Gathering of Waters

I can’t say I’ve read lots of books by Bernice L. McFadden.  Actually I’ve only read two, Glorious and 11225026Gathering of Waters.  Glorious was a story about a Harlem renaissance writer, which I enjoyed until it ended abruptly and left me searching for more.  I embarked on Gathering of Waters for three reasons; 1. because it was written by Bernice L. McFadden, 2. because it was the 2013 Clutch Reading group on Goodreads title choice for the month of May, and 3.  after I read the inside flap of the book with this stunning cover, I was immediately sold and knew I had to read it.

The story basically follows three generations of women from 1900 to 2005.  So, it covers life leading up to the week before Emmett Till is murdered and goes on beyond that.  I found this story beautifully recounted and that dash of magical realism that makes the entire story come to life unexpectedly.  There are a range of engrossing characters who are defined and developed perfectly.  The book isn’t very long so McFadden was successful in depicting the characters in particular situations and with rich, moving, and sassy dialogue.  Gathering of Waters, has that bold, direct storytelling style that makes African-American literature so thought-provoking.  It’s stuffed full of excellent one liners that mean so much.

Now I have to mention the debate I’ve been hearing about the usage of Emmett Till in the story.  There are people out there who think McFadden is using the Emmett Till murder to plug her book.  I can see how people would think that but it’s not the case.  If you read the inside flap of the book, that is basically a short synopsis of the story that you will be reading.  What McFadden does is set Emmett Till in a real space of life so that he becomes more than just a murdered young black man.  There was a before, a now, and an after and McFadden explores all that.  The fact that she decided to write this book is also edifying.  There are people out there who don’t even know who Emmett Till was and I’m not just talking about white people.  This incident was one of  many stains on American history that hasn’t made it in the history books.  How did I learn about that tragic night for Emmett Till?  – Of course from my mother and my grand-mother.  Oral discourse, the oldest way to pass on family traditions, history, and cultural habits.  Gathering of Waters is a perfect example of that.

Money, Mississippi is the narrator.  It lets you in on all the workings and secrets of this microcosm.  The ‘gathering of waters’ is more than a place that’s squashed between bodies of water, a place called Mississippi.  It is also symbolic of that fine line that separates blacks from whites.  It is the place where they meet like bouncing molecules off one another.  They come together for a moment only to separate soon there after.

Bernice L. McFadden has been writing since she was eight years old.  Her first novel, Sugar, which is part of a duo, was published in 2000.  She’s written other compelling novels like Glorious, This Bitter Earth (second part of Sugar), Nowhere is a Place, Loving Donovan, and others.  She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Warmest December.  She is strongly influenced by authors like Toni Morrison, Ann Petry, Alice Walker,  J. California Cooper, and Rita Dove.  McFadden describes writing as something that comes to her and a necessity.  McFadden says, “I write to breathe life back into memory.”

Title: Gathering of Waters

Genre:  African-American Literature/Historical Fiction/Southern

Published:  2012

Edition:  Akashic Books

Pages:  252

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * 1/2

+5,761

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JjETM1RwKI]

Patriotism

At the moment on You Tube in booktubia everybody seems to be reading something Japanese whether it be manga or Kazuo Ishiguro or Haruki Murakami.  I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of their works but Remains of the Day and 1Q84 (Books 1-3) stare me down every time I pass my bookshelf.  So in honour of all this love for Japanese literature I decided to read something from long ago, something that I’d read in high school my senior year.  It’s Patriotism by Yukio Mishima.

7420324Patriotism is a novelette packed with poignant and intense images.  Disguised in simple packaging, with its stark white cover splattered with a few drops of blood, it looks as if someone really did bleed on it.  The purity and straightforwardness of the cover echoes the story.  A lieutenant in the Japanese army, Shinji Takeyama decides to commit suicide, seppuku after learning that his friends have become mutineers.  Since he knows his duty will be to hunt them down and to kill them, he is torn between his duty as lieutenant and friendship.  Reiko, his wife, follows him in this sudden tragic act, for loyalty and devotion are the roles of Japanese women who are married to soldiers.  Shinji and Reiko end their lives together in a ritual that evokes passion, devotion, and patriotism.

