The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

TitleThe Plague of Doves
Author: Louise Erdrich
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9781436107242
Length: 11.25 hours
Published: 2008
Source: public library
Rating: 3/5
Challenges/ResolutionsTravel the Globe Resolution

Reason for Reading: My Travel the Globe Resolution called for a sovereign Native American nation. This also happens to fulfill a slot of my Regional USA sub-sub-resolution, even if that resolution will be unfulfilled at the end of the year 😦

This is the final round (of six) for my Travel the Globe Resolution, which I’m doing with a blogger friend, Shannon at Giraffe Days.
Here is Shannon’s review of
The Lesser Blessed.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The unsolved murder of a farm family still haunts the white small town of Pluto, North Dakota, generations after the vengeance exacted and the distortions of fact transformed the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation.

Part Ojibwe, part white, Evelina Harp is an ambitious young girl prone to falling hopelessly in love. Mooshum, Evelina’s grandfather, is a repository of family and tribal history with an all-too-intimate knowledge of the violent past. And Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, who bears witness, understands the weight of historical injustice better than anyone. Through the distinct and winning voices of three unforgettable narrators, the collective stories of two interwoven communities ultimately come together to reveal a final wrenching truth.

My Thoughts: The reason I didn’t really write my own summary of this book like I have in the past for this resolution is because it was hard for me to follow, so I don’t think it’s easy to summarize. The book isn’t really one story, but rather multiple accounts from various people in a small, North Dakota town, which all end up relating and drawing one major conclusion to the various events described.

“Pluto”, North Dakota is a fictional town, near which reservation land lies that is owned by various Native American families–a mix of Ojibwe and Chippewa, from what I understand. The characters talked of living on allotment land and being “BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) Indians”. These things were not talked of in a bad way by the characters, but more in an “accepted for what it is” way. The stories take place at random times in history, the late 1920s, the 1960s-1970s, and more in the “present”, so the feelings of animosity towards whites (or, everyone but the Native Americans) and/or the government are of differing levels.

One of the most interesting stories within this book was the story that centered on a character named Billy Peace. Caught up in some hair-brained scheme of a friend’s (to get money from said friend’s wife to support said friend’s pregnant mistress), Billy ended up on the run and founded his own religion. Called “the Kindred”, the group was not described so far as to be a horrible cult. Cult was never used to define the group, but aspects of the religious group’s structure scream cult. I was so interested to look into that sort of world, even if fictional. And I always wonder how someone can be so persuasive as to create cults of any kind when I come across this type of story–I realize that weak-mindedness on a cult-recruit’s part is also part of the issue.

Travel the Globe Sub-Resolution = COMPLETE

In February, I added a sub-resolution to my Travel the Globe resolution that would take me to more regions in the world than six specific countries. So I resolved to read books set in geographical and/or cultural regions. Here is my original sub-resolution (not including the sub-sub-resolution, in which I also resolved to read books set in American regions, which I failed):

::EDIT (February 21, 2011)::
I’ve decided to expand this resolution. While I will still follow the above resolution, I’m just going to add a bit to it. In order to see even more of the world in 2011 (via books, of course), I want to read at least one book located in each of these “geographic regions”. (I was going to go with continents, but there are many more “geographic regions”, such as Central America and the Middle East.) And, note this: the books read for the original resolution may still be counted towards my greater “worldly reading” addition.

North America – Honolulu by Alan Brennert (up-and-coming Honolulu)
Central America – The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw by Bruce Barcott (Belize)
South America – In Praise of the Stepmother by Maria Vargas Llosa (Peru)
the Caribbean – The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke (Barbados)
—–(I did not end up finishing this book, but I took in more than half and I feel that I got a pretty good picture of the country and time)
Western Europe – The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco (Italy)
Eastern Europe – The Free World by David Bezmozgis (about half of this book takes place through memories in Soviet-occupied Latvia)
Northern Asia – Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie (China)
Southern Asia – The Disappeared by Kim Echlin (Cambodia)
Oceania – Potiki by Patricia Grace (New Zealand)
the Middle East – Bliss by OZ Livaneli (Turkey)

Africa – Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson (Nigeria)

In an effort to keep this more relevant to expanding my worldly reading, I’m trying to read books published in the last 50 years ago. More relevant to today, that way :)

Obviously, the books I read for each region are included in that list, along with links to my reviews. I’m glad I finally accomplished this sub-resolution.

The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw by Bruce Barcott

TitleThe Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw–One Woman’ s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird
Author: Bruce Barcott
Genre: non-fiction (endangered species, conservation, Belize)
ISBN: 9781400062935
Length: 298 pages
Published: 2008
Source: public library
Rating: 3/5

Reason for Reading: I was looking for a book set in Central America for my sub-resolution to my Travel the Globe resolution, and Belize sounded like a good, less talked about country to look into. And this seemed like a good look at the region, even being a work of non-fiction.

