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Archive for the ‘poverty’ Tag

Pervasive Superstition   Leave a comment

Hannah Kent has a gift for describing squalor and the role of superstition among the most vulnerable. This talented writer, whose debut novel, Burial Rites, was set in Iceland, now transports readers to rural Ireland in The Good People. The ambiguous title refers to the name given to evil faeries and those with virtuous, albeit misdirected, intentions.

Set in nineteenth century rural Ireland, Kent’s engaging narrative follows three women: Nora, a recent widow, with a sickly grandson; Nance, known for her curative powers; and Mary, the young maid Nora hires to help care for the boy who can neither speak nor walk, although he once did.

Nora’s shame for her grandson is so extreme she keeps him hidden and is surprised to learn from Mary that the villagers know of his presence. In fact, they have already deemed him a changeling, a creature from another world, that of the Good People. How else can the locals explain the ill fortunes that have recently befallen their community: death, cows no longer milking, illness and more.

Nora unsuccessfully seeks medical help, then solace from the new priest who both believe the lad will soon die.

Imagining that her grandson has been abducted and the withered but breathing body is left in his place, Nora turns to Nance who is certain she has a cure. Young Mary empathizes with the helpless child and is caught in the middle. She’s skeptical of the older women and their motives. Yet, the question regarding Nance’s powers lingers.

The Good People
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Company, 2016
380 pages

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Maternal Ties   Leave a comment

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My Name is Lucy Barton is a statement and not only the title of Elizabeth Strout’s new novel. It’s an affirmation as Lucy reflects on the relationship with her mother, which is like a faulty wire: occasionally there’s no connection.

Lucy is from a rural Illinois town where growing up her family lived so far below the poverty line as to make it seem something to attain. Lucy’s life is revealed as she lies in a hospital bed with a view of the Chrysler Building in New York City talking with her mother whom she hasn’t seen or spoken with in years. Strout is methodical as she merges Lucy’s past with the present.

The rich, stark pacing and imagery serve to expose family dynamics in the narrative. That is, Strout’s writing provides enough detail to shape a situation or character, but not so much that there is little left to the imagination. In fact, this is what makes some aspects harrowing: imagining what life was like for young Lucy. She lived with her older siblings and parents in a garage until age 11.

Her mother’s brief presence provides the vehicle to see Lucy’s past; the extended hospitalization gives Lucy time to consider her adult life as a mother, wife and writer.

Lucy should despise her parents and her past, yet she doesn’t. Her family was shunned and her parents were apparently abusive in their neglect. Lucy is grateful for her mother’s presence. The mother-daughter bond, at least from Lucy’s perspective, overrides past sins.

My Name is Lucy Barton
Four and a half Bookmarks
Random House, 2016
191 pages

Hope and Despair Meet Again   2 comments

Although I read a fair amount of nonfiction, my preference has always leaned toward fiction. As
I read Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I had to remind myself this is a true
story – in  in fact, many true stories; it’s simply written with the smooth, eloquent narrative that
makes it read like a really good novel. But, it’s sad and it’s true.

Boo writes of the Annawadi slum in Mubai, India. For three years she follows the lives of several
families and child-scavengers all trying to survive in an overcrowded, rat-infested community of
makeshift structures that serve as homes. Mubai has numerous slums that fit this decription, but
Annawadi is the one located in the shadow of the international airport with its cosmopolitan hotels.

What makes Boo’s chronicle so intriguing are the people and their efforts to make more of their lives.
As if poverty alone were not enough to keep them down, they face government corruption, lapses of
moral judgment, and fear generated by religious differences. Boo’s account includes the experience
of Abdul who, with his father and older sister, is charged with murder when a vindictive neighbor
lights fire to herself. The family’s efforts to move out of Annawadi are thwarted as income is lost and
bribes must be paid.

This description of trying to exist in Mubai’s slums is much, much more than what most think of as a
hard-knock life. Yet, for their individual and collective foibles, these people continue to dream that
someday they will have more.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2012
256 pages

Posted April 19, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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