CEREMONY by Leslie Marmon Silko

ceremonyI am glad I read this before I learned it had Spark Notes.   I get all intimidated with Spark Notes.   I am always afraid that when I read a Spark Notes book I will miss the central point and all those peripheral points, all those weighty  meanings and subtleties.    Because while I am busy enjoying the story and anxious to find out what happens next,  maybe I should be paying more attention to those small nuances, so I can appear, you know, like, totally profoundly clever.

This book was written in 1977 by a Native American writer, so we are talking synchronicity here, what with the Dakota Pipeline Access issue going on right now,and the fact that I had just read The Liberation of Ravenna Morton, which I talked about here.   But this is not about Big Oil, it is about PTSD, essentially.  And race.  And bigotry.  And old Native American customs and beliefs.

Ceremony follows the troubles of Tayo, a half-white, half-Laguna man, as he struggles to cope with post traumatic stress disorder after surviving World War II and witnessing the death of his cousin Rocky during the Bataan Death March of 1942.

After spending several months at a VA Hospital in Los Angeles, recovering from injuries sustained during his captivity, Tayo returns to his family’s home at Laguna Pueblo.  In bits and pieces, we learn of his desperate childhood with a Native American mother  who is now an alcoholic and lives with other homeless on the banks of the river in Gallop.  He is always hungry, and is on his own to find food and shelter while his mother ‘entertains’ men for the price of a bottle or some food.  When the shanty town of cardboard boxes and makeshift hovels is cleared out by the authorities, 4-year-old Tayo is reluctantly and grudgingly taken in by Auntie, his mother’s sister, who does not want him or like him because he is mixed race, a reminder of the shame her sister has brought to the family.

Mixed blood people — individuals who, in  a sense, find themselves stuck between cultures, neither wholly in nor wholly out of what may be their native society:  too often they are viewed suspiciously by both of the peoples whose blood they carry.

The story is told in flashbacks,  remembrances, hallucinations, and dreams.  I am sure I missed a lot of the symbology in the dreams, because as I have told you several times,  I am not interested in dreams.  I am not interested in people’s dreams in Real Life, because dreams are just stories the mind makes up, and fun as they may be for the dreamer, who cares if they are not your own dream.  So dreams in fiction are just fictitious constructs in the middle of a fictional work, so really, duh.

As do many sufferers of PTSD, Tayo has an alcohol problem, as do his friends,  and after a drunken bout, Tayo stabs a ‘friend’ in the stomach.  He is then sent back to the VA hospital for another stint.

When he returns home after treatment, he is at loose ends,  slides off into dream-like trances, and otherwise acts in ways that make his family and friends somewhat nervous.  It is suggested that rather than being hauled off again to the VA hospital, he go see a medicine man,  who takes him on a dreamquest, where he is told there are certain acts he must do to heal himself and the world.   He is taught that the white man was created by witchery.

He meets a mixed race Mexican-Indian woman in the local town and falls in love with her, and his relationship with her weaves in and out of the story.

It took me a while to get really into the book, but once I did, I realized how magical and spiritual it is.  It is a composite of Native American beliefs and practices, the doings of the white man,  the down to earth human relationships,  the idea of race and how it affects the people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T WAIT FOR ME by Dan Kolbet

dont-wait-for-me-by-dan-kolbetA sweet … OK, sappy….. romance-y kind of novel along the lines of Nicholas Sparks.

It is near Christmas, and a youngish man trying to keep an old-fashioned toy store afloat in this day of the big box store catches a young kid shoplifting.  For some reason, he takes the kid home to find that he is the product of a single mom.  He had stolen the toy to give to his sister for Christmas.

The shop owner is then faced with a flood in his store from the laundry in back.  As he sits in dismay, the mother of the day before shows up to help him.

The reason he is all alone is that the store was owned by his wife’s parents, and when they died, the young couple took it over, but were losing ground.  There was a bonus to join the National Guard and the wife did so (the guy has a bad heart and was not accepted), but is killed on a flight back home.  Now he drinks a lot.

