Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (♦♦♦♦½)

Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob, granddaughter of Rebecca and Isaac, daughter-niece of Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah, was the only female child among Jacob’s wives, who had in total eleven boys. It wasn’t random then that her mother and mother-aunties doted on her, making her a part of the rituals happening inside The Red Tent, place where women spent their menstrual cycles isolated from men.

The Red Tent was a place for celebration—of femininity, childbirth, and subsequent recuperation. Women who entered it had to be of a fertile age. No wonder it was a secret that Dinah couldn’t share with her grandmother that she attended the Red Tent since she was a child.

It is described in Genesis, that Dinah was a victim of rape for which her brothers sought restitution. Anita Diamant aims to explore Dinah’s story from her perspective, giving voice to an alternative yet plausible event in Dinah’s life and that of her family, for the course of their lives was forever altered by this experience.

The Red Tent recounts Jacob’s wives’ stories, Dinah’s birth and childhood, the tragedy she underwent and what happened after.

I promised to read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant when I reviewed Exiles by Ron Hansen because of the religious themes in both novels. I took a trip to a Barnes & Noble bookstore last year and discovered this book quite by chance because it was placed on the shelf next to The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro, which caught my eye. The front cover of The Red Tent advertised that it was the "10th anniversary edition", which usually indicates that a book has been a sensation at some point in the past. Lucky find, I say!

In The Red Tent, Anita Diamant brings to life the biblical world of Genesis, in all its sweeping glory. In it violence isn't gratuitous, though it is recurrent.

A sisterhood of women emerges through women's life cycles: childhood, mensis, motherhood. The world of the Red Tent is one of shared secrets, bitter rivalries, adoration of idols, magic, enchantment, and prophecies: fulfilled or otherwise; it is also the place where pain is not only borne physically but deep inside.

The story of Dinah reinvented by Diamant is one of great sorrow, laced with amazing interludes of female bonding, devotion and deep love. From The Red Tent emerges the image of loving, strong, resilient women who, in spite of living in a world governed by men, shape their lives and those whom they share them with.

While I was reading I could only marvel at this work of creative genius, because it takes courage to add missing pieces to the most read text in the world since the invention of the printing press. Anita Diamant has not only added to the Bible, but she has put together those missing pieces of what means to be a woman, with its challenges and triumphs.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Poesía Completa por Jorge Luis Borges- parte 2 (♦♦♦♦♦)

El Hacedor (1960)

En El Hacedor se agrupan algunos de los poemas más conocidos de Borges, como Ajedrez, Poema de los Dones, El Reloj de Arena y La Luna. En esta colección, Borges evoca el destino (en Ajedrez expresa "Dios mueve al jugador, y éste la pieza..."), la ironía de Dios ("…la maestría de Dios, que con magnífica ironía me dio a la vez los libros y la noche" en la primera estrofa del Poema de los Dones), la inevitabilidad del paso del tiempo cuando expresa en El Reloj de Arena: "...y con la arena se nos va la vida"; su ceguera y las formas que intuye en los espejos.

El Hacedor reúne otros poemas con temas varios. En este compendio tengo algunos poemas favoritos entre los que se encuentran los arriba mencionados. A continuación figura el Poema de los Dones.

Nadie rebaje a lágrima o reproche
esta declaración de la maestría
de Dios, que con magnífica ironía
me dio a la vez los libros y la noche.

De esta ciudad de libros hizo dueños
a unos ojos sin luz, que sólo pueden
leer en las bibliotecas de los sueños
los insensatos párrafos que ceden

las albas a su afán. En vano el día
les prodiga sus libros infinitos,
arduos como los arduos manuscritos
que perecieron en Alejandría.

De hambre y de sed (narra una historia griega)
muere un rey entre fuentes y jardines;
yo fatigo sin rumbo los confines
de esta alta y honda biblioteca ciega.

Enciclopedias, atlas, el Oriente
y el Occidente, siglos, dinastías,
símbolos, cosmos y cosmogonías
brindan los muros, pero inútilmente.

Lento en mi sombra, la penumbra hueca
exploro con el báculo indeciso,
yo, que me figuraba el Paraíso
bajo la especie de una biblioteca.

Algo, que ciertamente no se nombra
con la palabra azar, rige estas cosas;
otro ya recibió en otras borrosas
tardes los muchos libros y la sombra.

Al errar por las lentas galerías
suelo sentir con vago horror sagrado
que soy el otro, el muerto, que habrá dado
los mismos pasos en los mismos días.

¿Cuál de los dos escribe este poema
de un yo plural y de una sola sombra?
¿Qué importa la palabra que me nombra
si es indiviso y uno el anatema?

