Tag Archives: OrangePrize

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

HarperCollins, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my library.  Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for fiction.

A beautiful retelling of the events leading up to the The Iliad and the first ten years of the Trojan War, told from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles’ close companion.  This is a tale of love and of the atrocities of war, just as relevant today as in Homer’s time.

Madeline Miller’s first novel has me wanting to reread both The Iliad and The Odyssey.  Maybe I’ll make that a reading goal for this coming fall and winter.  Another book I loved that is written from the point of view of a secondary classical character is Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin.

     Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions.  “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

“But what if he is your friend?” Achilles had asked him, feet kicked up on the wall of the rose-quartz cave.  “Or your brother?  Should you treat him the same as a stranger?”

“You ask a question that philosophers argue over,” Chiron had said.  “He is worth more to you, perhaps.  But the stranger is someone else’s friend and brother.  So which life is more important?”

We had been silent.  We were fourteen, and these things were too hard for us.  Now that we are twenty-seven, they still feel too hard.  From pages 298/299.

A fine novel that will be one of my top ten books for 2012.

10 Comments

Filed under Classic, Historical Fiction, LiteraryFiction, Mythology, OrangePrize, Thoughts

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman

Picador, New York, 2008

From my TBR stack.  On the short list for the 2009 Orange Prize.

It is difficult taking a piece of history and turning it to fiction.  Helen Feldman has done that by taking a racial motivated  event from 1930’s America and using it to create a powerful historical novel.

In 1931 nine black teens ranging in age from 12 to 19,  jump a train traveling from Tennessee to Alabama, end up in a brawl with some white men and are accused of raping two white women.  The arrests and subsequent trials of the Scottsboro Boys drew national attention.

Scottsboro is told in two voices.  One, Alice Whittier, a reporter from New York City sent to cover the initial trial, is a whip-smart, well-educated white women from New York City with a trust fund. Distanced from her family and involved in a sexual relationship with her boss she is thrilled to be offered the story.  The other, Ruby Bates, is one of the accusers, manipulated by her “friend” Victoria Price and considered “poor white trash” by members of her own community.

The case is a magnet for the national media and for the Communist Party who hope to recruit more members from the south.  The C.P. sends lawyers from International Labor Defense to stand as defense attorneys for the accused.

Knowing some of the history of this case, including the fact that the crimes did not occur, does not detract from Scottsboro.  Feldman includes many of the  actual participants in her novel, using quotes from articles, reports and interviews as epigraphs for each chapter.  She gives voice to the politicians, reporters,  lawyers and defendants.

Ruby and Alice are central to Scottsboro but historical elements of the 30’s America add strength to the novel.  The descriptions of Jim Crow lynchings,  prison environments , the rampant racism, anti-Semitism and sexism pervasive throughout the country and the political maneuvering by the courts, the government and the Communist party are woven throughout and, for me, add to the sense of historical truth.

Feldman also includes other pieces of 1930’s American  history.  The depression, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, Hooverville and The Bonus Army all have a place here.  Alice tells the story from the future, reflecting on all that has happened to the country, to the 9 defendants, to Ruby and in her own life since that fateful train ride from Chattanooga.

I enjoyed this novel and would like to read more about Scottsboro, including  Remembering Scottsboro by James A. Miller and Stories of Scottsboro by James E. Goodman.

3 Comments

Filed under Historical Fiction, OrangePrize, Review, TBR Double Dare

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Riverhead Books, New York, 2011

From my TBR pile.  This novel was long-listed for the 2006 Orange Prize.

A novel of World War 11 written so that it takes the reader back in time from 1947 to 1941.   Waters gives us the stories of five characters living through that war in London.  The characters connect and intertwine with each other in many ways, some of which are unknown to each of them.

The four women and one man struggle with personal choices, family pressure and society.  Three of the women are entangled in a love-affair, one is helped through a life-changing event by sheer accident and the young man, imprisoned for a crime the reader can only guess at, is connected by blood and history to the others.

Sarah Waters’ writing brings the thoughts and emotions of her characters to life.   Dialogue tells the stories, descriptive language creates the atmosphere.  Sometimes not muchseems to be happening but inner dialogue builds up personal histories, some  filled with happiness, some with regret and a  sense of longing.  Longing for the past, for different choices and always there is the war.

