A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Redd Becker Book Review

Ruth Ozeki covers a lot of ground in A Tale for the Time BeingShe juxtaposits a sixteen year old, troubled Japanese teenager with a Canadian writer’s older perspective. Both characters search for meaning in their live’s. Their thoughts touch on the cord of how similar we are despite distance or age. by Ruth Ozeki

Nao spent most of her childhood in Silicon Valley, before returning to Japan. Back in Japan her father spirals into depressive, leaving Nao on her own to deal with the change. She gains some reprieve in her 104 year old Buddhist great-grandmother. Across the ocean, in a secluded island of British Columbia, Canada, Ruth finds Nao’s diary. The diary inspires the writer who’s career and life lack the spark it once did. 

The book is a little long at four hundred pages. Although the story integrated lots of great information about environment, culture and philosophy into each of the heroine’s journeys, Oseki could cut or integrate some into another book. That said, A Tale for the Time Being is a book to savor. It’s not where the plot is heading that makes this an interesting read, but how it gets there.  An ultimate compliment to the author is that a reread would bring additional insights; learning, seeing, smelling and enjoying the story.

Ruth Ozeki Writes in Two Points-of-View

Chapters alternate between Ruth’s and Nao’s point-of-view (POV). Ruth’s story comes through a step removed in third-person limited, while Ozeki presents a more intimate first-person POV for her Japanese teenager in the guise of the girl’s diary.

Sometimes the change of POV is disconcerting, although most of the time it works well. Lots of great footnotes on Japanese culture at the bottom of pages add another dimension to the story.

If you enjoy A Tale for the Time Being Ruth Ozeki has written many other books you may be interested in.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Published by Viking on March 12th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Pages: 422
Goodreads

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future. 

Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

salt to the sea by Ruth Sepetys

Redd Becker Book Review

The brutality of war from the civilian refugee perspective comes to life in Ruth Sepetys’ historical fiction novel salt to sea, the story of refugees evacuating Germany during WWII.

by Ruth SepetysRussia’s invasion of Germany comes alive through four refugee’s perspectives. While they flee, the atrocities behind their struggles and the secrets they carry haunt them. Joanne struggles to protect her travel companions, while nursing everyone she can. Alfred, a german soldier stationed on a ship, writes letters in his head. His love back home destined not to receives them.  Emilia, a fifteen year old polish girl who lost her family, fights the demons trapped in her mind. And Floria, a German civilian who saved Emilia’s life, distrusts everyone, especially himself, as he runs from the country he once honored.

Written in first person point-of-view, Sepetys’ story focuses on  individual refugee’s perceptions and internal struggles.  Short dialogue sequences capture interactions between them.

It’s clear a lot of research went into Sepetys’ plot, but she manages to create a story that touches the cord of humanity so deeply that the historical components of the story support the characters, rather than the other way around. It would do us well, however, to remember this harrowing piece of history lost in common knowledge.

Ruth Sepetys Writes for Writers

Beyond the integration of history in Sepetys’ story she offers much to learn for any writer. She uses every means she can to develop character. Note the sparse language used to create settings and establish emotions, while still driving the story forward.

Instead of each chapter telling what that person did, Sepetys often choses to develop characters through others’ observations. An example from Emilia’s chapter follows. “The shoe poet woke early, rapping our feet with his walking stick.”

Another example from Joanne’s perspective: “I had woke in the middle of the night and imagined I saw the German standing above me in the dark. When I blinked he was gone and I realized it was a dream.” or was it?

The climax wraps around the converted cruise ship Wilhelmina Gustoff. For pictures and a history of the Cruise Liner Wilhelm Gustloff check out feldgrau.com

salt to the sea by Ruth SepetysSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 393
Goodreads

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

 

 

Sacred River by Debu Majumdar, story of a temple gold heist

Redd Becker Book Review

In Sacred River, A Himalayan Journey, Debu Majumdar introduces us to East Indian characters from all walks of life.  He weaves them Sacred River by Debu Majumdartogether as they journey to the source of the Sacred River, each for their own reasons. The meld of characters on their disparate quests immerses the reader in the complexities of India’s rich and diverse culture.

The question of ‘what happens to the gold that monasteries receive from worshipers’ became the focus of the murderous prologue scene. From there we follow three primary story lines. The poor farmer Jaglish, a light to cherish, begins and ends Majumdar’s story. Persons associated with the SMS society contrast with the farmer’s endearing role. The SMS needs money for philanthropic endeavors. Although work by the SMS helps the poor, its leaders  plan to grow the charity exponentially, thus putting them into a precarious financial position. When they acquire an old manuscript with a mysterious sequence of numbers, they make plans to rob a temple at the source of the Ganges.

Majumdar introduces Shovik in chapter 5. Although Shovik grew up in India, he married and lived with his family in the USA. His midlife crisis drew him back to India. Majumdar intertwines the three story lines, with each character reflecting a different aspect of India.

