logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: Refugee
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2019-10-12 11:44
A lyrical and romantic story set in a magical Ireland
Seven Letters - J.P. Monninger

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Griffin for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. Because I read an early copy of the story, some of the details mentioned might not fully correspond to the final published version of the book.

I had never read any of the author’s work before, but the description of the setting, the protagonist and her reasons for visiting Ireland drew me in. I had read about the Blasket Islands in a previous book and become fascinated by what I came across, and, personally, I would love to have the opportunity to be a scholar researching the topic, in Ireland. The novel offered me the chance to vicariously live that experience through the main character, and I did enjoy it enormously. The beautiful writing, interspersed with Irish sayings, stories, and references to books were pure delight.

I am not a big reader of romance, and perhaps for that reason, the aspects of the novel that I most enjoyed were not the truly romantic ones, that I found a bit over the top. Kate, the protagonist, has a strong Irish (and Blasket Islands) connection, and she seems more than ready to fall in love —and under the spell— of Ireland, and the islands in particular. I did love the setting of the story, the description of her life at the university, her research, the people she meets there, and I would have loved to know more about some of the secondary characters (the Bicycle  Society members, for example, Gran, Seamus, Daijeet, Dr Kaufman, and even Milly although we learn more about her later). Also, and I suspect I might be in the minority here, I would have loved to have had more details of Kate’s research, for example, samples of the stories she reads and of the book she writes (she is studying women’s accounts of the life in the Blasket Islands before they were abandoned and the few inhabitants left there had to move out), although I know there are accounts published and available, but her work process, and her description of how she felt as she engaged in it resonated with me (yes, I have a PhD and re-experiencing that period was a huge bonus for me).

Of course, Kate’s experience in Ireland would not be complete without a romance, and we meet the man in question very early on, and no, readers don’t need to be avid romance consumers to spot him and know where things are headed. As I said, not being a habitual romance reader, I wasn’t too convinced by that side of things. I never felt we got to know Ozzie well, but that is reasonable in the context of the story, as Kate seems to falls in love/lust with an idea or an image in her head, more than with the real man, and neither one of them give each other much chance to know what they are getting into and who with. Because we see the story from Kate’s perspective, we are expected to see him through rose-tinted glasses, at least initially, although things (and him) don’t fit neatly into the romanticized image she has in her head. (Oh, there are sex scenes as well, but they are not explicit and are overly romantic and totally unrealistic, but hey, as I don’t like sex scenes, I was pleased they were not many and didn’t mind they were unrealistic). Theirs is the perfect embodiment of a whirlwind romance. As we all know, the course of true love never did run smooth, and there are separations, trials, and many obstacles in the way, some that go well beyond what most people would expect from a typical novel in this genre, and deal in some very serious issues (like the Mediterranean refugee crisis), so although this is a romantic novel, it is not a light and cheery read (although yes, there is the mandatory happy ending that I won’t spoil for you).

The structure and the way the story is told is quite original, as it revolves around letters, the seven letters of the title, some formal and official, some personal, and they help create the backbone of the novel, written in the first person, from Kate’s perspective. In fact, although the novel is classed as a romance (and I’ve mentioned some of the more conventional romantic aspects of the story), for me it seemed to fit better into the Bildungsroman or coming-of-age story (although the character is perhaps a bit older than most of these kinds of characters tend to be), and it is written as if it were a memoir, where the letters serve as anchors, points around which the protagonist organizes her memories of the events, because although the story is told chronologically, it is not linear and there are jumps in time, during which life has gone on and settled, but the narration is only retrieved when something of some significance to Kate’s journey and to her relationship with Ozzie takes place. (There are scenes that showed potential, for example, an archeological trip Kate gets involved in, but it ends up becoming only a setting for an encounter with Ozzie, and we are given no details as to what else might have happened during the trip). Although she is not the typical innocent-abroad of many XIX and early XX century novels, she does not know herself, her trip abroad changes things and she goes back to the USA a changed woman, although there are many more things that she must learn, not only about herself but also about others, before the end of the book. Her process of discovery felt realistic, and I empathized with her struggle between her idea of what her life should be like, what her heart wants, and her attempts to reconcile the two, if possible.  Oh, there is also a prologue including a lovely Irish story about a man falling in love with a fairy woman, although, to me, in this case Kate plays the part of the man —who cannot settle in the magical land and misses home— and Ozzie that of the fairy woman.

