While I've been too busy to post, I'm never too busy to read, so here are brief reviews of the books I've read over the last month or so.
Bride and Groom by Alisa Ganieva
This book is very different than anything I've read before. First, it's translated from the Russian and is by a modern Russian author rather than a classic like Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy. In addition, the characters are from an ethnic minority in Russia.
The main characters are Patya and Marat, twenty-somethings who have been working in Moscow and return to their homes in rural Dagestan. There, both are under pressure from their conservative parents to marry.
Marat is a human rights lawyer in Moscow - he is working on a case involving the death of a high profile human rights activist. While he has little time or patience for his parents' religion, he seems to have accepted that his mother has booked a hall for his wedding and all he must do is find a bride. This leads to several humorous meetings with potential brides.
Patya's choices are even more constrained since she is female. At 25 her parents think her window to marry is closing and she must find a groom at once. She is also fixed up with potential grooms by her parents, but one is more frightening than humorous. He is a Muslim activist who essentially believes she already agreed to marry him since they engaged in an email exchange while she was in Moscow. When she meets him in person she realizes he is far less suitable than she'd thought but he continues to stalk her.
In addition to the personal, the book deals with the political - fundamentalist Muslims and their activism against Russian mainstream rule, infighting between Muslim groups, the limited future for women within that society as well as a side story about petty criminals.
While it was a bit difficult to follow the language in the book, I ended up getting through it. I wouldn't say I loved it but I wasn't sorry I tried something new.
The Wife by Meg Wolizter
I decided to read this since I enjoyed the movie version with Glenn Close, and the book did not disappoint.
The narrative centres on Joan Castleman whose husband Joseph has just won a prestigious award (Nobel-light) for his literature. It starts on the plane to Helsinki where the award will be granted - and when Joan decides it is time to leave her husband once and for all.
The book goes back and forth from the present day in Helsinki to Smith College where Joan was a student and met Joseph who was an instructor. He leaves his wife and child for Joan and together they nurture his writing career and their three now grown children.
Joseph is far from an ideal husband - he has a history of affairs and is obsessed with becoming a successful novelist. Joan is a long suffering wife who seems to have devoted her life to her husband's career. though she showed promise as a writer when she was a student, at the time she was led to believe a woman could never succeed as a fiction writer.
For those who have not seen the movie or read the book I will not give away how Joan's decision to leave the marriage resolves itself, but I would recommend the book (or the movie) as it is an interesting story about marriage and in particular the role of women in a traditional one.
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
This was an interesting historical fiction - indirectly covering the impact of World War II from a very different perspective. The historical chapters take place in post-War London where Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin work as embroiderers in a famous London fashion house. Ann lives with her sister-in-law following the death of her brother in the war. Miriam is a Jewish immigrant from France who is trying to move on after losing her whole family. The two women are part of the team that is tasked with making the wedding gown for then Princess Elizabeth.
The modern day chapters take place in Canada and later London, where Ann's granddaughter is left with a box of lace and is trying to piece together the parts of her grandmother's life which she never talked about.
While sometimes there was a bit more detail about wedding gowns than I needed, the relationships between Ann and Miriam, the men they meet as young girls and Ann's granddaughter and those she meets from her grandmother's past are very interesting.
This is an easy read - not stellar but enjoyable enough.
The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
I have read other historical fictions by Jenoff and this one was much the same. In 1946 Grace Healey wanders into Grand Central Station in New York and finds a suitcase under a bench. She opens it only to find photographs of several women. For reasons that are not really well explained though are convenient to the narrative, she takes the photos with her and tries to piece together who they are.
She eventually discovers the suitcase belonged to Eleanor Trigg, the leader of an all female underground spy network based out of London. So at this point the narrative switches back and forth between Grace's detective work, Eleanor's activities in London and the activities of "her girls" in France during the War.
While I found the book easy enough to read, at times I felt the narrative was a bit too contrived - the pieces fit together a little too neatly. But I did enjoy it - especially if you like World War II historical novels, this could be of interest to you.
Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung
This is the biography of a teenaged refugee to Canada from Syria. Young was one of his teachers who helped him get the book written and published. Born in Iraq, Abu Bakr and his large family flee to Syria when war breaks out in Iraq. They originally settle in Homs where his father builds a successful bakery. His early time in Syria is a happy childhood surrounded by siblings, cousins and friends. But it is not long before the violence of Syria's civil war shatters his innocent existence.
Abu Bakr gives an honest account of the emotional and physical toll the war takes on innocent civilians as well as the strain of trying to make a refugee claim. For such a young person, he effectively tells a story that the world really needs to hear.
At times the author's youth and inexperience was obvious in the writing, but the story is so important, and undoubtedly so representative of what's happening to millions of others, that it's definitely worth the read.