Backstories peppered throughout enlighten the reader on motives and personal challenges. We travel through a couple childhoods which took me out of the main plot. But ultimately, the story returns to the gold heist.

Debu Majumdar Writes India as a Character

India exists as a character itself in Majumdar’s tale. Rich detail on the intricacies of Indian culture impregnate every page. His descriptions take you there. You walk the streets and meet the people.  Majumdar blends history and religion, while Hindu folk tales add yet another layer.

The cover fooled me. It gave me the impression of a spiritual book, rather than a fiction novel. While the spiritual transformations that the journey to the source of the Ganges prompts is the theme of the story, the gold heist functions as the plot holding everything together. The heist itself is a fun read.

Majumdar Takes Award

Debu Majumdar won the Somerset Award in Literary Adventure for Sacred River, A Himalayan Journey.

Somerset Awards Writing Competition recognizes emerging talent and outstanding works in the genre of  Contemporary/Literary Fiction. The SOMERSET Awards is a division of Chanticleer International Novel Writing Competitions.
Sacred River by Debu Majumdar, story of a temple gold heistSacred River: A Himalayan Journey by Debu Majumdar
Published by Bo-Tree House on October 10th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Goodreads

"Mystery, love and beautiful scenery wrapped into a terrific journey."
- Jim Porell, Pine Plains, NY.
An Indian-American journeys to mystical Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas, searching for peace and renewal. As he travels, a pilgrimage temple near the glacier becomes the target of a gold heist. Pilgrims, thieves, tourists, and events flow toward the temple independently with their individual stories. The life struggles of an illiterate farmer, lofty goals of a charitable organization, desire for fame, romance, and cultural nuance, along with Indian myths and legends, supply colorful threads to the story. Their paths cross and re-cross until the ultimate denouement. As little tributaries flow together to make the magnificent Ganges River, each thread is woven to make a beautiful tapestry with an uplifting conclusion. While, on the surface, all action centers on the treasure heist, underneath, this is a story of a spiritual quest invigorated by Indian mythological and folk tales. The novel is also a travelogue of India; through the events of the journey and planning for the gold heist, the reader comes face to face with the real India. A Himalayan journey that will touch your soul.

Praise for Sacred River

Sacred River is a deceptively readable novel that begins with murder and ends with a temple treasure hunt. The real treasure, however, is the intervening story which unwraps India itself--its deep history, dramatic geography, captivating people and above all its spirituality, both Hindu and Buddhist. The writing is clear, swift and engaging, as if written for young readers, but readers of every age will enjoy and profit from it. Since at least Tagore, modern Indian writers have offered great gifts to the rest of the world. Sacred River is another one.
- Jerry Brady, former newspaper publisher, Peace Corps staff member, and co-founder of one of the world's largest micro-lending organizations, Accion International.
Sacred River graciously introduces us to the old songs and stories about gods and heroes who make sites sacred and pilgrimages fruitful. And as an Indian story of pilgrimage ought to do, Sacred River also teaches its readers that the best fruits of pilgrimage are reserved for those who do not seek them.
- David Curley, Professor Emeritus, Western Washington University.
A brilliant novel, which gives a wonderfully vivid flavour of India with all its idiosyncrasies and contradictions. It transports you there, from Delhi to the foothills of the Himalayas, and there is an intriguing glimpse into Hindu beliefs and gods with insightful snippets of scriptures and stories. The novel also involves an ancient manuscript, a mysterious number sequence, and a plot to steal temple treasures. Fascinating and thought provoking that will bowl you along, wanting to know more.
- Barbara Hall, Nibley Green, Gloucestershire, U.K.
Mystery, love and beautiful scenery wrapped into a terrific journey. This book has elements of both a murder/mystery and historical fiction. What is unexpected is the spiritual journey that the author took with his characters, which might also be a pilgrimage of sorts for the reader. There are some great life lessons shared in the book, intertwined with a love story, deception and intrigue and a wonderful travelogue on the trip to the head of the Ganges River. All of these different angles are woven together in a very enjoyable way. It is worth every minute!
- Jim Porell, IBM Distinguished Engineer, retired, Pine Plains, NY.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Redd Becker Book Review

by Anthony DoerrAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a touching story written in 3rd person omniscient. We follow the lives of two main characters from pre-World War II to various points throughout their lives. A blind French girl growing up during the war and a German orphan boy who has a knack for radios, each ferret their way through harrowing times. 

This is one of the best books I’ve read recently. The intensity of the times drew me in, but the characters are the juice that kept me reading.

Anthony Doerr knows Plot

Doerr weaves plot complexities wonderfully. While two main characters create the warp and weft of the story, which we expect to converge, Doerr develops secondary characters. He explores all of them fully, as a result, they add color, depth and intrigue to the overall storyline. Doerr includes well-researched details that build believability in this wonderful piece of historical fiction. He develops locations, scenery, circumstances and his characters with attention to detail.

