Louisiana’s Way Home

9780763694630  The openng lines of Kate DiCamillo’s new book for middle schoolers – Louisiana’s Way Home – reminded me of a resolution I have yet to complete:

“I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatver happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will have an answer. They will know.”

I usually avoid reading memoirs, assuming the writer’s memory will have been embellished and cleaned up. But writing my own story for posterity is appealing, especially because I could embellish and clean it up. What has been stopping me? Probably the suspicion of my story being only interesting to me.

Louisiana’s story begins with the curse her grandfather set in motion; mine would mirror it with my grandmother’s power of bestowing a curse, passed through generations.  Be assured, I have not tried wielding her power – not consciously, anyway – and not yet.

Louisiana’s story is “discovering who you are – and deciding who you want to be.”  For fans of DiCamillo, Louisiana may bring back thoughts of Raymie Nightingale, and Raymie is mentioned, but Louisiana has a more compelling story, leaving her friend behind in Florida and starting over in Georgia with a new friend, Burke, who can climb trees and outsmart the vending machine to get free peanuts.

After Granny and Louisiana drive off for a new life, so much happens: Granny loses all her teeth, tells about finding a baby on a pile of rubbish, and deserts the twelve year old. Nevertheless, Louisiana’s steady and optimistic outlook leads her to a new family, a new life, and a happy ending.  The story is at once a sad lesson in hope and a caution to not wallow in fate.  Destiny is what you make it.   Louisiana is abandoned by someone she trusts, tries to work things out on her own, consults with a minister, and finally chooses forgiveness with a new family.   Burke’s grandfather sums up the point of the story when he tells her to  “Take what is offered to you.”

The curse?  Turns out Louisiana never really had one –    only Granny has to contend with that problem.

And DiCamillo delivers another poignant tale of a brave little girl who gets the support of friends from unlikely places and in unexpected ways.  We all need that now and then.

Related ReviewRaymie Nightingale

A Book List for National Coffee Day

UnknownCoffee – I look forward to that first cup every morning, and today is National Coffee Day in the United States, where you can savor a free cup at a few coffee shops.  What could be better than a good cup of coffee and a good book?  

First, where can you get a free cup of coffee today?

  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Krispee Kreme
  • 7 Eleven
  • Cinnabon

 I wondered about coffee references in literature.  Can you think of any?  Here are a few from books I’ve read: 

  • from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women: “I’d rather take coffee than complements right now.”
  • from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: “Good. Coffee is good for you. It’s the caffeine in it. Caffeine, we are here…”
  • from Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukura Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage: “The fresh smell of coffee soon wafted through the apartment, the smell that separates night from day.”
  • from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye: “That’s something that annoys the hell out of me – I mean if somebody says the coffee’s all ready and it isn’t. 
  • from T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “I have measured my life out in coffee spoons.”

51U7v8YQdML._AC_US218_   Brazil is the largest producer of coffee (the United States is the largest consumer), so a new book set in Rio de Janeiro – The Caregiver by Samuel Park – seems appropriate for a coffee day. 

Quick Summary: “…examines the relationship between a mother and daughter after years of mutual misunderstanding. Ana, a voice-over actress, struggles to provide for her six-year-old daughter, Mara, in late 1970s Rio de Janeiro. Desperate for money, Ana takes on a dangerous job with revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the corrupt police chief. …Ana must separate from her daughter to save her from retaliation. Mara, with the help of her mother, escapes to California and years later finds work caring for a woman who’s dying of stomach cancer. During their time together, Mara begins to understand Ana in new ways as she considers her role as a caretaker.”

What are you reading as you sip your coffee today?

Related Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

 

 

 

Hispanic Heritage Month

HHMO_Theme_2018_WEBToday marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, reminding me of Latino authors I have enjoyed and others on my list, including Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Isabel Allende and Sandra Cisneros.  Here are a few of my favorite titles:

  1. Isabel Allende’s In the Midst of Winter – click here for my review
  2. Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street
  3. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Prisoner of Heaven – click her for my review 

 

And On My To-Read Pile:

9780385542722Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

 

“Set in ’90s Colombia, Fruit of the Drunken Tree examines the terror inflicted on the South American country by Pablo Escobar from two young girls coming of age.”

