Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants is about Jacob, an elderly man in a nursing home, who begins to have memories of his days working for a traveling circus. Corrupt people, forbidden love, circus workers being thrown from the train, murder, you name it - it's there.  The story is wrapped up in the twistedness of circus life and how people put up with unethical behaviors because of the roll that the depression and prohibition played in that era.

This book bounces back in forth in Jacobs life.  His memories of working for the circus was just as real to the reader as it was to Jacob.  Just as I was engrossed in Jacob's circus days the next chapter was back in the nursing home with Jacob is in his 90's and a walker by his side.  This left me feeling confused and lost.  Normally, I would be irritated when an author writes like this however, in this book, it added to the story.  I think the confusion was purposeful as it allows the reader to understand Jacob's confusion due to age.

I must warn you there are a few adult scenes so 18 and older (or married - whatever age is older) please!  Over all there is so much to love about this book.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The UN-Alcott version of the March Family

I have stumbled upon a most delicious book. It is the novel "March" by Geraldine Brooks. This is the flip side of the book "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott. In "March", Brooks gives us the tale of the absent father during the years he was off serving as Chaplain during the civil war. Through his memories and correspondences there are many references to his beloved Marmee and those girls we know from the classic: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. But make no mistake, this is not Little Women revisited. This is clearly Mr. March's tale.

It is as if we get "The Rest of the Story" as Paul Harvey would say.

We are given much of the backstory of that family that somehow give new insight and depth...even if none of this is what Alcott herself would have intended. (Such as the scene where Meg was conceived in the woods before the actual wedding).

Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel in 2006 and I for one can say she totally earned that. It is a rich story that holds my interest with characters that have depth and credibility. I'm about half way through the book right now and loving every page of it...

Some of the war scenes are gritty and the depiction of the treatment of slaves breaks my heart. Yet the story unfolds in such a way as to make this man AND the family that he repeatedly references completely come to life.

The story moves back and forth in time as the protagonist (based on the life and letters of Bronson Alcott...Louisa May's real life father) wrestles with his idealism and the grim realities of slavery and war.

We watch him meet, fall in love with, and court they young Marmee. We see him through periods of prosperity and then later tremendous struggle and poverty. We learn of his double nature - sending cheery letters home to comfort his family during his long absence despite his struggle with horrific events. In an aside to himself in the opening chapter he notes that while he promised to write to his wife every day, "I never promised I would write the truth."

It's a complex, rich story that makes my heart go out to both the March family AND the Alcott family. In reading some of the reviews others have posted on this book I learned that RECESS for elementary school children really was first suggested by Bronson Alcott. Ya gotta love the man for that if nothing else, right?

A definite thumbs up!