite some catching up to do.

inventionofwings

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is set in the first half of the nineteenth century, and tells the story of the Grimké sisters, but mostly that of Sarah Grimké. Born in the South and despite being raised in a slave-holding family, Sarah grows up abhorring slavery and believing things should be different. As the book describes her life and her slow but steady progress towards not just standing up for herself, but also for abolition and women’s rights in general, I can’t help but admire her for her enlightenment, her courage, and her will to do what is right, despite the restrictions the era—and society—placed upon her.

I had never heard of the Grimké sisters, so I was surprised to find out these ladies really existed, and yet are so little heard of. Therefore, I am grateful to Sue Monk Kidd, for writing this book. If nothing else, these women deserve some attention. In fact, Sarah and Angelina Grimké were one of the first American female advocates for abolition and women’s rights. They were both famous as well as infamous for their viewpoints.

Sue Monk Kidd has, for the most part, tried to be truthful to the life and voice of Sarah Grimké, through examining letters, diaries and so forth. The part of the book that is fiction is the voice of Handful, a slave girl that is given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. Switching back and forth between the two girls, and later, women, the contrasts are stark; one is in a position of privilege, the other of captivity, submitted to the cruelty and whims of her oppressors. In my opinion, even though the story of Sarah is fascinating, it is the voice of Handful that carries the book to a whole new level.

Both girls endure confinement, albeit in different ways; Handful is owned—her lack of freedom is absolute—for Sarah there are the restrictions of her gender. As Handful points out to Sarah: “My body might be a slave, but my mind is not. For you it’s the other way around.” However, once Sarah manages to break free, she is able to continue along this journey, chipping away at the barriers holding her back, whereas for Handful, the road to any sort of freedom is permanently closed off. Yet, despite her circumstances, Handful’s spirit remains unbroken.

This book reminded me of a quote attributed to Goethe: ‘There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings’. How true.

After reading the book I was left with a variety of emotions, but mostly, hope. Even in our darkest times in which we display our most terrible behavior, there are still people willing to do the right thing—people who have a vision of how things could be, if only…

That’s something to hold onto.

The Lover’s Portrait

51KNLQlFsBL._AC_US218_The Lover’s Portrait written by Jennifer S. Alderson, was a fun and exciting read!

The main character is Zelda, a young American woman, who has been immersing herself in Dutch culture, studying art. When she gets an internship at an art museum in Amsterdam, trying to restore the in WW II stolen art to the rightful owners, a painting gets claimed by two different women, and questions, as well as trouble, start piling up!

The mystery itself was compelling and made me want to keep reading (I read it in one day, because I couldn’t put it down). The location and time period were the icing on the cake.

The story not only takes the reader to the Amsterdam of today, but also of the past, during the time of WW II. Featuring the stolen and lost art during the German occupation of the Netherlands, it tells about what was happening in Amsterdam during that period, without it turning into a history lesson. It was both a fascinating glimpse back in time as well as very educational. I had the impression Jennifer must have invested a great deal of work researching the era and the city. Having lived in Amsterdam, one of my favorite cities, I felt the descriptions in the book were very accurate, bringing back great memories.

Obviously, it being a mystery novel, I don’t want to provide any more spoilers. You just need to read it!

The Handmaid’s Tale

Books I enjoyed:

The Hhandmaid's taleandmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This book was written in 1985, but I only just read it. And it gave me chills.

Even though the pace of the book is a little slow, it was a compelling and interesting read. I think it was more my impatience that wished the story would move faster. The book was not all that enjoyable, because the content is, well, often disturbing. But then, a book doesn’t always have to be enjoyable; sometimes, it should just make you pause, and think.

