Book Review ~ The Dinner by Herman Koch

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It’s been a while since I read a book from cover to cover. I was familiar with The Dinner by Herman Koch by Herman Koch. I had read reviews and heard chatter about it here and there, so when I received an email from the lovely Kayleigh over at Random House asking me to consider reading/reviewing the novel on my blog I said, “Sure!”

I haven’t read a book like The Dinner before. The story rolls along at a slower pace than I’m familiar with but it was comfortable and fit the vibe of the book. The Dinner is narrated by ‘Paul’, a husband and father, and brother to a candidate for Prime Minister. All of these roles are tested in this book. The book begins, and continues to take place at a formal dinner in a high end restaurant in Amsterdam. Of course there are the informative flashbacks that help to create the narrative for two families and one fateful night, but Koch manages the transitions cleverly and smoothly. Sometimes narraters are neutral parties to other characters in the book but not in this case. Our view of the story and the characters are biased thanks to Paul’s experiences and opinions. His brother is obtuse and egotistcal. His wife is the love of his life and can do no wrong in his eyes. Their son Michel is their only child and they will always stand by him, no matter what. It’s this way of thinking and parenting that makes for a story of loyalty, deviousness and consequence.

The tone is dry, with a slow build. I have seen reviews of The Dinner calling it “dark”, “shocking”, “provacative” and “tremendous”. I think “dark” is a good word to describe The Dinner but “shocking” may be going too far. In a world where the nightly news is full of real darkness and shocking headlines, I was a bit disappointed after hearing all the hype. It was still a good read and I found it interesting to read a book that had been translated to English from it’s native Dutch. I enjoyed the pace of the book and if you’re a fan of conversational as well as strong descriptive writing, then pick up a copy of The Dinner. The moral questions it proposes are interesting and unfortunately relevant in this world we live in, full of school shootings, bullying and questionable consequences in our present day societies. I would advise this title if your book club is looking for something that isn’t violent but still provides the hard to imagine situations you hope you only encounter in the pages of a book.

Thanks to Kayleigh at Random House for asking me to read an review The Dinner by Herma Koch. The paperback edition was released October 28th and back in February The Dinner was named as one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month.

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Sunday Salon ~ Happy Easter 2010!

Happy Easter Sunday Saloners!  All in all this weekend was a busy one.  Today was family day at my in-laws with my parents and Hubby’s sis-in-law and our niece and nephew.  It was a nice afternoon and thanks to my mom-in-law dinner was delicious.  Yesterday Hubby and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary by catching Clash of the Titans at the movies and enjoying a nice dinner at Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill.  Friday night Hubby and I helped one of my dear friends celebrate her birthday at Maggiano’s, which also happened to be the same Maggiano’s location where Hubby and I had our wedding rehearsal dinner. 

The Grapes of Wrath

Well, believe it or not I did find some time to start a new book on my Kindle!  I decided on John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  It’s a part of American literary history really.  I really enjoyed reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates last year and felt a sense of accomplishment when I finished it so I thought another literary challenge would be good for me.  

As I was reading in bed this Easter morning an interesting thought came to me.  I’m reading one of America’s greatest works of fiction on a futuristic/present day controversial reading device, the Kindle.  The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939 and is set during The Great Depression.  I wonder what Steinbeck would think about where books are going today?  I wonder the same of  Henry Ford and what he would think of my Sangria Red Ford Escape.

It’s an amazing world we live in today and it just continues to evolve.  For example, Apple’s iPad was released yesterday to great pomp and circumstance.  They say it will change laptops forever!  I have to admit that I have been seduced by the iPad and daydream about owning one some day but for now my love affair with my Kindle and red Sony Vaio laptop are both going strong and haven’t faded in the year that I’ve had both.  But, I still hope to have an iPad one day.  What are your thoughts on the iPad and Kindle or other e-Readers?  Have you been seduced by technology?

 

 

Book Review ~ Testimony by Anita Shreve

Summary ~ At a New England boarding school, a sex scandal is about to break. Even more shocking than the sexual acts themselves is the fact that they were caught on videotape. A Pandora’s box of revelations, the tape triggers a chorus of voices–those of the men, women, teenagers, and parents involved in the scandal–that details the ways in which lives can be derailed or destroyed in one foolish moment., the needs and fears that drive ordinary men and women into intolerable dilemmas, and the ways in which our best intentions can lead to our worst transgressions.innocentsexplores the dark impulses that sway the lives of seeming

Writing with a pace and intensity surpassing even her own greatest work, Anita Shreve delivers in TESTIMONY a gripping emotional drama with the impact of a thriller. No one more compellingly

Anita Shreve’s Testimony was this months book club read.  I’m torn about what I thought about it.  I was really bored with most of the story but liked the beginning and end.  The book is told from multiple perspectives which got distracting at times.  Some of the characters who told the story from their point of view confused me with their importance and relevance to the story.  Did we really need to know that person’s thoughts to get the gist of the story?  Really? 

