One might think that the Father of modern science would bear no commonality with the Father of Christianity (son when in the flesh), but there were similarities.
Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a city in Galilee, and Galileo’s last name was Galilei. Ok, maybe that one is a coincidence. More to the point, both were courageous enough to challenge previously held beliefs about the universe, and both were (at best) misunderstood and punished for their messages. Galileo lived the last of his days under house arrest, and Jesus perished on the cross.
Whether a Christian, a follower of science, or a believer in both, one must admit that history shows how people have rejected change and are unwilling to accept new ideas, beliefs, or innovations.
How is it that we remain unaccepting with thousands of years of separation and drastically different lives? Fear of the unknown is a timeless contributing factor, to be sure, yet I am inclined to believe it is the voices at the top that lead the charge who have the most influence over what is allowed as truth.
No matter what point in history, there has always been a narrative elicited by those in the power positions, who seek to keep things as they are and as they can control. The proletariat, continually the victims of the prevailing propaganda du jour via politicians and other governmental authorities. By design, the controlling force directs the thoughts of the masses, inert in their apathy, as they are either too comfortable or too afraid to ask questions, myself included.
A people divided are a people easily controlled. Polarisation being the continually viable schtick used by the puppet masters to obfuscate what they benefit from behind, and off, the backs of the citizenry.
The time to question everything is now, like never before. The mechanisms to assist those at the top when manipulating our minds are perfectly manifest in the modern technologies of AI, social media, and the internet at large.
I do not expect change, as this has been the way since time immemorial, but I also cannot help but feel that given the current technologies mentioned, we have the power to turn some of this on its face.
It feels like we are at a fork in the road. If we could only band the people together, we could use the technology that they are so skillfully using against us, to unify and defend against their divide and conquer.
Am I a dreamer? Probably. But I prefer dreaming big over accepting a scripted nightmare designed to keep me hating my fellow man. I have never been one to roll over and play dead, no matter how impossible things seem, so with something as important as our children’s future as a driving force, I sure as hell am not going to start now.
There is always common ground to be found, even when belief systems and world views appear to be opposed. You must, however, be willing to look.
Below you will find my reviews for the two Who HQ series volumes detailing the very different, yet sometimes similar, Jesus and Galileo.
Who Was Galileo? was the Who HQ book that sparked my, and my son’s, love of this informative and fun series. We were so excited to try out one of these slim, non-fiction paperbacks with the amusing bobblehead covers when searching the library’s website.
We highly enjoyed the rudimentary summary of Galileo’s experiments and discoveries and were deeply frustrated by all that he had to deal with when battling the Inquisition in Rome.
Galileo’s defence of the belief originally put forth by the mathematician Copernicus – that the planets, including Earth, orbited around the sun – was contradictory to the teachings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe and everything else orbited it.
The Catholic Church, at that time, saw the denial of Aristotle’s beliefs to be heresy, and as such Galileo became disgraced and was banished to house arrest for the last eight years of his life.
Eventually, in 1992, Pope John Paul II proclaimed his despair over the church having persecuted Galileo and his later proven scientific assertions. Too little too late, as they say, but a nod to science and truth, nonetheless.
After enjoying its concise information and the black and white sketches adorned throughout, I decided to take a peek and see if there were any more books in the series available at my favourite discount bookstore. As it turned out, there was a whole slew of these little historical gems just waiting for me, and we now have a big pile to draw from, so stay tuned for our thoughts.
After being absorbed by the book Who Was Galileo? a couple of weeks ago, my son and I immediately placed an order for a tonne more of the series. I may have gone a little crazy, but they were a good deal, so… Each book offers an escape into the life of a fascinating figure, but after sifting halfway through the pile the lad selected Who Was Jesus? as our first.
My husband and son are of Greek descent, and all of us are baptised Greek Orthodox, so stories about Jesus are not new to our reading rotation. Although not extensive, the timeline gave an appropriate and complete picture of Jesus’ story for my 8-year-olds intellect.
