Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Patience Stone: Atiq Rahimi

The title The Patience Stone: Sang-E Saboor comes from a Persian folktale about a magical black stone, the Sang-E Saboor, which absorbs all of the pain and suffering of the people who speak to it. The legend goes that when the stone has taken in too much sorrow, it will explode all of the pain and suffering on the world and that will be the day the world ends. This folktale is the key to this short novel about a woman who sits with her comatose husband in a room somewhere in the fractious Middle East.

Atiq Rahimi has written an incredibly poignant and moving story about a woman’s liberation. In the Middle East (and in many other places, as well!), women face harsh criticism and must obey strict rules of conduct. There are some who believe that these rules of conduct are archaic and should be thrown off. Rahimi is one of them, as illustrated by his novel. The woman in his book is a wife and mother who is caring for her husband in a single room while guns blast in the street outside the window. Her husband was shot in the neck, and is alive but comatose. It is this state of living unconsciousness that allows the woman to talk to her husband as she never has before. She derides him for his behavior in their marriage, and she reveals some of her innermost secrets to him. She speaks to him as a wife would never be allowed to speak to her husband in their culture. She speaks to him as she would to the Sang-E Saboor.

What Rahimi has done with his novel is given a voice to an entire population of women who have been held silent for centuries. The Patience Stone is an incredible volume of important weight. If women worldwide are ever to have equality, then it is of dire importance that their stories be heard and understood, no matter how painful it is to hear. Rahimi is putting the pain of a real life in our faces and we must have the strength to listen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Last Olympian: Rick Riordan

In the final volume of the Percy & The Olympians series, Rick Riordan unleashes every demon in the Underworld for the battle of the Titans and Olympians. Percy and his friends are faced with a prophecy that makes one of them a hero, but at a very high cost.

I have loved every minute of the Percy & The Olympians adventure. Many people (myself included) have drawn parallels between Percy and Harry Potter. While there are some similarities, Percy has something Harry does not; Percy is the boy next door. The first chapter of The Last Olympian is Percy and a mortal girl named Rachel, sitting in the car, watching the ocean. The awkwardness of that moment is captured perfectly, as Percy contemplates how he feels about Rachel and whether he has the gall to kiss her or not. The teenage boy-girl tension is interrupted, of course, by the ultimate battle.

Percy has the unfortunate mission of leading an army of half-bloods in a war against the Titan lord, Kronos, who has inhabited the body of a half-blood, Luke. The significance of this is huge for Percy. Luke was the first friendly face he met at Camp Half Blood, and Luke was also the person who helped get his friends Thalia and Annabeth to the safety of camp. Annabeth, Thalia, and Percy struggle to face the fact that in order to defeat Kronos, they will have to kill their friend Luke.

There is a lot of assumed knowledge in this book, so it definitely requires the reading of the first four books in the series. The Last Olympian is the final chapter in which some questions are finally answered, and everything ties up neatly. The adventure is an action-packed, non-stop ride, riddled with favorite old characters as well as new. If you’ve already read the first four books, you don’t want to miss the finale.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Christmas Blizzard: Garrison Keillor

If you know who Garrison Keillor is then you already know that he is a tall-tale-teller. It is believed that most of his stories are based in some sort of fact, but he has exaggerated and embellished to the point of tall-tale standards. He is a bit like the grandfather at family gatherings who starts stories with phrases like “When I was your age, back in 1931…”, and then he goes on to tell an unbelievable tale that usually ends with some sort of moral or lesson along the lines of “…and I never stole from Old Barnaby’s garden again after that, so let that be a lesson to you!” His non-Woebegone holiday novel, A Christmas Blizzard is everything we expect from Keillor.

