Saturday, September 1, 2012

What I read in August (2012)

After a disappointing batch of July books, I read some great books in August. I think I need to choose some nonfiction for September...two months of all fiction--not many titles because one of them was 600 pages long. Time to shake things up a little! For full reviews of these books, click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden

The Invisible Bridgeby Julie Orringer

The Invisible Bridge is the story of Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, who is studying in Paris in 1937 on the eve of World War II. He falls in love with a mysterious older woman, Klara, who brings her own set of complications. His older brother, Tibor, wants to study medicine in Italy, and his younger brother, Matyas, loves the stage. Before long, Hungary is at war. As Andras and his friends and family watch in horror, the Nazis are overtaking Europe and spreading their horror. The Invisible Bridge is 600 pages (hardback), crafted in the tradition of great, sprawling Russian novels. Following Andras, his friends, and family from Paris, to Budapest and the small towns of Hungary, and to forced labor camps, The Invisible Bridge is about the great bonds of brotherhood and family, true friendship, love, and endurance. It's also about the healing power of art in the darkest times. This book was instructive and beautiful. I cried out loud in one of the final chapters. I loved reading about the friendship among the three brothers, in particular, and Orringer beautifully describes the way people survive terrible traumas and burdens.

Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo in the Real World is a young adult novel about a young man named Marcelo who has high-functioning Autism (akin to Asperger's). 
After attending a nurturing, private school for kids with special needs through his junior year, his father (Arturo) springs two surprises on him. He wants Marcelo to attend the public high school for his senior year. When Marcelo balks at this suggestion, he offers a deal: he can work at his law firm for the summer ("in the real world") and if he "succeeds" (under Arturo's terms), he can continue at his private school. Marcelo is not happy about this, but he agrees. While working there, he discovers a photo of a girl who was disfigured by a windshield breakage--the windshield is manufactured by the law firm's largest client. Deeply touched by this photo, Marcelo searches for more information with the help of Jasmine. He is faced with a major ethical decision that can have major repercussions throughout his family, Jasmine's situation, and the future of the law firm. Stork illustrates the difficulties that people on the Autism spectrum can have with disrupted routine, a lack of choices, and the lonely feeling that people do not understand him. I highly recommend this book. It's wonderful.

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

It took me awhile to get into this book, probably because of the large cast of characters and style of narrative. I was gradually drawn into the story of Lavinia, an indentured Irish servant, and her adopted family of African-American slaves on a plantation in Virginia. This book, set in the post-colonial era, clearly demonstrates how few options women of that era had. Unfortunately, this book does resort to stereotypes and one-dimensional characters. The slaves are uniformly  good, while the white men are mostly evil (with the exception of two). Lavinia is so completely obtuse and naive that it's unbelievable. She's the classic perfect white girl heroine in this story, who tries to save everyone in the end (white savior complex, very much like The Help). At times she had more guts and gusto, but most of the time she didn't have much energy or independence. The book read almost like a soap opera The ending was predictable and although there was a bit of redemption at the end, the book was mostly a tragedy...and I felt relieved when I was done with it. The most redeeming aspect of the book was the close relationships Lavinia developed with the slaves who worked in the Kitchen House and the Big House. They became family across the color lines, and they retained those bonds and loyalty at the end. Overall, this was a good book, especially for a first novel, but it had its flaws. 

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