We learned about: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, his disciples, the miracles he administered, his enemies, his Crucifixion, the Gospels, and symbols of the Christian faith. We also enjoyed the section that detailed how Jesus was represented in Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism.
Again, I was impressed by the breadth of information provided in such a slim book. The sketches add a richness to the narrative that will keep readers riveted. I am sure most of you have read these already, and I am just late, but if you have not yet, get into them, you won’t be disappointed!
Today’s post is bought to you by the Beatles! Please stop and enjoy this musical interlude to brighten up your busy day. 😉
‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery None but ourselves can free our minds’ – Redemption Song – Bob Marley (as quoted in Educated)
Welcome to one of the lengthiest book reviews I have ever written, as there was a lot to find here and many poignant quotes to share. What follows is a mix of summary, commentary, and admiration for the fierceness of a woman who was able to persevere in the face of endless adversity.
After having spent the first 15 years of my life caught in the crosshairs of an unstable and abusive alcoholic father, without the assistance of any adults that would stand up to him, there was much I could relate to in Tara Westover’s struggle. Her story personally affected me much more than I had expected, and I was all in from beginning to end.
Educated is a candid recounting of Tara’s sojourn to self-discovery. With an obvious gift for writing, hers is a memoir that reads like literary fiction, so at no point did I feel trapped in the depths of her despair. I was often taken away by her contemplative and affective prose instead of feeling laden with sadness, as can sometimes be the case with life stories.
I have always supported homeschooling (done right), and had I the patience and resolve for such a task would have had my son learn at home as well. The Westover’s, however, were unaware of their limitations. What Tara and her siblings endured on that mountain was merely indoctrination that left them woefully unprepared for the real world. The minimal instruction their parents provided them was instead of an education, willful neglect, and dereliction of duty.
With a parent often floundering in the recklessness of mania, the disregard the Westover children met with due to their bipolar father and silent mother frequently caused me to seethe. The persistent bodily harm the children were subject to was shameful. Whether when being coerced to work in the family junkyard or whilst enduring the near-fatal car wrecks they landed in when their father was in a depressive episode, their fate was always in his hands. The continual isolation from school and doctors meant no checks and balances from the authorities, and the children were left to fend for themselves.
The hypocrisy in the home was rich and would be laughable if it were not so disastrous. They were strictly monitored concerning clothing choices, fraternising with members of the opposite sex, or being a part of a dance class, only to be left unprotected while dodging flying objects – or being set ablaze – in their junkyard.
A lack of parental guidance may force a child to depend on instinct, instilling in them a sense of hypervigilance. What forms as a necessity for survival when younger can root into a fortress of fear and isolation later in life.
‘Those instincts were my guardians. They had saved me before, guiding my movements on a dozen bucking horses, telling me when to cling to the saddle and when to pitch myself clear of pounding hooves. They were the same instincts that, years before, had prompted me to hoist myself from the scrap bin when Dad was dumping it, because they had understood, even if I had not, that it was better to fall from that great height rather than hope Dad would intervene. All my life those instincts had been instructing me in this single doctrine – that the odds are better if you rely on yourself.’
Trauma can turn you to stone, may convince you that you are impervious to pain, that you could never fall victim again. And this, in and of itself, is the effect that renders you impenetrable. This imposed encasing of your emotions leaves you incapable of letting in the good while you incessantly battle against the bad.
‘How I hollowed myself out…. I had misunderstood the vital truth: that it’s not affecting me, that was its effect.’
Tara commenced her education by reading math textbooks in the balcony section of the local theatre, where she was allowed to sing. Finding a way to make sense of the world was a step towards enlightenment, while the logic and order found within trigonometry helped to eclipse the chaos she was living.