Summary (from Goodreads):

As a young woman, Sharon Matola lived many lives. She was a mushroom expert, an Air Force survival specialist, and an Iowa housewife. She hopped freight trains for fun and starred as a tiger tamer in a traveling Mexican circus. Finally she found her one true calling: caring for orphaned animals at her own zoo in the Central American country of Belize.

Beloved as “the Zoo Lady” in her adopted land, Matola became one of Central America’s greatest wildlife defenders. And when powerful outside forces conspired with the local government to build a dam that would flood the nesting ground of the last scarlet macaws in Belize, Sharon Matola was drawn into the fight of her life.

In The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, award-winning author Bruce Barcott chronicles Sharon Matola’s inspiring crusade to stop a multinational corporation in its tracks. Ferocious in her passion, she and her confederates–a ragtag army of courageous locals and eccentric expatriates–endure slander and reprisals and take the fight to the courtroom and the boardroom, from local village streets to protests around the world.

As the dramatic story unfolds, Barcott addresses the realities of economic survival in Third World countries, explores the tension between environmental conservation and human development, and puts a human face on the battle over globalization. In this marvelous and spirited book, Barcott shows us how one unwavering woman risked her life to save the most beautiful bird in the world.

My Thoughts: I’m not really certain how I feel about the issues that arose in this nonfiction work. I’m not really one to care much about animals, honestly. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating animal cruelty or anything. But for such an enormous political and legal issue to arise over the saving of a subspecies of birds, of which 100-200 were estimated still alive, I find it a little silly. I think macaws are beautiful birds. It is a shame that so many species of animals and plants become extinct. What really gets me is how the United States and similar powerful countries in the world make it their business to get involved. I understand that the NRDC wouldn’t have gotten involved had it not been for an American company being involved in the whole scheme. But had I been my 24-year-old self rather than ten when all this started, I would’ve said, its got nothing to do with me–it’s the business of the Belizeans. (This made me think of when Merry was talking to Treebeard and said, “But you’re part of this world!” in reaction to the Ents not wanting to involve themselves in the fight against Sauron. At least in the movies haha)

I feel like I’m rambling. When it comes to things like animals that live in different areas of the world, I’m in a grey area as to what I think about foreign involvement. The world’s endangered animals vs. a country’s right to deal with that animal is hard for me to pick a side. In the end, the Belizean government won and built the dam under similar reasoning:

As expected, Lord Hoffmann [of the Privy Council] proved to be the deciding force. Though he was troubled by the improprieties practiced by the government and Fortis…Belize is a sovereign nation, he wrote. Despite the inconsistencies and mistakes contained in the EIA [environmental impact assessment], Hoffman believed the government had more or less followed its own rules for environmental approval. (p267)

So, it was the Belizean government who ended up with the right to decide what to do in its jurisdiction. Which makes complete and rational sense to me.

However, it’s obviously clear what the author wanted the readers to take away from the book. The Belizeans government was painted in such a bad picture. It is almost as if the whole point of the book wasn’t to show a fight to save the scarlet macaw, but to show how corrupt the government and big international companies could be. I had assumed, going in, that the Zoo Lady would win her fight and save the habitat of the scarlet macaw. I mean, there was such a blatant display of the anti-dam people being the good and innocent and the pro-dam people being horrible and crooked that I assumed (wrongly) that good would triumph evil and that would be the entire point of the book.

Memoir/Biography Resolution – COMPLETE

As of November 3rd, I’ve completed my fourth (of five) resolution for 2011. (That isn’t including my two sub-resolutions for my over-arching Travel the Globe Resolution.)

Memoir/Biography Resolution

Read at least FIVE memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, diaries, etc. in 2011. Here is the link to my original post about this resolution:  fiction vs. non-fiction.

1. Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals
2. Maus I: My Father Bleeds History Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
3. Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews
4. The Early Years by Leona H—–
5. My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

“…something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

TitleMy Lucky Life In and out of Show Business
Author: Dick Van Dyke
Genre: autobiography/memoir
ISBN: 9780307592231
Length: 273 pages
Published: 2011
Source: public library
Rating: 4/5
Resolutions/Challenges: Memoir/Biography Resolution 2011

Reason for Reading: I had one more spot open for my Memoir/Biography resolution, so I picked this one for a couple reasons. 1) I recently saw it on a New Release shelf and 2) when I saw it there, I thought maybe I’d like to read his memoir because I enjoyed Julie Andrews (Edwards)–and they were Mary and Bert haha

Summary (from book jacket):

Dick Van Dyke, indisputably one of the greats of the golden age of television, is admired and beloved by audiences the world over for his beaming smile, his physical dexterity, his impeccable comic timing, his ridiculous stunts, and his unforgettable screen roles.

