Deep in the hills of Idaho, among the potato farms and tiny villages, poverty reigns over large families like the Westovers, who cling to their Mormon faith for the little bit of truth that they can believe in. Dad preaches to his children his beliefs that the government is part of a socialist plot to undermine the Lord’s will and public education is just a manifest of this. So while the older children might have benefitted from having gone to school, the younger ones, Tara being the youngest of those, did not. So the kitchen where Tara mixes herbs with her mother and the junkyard where Tara sorts metals with her father and brothers become Tara’s classrooms. And the random, outdated history or mathematics textbooks that left around the house became her only source of book learning, such as it was. Sadly, her emotional learning was blunted by the abuse at the behest of her brother Shawn, and her ability to survive in her home was made possible only by quelling any feeling or reaction to what was going on around her. When she finally did allow herself to feel, she realized there was just too much rage at her whole family to do anything with it. This was the face of mental illness and this was the face of her family.
This is the true account of the life of Tara Westover – and it’s truly a miracle that all of the children actually survived, especially Tara. The severity of the neglect and abuse at the hand of her father (and her mother) is staggering. It is really not entirely their fault, as they clearly are mentally ill – at least her father is severely so. The most egregiously violent and abusive one, however, is her brother Shawn, who is viciously violent and his parents repeatedly turn a blind eye to his cruelty.
I find that the one I am most angry with by the end of the book, interestingly, is Tara’s mother. She has so many opportunities to come through for Tara. There are moments when it appears she just might finally side with Tara. That she might stand up against Tara’s father, or against Shawn, and say that Tara may be right in accusing Shawn of acting violently toward Tara, or of Dad having mistreated Tara when she was younger, not having given her opportunities or believed her when she was telling the truth (that she was NOT a whore, as she was so often accused of being). Even later, when her mother had more financial success and independence and might have had a chance to break free and it might have appeared she’d stand up for herself. But no, she did not. Such. a disappointment for Tara. No wonder there was such heartbreak and fury.
The fact that Tara has achieved the success that she has is miraculous and I applaud her intellect and courage. I only pray for her that she is able to find the support that will allow her to find kindness toward herself that will allow her to heal from all the hurt.
I thank her for sharing her story with all of us. It has been so powerful. Mental illness rears its ugly head in so many ways. Sadly, the worst is toward children.
In looking for something different to read, I stumbled upon this thriller from the 1980’s, which was so much more substantive and nuanced than I ever imagined.
It begins in 1919, when Will Henry Lee is appointed the Chief of Police in the tiny town of Delano, Georgia. Things are fairly quiet until the first body turns up – that of a young boy, naked, with suspicious marks on him. This case is niggling at him but life goes on and he is forced to move on with the times. As the years pass, the case becomes buried deeper and deeper in layers of race, power, politics, and in simple human nature and the ultimate resolution is a shock to everyone.
This story is so carefully delivered, over time, even over generations, and the reader’s patience is rewarded with an exquisitely intricate plot. There is a horrifying overlay of the deep south’s history of racial bias which, sadly, is quite poignant and relatable today. So too, are the political power plays, the small town alliances, and injustices. Timeless, apparently.
The writing, too, is sharp and clear, with poignant dialogue and a few great scenes. My particular favorite scene is one in which the wife of Billy, Will Henry’s son, buys a shotgun and shows what a woman can do all by herself to protect herself from the nasty Klansmen who are out to get her and her husband. I won’t give it all away, but I’d say that scene alone is worth reading the book for!
This book is a definite page-turner and one that will stay with me for awhile. I’m not sure it’s a “must read” but it’s close!
Miranda Schuyler has just arrived back home to Winthrop Island to hide away from her life just a bit. She just wants some quiet, to try to repair her relationship with her mother and her half-sister – if possible – and to heal, both physically and emotionally. What she doesn’t expect is that on arriving back here, all of her memories and the emotions tied to them would come flooding back as well. And with them, much of her understanding of her world might just be turned upside-down.
Beatriz Williams creates the most wonderful female characters – they are strong, smart, witty, and often rebellious without ever losing their femininity or grace. They are characters who drive the plot, who outwit the demons, and who, while we guess will be victorious in the end, we never know exactly how. There are always clever plot twists and there are sometimes dark details, but there is always a lightness and humor in the telling. And Miranda, with her story, certainly falls in line with this pattern.
Williams also utilizes the shifting of voices and of time to build the story from various vantage points. I love this technique. I find this builds suspense and keeps the motion of the story moving forward, even when we’re essentially hearing backstory. It enriches both the story and the people in it and deepens our understanding of both. Because sometimes it isn’t the “what” that is the mystery of the story but the “why” – and here is a good example of that.
I really enjoyed this book – and am hoping to read all of her books at some point!
Addy Kurc tried desperately to make it home from France to his small Polish town of Radom for Passover, but in March of 1939, as Hitler and his German army was blocking travel through Europe, this was not to be. The Kurc family tried to feign normalcy, going through the familiar seder rituals, but each of the members of this tight-knit family sensed that there was something about to change in their world. Never, could they have imagined the horrors they would be facing, however, as Poland would be complicit in the anihiliation of millions of Jewish people along with Germany. And never would they believe how far they’d travel and how many years it would be until they would be celebrating Passover together again as a Kurc family.