“ON THE TWENTY-EIGHTH of February 1936 (on the third day, that is, of the February 26 incident), Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama of the Kanoe Transport Battalion-profoundly disturbed by the knowledge that his closest colleagues had been with the mutineers in the beginning, and indignant at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops attacking Imperial troops-took his officer’s sword ceremonially disemboweled himself in the eight-mat room of his private resident in the sixth block of Aoba-cho, Yotsuya Ward.  His wife, Reiko, followed him, stabbing herself to death.” (Patriotism, p. 3) 

The scene is set and we are read about the few hours that pass before Shinji and Reiko’s tragic end.  We start hearing about their wedding day.  The descriptions depict their differences and how they complete each other. “Shinji is described as strong, severe looking, wide-eyed, standing protectively next to his bride.  Whereas, Reiko is described as round soft eyes, beautiful, sensuous, and refined.” (Patriotism, p. 5)  They complete each other perfectly.  The narrator contemplates that people will look at their wedding picture when they are found after their suicide and think that maybe they were cursed; that their union was too good to be true.

The suicide is an orchestrated ritual that will mesmerize you and shock you.  They seem to be acting as methodical robots toward their death but it’s clear that their love for each other is deep and passionate.  They perform simple everyday tasks before the end trying to kindle the bit of life they have left.  Not once does Reiko question her husband’s decision but soldiers on steadfast, while adding last-minute touches to the dramatic finale.

The images in this novel are striking and symbolic, all on a back drop of white and red like the cover of the book.  Mishima takes the reader through this horrid ritual but makes it appear to be art at its perfection.  Disturbing.  The attention to detail is consistent with Japanese art and culture.  The images of red pouring over the pages will invade your serenity.  The color red symbolises hardiness, bravery, strength, like in the Japanese flag.  The color white in the Japanese flag stands for  peace and honesty, which Shinji and Reiko both find in patriotism.  In essence, that is nothing more than being loyal.

Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), born Kimitake Hiraoka, was one of the most prolific Japanese writers of the 20th century.  He was a short story writer, novelist,  playwright, poet, essayist, and critic.  Some of the principal themes he wrote about were sexuality, political change, and death.  Having been nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for literature, it is believed he lost in 1968 because of his right-wing activities.  Mishima was a jack-of-all-trades because he was a body builder and model as well.  His death is probably just as well-known as some of his great work because he committed suicide, seppuku, after a failed coup d’état.  Patriotism contains a lot of who Mishima was and what he believed in.

Title: Patriotism

Genre:  Japanese Literature/Novelette/Cultural/Philosophy

Published:  1966

Edition:  A New Directions Pearl

Pages: 57

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * *

+5,509

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPAZQ6mhRcU]

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Food glorious food!  I picked up Relish: My Life in the Kitchen after discovering it on Goodreads.  Being that I15786110 love food, recipes, fresh ingredients and cooking, I had to give this a try.  It’s a graphic novel depicting the life of Lucy Knisley through food.  She was lucky enough to be surrounded by a mother who was an excellent chef and a father who knows when he’s getting a good meal.  She was encouraged to eat healthy and was exposed to an eclectic array of food and cultures.  Relish consists of twelve chapters starting from her childhood to her years at university in Chicago.  At the end of each chapter there is a recipe that is straight forward and easy to produce, which consists of simple drawings and measurements.  It correlates to the preceding chapter.  There are recipes for sangria, guacamole, chai tea, pesto, mushrooms, etc.  This would make a lovely present for a lover of food and of graphic novels.  The artwork is excellent and it’s a fast read that you’ll want to take your time with.

Lucy Knisley is the writer and designer of quite a few other works such as Radiator Days, Make Yourself Happy, and French Milk, which 230px-Lucy_knisleyrecounts Lucy and her mother’s move to France and living in a 5th arrondissement apartment in Paris for six weeks, among other works.  French Milk is a travel journal that combines photography, drawings, and introspection.  Knisley is an American writer, comic, and musician, who studied art at The Art Institute in Chicago.  With her touching graphic novels about travel and food and her music and videos she has become a growing success online.  You can can learn more about her on You Tube at http://www.youtube.com/user/lucylou21?feature=watch and her blog at http://www.lucyknisley.com and http://lucyknisley.tumblr.com.  Check out the video on her tumblr where Mtv interviews her about Relish: My Life in the Kitchen.

Title: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Genre:  Graphic Novel/Food/Memoir/Cookbook

Published:  2013

Edition:  First Second

Pages: 192

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * *

+5,452

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qatydEg7muk&list=PL05CF76D66A2935CB]

Teacher Feature #5

ImageName: Emilie-May Hubbard

Nationality: British and French

 How long have you been teaching? 

