July 3, 2010

The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway

Once a year, or so, I like to indulge myself by reading a book cover-to-cover in a single day. Out of necessity, this usually happens on a holiday, and this year, my chance came on Canada Day.

My motivation for picking up this book in particular was because I lugged it to Africa and back last summer without reading it, and I vowed that now that my next trip to Africa is looming, I wouldn't repeat history!

Now that I have read it, I wish that I hadn't taken so long to pick it up!

The book is set during the siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996), and it weaves four stories together of people dealing with living in war time. The cellist of the title witnesses a bomb kill 22 people lined up waiting to buy bread, and deals with the trauma by playing Albinoni's Adagio in the spot where the people were killed for 22 consecutive days (this is based on a true story). Arrow is a sniper fighting for the resistance. Kenan is walking across the city under siege to fetch water for his family. Dragan is walking to the bakery to buy bread. All four have been profoundly affected by the war.

I think that what I came away from this book with is an appreciation for the mundane, commonplace, happy days, as these characters long for their lives to get back to "normal".

The character that I felt the most drawn to was Arrow. She was on the university sharp-shooting team when the war broke out, and was reluctantly recruited to fight for the resistance. At the same time, she is fighting to maintain her integrity, and constantly questions her own actions. I also found it fascinating to read how a sniper has to think. (And yes, I am a pacifist who can't imagine ever handling a gun!)

The book was so compelling that I had trouble putting it down, and I think that the story as well as the writing will stay with me for a while. I finished it up just as the fireworks were going off to celebrate Canada Day, and it was somewhat fitting that the sound of gunpowder accompanied a book about war.

This will be my second book for the Canadian Book Challenge over at The Book Mine Set.

This will be my last review for a while, as I am headed to the other side of the world for a few weeks. I have some books packed to take with me, so will get caught up on my reviews once I am home again!

July 1, 2010

Miss Elva - Stephens Gerard Malone

This book was a giveaway from Wanda over at A Season to Read, and so I wish that I could give it a better review.

The story centers around a pair of sisters - Jane who is beautiful on the outside and cruel on the inside, and Elva who was born with some unspecified disability (?Erbs Palsy, ?CP - there is a mention of Rheumatoid Arthritis later in life - sorry, this is the physiotherapist in me coming out!) but is an artist. The sisters are friends with neighbouring twins, Gil and Dom who have a haunted past. Jane gets herself in "trouble", and there is an expected tragic ending.

I found it to be a very ugly book. The setting was ugly, the events of the story were ugly, and the characters were ugly (externally and internally). There seemed to be no beauty or hope shining through at any point.

For those other fans of L. M. Montgomery out there, as I was finishing this book, I was reminded of Mr. Carpenter's advice to Emily, "Don't be lead away by those howls about realism. Remember - pine woods are just as real as pigsties - and a darn sight pleasanter to be in."

It wasn't all bad. The story moved along quite quickly, and I enjoyed the style of story-telling. The author makes the reader think a little bit, as the story isn't presented linearly, and pieces of the plot come together as you go along.

But I was glad to get to the end of the book and leave that ugly place behind. Personally, I think that the world is a beautiful place; and that most people have at least some redeeming qualities; and I enjoy living with my world-view more than with this book's world-view.

I have signed up for the 4th Canadian Book Challenge over at The Book Mine Set, and this will count as my first review. I have also registered for the Sleeping Giant Writers Festival in August, and look forward to meeting Miriam Toews and Ian Brown.