Giveaway of The Fictional 100 — Indie and Small Press Author Blog Hop

5 Dec

blog-hop-51I am delighted to be participating in the Indie and Small Press Author Blog Hop, hosted by one of my favorite bloggers, Melissa of The Book Binder’s Daughter, and by Harry Patz, author of The Naive Guys. Melissa shows her dedication to fair-minded reviewing of indie and small press authors, day in and day out, with her consistently informative and thoughtful reviews of a refreshing variety of books. I always look forward to learning what’s been on her reading plate! I learned about Harry’s book through her blog and I was immediately interested in its inventive allusions to the Aeneid in a thoroughly modern coming-of-age story set in the 1990s.

******** Now for the Giveaway! ********

It is my special pleasure to offer 4 copies of my book THE FICTIONAL 100, 1 paperback and 3 e-copies in mobi (kindle) or epub format, as you wish. Here’s a little bit about the book and about me, in case you haven’t visited here before, and then below these, you will find the link to enter the Giveaway.

Synopsis

Some of the most influential and interesting people in the world are fictional. Sherlock Holmes, Huck Finn, Pinocchio, Anna Karenina, Cinderella, and Superman, to name a few, may not have walked the Earth (or flown, in Superman’s case), but they certainly stride into our lives. They influence us personally: as childhood friends, catalysts to our dreams, or even fantasy lovers.  Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, for one, confessed to a lifelong passion for Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Characters can change the world. Witness the impact of Solzhenitsyn’s Ivan Denisovich, in exposing the conditions of the Soviet Gulag, or Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom, in arousing anti-slavery feeling in America. Words such as quixotic, oedipal, and herculean show how fictional characters permeate our language.

Although not of flesh and blood, fictional characters have a life and history of their own.  The Fictional 100 ranks the most influential fictional persons in world literature and legend, ranging from Shakespeare’s Hamlet [1] to Toni Morrison’s Beloved [100]. Each short, lively chapter traces a character’s origins, development, and varied incarnations in literature, art, music, and films.  From the brash Hercules to the troubled Holden Caulfield, from the misguided schemes of Emma Woodhouse to the menacing plots of Medea, from Don Juan to Don Quixote, The Fictional 100 runs the gamut of heroes and villains, young and old, saints and sinners.  It explores their deeper resonances and the diverse reasons for their enduring influence.

“A strongly recommended read and fine addition to any literary studies collection.” ~Midwest Book Review

ISBN: 978-1440154393

496 pages; illustrated

Paperback, ebook

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble

 About the Author

Lucy Pollard-Gott has a PhD in psychology from Princeton University, where she specialized in the psychology of the arts.  She has published her studies in literature, including articles on the structure of fairy tales, the psychology of readers’ interactions with fictional characters, and fractal structure in the poetry of Wallace Stevens.  She shares the latest news and reviews about the Fictional 100 characters, along with other books she’s reading, here at her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.  She especially likes to read what others are writing about books they like, stories that move them, or characters who have changed their lives.

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Please click Entry-Form to win a copy of THE FICTIONAL 100. This Giveaway will be open through December 12th. I will select winners on December 13th and notify the winners by email; winners will have 48 hours to respond.  Thank you for visiting this blog, and I encourage you to follow the link below to visit more stops on the hop!

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Click here to see the other authors and bloggers participating in this blog hop and offering great giveaways!

The Christmas Spirit Read-a-thon 2014 — What did I read?

2 Dec
Hosted by Michelle Miller of The True Book Addict at her lovely Seasons of Reading blog--thanks, Michelle!

Hosted by Michelle Miller of The True Book Addict at her lovely Seasons of Reading blog–thanks, Michelle!

Time to wrap it up! What did I read all week? Some things I had planned and a few things that I didn’t.

  1. Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson. I finished this one, my second Moomin book, and I’m more and more sure that these fanciful tales by Finnish-Swedish artist Jansson are utterly charming and rather profound. In this one, Moomintroll (the sweet son in the family) has unaccountably woken up during his winter hibernation. How he makes his way through winter and finds friends who love snow and wintry pursuits is the premise of this book, but Jansson is too wise a writer to let her characters discover winter without also discovering more about themselves.
  2. The House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker.  I finished this one too, and what a lovely read! It is a historical romance set in post-WWII Norway, and you can find my full review of this book at my other blog, Northern Lights Reading Project. I discovered this book while browsing my local library for one of Laker’s other books, The Venetian Mask, which I am reading for our Lit Collective theme of Venice. I have started The Venetian Mask too, and I’m liking it, but most of all, I am so glad I picked up Laker’s absorbing novel about a widowed war bride in Norway as well!
  3. Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett. I’m just getting started on this one.  I thought I would be focusing on it over the weekend, but I ended up staying in Norway a while longer. For the next leg of the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge (also hosted by Michelle Miller) I plan to hurry back to Victorian London to find out more about Ebeneezer Scrooge’s old business associate–his chain-rattling, ghostly conscience on one famous Christmas Eve. The book promises to reveal whether Jacob later found his own path to reforming his soul–I certainly hope so!  That would be a Christmas-spirited ending I could love.

The 5th Annual Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

21 Nov

christmas spirit reading challenge 2014I’m full of cheer in anticipation of next week’s kickoff of the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge, graciously hosted by Michelle (alias The True Book Addict) at her beautiful blog page The Christmas Spirit. It’s decorated with gorgeous holiday images and even some tunes to play! So, do pay it a visit.

I’m planning to read four books (Mistletoe level):

  1. Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett.
  2. Scandinavian Christmas by Trine Hahnemann.
  3. Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson (who also illustrates).
  4. Old Christmas by Washington Irving, illus. Randolph Caldecott.