His trailblazing television program, The Dick Van DykeShow (produced by Carl Reiner, who has written the foreword to this memoir), was one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1960s and introduced another major television star, Mary Tyler Moore. But Dick Van Dyke was also an enormously engaging movie star whose films, including Mary Poppinsand Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, have been discovered by a new generation of fans and are as beloved today as they were when they first appeared. Who doesn’t know the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

A colorful, loving, richly detailed look at the decades of a multilayered life, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, will enthrall every generation of reader, from baby-boomers who recall when Rob Petrie became a household name, to all those still enchanted by Bert’s “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” This is a lively, heartwarming memoir of a performer who still thinks of himself as a “simple song-and-dance man,” but who is, in every sense of the word, a classic entertainer.

My Thoughts: I didn’t particularly enjoy the style of writing Van Dyke used. I can’t put my fingers on the problem, but I think it probably had something to do with cramming 85 years of a busy life into 270 pages. I felt rushed much of the time. Then again, at the same time, I would not have liked a 500-page memoir either. I think if I hadn’t read Andrews’ memoir and enjoyed the way it read like a work of fiction I might have liked this one more–Andrews, as an author of fiction, wrote hers so well.

And oh, boy did I find out some interesting stuff. Firstly, and I believe I mentioned this before in my previous TSS post, that Van Dyke did his pilot’s training for the Air Force in Toledo, which is the closest “big city” to where I live and grew up. I LOVED that! But there were other, bigger issues, which I was shocked at, to say the least. (I don’t think you can really spoil memoirs so I’ll talk about them with no reservations.) For the majority of Van Dyke’s adult life, he was an alcoholic–something he didn’t really realize until he was about 50. (He also smoked like a chimney, but that didn’t exactly surprise me–so many of that generation, famous or otherwise, were hooked on cigarettes.) Lastly, Van Dyke even had a mistress! It may have been his spin on the truth, but he almost made me feel like it was okay. His “other” relationship only went intimate after he had told his wife and she, in whatever terms, was “okay” with it–meaning, they didn’t divorce (right away), she just let him live his second life.

I think this will have an impact on me the next time I watch Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Well, I would have felt differently watching CCBB anyway because he revealed that he didn’t like shooting that movie–he didn’t like the story or the direction he worked with. That makes me sad.

I just have to copy this because I really liked the ending to the memoir. I think it’d be hard to end a memoir, because the author is obviously not yet done with his life. It’s just so “normal life”-ish

As you may have guessed, there is no end to this story–not yet, anyway. So instead of a tidy conclusion, I will let you in on my plans. Right now I am going to take my wirehaired terrier, Rocky (he wanted to see his name in the book), for a walk. Later I have rehearsals at an LA-area high school where I perform with the kids each year at a find-raiser. They seem to like it, but not half as much as I do. Coming up are meetings for my one-man show. And then, who knows.

As always, I will see where the wind takes me.

A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd–an Irish traverse

TitleA Swift Pure Cry
Author: Siobhan Dowd
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9780385751087
Length: 
311 pages
Published
: 2006
Source: public library
Rating: 4/5
Challenges/ResolutionsTravel the Globe Resolution

Reason for Reading: I admit that I tried to find something with a but more controversy or issues of a larger scale, but I couldn’t really find one. I landed on this because 1) it’s set in Ireland (County Cork) and 2) the author is Irish.

This is the fifth round (of six) for my Travel the Globe Resolution, which I’m doing with a blogger friend, Shannon at Giraffe Days.
Here is Shannon’s review of Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. 

Shell is a teenager in County Cork, 1984. Her mother is recently deceased, her father is lost, and she has two younger siblings for which to care. To escape, Shell turns to a young new priest and her old childhood friend, Declan. Unfortunately for Shell, Declan runs off to American with no warning before she has the chance to tell him she is pregnant–which she is fervently denying to herself anyway. But Shell lives in a small town–where gossip runs rampant–and, upon the discovery of a dead baby boy in a cave near town, she becomes entangled in a police investigation.

One thing that really interested me during the story were some ancient stereotypes. First let me list some of them and then I’ll explain why I found it interesting.

  • Shell’s father is a drunk
  • Shell’s father is unemployed
  • Shell’s father is a thief
  • Shell is a young Catholic girl who got pregnant because of unprotected sex

Over a century ago there were a lot of Irish people immigrating to the United States. Common stereotypes were that the Irish were drunks, unemployable, thieves, and had huge families because they were irresponsible (and didn’t have protected sex). These old stereotypes were very strange things to find in the story, I thought. I kept wondering why Dowd would further such things in a story. And then I thought she might not be furthering them, but she may just want to bring it up (but that made me think that if she’s bringing it up, then maybe it’s somewhat normal, thus furthering the stereotypes). In the end, I figured that I was probably just putting too much thought into it, so I stopped thinking about it a lot.

