Russian Turkestan source material

This post returns to the subject of some my Central Asia resource reviews from 2014 (Ole Olufsen, Bukhara and Khiva photographic archivesThrough Khiva to Golden Samarkand, and In Russian Turkestan). A desire to redeem the inordinate amount of time I spent chasing down fascinating facts last Friday is partial motivation. But I also hope what I discovered will interest and assist others as well. Continue reading

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True Grit, by Charles Portis

Watching True Grit with my parents just before being quarantined inspired my husband, thirteen-year-old daughter, and me to borrow the book from my sister (this was really a family affair) and read it together. I have to confess that the three of us gave it rather lukewarm reviews. However, as my sister referred to it as one of her favorite books (a far more important recommendation than its literary accolades), I thought I should investigate further before posting a two-and-a-half star review.

As it turns out, listening to the Close Reads podcast discussion of True Grit boosted my regard not only for Charles Portis but a for whole genre of American writing that is little on my radar. The commentators, Tim McIntosh, Angelina Stanford, and David Kern, alerted me to a rich subtext that I was largely unconscious of. Well, to be perfectly accurate, I was fairly certain the content of Rooster’s stories (among other things) carried significance but had difficulty identifying it. Continue reading

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Fairy stories of George MacDonald

The intuitive outcome of my February 2020 reading was a resolution to make George MacDonald a literary staple of future winters. A logical accounting of what makes his fairy stories particularly suitable for the season, however, has proved more elusive.

MacDonald’s fairy tales are by no means escapist. Some, like “The Wise Woman,” are unscrupulously didactic. Nor does it do them justice merely to call them “hopeful,” in contrast to much contemporary literature I have run across of late. Continue reading

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The Shattering of Loneliness: On Christian Remembrance, by Erik Varden

I read this short volume a month or so ago, but Holy Week strikes me as an appropriate time to review it. The title is a trifle misleading, in that Varden (b. 1974), a Benedictine monk from Norway, writes not so much about loneliness as about the whole of the Christian life. Loneliness, nevertheless, provides an apt starting point from which to approach theology; the basis of Christianity is God’s drawing near to us and, thus, drawing believers into fellowship with one another.

Loneliness is also uniquely relevant during these weeks and months in which people all over the world have intentionally, and largely voluntarily, isolated themselves as a precaution against COVID 19. Nevertheless, viewed from another perspective, not since WWII have people around the globe been united in their vulnerability and response to a single crisis.  Continue reading

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Pandemic Reading: Free Literature Online

If you’re like me, all that “down time” you anticipated when quarantine began has quickly filled up with house and yard projects and cooking the sort of meals one doesn’t have time to prepare when running kids around to activities. But in case you–and your kids–are looking for books online, Audible is offering a selection of free audiobooks in multiple languages for elementary kids, tweens, and teens, as well as a limited selection of classics: https://stories.audible.com/discovery. Some of the tween and teen books have adult appeal as well, like Jane Eyre and several titles by C.S. Lewis.

In addition, Revelation Media released an animated “Pilgrim’s Progress” last year that is worth watching. It is available free for streaming until April 30: https://www.revelationmedia.com/watchpilgrims/CTWP1/. I recommend it for upper elementary/middle schoolers and up.

I’m reading Pride and Prejudice with my thirteen-year-old, and all three of us are reading True Grit as a family. Here’s something to contemplate while wrapping my saplings in deer-proof fencing: What do Elizabeth Bennet and Mattie Ross have in common?

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The Lowenskold Ring, by Selma Lagerlof*

Several years ago our family enjoyed the beautifully animated series “Ronja the Robber’s Daughter.” Upon investigating its sources I discovered it was based on a book by the same name written by Astrid Lindgren, Swedish author of Pippi Longstockings. I had read one or two of the Pippi books as a child and found them a bit disorienting. Having read mostly straight fantasy or realistic fiction, I didn’t know how to receive the intrepid Pippi with her impossible personal history. Continue reading

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The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer

A local author introduced to the term Regency romance a few years ago. A genre dedicated to historical novels set during nine years of British history (1811-1820) intrigued me, but not enough to impel me to seek out examples. Until last month, when I ran across a reference to Georgette Heyer (1902-1974), the originator of the genre, respected for her meticulous historical research and accurate depictions of the era. Continue reading

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The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans came to my notice shortly after its publication in 2012, but the emotional complexities resonated a bit too strongly at the time. I returned to the book recently and found it a compelling and thought-provoking story of innocent love, fall from grace, and redemption.