‘I began to study trigonometry. There was solace in its strange formulas and equations. I was drawn to the Pythagorean theorem and its promise of a universal – the ability to predict the nature of any three points containing a right angle, anywhere, always. What I knew of physics I had learned in the junkyard, where the physical world often seemed unstable, capricious. But here was a principle through which the dimensions of life could be defined, captured. Perhaps reality was not wholly volatile. Perhaps it could be explained, predicted. Perhaps it could be made to make sense.’
It can be impossible to break the chains of dysfunction that tie us to our abusers, as we instinctively push anyone who tries to love us away, unable to reconcile what love even is. When chaos is all that you know, how can you feel comfort or solace in the calm embrace of an outsider? When will they realise who you are, and from whence you came?
‘If someone had asked me, I’d have said Charles was the most important thing in the world to me. But he wasn’t. And I would prove it to him. What was important to me wasn’t love or friendship, but my ability to lie convincingly to myself: to believe I was strong. I could never forgive Charles for knowing I wasn’t. I became erratic, demanding, hostile. I devised a bizarre and ever-evolving rubric by which I measured his love for me, and when he failed to meet it, I became paranoid. I surrendered to rages, venting all my savage anger, every fearful resentment I’d ever felt toward Dad or Shawn, at him, this bewildered bystander who’d only ever helped me.’
Tara continued to struggle with her identity when making choices based on her newly acquired knowledge. Her personal growth and strength implanted with it a sense of sadness, as it served to further divide and alienate her from her family, pushing her nearer estrangement. Although finding her own way was a necessity, as well as a reflection of her inner fortitude, it left her with a void that a family of origin fills, be they toxic or safe, loving, or detrimental.
‘ The truth is: that I am not a good daughter. I am a traitor, a wolf among sheep; there is something different about me and that difference is not good…I am not sorry, merely ashamed.’
The mistreatment Tara suffered was never exclusive to her father, her relationship with her brother Shawn mimicking that of a battered wife trying to survive her tyrannical husband. After countless beatings that kept her mired in shame, she blamed herself, as a traumatised brain is wont to do. It seemed that over the years, she coped by vacillating between fear and fondness for what she told herself was a special relationship they shared.
‘I begin to reason with myself, to doubt whether I had spoke clearly: what had I whispered and what had I screamed? I decided that if I had asked differently, been more calm, he would have stopped. I write this [in her journal] until I believe it, which doesn’t take long because I want to believe it. It’s comforting to think the defect is mine, because that means it is under my power.’
Not until Tara had heard accounts of Shawn’s abuse towards other women – even needing further admission from the men in their lives – did she trust her thoughts or the words in her journal.
We can speak endlessly about the damage inflicted by her father and brother, but I feel her mother needs to take a fair share of the blame, as well.
Not only did Tara’s mother not protect her, in many ways, she ‘parentified’ her. Like when trying to guilt her into caring for her abusive brother; that which her mother certainly had not prioritised the time to do herself, given how he turned out.
This ‘mother’ was often more concerned about covering up the image and fragility of her son, to the detriment of her daughter, and was quick to cut her off if she did not comply with the instructed narrative.
The exemption that Tara’s parents afforded their son at her expense saw her struggle with self-reliance and self-worth. I assume their allegiance to him is due to him being male, but it may also be for them to stay firm in their denial of how he turned out.
She found solace in her studies, as she took the ACT admissions test (twice) and stumbled through Brigham Young University. Accustomed to isolation, Tara suffered from social awkwardness and untold ignorance regarding societal issues and events in history. But, she stayed the course, and through ability and dedication, found herself with an opportunity to take her education to England.
In what seems like poetry, Tara went on to study historians at Cambridge. By escaping the dark shadow of misinformation cast by her father’s teachings, she was enlightened and able to study experts in the details of the past.