I’ve been transmitting the love I have for English language and British culture for 19 years now. I started teaching children when I was a young student. Our sessions were mainly based on having fun, discovering genuinely English traditions and cultural features. I then realised how English language was perceived and sadly automatically associated to a scholastic subject.

What are you teaching? 

EFL/ESL English in companies

What certifications do you have? 

Initially I didn’t want to be a language teacher or trainer but was venturing out on a more artistic venture as I wanted to be an Art Restorer (which I am also today). Therefore I decided to officialise my British nationality when passing my History of Arts degree with the Open University . In the meantime I continued to help children and young adults by giving English sessions and sharing my knowledge, as sharing is key to me and then taught as an independent worker.

How did you get into teaching English? Where are you currently working? country, school, companies, etc.

I gradually switched from teaching kids to helping adults and then had the chance to work for training companies and language schools for working people. As a result I was given the opportunity to become a Key Account Manager and Pedagogical Assistant in a training company in the Paris Region called ‘Business Class’. I do realize fortunate I am to have such a position and to be able to continue training too.

How long have you been working there? 

I have been working for Business Class for more than a year now and as the company is successful, we deal with more and more requests which are always made-to-measure.

Where else have you worked?

 In other training companies as an independent trainer.

Where do you prefer teaching English? 

I prefer sharing cultural and idiomatic aspects of the language in companies.

What do you love about teaching English? 

Helping trainees to gain self-confidence and making them realize that they can enjoy speaking English.

What are the advantages to teaching for you?  

Learning a language is a real eye-opener for trainees who discover other ways of addressing communication and encountering enriching people. The world is your oyster as we say!

What are the disadvantages to teaching for you? 

The training can be too short and frustrating for both learner and trainer. The trainee acquires knowledge and ease but has to stop once the allocated number of hours is over.

Do you like teaching English?  Why? 

Meeting great people from miscellaneous backgrounds. As a trainer you are constantly learning new things having to adapt the sessions to specific fields or diversified positions.

Do you do another job? 

Yes, I’m very lucky to have another job I also love. I am an Art Restorer, I more precisely restore paintings under the independent worker status.

Thanks so much Emilie-May for your insightful interview about teaching English in France.:D  Hope this helps someone.

Le Petit Prince

It’s been a very long while since I read Le Petit Prince and I can’t say that I loved it or understood it very well 41B-appdjkL._SX342_in high school.  It was a reading assignment in second year French.  I thought it was a little difficult and absolutely didn’t compare to reading Le Petit Nicolas the year before, which was very easy.  So here I am 31 years later giving it a try for its 70th anniversary.  Funny that there wasn’t much more hype than different covers being sold in bookshops, with banners marking the anniversary but not much more than that.  I’m assuming more was done in Paris.

Le Petit Prince begins with the narrator’s plane crashing in the Sahara desert. (That really did happen to Saint-Exupéry and is believed that it sparked the idea for Le Petit Prince.)  He has very little food and water and must rely on his limited knowledge to repair his plane.  While contemplating his dilemma, he’s approached by a little blond boy who asks him to draw a sheep.  We then learn that he comes from a planet called Asteroid 325, which is called Asteroid B 612 on Earth.  The little prince is conscientious about making sure his planet stays balanced and that it won’t get overrun by bad seeds or baobab trees.  Then one day a mysterious rose grows on the planet and he immediately falls in love with it, until he catches the rose in a lie.  He realizes he can’t trust the rose and that makes him feel lonely.  In spite of everything, the little prince decides to venture out and explore other places to try to cure his loneliness.

This isn’t really my kind of story.  Le Petit Prince is a succession of parables that make one story.  It kind of reminded me a slightly of The Alchemist for that and I hated The Alchemist.  Even though, there is something original and redeeming in Le Petit Prince.  The main character happens to be a little boy and most people believe the story is for children which I really don’t think is the case.  It is written in a way that children can relate to and the beautiful watercolors from Saint-Exupéry make it all so inviting, especially for little boys.  It is a multilayered story written in simple fashion.  Not to mention the parables are clear but not too preachy, thank goodness for that.  The principal themes are narrow-mindedness and its dangers along with how exploration can bring enlightenment.  These themes are touched on in some way through all the encounters the little prince makes with the different characters and the narrator.  The allegory is quite clear in the story for adults but not so much for children, but that’s ok because they will be more focused on the little prince’s travels, adventure, and all the characters he meets.  The recurring symbols are the stars, water, the trains, and the desert.  The cover picture was a perfect choice.

