Saturday, February 16, 2008

Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende

Inés of My Soul is a stunning, brilliant novel about the conquering of Chile in the first half of the sixteenth century. Inés Suárez, a conquistadora and mistress to the first gobernator, Pedro de Valdivia, narrates the story that is filled with bloody and violent battles, all-consuming passion, complete devotion and a strong desire for adventure.

While a number of the characters in the book are real people, the story itself is a work of fiction. The author explains that “The feats of Inés Suárez…were nearly ignored by historians” and that she “merely strung them [the documented events] together with a fine thread of imagination.”

I usually love books written in the first person and this one is no exception. It’s beautifully and simply written. It is so well done that it almost makes history (not my favourite subject) a joy to read.

The author brings the characters “back-to-life” and takes the reader right into the action. Even though Inés was talking to Isabel throughout the book, I felt like she was talking to me.

Allende researched the material for this book thoroughly and that certainly came across in her writing.

For further reading, Allende provides a substantial biography. For online reading, Wikipedia has an interesting article about Inés . It contains plenty of links to others, Pedro, Rodrigo as well as links to more information about Chile.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Allende’s work.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Cry of the Dove by Fadia Faqir

Cry of the Dove is a tragic story about a young Muslim girl, Salma, who gets pregnant out of wedlock, something her religion forbids. The story follows her from her relationship with Hamdan in her Bedouin village to her journey to England and her attempt to fit into a culture that’s so different from her own. She carries with her the pain and dishonour from her past, yet tries to get on with her life. When her memories continue to haunt her, she makes an agonizing decision to confront her past.

The story flows freely from past to present and then back again. It’s a unique way to tell the story, but it makes it very hard to follow. To make things even more confusing, there didn’t seem to be any chronological order to the jumps. Perhaps some white space inserted in the text (between the jumps) would have helped.

Anyway, because of the writing style, I got lost in the story a few times, but I after I got used to the “time shifts”, I really got into it. It was not only an interesting look at one woman’s life, but also a fascinating look at the Muslim culture. While this story is mainly about Salma, there are plenty of other fascinating characters to follow.

I loved the ending of the story. Although the outcome was shocking, I think that shock was intensified by the way the author wrote it. It was fabulous. It’s likely to stick with me for some time to come.

Recommended for those looking for something a little different.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Spin Dry by Greg Hollingshead

In Spin Dry, Rachel volunteers for a dream deprivation study after her husband, Leon, has a series of dreams about another man. She hopes to find out who this guy is and enters into “therapy” with the totally wacky Dr. Alex Silver. From there Rachael takes us on a tour of her suburban neighbourhood that is filled with eccentric characters and ridiculous situations abound.

Hollingshead presents a satirical look at the absurdity of modern suburban life in a new development. He pokes fun at shopping malls, therapy, cookie cutter houses, suburbs, support groups (my favourite: Carrot-top, the red-haired persons’ self-esteem raising group), first-grade Dick and Jane books, relationships and many others. It’s unique, creative and an interesting look at our lives. While I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny, it was humorous and pretty entertaining. I did find the story a little hard to follow at times because it jumps back and forth in time but once I caught on to this, it wasn’t too bad.

One of my favourite characters was Cam. He’s has agoraphobia and is afraid to leave his basement, runs PAGO (People Afraid to Go Out), seems to subsist on burgers delivered by Leon, has a dismantled school bus in his living room and is in love with the “girl on the bus”. What’s not to love? That’s him in a nutshell (pardon the pun) until he meets Jane. You’ll just have to read the book to find out where things go from there.

This is the first book I’ve read by Hollingshead. It probably won’t be my last.