The young mother helps him put the store to rights in time for what little Christmas rush there might be.  But…. there is a nasty fly in the ointment.  A ruthless businessman wants that property after buying up all the surrounding buildings in order to make some big property deal.  Our boy has already turned him down twice.  Guess who was behind the flood?  And is working on a new ruthless plot to force our boy out.  But he is determined to keep the place, I don’t know why… dead wife?   I mean, really.  Take the damn money and run.

So yeah, stealing a toy for a Christmas gift, gee that’s never been done before, cartoonish villain,  smoochies and stuff with the lady.   Sappy.

I found it a little lightweight, but there are many others who just loved it, so like I always tell you,  chocolate, vanilla and pistachio fudge.  And chunky monkey.  And Gilbert grape. You know, something for everyone.

BUTTER IN THE WELL by Linda K. Hubalek

butter-in-the-wellThis is a fictionalized account of a young Swedish immigrant couple who settled in Kansas in 1867.  The end.

Nah, just messin’ with ya.   That’s not the end,  although it IS a fictionalized account of a young Swedish immigrant couple who settled in Kansas in 1867, but I will tell you a bit more about it.  It is a beautifully researched account of Maja Kajsa Svensson and her husband Carl and their little daughter.  Eventually, her siblings and parents joined them.

Gee, those were the days!  Other than the hardships of living first in the wagon until they were able to build their sod house  and then living for a couple of years and no conveniences at all so to speak of, … OK, nevermind.   But all you needed to do to steal the land from the Native Americans already living there was to file with the government and you would get 80 acres.

It is so hard to imagine living like this.  I get all kerplunchet if I have to live more than two blocks from a convenience store,  and that is saying nothing about my state of mind if there is no pizza delivery nearby.

This was just such a delightful book, and makes history come alive.  I am pretty sure I learned all this stuff back in the Darkish Ages when I was in school, but this book helps make it all so real.

The title comes from when they finally had a well, and what you did was you kept your butter and cream and milk in jugs which you lowered into the well to keep them cold.   One day Maja hauled up on the rope to get the butter as she was making a large dinner for a number of people, and the rope broke, the jug slammed against the side of the well and broke into a bazillion pieces and the butter fell irretrievably into the depths of the water.

And I thought I had it tough when the ice maker in my refrig stopped making ice.

This is now a series of four books, I believe, and definitely rivals Little House on the Prairie for true endearment.

Good night, John.  Good night, Pa.

 

THE LIBERATION OF RAVENNA MORTON by Suzanne Jenkins

liberation-of-ravenna-mortonThis is the story of a family, and of secrets.   That the family is modern day Ojibwe is interesting and certainly adds color and information about the treatment of Native Americans, about the Native American boarding school system, about racism, but it is not exactly central to the story.

Ravenna is an Ojibwe living on the Kalamazoo River.  When she was a child, government authorities came t the extremely poor homestead to take any children into custody to put into Indian boarding schools.  The siblings were deep in the far fields and were not seen by the authorities, but Ravenna, being still very young, was at the cabin, and taken against the parents wishes.  When she was released at age 12 to find her own way in the world, she returned to her home to find it deserted and overgrown.  She began to put things together, all survival living she had learned from her parents.

She is taken in by … oh phooey… I forget…. a grandmother maybe?… no, possibly a neighbor who has Greek relatives.  The young son of one of these Greeks comes out to help in the summers and he and Ravenna become very attracted to each other.  The uncle of this boy does a great deal to financially support the woman and Rovenna.  But Rovenna gets pregnant, and at the instant the baby is born, the child is taken from her to be put up for adoption.

Fast forward to modern day and we meet  Esme, the daughter of the baby put up for adoption.  Her mother has just died of cancer, but weeks before dying, receives a phone call from a woman who says she is her sister, one of six other siblings and now that the grandparents have died, they are at liberty to discuss this matter.   The woman dies happy, now knowing for sure she was adopted.    The daughter decides to go out to where these people all live and meet her blood relatives.

While there, she discovers that her grandmother, Ravenna, still lives in primitive conditions in a remote area on the river, and is a well-known basket maker.  Her grandfather is a well-known artist and lives in town.  The two although have all those children together, have never lived together because he doesn’t want to live in such primitive conditions, and Ravenna, still known as the Indian woman,  doesn’t want to be in town.

