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I confess that I didn’t go into this book with a light heart. Everything connected with children touches a particularly chord ever since David was born. It’s likely I wouldn’t have given Spirit Child a chance if it hadn’t been ghostwritten by one of my favorite (former) bookbloggers, Lyndsey Jenkins. That got me curious.
The topic - Ghana’s spirit children - promised a gut-wrenching experience, but surprisingly it turned out to be a very informative and uplifting reading experience.
Spirit Child is the autobiography of Paul Apowida. When he was five, eight members of his closest family became sick and died in quick succession, so Paul was labeled a “spirit child”. “Spirit children” are usually born in rural, impoverished areas, with physical disabilities or identified as being the cause of misfortune. They are then mercilessly killed at the hands or at the request of their closest relatives.
Paul was lucky. He survived more than one attempt on his life, mostly due to luck and the intervention of local nuns. Spirit Boy is about his childhood experience, his growing up in an orphanage and his return to his home-village as an adult after very eventful years.
In the book, the spirit child phenomenon ends up being just a small (although crucial) part of a much richer story. It was Paul’s childhood that kick-started his amazing path, but it’s didn’t become the central event in his life. Spirit Boy is much more about the fascinating story of an Africa child who was at the same time tragically unlucky and amazingly fortunate. You need to read it to really understand what I’m trying to say.
I liked knowing about the spirit children (a phenomenon much more complex than pure superstition), but it was equally interesting to have insights into, for instance, how an orphanage in rural Ghana became self-sufficient, the daily life of a Ghanaian art student or the routine of a British soldier in Afghanistan.
Spirit Boy is also full of characters that seems straight out of a novel, in particular the two strong women in Paul’s life: Sister Jane, one of the most strong-minded people I’ve ever read about, and determined Georgie Baker, the founder of AfriKids. I work in the non-profit sector, so I enjoyed knowing more about AfriKids’ long-term path towards the abolition of spirit children, in particular the slow process of working with the community, challenging dogmas and changing mentalities.
This book was one of the good surprises of the year. An easy-read about complex topics, compelling but not melodramatic. I closed the last page feeling I knew Paul well and wishing him all the best in world.
Taking advantage of knowing the (ghost-)writer, I asked Lynsdey some questions about the “behind the curtains” part of Spirit Boy:
I’m curious about the logistics of the process. Can you tell me a bit more? How was it working with Paul Apowida? How often did you have to meet? Did you record the conversations or just made notes? Did you intervene often or just let him tell his story?
I have been a speechwriter for several years and so know that half the battle is getting the voice right – if you get it wrong, then the story won’t ring true. It doesn’t really matter who you are writing for – the important thing is to listen to the speaker and tell the story as they would tell it, in their words, using the expressions they would. It was particularly interesting doing this for Paul because he has a very distinctive, Ghanaian, way of talking – it’s almost musical at times.
It is weird! But I haven’t blogged for so long I feel a bit fraudulent claiming to be a book blogger any more. It does mean, however, that I get the importance of bloggers and having the community talking about the book – and it has been very nice to see how many were interested in reading it.
Definitely – I have just finished a Masters degree and I am hoping that my dissertation will become the next book. It’s about a very rich suffragette, the granddaughter of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who went to prison and on hunger strike for the cause. The authorities refused to force feed her, so she went to prison in disguise in order to expose the hypocrisy and double-standards of the Government. Afterwards, she had a stroke and was paralysed, and lived the rest of her short life a complete invalid. So it couldn’t be more different to Spirit Boy!
This book is set in a world (yes, world, more than place) I don’t usually come across, not event through books, so it was the perfect choice for A More Diverse Universe.
The Whale Rider is about the Māori tribe of Whangara, in particular the relationship between eight-year-old Kahu and her great-grandfather Koro, the chieftain. In each generation a boy is chosen to lead the tribe, so it was a big disappointment for Koro when his first great-grandchild was a girl.
Since Kahu’s birth Koro is on a mission to find the tribe’s future leader outside his closest family, which makes him blind to every attempt by Kahu to get noticed and loved by him. He also doesn’t notice her mysterious abilities, until the whales come to die in Whangara’s bays…
They swam in brilliant shoals, like rain of glittering dust, through the greestone depth - hapuku, manga, kahawai, tamure, moki, and warehou - herded by shark or mango ururoa.
How beautiful is the Māori language? Not all the book has that many foreign words in one sentence, but the glossary at the end was useful several times.
