Bee Season

10/09/2011 at 9:47 AM (Books, Educational, Religion, Spiritual) (, , , , )

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg is the story of a Jewish family in Pennsylvania.  We are introduced to fifth grader Eliza Naumann, the “ordinary” member of a gifted family. She surprises them all by winning the class spelling bee, followed by the district spelling bee and then makes her way into the final rounds of the national spelling bee.

Eliza’s new skill distracts her father Saul from the guitar and study sessions he used to have with her older brother Aaron who has aspirations to become a rabbi because he chooses to study for the spelling bee with Eliza instead. Feeling disillusioned with Judaism, Aaron experiments with several religions before deciding to join the Hare Krishna group, as he feels abandoned by his father. Meanwhile her mother Miriam progresses further into a psychosis that has been building up in her since a certain concept was explained to her by Saul and it is discovered that she is a kleptomaniac. It seems that Eliza’s new found talent is contributing to breaking her family apart at the seams.

Bee Season Book Cover

Although Eliza is rapt at the extra attention she was receiving, she feels bad about the deepening distance between herself and her brother and widening chasm between him and her father who once used to be quite close.  Different characters choose unorthodox ways to resolve their issues or neglect handling them and it causes problems later on. There are parallels between each family member but each decides to deal with it in their own way instead of confiding in each other. Eliza witnesses these changes observing how the actions of one family member indirectly affect all the others. Each fails to notice how similar they all happen to be but this is obvious to the reader.

In the end, Eliza is forced to make a big decision, which will either keep her father’s attention on her or give up her new talent. The terrifying experience she is subject to one night while perusing some mystical books in her father’s study makes her realise the right course to take. Given I expected this book to be about bees that produced honey rather than the spelling kind, it captured my attention when the story started out mild and kept getting darker in its mood. Nevertheless it is an incredible read!

Advertisements

Permalink 1 Comment

Fortune Cookie

06/25/2011 at 3:44 AM (Adventure, Australian Literature, Books, Classics, Culture, Educational, Romance) (, , , )

After I read Fishing for Stars (you can read more about it in my previous posts), I had Bryce Courtenay cravings. Books can affect me this way just like cookies and cream flavoured ice cream. So I found myself Fortune Cookie. I was quite lucky because I looked it up on the library catalogue and while it said that it was on the Adult Fiction shelf, I could not find it. So I asked about it from the librarian, who told me it had only arrived a few minutes ago and handed it to me. They had not yet got to replace the returned books.

Basically Fortune Cookie is the story of a fourth-generation Australian born Chinese called Simon Koo who works in advertising but really wants to be an artist. Not a typical Asian stereotype, hmm? In any case his work gets him a promotion so he can try to manage on his own but it’s located in Singapore. Initially he’s not keen as his mum is always on the lookout for matrimonial prospects and that also was where she was born. But everything changes for the better when he meets Mercy B Lord, an orphan Chinese/Japanese girl who was raised by Catholic nuns and who works for an agency called Beatrice Fong. Her name came about when the nuns discovered heron the doorstep and said “Mercy Be, Lord!”

Fortune Cookie Book Cover

He soon falls in love with her and she seems receptive despite his peasant appearance and brick-like build, which can’t be described as handsome in the least. In addition, he has kept the fact that he is wealthy a secret in Singapore to keep his distance from gold-diggers. So he is thrilled when Mercy B Lord accepts and returns his love for her but she keeps disappearing every Thursday. She refuses to talk about it and says if he does bring it up, she will leave him. Unfortunately when his employers threaten him about his liaison with her, he brings up the forbidden subject. Then she packs up and leaves making him finally realise that her regular Thursday assignation is one of a dangerous sort.

To make up for her absence, he makes a painting of her and submits it to a Hong Kong art gallery competition. He captures the very moment that he realised he was in love with her in the painting and adds a symbol particular to a dream had by his ancestors to her gown’s collar. When the painting wins first prize, all is in uproar because Mercy B Lord has lost her anonymity. But Simon manages to see her in secret and she ensures that he doesn’t lose face by her being absent at a gala dinner honouring his painting.