The novel about poor old Jacob T. Marley will give me a good reason to write something new about Scrooge and The Christmas Carol here this year.  My reviews for Scandinavian Christmas (a cookbook) and Moominland Midwinter (from Finland: a children’s book that adults love too!) will be over at my other blog, Northern Lights Reading Project. Old Christmas is just pure fun to re-read each year, with its descriptions of Christmas puddings, country dancing, and even a little romance in bloom at Bracebridge Hall, as gently satirized by Washington Irving, with the help of Caldecott’s masterful caricatures.

I’m sure I’ll be watching quite a few Christmas movies all during the challenge, since I already have a good head start with the Hallmark channel’s Christmas movie theme since the beginning of November. My favorite so far, and one that I’d never seen before, is called Fallen Angel (2003) starring Gary Sinise and Joely Richardson.

christmas spirit read-a-thon 2014The Challenge begins with the Christmas Spirit Read-a-thon. Its guidelines are a little different, so be sure to visit the Read-a-thon announcement for details.  Her biggest guideline is to HAVE FUN with it! I will!

Review and Giveaway: “100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go” by Marcia DeSanctis #FranceBT

27 Oct

100 Places banner100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go by Marcia DeSanctis, Traveler’s Tales. Palo Alto, CA: Solas House, Inc., 2014.

As you might imagine, I have a special place in my heart for lists of 100 anything, but a list of 100 places to visit in France easily floats toward the top of my list of lists. When they are recommended by accomplished travel writer Marcia DeSanctis, I know I will have a list, and a book, bristling with post-it notes and dotted with marginal exclamation points!

This is the guide to read before you pick up that other guidebook–the one with hotels and restaurants in tiny type–and to pack in your suitcase for the pure pleasure of it. Each of its hundred succinct chapters is enhanced with a small emblematic photo or drawing, but the real star is DeSanctis’s text: her warmly personal prose unites a keen knowledge of French lore with a wealth of travel experience and anecdote. She is a confident connoisseur, but never a stuffy one; she readily shares with the reader those occasions when she changed her mind about a sight or revised a preconception.

Her introduction sets the stage with her own history of loving France. It may have been a madeleine for Proust, but for DeSanctis, it was that first bite of croissant–even the American version that came as rolled-up dough in a can–that got her curious about France. Exploration of French books and music finally culminated in her first visit to Paris as a young adult, which sparked a sense of belonging and fit a piece into life’s puzzle for her:

Not just me, but every woman belonged in Paris, and to miss out meant missing out on life itself. France was not just my idea; it was a universal one, a rite of passage, the place we were where we could both escape ourselves and find the power and grace to be ourselves. It was one piffling ocean away, and returning there as soon as possible was the best reason I could think of to squirrel away my paycheck… (p. xvii)

She did save her paycheck, and returned again and again, meeting and marrying her husband, sometimes living there, and sometimes just making another pilgrimage to fulfill a particular longing. As she writes, “In France, we find what we are missing. This book contains 100 of those missing things.” The first 25 places are in Paris, and then she breaks out of the city to explore the rest of France. I will mention a few of the highlights for me, my own brief itinerary through the book.

  • Musée Édith Piaf, Paris (chapter 3). DeSanctis writes movingly of Piaf, the tiny woman with the ringing voice and the rolling rs, “an emblem of French identity and genius.” She highlights my favorite Piaf song, “Non, je ne regrette rien.” Somehow when Piaf sings it, in a key tuned to shake the soul, it affirms a human resilience beyond words, beyond the storms that tossed her.

  • The Perfect Lingerie, Paris (chapter 7). I don’t think I’ve read a review or a blurb of this book that didn’t take note of this memorable chapter! It encourages women to do something special for themselves, to visit Paris and shop–not extravagantly, but caringly–for themselves. This is only one of many chapters that are about a type of experience to be sought, with no particular address but many enticing suggestions of where to find it.
  • Church Music and Concerts, including at Sainte-Chapelle, Paris (chapter 8). Hearing the music of heaven at La Sainte-Chapelle combines experience with location in a perfect marriage. The rainbow-lit environment of the stained glass feeds the eyes as the concerts performed there feed the ears, the mind, and the soul. DeSanctis says it so well: “it is the kind of experience and balance we seek when we travel to Paris, the double sweep of lightness and meaning” (p. 24). I like very much how she broadens this choice to include opportunities to hear sacred music at any of a number of churches and abbeys.

I urge the traveler to experience a celebrated religious monument as more than a museum, and when on the street, to seek out the sounds. … the strains of music can unpack our sorrows or free our joys, cause us to examine the extent of our faith if that’s what surfaces, or just transport us through the force of its simple beauty. (p. 25)