This is one of those YA books that at first seems simple and sweet but if you think about it long enough becomes complex and sweet. The story alternates between the Whangara family and the story of the whales that are coming towards them. In between you’ll also get snippets of the legend of Whangara tribe’s origins and the reason behind their bond with the whales.
This book stood out to me because the “magical” elements are weaved in in such a subtle way that it made me think twice before actually classifying the book as “fantasy”. Some people told me over Twitter that the movie is even better – do you agree? It entered my list of Favorite Modern Takes on Old Legends.
On the background of Kahu, her great-grandfather and the whales are other stories and events that make this book a great choice for class or bookclub discussion: the rational vs. the irrational, the human vs. the animal, the strength of Māori women, breaking tradition towards an inclusive culture (Kahu being banned from Māori classes because she’s a girl - sniff), racism, etc.
Some people told me that the movie is even better than the book – do you agree? Must get my hands on it soon.
About Witi Ihimaera (from the New Zealand Book Council website)
The first Māori writer to publish both a book of short stories and a novel, Witi Ihimaera considers ‘the world I’m in as being Māori, not European,’ and his fiction develops out of this perspective. He creates imaginative new realities for his readers, drawing from autobiographical experience. In 1996 he also moved to foreground his sexuality, describing Nights in the Gardens of Spain as keeping faith with his gay audience.
He writes new work for opera and his novel, The Whale Rider, has become an internationally successful feature film.
Look at me, barely making it in time for RIP VII! Finished it yesterday and now my next challenge is being on time for A More Diverse Universe (are you joining?). “Barely making it” seems to be my default state now, but hey, better than “almost making it”, right?
The Ivy Tree was my gift (thanks Tasha!) from last year’s All Hallow’s Read Swap. I initially tagged it as “horror” on Goodreads but then amended it to “suspense”. If I had a “gothic” tag it would even better, as it ticks all the boxes: a crumbling mansion, a missing heiress, the appearance of her uncanny double, a great family fallen from grace, attempted murder, romantic drama. Most of all, the sense of Impending Doom.
I can’t say I loved it, but I did enjoy it. It helped that it was season-appropriate and a storm was raging outside. It was also short and easy to read (a big plus in a baby-filled world), but on the down side, although it was set in the early 60s, it could have been any other decade from Downton Abbey-ish to now, it had that few historical references. Actually, it just occurred to me this could’ve been done on purpose, to create a sort of away-from-the-world ambiance.
By the way, what’s your take on unreliable narrators? I think they’re probably one of the most difficult literary-gimmicks to pull off - intriguing and entertaining can very easily turn contrived and boring. The Ivy Tree’s first-person narrator kept me wondering, but it wasn’t on the level of Gillespie and I or Lolita. What are your favorites?
My online bookclub was looking for a comfort read and while browsing Goodreads’ Most Comforting Reads list we were all attracted by the storyline of Violets of March: after a nasty divorce, Emily decides to have some me-time with an aunt who lives in a gorgeous island. There she discovers an old diary that uncovers Dark Family Secrets.
Written this way, I really fail to see what the attraction was. It has “formulaic” all over and it delivers: white woman with a seemingly perfect life and enviable husband discovers she has been blind, that everything was A LIE! and goes on an adventure to a place full of handsome men who fall for her at first sight. In the meantime she still has time to dig into her family’s history, heal past wrongs and restore her faith in true love.
So, not my cuppa, but I can see the attraction. There’s definitely a comforting side to it, even if just because you already know the story from somewhere.
Other (kinder) thoughts: S Krishna’s Books, Rundpinne, write meg!, Book Chatter, Stacy’s Books, Devourer of Books, Literary Housewife, Book Line and Sinker, Jenn’s Bookshelves, Lesa’s Book Critiques, Lakeside Musing, BookNRound, Small World Reads, Linus’s Blankets, 2 Kids and Tired Books,
(The formatting of the blog is temporarily out of sorts, I’m trying to fix it, hopefully it will go back to it’s usual self soon.)
You guys, shame on you! What conspiracy is this? How come I’m only finding out about Shel Silverstein now? Everyone on the internet seems to have a memory associated with his poems and stories and I only heard of him because of Amy’s comment on my previous post (I’m not American, so I guess that might have something to do with it).
After Amy’s recommendation I got curious and the samples I found online hooked me so much that I immediately ordered his three poetry books: Falling Up, Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic.