Then Beatrice Fong dies and things start to fall apart again. Simon discovers the habitually drunk American ad man who is his partner and his illiterate Asian housemaid wife are not quite what they appear to be on the surface. His suspicions about his employers are confirmed to be true and he realizes that Mercy B Lord is involved with the drug trafficking trade in Thailand, Burma and also in Singapore, where handling these things were a hanging offence. But together with his friend Danvers and some high-powered people pulling strings, the two lovers are reunited to leave their doubts at rest once the mysteries are uncovered.

You might be wondering why the book is called Fortune Cookie? The story has nothing at all to do with ” a small, delicious cheap round wish cake“. Simon’s name is Kee Koo. He played rugby for his school and one of the school dad’s bet on his team. He won the game when the school had hardly ever won rugby before and the dad made a lot of winnings on the bet. So the winning dad asked Simon “what was his name?”   He said Koo. Then the father asked for his other name and Simon responded with “Kee”. Then the lucky dad said to Simon “You have won me a fortune, Koo Kee”.

Permalink 1 Comment

Fishing For Stars

06/19/2011 at 10:54 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Culture, Educational, Inspired, Politics, Romance, War) (, , , , , )

It actually has been a long while since I’ve read a Bryce Courtenay because work and volunteering has kept me on my toes. But on a recent jaunt to the library, I found a sequel to The Persimmon Tree. It’s called Fishing for Stars.

So shipping magnate Nick Duncan finds his life revolving around two women: Anna Til, the exotic but damaged Eurasian obsessed with profit and Marg Hamilton, ex-Navy wife and fanatical protector of nature’s treasures. These characteristics give the two women who are loath to let Nick Duncan belong solely to the other have two vindictive names to call each other: Princess Plunder and Green Bitch. The settings are interesting as it involves the Yakuza in Japan, the military environment of Indonesia, the Pacific Islands and parts of Australia. But this is a story narrated by flashback.

Penguin Fishing for Stars Book Cover

Nick is grieving after losing Anna to breast cancer and is suffering from bad dreams harking back to WWII. Marg decides this is possibly the onset of PTSD and finds him an appropriate specialist. On the advice of his psychologist, Nick decides to put his story on paper; the tale of how he has lived since being a war hero. He writes about the lifelong contest of the two women and how he tried to keep each to their separate worlds until he was forced to take action.

The struggle to save Lake Pedder annoyed me with the weight given to all the politics involved but nevertheless the information was so educational that it was easy to forgive this aspect. The take on Anna Til being a BDSM dominatrix with vaginismus who had a smack habit she couldn’t kick but was cool as a cucumber in making multi-million dollar business deals was a bit much. The habit did not really count as a flaw if it didn’t impact on her ability to be a rational and calculating negotiator. Marg was described in a better and believable way but I think this book focused more on what she did than her as a character.

Still, if you have read The Persimmon Tree, reading the aftermath in Fishing for Stars is not a bad experience even if the history is rehashed for the benefit of those with poor memories. You will always be sure to learn something entirely new in the case of this writer.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Five People You Meet in Heaven

02/22/2011 at 12:16 PM (Books, Educational, Fable, Inspired, Spiritual, War) (, , , , , , )

Once I accidentally happened upon Tuesdays with Morrie at my university library while searching for some course text books. So what do I do?

I promptly abandon my text hunting and sit in for a delicious tale written by Mitch Albom about his moments with the retired sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz ; it is about the lessons the author learned from the teacher who had contracted Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). So it was with joy I revisited this author’s writing in The Five People You Meet In Heaven. Unlike my first experience, this time it was fiction inspired by Eddie Beitchman, the writer’s real life uncle, who had lived a life like that of Eddie in the book.

The Five People You Meet In Heaven Book Cover

This particular narrative starts with a death – the death of the main character, Eddie the maintenance man on Ruby Pier, on his 83rd birthday to be exact. This birthday incident is notable because you realise lots of events of significance happened on his birthdays.Small little interconnected coincidences, to which readers are clued in by the narrator, lead to an accident at the Ruby Pier amusement park that finally leads to Eddie’s death as he tries to rescue a young girl. This is why the book starts with a chapter titled ‘The End’.

