Dory L.'s blog

The Orphan Master's Son

ISBN: 
0812992792

Every so often a novel comes along that takes your breath away. The Orphan Master's Son remained unopened on my nightstand for a couple of weeks. But as soon as I dove into this literary thriller that also includes a love story I was hooked. It's set in North Korea, and amazingly, it's written by an American.

Pak Jun Do grew up in an orphanage, yet he was no true orphan (as he repeats many times in these pages) since his father raised him, or more accurately, Jun raised himself near his father. Years earlier, his mother, a singer, had been whisked off to Pyongyang, the capital, where all the beautiful women of the provinces were sent, so he never got to know her. Jun Do's job was renaming each orphan upon his arrival--he named each boy after the 114 North Korean martyrs. Jun Do also assigned jobs, taking the worst for himself. But since even children in North Korea work Read more »

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

ISBN: 
9780802120106

If you think for a moment that you had a hard childhood, read this memoir. Mrs. Winterson, as Jeanette calls her adopted mother throughout this account, was incredibly tough, and often cruel. Routinely, she locked her young child out all night, so that Jeanette sat frozen huddled on the front stoop until her dad came home from his overnight shift. Other punishments included being locked in the coal bin and forbidden food. Repeatedly, Mrs. W. told Jeanette that the devil sent her to the wrong crib when she chose Jeanette for adoption. Even food was a scarce commodity in the Winterson home. When Jeannette attended the grammar school for older kids, her mother never applied for the lunch program even though they were poor and ran out of food and gas (to cook it) each Thursday before payday.

Books were not allowed, and when Jeanette became a teenager and found a job, Heaven was a bookshop filled with thousands of books. She brought a few home every week and hid them in the only place her mother would not check--under the mattress.  Alas, one night a copy of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love slipped over the Read more »

Carry the One

ISBN: 
9781451636888

Violence changes everything that happens after. This interesting novel covers family and friends in Chicago after a tragic event occurred at the end of a Wisconsin wedding. In 1983, a carload of friends and siblings leaves a wedding party in the middle of the night. Their car crashes into a ten-year old girl, killing her.  Most of the 20-somethings were high that night from either drugs or alcohol. The driver, Olivia, gets a jail term; the rest suffer through a lifetime of guilt.

In Carry the One Anshaw presented herself with a hard task: introducing five or six characters and following them over the course of 25 plus years: their relationships, their passions, their fears, their daily occupations. Luckily, she has mastered creating authentic and interesting characters. First there are the three siblings: Carmen, Alice and Nick. It's Carmen's wedding that they are celebrating that fateful day. Carmen is the political one: she runs a Read more »

Helen Keller in Love

ISBN: 
9780670023493

Just after college I worked as a social worker at an agency for the blind in New Orleans. I remember one client particularly well. He was totally blind and deaf--an older fellow who spoke in a modified sign language and by spelling letters lightning-fast into your palm. Pat, who had worked there for years, was his favorite person to communicate with, but when she was gone, he'd come to me. Occasionally, while biking home from work, I'd see him from a distance crossing four lanes of traffic on St. Charles Ave.--usually against the light--his white cane held like a sword before him. He was always too far away for me to help, but my stomach would clench, and I'd hope that he'd make it across safely another time.

Reading Helen Keller in Love gave me a fresh awareness of what blind people endure especially the deaf and blind. When I was young, The Miracle Worker played in movie theaters (with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft) and this movie painted Helen in saint-like tones. How refreshing and humanizing is this biographical novel. In her first novel, Rose Read more »

Against Wind & Tide: Letters and Journals

ISBN: 
9780307378880

These days not many people are familiar with the work of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. During her life (she died in 2001) she was most famous for her relationship with her husband, pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly between New York and Paris, to cross the Atlantic solo. There was also much publicity and notoriety about her firstborn's kidnapping and murder in 1932.  

Against Wind & Tide begins with Anne roiling with the news that she is pregnant for the seventh time. She's in her forties and her whole spirit rebels against another pregnancy. Yet, unless she has a physical reason for an abortion, she does not feel that can be an option. Much of the book is about motherhood. Charles once asked Anne what she believed the most important relationship in life to be--he said between husband and wife--but Anne said the relationship between mother and child was paramount.  However, even as a rich woman who could afford a housekeeper and a cook, she often felt divided between parenting demands and her own writing. Yet what a wonderful mother her letters show her to be. She relates to each child differently, extremely aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and always encouraging each to be his or her best.

Anne was an amazingly gifted writer and though she wrote extended book-length essays and fiction, she excelled at detailing the personal struggles and explorations of an individual. She did that throughout the 20th century.  Anne's writing is deeply contemplative. She does not skim the surface of life but burrows into it both seeking and answering some of the hard questions. Read more »

Escape from Camp 14

ISBN: 
9780670023325

This terrifying book is based on the diary of Shin Dong-Hyuk, who was born in a brutal labor camp in North Korea. In Escape from Camp 14 journalist and writer Blaine Harden tells this young man's story--the only person born in a labor camp to ever escape from one.