  • My Restaurants, Pâtisseries, and Tea Salons, Paris (chapter 9). One can’t imagine travel in France without food being a five-star highlight, even if it is obtained at an unassuming brasserie on a hidden side street or at a little tucked-away tea shop. DeSanctis savors her food experiences and offers luscious descriptions of them throughout the book. In this wise chapter, she urges the woman traveling to keep a food itinerary, noting down for future reference those planned and unplanned stops for food and drink that yielded memorable tastes, sights, smells, and textures. Her idea of a typical diary entry is delightful: “It was here, on the corner of such-and-such, that I lit upon this perfect spot and ordered a café crème and tartes aux cerises and had one of the purest moments in my life” (p. 27). As for myself, I still recall the lobster poached in cream at Chez Albert, and, yes, I wrote about my ecstasy in a little travel journal, thirty-five years ago.
  • Héloïse and Abélard, Paris (chapter 13). I loved this blunt opening: “Paris is for lovers. It is also for their graves.” DeSanctis highlights the three cemeteries of Paris, and their famous inhabitants, but Héloïse and Abélard, re-interred (on orders from Empress Josephine) at Père Lachaise, are her primary focus of contemplation in this chapter.
  • The Shoah memorials at Paris and Drancy (chapter 17). In this important chapter, DeSanctis describes in detail the Wall of Names and other Shoah memorials in today’s France, which aim to confront the full historical record of the French collaboration during World War II and honor the memories of those who were deported and killed in the Holocaust.
  • Highlights of the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay (chapters 19 and 20). DeSanctis writes wonderfully about artworks that appreciate women as their subject or were actually created by women (such as the painters Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Berthe Morisot), and she proposes “12 + 1” highlights of painting, sculpture, and other objets d’art at each of these two legendary palaces of art. Get ready to circle and star these for your next visit, or just look for them online until you can see them in person (the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay have excellent websites to browse).
  • Lake Annecy (chapter 37). DeSanctis titles this chapter “The Turquoise Waters of the Haute-Savoie.” That really says it all. A few years ago, I had the joy of tagging along to a physics conference held at the Priory in Talloires, on the other end of the lake from the city of Annecy. I brought books with me but the impossibly beautiful view was very distracting. The lake was a boaters’ paradise, and every morning hang gliders sailed off the mountain in the background. Here are two of my photos of the place.
  • Vézelay (chapter 73). On that same trip, we rented a car and meandered through Burgundy and Champagne, making a special point to divert our route to Vézelay to see its magnificent basilica atop a hill. When I took the exterior photo, the façade was being cleaned and repaired, hence the scaffolding. Inside, the extraordinary nave with its striped Romanesque arches was flooded with light from the lovely apse, with its fascinating ambulatory chapels honoring Christ, Mary, and various saints.

    As DeSanctis describes so well in her chapter, Vézelay was a focal point in the life of 12th-century Europe. With its reputed relics of Sainte Marie-Madeleine (Magdalen) and its pivotal location, it became a gateway to the west and starting point on one of the four pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Campostela in Galicia. It was also the sight at which Bernard de Clairvaux preached one Easter (1146) to an overflow crowd, spilling out from the church onto the hillside. His words roused many in the assembly, including Louis VII and his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, to take the cross for the Second Crusade, but this fruitless slaughter left an ambivalent taste on the tongues of historians, faced with evaluating this contradictory saint, the “Mellifluous Doctor” who wrote so eloquently about love of God and man.

Oh, I must stop now and leave readers to discover on their own such wonders as the Bayeux Tapestry (“the greatest storyboard ever made,” she calls it), the beaches of Normandy (to “remember the fallen”), Chamonix (which figures as one setting in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), or Aix-en-Provence (as seen through the eyes and bons mots of M. F. K. Fisher).   I will simply conclude with DeSanctis’s own statement of one of her chief aims as a traveler, from her chapter on the glorious cathedral of Amiens:

In travel, I like to seek context–fictional, real or otherwise–for my surroundings. I like to find a memory, even someone else’s, to unearth, as a focus that prevents me from being a mere outsider… (p. 375)

She succeeds admirably in this aim, conjuring for the reader a delectable wealth of associations for each landmark, or landmark experience, she describes. DeSanctis presents a way of traveling through her 100 Places in France that is comforting, enlightening, and refreshing, and I recommend most highly making the reading journey alongside her.

***************************************************

Author Marcia DeSanctis

on Tour

October 27-November 5, 2014

with

100 Places cover

100 Places in France
Every Woman Should Go

[travel essays]

Release date: October 21, 2014
at Travelers’ Tales

380 pages

ISBN: 978-1609520823

***

SYNOPSIS

Told in a series of stylish, original essays, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go is for the serious Francophile, for the woman dreaming of a trip to Paris, and for those who love crisp stories well-told. Like all great travel writing, this volume goes beyond the guidebook and offers insight not only about where to go but why to go there. Combining advice, memoir and meditations on the glories of traveling through France, this book is the must-have in your carry-on when flying to Paris.

Award-winning writer Marcia DeSanctis draws on years of travels and living in France to lead you through vineyards, architectural treasures, fabled gardens and contemplative hikes from Biarritz to Deauville, Antibes to the French Alps. These 100 entries capture art, history, food, fresh air and style and along the way, she tells the stories of fascinating women who changed the country’s destiny. Ride a white horse in the Camargue, find Paris’ hidden museums, try thalassotherapy in St. Malo, and buy raspberries at Nice’s Cour Saleya market. From sexy to literary, spiritual to simply gorgeous, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go is an indispensable companion for the smart and curious traveler to France. [provided by the author]

***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Photo credit: Ron Haviv

Photo credit: Ron Haviv

Marcia DeSanctis is a former television news producer for Barbara Walters, NBC and CBS News.
She has written essays and articles for numerous publications including Vogue, Marie Claire, Town & Country, O the Oprah Magazine, Departures, and The New York Times Magazine.
Her essays have been widely anthologized and she is the recipient of three Lowell Thomas Awards for excellence in travel journalism, as well as a Solas Award for best travel writing.
She holds a degree from Princeton University in Slavic Languages and Literature and a Masters in Foreign Policy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Visit her website. Follow her on Facebook, and Twitter

Buy the book: Amazon, upcoming on Travelers’ Tales.

***

CLICK ON THE BANNER
TO READ OTHER REVIEWS, INTERVIEW, EXCERPT

100 Places banner******

Enter the giveaway here:

Entry-Form

1 US resident
will win a print copy of this book

You will be invited to follow each participant on Twitter;
they are listed in the entry form, as options for additional entries
.