We are then given some insight into his journey through heaven after his passing away.Through this trip, we are treated to glimpses of five people on whom his past had a significant impact. His first encounter is with the blue man, a former circus freak, who imagines the Ruby Pier of Eddie’s childhood as his own heaven. Eddie had been indirectly responsible for his death but he tells Eddie events are not that random and lives intersect for a reason.

The second stage of heaven brings Eddie to a scene of war torn desolation during WWII. His new mentor turns out to be his war captain with whom he fought in the Philippines, where they became prisoners of war for a brief period. Eddie uses his circus skills to escape their confinement but feels too paralysed to leave at the last moment after he helps to set the war camp on fire. The captain had promised his subordinates that he would not leave anyone behind. To fulfill this promise, he shoots Eddie in the leg to make it easier to get the evacuation underway. Initially Eddie is angry with the captain who had been waiting to ask his forgiveness but realises the man suffered a worse fate than him. He teaches Eddie about sacrifice.

Next Eddie meets an elderly Ruby, a woman he has never met before. She turns out to be the namesake of the amusement park where he worked all his life. He meets her in a diner where she had worked when she was young and where she had met her husband, Emile – the creator behind Ruby Pier. She tells him the misconceptions he had entertained against his father were far from the truth despite their conflicts. She was privy to his deathbed confession because Emile was in the same room. She tells Eddie about the importance of forgiveness.

Finally Eddie comes face to face with Marguerite, the love of his life. Their marriage was happy but childless so they had put in an application for adoption. Before this can take place, Eddie is involved in betting high stakes at the track. Worried about him, she drives to meet him but meets with an accident when some drunk kids drop some whiskey bottles that land on the car. This causes unforeseen medical expenses and their application for adoption is rejected. Although the accident creates tension between them at first, they overcome this situation until tragedy strikes again taking Marguerite. He meets her in a succession of wedding parties belonging to different cultures where she teaches him their love was neither snatched too early or torn to pieces as he had thought.

His final teacher is Tala who meets a grisly fate due to his hand at war camp. This explains why he felt he could not leave but his war captain shooting him ensures his survival. Tala tells him his life as ‘Eddie Maintenance’ was an important one. His ability to keep an eye on the proper functioning of the rides meant lives were saved – both the born and unborn. Eddie is a man who feels has not achieved what he has set out to accomplish because by a set of unfortunate circumstances, he inherits a job he despises but stays because he feels obligated to continue the job his father had. Tala, who meets him near a river, teaches him the meaning and purpose of his work at the pier was to save and protect the children. Eddie’s life ends with him doing what he had done for his entire life.

Rich in symbolism, motifs and imagery of rebirth and redemption, The Five People You Meet In Heaven is a tale of inspiration about an unsung hero.

  • To watch Tuesdays with Morrie trailer, click here.
  • To watch The Five People You Meet in Heaven trailer, click here.

Permalink 5 Comments

Maestro

02/17/2011 at 2:07 PM (Australian Literature, Books, Educational, Holocaust, Music, Nostalgia) (, , , )

I started reading the book on the train yesterday, as we were pulling out from Flinders Railway Station, on the way home after an interview training workshop. The journey took approximately one hour and ten minutes and on reaching my stop of Berwick, I was halfway through the novel.

The first page featured the captivating opening passage below:

First impressions?

Misleading, of course. As always. But unforgettable: the red glow of his face – a boozer’s incandescent glow. The pitted, sun-coarsened skin – a cheap, ruined leather. And the eyes: an old man’s moist, wobbling jellies.

But then … the suit: white linen, freshly pressed. And – absurdly, in that climate – the stiff collar and tie.

‘Heff Keller?’

‘Mrs Crabbe?’