     He lost his footing, then righted himself and went on without speaking.  Partridge was coughing because of the dust.  Mickey was rubbing grit from her eyes.  The chaos was extraordinary.  Every time Kay put down her feet, things cracked beneath them, or wrapped themselves around her ankles: broken window-glass mixed up with broken mirrors, crockery, chairs and tables, curtains, carpets,  feathers from a cushion or a bed, great splinters of wood. The wood surprised Kay, even now: in the days before the war she’d imagined houses were made more or less solidly, of stone – like the last Little Pig’s, in the fairy tale.  What amazed her, too, was the smallness of the piles of dirt and rubble to which even large buildings were reduced.  This house had three intact floors to it, and hour before;  the heaps of debris its front had were no more than six or seven feet high.  She supposed that houses, after all – like the lives that were lived in them – were mostly made of space.  It was the spaces, in fact, that counted, rather than the bricks.  From page 172.

These characters live in a time when their choices, how they live their lives, who they love, put them in danger.  Waters’ sensitivity and attention to detail brings the fullness of their  lives to the reader without being overly dramatic.  This is a brave and beautiful book.

16 Comments

Filed under Historical Fiction, OrangePrize, Review

Sunday Salon..Orange January

How did this happen?  It is December, the year has flown by and it is almost time for Orange January! This event invites you to read books that have been nominated for, or that have won, the Orange Prize for fiction.Organized by Jill at The Magic Lasso, all the information you need is here, including book lists and prize information.  Why not join in?

I am slowly getting over that nasty cold and plan on spending some time this Sunday writing a short review,  visiting blogs and finishing River of Smoke.  What about you?  What are you up to today?

Join Sunday Salon, share your thoughts on reading and your favorite books.   The Facebook group is here.

18 Comments

Filed under Events, OrangePrize, Sunday Salon

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

Penguin Books, New York, 2011

From my TBR pile.  This book was short-listed for the 2010 Orange Prize.  I read it for Orange July, an event organized by The Magic Lasso.

George Harwood and his French bride Sabine  arrive on Trinidad in 1956.  George hopes to succeed at his job and falls in love with the island, Sabine hates the heat and hopes to return to England.  The novel covers their initial passion, the birth of their children, Sebastian and Pascale, and their growing disconnection during 50 years of their marriage.

Out on the Gulf of Paria, a cruise ship was under sail, exiting the harbour, a huge white swan paddling off.  He cringed.  Truth was he preferred Trinidad – always had.  He preferred these wild emerald hills, the brash forest, the riotous and unpredictable landscape of Trinidad to the prim lazy pastures of his own country, England.  He wanted this bold land.  Not the mute grey drizzle of Harrow on the Hill.  He liked the extroverted people, not the prudish and obedient couples his parents mixed with.  He felt alive here; unlike Sabine.  But now he should say something, do something, finally.  Please his wife, for once.  Go and see Bobby Camacho on his way home, take him on.  Show Bobby the photos of Talbot’s face; let him know the story would appear in the morning’s papers.  He should go and give the bastard a fight. From page 51.

I wanted to love this book  but by the middle of it I was struggling.  It may be the structure, the fact that it starts in present day and jumps back to 1956, then moves forward in time to end in 1970.  Parts of this worked but at times it felt slap-dashed, like the novel wasn’t sure of itself.  Maybe that sense of disorder was intentional, show the disorder of the times on an island that struggled after independence from the crown.  Or it could be that I was tired of Sabine.   The longer she stays on the island the nastier she gets, and she whines.  Maybe it’s all the rum and the valium.  George is not exactly likable either.

Roffey’s language is lush and rich, painting the island and its surrounding with color,  scent and sound.   She  gives the island a voice strong enough that her characters know its power.  She brings the issues of class and race to her pages in ways that are clear and honest.

One afternoon, I cycled round the savannah, marveling at the trees.  The yellow pouis were just coming into bloom, the dry season arriving.  On my bike in shorts and plimsolls, with the sun beating down, I soon found myself down in Fredrick Street and then weaving into Charlotte Street, before cycling abreast of the open-air market.