I don’t think that I really learned very much about Ireland from the story. The only issues brought up were on a very small scale. Because of Shell’s father is unemployed, the family is “on the social” (I’m assuming that’s the equivalent of America’s welfare system)–but that’s the biggest that issue got. Religiously speaking, the new young (naive) priest has to be warned to not put himself in compromising situations with young women in the town because of “what’s been going on in the church lately.” I hadn’t realized that the issue with Catholic clergy abusing their position of power went as far back as the 1980s.

I am pretty certain that the main reason I feel I didn’t learn very much about Ireland is this: the cultures of modern US and Ireland are pretty much the same. The only part that was a bit foreign to me was the Catholic aspect.

All in all, though, I found the story to be pretty interesting. The part involving the police investigation really was a different spin on a story that I totally didn’t see going in that direction. And it was the sort of investigation that the reader knew the truth about. I just wanted to yell at a certain character and knock some sense into him.

Honolulu by Alan Brennert {audiobook}

TitleHonolulu
Author: Alan Brennert
Narrator: Ali Ahn
Genre: historical fiction
ISBN: 9781436171144
Length: 15.5 hours
Published: 2009
Source: public library
Rating: 5/5
Resolutions/Challenges: Regional USA Sub-Resolution

Reason for Reading: I was looking for something to read set in Hawai’i for my Regional USA Sub-Resolution. And this look at the life of a picture bride from Korea making something for herself in Hawai’i sounded intriguing!

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In Korea in those days, newborn girls were not deemed important enough to be graced with formal names, but were instead given nicknames, which often reflected the parents’ feelings on the birth of a daughter:  I knew a girl named Anger, and another called Pity.  As for me, my parents named me Regret.”

Honolulu is the rich, unforgettable story of a young “picture bride” who journeys to Hawai’i in 1914 in search of a better life.

Instead of the affluent young husband and chance at an education that she has been promised, she is quickly married off to a poor, embittered laborer who takes his frustrations out on his new wife. Renaming herself Jin, she makes her own way in this strange land, finding both opportunity and prejudice. With the help of three of her fellow picture brides, Jin prospers along with her adopted city, now growing from a small territorial capital into the great multicultural city it is today.  But paradise has its dark side, whether it’s the daily struggle for survival in Honolulu’s tenements, or a crime that will become the most infamous in the islands’ history…

With its passionate knowledge of people and places in Hawai’i far off the tourist track, Honolulu is most of all the spellbinding tale of four women in a new world, united by dreams, disappointment, sacrifices, and friendship.

My Thoughts: There are many things about this story that I love. First, and foremost, I love the setting, both in time and place. The majority of the story takes place in the 1910s, which is a time that I love. Particularly in American history, this is a time that marks the ending of a HUGE influx of immigrants. And then there is the setting–Korea and Hawai’i. I have never been to Korea (in books), so I was very interested to see a little of that culture. Turns out, that culture (as presented in the book, at least) isn’t very different from the Chinese and Japanese cultures of the same time. I realize that the time the story takes place had some influence on the culture.

Secondly, I especially like the second location I mentioned: Hawai’i. The time period in which the story took place was a tumultuous time in Hawai’i. There was a royal family that had lost its political power, yet Hawai’i was only an American territory, not a state. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure there was probably some identity crises going on amongst its citizens.

Only one thing from this entire story was a little off to me. That was Regret/Jin’s sister-in-law. Before she left Korea, a little 8-year-old girl was betrothed to one of her brothers and came to live with the family. When she left for Hawai’i, she hoped to get both an education and the money to send for her little sister-in-law to save her from such a life. But then most of the story goes on without mentioning this sister-in-law at all. A few times she is mentioned as Regret/Jin reestablishes her reasons for coming to Hawai’i. And she does go back and visit her for a bit in Korea. But I’m fairly certain all of the little sister-in-law could be cut from the book and there would be no major change to the story. And, now thinking about wanting an education in Hawai’i, I realize I’m a bit sad that Regret/Jin didn’t get that for a very long time–that’s a little disappointing as well.

But despite those two things, I really enjoyed the story and highly recommend it if you are interested in the time and/or place.

My Thoughts on Audio Format: Loved Ali Ahn. She has such a soothing, laid-back voice. Something I would definitely picture from stereotypical Hawai’i of today–mellow. Ahn had a lovely singing voice, as there were a couple of song-bits in the story that she sang. I think that she is definitely worth my looking into other audios she’s narrated–my TBR list might grow 🙂