Welcome to my blog where I share my book reviews
and life along the winding road

Friday, January 24, 2020

My Own Country by Abraham Verghese

My Own Country by Abraham Verghese is the story of his medical experiences in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee when the AIDS epidemic was rapidly growing throughout the U.S. - Homosexual men were the highest at risk.

I met Abraham Verghese at a Book Festival in Austin, Texas where he was speaking about his novels  and writing. Cutting for Stone is one of the books I have read which covers a perilous time in Ethiopia where Mr. Verghese was born. His childhood and experiences have given him a wealth of information to write about.

My Own Country follows Dr. Verghese through his first experience with HIV as an infectious disease specialist and later contact with AIDS patients. He became more knowledgeable about the virus than any other physicians in the area. He puts a human touch to the vulnerable gay community and his patients who were infected with the virus. His empathy and non-judgmental approach helps him get more information from his patients and to find out more about the deadly disease while including his new life in Johnson City far away from the bustle of his work in the cities of New York and Boston.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Lisa See is a gifted writer and The Island of Sea Women is a fascinating and heart breaking read. The story follows two divers Mi-ja and Young-sook who are part of a group of women divers on the island of Jeju. Both are from different families. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator  from the city and Young-Sook comes from a long line of haenyeo (women divers) living on the coast. Jeju island is in a precarious part of the world between China and Japan (south of Korea) and fought for survival during their constant occupation by China, Japan and later the U.S. military. The island, unfortunately, is an ideal stepping stone for various military forces, being just 60 miles south of the Korean main land.
Mi-ja and Young-Sook become friends, diving together and raising their families until a fateful day when the harsh Japanese rule had ended but replaced with U.S. occupation and the local governments who are determined to stamp out communism at any cost, destroying and torturing families - setting fire to villages where there might be those capable of uprisings.
Despite the hardships, Young-Sook is a strong woman who learned from the older women and her mother in their village, diving to provide food and an income (women were taxed less than men for working) while the men of the family looked after the children and mostly drowned their sorrows in alcohol. The women also worked in the fields to provide vegetables and food for their families. Their physique was strong compared to their men and they took the brunt of the burden. On top of their hard work they were also expected to provide a son who would spiritually take care of the family after death. If the woman did not provide a son the man took a "little-wife" which the woman also had to support.

Lisa See is an expert at weaving history among the lives of her characters and showing how the island women had a strong will to survive the occupation, the harsh living conditions and the occupations.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Hum if You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais

Hum if you don't know the Words by Bianca Marais is a powerful book. The background to the story is the South African Soweto uprising in 1976. Apartheid segregation affected everyone in South Africa and promoted hate between the races and anyone else who wasn't what the white government thought of as elite.

But the story is so much more. Told from the points of view of a nine year old white girl living with her parents in Johannesburg and Beauty Mbali a Xhosa woman from the rural village in Transkei we get two very different ideas of life with racial conflict. On top of the race problems there are so many different languages that people have to communicate with: English and Afrikaans and those from various African tribes.

Children look at circumstances both unbiased and unclouded and Robin is a perfect character to show us the ridiculousness of hate for others not like us often with a humorous view. But Beauty Mbali has no veil over her eyes and sees the world with fear and worry for her daughter who disappeared during the uprising and her search for her child uncovers an underground of people working to help those caught up in the uprising and those intent on destroying the status quo.

This is another book for my favorite books of the year list.

One recommendation I have while reading the book is to find a map showing the locations, it is only then that you will appreciate the distances Beauty travels from her Xhosa village in Transkei  (an area North of the town East London) when trying to find her daughter in Johannesburg. Soweto is near Orlando south-west of Johannesburg (an acronym for Southwest Townships)

Another book set in South Africa that I found interesting is Trevor Noah's Born a Crime.

Friday, January 3, 2020

The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad

The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad covers Britain during the Blitz and the role homing pigeons played in the war effort.

Homing pigeons have long been kept as a hobby in England but during the war they were recruited as carrier pigeons for Operation Columba.

Ollie Evans, a crop duster from Maine, but a descendant of British ancestors, follows his heart and arrives in England wanting to join the Royal Air Force. There he meets Susan who, with her grandfather, keeps homing pigeons. They are later used for the war effort. Hundreds of pigeons were dropped in cages into German-occupied France in the hopes of being found and using the small cylinder attached to their leg send messages of the enemy's location and their plans back to England.

According to the author, a homing pigeon can travel distances of up to six hundred miles per day, flying at speeds of seventy miles per hour and reach altitudes of thirty-five thousand feet.

During WWI a pigeon, Cher Ami, saved many soldiers and returned despite being severely injured.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Friday, December 13, 2019

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro is a memoir of genealogy, paternity and love.

Many people have submitted their DNA to find out more about their genealogy, but unfortunately sometimes the results returned for connections to relatives aren't those expected and that is what happened to Dani Shapiro. Her beloved father, her Jewish religion, her half-sister, and possible betrayal by her mother were all shattered by a single message.

Ms. Shapiro takes us on her journey of discovery, of remembering comments over the years of being a jew with blue eyes and blond hair and of other times her mother had clothed events with untruths. And along with the secrets she had to deal with, her biological father, who thought his part was to be one of anonymity was now open with indisputable facts - the DNA test that linked Dani to one of his close relatives and then to him.