I wasn’t looking for a Holocaust novel, and when I realized that that is what this was, I almost put it aside. But the writing was so compelling I couldn’t. There was something about this story, about these characters, that I had to continue with it. I had to know if Addy was reunited with his family. I had to know if each of his siblings (and there were 5 altogether) survived the war, and if his baby niece actually made it through as well. And how, if it were at all possible, would his parents survive the war, as they were elderly although not frail when the war broke out. The characters were very compelling and each went through such harrowing experiences.
And that was even before I knew that the story was true! Addy was the grandfather of the author!
I know that especially in this very difficult time, when we hear about hate in the news almost every day, with racial tensions, police brutality, shootings, and hate and bias incidents, it is hard to read about the Holocaust. On the other hand, I feel it is crucial in this time not to forget what it can grow to be. We cannot get complacent and think the it can’t get there again.
That’s what they believed in Radom in 1939.
This is science at its most glorious. What these two brilliant, Nobel Prize-winning researchers manage to do between the covers of these non-fiction pages is to bring their crucial medical findings from their laboratory into your home. And what they’ve found is how to keep yourself healthier, longer.
The telomere is a part of the chromosome that is involved in the aging process. In short, the telomere is to the chromosome as the aglet is to the shoelace – it functions to protect the chromosome from wear and tear. As one ages, one’s telomeres become shorter and less effective. When this occurs one becomes more prone to inflammatory conditions, infections, and even death.
So what do we do about this? Fortunately, the doctors provide a great deal of research that shows that if we take care of ourselves, eat healthfully, sleep well, and so on, we can improve the condition of our telomeres. So what is the value of this? Is this not intuitive?
Well, no, it’s not. So many give up and say that genetics predetermine how long they will live and how long they will remain healthy and it doesn’t matter what we do in the meantime. This research shows how and why it actually does matter how we care for ourselves – how mindful we are, how we exercise, how we sleep – it all matters.
And one very striking takeaway: How one approaches stressors has an impact on one’s telomeres. If you feel oppressed by your stressors and maintain a negative attitude, you will have shorter telomeres; however, if you view stressors as “challenges”and keep a can-do attitude instead, your telomeres will be longer and more robust. It will even help you look younger!
This is a fascinating read that is full of science, but made accessible by excellent, clear, vey understandable writing. Highly recommend!!
This is a love story that starts, ironically, when the world feels like it might end – in New York City, on 9/11/01. Lucy and Gabe feel it too – they reach for each other, barely knowing each other, and then it’s over. But years later, when they meet again, the spark is reignited, and this begins a heartbreaker for Lucy that she endures quite in spite of herself.
The voice is what is unique in this story and I think is what engages the reader. It is written from Lucy to Gabe, almost as a letter, which gives it a very intimate feel. On the other hand, because we only hear Lucy’s voice, it can sometimes feel one-dimensional. There is no layering of the plot, but rather a single-mindedness of the narrative becomes almost droning as the novel progresses.
What is more deeply troubling about this novel, however, is that once again, the outwardly independent female character is bound to a male character and jumps to his beck and call each and every time. I felt myself literally growing angry as Lucy again and again fell into this same pattern. While Lucy does not go with Gabe when he needs to travel for his life work – hurrah for her – she then pines for him throughout the rest of the book, answering his calls whenever he deigns to reach out and dropping everything for him when he needs her. (Really? We’ve not moved past that?). And while she notices when her new boyfriend, Darren, makes plans without her input- and gets angry about it – she never stands up to him or says anything about it. Why can’t our female characters be unequivocally strong? I’m tired of this.
I think this book was off to a great start, and had great potential but was just disappointing on multiple levels. Oh, well!
Markus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief, has proven once again to be part writer, part poet, and part craftsman in his newest, breathtaking novel. The story is about 5 brothers who are raising each other, the parents who raised them first, and the complicated history of how these parents came to be. It is a story of love and relationships and loss and not really coping and, well, trying to cope; And while its a bit of an effort to get to know each of the characters at first (as in real life), it’s ultimately well worth the time.
The narrative here is stunning – and must be appreciated for its understated beauty. There is raw emotion and silence and pain and beauty and love and everything in between that is utterly palpable and with a feeling of air between each word so that the reader has time to experience each of these right there beside each character. Each word, each sentence is painstakingly chosen and there is poetry on each page of this prose. By the later chapters, the reader feels the characters are so real that one might just walk in and sit on the couch and watch the bad, 1980’s movies with the boys and tussle with them as they do with each other. And the love of storytelling by the main character, Clay, allows for the actual storyteller, Matthew (the oldest brother) to switch gracefully back and forth between the boys’ adventures and the parents’ earlier experiences so that have the privilege of getting to know all of them.
But be warned – it is a slow start and a bit beyond midway it feels like it is finished when it is not. This book requires patience and calm. But like most things in life, patience is heartily rewarded here. I literally could not speak for awhile after reading the ending of this story, feeling absolutely washed over by its utter warmth and love.
This is a masterpiece of subtlety and a very large poem of the heart.
I hope will allow yourself the privilege of loving it as I did.