‘From my father I learned that books were to be either adored or exiled. Books that were of God – books written by the Mormon prophets or the Founding Fathers – were not to be studied so much as cherished, like a thing perfect in itself. I had been taught to read the words of Madison as a cast into which I ought to pour the plaster of my own mind, to be reshaped according to the contours of their faultless model. I read them to learn what to think, not how to think for myself. Books that were not of God were banished; they were a danger, powerful and irresistible in their cunning.’
In the eyes of her father, all of her hard work and fearless determination still were not her own. He dared to take credit for her successes, declaring that it was on behalf of her homeschooling that she achieved such honours. He believed she should publicly relay more gratitude to her parents for this.
No matter how far she travelled, she forever felt tethered to her family and her responsibility to her roots. Often there were opportunities for the Westover’s to drag Tara back into the family fold of delusion and deceit.
Being asked to forsake all that she had amassed, to fall right back into that which marred her start, was not only selfish on the parts of her parents but impossible for such a devoted and transformed person to allow. To do so would have been a sure contradiction to the mountainous acts of bravery, grit, and dedication that she channeled to become the person she now knew herself to be.
‘Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind…. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind. This was the price I was being asked to pay, I understood that now. What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon: it was me.’
The rejection she received because of her integrity almost caused her to fail her Ph.D. at Harvard. She became consumed with depression and loss as she bore witness to the tug-of-war between where she was going and where her family needed her to be.
‘The thing about having a mental breakdown is that no matter how obvious it is that you’re having one, it is somehow not obvious to you. I’m fine, you think. So what if I watched TV for twenty-four straight hours yesterday. I’m not falling apart. I’m just lazy. Why it’s better to think yourself lazy than think yourself in distress, I’m not sure. But it was better. More than better: it was vital.’
The entirety of her family’s love, save that from her brother Tyler and his wife, was conditional. An offer of reacceptance into the cult of Westover was eventually put forth, via ultimatum, that would see Tara throw herself on the altar of their perceived righteousness, seemingly as a sacrificial gesture of humility.
In the end, the fool’s paradise that her family expected her to reside in was too ridiculous for her emotional education to allow. She could exist with the guilt that she continued to allow them to assign her, or she could move on and live a life grounded in truth, taking pride in herself and her hard-won achievements.
‘But vindication has no power over guilt. No amount of anger or rage directed at others can subdue it, because guilt is never about them. Guilt is the fear of one’s own wretchedness. It has nothing to do with other people.’
Ultimately, I think the unresolved conflict that she waged within herself was rooted in her need to accept the different parts of who she was without shame or guilt. She had to reconcile that the girl that hailed from that dangerous mountain, living in the shadow of its demons, was also a part of the woman she now was. The convergence of these two personas would allow her to move forward in good faith and good health. Sadly – or graciously – this would have to be without the stranglehold of her family.
When perusing Goodreads, I saw that Tara’s mother had written a retaliatory book to her daughter’s claims laid out in Educated. From what I observed in various reviews, it was nothing more than an attempt to gaslight and invalidate Tara’s experience of her childhood.
She vehemently denied that Tara and her siblings were insufficiently educated or raised. In fact, she spent a lot of time defending her husband and his deranged behaviour.
In my view, their book provides proof that Tara continues to be the recipient of bad parenting. The Westover’s had no interest in protecting their children when they allowed unmitigated mental health issues to fester, and it was their (ignorant and paranoid) way or bust. She could not have proven Tara’s case any better than with the writing of their tone-deaf book.
Educated has made me a fan of Tara and her writing. I patiently await any lead she has left in her pencil.
I foundmyself thinking about Landslide by Fleetwood Mac a lot when reading this book, and even took a break to listen to it; it feels like a song that just fits the story.
Almost forgot to post this! My Free Bird Pencil Bookmark, inspired by Tara.
Have you read Educated? What is an inspiring memoir that you favour? I’d love to expand my collection with some stories of resilience, and would be interested in what you’ve enjoyed.
When I first spied the cover at the library checkout while picking up my stack of holds, it freaked me out and flung me back a couple of decades to the terror that consumed me when watching The Blair Witch Project; thelast horror film I have seen.