Groussac o Borges, miro este querido
mundo que se deforma y que se apaga
en una pálida ceniza vaga
que se parece al sueño y al olvido.

Poesía Completa por Jorge Luis Borges- parte 1 (♦♦♦♦♦)


Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923)

En Fervor de Buenos Aires, Borges describe su devoción por Buenos Aires a través de un compendio de poemas dedicados a calles, jardines, barrios, una carnicería, todos estos vistos por medio de los cambios de luz en los atardeceres, la noche y el alba. Pero también dedica epitafios a familiares, a héroes, a desconocidos y al tiempo pasado.

De esta colección mi poema favorito fue Inscripción Sepulcral.


Luna de Enfrente (1925)

Otra vez la ciudad es el tema de esta compilación, pero en Luna de Enfrente, Borges honra no solo a Buenos Aires sino a otras tierras visitadas, como en Dakar, Montevideo y Mi vida entera.

El mismo Borges admite en el prólogo que "la ciudad de Fervor de Buenos Aires no deja nunca de ser íntima, mientras que [en Luna de Enfrente] es ostentosa y pública..."

Al menos dos poemas no aluden a la ciudad en este compendio: uno es Manuscrito hallado en un libro de Joseph Conrad, y el otro es El general Quiroga va en coche al muere.

Versos de Catorce fue mi favorito en esta colección.

A mi ciudad de patios cóncavos como cántaros
y de calles que surcan las leguas como un vuelo,
a mi ciudad de esquinas con aureola de ocaso
y arrabales azules, hechos de firmamento,

a mi ciudad que se abre clara como una pampa,
yo volví de las tierras antiguas del naciente
y recobré sus casas y la luz de sus casas
y esa modesta luz que urgen los almacenes

y supe en las orillas, del querer, que es de todos
y a punta de poniente desangré el pecho en salmos
y canté la aceptada costumbre de estar solo
y el retazo de pampa colorada de un patio.

Dije las calesitas, noria de los domingos
y el paredón que agrieta la sombra de un paraíso,
y el destino que acecha tácito, en el cuchillo,
y la noche olorosa como un mate curado.

Yo presentí la entraña de la voz las orillas,
palabra que en la tierra pone el azar del agua
y que da a las afueras su aventura infinita
y a los vagos campitos un sentido de playa.

Así voy devolviéndole a Dios unos centavos
del caudal infinito que me pone en las manos.


Cuaderno San Martín (1929)

En Cuaderno San Martín hay otra vez odas a Buenos Aires como en el caso de Elegía de los portones, Curso de los recuerdos, Barrio Norte, Paseo de Julio, y Fundación mítica de Buenos Aires, en la que Borges expresa "A mí se me hace cuento que empezó Buenos Aires: la juzgo tan eterna como el agua y el aire."

En esta compilación Borges también alude el tema de la muerte como es el caso en La noche que en el Sur lo velaron, Muertes de Buenos Aires y en A Francisco López Merino.

El único poema que me gustó en esta colección fue Fundación mítica de Buenos Aires.

¿Y fue por este río de sueñera y de barro
que las proas vinieron a fundarme la patria?
Irían a los tumbos los barquitos pintados
entre los camalotes de la corriente zaina.

Pensando bien la cosa, supondremos que el río
era azulejo entonces como oriundo del cielo
con su estrellita roja para marcar el sitio
en que ayunó Juan Díaz y los indios comieron.

Lo cierto es que mil hombres y otros mil arribaron
por un mar que tenía cinco lunas de anchura
y aún estaba poblado de sirenas y endriagos
y de piedras imanes que enloquecen la brújula.

Prendieron unos ranchos trémulos en la costa,
durmieron extrañados. Dicen que en el Riachuelo,
pero son embelecos fraguados en la Boca.
Fue una manzana entera y en mi barrio: en Palermo.

Una manzana entera pero en mitá del campo
expuesta a las auroras y lluvias y suestadas.
La manzana pareja que persiste en mi barrio:
Guatemala, Serrano, Paraguay, Gurruchaga.

Un almacén rosado como revés de naipe
brilló y en la trastienda conversaron un truco;
el almacén rosado floreció en un compadre,
ya patrón de la esquina, ya resentido y duro.

El primer organito salvaba el horizonte
con su achacoso porte, su habanera y su gringo.
El corralón seguro ya opinaba YRIGOYEN,
algún piano mandaba tangos de Saborido.

Una cigarrería sahumó como una rosa
el desierto. La tarde se había ahondado en ayeres,
los hombres compartieron un pasado ilusorio.
Sólo faltó una cosa: la vereda de enfrente.