The story circles around a stupid night in a dorm room with very drunk teenagers and their crazy sexual escapades.  Being married to someone in law enforcement, the common denominator to most sexual assaults is alcohol.  No surprise then that that is the case in this work of fiction.  Actually that is the problem I had with the book on the whole.  I felt like I was reading an ongoing newspaper story told through multiple articles that drew the story out for too long. 

An interesting point was brought up at our lunch/meeting for Testimony.  “Would you want your teenager to read this book?”  The mutual agreement was yes, it would be an eye opener to teens out there that this type of thing can happen.  Testimony was inspired by the 2006 Duke Lacrosse scandal, proof that fact can be stranger than fiction.  Throughout the discussion I tended to feel out of the loop because I was the only one at the table who had read the book instead of listen to the audiobook.  [Quick question to you book bloggers and readers/listeners out there: Do you think that listening to an audiobook is equivalent to reading the book?]

If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult and other “true life” fiction stories, than Anita Shreve’s Testimony may be the book for you this spring.

{Rating 3 out of 5}

Friday Finds ~ March 12th, 2010

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This was my favorite meme to put together.  I like looking at the book covers and putting them all together.  It makes me want to go to the book store!  Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  While browsing fabulous book blogs,  Amazon.com, Washington Post.com, NPR.org, various other places on the Internet, checking out the book section of Hubby’s Entertainment Weekly Magazine and getting recommendations from friends, these are the books that either made it to my wish list this week or I downloaded the samples on my Kindle from Amazon.com.

   

   

    

Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann
Beside A Burning Sea by John Shors
Bone Worship by Elizabeth Eslami
The House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
Almost Home by Pam Jenoff
Angelology by Danielle Trussoni
The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle
This Book Is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson
The Outcast by Sadie Jones
Life Sentences by Laura Lippman

Book Review ~ The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

From Amazon: Book Description ~ This work was set in Berlin, 1942. When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But, Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than what meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

I decided to read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne after reading Lisa’s review last week over at her blog, Books on the Brain.  I am glad I did.  This book is in the young adult book category.  It had been a long time since I had read a YA fiction book and I was reminded of what I thought when I used to read books for my age group growing up.  I thought that I didn’t need to be reminded of different points throughout the book but the way Boyne handled this was very good.  Just certain fictional facts about each character were repeated everytime the subject came up but it wasn’t too distracting.  (Just a personal thing.)

I have read a few historical fiction books set in WWII in the couple of years but none that handled the concentration camps with so much care and subtlety.  Because the story is seen through the eyes of Bruno, a nine year old boy and a naive one at that, the details of what is really happening at his new home in “Out-With” (Auschwitz) are not really brought to the forefront and made clear.  I had a blond moment and was so wrapped up in the story through Bruno’s eyes and I didn’t get that “Out-With” meant Auschwitz for a little bit.  I exclaimed with a big “Oh!” when it hit me.  (I’m not always with it people.  Give me a break.  LOL)  I think that if I had been in high school or even junior high when I read this, I would have been a bit confused.  I didn’t have WWII history until tenth grade I think.  I mean we learned about WWII and when it happened in earlier grades but details like the gas chambers and starvation weren’t in text books till later. 

The story held up and kept my interest throughout and thanks to Lisa’s review I was anxious as I read, especially towards the end, as I waited and wondered what was going to happen to Bruno and especially his friend Schmuel, who lived on the other side of the fence that separated the camp from Bruno’s new home.  The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is an easy read for adults and a good one at that.  I don’t think, like with any book that is set during such an awful time in our world’s history as WWII and the concentration camps, you can say it’s an enjoyable read but it is a clever story that is told well and makes you think.  Sometimes that is just as important as an enjoyable read.  

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5} 

Book Review ~ The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

Summary ~ The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee ~

In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese, with terrible consequences for both of them, and for members of their fragile community who will betray each other in the darkest days of the war.

Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter’s piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the colony’s heady social life. She soon begins an affair, only to discover that her lover’s enigmatic demeanor hides a devastating past.

As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine and converge, a landscape of impossible choices emerges—between love and safety, courage and survival, the present and, above all, the past.

A Novel

Janice Y. K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher was not what I expected.  Not in way of the story but in how I wished to love it from beginning to end.  The first sixty pages or so were slow, unable to grasp my attention for more than a few moments at a time and were full of characters that I couldn’t become emotionally invested in.  Then the arrival of WWII and all that came with it turned the great city of Hong Kong and it’s civilians upside down and with those events a new book emerged to me.  A book full of mystery, deception, love, risk, and horrific descriptions of how brutal war can be. 

The Piano Teacher is the story of a young British woman named Claire, fresh off the boat in Hong Kong and fresh into a world she didn’t know existed.  She is married to Martin, an older Englishman who concerns himself with work at the Waterworks plant and not with the events that soon fill up his wife’s days.  Claire surprises herself by taking up a position with a Chinese family as their young daughter’s piano teacher.  The affiliation with the Chen’s opens a new world to Claire, full of party invitations, a whole new circle of people and an introduction to Will, the man who will sweep her off her feet and change her life forever.  Will has a story to tell but he doesn’t share details easily.  The first part of The Piano Teacher flips between 1952 and Claire’s torrid affair with Will and ten years prior, telling the stories of Will before WWII and the love of his life, Trudy.    