The writing in this book is mesmerizing, but warning: this is not a book you will want to read while enjoying a cool glass of lemonade or munching an apple. It's horrifying on so many levels. The first being that camps such as these still exist where people are forced to do slave labor even as children, where torture is routine, and where almost everyone including the guards are starving.  These camps have existed far longer than Soviet gulags but they are less well-known. Read more »

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

ISBN: 
9780307378408

If you've been following the lovely No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency mysteries set in Botswana, you'll be familiar with the detective guidebook that Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi have used for years as their guidebook.  Whenever they are flummoxed in an investigation or when a particularly conniving criminal seems to be getting away with breaking the law and harming innocent people, they have always searched The Principles of Private Detection for advice on how to crack a trying case. 

And now in the latest of the series, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, guess who has just arrived in town? None other than Clovis Andersen himself, the esteemed American author of this detective manual.  When Mma Ramotswe, the head of the No. 1 Detective Agency, asks her husband garage mechanic, J.L.B. Matekoni, to guess what famous person has come to town, he immediately (to Mma's great disappointment) guesses Clorox Andersen.  Despite the misnaming, how did he know?

Clovis, recently widowed, has been invited to Africa by a librarian who probably has a romantic interest in him. And when he drops by the detective agency both women sleuths are quite star struck. Read more »

A Deeper Sleep

ISBN: 
9780312343224

Recently, I had to do some long-distance driving so I did something I rarely do, listen to a book.  I chose A Deeper Sleep, a mystery by Dana Stabenow.  I wanted something both absorbing and light while I was negotiating the long interstates of Illinois.

This book was spot-on. It's set in and around Denali National Park. If you like your sleuths both tough and appealing, Kate Shugak is the detective for you. She's part Aleut, has lived on the outskirts of the great national park all her life and has a good deal of street (or should I say trail cred) with the natives, most of whom are her relatives.

Near the small community of Niniltna, an evil guy, Louis Deem, has killed his wife and attacked several girlfriends--one way to get rid of your exes. Kate and Trooper Jim Chopin work together to locate the evidence that will seal his fate. But though they manage to arrest him several times--he's a sly, cagey murderer, and a jury (swayed by an excellent Anchorage defensive attorney) releases him. Read more »

Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood

ISBN: 
9780393078282

Making Babies is a delightful book about mothering--not all flowers and grace--but a truthful and somewhat sardonic account about the joys and frustrations of new parenthood. Irish novelist Enright and her husband, Martin, a playwright, had been married eighteen years before having a child. In this book, she details the whole process, from the week she decided that they should try to have a child soon (when she was already pregnant) to the period after her second child was born.

Enright describes a photo of herself taking immediately after the birth. She looked "pragmatic and unsurprised," but then later when they moved the baby to their room down the hall, she noticed that, "The child looks at the passing scene with alert pleasure...She is saturated with life, she is intensely alive. Her face is a little triangle and her eyes are shaped like leaves, and she looks out of them, liking the world."

Contrast this with the chapter titled "Milk" where Enright discusses the absurdity of starting a new biological function in her late thirties. She also remarks that there's no quicker way to clear a room than to begin breastfeeding there. It's not the sight of the breast so much, as the loud raucous sounds coming from the infant. Read more »

Girl Land

ISBN: 
9780316065986

In Girl Land, essayist and magazine writer, Caitlin Flanagan writes about the period she considers "the most psychologically intense period" of a girl's life--adolescence. Her focus is on how it feels and what mores and culture govern the lives of young women in the 21st century in the age of Facebook, 24 hour Internet and cell phones, etc.

Her premise is that each generation pushes the envelope for sexual and other freedoms more, and that activities that the last generation might have found shocking often become commonplace. If you're a parent of a female teen, or just want to compare your own youth to what it's like now, you'll enjoy this book. In a chapter on dating, Flanagan covers the interesting history of dating. It didn't become very popular until the roaring 20s and the advent of cars--roadsters--in those days. Sex became easier to do away from homes and watchful parents. Flanagan also postulates that the expectations that the female would apply the brakes to sexual activity also become prominent then.

Other chapters cover diaries, proms, menstruation, and sexual initiation. The one on proms is both scary and revealing. Scary because post-prom events have become occasions with lots of alcohol, drugs, and sex.  Flanagan also describes upper and middle class girls dressing like streetwalkers and some schools hosting Pimps and Hos parties.  She describes young people using these events as "an aggressive assertion of maturity."  They get away with this because the parents have some decades-old image of proms as romantic, flower- and gown-filled events. Read more »

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