Amsterdam,Madonnas/Leningrad,Rather Lovely Inheritance,Plainsong, Memory Keepers Daughter

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
I loved this author’s novel, Atonement, so much that I decided to explore other novels he had written; perused the Man Booker list and found the one he won the prize for. I was about halfway through this book – distracted by other things going on in my life not in the novel, and thinking maybe I’d made a mistake. Where are we going with all this ? I asked myself. About halfway through the book, it hit me : this is a modern day re-telling of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar “. Suddenly, the whole story opened up to me and I saw how brilliant it was. If you were to take the basic plot and place it into the morass of modern day politics, this is what you’d get. I decided to re-read what I’d already read, and pay a lot more attention. Liked it so much, I think I’m going to teach it (alongside JC) later this year.
After realizing this is what the author was doing in Amsterdam, I started re-thinking Atonement, which I loved unblinkingly and without understanding why. I then realized that it is a modern day re-telling of “Romeo and Juliet”. Maybe a schtick, maybe brilliantly creative. Read them yourself and be the judge.

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
This is the most recent book I have been recommending to all I meet . Basic construction is two stories, side by side (alternating chapters), same set of characters : one tale is set in the 40’s, during WWII, during the siege of Leningrad. A museum curator and her family take refuge in the basement of the Hermitage during the bombing, are starving to death, and have packed all the great works of art away. To pass the time, she invents a game where she trains herself to remember ALL the paintings and other art, in order, where they used to hang. And everything about them ( analyzing the work of art, all its symbols, construction, shadings, colors, etc.) Contrast the modern chapters, where she is very old, has Alzheimers, and her grown children are caring for her, with no knowledge of her past, what she went through, experienced, or accomplished. Complete irony in the abililty of her mind as a younger person, contrasted with her diminished capacity as an older person. The younger generation does not fully appreciate the complexities of its elders. Several little mini-chapters, discussing the symbolism of particular paintings, foreshadows the meaning of upcoming events. Absolutely brilliant, and beautifully written.

A Rather Lovely Inheritance by CA Belmond
I was browsing a table of recent fiction at my local B & N, looking for some fun casual reads for an upcoming trip to the beach. Grabbed this one b/c it seemed quintessentially “me”: France, mystery, adventures, what’s not to like ? It was cute and fun escapism and totally effortless to read. Never mind that several minor plot points were just skipped over and never resolved – it delivered what it promised. An easy, fun, charming romp through fantasy. Had I known it is classified as a “romance” – argh ! I’d never have bought it.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Spare and beautifully written, this is a tale of a small town in the middle of nowhere, and all the hapless forlorn folk who live there. If you are from Texas, you know these people: many of the small intertwined plots are reminiscent of “Secondhand Lions” , “Last Picture Show”, or “Addie Pray” . A beautiful little book.

The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards
I started this book and it’s central premise – that a Dr delivers his own twins, and b/c one has Down’s Syndrome he gives it away to be destroyed - angered me so deeply, I could not finish it. Could not get to the heart-warming redemption at the end, b/c the sheer presumptuousness of the man filled me with rage. I’ve been blessed with two healthy children, but have devoted a fair portion of my life to serving disabled children, and I am thankful we live in a day and age and society in which all humans are valued because of the content of their character, not the color of their skin (or abilities of their minds).

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