The narrator of the book is Offred (which literally means she is “Of Fred”: Fred owns her). This dystopian novel sets the stage for a society that is profoundly female unfriendly—under disguise of ‘the common good’. Because of rampant infertility, women like Offred, who have proven to be fertile, can be abused by the privileged few—the Commanders who rule the new world—for the sake of creating offspring. Previous children have been redistributed, families torn apart—all to serve the new order. Some women have been given more power, foremost over other women, contributing to the inequality and keeping it in place, illustrating well how power can corrupt.

The fundamental religious society Margaret Atwood describes, is absolutely frightening.  The Constitutional Rights (the novel takes place in Massachusetts) have been abandoned and the secret police is abundant, as are the executions. What struck me most was the apathy of the narrator, as well as of the other women. Resistance is futile, at least, that’s what it feels like throughout the book.

Some reviewers have argued that such a sudden change in our society would be too unlikely. But in this year of 2017, I would argue, perhaps not. Women’s rights are still being debated on a daily basis. The novel mentions massive pollution, diseases, disasters and widespread infertility; the idea of civil unrest in the aftermath of such a situation may not be that ludicrous. Neither is the thought that a totalitarian regime would thrive in such conditions, or that people would accept it.

If anything, this book is still surprisingly relevant, even after the thirty-two years it was written. I would highly recommend reading it.

All the Light…

Books I enjoyed

allthelightOne of the reasons I pick up a book about World War II every now and then is because they are such good reminders of the more recent horrors of our history. If we do not learn from our history, then how are we to prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes over and over again?

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is set during WW II in France and Germany. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 and tells the story of two young people: a blind French girl and a German soldier. The book starts before the war, when they are still both children.

Werner is a German orphan, with, as he grows up, nothing to look forward to but the gloomy prospect of working in the mines. His childhood during post-WW I Germany, is set in poverty at first, but as Hitler rises to power, his circumstances slowly improve. He finally escapes into the machinery of war, being groomed for the army; an opportunity he gets because of his gift of understanding math and radios. He is often conflicted: looking for a place where he can belong—yet not blind to the horrors of war and not feeling powerful enough to stop any of it.

Marie-Laure grows up in Paris. She turns blind at the age of six, and must overcome her own struggles. When the Germans invade France, she has to flee Paris and finds refuge in the coastal town of Saint-Malo.

Both Werner and Marie-Laure are sympathetic protagonists. Their life circumstances basically force them along their own particular journey, which makes one wonder how much control we have over our own destiny and the choices we make. It feels like their stories are interconnected from the beginning, bur their lives only touch briefly, although it is a defining moment.

The book is beautifully written, but I have to confess that in the beginning it took me a little while to get captivated. I kept going though, and I am glad I did. I do not know the exact moment which turned it around for me, all I know is that at some point it did. Like most books about World War II, it is sad and not without cruelty, but also full of hope, and a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit.

Escape from Baxter’s Barn

Books I enjoyed:

This is a book I read to my 8 year old :). I find many new treasures when I browse for kids’ books in the library. Escape from Baxters’ Barn is definitely one of them. It is well written, with mature language, and lots a wonderful “big” words. The story had us bothbaxtersbarn captivated till the end. It is about a group of farm animals living at Baxters’ Barn, who learn about their farmer’s plan to set fire to the barn. They try to make their escape, which can only work if they help one another. Even though insurance fraud is a concept not known to many 8 year olds, it only comes up at the end, and surprisingly enough, it was very easy to explain. One of the things that most struck me about the book was how descriptive it was; everything was described so well, it was easy to imagine the barn, the surroundings, the animals and their peril—but it was done so without trying my child’s patience or scaring him out of his wits. Thank you, Rebecca Bond, for writing this book, and providing for many nights of enjoyment and bonding.

The Nightingale

 Books I enjoyed:

nightingaleKristin Hannah’s The Nightingale is a wonderful book that hardly needs more publicity, but I will gladly give it. I couldn’t stop reading until I finished it. Set in WWII, it tells the story of two sisters, each dealing in their own way within German-occupied, war-torn France. As it states on Amazon:
“A heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women.” I couldn’t agree more.