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Monday, August 12, 2019

Review: Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

Title: Song of a Captive Bird
Author: Jasmin Darznik
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: February 13, 2018
Source: Library






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "All through her childhood in Tehran, Forugh is told that Iranian daughters should be quiet and modest. She is taught only to obey, but she always finds ways to rebel—gossiping with her sister among the fragrant roses of her mother’s walled garden, venturing to the forbidden rooftop to roughhouse with her three brothers, writing poems to impress her strict, disapproving father, and sneaking out to flirt with a teenage paramour over café glacé. It’s during the summer of 1950 that Forugh’s passion for poetry really takes flight—and that tradition seeks to clip her wings.

Forced into a suffocating marriage, Forugh runs away and falls into an affair that fuels her desire to write and to achieve freedom and independence. Forugh’s poems are considered both scandalous and brilliant; she is heralded by some as a national treasure, vilified by others as a demon influenced by the West. She perseveres, finding love with a notorious filmmaker and living by her own rules—at enormous cost. But the power of her writing grows only stronger amid the upheaval of the Iranian revolution."


My Two Cents:

In "Song of a Captive Bird," Forugh is expected to fit into the mold of the ideal Iranian woman in the middle of the 20th century. She is expected to follow her parents' orders and do as she is told but she has a spirit that cannot be contained. She has a poet's heart and she wants to write. She wants to be able to call the shots on her own life. This is a phenomenal story that gives you a front row seat to a really fascinating woman.

I love stories about strong women and Forugh is most definitely a strong woman with a mind of her own. I loved how this story captured how when you want to write, you will do anything to be able to write. She is so driven to write her poetry that she forgoes a lot of the traditional trappings of what a woman is supposed to be in Iran in the 1950s and 1960s. She leaves a marriage. She leaves a child behind. She sets Tehran on fire with rumors of her long list of lovers. She writes what's on her heart for all to see! She was such a great character and I can't believe I had never heard of her before.

As many of you know, I'm trying to tackle books from every country this year. This is my pick for Iran and I was so happy to be able to find a fiction book set during a time in Iran's history that I didn't know much about. I feel like I've read a lot about the revolution and the time after so it was interesting to see just how quickly the country was changing, particularly through the eyes of Forugh. I loved all of the historical description. The description of the newspaper was particularly interesting!

The writing in this book was so good! I really enjoyed the first person point of view in the book. I loved being able to step into Forugh's shoes and see what she saw. This was a fantastic book! 


 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

HFVBT Review: The Undertaker's Assistant by Amanda Skenandore

Title: The Undertaker's Assistant 
Author: Amanda Skenandore
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: July 30, 2019
Source: HFVBT



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: ""The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies--and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer's shortcomings.

Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters--with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline--introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .
"


My Two Cents:

"The Undertaker's Assistant" is a fantastic historical fiction set just after the Civil War. Our main character is tough-as-nails Effie, a freedwoman, who was the assistant to a surgeon during the Civil War - almost unheard of for a woman and particularly unheard of for a black woman. Effie has very few memories from her childhood and seems to be doing everything to avoid dwelling on the past. She goes to New Orleans to make a living as an undertaker's assistant, it is definitely not a job for everyone but Effie seems to be more comfortable with the dead than the living oftentimes.

I loved Effie's character. She is tough and smart and has always done what she has needed to do to survive. She relies on herself as much as she can but she seems to be constantly running from the past and the bad memories that seem to crop up if she stays still for too long. At first, she seems quite cold and strange - what young lady would want to work with dead people? As the book unfolds, we see that there is much more there than meets the eye. We see her grow and bloom throughout the book and I loved following her.

New Orleans is one of those cities that had to grow on me. It took me three visits before I fell in love with it. It makes for such a good setting for this book. New Orleans has almost a mystical and sometimes macabre feeling to it. It is the perfect backdrop for Effie's story and her dealings with the dead. Add to it all of the things that were going on after the Civil War as people grappled with what the outcome meant for them and the lives they wanted to build.

The historical detail in this book is so good. Not for the tender-hearted but the descriptions of preparing the dead was fascinating. Effie pulls us into her world with nary a blink. I actually haven't read a lot of books set during Reconstruction so it was so interested to read how people were grappling with this brand new world. Overall, this was a great read and I am excited to see what the author writes in the future!



Monday, August 5, 2019

Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Title: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publish Date: February 2009
Source: Owned



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him."

My Two Cents:

"Cutting for Stone" is one of those books where I can't believe it took me so long to get to it! My Reading Challenge for this year (trying to read a book set in every country) luckily pushed me to get this book off my TBR and on to my read list. In Ethiopia, twins Marlon and Shiva are born out of a secret love affair and adopted by a couple of Indian doctors. We see them grow up throughout the book and begin to get curious about their origins and how that story has shaped the rest of their life.

Especially since having my own twins, I am fascinated by twin stories. It is so interesting to see how connected the twins are to each other even when a betrayal between the brothers literally forces continents between them. The relationship really rang true to me. When the twins try to extricate themselves from each other, they are still pulled towards each other in ways that they never expected. 

The characters in the book are so good and so memorable. The twins were definitely my favorite but I love how the author makes the secondary characters stand apart as well. Each of the secondary characters play such a key role in the lives of the twins and I like how they become a major part of the story themselves. 


This book is set in Ethiopia at a volatile time in the country's history where the country is rapidly changing. This book was a great introduction to the country for me. I really enjoyed seeing the country through this fictional story. The detail was really good and I loved how vivid the setting was!


Friday, August 2, 2019

Reading Challenge Update

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!

I feel like I was able to get back into my groove a little bit more this month! I'm having a lot of trouble finding books for any island country and any of the former Soviet countries so if you have suggestions for those ones, I am all ears!
 
I read books from this many countries in July:
7
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 63 books for this challenge so far.

Take a look at my list! What else should I be reading?
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