All three are wonderful and perfectly capture what I remember about being a kid: the slightly gross and wacky humor, the rebellion combined with pure tenderness, the uncontrolled imagination. They are the perfect read-aloud material, not only for the poems but also for Silverstein’s own illustrations, which often add something to the meaning of the text. I’m only sorry his play on words must be really hard to translate, which limit his audience.
My favorites poems are the “no-nonesense funny” ones, like EARLY BIRD
Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early early bird-
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.
But I also love the ones about exploring the world and its endless possibilities, like LISTEN TO THE MUSNT’TS
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’Ts
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.
Don’t you just get a little knot in your throat reading this? I can’t wait for David to be big enough for me to read it to him. Some poems have subtle lessons that will also be fun to explore with little D. What will he make of this (and the one with the masks below)?
The little fish eats the tiny fish,
The big fish eats the little fish-
So only the biggest fish gets fat.
Do you know any folks like that?
I don’t usually go for surreal poetry or literature (really didn’t get into Alice in Wonderland, for instance), but there was something about Silverstein’s writing that hit a cord. He created characters who eat the universe, who write poetry from inside a lion, who invent a light that plugs the sun and a boy who watched so much TV he turned into one. The kind of stuff a child would actually come up with, so t’s a real gift for an adult to pull that off.
Shel Silverstein’s books are often challenged and banned exactly because of this tongue-in-cheek humor. There is also an undeniable leftish, anti-system, free-thinking, rebellious vibe to his work. One poem instructs kids to kill themselves so that parents will feel guilty about not doing what they want, another called “MA AND GOD” ends with “Either Ma’s wrong or else God is”. It does teach defiance and questioning dogmas, but I suspect the parents who get offended may have forgotten what it’s like being a kid.
Thanks once again Amy for the tip. I’m sure these books will become a family tradition.
Want to write about this book asap because, ironically, I know I’ll forget about it very shortly. A book about memory and its unreliability and it’ll soon be nothing but a couple of fleeting impressions and images. It was that kind of book for me.
Overall it’s an easy and ok read, but the Booker Prize did its work and I started out with very high hopes.
The story is about Tony, who takes us on a trip down the memory lane of his youth, his group of four best friends and his first girlfriend. The problem is that neither Tony or any of the other characters are terribly appealing. There’s nothing wrong with flawed characters, unless their main flaw is their boringness.
I found Tony in particular a pretty uninteresting person (and the important question is always: did the author want to make him that way?).
He always seems to have a very mild and detached approach to everything. A detachment that at points seems self-serving, which is confirmed by his sad current life: a failed marriage, a distant relationship with his daughter, a complete lack of friends. He goes out of his way to convince us and himself that he’s actually a caring and considerate person and bends his memory to show it. This careful re-arrangement of memories was probably the best part of the book. Made me think how we all do it, even if just for the sake of self-presentation.
I also had high hopes for the ending of the book, and not only because of the title. I knew from other reviews I could expect a big revelation, but after closing the last page I had to go online just to confirm that I really got it and if that was really all there was to get. Unfortunately, it was. I’m not even complaining about the loose ends (“blood money“?), but the resolution felt a bit (dare I say it of Julian Barnes and a Booker Prize?) unsubtle. And more so because it’s presented as a Dramatic Mystery Resolution.
Also, for those of you who’ve read the book, was I the only one who thought this was a Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus story? Every single woman in it is incomprehensible and/or unbalanced, but again I can’t tell if it’s because we see them thought Tony’s eyes or if Barnes meant them to be like this.
I’m usually a big fan of Julian Barnes, but this one I’ll have to archive in the ok-but-don’t-get-the-fuss shelf.
Other thoughts: Asylum, Pages Turned, So Many Books, The Literary Stew, Tales from the Reading Room, Shelf Life, Aquatique, Shelf Love, Stuck in a Book, nomadreader, Always Cooking Up Something, She is Too Fond of Books, Book Atlas (yours?)
I don’t think it’ll be in mine, but it was still a very good read. Lots of other books and movies came to mind while reading it, from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Firebrand (my favorite book about the Trojan War), to Brad Pitt’s Troy.
It’s very cleverly told: the paragraphs were short, the writing beautiful without being whimsical or overly poetic (always a risk in stories about myths). There weren’t lots of lengthy descriptions or endless impossible-to-memorize names, but it didn’t feel dumbed-down at all, on the contrary, it was accessible and engaging.