A mí se me hace cuento que empezó Buenos Aires:
La juzgo tan eterna como el agua y el aire.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Eva Luna by Isabel Allende (♦♦♦)

Eva Luna was born in South America, in a house where her mother was a housekeeper, and she grew up surrounded by mommies, human and animals’, because the house owner was an embalmer. After her mother died, and then the house owner, Eva went to live with her godmother who sent her to work as a housekeeper for rich people, until homeless once again, she met a boy named Huberto Naranjo, who gave her something to eat, and whom she would meet many times again along her life.

When Eva was eleven years old, homeless once more, she was adopted by a Turkish immigrant with whom she lived until almost the end of her adolescence. Gone to live in the capital once again, she studies, works, experiences joy and heartbreak through old friends and lovers… Meanwhile, convulse political changes occur in her country, the continent, and the world.

In Eva Luna converge dictators and corrupt politicians, homeless children forced to survive using tricks, abusive husbands, fearful women, a mad scientist, immigrants from other continents who came filled with dreams and little resources…But the story goes beyond those things to span the end of the XIX century, the aftermath of WWI seen through the eyes of the inhabitants of an Austrian village, the oil boom in South America, the overthrow of dictatorships, the triumph of Fidelism in Cuba, the emergence of the guerrilla movement, coups d’ etat, etc.
Even though I think the country described in Eva Luna is a composite between Venezuela and Colombia, the same political chaos has taken place virtually in every country in the region, thus this story acquires a broader dimension.

In the same measure that my readings in English have broadened, so has my preference for descriptions and dialogues. Latino American literature is essentially narrative and that was somewhat upsetting when I read Eva Luna. In City of the Beasts, also written by Allende, the style was descriptive and the genre was young adult, but in Eva Luna there is a fusion of social criticism and historical fiction, which make it more difficult to read.


I suppose my mixed feelings towards Eva Luna have much to do with having read last week To Kill A Mockingbird, which I think is a superior novel than Eva Luna, thus the latter has paled in comparison. I don’t mean to say that I didn’t completely enjoy it. Some chapters were very funny and were written with much more sensibility than the rest; those chapters were almost addictive, unlike those in which politics is so present that I found them tedious.

Eva Luna por Isabel Allende (♦♦♦)

Eva Luna nació en una casa donde su madre era sirvienta, y creció rodeada de momias humanas y de animales puesto que el patrón era embalsamador. Al morir su madre y luego el patrón, Eva fue a vivir con su madrina, quien la puso a trabajar como sirvienta, hasta que se encontró en la calle con un niño llamado Huberto Naranjo, quien le dió de comer y con quien se cruzaría otras muchas veces en la vida. A los once años, otra vez desamparada, fue adoptada por un inmigrante turco con quien vivió casi hasta el fin de su adolescencia. De vuelta en la capital, estudia, trabaja, experimenta dichas y sinsabores a través de viejas amistades y amantes, y todo esto ocurre en medio de convulsos cambios políticos en su país, el continente y el mundo.

En Eva Luna convergen dictadores y políticos corruptos, niños desamparados y obligados a sobrevivir por medio de trucos callejeros, maridos abusadores, mujeres atemorizadas y sumisas, un científico loco, inmigrantes de otros continentes que llegaron con sueños y pocos recursos. Pero la historia va mas allá: abarca desde fines del siglo XIX, la post-Primera Guerra Mundial vista a través de los habitantes de una villa en Austria, el boom petrolero en América del Sur, el derrocamiento de dictaduras, el triunfo del Fidelismo en Cuba, el surgimiento del movimiento guerrillero, golpes de estado, etc.

Aunque me parece que el país descrito en Eva Luna es una mezcla entre Venezuela y Colombia, el mismo caos político ha tenido lugar virtualmente en todos los países de la región por lo que esta historia adquiere una dimensión más amplia.

A medida que mis lecturas en inglés han aumentado, así lo ha hecho mi preferencia por las descripciones y los diálogos. La literatura latinoamericana es esencialmente narrativa, y para mí eso ha significado un choque al leer Eva Luna. En La Ciudad de las Bestias, también escrita por Allende, el estilo era descriptivo y el género juvenil, pero Eva Luna es una fusión de crítica social y ficción histórica, lo que la hace más difícil de leer. Supongo también que mi experiencia leyendo a Eva Luna ha estado teñida por haber leído To Kill A Mockingbird la semana pasada, la cual es una novela muy superior y por consiguiente Eva Luna palidece en comparación.

