Sunday, April 11, 2010

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

From the back cover:
Orphaned and penniless at the height of the Depression, Jacob Jankowski escapes everything he knows by jumping on a passing train -- and inadvertently runs away with the circus. Thrown into the chaos of a second-rate traveling show, Jacob is adrift in a world of freaks, swindlers, and misfits.

I really didn't expect to like this novel. I actively dislike the whole idea of a circus -- caged animals and exploitation of the poor and uneducated. Further, I also tend to avoid reading historical novels especially American Historical novels which I find tend to ooze patriotic pap.

However, at the urging of many friends, I finally picked it up.

No regrets!!!

Sara Gruen is truly a marvelous story teller and perceptive observer of human nature! Right from the first page, she draws the reader in, making it near impossible to put this novel down. Also she has the ability to put herself (and by extrapolation, the reader too) into the skin of her characters.

This is a love story but not in the conventional sense. This is the story of a man who sticks to his convictions and cares for the animals who have been put in his charge, including a very stubborn and misunderstood elephant called Rosie.

From the back cover:
Water for Elephants is a dark and beautiful portrait of a crumbling circus. With warmth and whimsy, Gruen depicts an unforgettable world where love is a luxury few can afford.

Nikolski - Nicolas Dickner

I think I am a pretty good reader...but I also think I need to reread this book.

In fact, I am sure that I need to reread this book.

Set in Montreal and various parts of Canada, this novel tells the story of three different protagonists whose stories are similar in that they are all on a journey of discovery. Joyce Doucet, Noah Riel and an unnamed narrator all search for treasure in obscure places.

Somewhat reminiscent of The Waterproof Bible, there are strange references and interwoven stories that I will one day untangle.

I really need to reread this book.....

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Waterproof Bible - Andrew Kaufman

This was a delightful and strange read, very strange, wonderous strange!

From Random House: "A magical story of love and the isolation that defines the modern condition - Andrew Kaufman pulls off the near impossible and creates a wholly original allegorical tale that is both emotionally resonant and outlandishly fun.

Rebecca Reynolds is a young woman with a most unusual and inconvenient problem: no matter how hard she tries, she can't stop her emotions from escaping her body and entering the world around her. Luckily she's developed a nifty way to trap and store her powerful emotions in personal objects - but how many shoeboxes can a girl fill before she feels crushed by her past?

Three events force Rebecca to change her ways: the unannounced departure of her husband, Stewart; the sudden death of Lisa, her musician sister; and, while on her way to Lisa's funeral, a near-crash with what appears to be a giant frogwoman recklessly speeding in a Honda Civic.

Meanwhile, Lisa's inconsolable husband skips the funeral and flies to Winnipeg where he begins a bizarre journey that strips him of everything before he can begin to see a way through his grief… all with the help of a woman who calls herself God."

This novel explores how life's journey is full of twists and turns, encounters and accidents -- most of which remain unexplained and inexplicable. "If I hadn't met Rebecca and fallen in love with her, and then left her, I wouldn't be here, and I wouldn't be making this boat. So the boat wouldn't exist and neither would your question. Was it fate that I fell in love with Rebecca? And then that I left her? Or that I loved her, left her and then found this place and started building this boat? What's fate and what isn't? Where does it stop and where does it start? Is fate a part of the the story or the whole story?...I don't know. What about you?" p. 103. Answers to these questions and other life quandaries are thought by some to be found in the of the Bible...the word of God. Kaufman suggests that this idea needs to be reevaluated through Margaret's speech about the Aquatic Bible: "This book is full of lies....Beautiful, true, inspiring...But fiction. This book is filled with stories that can change your life, help you live, love, be loved. But these stories are not here to make us deny any part of ourselves. They are not here to bully us. The Bible teaches us that dying unwatered will curse your soul. How does that help us understand God? Or know God's love? It does not. It only keeps us in fear, leaving half of the grace God gave us unexplored and unused, something I feel God takes more as an insult than as a form of worship. Remember that the truth within yourself will always be greater than the truth found in these pages. These stories are here to guide us -- to help us find that truth, not to tell us what it is." p. 138 As for some great purpose in our lives, Kaufman states, "You idiot...there is no meaning. There's no plan. No script. It's not a movie. There's no lasting significance. No great reward. No right. No wrong. No punishment. No justice. There's no heaven or hell. Forget all that. There's no reason for any of this. It's all random. Everything's fucking random!" p. 163

Kaufman further reminds us that often we view our problems as insurmountable obstacles when in reality, they are insignificant. He invents a ritual for his "Aquatics" called litill. "When Aquatics are overwhelmed, they seek out the tallest object in view, lie on their backs, put their heads against it and look up. The ritual is called litill, and its purpose is to remind believers that they are actually quite small and, therefore, so are their problems." p. 116

Kaufman wants us to realize that although we have little control over the events in our lives, we have the power to determine our perception of it. "...the only difference between a happy ending and a sad ending is where you decide the story ends." p. 191 Further, we must decide whether to hold onto a past which is emotionally paralyzing or daringly stepping into the unknown. "Do you think it's cowardly, or courageous, to get rid of your past and start all over again?" p. 178... "You're about to become emotionally will feel safe. It will feel like a good thing. But that's the problem. Who's gonna make themselves vulnerable if they don't have to? Who's gonna willingly make themselves weaker? But if you don't start feeling real emotions soon, you will quite literally become nothing...You need to start feeling something. Something meaningful." p. 240-241.

This is a short little book, but one designed to make us think and laugh.