I stood behind my mother outside his room at the Swan, perched on a wooden balcony overlooking the beer garden. The hotel – a warren of crumbling weatherboard, overgrown with bougainvillea – was packed, the drinkers and their noise spilling out of the front bar into the garden. Up the stairs, second on the right, a barman had shouted – and every face in the bar had turned and followed us up. One or two drunken whistles had also followed us up; whistles living far beyond their sexual means, my mother later reported to my father, contemptuously.

‘This is Paul,’ she said, pushing me forward, ignoring the noise below.

The figure in the white suit stood aside from his doorway, and motioned us inside.

‘Of course. Your father has told.’

The accent was thick. Continental, my father had described it, vaguely. A voice that reminded him of grilling sausages: a faint, constant spitting of sibilants in the background.

‘Sit down,’ the voice hissed. ‘We will talk.’

A problem: how to capture that accent here? Ve vill talk? It’s tempting – too tempting – to slip into comic-book parody. We haf ways off makink

Maestro, set prior to and following the damage by Cyclone Tracy, tells us the story of the arrogant Paul Crabbe –  the son of two intelligent, music loving parents – whose arrival in Darwin leads him to meet the enigmatic Eduard Keller as his piano teacher of classical music. Although the epithet of maestro is bestowed on Eduard Keller, it is clear the title is used in mockery by the plebeian community. Paul becomes curious about Keller when he observes fragments of newsprint pertaining to wartime Europe in German and nurtures the belief that his teacher is a war criminal because the rapport between them is established in bits and pieces. The vicissitudes of life during adolescence distracts him from being earnest in his pursuit of serious musical study as he debates choosing between the pleasures of Megan and Rosie. Later he realises the missed opportunities and disregarded advice prevented him from reaching his full potential. The truth hits home when he  goes to Austria to  pay a visit to Henisch in Vienna, who had accompanied Eduard when they were students of Leschetizky. It is only after the tragic death of this incredible teacher who taught Paul the difference between technical perfection and virtuosity, he is able to deduce that “a great man had died, whatever the crimes he felt he had committed.”

Boy Playing Piano

Copyright: Miwaza, Flickr

The structure of the book is also interestingly split using movements in music as an analogy to demonstrate changes of style and pace e.g. Libretto, Intermezzo. This is useful because we initially believe Peter Goldsworthy is writing in present tense. Later we perceive that he is writing it from Paul Crabbe’s point of view as an older person who is recounting his past. Maestro is a beautifully written bildungsroman that hooks your attention and holds you in suspense right from the start.

I finished the rest of the novel on the train back to Melbourne for the conclusion of the workshop. The journey took approximately one hour and ten minutes.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History

01/26/2011 at 1:32 PM (Books, Educational, Inspired, Language) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Are you familiar with Can We Help, the TV show on ABC, partly hosted during the Wise Words segment by Kate Burridge? The show explored in detail where certain words and expressions that are cause for argument originally derived from and how they have progressed. Her vast and in-depth knowledge regarding the intricacies of the English language and its use  has her often explaining about new expressions, shifts in meanings and emerging grammatical constructs because of her linguistic expertise.

To watch videos of the ABC episodes of Can We Help, go here.

Gift Of the Gob - Kate Burridge

Her book titled ‘Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History’ explains to us:

Q: Why can we fall in love but not in hate

Q: What do codswallop and poppycock share?

Q: Why not one house and two hice?

Within this book based on segments from the aforementioned television program and Soundbank from ABC Radio , Professor Kate Burridge investigates our language, untangles words and their meanings and uncovers how differences in interpretation and enunciation has transformed the evolution of English.

It demonstrates the  inventiveness of the tongue in how it exists as a ‘proper’ dialect along with its offending but amusing cousin, slang. Her informative  discussion of the origins of linguistic  appellations  in English answers how frequently used terms that are erroneous in their usage become an everyday staple. Her interview on why she decided to write the book after being inspired by the general public is accessible here.

She describes her favourite  word which has since expired in use as velleity: it means “a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it.” I think my favourite words belonging to the English lexicon are  foreign words that become part and parcel of permanent use. What sort of uncommon expressions do you favour?

 

Permalink 4 Comments