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One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

My Name Is Asher Lev

Asher Lev is a Ladover Hasid who keeps kosher, prays three times a day and believes in the Ribbono Shel Olom, the Master of the Universe. Asher Lev is an artist who is compulsively driven to render the world he sees and feels even when it leads him to blasphemy. In this stirring and often visionary novel, Chaim Potok traces Asher’s passage between these two identities, the one consecrated to God, the other subject only to the imagination.

Asher Lev grows up in a cloistered Hasidic community in postwar Brooklyn, a world suffused by ritual and revolving around a charismatic Rebbe. But in time his gift threatens to estrange him from that world and the parents he adores. As it follows his struggle, My Name Is Asher Lev becomes a luminous portrait of the artist, by turns heartbreaking and exultant, a modern classic.

This is a difficult review to write as I am sure some people will misinterpret some of what I am trying to say and call me bigoted but I am not, these are just my opinions of this book and writer, so please try to understand what I am truly trying to say or if you don't then please discuss it with me.

Firstly, I thought the actual story of Asher Lev and the Lev family was a very interesting one and was fairly well written.  I thought the description of the characters were very detailed and I could visualise them quite well in my mind.  I did find Asher, the main character, a selfish little brat but I assumed that is what the author was trying to portray him as.  At first I could not understand why his parents let him dictate certain things to them and stop them making their own choices for their family in life (trying not to put spoilers in here) but then again, I am not religious and will never understand why someone would take instructions on their personal family choices from a Rebbe or Preacher.  Somehow, the author managed to make me get their choices to a degree.

I felt the author went into just the right amount of detail over the art and the artistic visions of Asher.  Any more and I would have been bored by it, thinking I was reading a factual art book.  The balance was just right in making me look up some of the pieces that were mentioned in the book without droning on and on about art in general.  His descriptions of Asher's art was spot on and I could see the drawings, particularly, The Crucifixions in my mind.

A good read from a main story point of view.

But, here is the controversial part.  I just thought it was too Jewish.  Yes, I know it was about a Hasidic Jewish person and community but I felt that the author used too many Jewish terms without offering an explanation as to what they actually meant, so alienating any non-Jewish reader, in my opinion.  I also thought the overuse of the term, Goy or Goyim was rather insulting (and indeed, bigoted in itself) and was not acceptable to me.  The way it was used equated to using the N word to describe an African American and which would definitely not have been acceptable either.  My last observation about the story was that the detail about Jewish persecution was not required to the main story.  I cannot seem to find a book by a Jewish author that does not go on and on about Jewish persecution - yes it was and is tragic but persecution happens/happened to non Jewish people throughout the world as well but they seem able to write a book without having to bring it up over and over again.

These are just my opinions of the book, I am sorry if this offends anyone but no offense is intended just my views to be discussed.  3 out of 5 from me but still worth a read and I am sure it will make for an interesting discussion at bookgroup on Thursday!

Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs--yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.

I did not like the writing style of this book at all.  I thought it was too rambling and "fruity" at times that did nothing to improve the reading experience for me.  I struggled to start the book about 3 times until eventually, I took a deep breath and decided just tot go for it no matter what, bad decision.  I ended up wasting about 10 days reading a book that I can truly find nothing enjoyable or fulfilling to say about.  I did not like the characters, even the ones that were supposed to be likable, while cringing at the weakness of some of the characters.

This is a book that could only be enjoyed and fully understood by a hopeless romantic, of which, I am not one.  I don't possess a romantic bone in my body and perhaps that is why I did not enjoy one word of this book.  

At first I assumed I was struggling with the writing because it had been translated from the original Spanish but now I just don't think I liked the style or excessive length of the story.  He could have cut it back a lot and made it somewhat enjoyable even to me!  I only finished it as it had been mentioned by a Colombian friend of mine that very rarely suggests books, so I persevered just so I could talk about it with her.

Clearly, not a book I am going to be recommending to anyone to read but I will be taking my copy to bookgroup just in case anyone is still intrigued after reading this review.  1 out of 5 stars from me.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

 Extras (Uglies, #4)

It's a few years after rebel Tally Youngblood took down the uglies/pretties/specials regime. Without those strict roles and rules, the world is in a complete cultural renaissance. "Tech-heads" flaunt their latest gadgets, "kickers" spread gossip and trends, and "surge monkeys" are hooked on extreme plastic surgery. And it's all monitored on a bazillion different cameras. The world is like a gigantic game of "American Idol." Whoever is getting the most buzz gets the most votes. Popularity rules.

As if being fifteen doesn't suck enough, Aya Fuse's rank of 451,369 is so low, she's a total nobody. An extra. But Aya doesn't care; she just wants to lie low with her drone, Moggle. And maybe kick a good story for herself.

Then Aya meets a clique of girls who pull crazy tricks, yet are deeply secretive of it. Aya wants desperately to kick their story, to show everyone how intensely cool the Sly Girls are. But doing so would propel her out of extra-land and into the world of fame, celebrity...and extreme danger. A world she's not prepared for.

The fourth book in the Uglies "trilogy", and that is not a mistake on my part.  However, I believe it was a mistake on the authors part not just to leave the trilogy as it ended.  

This comes across as a classic example of an author doing that one extra book purely for the extra money.  It was not related to the story of Tally Youngblood and the Uglies/Pretties/Specials although they all made an appearance as part of the story.

It would have been a good story had the author used the main plot idea as a base for a trilogy of books not related to the Uglies trilogy in this manner.  There was too much going on for one book and it could have been extended into three separate stories and by omitting the Tally Youngblood link it would have been quite enjoyable in it's own right.

It did sum up where the current "Facebook" online society is going where everyone has to put every little thing they do online for all their "friends" to see.  Ok I do have a blog and a Facebook account but I don't live my whole life through it or care whether people follow me and like me because of it.  The story did have aspects of 1984  (George Orwell) and even, Blind Faith (Ben Elton).  So nothing that unique although this book gives it a more modern take on it.

You will read and get some enjoyment out of it if you have already read the original trilogy but nothing that will enhance your life.  2 out of 5 for me.

The Elephant Keepers' Children by Peter Hoeg

The Elephant Keepers' Children

Told from the precocious perspective of fourteen-year-old Peter, The Elephant Keepers' Children is about three siblings and how they deal with life alongside their eccentric parents. Peter's father is a vicar, his mother is an artisan, and both are equally and profoundly devout. The family lives on the (fictional) island of Finø, where people of all religious faiths coexist peacefully. Yet, nothing is at it seems. 
   When Peter's parents suddenly go missing, Peter and his siblings fear the worst--has their parents' relentless quest to boost church attendance finally put them in danger? Told with poignancy and humor, The Elephant Keepers' Children is a fascinating exploration of fundamentalism versus spiritual freedom, the vicissitudes of romantic and familial love, and the triumph of the human spirit.

I didn't get the point of this book.  While I kept on reading out of sheer bloody mindedness and with the hope that it would all be explained by the end, the point just never came.  I plowed through so much extra narrative and weirdness looking forward to an explanation of why Peters' parents were missing and what they had been planning.  While a kind of explanation came it was neither interesting nor dramatic enough to make up for the time I lost reading the rest of the book.  

I am left wondering what was the point of all the strange names of the characters.  Was this just a case of literal translation into English that made them sound strange or was the author trying to get some point across!  It's strangeness reminded me in parts of Douglas Coupland, particularly in the way it jumped between stories and characters with the line that "this would be explained later" but the explanation never actually coming.

Don't bother in my opinion.  1 out of 5 for getting this published.