Visit each blogger on the tour:
tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the Tour
will give you 5 extra entries each time!
[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

*Note*: I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

Review: Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales — #Diversiverse

27 Sep
MandelaPbk.indd

Cover illustration by Natalie Hinrichsen.

 

Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales. Foreword by Nelson Mandela. Various authors and illustrators. W. W. Norton, 2002. (also available as an Audiobook)

This review supports the #Diversiverse Challenge (by Aarti Chapati at BookLust) to promote a more diverse universe of reading and reviewing. It is also part of my series on beautiful book illustrations, in story collections for children and adults.

Diversiverse -- amdu200clean

 

When I first discovered this book, about ten years ago, I was very excited, not only because it is a beautiful book inspired by Nelson Mandela’s love of African folktales, but also because it has a new story about Hlakanyana, a character I had written about in The Fictional 100 (chapter 39).  Hlakanyana is a Trickster character who is important in the folktales of the Zulu and Xhosa people of South Africa.  Of the 32 stories collected in Mandela’s book, many of them are from the countries of southern Africa, but Nigeria, Morocco, Gabon, Central African Republic, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Congo are also represented with stories.  The book opens with a map showing the geographical distribution of the tales.

 

Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales, Map by Abdul Amien. (Digital image by Secrets of a Happy Childhood)

Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales, Map by Abdul Amien. (Digital image from Secrets of a Happy Childhood

 

These stories are brief yet still “rich with the gritty essence of Africa” (as Mandela writes in his Foreword).  Many are Trickster tales, irresistible in the ingenious way they both flout and reinforce social customs.  There are human tricksters, like Hlakanyana and Sankhambi, and animal tricksters, like Hare, Jackal, and Spider.  Some animals are not tricksters at all, but have other recurring symbolic roles (the regal Lion and mysterious Snake are examples).

The history of these tales is long and varied.  Every retelling of a folktale is unique–a new story–and Mandela is sensitive to the way these stories have evolved in the minds and words of different storytellers:

Because a story is a story; and you may tell it as your imagination and your being and your environment dictate; and if your story grows wings and becomes the property of others, you may not hold it back. One day it will return to you, enriched by new details and with a new voice.

Many voices are included in this collection (for a total of 19 authors), along with the imaginations of many illustrators (19 artists).  One blogger who reviewed this book (Moni Dani, Secrets of a Happy Childhood) noticed that, while all but one of the illustrators are South African, their styles are generally not traditional and exemplify the diversity of modern trends in African art.  Thus, Mandela’s collection is an exciting pairing, she finds, of authentic, traditionally told tales with a very contemporary type of visual art.  Let’s jump in and look at a few of them!

“The Enchanting Song of the Magical Bird” (recorded over a century ago by Pastor Julius Oelke in Tanganyika–now Tanzania; translated by Darrel Bristow-Bovey) is the book’s first story. It begins, “One day, a strange bird arrived in a small village that nestled among low hills.  From that moment on, nothing was safe.”  The giant bird swooped in and devoured all the crops in the fields and in the granaries. Even the animals–sheep, goats, and chickens–began to disappear. It hid in an old yellowwood tree when it wasn’t plundering the villagers’ food supply. They decided that the tree must be chopped down, and perhaps then the frightening bird would leave their village.  But whenever the men tried to chop the trunk of the tree, they heard “the honey-sweet song” of the bird, and they were transfixed. They couldn’t continue and gave up the attempt. (The description reminded me of Odysseus’ men rapt by the song of the Sirens.) They tried many times, but the entrancing song of the bird or the sight of its beautiful plumage stopped them every time. At last, the headman had the idea to send the village children to do the job, because, “Children hear truly and their eyes are clear.”  Amazingly, the children were not swayed by the charms of the bird, and they felled the tree, whose branches crushed the bird and killed it. This haunting story is so different from what I expected–the opposite of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, for example, where the children are led away by the charming Piper’s song.  Instead, the children’s innocence allows them to discern the evil hiding under the false appearance, the honey-sweet song and iridescent feathers.  And now for its beautiful illustration:

 

"The Enchanting Song of the Magical Bird," illustration by Piet Grobler.

“The Enchanting Song of the Magical Bird,” illustration by Piet Grobler.

 

“The Message” (Nama people, Zimbabwe; from Grandma Rachel Eises, as told to George Weideman; translated by Leila Latimer) is a story of miscommunication, teaching how death came into the world. It begins:

This is the story of Full Moon, Tick, and Hare, and the message that Moon sent to the people a long, long time ago.

This was no ordinary message! Indeed, it was a most important message. Because, you see, Moon does not really die. She comes back again, as we see each time at full moon. And Moon wanted the people to know this truth: “Just as I die and come alive again, so you also shall die and live again.”

Moon gave the message to Tick to give to the people in the kraal (an encampment of huts for a clan). First, Tick jumped onto the feathers of a sand grouse who flew away, so Tick did not deliver his joyful news to the people, some of whom were now sick and dying–he could hear their crying by the campfires. Then he jumped into the fur of a gemsbok (a gazelle), but it jumped swiftly away from the kraal. At last, Tick faithfully delivered the message to Hare, but Hare was, well, hare-brained and forgot the message, telling the people instead, “Just as I die and remain dead, so shall you die and perish.”  The sickest man in the village died that day. Moon was angry at Hare and threw a piece of burned log at its face; hare threw it back at the face of the moon, which now bears the dusty color of the ashes.

 

"The Message," illustrated by Robert Hichens.

“The Message,” illustrated by Robert Hichens.