I agree with comments that say perhaps the story would have gained in depth and become more realistic if some part of it had been told from Ozzie’s point of view, but, considering Ozzie’s backstory, that would have been a completely different book, and one that would have taken the focus away from the romantic angle.

In sum, this is a story I enjoyed, and I don’t hesitate in recommending it to romance readers, in particular to lovers of Ireland and anything Irish. There are many elements that make the story worthy of reading even for those who are not big on romance, especially the setting, the beautiful language, and the protagonist, who although flawed and contradictory, loves books, scholarship, her friends, Ireland and has a wonderful zest for life. The descriptions, not only of Ireland, but also of New Hampshire, Italy, and other settings, take readers on a lyrical journey, and I was sorry it came to an end. Oh, and there’s a wonderful dog too.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2018-06-22 22:56
Book Recs Solicited: Freedom and Future Library
On Liberty and The Subjection of Women (Penguin Classics) - John Stuart Mill
All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002 - Salman Rushdie
The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives - Aleksandar Hemon,Marina Lewycka,Ariel Dorfman,Viet Thanh Nguyen,Fatima Bhutto,David Bezmozgis,Porochista Khakpour,Vu Tran,Joseph Kertes,Kao Kalia Yang,Dina Nayeri,Maaza Mengiste,Reyna Grande,Novuyo Rosa Tshuma,Lev Golinkin,Joseph Azam,Thi Bui,Meron Hader
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - Michael Wolff
A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf
Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States - Thomas Jefferson,James Madison,Founding Fathers

You'd have to be living under a rock buried somewhere halfway down to the center of the earth in order not to be aware that in recent years our beautiful world has been shaken up by a number of crises the likes of which I, at least, have not experienced in my entire lifetime -- I can't remember any other time when I have so consistently felt the urge to put on blinders and wrap myself in a giant comfort blanket approximately 10 seconds after opening a newspaper (or its online edition), or 10 seconds into listening to the news.  Obviously playing ostrich has never done anybody any good, but God knows, it's getting hard not to succumb to the temptation. 

 

So what does a book lover do in order to keep her sanity, equip herself to separate fact from fiction (in news reporting, politics, and plenty of other places) and deal with rat catchers and fire mongers?  She turns to books, of course.

 

I've decided to build a "Freedom and Future" personal library, which will contain books which (1) have either deeply impacted my personal thinking or that I expect will come to do so in the future, or which (2) provide valuable food for thought in today's social and political debate, both nationally and internationally; be it based on a profound analysis of the issues at stake (as a matter of principle or long term), or because even though they may not be of lasting significance, they contain a thought-provoking contribution to the current debate (even if they were not written with that express purpose in mind -- e.g., books about historic persons or events or books by long-dead authors).  I'm not expecting to binge-read the books added to this library, but I'm looking to add them to the mix with a bit more focus than I've been doing of late.

 

In the past couple of days, I've trawled my own bookshelves for books to add to the library, but this is one area where, even more than anywhere else, I'm looking for suggestions -- I can already see that I'm at risk of falling back on my old standbys, and that's the last thing I want to do here.

 

So, tell me: What books have recently made you sit up -- or which are the books that you've come to turn to and trust for guidance and inspiration?

 

These can be fiction or nonfiction, and books from any or all types of genres (I only draw the line at splatter punk).  As the first part of my new library's title indicates, liberty and freedom rights are a focus, but I'm really looking for food for thought on all the issues that I think are going to determine the path human society will be taking (hence the "future" part); including, in no particular order:

 

* Liberty and freedom(s) (of opinion and press, movement, association, worship, the arts, etc.),

* Equal access to justice and judicial independence and impartiality,

* Equality and empowerment (gender / sexuality, race, etc.), and the plurality of society;

* Poverty / the increasing gap in the distribution of wealth,

* Education (general, political, etc.);

* Funding and freedom of research and science,

* Protection of the environment,

* Democratic institutions and processes and how to safeguard them,

* Xenophobia, war(mongering) and the preservation / restoration of peace,

* Persecution, migration, and internal displacement,

* Free trade and globalization,

* Technological advances,

* Ethics -- in all of the above areas.