I was expecting that, as usual, the fact it was about a gay relationship would be the driver of the plot, so it was refreshing to see it practically as a non-issue and that the demi-God and human factor created much more emotional tension. I wonder if it felt like that because the story is told in the first person, turning a him + him and into a more “generic” me + him.
Lots of other thoughts and wonderings. The biggest was about whether Achilles really did love Patroclus, which may be blasphemy for those of you who cried buckets at the end.
Patroclus is the real hero of the story. Unlike Achilles, he feels fear, but still rescues Briseis and the other women, and goes into battle to save Achilles’ honor. Achilles is the strongest, no one can beat him, and he knows it. His only fear is to be forgotten. He prefers to go into a sure death and win Eternal Glory than have a safe, ordinary life with Patroclus. What if the Gods had told him: you’ll only be famous if you leave – or worst, kill – Patroclus? Agamemnon killed his own daughter – would Achilles do the same?
Odysseus was great. A smartass, but great. Good to see someone using wits over brutal force. In a book where loving relationships are so underrated, his passion for Penelope was really touching and human. Of course there’ll be a certain Calypso in his future, but who’s counting?
In the end, I didn’t cry like everyone else. It’s strange, because I’m usually a literary cry-baby and at the moment that’s exacerbated by crazy hormones. My questioning about Achilles’ real feelings probably distanced me from the expected tragedy. It was still a good read (a first novel – respect!) with lots of food for thought, it just didn’t pull at my heart-strings as I was expecting.
Also, where’s the Horse?! I was looking forward to the Horse!
Other thoughts: Book Twirps, Fizzy Thoughts, Always Cooking Up Something, Rivers I Have Known, The Allure of Books, Eve’s Alexandria, What She Read, Lazy Gal Reads, 2606 Books, Fleur Fisher, Novel Insights, Devourer of Books, Nomad Reader, Vulpes Libris, Savidge Reads, Iris on Books, chasing bawa, Farm Lane Books (yours?)
“We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.“
(Cool quote, but doesn’t it sound a bit Lady Gagaish… or maybe Doctor Whoish?)
I don’t like talking animals. Don’t like them in books, movies and especially don’t like them in commercials. I’m ok with anthropomorphism is general – loved Tangled’s chameleon and Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon – I just don’t like it when they talk. It’s like it takes my suspension of disbelief too far.
It’s probably because of this that some of the dragon books I’ve read before didn’t quite do it for me, including Eragon of His Majesty’s Dragon. So I had my expectations in check when I let myself succumb to the book blogosphere’s love of Seraphina.
A bit of plot: an unstable peace exists between humans and dragons in the medieval kingdom of Gorred, where dragons walk the streets in human bodies, so as not to frighten people. Outlawing dragons’ natural form is one of the cornerstones of the peace treaty signed 50 years ago between the two races. But when a royal family member is murdered in a suspiciously draconian way just days before the treaty’s 50th anniversary celebration, Seraphina, a talented Court musician, must be careful to hide the truth about herself.
The story, which basically a whodunit, develops somewhat slowly, but that’s not a problem when there are so many interesting details to discover about Seraphina’s world, her past, her profession and her fellow courtiers. Everything about the worldbuilding is interesting, from the descriptions of the cobblestone-covered Medieval city, to the pieces of the history between dragons and humans and the well-thought-of religious beliefs (comparable to the detail George R.R. Martin puts into his ’s Seven/Old Gods system). Lots of stuff to further develop in upcoming books.
Add finely nuanced characters (a shout out to Orma, dragon scholar and Seraphina’s teacher), shapeshifting dragons fascinated by human art and a society balancing mistrust and infatuation and you have a winning combination.
(Spoiler alert, although for something that’s revealed pretty early on) I know most posts about this book focus on Seraphina dealing with her half-breed status, and indeed it’s all done in a very subtle and engaging way, (/mild spoilers) but for me the best part of the book was the dragons vs. humans dynamic. It often brought to mind Star Trek and the relationships between the rational and logical Vulcans (and even droids like Data) and the more flawed (is that the word?) Humans. There’s tension, but also a mutual fascination and need to understand and be understood that can be applied about many inter-human conflicts around the world today. Fascinating stuff!
A short note on the romance bit just to say it was very satisfying without overpowering the book or creating the ANGST that’s ruined so many YAs for me.
One of the best of 2012 and I gladly add my voice to the rest of the enthusiastic choir.