Doerr addresses all lose ends by the book’s close, except one. We never learn what happened to the mysteriously sought-after diamond. That said, who cares? It’s a great read.

On a side note, the book felt too long in places, but that is largely a matter of Doerr’s writing style, which I consider ‘Setting’ as described by Nancy Pearl. Not my favorite style, but revered by many.

A Pulitzer Prize for Anthony Doerr

The Guardian wrote an article on the author after the announcement of his Pulitzer Prize win. Enjoy getting to know the author.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Published by Scribner on May 6th 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 530
Goodreads

Winner of the Pulitzer PrizeFrom the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Redd Becker Book Review

The True Confessions of Charlotte DoyleThe True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, a coming-of-age adventure, leads the way with a dynamic heroine. Avi portrays Charlotte as smart, courageous and ‘willing to make things right’ when she makes mistakes. But as Charlotte faces a world more convoluted than her protected girl’s school had been, her moral compass requires fine tuning.

Avi mixes historical details well in this mystery adventure. Written in first person, Charlotte shows us the world of the high seas. Our thirteen year old heroine finds herself caught between captain and crew, when she transverses the Atlantic as the only female on a ship ripe for mutiny. Her naivety as a privileged girl, schooled at Barrington School for Better Girls in 1832, gets her in trouble when she does what they taught prudent. Their advice backfires and Charlotte finds herself an outcaste on a ship of ruffians.

In her desire to fix things, Charlotte joins the ship’s crew. She regains their respect because she’s willing to work hard, but she quickly finds herself accused of murder. The story and mystery of who committed the murder progresses with no shortage of action.

Charlotte Doyle’s story is a fun read, but thematic meanings are never far. The heroine’s innocence, due to gender and class, limits her at first, but she learns quickly and tries to make amends–regardless what it costs her. An unconventional ending leaves readers satisfied that the life lessons she learned will go to good use.

Newberry Book Honor Award for The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle received a Newberry Honor Book Award. Sometimes Newberry Honor books are overly literary, but Avi’s tale depicts a strong heroine in a fun, swashbuckling adventure. This makes it great to read in classrooms. Action keeps young readers engaged, while life messages lurk beneath the surface.

Schmoop provides a wonderfully insightful critique on the book, even if you don’t agree with all of it.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by AviThe True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Published by HarperCollins on August 10th 2004
Genres: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 229
Goodreads

A vicious captain, a mutinous crew and a young girl caught in the middle. Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago. Be warned, however: If strong ideas and action offend you, read no more. Find another companion to share your idle hours. For my part I intend to tell the truth as I lived it.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, family and teenage suicide

Redd Becker Book Review

A teenage suicide story by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng writes the story of a teenage suicide and a family left to figure out what happened, as well as how they influenced the event and how they will live with it.

Ng moves through each member of the family as they confront their personal prejudices and motivations. They each make assumptions and live accordingly. Whether the assumptions are accurate makes no difference. Each character lives truthfully by their own beliefs. The consequences of their actions; however, based on what they assume, determines their life and those around them. As the reader, we see how pieces of a young girl’s life fit together to create a family tragedy.

Emotions of teenage suicide are universal

Ng created a story brimming with the intricacies of family dynamics, while bullying, racism and misunderstandings drive tensions for an Asian American family. Although issues of racism drive many of the characters, the underlying motivations and desires of each character are common to most of us. Ng writes about universal truths that reside in each of us and our families. Insecurity and misunderstandings are not unique to any specific race.

For those interested in writing: Ng writes in a style you may be warned not to use. The book is full of memories and not much dialogue or action scenes, but the fullness of the plot, characters and environments are clear.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, family and teenage suicideEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Books on May 12th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Pages: 292
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

“If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now. . . . Deep, heartfelt.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, drama, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

Redd Becker Book Review

by Jennifer ChiaveriniChiaverini presents many interesting aspects of the civil war era in her novel. Historical fiction provides an avenue for little known viewpoints of a time in refreshing relief. Chiaverini uses the genre to its fullest, while remaining true to plot and character.

Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, is an empathetic heroine who bought her way out of slavery. She worked for several presidential families, authored a book and survived many personal trials. The dressmaker acts as the thread holding this story together, but President Lincoln’s wife, Mary Lincoln, features predominantly in the story. Each character represents a slice of America’s racial history, but neither Elizabeth Keckley or Mrs. Lincoln were stereotypical of their time. It is clear Chiaverini walks a balance in her story telling, to mix details of historical events without burying Keckley’s fascinating story.

Chiaverini Stands Out among Writers

For those interested in writing: Chiaverini is a well established, New York Times best selling author, with over twenty novels published. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker stands as a good example of how much  backstory and rhetoric can be layered onto storyline, while remaining an engaging story.

My Rating four-stars For another perspective check out the New York Times book review of the book.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer ChiaveriniMrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
Published by Dutton on January 15th 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.
In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.
Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives. In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.