 

“The Snake Chief” (Zulu; from Miriam Majola, as told to Diana Pitcher) is a beautiful story about the magic flowing from a mother and daughter’s love for each other. It begins: “Nandi was very poor. Her husband was dead and she had no sons to herd cattle and only one daughter to help in the fields.” One day Nandi went as usual to gather berries from the umdoni trees; she sold these berries to get food for herself and her daughter, but this day Snake was there at the tree, eating the berries. Nandi objected that he had stolen her berries and she would have nothing to trade for meat to eat. Snake did not threaten her, but merely struck a bargain. He asked, “What will you give me in exchange for the umdoni berries? If I fill your basket, will you give me your daughter?” Surprisingly, Nandi agreed, thinking she could elude the Snake by taking a circuitous route home. But no!–Snake soon appeared to claim the daughter, as promised. Nandi cried and objected, but her daughter honored her mother’s promise and welcomed the Snake, finding him food and caring for him. In the morning when Nandi woke, she found not Snake but in his place a handsome young man, likely a chief’s son, who would stay with them, herd cattle, and make their lives better as a faithful son-in-law. Love between daughter and mother, and the daughter’s kindness, had undone the enchantment on the young man.  This is a beautiful variation of the “animal groom” motif, known worldwide. The French story of “Beauty and the Beast” is another famous example, but in “The Snake Chief” it was the girl’s mother who made the bargain with the beast by taking berries, instead of a father who was caught taking a single red rose.  In both stories, family life was reinforced because parental love was transformed into stable marital love and the generations could move on in harmony.  I love the sweet illustration for this tale: the Snake coils around the scene of the loving couple like a picture frame, while mother Nandi looks on proudly.

 

"The Snake Chief," illustrated by Baba Afrika.

“The Snake Chief,” illustrated by Baba Afrika.

 

“How Hlakanyana Outwitted the Monster” (Zulu and other Nguni folklore; retold by Jack Cope) is a sequel to the story I retold in my Fictional 100 chapter about his outrageous misdeeds in his village.  This story tells another incident after he fled the angry villagers, and begins:

Hlakanyana had left his mother and run away from home because the warriors were hunting for him.  He walked along on his journey over the earth, but he had nothing to make music with and nothing happy to sing about. He was very tired and very hungry.

Trickster characters are always ravenously hungry, prey to their own unbridled appetites, and this is exactly what gets them into so much trouble! First, he catches a hare and cooks him, then makes a flute from the hare’s shinbone, because he loves to make up songs.  So far, no problem, but strangeness lays ahead for him. He encounters a clay monster on the ground, with grass growing on one side of his body (eek!)–the monster is eating a fresh loaf of bread and Hlakanyana manages to steal it.  The monster gets up and chases him into a hole under a tree, but Hlakanyana is clever and tricks the creature into letting go of his leg, making him think it is a tree root he has grasped. The illustration shows that Hlakanyana is no average naughty boy, but a mythic creature himself. To me, this story suggests a lesson about not being rapacious with the Earth, but sometimes letting it rest and keep its fruits, the grain so necessary for bread and for life.

 

"How Hlakanyana Outwitted the Monster," illustration by Neels Britz.

“How Hlakanyana Outwitted the Monster,” illustration by Neels Britz.

 

Oh, there are so many stories–about tree wives and wolf queens, and so much more. But I will stop now and just hope you will pick up this book for yourself, or enjoy the all-star Audiobook (described below).

  • Hlakanyana ranks 39th on the Fictional 100. On his page you will find some further information about him.

Related links:

I’m also counting this book toward my participation in the Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge.

Travel-the-World-in-Books-Reading-Challenge 300x300

 

Love and War: “Lies Told in Silence” by M. K. Tod–Review and Giveaway #franceBT

20 Sep

Lies Told in Silence bannerLies Told in Silence cover

Lies Told in Silence by M. K. Tod. Tod Publishing, 2014.

Near the end of Lies Told in Silence, M. K. Tod’s beautifully rendered story of a French family during World War I, her main character, Hélène Noisette, wonders to herself: “Is it the things you choose or the things you don’t choose that make your life?” In any novel about war, this has to be one of the central questions. It could just as well be asked by Natasha Rostova in War and Peace or Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Events people didn’t choose came to their doorstep, and character was shaped by the will to retain the power of choice in the face of those events and to exercise it wisely. Choices, very much limited by circumstance, present themselves like a great divide–life could diverge this way or that–and Hélène had to confront many such fateful choices. Tod shows them to us with sensitivity and respect for all her characters’ humanity.

The book opens in May 1914, when Hélène’s father, Henri, who works in the War Ministry in Paris, determines that it is no longer safe for his family to remain in Paris. Unwillingly, 16-year-old Hélène must move out of the city with her mother Lise, and her younger brother Jean. Her older brother, Guy, stays with his father in Paris to attend military school and prepare for the war. Mother, daughter, son, and Henri’s mother, Mariele, settle in the small town of Beaufort, northeast of Paris, at a family home once belonging to Henri’s sister. Neither Lise nor Hélène have been emotionally close to Mariele (Grandmère) up to this time, so it is an uneasy household at best. Hélène is miserable; she misses the excitement and variety of her life in Paris–her friends, her school–and thinks:

How can Grandmère be so content? Doesn’t she miss her friends and the theatre and the beautiful shops of Paris? Here we are stuck in a tiny backwater because Papa is worried about something that may never happen.

