Monday, February 10, 2020

Knocked off a few more books for the 2020 Reading Challenge

Tiny Lights for Travellers by Naomi Lewis
I picked this up because someone recommended it, not for the challenge, but I really didn't enjoy it so I decided I had to fit it into a challenge category to make the read worthwhile on some level.  So I think it fits within a "book about history" as it is the author's personal journey in the footsteps of her grandfather, a Jewish Dutch man who fled the Netherlands when the Nazis invaded.

When the author is in her late 30s, her marriage suddenly ends and she stumbles upon a diary kept by her grandfather documenting his escape from Nazi occupied the Netherlands.  She decides to follow in his footsteps taking the same trip about 60 years later.  This trip is a big deal for her as she suffers from extreme disorientation and anxiety making it difficult for her to travel on her own.

But armed with the diary and her phone's GPS she makes the journey from the Netherlands, through Belgium and into the free French zone.

The problem with the book is nothing really happened - the diary was short on details (other than logistical information) and the author really didn't learn anything new.  Instead the writing focused on her anxieties, her marital breakdown and her identity crisis (particularly her relationship with Judaism having had a Jewish grandfather, father and husband, but not technically Jewish).  She is also well aware that her grandfather would not have approved of this trip, or her wanting to be Jewish which he rejected quite strongly, which makes the whole quest even more odd.

It's not that I don't empathize with writers who suffer from anxiety, I have read and enjoyed other books that are written from the same perspective; I just didn't like the writing style of this one or ultimately understand the point of the whole endeavour.  I do hope the author got what she wanted out of the trip.

Truth Be Told: My Journey Through Life and the Law by Beverley McLachlin
I chose this book for the category "a book written by someone who is more famous for something else" since McLachlin is definitely better known as a judge and the first female chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Some people told me they didn't love the start of this book, but I have to say it grabbed me right away.  I find it remarkable to read about someone who comes from such humble beginnings and see how she accomplished so much in her life.

Her descriptions about how she dealt with gender roles and discrimination throughout her career were fascinating; as were the development of her thoughts on equality, discrimination and Indigenous rights.  She clearly described how the ideas which took root in childhood developed over time to form her analysis while serving on the highest court.  She gave enough detail about court cases to be interesting without getting bogged down in minutia or violating confidentiality.

The descriptions of her personal life were no less engaging.  I cried with her when her first husband died at the all too early age of 47 and was so happy when she guided her young son through the tragedy and found love again.

I really recommend this book by one of Canada's foremost women.

Bone Black by Carol Rose GoldenEagle
I read this book for "a book by an Indigenous author" and must say it was fantastic.  It was so well written that I had trouble putting it down and while the topic was extremely heavy it was still fairly easy to read.

Wren StrongEagle is a newly married young woman whose twin sister Raven vanishes one night while they are out at a bar. While Wren is in the washroom we learn that Raven goes out for a smoke with a man she meets, but that is the last we hear from her.

Wren reports her missing sister to the police and is shocked by how little they do for her.  Her sister becomes one of countless missing Indigenous women whose disappearances are barely registered by the authorities.  Ironically, as a lawyer Raven had been working on just such cases in Calgary and had come home to Saskatchewan to decompress from this difficult work.

Wren decides to take matters into her own hands and tracks down and punishes several men who have suffered no consequences for the abuses they carried out against women (including a man who raped her in college and a priest who had assaulted her great aunt in the residential school system).  Wren basically formulates ways to get the men to her house, kills them, burns them in her pottery kiln and uses the ash (the bone black) the create pottery.  It's all a little fantastical but it works.

There are also parts dealing with Wren's dreams, and her relationships with her husband and her grandmother.  All of it weaves together nicely to give us an in-depth picture of Wren and, at least for me, to helped me understand why she was driven to act in the way she did.

While this is not at all like books I usually read, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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