All in all Antoine de Saint-Exupéry created a story that spoke about the person he was and his beliefs.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have the privilege to realize or experience the worldwide popularity of Le Petit Prince, which was translated into over 250 languages.  It was published in 1943 when Saint-Exupéry set sail on an American ship from the United States headed to Europe to fight in World War II.  He wanted to fight in the war and save Europe from nazism.  He left with a quickly bound copy of Le Petit Prince made by his publishing company.  He then joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa but disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea in July 1944 on his last mission.  He was of maximum age for flying during the war and his health was declining.  Nevertheless, he wrote three very successful novels during his hiatus in the United States that all received literary recognition and awards:  Terre des Hommes in 1939 (Wind, Sand, and Stars), Pilote de Guerre in 1942 (Flight to Arras),and Le Petit Prince in 1943 (The Little Prince).

Title: Le Petit Prince

Genre:  Classic/French Literature/Young Adult/Fantasy/Philosophy

Published:  1943

Edition:  Gallimard

Pages:  95

Language:  French

My rating:  * * * 

+5,260

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above

IMG_0672

This was the top of my niece’s beautifully decorated French wedding cake, with yummy “nougatine”.  Nougatine is basically a mixture of almonds and caramel.  Wonder who proposed?

If Beale Street Could Talk

38463This book really took me by surprise.  The last James Baldwin book I read was Go Tell it on the Mountain and that was over 20 years ago.  I just remember enjoying parts of it and other parts were a bit slow.  If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of Fonny and Clementine alias Tish.  They are deeply in love and are planning to move into a loft flat in Greenwich Village together.  It’s the 1970s and relations between blacks and whites are tense.  They finally find a loft apartment where they can live together and Fonny can do his passion sculpting.  When one day the police come and take Fonny away because he’s being accused of rape.  From there, the story follows the trials and tribulations of Fonny trying to stay positive that he will get out of jail and Fonny and Tish’s families trying to earn enough money to pay the lawyer’s fees and most of all trying to support each other during this difficult time.

What struck me about If Beale Street Could Talk, Baldwin’s thirteenth novel, was that it was direct, realistic, and the impressive in-your-face style of writing.  Baldwin was telling it like it was, as always.  If you’re not ready to listen then abstain.  The language is very 1970s but I found it somehow refreshing.  The story is fiction but it rings as a true one.  Baldwin even adds sexually explicit scenes to accentuate the reality of the story even more.  The families seem to represent two types of families in the black community.  There was Tisha’s family that remains unified and supporting each other no matter what.  They will brave fire and walk to the ends of the Earth for each other.  On the other hand, Fonny’s family is superficial, judgmental, and unreliable.  His mother claims to be a christian although she has the most unchristian  attitude and believes that she is better than everybody else.  His sisters are frivolous and negligent on their quests to find husbands and picking from the most ineligible types.  They don’t seem to care very much about their brother and that goes even before he gets thrown into jail.  Sonny’s father Frank loves him very much but as the story progresses he proves to be unable to keep up the strength needed to help Fonny get out of jail.

Baldwin put a lot of emphasis on character development and less on the story, but that wasn’t a problem at all since the characters are described and put into situations so that we can understand them better.  Even so, the novel reads with ease and the dated expressions conjure up some humour.  My favourite character is Ernestine, Tish’s sister, because of her strong personality and her frankness.  She is a really self-sufficient, strong character who really knows what to do and say.

I really enjoyed reading If Beale Street Could Talk because this was one of the many important classic works of African-American literature.  James Baldwin was a master.  He always managed to tell the most realistic stories about African-Americans and their difficulty to survive and to progress.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of picking up any of his work, I highly recommend If Beale Street Could Talk.  It contains themes of racism, love, and solidarity among the disinherited that are fighting for their rights the best they can with the little they’ve got.  These themes are very universal but are all treated in intricate woven threads around the unfair imprisonment of Fonny.  It is a bittersweet tale and the quote on the back of the Vintage International edition is spot on, “A moving, painful story, so vividly human and so obviously based on reality that it strikes us as timeless.” – Joyce Carol Oates.

Title: If Beale Street Could Talk

Genre:  African-American/Classic/Literature

Published:  1974

Edition:  Vintage International

Pages:  197

Language:  English

Favorite quote: “Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.” (If Beale Street Could Talk, p. 99)

My rating:  * * * * 

+5,165

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ctv85-4x8Jg]