Tag Archives: United States

Rudyard Kipling’s The Gardner

Geoff Dyer in his interview in “By the Book” for the New York Times identifies his favorite short story – Rudyard Kipling’s The Gardner.  Dyer summarizes the story as he remember it:

“A mother goes to a large war cemetery on the Western Front in the aftermath of the First World Was, looking for the grave of her son. She meets the gardner who is taking care of the cemetery. The sense of vast and unendurable grief is all the more powerful for being expressed with such restraint and economy.”

images      I found Kipling’s short story online but connected with different aspects – we all interpret what we read with what we know and what we need.

  • “Then she took her place in the dreary procession that was impelled to go through an inevitable series of unprofitable emotions. The Rector, of course, preached hope… “
  • Michael had died and her world had stood still and she had been one with the full shock of that arrest. Now she was standing still and the world was going forward, but it did not concern her — in no way or relation did it touch her. She knew this by the ease with which she could slip Michael’s name into talk and incline her head to the proper angle, at the proper murmur of sympathy…

‘My nephew,’ said Helen. ‘But I was very fond of him.’
‘Ah, yes! I sometimes wonder whether they know after death! What do you think?’
‘Oh, I don’t — I haven’t dared to think much about that sort of thing,’ said Helen…
‘Perhaps that’s better,’ the woman answered. ‘The sense of loss must be enough, I expect. Well, I won’t worry you any more.’”

Link to Kipling’s “The Gardner” here

Time to Read Americanah

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an award winning novelist and short story writer, produced a short story for the Book Review of the New York Times – The Arrangements.    The title had me  wondering if the story would mimic Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements, set in Nantucket, but the political cartoon on the page promised something better.  No matter what your politics, this “Work of Fiction,” will have you wondering and laughing.

9780307455925_p0_v2_s192x300     I have not yet read Americanah, Adichie’s acclaimed story of a young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the United States for a university education and stays for work.  I now have it on order at the library.

Have you read it?

Travel to Shop

luxuryrow-header-tmb  The main street in Waikiki is known more for its shops than for its obscured view of the beach and ocean.  Japanese tourists have long been the mainstay of the economy as they flit in their stilettos from Chanel and Tiffany to Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, carrying bags of luxury along the sidewalk.  According to author Dave Sedaris, Japan is his preferred place to shop.   In Tokyo, shopping is not an art – it’s a sport.

In the New York Times travel section, “In Transit,” Nell McShane Wulfhart interviews David Sedaris for a list of places to stay (the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara – “everyone there looks like Mitt and Ann Romney”) to his dream trip (to India – “I want to go to India for three hours.  So I can leave when I get thirsty, and then I can get back on the plane without any risk of getting a stomach bug.”).  But his favorite travel activity is shopping; forget the monuments and art.

As a seasoned traveler, Sedaris offers a list of must-haves for every trip, including:

  • Vicks VapoRub  (Use on your upper lip to diffuse cloying perfume of fellow travelers.)
  • An extendable backscratcher (to relieve the itchiness brought on by dry air in planes).
  • A wooden hanger that folds in half to dry shirts (because “in a crummy hotel you can’t disconnect the hangers.”)
  • Set Editions’ Stop Talking Cards (useful to give at appropriate times).Set-Editions-Stop-Talking-Cards

Related Review:  Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

First Women

9780062439659_p0_v3_s192x300Who doesn’t indulge in a little gossip now and then?  Kate Andersen Brower reveals the secrets of “The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies” in  First Women.  When I heard about this book on a morning news show, I downloaded the ebook, read the sample, and was hooked.

Not a biography like Jean Baker’s Mary Todd Lincoln or a soulful memoir like Laura Bush’s Spoken From the Heart, Brower’s book focuses on a small group of first ladies of a generation, from Jacqueline Kennedy to Michelle Obama, and connects them by making comparisons on their experiences, backgrounds, husbands, and personalities. Not one to avoid the snide comment, Brower throws in a few from staffers, but most of her “reporting” is respectful, as she offers an inside look to their lives as political wives and mothers.  Whether the conclusions she draws in her commentary are accurate or not seems irrelevant.

When you read a People magazine story, you expect exaggeration and a little nudging of the truth, none of which takes away from the fun of reading it, so my expectations for First Women were low. Yet, despite the gossipy tone, Brower manages to tap into the real person behind each persona, as she recalls poignant moments in their lives – some public, some private.  Although Brower cites pages of references and primary sources for each chapter, including White House staffers, most of her conclusions are drawn from observation and letters.

Chapter titles add to the trade fiction feel: “The Good Wife,” Keep Calm and Carry on,” “Supporting Actors,” “The Political Wife.”  Citing the dislike of one woman for another (Michelle Obama for Hillary Clinton), or the unlikely bonding of two women (Laura Bush and Michelle Obama) in the chapter titled “Bad Blood,” seems petty  – but has caught the attention of the media more than other parts of the book.

The book is long, going through chapters with titles carrying each woman through the beginnings of her husband’s political career to the ultimate “prize” – the White House. Most of the information is public, as Brower recounts important moments in each presidency, but the private revelations offer new perspectives on each woman.  And the album of pictures at the back of the book is worth a look, if only to see them in their forgotten younger days.

Rosalynn Carter, who comes across well in Brower’s dissection, noted:

“First ladies are bound together by having had the experience of living in the White House and all that involves, but I’m not sure we would call the relationship among first ladies a sisterhood.  About the only time we are ever together is when a new presidential library is established or for a funeral.”

 

Related Reviews:

The Muralist

9781616203573_p0_v2_s192x300When I started reading B.A. Shapiro’s The Muralist, I did not expect a book about Jews fleeing Europe during World War II for asylum in the United States to be so relevant to the current political posturing about refugees.  Shapiro is best known for The Art Forger, her fictionalized solving of the famous art heist mystery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  In The Muralist, art is again the focus, with the added drama of the war, the beginnings of modern art, and a brave artist working for the WPA.

When Dani Abrams, who works at Christie’s auction house, accidentally finds small abstract paintings hidden behind works by  famous abstract expressionist artists, she sees a resemblance to the art by her aunt, Alizee Benoit.  Alizee, a young American painter working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), along side Pollock, Rothko and Lee Krasner, before they were famous, vanished in New York City in 1940, while trying to free her Jewish family living in German-occupied France. As Dani tries to solve the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance, the story flashes back to Alizee during the prewar politics of 1939 and the forgotten refugees refused entrance to the United States at that time.

Shapiro’s style commands attention to details with references to key players during the war.  Eleanor Roosevelt is neatly portrayed as feisty as biographers have revealed her, and references to artists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko include relevant excerpts from their early lives and careers.  Benoit’s fictionalized paintings have the power of Picasso’s Guernica.  Luckily, Shapiro includes an “Author’s Note” identifying which characters and plot lines are based on real happenings in history – some were a revelation.  I still found myself double checking her research with her villain, Breckinridge Long, the assistant secretary of State who ignored FDR’s Presidential plan to bring Jews from Europe to escape Hitler’s death sentence.  Alas, he did exist – another sad note in American history, and an echo of some of the politics being bandied about today.

The heroine, Alizee Benoit, did not ever exist, except in the imagination of the author, but her work with the WPA, her initiation of new frontiers in art, and the mystery of her disappearance – all fuel a fast-paced mystery while providing historical  information.  The plot twists and turns, as it alternates from present-day to prewar America, leading to a satisfying ending, and finally revealing what happened to Alizee.

Shapiro delivers another gripping story in The Muralist.

Review:  The Art Forger