Category Archives: Scribner

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

all-the-lightAll the Light We Cannot See 

by Anthony Doerr
ISBN 9781476746586
Scribner, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See is World War II as seen by a German technical genius boy and a French blind girl. Perhaps I should say as “seen, smelled, felt and heard” because the girl’s visual impairment requires Anthony Doerr to tell his story via senses other than sight. As a result, his story is rich in aroma, texture and varied sound vibrations.

Marie-Laure LeBlanc is the blind daughter of the locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. The daughter of a man who helps to protect the treasures of France sees her world through her fingertips and hears the events of the world through radio. Werner Pfennig is the orphaned son of a German coal miner. His deft hand with radio technology means they have radio in common, and their common interest in the medium leads to their inevitable meeting.

Doerr creates sympathetic, and not-so-sympathetic, characters on both sides of the world war. We root for his German soldiers, even as they play out their roles in the renowned atrocities of the time. We seethe about the duplicitous actions of French citizens. (The Americans are a tad too glorified and the British a tad too undermined for my Canadian taste, but that’s just me.)

Doerr’s choice to take us back and forth in time disoriented me at first, but I eventually sorted out his pattern. Still, I would have preferred if he had started the book with a tantalizing glimpse ahead to the important events of 1944, then returned to 1934 and carried straight on through from there without repeated visits to 1944.

I also thought Doerr pulled a Quentin Tarentino with this book: one plot development too many. I can’t say much without giving away the ending, but I will say I thought Doerr took me on one too many visits to a little house. Read the book and see if you agree.

Book Review: A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

house-in-the-sky-9781451645613_lgA House in the Sky

by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
ISBN 978-1-4516-5148-5
Scribner, 2013

This one will stay with me for a while. 

Since I finished reading, my mind returns again and again to memorable scenes, pivotal moments, and mystical insights.

For most of us, international travel is an occasional money-depleting endeavour undertaken between long stretches of home, but for Amanda Lindhout, home was an occasional money-replenishing pastime undertaken between long stretches of international travel. Lindhout backpacked around the world, ticking off countries on an invisible list, comparing and contrasting the reality of them to National Geographic pages she thumbed through as a child. The National Geographic photos were one of the stable factors in an often turbulent childhood.

The book begins with the stories of this childhood, which, if examined deeply enough, might merit a book of their own. Her memories of this time are both not really relevant and entirely relevant to the core of what this memoir is about: a kidnapping Somalia. For readers to understand how Lindhout ends up in Somalia at one of its most dangerous times in history, she needs to tell us the childhood and teenage events that shaped her, and she needs to delineate her evolution from “carefree young backpacker” to “aspiring war correspondent.” And she needs to let us know how Nigel Brennan ended up along with her on such a horrific journey.

This book takes reader on an up-and-down emotional ride: a downer of violence and alcohol abuse, an exciting ascending stretch of international travel to exotic locations, a gut-clenching plateau of apprehension because we know what lies ahead, a long, slow descent into horror, and finally an upward coast to healing, forgiveness and plans for the future.

Lindhout gives an honest account of her missteps and her self-blame and guilt, especially when it comes to the complicated relationship with Nigel. She shares how she used the power of imagination and gratitude to persevere through months of boredom, and physical hardship.

Lindhout and Corbett write a compelling story that, at the end of it all, is a tribute to the power of compassion and spirit. It stays with you for a while.

 

Book Review: My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

cvr9781451698060_9781451698060_lgMy Notorious Life 

by Kate Manning
ISBN 9781451698060
Scribner, 2013

I read this book immediately after I read The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. What a contrast. Strout’s characters were unhappy and unlikable comfortably well-off people. Kate Manning’s characters were positive and likable impoverished people. I struggled through The Burgess Boys. I delighted in every page of My Notorious Life.

Manning’s inspiration for My Notorious Life was a real-life female physician who became known as “The Wickedest Woman in New York.” In Manning’s version, the heroine is Annie (Axie) Muldoon. She is born into 1860s New York City as the child of desperately poor Irish immigrants. When her father dies and her mother is maimed in an accident, Axie, her sister, Dutchie, and her baby brother, Joe, end up on an orphan train as part of the Western Emigration Program.

The trajectory of her life leads her to mistrust men, to confront the “complexities” of women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, and to accumulate wealth and controversy in equal measure. Axie Muldoon becomes Madame DeBeausacq, a woman who compassionately does what she believes is right even when it’s illegal and risky.

This puts her on a collision course with Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. He, too, does what he believes is right even when it’s illegal and risky. 

The result is a story that resonates with the solar plexus. Manning explores family dynamics, love, feminism, reproduction, money, class separation, ethical dilemmas and marriage. Her story is harrowing and fun, heartbreaking and uplifting. 

 

 

 

 

 

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