James Sparrow is a wealthy man who lives with his wife in a 12 room apartment on the 55th floor of Wabasha Tower in Chicago. He is a multimillionaire with odd eccentricities, like his fear of metal water pump handles. On the brink of the Christmas holiday, James and his wife make plans to celebrate on the warm Hawaiian beaches of their second home in Kuhikuhikapapa’u’maumau. At the last minute, James’ wife becomes ill and he gets a phone call from a family member in Looseleaf, North Dakota, informing him that his beloved uncle is on his death bed. James makes the decision to make a quick trip back to his despised hometown to say goodbye to uncle Earl, only to find himself trapped in Looseleaf by a blizzard. What ensues is one of Keillor’s tall tales of family, redemption, and humor.

Keillor has the ability to spin tales that aren’t quite wholly believable, but are also so wonderful that you hope every detail is true. It seems impossible that cooky cousin Faye would shed her clothes in below freezing temperatures and jump into an ice fishing hole; yet, we all have a family member who seems just crazy enough to attempt it. And while we may have never spoken with a wolf who claims to be the soul of a dear departed friend, it’s not hard to believe that we sometimes encounter animals who assure us with their nature that our loved one is safe and happy in the afterlife.

A Christmas Blizzard is a thoroughly enjoyable holiday novel and a quick read, from a wonderful story teller who reminds us to be grateful for what have and to never forget where we came from.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Living Dead In Dallas: Charlaine Harris

The second book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, Living Dead In Dallas refers to the nest of vampires living in Dallas, Texas where Sookie and Bill are sent to investigate the disappearance of a vampire. While staying in Dallas, Sookie encounters some new supernatural beings as well The Fellowship of The Sun—a group of anti-vampire extremists who want to see the entire race of vampires and their supporters eradicated.

Charlaine Harris is a brilliant writer, in that she has created characters that readers latch on to. Sookie and Bill, as well as the less significant characters are all very real and relatable, despite their being vampires and shape shifters. I have now read two of the Sookie Stackhouse books, and I admit that I am hooked! I want to know what happens to Sookie in the same way that I would want to know what happens to my friends. Will she become a vampire and get to live all of eternity with Bill? Is she really in love with him, or does she just love that she can’t read his mind? And now that the oldest vampire around—Eric—has taken a shine to Sookie, will she enter into a relationship with him?

Living Dead In Dallas is not a wonderful story; in fact I think I preferred the first Sookie Stackhouse novel (though that may just be my own personal aversion to all things Texan). However, this book is filled with new characters and Harris has expanded her vampire-friendly society, which makes it kind of exciting. There isn’t a lot of deep thought required for these novels; they’re just for fun, and that’s exactly what I’m getting from them!

The Sunflower: Richard Paul Evans

The Sunflower is the story of an orphanage in Peru, called El Girasol (Spanish for The Sunflower). It is at this orphanage that a jilted woman heals from a broken heart and finds a new purpose. Richard Paul Evans is the author of several other uplifting novels, many of them with the underlying theme of God’s hand in the lives of mortal men. In The Sunflower, God’s hand is illustrated as the one most often questioned. A repeated quote in this novel is “Seek not your destiny, for it is seeking you.” Evans is emphatic that while we are planning our lives, God is conducting us in other directions. It is how Paul, a successful ER doctor with a fiancé and lucrative future ends up the director of El Girasol in Peru. It is also how Christine is dumped by her fiancé a week before the wedding and convinced by her best friend to go on a mission to Peru. It is how Christine and Paul’s life paths cross and become intertwined.

Evans is one of those rare writers who is able to evoke emotion in not only his characters, but his stories. El Girasol is a real place—an orphanage in Peru where Evans did some mission work and met the real Paul Cook who told his love story. So while the characters are real, it’s easy to give them depth and easier still to make the reader like them. It is the story of their romance that is so beautiful—how two broken hearted people can fall in love with each other in the dangerous Peruvian jungle.

The story is really a very simple one, without a lot of excess. It is simply a love story. The descriptions of Peru and the Amazonian jungle are inspirational and made me ache to travel again. El Girasol is a wonderful place where anything is possible for a group of orphans, as well as their director.