That was in June. By August, war had broken out in Europe and everything changed. It became clear that while Paris was threatened, Beaufort might be in the line of fire too. It seemed that Germany planned to march north through Belgium and then invade France from there. But all the family could do was stay put and wait, and learn to adapt to life in wartime, its shortages, and the need to be more self-sufficient if they were cut off from supplies and the resources of normal daily life. Something shifted for Hélène; she understood that if she wished to be more grownup she would need to start helping her mother and grandmother, learn the skills of life most needed in the situation they were caught in, and take her share of responsibility for boosting their morale. Months and years passed, and Hélène did indeed grow up:

All the vestiges of girlhood were gone. She no longer dawdled along the road or sighed over fashion magazines or complained about her lot in life. She read the newspaper with care and wrote articulate letters to her father and brother. She learned the difference between German, French and British planes so she could recognize any that flew near the house, knew how to bottle and pickle, when to prune their vegetables and how to repair the outside pump. … Hélène was busy all day and wore a look of quiet authority and purpose.

Most important, the women in the neat house in Beaufort came to rely on each other, seek each other’s counsel, and share the immense challenges of living. Tod’s novel is ultimately a love story, and it begins here, with the unshakable love that grows between Hélène, her mother, and her grandmother.

One day they can hear a repetitive sound that they realize must be artillery fire. It is undeniable what is happening, but Hélène cannot help but think, “No…war is for history books, not for us to experience firsthand. It’s for faraway places known only on maps.” But the war will approach them very closely indeed. Canadian troops will be stationed near them, making preparations and then fighting the battle to take Vimy Ridge. Hélène will meet a Canadian soldier named Edward Jamieson and discover the intensity of love in wartime. She will have to face the deep anxiety over the absent loved one’s safety, compounded by worry about whether love itself can survive the rigors of war.

The_Battle_of_Vimy_Ridge--Richard_Jack

The Battle of Vimy Ridge by Richard Jack. 1918. Library and Archives Canada (copyrighted).

The rest of the book tells their story, and I won’t reveal much more about it. I do want to say, however, that Tod uses letters very effectively throughout the book: between the Hélène and Edward, between Lise and Henri (another love story!), and between Guy and his parents, after he joins the army. We who are so used to instant communication by many means can only imagine how desperately people waited for those letters, with some news of their loved ones’ situation, physical well-being, and state of mind. In wartime, all communication, by whatever means, is threatened, and Tod makes this precious, fragile link between her characters stand out in many heart-rending moments.

Tod has a clear, flowing writing style; her prose spins out in a rolling, companionable way with just enough added description to create a sense of immediacy for the reader–so important to the success of any historical fiction. I found the setting of Beaufort natural and convincing, precisely because it was revealed in the daily activities of Lise, Hélène, Grandmère, and Jean–I felt I knew their clean and serviceable house, with its attic retreat for Hélène; the places in town and in the countryside they visited; and the townspeople they met. I was surprised to learn in the author’s note that “Beaufort” was a fictional town, because it seemed very real to me, and I was ready to add it to my next itinerary for a visit to France! The closest I might come would be Vimy, which is in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, on the border with Belgium. Here is a picture of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, dedicated in 1944.

Vimy Memorial

Field Marshal Montgomery visits the Canadian First World War memorial at Vimy Ridge, 8 September 1944

This novel was a five-star read for me, and I highly recommend it!

****************************************************

Lies Told In Silence

[historical fiction]

 Release date: end of July 2014
at Tod Publishing

367 pages

ISBN: 978-0 991967025

***

SYNOPSIS

In May 1914, Helene Noisette’s father believes war is imminent. Convinced Germany will head straight for Paris, he sends his wife, daughter, mother and younger son to Beaufort, a small village in northern France. But when war erupts a few months later, the German army invades neutral Belgium with the intent of sweeping south towards Paris. And by the end of September, Beaufort is less than twenty miles from the front.

During the years that follow, with the rumbling of guns ever present in the distance, three generations of women come together to cope with deprivation, constant fear and the dreadful impacts of war. In 1917, Helene falls in love with a young Canadian soldier who was wounded in the battle of Vimy Ridge.

But war has a way of separating lovers and families, of twisting promises and dashing hopes, and of turning the naïve and innocent into the jaded and war-weary. As the months pass, Helene is forced to reconcile dreams for the future with harsh reality.

Lies Told in Silence examines love and loss, duty and sacrifice, and the unexpected consequences of lies. [provided by the author]

ABOUT THE AUTHORLies Told - M. K. Tod

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction featuring WWI and WWII. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED, was selected as Indie Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society.

In addition to her writing, Mary maintains the blog www.awriterofhistory.com  where she talks about reading and writing historical fiction.

She has also conducted two well-regarded historical fiction reader surveys and in her spare time reviews books for the Historical Novel Society.

M.K. Tod is delighted to hear from readers at mktod at bell dot net.

Visit her blog

Follow her on FacebookTwitterGoodreads

*****************

I am pleased to include the following **GIVEAWAY** of Lies Told in Silence. To Enter the drawing, click on the entry form below. There will be 9 winners of an e-book (mobi or epub). This giveaway is open internationally.

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Lies Told in Silence bannerI encourage you to visit France Book Tours to find other stops–and more reviews by many delightful bloggers–on this book tour!

*Note*: I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

How did I miss this? Review of The Fictional 100 in the IMSLP Journal

9 Aug

I just found this review of The Fictional 100 at the IMSLP Journal, which is the online journal of the International Music Score Library Project/Petrucci Music Library, or IMSLP. Since then I have compiled a fairly comprehensive catalog of music associated with each of the Fictional 100 characters.

Hamlet's theme, Act 1, opera by Ambroise Thomas

Hamlet’s theme from Act 1 of Ambroise Thomas’s 1868 opera

I hope this catalog will appear online soon, and I can report back with full information about it, along with my article discussing what I found when I went looking among the musical  riches themed for the great characters of world literature and legend. In the meantime, I am happy to share (belatedly) this review of The Fictional 100 book.

