Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

This book is far different from "The Red Tent," Diamant's feminist novel of biblical proportions that put her on the best seller list in 1997.  But then it is a totally different kind of book.

This is a historical novel that takes the form of a casually related oral autobiography of the main character, Addie Baum, an 85-year old Jewish woman, to her granddaughter, who asks her how she got to be the woman she is today.

Her story is presented to us in brief dated sections starting in the early 1900's continuing through till 1985.  It is told in a casual, relaxed, and straightforward style with humor and quiet reflection.  The themes of friendship and family are explored in their historical context.  It is not a nostalgic look back, in fact one of the closing sections is titled "Don't let anyone  tell you things aren't better than they used to be."  But it does have emotional resonance and is a nice portrait of one woman's complicated life in twentieth century America.  It is also an enjoyable read about a generation of women trying to find their places in a changing world.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

This novel is not just about reincarnation, though strictly speaking it is, but is a fascinating treatment of what happens to us after we die, and what happens before we are born.

Single Mom Janie is trying to figure out what's wrong with her son Noah.  He's terrified of water (so getting him to bathe is a battle).  He has nightmares so vivid and scary that even she is frightened.  He talks about things that someone his age does not normally know.  And he asks to go home to his other Mother.  When his preschool orders him to get a psychiatric evaluation, his Mom is at her wit's end.  One of the evaluating psychiatrists thinks he may be schizophrenic and need medicating.  But when she meets Jerome Anderson, who has spent his life looking for an explanation concerning children who remembered past lives, they find themselves caught up in another explanation entirely.  

This book explores the lengths we will go to for our children, the regret that we have at the end of our lives, the hope we have in the beginning...and everything in between.  Interspersed with actual cases from the practice of real life psychiatrists, it makes for a captivating and thought provoking read.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Reluctant Midwife by Patricia Harman

It's the Great Depression in rural West Virginia.  Men are out of work and women struggle to feed hungry children.  Nurse Becky Meyers moves to Hope River, WV along with her former employer, Dr. Isaac Blum, who is in a catatonic state apparently caused by the sudden death of his wife.  Not only does Dr. Blum need assistance with just the basics of daily living, but the local midwife, Patience Murphy, who is her good friend, needs assistance with  delivering babies, a task that Nurse Meyers finds terrifying--hence the "reluctant" part of the title.  Nurse Meyers also obtains a part time job as the nurse at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp and slowly starts to cope with the challenges of rural survival.  Difficult pregnancies, mining accidents, and a raging forest fire keep the story moving along at a brisk pace.  As Dr. Blum's condition starts to gradually improve, we start to get a glimpse into the tragedy that led him to his catatonic state and the complicated relationship between him and Becky Meyers is brought to the forefront of the story.  This is a moving story about the power of optimism and love to triumph over circumstances.  The history is well researched giving an accurate portrayal of race relations, mistrust of government programs, the state of medicine at the time, and the rejection of outsiders.  And the writing is solid and authentic with good characterization.  An overall good read.    

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