There were people everywhere, hawking their wares on the streets: sugar cane and green bananas, fish and mountains of yams and sweet potatoes.  The market resembled a mass of bees swarming, the air thick with the smell of forest honey and coconut oil and human sweat.  The sun shone and polished the black bodies.  At last – I’d been so cut off in that tiny flat.  I knew I was missing out, missing this: the thrum of the population, out here, in the street.  I sailed by, a white ghost in their midst.  My heart beat hard in my chest; many of the traders looked up and stared, silent and curious.  Instinctively, I knew it would be wrong to stop, let alone roam the market without a guide.  My face flushed with the embarrassment of not knowing the rules.  I smiled and broke into perspiration.  From page 219.

Roffey portrays the political and social struggles of the people of Trinidad from their  independence in 1962 through the birth and growth of  the People’s National Movement.  She introduces real people and has Sabine write letters to Eric Williams, one of the founders of the PNM.  This novel is a depiction of  the modern history of Trinidad viewed through the eyes of a white woman who would rather not be there.  In the end the story didn’t hold together for me.  What I would like is to read fiction about Trinidad and Tabago written by an author of color.  If you have thoughts on this or know of any book titles please leave a comment.

Other reviews:

A Striped Armchair

Book Gazing

Nomad Reader

Shelf Love

11 Comments

Filed under Historical Fiction, LiteraryFiction, OrangePrize, Review

The Inheritance of Loss By Kiran Desai

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Grove Press, New York, 2006

From my own TBR pile. This novel won the 2006 Man Booker Prize and was shortlisted for the 2007 Orange Prize.  I read this book for Orange July.  Desai begins her novel with a poem by Jorge Luis Borges.  It’s themes wind throughout The Inheritance of Loss.

BOAST OF QUIETNESS
Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigous than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and death, I observe the ambitious
and would like to understand them.
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of the same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rythym of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword,
the willow grove’s visible prayer as evening falls.
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensible, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away
he doesn’t expect to arrive.

JORGE LUIS BORGES

Recently orphaned, Sai arrives at her Grandfather’s isolated house, nestled at the foot of Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the Himalayas.  The cook fusses over, feeds her and cares for her and her Grandfather, an embittered retired Judge.  But Cook is distracted, thinking of his son, Biju, an illegal immigrant finding work in one restaurant after another deep in  New York City.

There are many others involved in this story, all of them portrayed with great humor and compassion.

Sai and cook trudged down the long path that traveled thin and black as a rat snake up and down the hills, and the cook showed her the landmarks of her new home, pointed out the houses and told her who lived where.  There was Uncle Potty, of course, their nearest neighbor, who had bought his land from the judge years ago, a gentleman farmer and a drunk; and his friend Father Booty of the Swiss dairy, who spent each evening drinking with Uncle Potty…Opposite the hen house, so they could get their eggs easily, lived a pair of Afghan princesses whose father had gone to Brighton on holiday and returned to find the British had seated someone else on his throne….

And finally there was Noni (Nonita), who lived with her sister Lola (Lalita) in a rose-covered cottage maned Mon Ami.  When Lola’s husband had died of a heart attack, Noni, the spinster, had moved in with her sister, the widow.  They lived on his pension, but still they needed more money, what with endless repairs being done to the house, the price of everything rising in the bazaar, and the wages of their maid, sweeper, watchman, and gardener.  From page 47.

The novel jumps between continents, between time periods and between peoples’ stories to unveil their personal and political histories.  It rushes, portraying the desires of those who wish to come to the United States and prosper, in a way that is unnerving. It shows that this dream can be a nightmare.   Then The Inheritance of Loss suddenly slows, stepping in to a forest below the Himalayas where you can feel the humid air and hear the rustle of leaves.  It is quite rich and beautifully written,  packed with humor and the excitement and terror that fills our world.  At times it is almost too much and I would have to stop reading, take a break, but I always went back for more.

Desai’s writing has inspired me to find out more about the geography and political history of this area of India.  I normally read with an atlas nearby but The Inheritance of Loss has me digging deeper. I want to read more history, both ancient and modern.   I would also like to read more fiction based in Bengal and Nepal.  Any Suggestions?

