Friday, January 23, 2009

Book reviews

I have a few book reviews to catch up on.

My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok

Since SDBBE is almost over, I can let finally review this book. I really, really enjoyed reading it. Asher Lev is an observant Jew who wants to paint. Before reading this book, I wouldn't have realized what a problem this situation creates. But most of art history for the past 300 years is Christian-based, which puts Asher in a unique and uncomfortable postition. His reality does not understand or include the symbols that Asher must learn to manipulate.

What struck me most was how Asher was able to maintain some sense of his religion even while immersing himself in a Christian world. He continues to pray, to attend synagogue, to wear the ritual fringes and locks of hair over his ears. I can think of few people who could keep their faith intact while immersing themselves in a world that is opposite to the one they are accostomed to. How easy it would have been for Asher to stop believing, but he didn't. That speaks volumes to me personally. I felt it was heartbreaking that Asher's culture simply didn't have the language he needed to really express his deepest feelings. A great, great book to help anyone understand the limitations of culture, religion, and human desire.

Time Traveler's Wife

I know, I've read this book every year for 5 years now. But I just love it. I love Clare and Henry, I love their love, and the world they inhabit. I've reviewed this before, so I won't bore you all again.

Excellen Women, by Barbara Pym

This was an interesting little book. I read about it on Special K's blog, and I'm glad I read it.

Mildred is a 30-something spinster living in 1950's England. She's carved out a comfortable life for herself, surrounded by church service, friends, work. Her life changes when she befriends a young couple who move into the apartment (flat, in English terms. I love that word!) below her. She is pulled into their world in ways she never would have imagined.

I liked this book because it plays on conventional beliefs about stereotypes: the unmarried vicar and his spinster sister; the spinster who everyone in the parish believes loves the vicar; the unmarried scholar who is the object of a married woman's desire. Pym takes each of these stereotypes and turns them just a little, so that you can see the human beneath the edifice. It is a great character study, and really good reading at the same time. I enjoyed it a lot.


Special K said...

Hey there! I'm so glad you enjoyed Excellent Women! Did it make you laugh? I chuckled through the whole thing!

Lucy said...

I love Asher Lev. I think Chaim Potok is a genius and it is his evil genius that has made me finish many a book that I haven't wanted to. I remember reading Asher Lev and thinking it was soooo boring and soooo dispassionate and then finishing it and realizing after that scene at his art show with his mother and the cross and all the pain that it was his technique. Now, I'm always waiting for that moment when a boring book turns great. Sadly, it rarely happens.

Haven't read the other one. But I always enjoy your reviews.