Monday, January 23, 2017

Fiction Hodge-Podge

To say I am behind on reviewing books that I've read lately is an understatement, so my hope is to do a little round-up of fiction and non-fiction books each week so if anyone is following along here and looking for something to read, they can check out the post of the week and see if anything jumps out as potentially interesting.  For my sanity (and yours), I'll try to keep the reviews/descriptions short.  Here are a few fiction books for the week:

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier: My love of The Girl with the Pearl Earring will keep me coming back to Tracy Chevalier, and lucky for me she has a pretty well-stocked arsenal of novels to keep me reading.  Lady with the Unicorn takes place in Paris in 1490, and centers around a mysterious tapestry that appears to depict the seduction of a unicorn.  The tapestries are commissioned by a French nobleman and created by a talented womanizer who creates chaos at court by seducing everyone from the servants to the nobleman's own wife and daughter.  The book follows the development of the narrative within the tapestry, but also the various relationships and affairs that inform that tapestry.

The Ten Year Nap is the second novel I've read by Meg Wolitzer (The Interestings was the first).  In both, she writes about what I think of as the burden of privilege malaise - that is people who have it all but who are unhappy with their situations, mostly because of choices that they made, but of course also because of circumstance and expectation.  On the one hand, this has made me annoyed and groan at the self-centeredness of the characters.  On the other, the writing is fantastic and the people are basically like real life.  It doesn't necessarily mean you want to read about it, but the again, I kind of do.  The Ten Year Nap focuses on a group of female friends n New York - well educated professional women, who got married, had children, stepped out of the work force, watched their children grow, and then suddenly find themselves in a position of not knowing quite what they themselves actually wanted out of life, but knowing that what they have isn't that satisfying (kind of The Yellow Wallpaper problem all over again).  I think this book has evoked some strong reactions from female readers - we all have opinions about whether moms should work or stay at home, or when they should go back to work, or who should take care of their children if they do go back to work - it's a hot button issue and we all have regrets as well as grateful moments for the decisions we've made.  I think Wolitzer did a find job navigating all these varied perspectives, and still creating a couple characters that were funny and relate-able.  I didn't realize Wolitzer had written so many books - I'm going to try another one and see if it falls into the privilege malaise category...I can only take so much of that each year!

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See:  In the sequel to Shanghai Girls, Pearl's daughter Joy run off back to China in search of her birth father, the renowned artist, Z. G. Li.  Once there, she finds herself swept up in the New Society of Communist China.  While her father lives a life of relative comfort due to his celebrity, Joy becomes determined to be one of the people, living on a farm to provide for the masses.  Back home, Pearl is desperate to find her daughter - and finally chooses to return to China to face her past and save her daughter.  This was a captivating but very painful read - not just because of the strained relationships, filled with misunderstandings and missed opportunities, but because of the horrific treatment of the Chinese people by their government.  Of course so much of the book is about propaganda and how the government censored and shaped the information provided to the people - and certainly that made me question how accurate the depiction in this book was (though seemingly pretty accurate given other non-fiction accounts of the time that I read after this).  Lisa See is a brilliant writer and this was a wonderful story of friendships and family - just emotional and difficult to take at times.

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