There are the various side stories of each of the grown children, aunts and uncles to Esme,  and some mysterious events concerning that wealthy uncle who now lives in Chicago (or is it Detroit?)  in luxury.

It is a back and forth kind of tale, lots going on, and like I said above,  full of a lot of information about the Native Americans at the time.  There is an entire backstory of the mother and father of Ravenna,  the story of the young man with the boat who squires Esme around, and his no-go romance with the girl who is the receptionist at the hotel where Esme is staying.  So many stories.  I loved it.  Great stuff.

DEATH OF KINGS by Bernard Cornwell

death-of-kingsThe sixth in the Saxon Stories, historical novels all about Saxon Britain back in the years before dirt was invented.  Actually in the 900s.  This one takes place in the late 900s.

Our boy Lord Uhtred, of the Bebbanburg Uhtreds,  way up in Northumberland, is still in the south of England, fighting the Danes.  Also fighting some of the treacherous Saxons who all want to be king.  Well, heck, who doesn’t want to be king?

He now has a son, Uhtred, who wants to be clergy, much to his father’s dismay, who would prefer the kid be a sword-wielding warrior like himself, and a couple of other kids.  He has a wife, and a mistress here and there, and let’s face it, morals are not his strong point, but loyalty to dying King Alfred is.   Alfred finally succumbs to a lifetime of illnesses at age 50, his son Edward becomes king if he can mange to stave off those who would themselves become king, can rid themselves of those murderous Danes, and unite the squabbling neighbors who all want to take over the territory.  OK, now I see why we don’t all want to become king.  A lot of work, plus there is the immanent death factor, never too far from one’s door.

King Alfred grants Uhtred an estate consisting of some huge parcel, including villages and churches, right before he dies, so now Uhtred is not broke and begging money for the war campaigns.  He will be able to feed his men, supply horses and payment and thus ensure their loyalty to him.

The clergy really do meddle a lot in the affairs of kings, something which Uhtred doesn’t understand, being a pagan.  When told they would be heading to Sain Rumwold’s monastery, he asks

Who was Rumwold?  Father Willibald said, ‘He was a very pious child, lord.’  ‘A child?’  ‘A baby,’ he said, sighing as he saw where the conversation was leading, ‘a mere three days old when he died.’

‘A three-day-old baby is a saint?’

Willibald flapped his hands. ?Miracles happen, lord, he said, ‘they really do.  They say little Rumwold sang God’s praises whenever he suckled.’

‘I feel much the same when I get hold of a tit,’ I said, ‘so does that make me a saint?’

Uhtred visits a sorceress to try to learn the fate of the land.  Naturally,  as opposed to things warlike, Uhtred is simple when it comes to the supernatural.  He gets drugged and almost killed, and told lies by the ancient woman.

The battles go on, the bloody descriptions continue, slashing, stabbing and battle-axing being the order of the day.  You know, same old, same old.

The real difficult of this book is the names.  They are Saxon and all sound and seem alike:  Aethelwulf, Aethelstan, Aethelbert, Aetherelbald, Aethelred, Aethelrod, Aethelflaed, Aethelgifu, Aethelweard, and Edward.   One of them is a woman.  Guess which one.  Not telling you.

Two more books left in the series.  I have to let my sword dry off before I continue.  One can take only so much blood and gore. If you are interested in my observations of the previous books in the series, just put Bernard Cornwell into the search box and it will give you a list of four of the previous.  I missed the one just prior to this book.

MURDER IN THE LIBRARY by Steve Demaree

murder-in-the-libraryThis is the third in the Dekker cozy mystery series, starring those two chunky fellows, Lt. Cy Dekker and Sgt. Lou Murdock.  I told you about the first one,  52 Steps to Murder, here,   and the second one, Murder in the Winter, here.    I was needing something light to cleanse my palate after that heavy calorie meal of Grotesque.   Hmmm, Colonel Mustard in the library  with a rope.

Not much has changed with the boys, they are still retired from the Hillside police force, but are on call for homicide cases, still over eating, still receiving indecipherable messages from God about their cases, and still fumbling around solving cases with some big screwball action at the end which produces a confession by the perp who we can only surmise will have a change of heart in the morning and call his lawyer who will scream things about illegal confessions and tainted fruit or whatever they do to make the confession invalid.  But who cares.  It’s a cozy mystery, and we like feeling cozy.

