Ladies on Literature
Well, hello summer! We’re so excited to see your sunshine and sip your bounty as we celebrate two of the best books we’ve ever read.
Along with fun and friendship, we recently gathered in support of our local chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (cmhakelowna.com) and Room to Read (www.roomtoread.org), a non-profit focused on girls’ education and children’s literacy in Asia and Africa.
Check us out online for recipes and more reviews at shannonlinden.ca
The Art of Racing in the Rain
By Garth Stein
If you've ever loved a canine, you're gonna love this book. The story follows the life of aptly named racecar driver, Denny Swift, but it's told from his beloved dog’s point of view.
Enzo is some sort of lab-terrier mix (Stein had me at mutt; our German Shepherd Border Collie-X was adopted from the SPCA). Named in tribute to Enzo Ferrari, of the high-performance Italian car fame, he’s not your ordinary pooch.
Convinced he will return as a human in his next life, Enzo devotes himself to caring first for Denny, followed by his wife, Eve, and eventually, the most vulnerable of his two-legged charges, their daughter, Zoe. Enzo takes his duties as dog of the house seriously whilst astutely studying the habits of humans in preparation for his eventual reincarnation.
Though he bemoans his lack of opposable thumbs (and envies monkeys and their fortunate dexterity) he is quite industrious at communicating. Most of what he learns he acquires from watching television all day, but he also picks up some pretty touching analogies from watching old race car driving tapes with Denny.
You know it's going to be a tissue-grabber right from the wave of the green flag, when it opens with Enzo acknowledging he’s an old dog on his way out, but he's okay with that because he's always known “he's stuffed into a dog’s body, but…it’s what’s inside that’s important. The soul.”
Reflecting, Enzo recalls how he initially resented the arrival of Eve—she who was well groomed, unlike him.
“Did I envy her?” Enzo asks. “Perhaps.”
With her “soft green eyes” that peered out “from under stylish strands of straight blonde hair,” Enzo can’t help but admire Eve’s appearance, including trimmed (and painted) nails. He is in awe of her clean smell and the fact Denny indulges her every whim.
Ultimately Enzo comes to admire the female sex—the “life makers”—marveling that they carry an entire creature inside (“other than tapeworms, which don’t really count since they’re parasites that should never have been there in the first place”).
The book is laugh-out-loud funny but chockablock full of poignant lines, among my favourites: “No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there.” And this gem: “There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you were afraid to lose.”
Like the most faithful of companions, ever-loyal Enzo sees his family through many years and a multitude of events, including Eve’s cancer diagnosis and her parents’ shocking betrayal of Denny. I won’t say more lest I spoil the rather abrupt change of course the book takes.
While the in-laws are presented as cardboard cut outs of horrid people and the event that leads to their betrayal is a little convenient, these minor criticisms are easily forgiven because this story is so fantastically told.
Enzo is such an endearing narrator and the book’s theme, “Life, like racing, is about so much more than simply going fast,” is so poignantly driven home, my thanks to Cindy W for selecting what has become one of my most beloved LOL reads.
The Poisonwood Bible
By Barbara Kingsolver
When LOL member, Laurie, chose The Poisonwood Bible, I said a prayer of thanks. One of my all-time favourite books by one of the authors I most respect, I first read this epic novel more than a decade ago, when I lived in The Middle East. We were a group of Canadian girls who convened in air-conditioned apartments once a month, and while the location and the ladies have changed, this book still beckons.
The story has stayed with me. Brilliantly told and breathtakingly beautiful, it’s one that will haunt you, like the ghost of the child lurking on nearly every page.
Nathan Price is an Evangelical Baptist, as fierce as his hair is red. His mission to Christianize the 1959 Belgian Congo results mostly in misery for his family, apathy and then acrimony for the Congolese. A hugely ambitious undertaking, the novel spans three decades of postcolonial Africa and well over 500 pages of reading. It truly begs for a bigger review, given its breadth and complexity.
"Dancing between the dark comedy of human failings and the breathtaking possibilities of human hope,” the work establishes Kingsolver as a fastidious researcher and a profound poet.
Her website sums the plot best, noting the book is, "Set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the 20th century: the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy."
Told in the alternating voices of the resigned wife, Orleanna Price, and her four daughters: the shallow teenager, Rachel, gifted twins Leah and Adah, and the “prescient” five-year-old, Ruth May, each character represents a unique perspective of the family’s shared experiences and most often tragic events.
"Marked in surprisingly different ways by their father’s intractable mission, and by Africa itself, each must strike her own path to salvation."
Maybe even better the second time around, you’ll need time to read it, but this book will educate you, endear you to Africa, and have you asking endless questions.