Other reviews:

Caribousmom

Musings

Shelf Life

The Book Lady’s Blog

The Magic Lasso

14 Comments

Filed under Booker, India, LiteraryFiction, OrangePrize, Review

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

Random House, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my local library.  This book, the first novel written by 25-year-old Obreht, who was born in Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia and moved to the United States at the age of twelve, won the 2011 Orange Prize.  The reviews have been all over the map, everything from high praise to vitriolic ranting.  I had not been following all the pre-publication hype, all I knew about it was that it included folk tales and folklore and that it took place during and after a war in an unnamed eastern European country.  I put it on hold at the library and then it appeared on the Orange Prize long list.

At the root of this story is the relationship between Natalia, a young doctor traveling to clinic bringing medicine to sick children, and her Grandfather, a famous surgeon.  He has died away from home, ostensibly following Natalia, and her Grandmother is shocked and angry because they had both covered up his illness.

The forty days of the soul begin on the morning after death.  That first night, before its forty days begin, the soul lies still against sweated-on pillows and watches the living fold the hands and close the eyes, choke the room with smoke and silence to keep the new soul from the doors and the windows and the cracks in the floor so that it does not run out of the house like a river.  The living know that, at daybreak, the soul will leave them and make its way to the places of its past – the schools and dormitories of its youth, army barracks and tenements, houses razed to the ground and rebuilt, places that recall love and guilt, difficulties and unbridled happiness, optimism and ecstasy, memories of grace meaningless to anyone else – and sometimes this journey will carry it so far for so long that it will forget to come back…  From Page 7.

Natalia’s Grandmother gives her a task.  Find the few things – the hat, the wallet, the watch – that her grandfather always had with him and that had not been returned home with his body.  During her search for the place where he died, not found on any map, she remembers her life with him, the stories he told her,  their trips to the local zoo to visit the tigers and the worn copy of the book he always carried in his coat pocket.

He read the alphabet book, that staple of childhood learning, the first philosophy we are exposed to – the simplicity of language, the articulation of a letter that sounds exactly how it looks.  Then he read The Jungle Book, a gift from the apothecary himself.  For weeks, my grandfather sat in the long-stemmed grass and poured over the brown volume with its soft pages.  He read about the panther Bagheera, Baloo the bear, the old wolf Akela.  Inside the cover was the picture of a boy, thin and upright, thrusting a stick of flame into the face of an enormous square-headed cat.  From page 105.

And then there are her grandfather’s tales of the Deathless Man and of the Tiger’s Wife:

The tiger did not know that they were bombs.  He did not know anything beyond the hiss and screech of the fighters passing overhead, missiles falling, the sounds of the bears bellowing in another part of the fortress, the sudden silence of the birds.  There was smoke and terrible warmth, a gray sun rising and falling in what seemed like a matter of minutes, and the tiger, frenzied, dry-tongued, ran back and forth across the span of rusted bars, lowing like an ox.  He was alone and hungry, and that hunger, coupled with the thunderous noise of the bombardment, had burned in him a kind of awareness of his own death, an imminent and innate knowledge he could neither dismiss or succumb to.  He did not know what to do with it.  His water had dried up and he rolled and rolled in the stone bed of his trough, in the uneaten bones in the corner of his cage, making the long sad sound that tigers make.  From page 93.

There are multiple threads to this novel, something some readers had problems with.  At times it all seems disconnected, arbitrary, like cut-out thoughts pulled from a hat.  It came together for me as the shards and shrapnel of war, overshadowed by death  and the devastated pieces of lives that have to be collected after a conflict tears a country and its people apart.

He had his hands inside the sleeves of his cassock, and then he said again that it had been very hard for his mother, and I wanted to say I knew, but I didn’t know.  He could have said your paramilitary, but he didn’t.  I kept waiting for him to say it, but he didn’t, and then I let him not say anything, and I didn’t say anything either, and then he told me, “It’s not much further now.”  From page 270.

Using a contemporary,  inter-generational story mixed with touches of magical realism,  Tea Obreht’s novel tells of war as something that overwhelms, dividing people, driven by politics and quickly out of anyone’s control.  Yet people somehow manage to get through it with indomitable spirit, like the Tiger.  I really enjoyed it and look forward to more from this author.

Other Reviews:

Another Cookie Crumbles

S. Krishna’s Books

Savidge Reads

The Mookse and the Gripes

10 Comments

Filed under ContemporaryFiction, OrangePrize, Review