No quiero decir que no disfruté la historia, algunos capítulos fueron muy simpáticos y escritos con mucha más sensibilidad que el resto de la trama. Esos capítulos fueron casi adictivos, a diferencia de otros en los que la política está tan presente que resultan en alguna medida tediosos.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (♦♦♦♦♦)

Jeremy “Jem” Atticus Finch and Jean Louise “Scout” Finch are two young children who live with their father, lawyer Atticus Finch, and Calpurnia, their household help in small town Maycomb, in Southern Alabama during the Great Depression. Their lives are as normal as can be during those hard times: they play outside all the time in the summer, go to school during the school year, befriend their friendly neighbors, and dislike the mean ones.

Small-town Maycomb is about to turn upside down when Atticus is appointed to defend in court a black man accused of raping a young, white woman. Soon the town is divided by the few who think the accused should go free on account of the lack of solid evidence, and by the majority who think and act as if being black was enough proof of his culpability. Whatever the outcome of the trial, life for the Finch family, especially, will never be the same.

I had started To Kill A Mockingbird several times over the past year, but then something would happen, I would leave it aside for a few days and when I picked up the book again its magnetism had been lost, so I put it aside to read other things. This time I put my foot down and said “I’ll finish it this time”, and I did.

Wow! That’s what I said when I finished it. I went through so many emotions while reading this book: I laughed a great deal in the beginning; I cried with the death of Mrs. Dubose and Jem’s reaction to it, I was on the edge-of-my-seat during the trial, and when the book ended I felt a hole in my heart, but also the knowledge of having been through a unique experience.

To Kill A Mockingbird is funny, sad, wise, and life-altering. It describes to perfection the life in a small town, but also the quirkiness of its inhabitants: the gossip, the drunk, the trash, the do-gooders, the haters…

A country cannot be called civilized if some of its citizens live marginalized, deprived of basic human rights, and oppressed by another race. I just think is mind-boggling that a nation of opportunities such as U.S. only realized that in the midst of the twentieth century, and by force nonetheless.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a book that should be required reading in school, and I don’t know if it is, but its message of equality among men, of defending what it’s right in spite of the consequences, those messages cannot and should not be ignored.

Favorite quotes:

“‘Your father’s right,’ she said. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’” Page 119

The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” Page 140

Dill was off again. Beautiful things floated around in his dreamy head. He could read two books to my one, but he preferred the magic of his own inventions. He could add and subtract faster than lightning, but he preferred his own twilight world, a world where babies slept, waiting to be gathered like morning lilies. He was slowly talking himself to sleep and taking me with him, but in the quietness of his foggy island there rose the faded image of a gray house with sad brown doors.” Page 192

“‘Be quiet, they’ll hear you,’ said Miss Maudie. ‘Have you ever thought of it this way, Alexandra? Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we’re paying the highest tribute we can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple.’” Page 316

I willed myself to stay awake, but the rain was so soft and the room was so warm and his voice was so deep and his knee was so snug that I slept.” Page 375

Monday, September 29, 2014

Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King (♦♦♦♦)

How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

On August 19, 1418 a competition was announced calling for designs for vaulting of the dome of Florence's cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, scaffolds, as well as the design of machines that would make possible the erecting of the dome. The cathedral had been under construction for over a century and its foundation had been laid in 1296. The designer and original architect was a master mason named Arnolfo di Cambio, builder of both the Palazzo Vecchio and the city's fortifications.

In 1366 there was a call for models as how the dome of the cathedral would be built. Two models were submitted, one by Giovanni Di Lapo Ghini detailing external buttresses to channel the stress of high walls; Neri di Fioravanti's model did away with the buttresses by vaulting using iron rings embedded in the masonry to absorb the stress on the structure. The latter was the model chosen. Fifty years later, the problem of how to build the dome still confounded architects.

In 1418, Filippo Brunelleschi, who was a goldsmith and clockmaker by trade, submitted a revolutionary model: the vaulting of the dome could be done without centering, the technique that uses wooden scaffolding or sand bags to hold the structure until the mortar sets. Despite the acceptance that his model had by the Opera del Duomo, four capomaestri were chosen: Filippo was one, along with his old rival Lorenzo Ghiberti. An additional capomaestro was named to coordinate the work of all the workers on site.

Brunelleschi and Ghiberti became rivals in 1401 during the competition to sculpt in bronze the doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni. The contenders were asked to sculpt images of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. Filippo set to work in isolation, but Ghiberti proved to be a savvy participant and the commission was awarded to both of them, something that made Filippo so angry that he resigned the commission and embarked on a voyage to Rome, where he would remain on and off for next fifteen years. In Rome, Filippo became a student of classic architecture, studying sites such as the Pantheon and other ruins, knowledge that would prove valuable in building the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore.

The construction of the vault began in the summer of 1420 and would extend until 1436, when the dome was consecrated. Several years more would take the cathedral to be finished, for once the dome was vaulted a lantern was built on top.

