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Archive for the ‘loyalty’ Tag

The Price of Knowledge   Leave a comment

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Educated by Tara Westover is one of the most emotionally difficult books I’ve read, but I couldn’t put it down.

The memoir recounts Westover’s journey as the daughter of survivalists in rural Idaho. The government was never to be trusted, neither were doctors or teachers. She never attended school; to say her mother’s efforts at homeschooling fell short is, at best, an understatement. Although hospital care was necessary a few times, the family relied on her mother’s knowledge of herbs.

For much of her life, Westover never questioned her family’s lifestyle. She had no basis for comparison. This isn’t the only aspect making this a challenging book. It was the physical and verbal abuse at the hands of her brother, Shawn. Her parents offered no protection.

Yet, Westover teaches herself how to study and pass the ACT with a score high enough to get accepted into Brigham Young University. From there she studies at Cambridge and Harvard universities, eventually earning a doctorate degree in history from Cambridge.

This is a gritty, heart-breaking narrative and Westover’s self-realization comes with a high price: she must either renounce her education or her family. When she refuses to give in to her parents demands, she is disowned, shunned by her most of her family. Her father’s fervent interpretation of the Bible doesn’t include anything close to acceptance or unconditional love.

Westover’s education extends beyond books and lectures. Her story reflects how much she gained once out of her family’s shadow and what she lost.

Educated
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Random House, 2018
322 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

Misplaced Loyalties   Leave a comment

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Even with plenty of objectionable characters and situations, it’s easy to empathize with the narrator, known only as the captain, in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer.

The captain is the sympathizer; he’s an undercover agent in Viet Nam just as the country falls to communist rule in 1975. Nguyen’s writing is of the step-on-the gas and honk-the horn variety. It’s thrilling, witty and poignant. It demands well-deserved attention.

The captain receives orders from his communist handlers to travel with a South Vietnamese general as part of his entourage to the United States. They’re among those on the last planes to leave the war-torn country. It’s in the captain’s nature to consider both sides and see the value and downsides in each. He is the son of a Vietnamese woman and a French Catholic priest. This and his western education make him an outcast. In Nguyen’s hands, the captain is kind, albeit sarcastic, and exceptionally intelligent. It’s not difficult to understand his situation.

It’s clear from the beginning that the captain has been caught. Most chapters begin addressed to the commandant and it eventually becomes clear that the captain is recounting the days that led to his capture. However, this is not before the captain’s loyalty to his friends, his love for his mother and a handful of questionable decisions and actions are detailed.

The aftermath of war, the stigma of not fitting in and the lengths people go through to survive are all addressed by Nguyen in this compelling narrative.

The Sympathizer
Four-and-half Bookmarks
Grove Press, 2015
367 pages