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Batch Reviews: Edition the First

You know that feeling you have when you’ve read a number of books and haven’t talked about any of them? That vaguely uneasy feeling that makes you feel kind of bad for even being online at all since you’re obviously not doing anything of value?

That’s kind of where I’ve been living in 2016. I read a bunch of books over Christmas and meant to get on here and talk about them and then I just didn’t. And now we’re in that horrible place where I read some of these books WEEKS ago and I’m supposed to discuss them in a meaningful way?

To clear the backlog (mostly of guilt) I’m going to batch them together in mini-reviews. No rhyme or reason to the groups. Random. Kind of like these posts in the first place.

nightingale

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I was not going to read this. And then I overheard someone in a bookstore mention to a customer that she had never cried so hard reading a book. My sister and a friend both had the same experiences. I got it for Christmas and it was the first book I read in 2016.

Vianne Mauriac’s husband has left for the front and she and her daughter, Sophie, are left to care for their home as best they can. Soon a German soldier tells them that he’s going to be billeting in their home, complicating all their lives. Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, has always been rebellious and more than a little bit reckless. Having been kicked out of a final school, she is at a loose end when Paris is invaded. Running from Paris, to Vianne’s small village, she meets a young man and falls in love. That’s how she becomes involved in the Resistance.

It took me ages to become invested in this book. Maybe I’ve been reading too much WWII fiction – at times it felt like we were just checking off WWII cliches from a list: forbidden love, German soldier living with you, resistance fighters, Jewish complications, harsh winters, poverty and black markets. But at some point, it becomes more than that. It’s two sisters, each fighting for their future, sacrificing almost everything in the process. As they fight for survival, they also fight each other and the relationship that has always been complicated.

In the end, I was bawling my eyes out on the bus, despite being told not to read the end on the bus. So I guess it was worth it.

ferrante

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Everyone and their mother seems to have read this story of two friends, Elena and Lila, growing up in a poor neighbourhood in Naples post-WWII. Seems like you either love it or you hate it.

Heinous cover art aside, I fall somewhere in the middle. I love that Ferrante is this anonymous person, who does not discuss the work once it is finished. I love the era in Italy and getting a chance to learn something about what it was like to be a child in an Italy freshly ravaged by war, the social structure that dictated daily life.

But mostly I found it hard going to even get through this. I wanted to give up a number of times. Lila and Elena are best friends but they also act kind of like enemies. It seems more like the accident of their having been born around the same time in the same building, meant that they were expected to be friendly. Elena ends up excelling in school, going to the high school and learning Latin and Greek while Lila is pulled out of school once elementary school is over. Yet, Lila still manages to learn Greek and Latin and accounting and design shoes in her father’s shop.

At times I wasn’t totally convinced that Lila wasn’t a sociopath. We follow the girls to the day of Lila’s wedding and then it ends. But it’s the kind of ending that is supposed to make you want to pick up the next book. I admit that I am curious. I know that IF I do pick up the next book, The Story of a New Name, it will be from the library.

OK. That’s two out of the way. There are more to come! Probably!

PS if you have a  snappy name for these, hit me up!

 

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My Life in France

I don’t know how to cook and Julia Child in any form has rarely made an appearance in my life (aside from that time that Meryl Streep played her in a movie and everyone lost their minds about how accurate her portrayal was), so her memoir My Life in France seems like an odd thing for me to choose to read.

Except that at the library sale it was $2.50 and it’s about living in France which is basically my ideal.

So I read it and it was enjoyable.

My Life in France recounts the years that Julia Child lived in France with her husband Paul, first as diplomats living in Paris and Marseille and later their time spent in their little house in Provence.

Sounds like heaven right?

Well the early years in Paris were just after the end of World War II and Paris wasn’t the glamourous city we know and dream about today. Paris in 1948 struggled with food shortages, blackouts and constant reminders of the hell and destruction of only a few years earlier. The people too were scarred by their experiences – many of Julia’s friends had either been imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps themselves, or knew people that had been.

But in, what I have since learned is, true Julia Child style she soaked up Paris and especially the French way of cooking. From the moment she had her first meal in France she was in love with the classic way of food preparation that makes everything exquisite tasting.

Alas for those of us not initiated into the rites of the kitchen, some of the book can be a tad technical. Her search for the perfect mortar and pestle, all of her kitchen tools, the way she de-boned and de-feathered certain unfortunate poultry- it was reminiscent of reading Keith Richard’s Life and expecting to read about rock and roll and getting the story behind the inspiration for certain songs. It also made me very hungry. And being uninitiated into the rites of the kitchen, there wasn’t too much I could do about my craving for roast chicken.

Mostly though My Life in France had the same effect that watching episodes of House Hunters International does: it made me want to sell my stuff and move to France to experience it all for myself.

In the meantime I could probably learn how to cook since Julia Child is pretty convinced that anyone can learn how to cook. Evidently you just have to follow the directions (directions she went to great lengths to make foolproof in her volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking mind you) and learn from the mistakes that you do make. Oh, and she’s also fairly adamant that one never apologizes for sub-par food.

If you think about it, these are lessons we can apply outside of the kitchen too.