For the vaulting of the duomo, Brunelleschi made ingenious contributions. He designed a hoist propelled by an ox, with a system of pulleys and counterweights, and a reversible gear, ahead of his time by at least a century. This ox-hoist would prove valuable to raise the heavy materials from the ground to hundred feet in the air. He also designed a crane called castello, which was able to move weights laterally as well as up and down. In addition, he designed the chains that would reinforce the dome internally, and his pattern of herringbone for the bricks added stability to the vault considering that, at its highest, the bricks would have an angle of thirty degrees to the horizontal.

But Brunelleschi’s career was not without controversy. The river Arno wasn’t navigational; there were no tides like in bigger rivers such as the Thames. At times, the river resembled a stream; thus, the transport of materials via the river was a difficult task to say the least. Brunelleschi designed a kind of ship named Il Badalone, whose purpose was to transport marble from Pisa to Florence. The ship sunk on its maiden voyage, sinking with it 100,000 pounds of valuable marble that the Opera del Duomo made him repay. Another one of his failures came during the battle of Florence against neighboring Lucca. Brunelleschi had the idea to divert the river Serchio and strand Lucca “in the middle of a lake contained by a dam”. But the dam construction was flimsy at best, and the Lucchese figured it out, destroying the dam and flooding the Florentine camp, whose inhabitants were forced to retreat. Workers disputes for higher salaries also managed to taint Brunelleschi’s reputation, and the last straw was when the Masons Guild sent him to jail for not paying its meager dues.

Despite all the controversies and petty rivalries, the dome was vaulted in record time and Brunelleschi managed in the process to change the way architecture is perceived.
He died on April 15, 1446 at sixty-nine years old. He was interred in the cathedral. Only the patron saint of Florence is interred there as well.

I really liked Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King. The book provides a fascinating portrayal of the times and the professional and personal life of Brunelleschi. The result is a vivid, absorbing tale of intrigue and genius, of turbulent times and the men who shaped them.

Brunelleschi’s genius is inspiring, and his accomplishments off the charts. Despite writing in a very accessible way about architecture and engineering marvels, I found the reading somewhat challenging because I need pictures to visualize complex concepts, and the book had pictures but not enough in my opinion.

In summary, Brunelleschi’s Dome is an inspiring account of the life and work of Brunelleschi, as well as a very vivid portrayal of the time in which he lived.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Night Is Forever by Heather Graham (♦♦♦♦)

On the hills of Tennessee, outside Nashville, lies the Horse Farm, a farm devoted to healing of afflicted people through equine therapy. The farm owner, Marcus Danby, dies of an apparent self-inflicted drug overdose in a ravine near the farm. Olivia “Liv” Gordon, a farm therapist and Marcus’ friend, discovers the body. With sunset quickly approaching, Liv sees the ghost in the sky of General Rufus Cunnigham, a Confederate general during the Civil War, riding his horse Loki, apparently watching over her.

Olivia contacts Malachi Gordon, her cousin and an agent with the FBI’s Krewe of Hunters, to question Marcus’ official cause of death by telling him that Marcus’ ghost appeared to her and told her he had been murdered. Malachi promises to send an agent undercover to investigate.
Enter agent Dustin Blake, in his first assignment with the Krewe of Hunters. Within days of his arrival there is an attempt on the life of the farm’s director—attempt disguised as an accident. When the director is discharged from the hospital, he dies of another apparent “accident” while supposedly alone at home.

With two deaths, fewer clues, and a cunning killer on the loose, it is obvious to Dustin that Olivia may be the next target. The reputation of the farm is in shambles and the risk of closing forever is imminent. With Olivia in the sight of the killer, Dustin knows he may have to die to protect her if it comes to that, now that they’re involved and falling quickly in love.

I really liked The Night Is Forever by Heather Graham. This is the second book in the trilogy of the night involving the Krewe of Hunters that I read after The Night Is Watching. I would like to read The Night Is Alive as well. I have also read by Heather Graham and reviewed Ghost Shadow, Ghost Walk, and When Darkness Falls (Alliance Vampires series).

As I said, I liked this book. I suspected the identity of the killer from early on but there was enough misdirection to confuse me for a while, so no damage done. The plot was intricate and the history involving the Battle of Nashville and other battles from the Civil War on Tennessee soil were fascinating and absorbing. It was a great touch on Graham’s part to include a ghost hero and the history surrounding him. The other two ghosts were interesting as well, though they didn’t have much to contribute to the investigation and I found that so frustrating.

The romance was, as always in Graham’s books, scorching hot, and nicely described as well, no intricate details, just the chemistry and the basics to get the meaning. All the characters were very well developed, and I cared for their fates, some more than others.