The Lady, the Unicorn, and Grendel: High Summer Read-a-Thon Wrap Up #HSReadathon

28 Jul

high summer read-a-thon 2014 (437x600)

I really enjoyed participating in the High Summer Read-a-thon! Despite a busy week with work demands, I finished one book and made good progress in two others. I looked forward to the focused reading time when I was able to grab it!

I finished The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, our July selection for TuesBookTalk Read-a-longs. My Goodreads review is here. Chevalier is best known for The Girl with the Pearl Earring, which offers a narrative to accompany the creation of Vermeer’s famous painting. Once again, in The Lady and the Unicorn, she teaches well  the process of art-making–tapestry weaving, in this case–and engagingly imagines the lives of the people who commissioned and executed this ambitious project just at the turn of the 16th Century. The real series of six tapestries is currently housed in a dedicated room at the Musée national du Moyen Âge, formerly the Musée de Cluny. Its website gives a glimpse of some of them, but the whole set can be viewed online, something I did while reading the novel and especially after I finished it.

Lady and the Unicorn cover

I’m past the halfway mark in my reading of John Gardner’s Grendel–enough to catch the tone of its surly, surreal power. It feels as archaic as the world of the Beowulf poem–probably more so, since it is told from the viewpoint of the primeval, man-crunching monster. But very much as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster’s sad, frustrated musings become a satire on the human world he can never really enter. In Grendel’s case, it is especially a commentary on heroic poetry and the morality of masking violence in literary grandeur–the ways such art can distort our very memory of events.

Grendel cover

As I read, I was also struck by Emil Antonucci’s cryptic interior illustrations of the hairy Grendel’s face, which headed each chapter. In profile (below), his features were discernible, but when he was shown facing forward, the features were hidden and then gradually emerged like a visual illusion.

grendel by emil antonucci

I became quite absorbed in Elizabeth Gilbert’s impressive novel The Signature of All Things. I decided to concentrate on it rather than splitting my time between it and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which I had just begun. I ended up reading about one third of Gilbert’s botanical family-saga, and so much has already happened! I will return to say more about this one when I’ve finished it.

Signature of All Things cover

Here is a summary of my reading for the week:
1. The Lion and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier (finished).
2. Grendel by John Gardner (halfway done).
3. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gardner (one third done).
4. Beowulf, trans. by J. R. R. Tolkien, intro. By Christopher Tolkien (read introduction and a good start on Tolkien’s magnificent prose).
5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (just a taste so far, but good).
6. Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter (didn’t get to this one, except for the Prologue).

Big thanks to Michelle, who is indeed The True Book Addict, for organizing and hosting the event at Seasons of Reading! I’ll be back next season!

Related post:

Beowulf, Grendel, and The Goldfinch: High Summer Read-a-thon #HighSummerRAT

19 Jul

high summer read-a-thon 2014 (437x600)
I am delighted to be participating in the High Summer Read-a-thon hosted by Michelle, The True Book Addict, over at her Seasons of Reading.  I’m planning on a small menu of reading options for the week. First, I plan to read two books for an upcoming Fictional 100 post: Beowulf in the J. R. R. Tolkien translation, newly published by Christopher Tolkien, and as a companion, Grendel by John Gardner.
tolkien-beowulf-339x500Grendel cover
I’m reading The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier for TuesBookTalk Read-a-Longs.

Lady and the Unicorn coverI’d like to make a start on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.

The Goldfinch coverSignature of All Things cover

 

Finally, I plan to begin Last Bus to Woodstock, the first Inspector Morse mystery by Colin Dexter. I’ve been following the Endeavour series on MasterpiecePBS, and the finale airs this Sunday evening. Although I’ve watched and appreciated John Thaw’s signature portrayal of the mature detective, young Endeavor Morse, played most winningly by Shaun Evans, has finally gotten my attention enough to explore reading the mysteries!

Last Bus to Woodstock coverI’m glad to have the focus of the Read-a-thon, for one week at least! I will report back in a wrap-up post next week, and later in a review of Tolkien’s Beowulf.

An Illustrated Ramayana for Kids: “Rama and Sita – Path of Flames”

26 May

Rama and Sita - Path of Flames cover

Rama and Sita Path of Flames, told by Sally Pomme Clayton, illus. by Sophie Herxheimer. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2010.

Storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton is equally adept at performing her stories for an audience as she is at committing them to the printed page. When she set about retelling the Ramayana, the two-thousand-year-old epic love story of India, she brought the oral storyteller’s sense of immediacy into the book right away, with a charming frame story. In it, she, the author, visits a junk shop and buys a brown wool monkey, a knitted toy that surprises her by speaking as soon as they are outside. He announces he is Hanuman, the Monkey God, the Divine devotee of Rama and Sita. The author is skeptical of this, since his tag says “Made in China.” Hanuman explains that he has traveled widely over the centuries–from his home in India to Indonesia to Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and now a shop in Britain–and he says,

wherever I go, people think I belong to them. … I’ve been traveling for two thousand years. You see, I love the story of Rama and Sita, and wherever it’s told, I’m there too, listening. It’s a brilliant story, it’s got magic and adventure, scary bits and funny bits–and I’m in it! You’re going to be telling the story next, aren’t you?

A great way to start.

