Monday, April 30, 2012

A Pigeon and A Boy

This is the second time I've read this novel by Meir Shalev (I had to read it again for book club) and I think I enjoyed it even more the second time.  The end is very surprising (so I won't reveal it here) but because I knew what was going to happen this time I could better appreciate all the clever foreshadowing and other nuances.  The novel is set in Israel both at the present time and in flashbacks to the War of Independence.  The book is primarily narrated by Yair Mendelsohn, a middle aged tour guide who specializes in bird watching trips.  It tells the story of his relationship with his parents and younger brother, his marriage to Liora, a wealthy businesswoman who has immigrated from the US to run her family's business in Israel, and his affair with Tirzah, a childhood friend with whom he reconnects and who builds a house for him with monies secretly given to him by his mother on her deathbed.  However, the more interesting story is that of his mother who raised pigeons who carried messages during the War of Independence, her relationship with "Baby", another pigeon handler, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding Yair's birth.  There are also some fascinating periphery characters, including Tirzah's father, Meshulam, who is a close friend of Yair's father and goes to great lengths to bring Yair and Tirzah together, and Dr. Laufer, a veterinarian and pigeon handler who speaks only in the feminine first person plural (i.e. "we ladies think...") and, much like Meshulam, facilitates the relationship between Yair's mother and Baby.  The books is obviously really well translated too as the lyrical language doesn't suffer at all in the translation.  I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler

This is the second novel of Canadian author, Nancy Richler (apparently only a distant relative of Mordecai).  It's the story of a young woman who arrives in Canada shortly following the Second World War, to marry a man she's never met.  The intended groom rejects her as soon as she disembarks from the train, but his brother proposes and they marry and have a child shortly after.  The mother abandons her husband and child when the baby is only a few months old and the story of her past slowly unfolds.  It turns out she's not who she says she was but has stolen the identity of a corpse she came across in Europe.  As her daughter ages she tries to piece together her mother's true story.  The chapters alternate between stories of the daughter over the years as she unravels this mystery and stories from her mother's past.  The book is well written and intriguing.  Though not a truly unpredictable mystery it was interesting to try to figure out exactly what happened together with the daughter who never knew her mother.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

A little bit "chick lit" but an easy and entertaining read.  The title is a reference to the three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth and the story is that of three sisters, daughters of a renowned Shakespeare professor who communicates almost exclusively in verse lifted from Shakespeare (sometimes literally photocopies of pages highlighted to deliver a particular message).  The girls are all named after Shakespeare characters, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia, and seem to need to live up to those names.  The eldest feels responsible for the family and has never moved from their small Ohio college town.  She is now faced with the problem of her fiancĂ©'s being offered a two year job at Oxford just while her mother is being treated for breast cancer.  The middle sister fled to New York and lived beyond her means so must now return home deeply in debt and embarrassed by her past.  The youngest has wandered the country for years, never settling anywhere and returns home with a secret of her own.  The sisters must figure out how to relate to their parents and each other now that they are adults and, in particular, how to reveal their problems to their family in order to get the support (and closure) they need.  The writing style is also interesting - it weaves back and forth from giving the perspective of one of the three sisters to broadening it to the perspective of all three on the same event.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Last Man Standing

This is a new novel by the Man Booker prize winner, Aravind Adiga, and it's no wonder he's an award winning author.  Though it took a while to get into the book, by the end I had trouble putting it down.  The story is about what happens when a manipulative, ruthless real estate developer in Mumbai offers the lower middle class residents of an old housing cooperative a large windfall if they will vacate their residences so he can redevelop the site.  At the start several residents are unwilling to accept his offer but they are all eventually won over (or bribed) except one, a retired school teacher.  The teacher is a recent widower who has a strained relationship with his only son (a daughter died at a young age in a train accident which in parts influences his behaviour).  Initially he refuses the offer in solidarity with an old couple who have been his friends for decades (in fact he has eaten every meal at their house since his wife died).  The other couple is eventually intimidated into selling, but this only makes the school teacher more stubborn.  The canny real estate developer goads the other residents into pressuring the teacher to change his mind, with chilling results.  This is truly a tale in how evil ordinary folks can become when motivated by greed and the selfish desire to improve their lot in life.