Archive for : February, 2015

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All Our Names by Dinaw Mengetsu – A Review

Two very different stories converge in All in our Names, the latest novel by Ethopian-American author Dinaw Mengestu. It is the early 1970’s, and the stories are of a black man who has fled to the American Midwest from violence on the continent of Africa and a white woman, Helen, who grew up in the American Midwest and has never left.

Helen is a lonely and passionate woman who still lives in her family home, a place where women’s voices were silenced. Her mother, whom she calls “a whisperer,” is still living with her, and the back yard is overgrown. This was the very same yard that she retreated to as a child so she could read her books out loud, and where, later in life, she screamed in frustration.

Helen is also the social worker assigned to help Isaac, a newly arrived immigrant, adjust to a new country. Isaac was raised in Ethiopia and went to school in Uganda. While in Uganda, his world became one of violence and revolution. The intense bloodshed led him to seek safety in America. But before he left, he changed his name.

Information about Isaac’s past is revealed painfully slowly as Helen tries to fill in the blanks both because of her work, and because she wants and needs (or thinks she does) to know. (As different on the surface as two people can be, the two still begin a secret affair.) She herself knows little of the world, and even less about what might be going on in places like Uganda. She doesn’t truly grasp it when Isaac tries to explain that even her little corner of the world is not safe for an interracial couple.

When he came to America discards all of the 13 names he was born with, and takes the name of a friend who had been a fellow student, and victim of the Ugandan violence. Isaac (the original) was an idealist, passionate about change.

Helen doesn’t think there is racism in her world, in her town. She sincerely believes that her people are middle of the road, and is blind to the dividing lines between black and white right in front of her as she walks through different sections of town.

That changes when they visit a local diner. This is a favorite spot, one of many places on Helen’s list of things to show Isaac. (She doesn’t have much to show him, after all, since her experience of the world is so different from his.)

When they order, and the waitress asks if they want the order “to go,” Helen’s eyes start to open. Then, when Isaac’s food comes, it is served on thin paper plates and with plastic utensils, unlike everyone else. (Helen’s meal comes on china.) Helen desperately wants to leave, but Isaac insists on finishing the meal.

This book tells a difficult story about race, but that isn’t the central theme. It is a magnificent love story, with all the complexities that befall any couple who find themselves in that state.

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – A Review

A book about lies might not seem like something that is worth reading, but this one is beyond all your expectations. You will have emotions you might never have thought possible while reading this book. Lies are powerful and moving, we tell lies in our daily lives to people around us as well as to ourselves. But what power do these lies actually have? Is it worth telling these lies? Maybe, or maybe not, the truth is; only the person telling the lie really knows if it is worth the trouble it will cause.

Lockhart expertly weaves us through this story of a wealthy family and values. The writing is somewhat poetic and gives a feeling of suspense to the story throughout the entire book. The plot and story line are well planned out and easy to follow with just the right amount of intrigue to guide you from one scene to the next. You certainly will not be bored when reading this book.

We Were Liars might leave you dumfounded in the end. You will read the entire book and think you understand all the twists and turns, just to feel like you actually knew nothing at all when you reached the final page. Reading a second time or even third time will unravel new and exciting parts of the book that you never even realized you missed on your previous read through the pages.

Cadence is the main character and as she returns to her family’s home in Massachusetts, she hopes for a carefree summer. She is recovering from an accident and in hopes of finally having a sense of relaxation. Unfortunately there is not relaxation in Cadence’s future. There is something that is dark and haunts the island that Cadence’s home is on, it is nothing for Cadence to mess with.

Lockhart is able to delve into Cadence and the other characters with a passion that is hard to not love. You feel like you know them, even though they are all lying and we ultimately know nothing at all that we think we know. The ability to lie and keep the reader in the dark is a hard one to pull off without the reader feeling lied to, but Lockhart is able to pull it off in this book. As you read through this book you will try to find the twists and turns before they happen. You will pay attention to every detail in the small hope that you will not need to read the book a second time, but your effort will be useless.

Be prepared to be overwhelmed by the book, overwhelmed by the writing, overwhelmed by the characters. Carefully reading this story will help you understand the finest of details, but in the end you will still be bowled over by the plot. It is something you must just resolve to read a second time to fully be able to understand. Lockhart does an exceptional job with the characters and plot of this book so it is without a doubt worth the time it will take to read.

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The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas – A Review

Written by D.M. Thomas, The White Hotel starts off with a poem that brings erotica to full life. This erotic novel follows fantasies and phenomena, based upon what the narrator sees with Sigmund Freud’s patients. Quickly the book changes from this erotica into a book divulging chilling facts about the Holocaust. Finally, toward the end of the book, the fantasy erotica returns and things then make complete sense. This is  a well-written book that touches upon many areas that are so often kept hushed or seen as taboo. Reading these pages might make you blush, but they certainly will also help you learn, think and discover, all the while being entertained by each line of the book.

The White Hotel was released in January, 1981 in Great Britain, and in March in the United States. The Viking Press held the US release, while Gollancz released the book internationally. The same year that the book was released it was awarded the 1981 Cheltenham Prize.

The book is written in a journal format, although there are some parts of the book that depict a female narrator telling us the story. There are several movements in the book, each just as juicy and exciting to read as the next. What happens at the White Hotel is revealed through each exciting page.

There is a young woman who sings in the opera. She isn’t famous, but is doing fairly well for herself. She entrusts Sigmund Freud to provide her an analysis since she is bothered by pains in her womb and her breast caused by psychological issues. Her character, Anna G., might make you think about some of the real-life events that took place, but the book is completely fictional. Once the analysis has been made, soon Freud’s intentions and feelings toward Anna become known. He doesn’t think that she is making progress and doesn’t want to continue seeing and treating her, yet he feels that she is worthy of his time and never makes any mentions of ending the relationship.

Later in the book far more is revealed about Anna G., whose real name happens to be Lisa. Lisa’s mother was estranged, as was her father. She lived a very quiet, unusual life without her parents, the very people that she needed as a young woman. But with an ability to see the future, she can do things that other people can only dream of being able to do.

This is a classic book that will capture your attention from page one and continue to thrill you with each page thereafter. It is pretty enchanting to discover the thoughts of Freud, and when the book changes path to talk about the Holocaust, it does it with ease, a smooth transition that keeps you turning the page ready to learn more. This is an exciting book, one that raises eyebrows and helps you think outside of the box. What if these things happened? They might just very well happen. When you are searching for a phenomenal book that you will not want to put down, there isn’t a better title out there.