In summary, The Night Is Forever by Heather Graham was a quick read. Historical details make it absorbing and fascinating.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Exiles by Ron Hansen (♦♦♦♦)

       “As early as 1932, the great British literary critic F.R. Leavis could write that Hopkins ‘is likely to prove, for our time and the future, the only influential poet of the Victorian age, and he seems to me the greatest.’” Page 210


Gerard Manley Hopkins was born on July 28, 1844, the eldest child of Kate and Manley Hopkins. His mother was a dedicated housewife, while his father had a successful marine insurance adjuster business and wrote standard manuals on the topic. His father also delved into a literary career.

Gerard Hopkins won a poetry prize when he was sixteen years-old, and later won a partial scholarship to Oxford thanks to his poetry writing. During his studies at Oxford, Hopkins continued writing poetry, this time of a more religious nature. He graduated with honors from Oxford in classical studies, but his placement as a professor was endangered when he decided to leave the Church of England and join the Catholic Church at the age of twenty-two. At twenty-four he joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and entered a seminary to become a priest.

As a Jesuit, Hopkins gave up his poetry writing, but that was interrupted seven years into his seminary life, in 1875, when he read accounts of the wreckage of the steam sail ship Deutschland, which departed from Bremen with destination New York via a stop in England where the sinking occurred. About sixty lives were lost, among them those of five nuns who were escaping from Germany due to the banning of their religious order by the government of Otto von Bismarck, who had all but outlaw Catholicism in Germany. Hopkins was so moved by the details of the wreckage and the nuns' ordeal that he started writing copiously again, 1876 being considered his "annus mirabilis."

In 1877 he was ordained a priest, but couldn't finish the required four year studies in theology to hold higher office because he didn't pass the oral examination. After being ordained he held posts in Liverpool, Oxford, and Ireland, where he was sent in 1884 and where he would remain until his death in 1889.

It seems that I'm constantly rearranging my TBR list, which is a good indication of what I'm going to read next, but this week I've been busy reading Exiles by Ron Hansen, author of Mariette in Ecstasy--both with religious themes--and watching the miniseries The Bible, which I thought was fantastic, so I figured that a natural progression would be to read next The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

I really liked Exiles by Ron Hansen. The book starts with a biographical sketch of Gerard Manley Hopkins during his years in Oxford and as a Jesuit in the seminary; next it switches to accounts of the lives of the five nuns and Hopkins and concludes with an eerie parallelism between Hopkins’ final years and the wreckage of the Deutschland.

I found that parallelism a masterful touch on the part of Ron Hansen to convey how life seemed to be draining from Hopkins in his years of service in Ireland, yet no one paid attention. At the same time, I didn’t think that the sinking of the ship had been that shocking until Hansen vividly described hour after long agonizing hour. In the end my eyes were moist, both for the lives lost in the wreckage and for Hopkins’ end, a hundred-and-twenty-five years after the fact!

I have read sad (and inspiring) books in my day, but Exiles by Ron Hansen is in contention to take the cake in both categories. I felt moved by the life of Gerard Manley Hopkins, his convictions, the desertion of friends and family when he abandoned the comfort of his faith for a stranger (and poorly perceived) one, desertion that felt to him like betrayal because in the most important moments of his life the people closest to him weren’t present. That hurts! He remained as the nuns, an exile until the end.

In summary, Exiles by Ron Hansen is deeply moving. It is a difficult reading experience yet shouldn’t be missed!

Favorite quotes:

To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life
Among strangers. Father and mother dear,
Brothers and sisters are in Christ not near
And he my peace / my parting, sword and strife.

England, whose honor O all my heart woos, wife
To my creating thought, would neither hear
Me, were I pleading, plead nor do I: I wear-
Y of idle a being but by where wars are rife.

I am in Ireland now; now I am at a third
Remove. Not but in all removes I can
Kind love both give and get. Only what word

Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban
Bars or hell’s spells thwarts. This to hoard unheard,
Heard unheeded, leaves me a lonely began.

                            Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (1844-1889)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Harbor Island by Carla Neggers (♦♦♦♦)

Emma and Colin have been in Boston for a few days, back from their Irish getaway detailed in Declan's Cross. Emma receives a call from a confidential source to meet in Bristol Island, an island in the Boston harbor. When Emma arrives, she finds the woman dead of a gunshot.

The victim's name was Rachel Bristol, a movie director interested in making a movie about the Declan's Cross art heist. She had been staying at a house property of her ex-husband in an affluent neighborhood in Boston. The morning of her death she was supposed to have a meeting with her ex-husband Travis, and Maisie, his daughter and movie mogul producer.