 

I'm adding a few books to this post to give you a rough idea of what sort of things I've so far added to this library -- please take them as very approximate guidance only, though.  It can be something totally different ... really anything that's jogged your brain or made you reevaluate your perspective on any of the above issues.

 

Thanks in advance!

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-06-03 16:20
The Displaced - Excellent Anthology of Refugee Writers
The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives - Aleksandar Hemon,Marina Lewycka,Ariel Dorfman,Viet Thanh Nguyen,Fatima Bhutto,David Bezmozgis,Porochista Khakpour,Vu Tran,Joseph Kertes,Kao Kalia Yang,Dina Nayeri,Maaza Mengiste,Reyna Grande,Novuyo Rosa Tshuma,Lev Golinkin,Joseph Azam,Thi Bui,Meron Hader

Viet Thanh Nguyen serves as editor for a short but impactful collection of essays about refugees and the refugee experience. I read a lot about immigration. I'm not entirely unaware that many of these stories are actually about refugees, but it's interesting that people often morph themselves into "immigrants," when in fact most of our families came from a refugee experience at some point. My father's family came in dribs and drabs to both coasts (and ended up with numerous spellings of our last name) because of the potato famine in Ireland. Nobody calls our family "refugees" but they were. It was just an easier time to be that when they showed up and pretended to have degrees in things like medicine... (true, but much too long a, story) So, given all of that, it's a willful political act for these writers to reclaim the identity of refugee -- especially given their successes and acceptance now in their new homes.

The tragedy is how these new homes forced people in a variety of ways to deny their original national identities. Some are more obvious than others, but all carry an almost unexplainable burden to the individuals, and I'm pretty sure to their new countries as well. 

Many, but not all, of the writers are now living in the US, and all of them are successful, educated, prize-winning, feted authors. Interesting how willing countries are to claim these refugees now that they have proven their worth. They've come from all over the world and they have personal experiences that frequently left me tearing up. The overall effect is rather devastating. I'm not going to review each piece, because they are all worth reading more than once.

Like Reblog Comment
review 2018-02-14 07:27
Soccer team as microcosm of America
Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town - Warren St. John

This was a wonderful journalistic view of the smallish town of Clarkson, Georgia USA, a strong-hearted woman called Luma Mufleh, and a soccer team called "The Fugees" (for refugees -- the kids named themselves.) But as with all good journalism, it's about so much more. It tells us about America via the microcosm of one team in one town.

Reading it gave me a better understanding the spirit of refugees to America, the many ways they get here and the difficulties they face once here. It's also a great view of the strength and fortitude of these families - not only in fleeing their homes but in being able to stay afloat once settled, and how long settlement can take. And finally it's a great story of an awesome bunch of kids, who aren't always winners or easy, but they are always kids -- and kids who have seen some tough things. Kids, in other words, who desperately need soccer.

There are also nods to all of the other things inherent in the US: class, race, nationalism, power-hungry city councils, and everything else. Some hilarity and heartbreak and through it all kids being kids.

I got a good impression of the team's founder and coach, Luma Mufleh, a Jordanian woman who literally dedicated her life to Clarkston’s refugee children and their families. I have a good impression of her. She is fiercely independent and private. I have a feeling it may have been difficult to even write about the team, so kudos to Warren St. John who not only got in to get the story, but clearly went far further than "just the facts, ma'am" here -- he made friends, and if you read this, you might feel like you have made some friends too.

I just learned that a children's book has been written by the author, which is wonderful. I look forward to reading that one too.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-08-17 00:47
Refugee
Refugee - Alan Gratz

I had a hard time putting this novel down.  Each of the three stories that made up this novel was fascinating, adventitious and energizing.  Whether I was with Aaron escaping Europe, or with Isabel as she tries to make it to the United States or with Mahoud as they try to sneak into Turkey, I was emotionally attached to these refugees as they fought for a better life.  They each started their journey with their families, their sights were on freedom, and I found myself getting upset as each chapter came to a close.  I didn't want to leave each of the individual worlds as the author changed the scenes and the characters, I wanted these children to step on free soil, I wanted to know that they had finally made it.  There were scenes in the novel that made me gasp, scenes that almost made me cry and scenes that flooded me with emotions. Traveling to unfamiliar territory, there is fear of the unknown, the fear that they will be welcomed after their journey and the fear that they will survive the ordeal.  I highly recommend this novel.  

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?