Category Archives: TBR

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer

Archipelago Books, New York, 2009

The Twin won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2010.

From my TBR pile.

A spare and beautiful novel, the story of Helmer, the eldest of a set of identical twins.  Henk, his brother, died in a car accident at age nineteen.   Henk’s girlfriend, Riet, had been driving.  In her grief she turns to his family, only to be turned away by their father.  Helmer, who had just entered college, returns to the farm to work.  There he stays for 35 years, resentful, angry, lost, only half a man.

“When the frost flowers were on the windows, we lay in our pajamas under a pile of blankets.  When it was warm, we lay naked under a sheet.  We molded ourselves to each other’s bodies.  Together we rode our bikes to Monnickendam: Henk to the agricultural college, me to high school.  We were separated all day but in the afternoon we would come riding up from different directions and simultaneously lay our forearms on the handlebars to defy wind and rain together.  We celebrated our birthday together, we had friends together and, up to fourteen, we showered together.  Until the Saturday night that father split us up.  “First one, then the other,” he said.  “Now, now,” Mother said later, when we went to her to complain.  “You’re not little boys any more.”  So what? we thought, but we didn’t say it…We belonged together, we were two boys with one body.  From pages 198/199.

After all this time Helmer, taking poor care of his dying father, receives a letter from Riet.  She visits him and asks if her eighteen year old son, named Henk, can come and help with the farm work.  The boy’s presence opens Helmer to all kinds of memories and to the possibility of change.  Bakker’s language and Colmer’s translation give this simple, quiet story a driving force.  To me the themes and characters are mythic in scope but completely rooted in reality.  The reality of daily work and a brilliantly realized sense of place.  This simple book surprised me.  I will read it again.

Other reviews:

Winstonsdad

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Filed under ContemporaryFiction, InTranslation, Review, TBR

The Skull Mantra and Water Touching Stone

I read mysteries for sheer enjoyment and don’t normally write about them because there are some wonderful blogs out there that cover this genre, but I have to make an exception for this two books from my TBR stack.

The Skull Mantra and  Water Touching Stone by Eliot Pattison are great mysteries.  They are also two of the most political books I have read in a long time.

Inspector Shan Tao Yun was a police inspector in Beijing before he crossed the wrong people and got himself thrown in prison.  Not into a prison in China but into a gulag on the high plains of Tibet, a country that China invaded in 1959.  Both of these novels are complex, telling stories that include mystery and mayhem and also telling about the people of Tibet and their struggles under Chinese occupation.

In The Skull Mantra, Shan is pressed into solving a murder by a Chinese bureaucrat.  Some of the local people believe the murder was committed by a demon, the Chinese believe that a Buddhist monk is the killer.  Interwoven throughout this novel are the stories of Buddhists imprisoned by the Chinese, of temples destroyed by the government and of the Tibetan people’s struggle to practice their religion and maintain their traditional culture.

Water Touching Stone finds Shan and an interesting group of Tibetans tracking down the killer of a teacher and several children.  They journey to the northern reaches of the Tibetan plateau and cross the Kunlan Mountains to the Taklamakan Desert.  There they find that several group of people are involved in this mystery.  Disgruntled officials, soldiers, smuggles and nomadic clans all have a part in this story.  I found Pattison’s description of the desert, its history and the people who live there completely intriguing.  Part of the ancient Silk Road, this is an area of the world that I know little about and I want to learn more.

All of this in two fine mystery.  I plan to read the rest of the Inspector Shan series.  Be warned, Pattison puts his feelings about the situation in Tibet into these books and some readers may find the politics out-of-place.  I didn’t and I find the authors explanation for writing these novels honest and direct.  These mysteries only make my support of the Tibetan people and  other people suffering the destruction of their traditions stronger.

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Filed under Mystery, Review, TBR

Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell


Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell

McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, 1998

I own this one.

I learned about this classic Canadian novel that by reading other Canadian novels.

First published in 1947, this is a story about a boy growing up in a small town on the Saskatchewan prairie during the 1930’s.

Brian O’Connal lives on the edge of the prairie with his Mother, Father, Grandmother and younger brother.  He is surrounded by odd characters, his Uncle Sean, Old Ben and Saint Sammy who lives in a piano crate.

When we first meet Brian he is angry over all the attention his sick baby brother is getting. His mother and father ignore him, his Grandmother shoos him out of the house.  Brian’s thoughts and feelings, expressed in internal dialogue,  are so like a four-year old child’s.  This is one of Mitchell’s gifts.  He had an ability to let us into his characters thoughts.

As Brian grows up, sharing the town with his friends and his dog Jappy, we meet many of the people who live around him. He learns about life, faith and human failings from his experiences and the adults he interacts with.  He is always drawn to the Prairie and to a wild boy who lives there.

And all about him was the wind now, a pervasive sighing trough great emptiness, as though the prairie itself was breathing in long gusting breaths, unhampered by the buildings of town, warm and living against his face and in his hair.  From page 13.

But it is not just Brian that we follow in this novel.  We follow other characters, particularly the teachers and principle of the local school.  Mitchell give us this small community with all its strengths and weaknesses.  Small town prejudice and hypocrisy, the class system of  the ” right” and “wrong” side of the tracks, the devastation of the dust bowl years.  All placed in a landscape that holds it all together as if in a golden bowl.

W.O. Michell paints this place with words.  The language is pure and lyrical.  I kept seeing each scene as if I were standing in the middle of  the prairie.  It is magnificent, every color, every sound, every scent.  I can understand why Canadians love this novel, how it has become a classic.  It is a part of that vast and beautiful country.

The following poem by Christina Rossetti inspired the title of this book.  Several boys actually quote a few lines in the text.

Who Has Seen the Wind?

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

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Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, Historical Fiction, Review, TBR

The TBR Dare starts January 1st

Photo from Creative Commons

Okay, I’ve done it.  Starting January 1st, I will read books from my personal TBR pile for at least one month.  As I type this I can feel knots forming in my tummy, what about my beautiful library and my weekly visits there?

Organized by James of Ready When You Are, C.B., you can find information on the dare here and you can sign up here.

I already own the books for several read-alongs I plan on participating in, so they are included in the dare.  Several people have already signed up to read their TBR books through April 1st.  I wonder if they will make it?

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Filed under Challenges, Dares, Events, TBR