As I paused and did a double-take on the Returns bin four steps to my left, an ominous feeling settled in my stomach, signalling me to skip it and bolt.
Emboldened by the rave reviews for the Dublin Murder Squad series and my love of Ireland, I chose courage and decided to give In The Woods a chance. Now, pleased not to have caved to my inner scaredy-cat, I can report there is suspense, there are thrilling angles, and there is even a smattering of Celtic lore, but no horror, phew!
Rob Ryan is our narrator and protagonist, a sad sort, shaken and traumatised by earth-shattering loss in his early years; loss of memory, loss of friends, loss of time. I am no clinician, and this is fiction, but given the numerous trauma responses he elicits throughout the novel, it would seem he suffers chronic PTSD.
He never admits to any diagnosis that I can recall but does acknowledge upfront that he is prone to lying, no matter how much he craves the truth.
Although lying is not necessarily a trait of PTSD, it could help a sufferer avoid their issues as they flounder for control, avoidance being a dominating factor with the affliction.
Deception being an obligatory qualification of his career, he seems to share his propensity to fabricate with occupational pride; in Rob, we have the quintessential unreliable narrator.
At least his desire for truth stands to reason, evidenced by his search to learn more about his disassociated past. But how far will he detour to find out what happened?
As I tore through his story, I enjoyed the element of playing detective and tried to determine which parts of his narrative were truthful, which were the falsehoods, and most importantly, which were the lies that he told to fool himself. The skill of French’s writing ensures all three.
Cassie is a champ. In her new position as Inspector at the Dublin Murder Squad, her bravery is admirable, as she charges ahead, the only woman in a male-dominated landscape.
A role model to any woman, she faces life on her terms and will not let anyone or their conventions control her outcomes, regardless of the challenges posed against her.
This Vespa-driving rebel is a ride-or-die kind of girl with the grit to overcome, and I now have an answer when a blogger asks me which fictional character I would choose to be my bestie, haha!
“I can’t explain the alchemy that transmuted one evening into the equivalent of years held lightly in common. The only way I can put it is that we recognized, too surely even for surprise, that we shared the same currency.”
A loyal, patient, and formidable detective with a psychology background and an affinity for profiling, Cassie is the perfect fit for Rob, both as a professional partner and friend. But does he have the self-awareness to recognise what is best for him even when it’s dangling within his grasp?
“The girls I dream of are the gentle ones, wistful by high windows or singing sweet old songs at a piano, long hair drifting, tender as apple blossom. But a girl who goes into battle beside you and keeps your back is a different thing, a thing to make you shiver. Think of the first time you slept with someone, or the first time you fell in love: that blinding explosion that left you cracking to the fingertips with electricity, initiated and transformed. I tell you that was nothing, nothing at all, beside the power of putting your lives, simply and daily, into each other’s hands.”
The rookie inspectors are on the case of a young teen found murdered on an archaeological dig flanked by an apartment complex where she lived and the encroaching woods. Both of these places are familiar to Rob and his silent past, as the decades apart storylines become enmeshed and the mystery concentrated.
With no choice but to keep his story secret to avoid removal due to conflict of interest, he attempts to gain an understanding of what happened to him and his two friends in those woods so many years ago.
“There was a time when I believed I was the redeemed one, the boy borne safely home on the ebb of whatever freak tide carried Peter and Jamie away. Not any more. In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood.”
The true beauty of this tale is in its lyrical prose, but I took the most pleasure in the mind-fuck of psychological analysis through expertly drawn character development.
Real people, flawed and reactionary, had me whipping through these pages. Rob’s base instincts coming to the fore, as survival and coping skills present under cover of selfishness and ego, while he sacrifices others for his cause. But don’t worry, he will turn the sword unto himself, as personal-sabotage is never far away.
Rob is a blinding example of how certain traumas can erode a sense of self, how a lad can become convinced they are not worthy of connection and love.
