Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mini Reviews, Life Stories Real and Imagined

I read that A Whole Life was an international bestseller similar to John William's Stoner and Marilynne Robinson's Lila. And since I was very impressed with Stoner and have read Robinson's Gilead THREE times I put in my request at NetGalley.

I woke one night and couldn't get back to sleep so I got up and read this short novel in one sitting. It is the story of Andreas Egger, a woe-begotten man for whom life was one disappointment after another. Orphaned, beaten, suffered WWI in battle and in a Russian prison camp, tragically widowed, and then he dies. What he does have is a love for the landscape of his isolated village.

"Scars are like years", he said,"one follows another and it's all of them together that make a person who they are."

Andreas survived "his childhood, a war and an avalanche." He lead a clean life, turning from worldly temptations. And he had loved. He had no regrets. Andreas learned that "Every one of us limps alone."

This novel is far darker than Stoner. I felt more pity and felt a lack of affirmation. But thousands across the world have catapulted the book into an international best seller.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins
Picador
$23 hard cover
ISBN: 9780374289867

I bought John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire on Kindle after watching Ken Burns' National Parks on PBS. I wanted to know more about Muir.

Although I read this ebook over many months, mostly in waiting rooms, I enjoyed it and found it informative, moving, and inspirational. Heacox offers a wonderful biography of a man who could have had a lucrative career but gave it up for his love of nature and the wild. Muir dared to stand against a country worshiping wealth, a nation that had lost it's vision of the sublimity of America's unique landscapes.

Dedicating himself to research, educating and writing and pushing for polity to protect his beloved lands, Muir had a mystical belief in the healing property of the environment which today is becoming recognized as truth.

The book's particular focus is on Muir's enraptured love of Alaska's glaciers. I appreciated that the book does not end with Muir's death, but continues to the present day, addressing how climate change is affecting the glaciers (which were already diminishing during Muir's lifetime.)

John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire: How A Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America
Kim Heacox
Lyons Press
Published 2014

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates won the National Book Award. I borrowed it from my public library. Written as a letter to his teenage son Coates offers an unvarnished and appalling condemnation of race in America and what it means to be born 'black' in a 'white' dominated culture. I have thought about this book for several weeks. I don't feel qualified to make a statement. Just read it.  Read the Atlantic Magazine article written by Coates here.

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Spiegel & Grau

Another book I borrowed through Overdrive was Mary Gaitskill's novel The Mare. The characterization and story is captivating and I read it in two days.

A woman with a troubled past and unable to ground herself hosts an inner city girl through the Fresh Air Fund, changing their lives and the lives of their families in complicated and unexpected ways. The girl Velvet connects with an abused mare; together they cobble together their redemption.

I loved the juxtaposition of the two worlds, the inner city and the suburbs, peeling back the pressures and stresses of each. My favorite ah-ha moment is when Velvet's host mom recognizes her own latent racism, the sad and horrible tragedy of American society that affects us all.

The Mare
Mary Gaitskill
Pantheon