Clayton’s style is conversational without being too informal, and she packs incidents into her narrative with brisk economy, keeping many important details. But Rama and Sita Path of Flames is also a wonderful picture book–the second in my series featuring notable illustrators and illustrated children’s books. The illustrator, Sophie Herxheimer, paints her characters with black brush strokes and colored wash, and the figures float freely around the white pages of text without any tethering landscape. The focus is squarely on the characters, from the most beautiful–Sita and Rama–to the most bizarre–the rakshasas (demons), with fearsome faces, often several, on many heads! The main arc of the story can be mapped as:

Miraculous Births–Marriage Test of Sita–Exile of Rama and Sita–Abduction of Sita–Rescue of Sita–Trial by Fire–Restoration.

Both Rama and Sita are born in answer to fervent prayer by their royal parents after a period of intense yearning. They have a divine destiny to restore cosmic harmony, which has become unbalanced through the incursion of too many demons into the human realm. Rama is the eldest son of King Dasharatha, the son of the king’s first wife; he has three brothers, born to his father’s two other wives, and the four brothers are all mutually devoted. Sita is the daughter of King Janaka, whose prayer was answered when he discovered a beautiful infant girl in the “furrow” (sita) of his field one day; she was a gift of the Mother Goddess Shri, her essence in human form.

When she was fully grown, Sita chose her husband in the swayamvara ceremony, in which suitors would vie to perform the marriage test she set them: to lift the great god Shiva’s golden bow. After many tried and failed to budge it, Rama was able to lift it easily, and even bend it to be strung, breaking it in half in the process. Sita accepted Rama as her husband, and they were happy for a time, until King Dasharatha was swayed by his jealous second wife to install her own son Bharata as his royal successor, displacing Rama. She further demanded Rama’s exile from the kingdom. Bharata objected fiercely to this, but obedient to his father, Rama accepted this hardship without complaint, as did Sita. Rama and Sita retired to the forest, along with Rama’s brother Lakshmana. The loyal Bharata placed Rama’s sandals on the throne in his stead, until his hoped-for return someday.

Although Rama and Sita managed well in the simple life of the forest, they were no longer as safe from the designs of the demons abounding there. Ravana, the ten-headed king of the demons, was obsessed with Sita’s beauty, and plotted to take her for himself. Both Rama and Lakshmana were lured away by illusion and trickery, leaving only a magic circle in the dust to guard Sita. Ravana quickly took advantage of this and put the rest of his plan to work.

Image

Sita was not only beautiful but kind-hearted and virtuous, so Ravana lured her out of the circle by posing as a holy man, in need of food and water. When she stepped out to help him, he grabbed her and, resuming his fearsome demonic form, he summoned his magic chariot to fly them both to his kingdom in Lanka (Sri Lanka). The abduction of Sita is a dramatic climax of any version of the Ramayana, and artist Sophie Herxheimer makes the most of it with one of her most striking drawings:

Image

In traditional Ramlila re-enactments of the story, the actor portraying Ravana wears a headdress with the required nine additional heads. I like how Herxheimer’s drawing is able to make the demon faces and arms cluster around Sita who is terrified and screams for help.

Image

Rama and Lakshmana realize they have been tricked and begin their journey south to rescue Sita. They will enlist the aid of Sugriva, king of the monkeys, who sends his army to help them. Their heroic general Hanuman is a divine being distinguished by his deep devotion to Rama, whom he recognizes as an incarnation of the great God Vishnu. Hanuman is equally devoted to Sita and his outsized courage, along with Rama’s strength and devotion to her, will lead them all to prevail over the demons. But the detailed working out of this rescue is a wonder I will not spoil for any reader who is happily encountering this story for the first time!

The Ramayana is also a reflection of an ordered society, so the drama is public as well as a private emotional struggle. When Rama rescues Sita, his own jealousy is compounded by the societal norms that a wife will not spend time alone, unchaperoned, in the company of another man. The complexity of Rama’s doubt and Sita’s courage in demonstrating her faithfulness and integrity form the finale to the story. It is indeed a “path of flames” because Sita calls upon a trial by fire to uphold her innocence. Her purity is untouched, even walking through flames, and she is restored to Rama, their happy marriage, and a peaceful kingdom, where Rama and Sita will now rule as king and queen.

And what of Hanuman? He stays with them in humble service. Because he holds Rama and Sita in his heart at all times, he is a supreme model of devotion to God.

Image

This retelling for children ends here, but the Ramayana tradition includes a further postscript where Rama once again allows himself to be swayed by doubts and gossip about Sita’s innocence. (Anyone who has ever watched tabloid television will know how readily people can sometimes entertain the worst notions about their neighbors, especially those who are famous.) Brave Sita is once again exiled, but this time by Rama himself; she is already pregnant and takes shelter with the sage Valmiki, the very poet who will sing this story, the Ramayana. Rama is eventually united with his twin sons, Lava and Kusha, but Sita returns to Mother Earth. Knowing this, I am reminded of the prophetic words early in this book, when Sita and Rama are first exiled to the forest by Dasharatha: “Sita had been born from the earth, and Earth took care of her child.”

There is no shortage of illustrated versions of the Ramayana for children, including the Amar Chitra Katha series of comics, popular among both children and adults.

Image

The stories and characters which endure invite endless realizations by authors and illustrators. I recommend Rama and Sita: Path of Flames most highly as a witty, accessible retelling of this great epic of India, beautifully enhanced by its illustrator. Artist Sophie Herxheimer has posted a delightful video demonstrating how she works, brainstorming with brush and ink in hand to come up with new ideas for illustrations. She is a very entertaining teacher! At Sally Pomme Clayton’s website, you can see a video of her live storytelling of Rama and Sita: A Path of Flames, accompanied by tabla, violin, and other instruments.

Sita is 20th on The Fictional 100.

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