Tom, a lighthouse keeper, embodies aspects of both fallen humanity and a redemptive Christ-figure. The early days of his marriage are painted in idyllic terms–ardent, young love on a picturesque, if isolated, lighthouse island off the coast of Australia.

*Spoiler alert: The remainder of this review reveals plot developments and outcomes.

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Recent Reads

It has been quite some time since I was at leisure to post a thorough book review. But as I recently shared book recommendations with a couple of friends, it seemed worthwhile post these brief observations for a wider audience.

Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

I recently determined to read more contemporary historical fiction, as I am working in the genre myself. I thank Jane Kirkpatrick, a notable historical novelist from Oregon, for recommending Ruta Sepetys’s books.

Salt to the Sea is a multiple-point-of-view novel culminating in the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic Sea in January 1945, the deadliest maritime disaster in history. The POV characters represent Prussia, Germany, Lithuania, and Poland. Sepetys herself is Lithuanian-American.

Although the subject matter is grim, the characters are well drawn and (aside from those who aren’t supposed to be) sympathetic. I found the “shoe poet,” an elderly cobbler with a penchant for philosophizing, particularly appealing. While tragedy is unavoidable, the author doesn’t leave us crushed by it, and magnanimity and nobility of character are, if not precisely rewarded, celebrated. Sepetys’s other work is high on my to-read list. The Fountains of Silence is her most recent.

Jade Dragon Mountain, by Elsa Hart

JADE DRAGON MOUNTAIN (Li Du Novels)

This work of 18th-century historical fiction represents a comfortably familiar detective story–complete with a mysterious murder, a proliferation of suspects, and satisfying execution of justice–in an unfamiliar setting. In a culture that is far removed in time and, for most of her readers, place, Hart succeeds in crafting an array of sympathetic characters. The storyteller-sidekick Hamza is a particular gem. And how could you go wrong with a detective who is a librarian? (Of the Chinese imperial court … exiled and wandering in Tibet … the plot thickens.) Upon completing this initial volume, Brian and I proceeded directly to the second and have now embarked on the third.

Daddy Long-Legs and Dear Enemy, by Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy (Penguin Classics)

My daughter and I just read Dear Enemy and re-read Daddy Long-Legs for our mother-daughter book club. I actually enjoyed the sequel more than Daddy Long-Legs, though preference for one book over the other was pretty well equally divided in our group. Both books are epistolary novels, in which the narrative is delivered in the form of letters. As almost half of my historical novel is composed of letters, I can attest to the challenge of preventing such a work from devolving into a dry recitation of facts and events. But the distinctive voices and witty turns of phrase employed by Webster’s letter writers  prevent any such literary catastrophe.

Daddy Long-Legs was published in 1912, four years after Anne of Green Gables, and our group observed a number of similarities in theme, style, and content. For starters, both Anne and Judy are orphans. In Dear Enemy, Sallie, a college friend of Judy’s, reluctantly accepts the post of superintendent of the orphanage in which Judy grew up. Much of the book’s appeal for me lay in Sallie’s stories of the children’s antics and the institutional reforms she undertook. Also of interest are the differences and trends in public care of minors over the past hundred years. I don’t know how many of Webster’s views were already espoused by policy makers of her time, but some of the ideas generated by Sallie are now standard practice in the foster care system.

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Forty Women and Me: Musings on Loss and The Wonder Years, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields  

In this season in which I and my home are being inundated with belongings, it is loss that I feel most keenly: the house that was my husband’s childhood home and mother-in-law’s abode for 55+ years; family history in the form of heirlooms, papers, books, and embroidered linens; and the woman who has been slowly slipping away from us for the past three years.

Me

In the shuffle of moving, bringing home, and sending away, countless things have been lost, overlooked, or misplaced. Keys, library books, homework, Benjamins, memories (literally), sick chickens, broken mirrors, spilled milk, burnt rice, “the Alaska Letters,” and the book Leslie Leyland Fields gave me to review just before this whirlwind of relocation descended upon us. Continue reading

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