Travis and Maisie are naturally distressed by the news, though Finian Bracken learns through Maisie that she didn't share Rachel's vision for the movie and wanted to sever their links. Apparently Rachel thought that she had figured out the identity of the serial art thief.

To complicate matters further, Oliver Fairbairn, an English mythologist consulting for the upcoming movie is also staying at the house and raising questions as well...Add into the mix a security expert in love with Maisie, guarding her at her mother's request, and the beautiful and dashing Aoife O'Byrne visiting Boston for the first time, whom more than one think is the thief, and keeping Finian as company, which is raising eyebrows.

I really liked Harbor Island, the latest installment in the Sharpe & Donovan series, which started with Saint’s Gate, and followed with Heron’s Cove and Declan’s Cross (initial review and re-read).

In Harbor Island several things happened: 1) we finally know the identity of the serial art thief as well as his motivations; 2) we get to know Father Bracken better as a man, with temptations and all, which make him utterly human; 3) there’s a lot of lovemaking, which was fun on the side because it distracted from the lack of progress and the excessive questions in the investigation; 4) we got some sense of humor courtesy of the characters we know by now, which is newish and very welcome; 5) Emma shared a memory, and I know that’s not much but memories are part of the things that make us  human, and Emma so far has been a mystery in that regard. I hope Carla Neggers uses that recourse more often in future installments because that’s a glimpse, however brief, of what she was like before joining the FBI.

The atmosphere of suspense is lost in this installment, but the mystery, meaning the identity of the culprits, isn’t, so in that regard Harbor Island is as solid as we’ve come to expect from this series. There aren’t art depictions in this story, but we are regaled with stories of Celtic lore and Nordic mythology, and as always they’re very relevant to the plot.

In summary, Harbor Island is a solid, much improved in many regards, entry in the Sharpe & Donovan series. The folklore, the mystery and the humor don’t disappoint.


DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Rock Point (novella) by Carla Neggers (♦♦♦♦)

Bonus Content

Father Bracken is having a drink with Garda Sean Murphy at the recently opened O'Byrne Hotel, when he meets by chance an American priest on holiday. Father Callahan is so taken with Ireland that he wants to take a sabbatical year to explore it.

Father Bracken needs to escape Ireland because it reminds him of his former self, the family he lost, so what better way to serve God than in a struggling parish across the Atlantic? Father Bracken pulls some strings and gets assigned to St. Patrick's Church of Rock Point, Maine.

As the Father is planning his trip, Garda Murphy is after the name of one of Bracken Distillers’ former employee, a man who appears to be involved in a very dangerous smuggling ring.

Rock Point apparently was written after Heron's Cove, but it seems to me that it's a prequel not only to the latter, but an introduction to the Sharpe & Donovan series because the events detailed in Saint's Gate occurred in September while those in Rock Point happened in March till June.

Rock Point introduces us to the characters in Ireland at the center of Declan's Cross, namely Sean Murphy, Paddy Murphy, and Kitty O'Byrne.

While Rock Point is well written, it isn't long enough to get a feel for the characters if we encountered them for the first time. However, it ties up several loose ends in subsequent entries in the series.

DISCLAIMER: This novella is a bonus content inside Harbor Island, which I received free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Q &A with Carla Neggers author of HARBOR ISLAND

1.            What about HARBOR ISLAND sets it apart from your other books in the Sharpe & Donovan series?

Boston, and FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are engaged but haven’t told anyone. They’re back from a short break in Ireland, at work with their small, Boston-based FBI unit. Emma, an art crimes expert, is on the hot seat. She needs to find out why her boss was sent a replica of an Irish Celtic cross exactly like crosses she and her grandfather have received after unsolved art thefts over the past decade. Colin, a deep-cover agent, was shoe-horned into Emma’s unit, and his role is still unclear…but he finds himself checking up on their boss’s missing wife. Four books into this series, and I’m as excited about Emma and Colin and their families, friends and colleagues as ever!

2.            The book takes readers on a ride from Boston to Ireland to the coast of Maine. What drew you to these locations?

I love Boston, Ireland and Maine and know them well, but it didn’t occur to me they would be at the heart of my Sharpe & Donovan series until I “saw” a woman approaching the gate of an isolated Maine convent and knew she was about to find a murdered nun. That led to SAINT’S GATE, the first book in the series. Everything fell into place with that one image. The woman became Emma Sharpe, a former novice at the convent and now an FBI agent who specializes in art crimes with a handpicked Boston-based unit. She is also the granddaughter of Wendell Sharpe, an octogenarian art detective in Ireland. As Emma came into focus, so did Colin Donovan. I “saw” him smashing his lobster boat into the rocky coastline so he can sneak into the convent and keep an eye on Emma. He’s from a rough-and-tumble Maine fishing village, an FBI deep-cover agent coming off a harrowing, months-long mission. Maine, Ireland and Boston and Emma and Colin came together, with endless possibilities.

