3 serious summer reads

December 3, 2009

If you like a book that grabs you by the heart and gives you a big Chinese Burn then these reads are for you!

3 serious summer reads

“My Mothers Story – ‘The Locust and the Bird'”
By Hanan Al-Shaykh

One of the most daring . . . female writers of the Middle East’ (San Francisco Chronicle) gives us an indelible work of nonfiction: an account of her mother’s remarkable life, at the core of which is a tale of undying love.

In a masterly act of literary transformation, Hanan al-Shaykh re-creates the dramatic life of her mother, Kamila, in Kamila’s own voice. And so we see 1930s Beirut through the eyes of the unschooled but irrepressibly spirited ten-year-old child who arrives there from a small village in southern Lebanon with her own mother and siblings. We see her drawn to the excitements of the city, to the thrill of the cinema, and, most powerfully, to Mohammed, the young man who will be the love of her life.

Despite a forced marriage at the age of thirteen to a much older man, despite the two daughters she bears him (one of them the author), despite the scandal and embarrassment she brings to her family, Kamila continues to see Mohammed. Finally, after nearly a decade, her husband gives her a divorce. Now we are looking through the eyes of a still very young woman who abandons her first family in order to create a family with the man she truly loves, only to be left a widowed mother of five when Mohammed dies tragically young.

As the narrative unfolds through the years (Kamila died in 2001) we follow this passionate, strong, demanding, and captivating woman as she survives the tragedies and celebrates the triumphs of a life lived to the very fullest. It’s an extraordinary story given a brilliantly realized, luminous voice.

SheSaid says:

At age thirteen, Kamila, a young illiterate Lebanese woman, is trapped into marrying her dead half sister’s husband. She bears him two children, the first who was conceived when she was raped on her wedding night. After nearly a decade, she is finally released from the marriage to marry her lover but she must leave her two children behind. This memoir really speaks volumes of the strength and resilience of Lebanese women, particularly of Kamila as she tries to control her destiny and of her daughter as she learns the story of why her mother abandoned her as a child. Worthy of a place on your bookshelf.

“Small Wars”
By Sadie Jones

Sadie Jones, the award-winning and internationally bestselling author of The Outcast, returns with an ambitious, richly imagined novel that confirms her place in the literary firmament. A passionate and beautifully written tale of personal loss in the midst of war in late 1950s Cyprus, Small Wars raises important questions that are just as relevant today. What happens when everything a man believes in – the army, his country, his marriage – begins to crumble?

Hal Treherne is a young British soldier on the brink of a brilliant career. Transferred to Cyprus to defend the British colony of Cyprus, Hal takes his wife, Clara, and their daughters with him. But Hal is pulled into atrocities that take him further from Clara, a betrayal that is only one part of a shocking personal crisis to come. The atrocities Hal is drawn into make him change. We see a marriage fall apart to explosions and the smell of burning; we see Hal return from a bloodied beach and rape his wife as their twins sleep next door. And through it all, the couple barely talk.

“Small Wars” is a searing, unforgettable novel from a writer at the height of her powers. The prizewinning and bestselling author of “The Outcast” returns with an emotionally powerful portrait of a marriage in extremes and a world-view in question. Sadie Jones has produced a passionate, gut-wrenching and brilliantly researched depiction of a ‘small war’ with devastating consequences; and in doing so, raises important questions that resonate profoundly today.

SheSaid says:

War, emotional, rape, intensity, and award-winning are all words we could use to describe this novel by Sadie Jones. Not a happy or pleasant book but one that grabs you and takes you on a journey with Hal and Clara. It’s an emotional ride … hold on tight with this one.

“Her Fearful Symmetry”
By Audrey Niffenegger

Six years after the phenomenal success of “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, Audrey Niffenegger has returned with a spectacularly compelling and haunting second novel set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London.

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers — with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery.

As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbours, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including — perhaps — their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind. Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life — even after death.

SheSaid says:

This is a great novel for those who love intricate characters woven together with complex relationships. It’s a hard feat to follow the outstanding success of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” but Niffenegger does it perfectly. As another reviewer said, “She has an uncanny way of creating relationships built on such a deep love that we yearn to be involved with those in our own lives with the same depth of feeling.”

Her characters are richly developed, even if they are a little eccentric, and the London descriptions are thorough and detailed giving us the perfect picture of the two young Americans living in their dead Aunt’s flat.

Watch an interview with Audrey here

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