23 July 2009

23. A Woman in Amber

I think perhaps that I have owned this book for quite some time and if I have read it before, I don’t remember it – I find this highly unlikely. At any rate, I am honored to have read it now. A Woman in Amber by Agate Nesaule is a startling memoir of the author’s childhood experiences during the Russian and German occupation of her homeland of Latvia. While the horrors of the war were bad enough in her own country, her Lutheran father and mother, along with other family members, were forced to flee from the competing armies. Their journey was remarkable in complexity and perhaps luck.

As I read her accounts of war, I wondered what the appropriate age level would be for this memoir. The scenes described are brutal and difficult to think about or discuss. The author solved my problem in two ways. First, as a new immigrant to the United States, she learned English by reading tremendous works of literature. Her teachers questioned whether she was old enough to read such works. Her life experiences and understanding of the beauty and sorrow of the world made her absolutely capable of reading Anna Karenina at 10 years old. Second, I would like to share some of her final words in the book:
But the world is full of pain. Anne Frank, Heidi, and Hilda are dead, but Kurds still freeze on the hillsides, Bosnian women have to live on after rape, Rwandan children stand waiting, too emaciated to beg….But then the sun touches the blossoms again. We have to believe that dreams are meaningful, we have to believe that even the briefest human connections can heal. Otherwise life is unbearable. (p. 280)
So I think any child interested in learning about human pain and human healing should be able to absorb the richness of the story that Nesaule was finally able to tell. She endured the war, shameful indignities at the hands of Americans, a disastrous marriage, and finally through therapy and trust, Nesaule has given us her story; a unique memoir of the horrors of World War II. The other part of her equation of survival and hope is education. Early in her life, she learned from poet Karlis Skalbe that, The riches of the heart do not rust. (p. 121) To the Latvians, this meant that even if you lost every material thing, family, and country – no one can take away that which has been learned. In spite of near constant fear and depression, Nesaule completed her Ph.D. in Women’s Literature and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The book won the 1996 American Book Award.
While you will need to read the book to understand my final comment, I am very happy that she reconciled with her mother, if only in a dream. Sometimes dreams represent more clearly our reality.

TITLE: A Woman in Amber: Healing the Trauma of War and Exile
AUTHOR: Agate Nesaule
PAGES: 280
TYPE: memoir, World War II
RECOMMEND: Stunningly beautiful book with so much we need to hear and learn.

18 July 2009

22. The School of Essential Ingredients

Thank you to G. P. Putman’s Sons for the opportunity to read and review The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. This is the author’s debut novel and I think it is very successful. I particularly enjoyed the format of the book with each chapter focusing on one of the characters while continuing to move forward the story line.

Lillian is the central character of the novel and runs a successful restaurant and cooking school. This comes as no surprise as she has had an intimate relationship with food from a very young age and she seems to intuitively know what food experience each person needs. We are introduced to the eight students who have found themselves enrolled in Lillian’s monthly cooking class. Each of the students has a secret need and story that seems to be evoked by the lesson of the month. In many cases, the stories become intertwined much like the mingling of foods in a well-thought out dish. To add further reader interest, the author provides very interesting information about the ingredients of the month as well. I did not want this book to end, even as I enjoyed the ending.

TITLE: The School of Essential Ingredients
AUTHOR: Erica Bauermeister
PAGES: 240
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: Delicious, just the right touch of spice.

17 July 2009

20 & 21. Harry Potter 3 and 4

I absolutely loved Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Had there been any hesitancy in reading the rest of the seven book series, this book swept that away with ease. Harry's summer vacations from Hogwarts are never fun, but this summer had been particularly miserable until finally Harry snapped. Thinking he would be in big trouble, Harry is delighted when he finds himself in a small inn free from his Aunt and Uncle. But things are not what they seem and Harry learns that a dangerous prisoner has escaped from Azkaban and seems to be after Harry. In finding Sirius Black and solving the mystery from years before, Harry learns about his parents when they were his age and understands what it means to have family. A wonderful book.

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
PAGES: 560
TYPE: fiction, Children's literature
RECOMMEND: I loved it. My favorite so far.

The only way to describe Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is exciting. From the Quidditch World Cup to the Triwizard Tournament, the book is fast paced and funny and frightening and wonderful. Harry and Ron suddenly see the girls as more than fellow students, but as many young teens, the two are not quite sure how to approach girls even with Hermione's help. We are introduced to many different characters in this book as students come to Hogwarts for the Tournament. Harry is challenged in the tournament with his ultimate challenge being Lord Voldemort. Thankfully Harry is prepared and meets the challenge.

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
PAGES: 752
TYPE: fiction, Children's literature
RECOMMEND: I loved it.