Archive for the ‘grief’ Tag

Family Ties   Leave a comment

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Grief, atonement and tradition are all bound together in LaRose by Louise Erdrich. The title refers not only to the young boy shuttled back and forth between two families, but also previous ancestors, all women, with the same name.

LaRose’s father accidently shoots his young son’s best friend, the child of neighbors. As part of Ojibwe custom of retribution, La Rose’s parents give him to the grieving parents. Interspersed with the adjustments this entails are stories of the original LaRose, a strong, intelligent woman able to see more than others with knowledge others don’t possess. Her traits, that include tribal medicine and a keen awareness of others, are passed down through four generations. Even the youngest of the namesakes has special, insightful characteristics.

This is more than an account about two families who lose a son. Although, the descriptions of the two sets of parents and siblings are full of depth and richness. It is also a narrative that examines the personal histories of many of the reservation’s residents, including the parish priest and a ne’er-do-well.

Erdrich blends the traditional Indian ways with modern life; the novel begins in 1999. Humor, rich descriptions of the landscape and dynamic characters make this an engaging work. It is sad, even heartbreakingly so; yet there are also moments of joy and revelation of life’s beauty.

Ultimately, this is a love story – in fact, many love stories: parental love and sacrifice; husband and wife love (and sacrifice); the relationships among siblings; and new relationships.

La Rose
Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2016
373 pages

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A Tale of Two Sisters   Leave a comment

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The heroics/horrors of war, tests of familial love and loyalty to one’s country merge in Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.

In Oregon 1995 an unnamed elderly woman prepares to move from her home at the insistence of her adult son. This sets in motion her recollection of life in France during World War II. At its heart, the novel is about the relationship between sisters Vianne and Isabelle, ten years her junior. Following the death of their mother, their father leaves them with a stranger. Despite their shared grief and sense of abandonment, the two have nothing else in common.

The war years show how, as adults, the sisters remain at odds. Vianne struggles to keep her daughter safe and maintain the family home after her husband goes to fight. Meanwhile, Isabelle wants a role in her helping her country overcome German authority.

The sisters’ personality differences are repeatedly described, yet the strained relationship doesn’t always ring true. Vianne acknowledges that she failed in her responsibility as the older sibling to help Isabelle; she attributes this failure to dealing with her own sorrow at the time. Isabelle has an air of entitlement – at least when it comes to emotions; this sense of privilege doesn’t follow her as she works with the French Resistance.

The novel progresses with the war; occasional interruptions remind the reader of the elderly woman. This becomes a guess-who exercise: who is it and how did she end up in Oregon. Only one of the questions is answered.

The Nightingale
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
St. Martin’s Press, 2015
438 pages

Engulfed in Grief   2 comments

Wave
In Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala writes with intensity and candor as she describes the tsunami she survived but which her family did not.

The memoir begins in the minutes before one of the most deadly forces of nature hit the Sri Lankan coast Dec. 26, 2004. She is initially incredulous that she should survive; it only makes sense that her husband, their seven- and five-year-old sons, along with her mother and father also made it through alive. Unlike the 2012 film, The Impossible, about the same topic, Wave does not have a happy ending. Neither does it have a happy beginning.

Deraniyagala slowly moves through the stages of grief and gets stuck in denial. She is angry, she is depressed and though her narrative extends to 2012, she can’t wrap her heart or mind around the loss she has endured. Yet, she brings her family to life in the memories she shares. She vividly details her sons’ antics and dissimilar personalities. She recounts her courtship with her husband, Steve, and their life in London before and after kids. It takes longer for her to deal with the loss of her parents, so they aren’t as fully portrayed.

Gradually, she’s able to revisit family homes, places her children played, friends and even the devastated Yala resort. The author moves from the present to the past, from her childhood in Sri Lanka to Cambridge, from Yala to London. At each juncture pain is never far from the surface; fortunately, it becomes less raw.

Wave
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
228 pages

Storytelling At Its Finest   3 comments

Maya

Isabel Allende is a master storyteller. Her characters have depth; their lives are full of mystery, love and befuddlement. Her most recent novel, Maya’s Notebook, is no exception. Well, it is, because it’s exceptional – even for Allende.

Maya is a 19-year-old girl on the lam on a remote island off the coast of Chile, her grandmother’s homeland. Maya was raised in Berkeley by her grandparents, a couple remarkable in their differences and their passion for life. Maya’s father floats in and out in a minor role; her mother doesn’t even rate that distinction. Several stories are told through Maya’s journal. She recounts her magical childhood, her arrival in Chiloe’ and counters these almost idyllic recollections with the explanation of why she is in hiding. The book’s first sentence, while seemingly melodramatic, creates suspense: “… if I valued my life at all, I should not get in touch with anyone I knew until we could be sure my enemies were no longer looking for me.”

Maya writes of her past and present in chronological order until the two eventually intersect. She begins with how her grandparents met and moves into how, as an infant, she came to live with them. Allende builds tension through Maya’s descriptions of her avalanche of mistakes made as an adolescent. Grief and environment contributed to one bad decision after another. Yet, a sense of calm surfaces as Maya relates her life in Chiloe’ while learning to appreciate the world around her and her place in it.

Maya’s Notebook
Five Bookmarks
Harper Collins, 2013
387 pages

The Good in Farewells   Leave a comment

Anne Tyler is a gifted story teller. Her characters are ordinary, and if you live in
Baltimore — her setting of choice — they could easily be your next door neighbors.
She makes the potentially banal into something sublime. Such is the case with 
The Beginner’s Goodbye
, a finely-threaded novel about a man, Aaron, left to
scrutinize his marriage following the death of his wife in a freak household accident.
The story’s beauty deepens as Aaron is ultimately forced to confront his relation-
ship with not only his deceased wife, Dorothy, but also with his sister, co-workers,
and others he’d rather ignore.

The beginner in the title comes from the succession of books published at Aaron’s
small, family-run publishing house. Humorously based on the Dummies’ series, the
Beginner’s books address everything from kitchen remodeling to dog training, from
wine tasting to bird watching. In a way, Tyler’s novel is about how to avoid dealing
with grief. Aaron is pathetic, and, if not for glimmers of humor, would be a completely
disagreeable protagonist due to his efforts to deflect expressions and gestures of sym-
pathy as well as support. By the way, Aaron stutters and his right side is crippled. He
has a history of impeding assistance, which he mistakes for pity. He has always kept
everyone at bay. From Aaron’s perspective, so did Dorothy. Ironically, Dorothy’s re-
appearance as an apparition helps him acknowledge this and other truths.

This is no ghost story or smoke and mirrors tale. Instead, it’s about love, loss and un-
derstanding.

Four Bookmarks

The Beginner’s Goodbye

Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

197 pages