This case revolves around an older wealthy gentleman, who befriended the boys in their boyhoods, who calls them in because he has received a threatening message left in his impenetrable library.  Remember the other two books had tunnels?  This one has secret passageways and secret rooms.   The next day the older man is found dead in his library, and it becomes a locked room mystery, my favorite kind.  However, what with the secret passageways and all, we soon get the idea that the how is not so mysterious, only the who.

Plenty of suspects, a couple of plausible red herrings, lots of food descriptions,  and I didn’t quite guess who did it, mainly because I was getting confused as to who was whom.  See what I did there, with that correct grammar?  That was to distract you from realizing I am not the sharpest taste in the spice drawer.

GROTESQUE by Natsuro Karino

grotesqueThis 2007 novel by Natsuro Karino is considered ostensibly a crime novel, but in all honesty, it defies genre pigeon-holing.  For me, what it really was about  was appearance, both physical and social.

The narrator is a daughter of a Swedish man and a Japanese woman, an average-looking child who grows into a plain, almost homely woman.  She has a younger sister, Yuriko, who is so outstandingly beautiful that the narrator considers her a monster.  We can almost taste the jealousy in her words as she talks about her sister.

The family has a vacation place, which they cannot really afford, but it looks good, where they meet another mixed couple, the Johnsons, he is an American with a Japanese wife, who of course make a great fuss over the sister.   Our narrator’s treatment of her sister is so cruel, the sister moves in with this other couple.

Our narrator, who is never named in the book, is about to enter an elite girls high school, which she has worked very hard to gain admission, when her parents return to Sweden, taking her younger sister with her.  Our narrator goes to stay with her mother’s father, an eccentric guy who is a scam artist dealing in bonsai, and who served some time in prison for his activities.  He now leads a quiet life, tending some bonsai he has, and the two get along just fine.  The mother has never before spoken of him, because of his bad reputation.

In Sweden, the mother commits suicide, the father has a chick on the side, and Yuriko decides to return to Japan, much to Narrator’s dismay.  She tells Yuriko she cannot stay with her and grandfather because the place is so small, so Yuriko goes to stay with the Johnsons.

In spite of her very poor test scores, Yuriko is admitted to the same school, due to her beauty.  While in school she meets up with the son of a professor and finds that she can make money from her beauty, through prostitution.  She works out a deal with the boy who then acts as her pimp.  Word of this gets back to Narrator, who is absolutely horrified.

Narrator has a couple of friends, who while fascinating in their own right as characters, act as further symbology for the theme of appearances.  One, Kazue Sato, is the drab, strange daughter of a low level company functionary, who by dint of her excellent school work has been admitted to the school, but will never be part of the elite group, something she cannot see, and over the years there makes a laughing stock of herself trying.  The other is a girl who is part of the elite but who befriends Narrator because her background is secret — her mother owns a bar.

After school ends, Kazue gets a good job, and turns to prostitution at night which somehow bolsters her ego.  The years go on,  Yuriko grows older and beat up, losing her once fabulous looks, and ends up walking the streets, the same as Kazue.  They meet up and agree to share a street corner.

Both women are subsequently murdered,  and a man, an illegal immigrant to Japan, is picked up for their murders.   He steadfastly claims he did not murder Kazue, although he admits to killing Yuriko.   We never are quite sure who really did kill these women.   An entire section is dedicated to the writing of Zhang as he explains his background.

In addition to the ongoing theme of appearance,  and of things never being quite what they seem, the book  is clearly about women’s struggle for control of their lives, and about the rigid Japanese class structure.

It is a complex, long book, full of fascinating characters and sometimes surreal  situations.   There is so much to it that I have not told you, because that would make this post as long as War And Peace, but I urge you to read it.  It is well worth your time.

Karino is most famous for her 1997 novel Out.   She has a number of books, but only four are in English translation.  The translator is Rebecca Copeland.    There have been some criticisms of Copeland’s translation, claiming that school girl Japanese has been rendered into stilted unrealistic English conversations, and this may be so, but I enjoyed the book immensely nonetheless, because what do I know about school girl Japanese, right?