3.            How is Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan’s relationship impacted differently by this particular case compared to ones in the past?

Well, without giving too much away, they’re engaged, and they haven’t told anyone—so there’s still time to back out and pretend they had too much Guinness and need more time before they make such a commitment. They’ve been on the same team for a couple months, but now they’re actually working on the same team. Is that even possible? Can a highly independent, restless guy like Colin fit in? And Emma—her family of high-profile art detectives is causing trouble for her again. Is being a Sharpe too much for her role as an FBI agent, and for Colin?

4.            What’s next for the Sharpe & Donovan series?

I’m writing KEEPER’S REACH, the fifth book in the series. It takes place in the middle of the cold New England winter that Irish priest Finian Bracken, serving a small church in Colin’s hometown on the Maine coast, has both dreaded and yearned to experience. I don’t like to talk too much about a book as I’m writing it, but let’s just say that readers who’ve been wanting more of Mike Donovan, the eldest of the four Donovan brothers, get their wish, and Emma and Colin are tested as never before.

5.            You have published more than 60 novels, which have been printed in 24 languages. How do you manage to stay creative and come up with such unique plots every time?

I’m not sure I know the answer except that I love to write and I always have ideas. Once a story is percolating, the characters direct what happens, and the writing always goes best when I trust that process. I also believe that creativity needs to be nurtured, and the fastest way to burnout is to get into “always on” mode and stay there. For me, the time away from my desk is as important as the time at my desk, whether it’s to pull weeds for an hour or head to Ireland for a few weeks.

6.            Do you know how the story will unfold before you begin writing or does it come to you as it goes?

I know some of the story ahead of time—the kernel, bits and pieces—but for the most part, it unfolds as I go. For me, characters reveal themselves as they walk, talk, breathe, act and react more than if I tried to do dossiers (and I have tried!). New plot points arise that I’d never have thought of if I tried to write a step-by-step outline (and I have tried!). Having no clue at all about what I’m writing doesn’t work for me, either. Writing a short synopsis—two or three pages at most—helps anchor the story for me. I’ve played with different approaches, but I keep coming back to this one. Funnily, it’s not that different from the approach I used as a kid when I climbed a tree with pad and pen and spun tales!

7.            In your blog on your website, you talk about being “in the zone” as a writer. What are some tips you can give aspiring writers to help them reach this point?

When I’m in the zone, time falls away, and I’m lost in the story and the writing. One very simple thing I’ve learned to do when I’m writing on the computer is to go into full screen mode without page numbers or word counts. Writing by hand, I don’t stop to number the pages. Another trick is to turn off the internet. Most of us know to do this. We do. C’mon. We know. Turn. It. Off. Finally…I try to stop writing for the day before I’ve run out of steam. It’s easier to dive back into the zone the next day.

8.            HARBOR ISLAND is filled with breathtaking suspense. How do you write a scene that puts readers on the edge of their seats?

Thank you! I hope every scene moves the story forward and builds tension, and that the characters come to life. As an avid reader myself, I like to feel as if I’m in the middle of the action and get absorbed by what’s going on. I don’t tell myself that’s what I need to do when I’m writing, though. That would take me out of the story and no doubt intimidate me. Instead, I focus on what’s going on and how best to write that particular scene. Sometimes it doesn’t happen the first go. Okay, a lot of times it doesn’t happen the first go, but when it’s “there,” I can feel it. It’s a great feeling.

9.            You’ve often shared your love for cooking with your fans. What’s the go-to dish in your home?

With late-summer vegetables arriving at our local farmstands, I’m making ratatouille. These days, I’m into Mediterranean cooking, but I’ve loved ratatouille since I tackled my first batch right after my husband and I were married and I found a recipe in The Joy of Cooking, a wedding present. I’d never even heard of it growing up. We love having batches in the freezer for the long Vermont winter. It’s like a taste of summer.

10.         You love to travel and gain inspiration for your next book. Is there somewhere you haven’t been that you’re dying to visit and use as a setting for a future book?

Newfoundland! No question. We almost got there last summer, but my father-in-law died just as we were about to leave. We are grateful for his long, good, healthy life, but it’s never easy to say goodbye. I still have my Newfoundland folder on my desk, with articles, photos and ideas for where to stay and what to do. I want to hike in Gros Morne National Park. Everyone I know who’s been there (it’s not that many!) says it’s absolutely gorgeous.