 

9781474606189The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Zafón follows 2012’s The Prisoner of Heaven with the conclusion to his Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet, a gripping and moving thriller set in Franco’s Spain.”  

What are your favorites?

 

 

 

 

It’s Never Too Late to “Meet Me at the Museum”

1250295165.01._SX142_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_  Anne Youngson’s Meet Me at the Museum focuses on second chances in life and love, but shifting gears into this slow-paced epistolary novel fired up my unexpected interest in anthropology and had me looking for more information.  The Tollund man, a perfectly preserved prehistoric man found in the Danish bog, now on display at the Silkeborge Museum in Denmark, is the motivation behind a chain of letters between an unhappy older woman dissatisfied with her life on the farm, and a lonely museum curator who has recently lost his wife.  Tina Hopgood initiates the letters with an inquiry about the Tollund man, and Anders Larson, the museum curator responds,  with a short lecture on the exhibit and an invitation to visit.  

After 40 years as a farm wife, Tina is regretting she never visited the museum but also wonders about other options in her life she never had the chance to consider. Recently widowed Anders works at Denmark’s Silkeborge Museum, which houses Tollund Man, and is finding himself unable to move on after the death of his wife.  Gradually, over eighteen months of writing, their salutations progress from “Dear Mrs. Hopgood” and “Best Wishes” to “My dear Tina” and finally to  “All my love.” 

As the letters become more personal, they disclose their struggles and give each other advice.  Both have grown daughters who are about to make major changes in their lives, and both are wondering if their lives have had any meaning.  Throughout the story, Youngson interjects long descriptions of farm life from Tina and details of the Tollund Man from Anders.  Tina’s letters are filled with the monotony of tending chickens and slaughtering pigs.  She describes picking raspberries, noting that no matter how careful she is, she always finds some she’s missed, comparing her life to a missed row of raspberries. As their letters eventually merge into philosophical observations from both correspondents and the realization of their new-found connection, raspberries become their private reference for second chances, with Anders noting “I feel I have overlooked far too many of the fruits in this life I have.”

“Our letters have meant so much to us because we have both arrived at the same point in our lives. More behind us than ahead of us…Please do not be angry with the circumstances of your life … nothing is so fixed it cannot be altered.”

Youngson may be her own inspiration for the story.  As an Oxfordshire farm wife who always wanted to write a novel, she finally did write this debut novel in her sixties, and is now pursuing a Ph.D.  It’s never too late.

UnknownAs for Tallund Man, here’s what I discovered – click here for more information

 

Other Epistolary Novels I’ve Enjoyed:

  • Daddy Long Legs
  • 84 Charing Place
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
  • The Divorce Papers
  • Dear Committee Members

Anita Brookner – Today’s Answer To Jane Austen

When I kept seeing the author Anita Brookner on lists of recommended books, I decided it was time I read her. The winner of the Booker Prize for Hotel du Lac, Brookner has been dubbed a modern day Jane Austen. Real Simple magazine recently suggested her 512JZ3NDLrL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_ her Brief Lives on its list of summer reads, and Rumaan Alam in her article for the New York Times  – In Praise of Anita Brookner  – offered a starter kit for her books:

The Debut The novelist’s first work opens with a brilliant line — “Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.” — and establishes the themes that Brookner would revisit over the years.

5130EEigw6L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Hotel du Lac Her best-known work (which received the Booker Prize in something of an upset) is about a romance novelist on holiday in Switzerland.

Look At Me My favorite of Brookner’s books is about a librarian whom no one seems to see, and contains what must be literature’s most depressing office holiday party.

Dolly This story of a young woman and her elderly, quite monstrous aunt surprises by showing how family bonds can endure over the years.

Fraud A woman of a certain age goes missing. This beautiful book isn’t a thriller but a fantasy for anyone who’s dreamed of leaving an unfulfilling reality behind.

So, here I go, immersing myself in a writer. Have you read any of Brookner’s books?