The Piano Teacher is a rich, disturbing and refreshing look at WWII.  It shows the reader the horrors that more than likely occurred on the other side of the world.  Living in Okinawa, I am familiar with the history of the Japanese invasion of this little island.  In The Piano Teacher you read of the Japanese invasion of another small area of the Orient.  If you are a fan of the 1987 film, Empire of the Sun, this may be the book for you.  Empire of the Sun is one of my all time favorite films based on the autobiographical novel by J. G. Ballard which tells the story of a young boy who is separated from his family when Japanese Forces invade Shanghai and he is sent to a work camp where he survives the war. 

If you have the patience to get through the first few chapters of The Piano Teacher, and maybe you will love it right from the start, this book is worth the time investment.  The characters become vivid and the story builds and builds as the war escalates and reaches the corners of the globe. 

{Rating ~ 3.75 out of 5}

Guest Post ~ Author of The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff

Author David Ebershoff’s new novel, The 19th Wife, will be in stores Tuesday, August 5th.  It’s a tale about prophet and leader, Brigham Young’s wife, Ann Eliza Young, who separated herself from their marriage into polygamy and her work against the polygamist lifestyle and bringing it to an end in the United States.  It is also a story of murder and polygamy in present day Utah.  
 
David has taken the time to talk with us here at Planet Books about what initially inspired him to write The 19th Wife and the research he did to help build the story.  Also, he touches on what is keeping him busy right now, writing his next novel as well as what books have his attention this summer.   
 
Photo © Edith High Sanchez
Photo © Edith High Sanchez

I first heard about the so-called 19th Wife seven years ago, when I was working with a scholar of 19th-century women’s history on a book for the Modern Library.  This scholar mentioned Ann Eliza Young to me in passing, saying she had been Brigham Young’s 19th and final wife and had left the Mormon Church in 1875 to crusade against American polygamy.  That was enough to hook me.  Who was this 19th Wife? I wondered.  And what does that even mean – to be a  19th wife?  Those questions stayed with me.  After some time, I started reading about Ann Eliza.  Almost at once I knew I wanted to write about her. She was a bold, outspoken, defiant, somewhat reckless woman raised in a society where none of those qualities were encouraged.  I wanted to understand how she had become who she was.  At the same time, I was curious about her legacy.  Although she played a role in forcing the Mormon Church to officially renounce polygamy in 1890, the story did not end there.  In remote outposts of the American southwest polygamy continued to be practiced with astonishing vigor.  I decided I should interview a few plural wives in order to understand their experiences in plural marriage.  Once I heard these stories, which reminded me in many ways of Ann Eliza’s life, I knew I had to figure out a way to connect the story of the so-called 19th Wife to that of polygamy today.  I spent almost a year reading, interviewing, and thinking, trying to conceive of a novel that could hold the various narratives I wanted to tell.  Then it all came together, and I sat down and got to work.

 A Novel

With The 19th Wife finished, I’ve turned to a new novel, one that cuts back and forth in time and plays with genre.  But I’m not going to say anything else about it, because it’s too early in the process and my vision of  it will inevitably change.

I’m spending my summer reading HG Wells.  He will be my companion as I head out on book tour.  In addition, I’ve read three books recently that are coming out soon that I absolutely love.   The first is White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple.  This is a book for anyone who loves poetry and literary history.  Through the lens of a remarkable friendship, Wineapple unwraps for us the secrets of Dickinson’s artistic life.  If you’ve ever been stunned by the beauty of an Dickinson poem, then you have to read White Heat.  The second book is Stray Dog Winter by David Francis, a Cold War thriller set in Moscow, 1984.  The novel is about a young, gay Australian artist who finds himself ensnared in a murky KGB plot.  I love the book because the hero, or anti-hero, is so unlikely, and because Francis couples exquisite prose with genuine page-turning suspense.   It’s a wonderful book, like a fusion of novels by Alan Furst and Edmund White.  The last book I want to mention is American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.  The novel imagines the life of someone similar to Laura Bush.  It’s not a biography and it isn’t even a political book: it’s a poignant, masterful portrait of a complex, intelligent woman.  Some people have already criticized Sittenfeld for writing the book, falsely claiming it is a hatchet job on the First Lady.  But most of these critics have not read the book (it doesn’t come out until September).  When they do they will see that Sittenfeld writes with profound honesty and compassion.  The book is gentle, generous, and truthful.  Some people wonder whether the novel still has relevance in our society.  American Wife shows the vast potential of the form.  It’s an exceptional book and Sittenfeld, still so young, is one of our greatest writers.  I read American Wife two months ago and a day hasn’t passed since without my thinking of it.

You can visit David Ebershoff at his website http://www.ebershoff.com as well as listen to an interview with the author on NPR HERE.   The 19th Wife will be available August 5th in hardcover at all bookstores and on-line stores.