Other thoughts: things mean a lot, Stella Matutina, Magnificent Octopus, The Book Smugglers, Steph Su Reads, Wear the Old Coat, Charlotte’s Library, intoyourlungs, Books Without Any Pictures, The Readventurer, Anna Reads, The Book Swarm, Good Books & Good Wine, Book Sake, Beyond Books, Iris on Books (yours?)
When I first read The Priory‘s blurb I immediately complete the whole story in my mind.
The plot I was given: in 1939 England a family of four faded aristocrats live independent lives in the same country mansion. The money is disappearing fast through a mix of pride, incompetence and irresponsibility, while their heads remain firmly in the sand. Cue the innocent woman on the verge of spinsterhood that agrees to marry the widow father. She’s in love, he’s hoping for help getting his finances and house in order.
What I imagined: fairy-tale story of how the bride arrives and over time brings together the family, magically fixes the financial situation with her bare wits and restores the house to its former glory.
This was my first Dorothy Whipple so I don’t know if it’s always her style, but I was hit in the head with her realism. No fairy-tales here. Even though the ending comes wrapped with a nice bow, it’s still at heart a very authentic story about families – families forming, breaking up and reshaping.
Maybe it’s because I’m a mother-to-be, but the way children change everything in these people’s lives really stood out. Anthea (the bride), turns from needy girl-wife into the determined mistress of a household and Christine (one of daughters of the house), goes from sheltered teen who lived all her life in a mansion’s nursery to a low middle-class worker in the gloomy side of London.
This also ties to another strong topic in The Priory: a generation of untrained, poorly educated women, unfit for anything other than marriage and motherhood, but that are suddenly faced with the changing post-War society.
Please don’t get the idea that it’s a heavy book, full of difficult topics. It was actually a very quick read and it felt surprisingly light, probably because of Whipple’s most excellent writing and even more excellent characterization:
“It was a great pity, she thought, that all the violence of life should fall on the young, before they have acquired any resistance to it.”
“Victoria was one of the hardy people who like rudeness to be met by rudeness. Then rudeness becomes a sport in which the players belabour each other to their mutual satisfaction.”
“Since he was very economical in everything that did not directly affect his own comfort, the household had to wait for light until he wanted light himself.”
I love being surprised by characters, to start with a strong first impression and then see them develop, gain layers and make me re-adjust my (often snappy) judgment. A lesson for real life as well?
The Priory was my first Dorothy Whipple, but not my last. Any recommendations on where to go next?
I’ve been increasingly enjoying each book in the series, except for #7, which went to my “I quit” list when I was already half-way through: too many train schedules, too little Harriet. So it was with fingers crossed that I picked up Have His Carcase.
I actually think this book is a milestone for Sayers’ writing. I guess that by making it a Harriet-centered book, she put as much energy (or more) in the character/relationship development as in the crime-solving part.
Every interaction between Harriet and Peter is exquisite and full of subtext. I’ve come to realize I’m a huge fan of subtext and really admire authors to use it well – thank you Dorothy Dunnett!
In the end I kept reading mostly for the sake of those sips of dialogue and interaction, which made me even more impatience to reach the renowned Gaudy Night.
One thing I appreciated in Have His Carcase is the fact that, although there’s angst, it doesn’t feel out of character, it’s not just there to force drama (looking at you Veronica Roth!) and it doesn’t make me resent one of the parties for lack of honest or fairness. Harriet is great in this respect because while her past justifies her reticence, her personality validates her progressive understanding and acceptance of her feelings.
It’s maybe strange for a crime novel, especially one from the Golden Age, but the actually detective-ing parts became very secondary. The plot even felt a bit convulsed and the resolution forced. Also, Sayers has my admiration from creating a complex code that works, but reading the pages-long detail on how to decode it was beyond me.
I’m sure that if I looked hard enough I’d discover some wholes in the plot, but I was too busy reading things like this:
“Peter! Were you looking for a horse-shoe?”
“No; I was expecting the horse, but the shoe is a piece of pure, gorgeous luck.”
“And observation. I found it.”
“You did. And I could kiss you for it. You need not shrink and tremble. I am not going to do it. When I kiss you, it will be an important event — one of those things which stand out among their surroundings like the first time you tasted li-chee. It will not be an unimportant sideshow attached to a detective investigation.”
“I think you are a little intoxicated by the excitement of the discovery,’ said Harriet, coldly. ‘You say you came here looking for a horse?”