You Believers, by Jane Bradley
After I finished reading this moving story of loss and redemption set in the south, I looked up Jane Bradley online and was fascinated to discover that she was compelled to write this book after she met the people who inspired the characters of Livy (the mom) and Shelby (the seeker). Livy was reeling after the abduction of Peggy Carr, who was abducted in broad daylight from a shopping mall parking lot in Wilmington, North Carolina. Monica Caison, a volunteer seeker, found Carr's body 7 months after she went missing.
Bradley was compelled to write Peggy Carr's story (and that of her mother and seeker), and her novel is a beautiful memorial in honor of all three of those women.
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
Based on a real terrorism crisis in Peru in 1996 and 1997, Bel Canto takes place in an "unidentified South American country." American opera diva Roxane Coss is invited to sing at the birthday party of a Japanese company president, Mr. Hosokawa. As the dignitaries are socializing after dinner, a group of terrorists storm in and take the guests hostage. Over the next few months, the terrorists relax their harsh grip and the hostages become complacent. Some of them actually begin to believe they could live together forever. Some fall in love across nationalities, and one romance takes place between terrorist and hostage.
Bel Canto is Ann Patchett's most famous and highly regarded book. It is a beautifully written novel, but at times I found my attention wandering a bit. All things being equal, I think I enjoyed State of Wonder more.
I'm a huge John Shors fan, having now read four out of the five novels he's published. I feel an affinity for Shors, since he got engaged to his wife while they were teaching in Japan (similar to my situation with Mike).
Ian is an Australian businessman living in New York, and he has recently lost his beloved wife Kate to cancer. Like the author and like me, Kate and Ian met while teaching in Japan and traveled throughout Asia. Several months after Kate's death, Ian reads a letter Kate had written for his birthday, in which she urges him to take their 10-year-old daughter Mattie on a journey back to the countries where they had traveled together. It made me think about my own life and how blessed I am to have an intact, healthy family. Mike and I have always talked about returning to Japan and other Asian countries someday and hope to show our children some of our old haunts, so it felt more than a little bit eerie to read about someone who had died and never got to make the return trip with her child.
My book group--now 1 year old--met in December to discuss Bel Canto, and we had a holiday book exchange. I wrote about my book group and posted photos of our great book exchange, in which not one person had read the book she received!