Monthly Archives: February 2012

One Day, David Nicholls

I’m not sure what I was expecting with this book. I had  read several reviews which made it sound like The Notebook (something light and fluffy to be consumed on a whim). So, it languished in my virtual library for quite some time before I could be bothered to start reading it – and, I must confess, I was looking for something light and fluffy and perhaps whimsical.

Imagine my surprise when I was gripped from the first page – “gently hooked” as one reviewer has described it! And, like The Captive Reader, I too was devastated to have to put this book down, even just for a moment. I couldn’t bear the thought that something might happen without me (ridiculous, I know, it is a book after all … everything has already happened!). But, Em and Dex, Dex and Em, they were my friends in a way, and I was honoured that they chose to share themselves with me in this magnificent way.

I loved the way Nicholls constructed this narrative, the way he switched between Emma and Dexter with such fluid swiftness that at times I didn’t realise that the switch had actually occurred and that fit with the premise, that Em and Dex were connected on some subliminal level. Two pieces in a puzzle. I loved the way they yearned for each other without realising what it was that was missing until it was too late. And indeed, at times this novel is about ‘too late’ and the repercussions of not acting on one’s instincts and of doubting and questioning.

I was taken by the contradictions between these characters and they way that they were Yin and Yang so much of the time. This friendship was so real to me that it hurt – whether or not this is what Nicholls was trying to achieve I cannot know, but I expect that most readers will see a part of themselves in this story and that it will make them ache.

I was so impressed with Nicholls’ clear talent for writing that I immediately consulted Google and found one of his short stories –

Every Good Boy: A wonderful tale about a boy and his affair with a piano which has devastating consequences.

I will definitely be looking out for this author!!

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11/22/63, Stephen King

As a young reader I ploughed through all of Stephen King’s work. I can’t quite recall what grabbed me at the time … Most probably it was just that his work was just so readable and gripping. It has been a long time since I read any of King’s work and I have to confess that I only picked this one up because of a high school history project that I once did on JFK. I couldn’t resist seeing what King had done with this era and how he had resolved some of the controversies surrounding Kennedy’s assassination.

In hindsight, this book had some interesting elements. I was intrigued by King’s description of time travel and the implications of changing the past. At times I felt that this part of the book was too drawn out and at times meaningless. But I did find myself considering his notion of the “butterfly effect” and the waves of change that ripple from any one moment in time …

It was clear that King had done considerable research in constructing this narrative – reconstructing the events around Kennedy’s last moments and building Lee Harvey Oswald’s persona seductively in the background. I found all of this very well crafted. The insights that King provided were intriguing and certainly provided much food for thought. Who was Oswald? Was he a patsy? King’s time travel enables him to envisage multiple endings or resolutions to this situation and I found that quite liberating in some way.

As to be expected, King’s characters were wonderful and layered and there was sufficient thrill in each of them to provide action to sustain the flow of the book and to carry King’s underlying interest in the Kennedy story.

Despite all these intriguing elements, I found reading this book somewhat slow and at times tedious. While I appreciate King’s desire to properly explore his context, there were times when I felt that he had done so in a manner that was too long winded and that detracted from the flow and speed of his narrative. I don’t think I would recommend this book to anyone … If you have an interest in Kennedy then it is a must read, or, if you are a history buff and appreciate some of the deeper nuances of the passing of time and the impact of all events on the evolution of society and the world, then I expect you will find this book well worth the time.

Out of the Depths, Israel Meir Lau

This is one of those special books that you want to read slowly in order to savour every word and every part of the story.

There is no doubt that Rabbi Israel Meir Lau’s life is in itself miraculous. He was one of the youngest survivors of Buchenwald Camp, the descendent of an uninterrupted line of 38 generations of Rabbis and against all odds, he himself became a Rabbi, eventually becoming Chief Rabbi of Israel. A startling story.

What makes this book so special is that Lau has told his story with tenderness and awe, and while there are moments where readers will have to pause in order to recover their composure, as a whole this autobiography tells of the wonderful capacity of the human spirit to survive, of the value of connections with others and the intensity of the faith in the Divine. I was struck by Lau’s commitment to learning and the way that he navigated through so many lonely obstacles because he believed in continuing his father’s legacy. The enormous empathy that he gained as a result of his experiences is clear – especially when he recounts his relationship with the late King Hussein.

There were many stellar moments in this book and I have chosen only one to encompass Lau’s personality and life experiences. Lau gives this speech at French convalescence home where he and his brother, Naphtali, went after Buchenwald was liberated. The event occurs when a group of people come to visit the orphans staying there, and amongst them is an adult survivor who wants to address them. All he manages to say are “only three words in  Yiddish: ‘Kinder, taiyereh kinder …’ (Children, dear children)” before he bursts into tears. Lau’s response to this scene is recorded below:

“If you will allow me, I would like to say a few words on behalf of my friends. We would like to thank you. Not to thank you for coming, because we did not want this visit. Not to thank you for the gifts, because we do not want them. We want to thank you for the greatest gift of all, which we received from you just a few minutes ago, and that is the ability to cry. When they took my father and mother, my eyes were dry. When they beat me mercilessly with their clubs, I bit my lips, but I didn’t cry. I haven’t cried for years, nor have I laughed. We starved, we froze, and bled, but we didn’t cry. For the past few months, before and since the liberation, I have had the feeling that I am not a normal person, nor will I ever be. That I have no heart. That if I can’t cry when I am supposed to, I must have a stone in my chest instead of a human heart. But not any more. Just now I cried freely. And I say to you, that whoever can cry today, can laugh tomorrow, and he is a mensch, a human being. For this I thank you.”

*

While this book has left an indelible impression on me for many reasons, there were several moments where I felt uncomfortable with the way that Lau was seeming to give himself accolades – this was most obvious when he gave an account of his position as Chief Rabbi and all the people he met and things that he did. Compared to the tone and nature of the early Lau, as told in this narrative, this part of the text rang hollow for me …

Nonetheless, I was riveted to the end and my overall feeling is that here is a man worth listening to:

“Moshe Chaim is the first candle in the private Hannukah menorah I have been privileged to create. My wife is the base of that menorah, from which the candles, our eight children, went out into the world and I am the gabbai, whose role is to help those candles that they will spread their light and proclaim, each in a special way, the miracle of the victory of eternal Israel.”

Fantastic Flying Books…

A delightfully inspiring short animation film has reminded me this week about the wonderful awe that a book brings.

Mr Morris Lessmore – loving the name … and yes, sometimes less is more! Especially in a short film. In this visual delight Morris goes on a wonderful adventure which recalls the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, an environmental holocaust and the dispersal of millions of people. He witnesses colour draining from the world and language with it. He is as destitute as the place he literally lands in. And we gather from the film’s opening that our Morris is a wordsmith, a writer, a literature lover. He is clearly devastated by his loss of language and it is here that the flying books save him.

Suddenly, there is colour and sound and vitality, and it is through all of this that Morris re-ignites his passion and finds his voice. His love for these books is enormous and only grows as they are given personalities and voices.

 

I fell in love with books and reading all over again through this film. It is quite simply one of the most brilliant things that I have been privileged to watch.

Thank you to whomever was involved in this creation!