When others are brave enough to attempt to crack the walls around that fortified heart, the traumatic brain will do anything in its power to push those people away, so that vulnerability is not an option. It is self-preservation at its most animal form, and it keeps suffers alone and broken.
After personally spending decades white-knuckling it through my days in this described state, I found the relatable-ness of Rob’s behaviour to be comforting. French offers one of the clearest literary examples of this textbook response to trauma that I have read, and given that I thought I was getting your usual police procedural novel, I was duly surprised by this cerebral bonus.
One of the more jarring police interviews in the novel detailed a teenage group sexual assault, which I feel I should mention here in the interest of warning those hoping to skip such incidents.
That said, it was not overly gratuitous, and gave me a lot to think about. I appreciated how the surfacing of this event years later during this murder case saw the rapist as someone with remorse evident when confronted with his detestable actions. I like to hope that even scumbags would at least feel bad about stealing a piece of someone’s soul.
Humans are resilient, and no matter victim or perpetrator, they can overcome the ills that have threatened to take them down. Doing the work necessary to face the reality of one’s experiences, gives you back your power and leaves you with the control to access those things that happened when and how you see fit, not when they decide to highjack you.
Rob is a tortured soul in multiple ways, not the least of which being survivor’s guilt. With the loss of his best friends and no memory of why he was the only one spared disappearance, his fractured mind is left to make sense of it and finds a way to blame himself for making it out of those woods alive.
“Sometimes I think about the sly, flickering line that separates being spared from being rejected. Sometimes I think of the ancient gods who demanded that their sacrifices be fearless and without blemish, and I wonder whether, whoever or whatever took Peter and Jamie away, it decided I wasn’t good enough.”
The Who-Done-It? aspect of this mystery was sufficiently undetected by me until near the time of its reveal, although I know a couple of other people who were able to figure it out earlier on. If I were to guess, aiming my attention at the psychological study playing out in the background and seeing the mystery as secondary helped me stay unawares in this regard.
This book was published in 2007 so I know I’m severely late to Tana French, aka the First Lady of Irish Crime’s party. As such, I have had occasion to hear other readers say they were disappointed by a lack of closure, and the tonnes of unanswered questions they didn’t know what to do with. To this I say, I am okay with that. This is the first in a long series, and with all of the bread crumbs French so expertly laid for me to follow In The Woods, I willingly, for(a)ge ahead in anticipation.
Here is the Celtic Triquerta Bookmark I was inspired to make, and I am so pleased with how it turned out because it was a little tricky!
Have you read this book or any others from the Dublin Murder Squad? Do you enjoy books that dive deep into human behaviourism and if so, can you recommend any?
This week on Saturday in Stereo we have the Peachy Books review for A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, read aloud by PeachyTO.
Please visit the Peachy Books YouTube channel or click on the video below to check it out. If you enjoy the reading, I’d be thrilled if you would ‘like,’ subscribe, and hit the notification bell; it will help my channel to grow, and you’ll be the first to know when the latest read-a-louds are available. Thank you so much for your support!
To find the written review for A Man Called Ove and see the Two Pink Potted Flowers bookmark I was inspired to make, please click here.
While looking to expand my reading horizons and unaware of where to start, I spotted this bright red book in my library stack. Perfect timing; I can tackle one of my overdue books and commence my journey into sci-fi with a trusted author.
Kazuo Ishiguro is a thoughtful writer, melodically attuned to the jangly realness of the human journey. His mega-hits: Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, are still with me a decade later, so needless to say, I felt pumped for an encore.
Artificial intelligence and gene editing are chilling realities, the former leading the charge in controlling the masses with manipulated computer algorithms, while the latter threatens to produce designer babies. And to be clear, this is the current human experience in reference, not Ishiguro’s world. This new techno-feudalism that our AI evolution is ushering us into as a society is smelling pretty funky.
But, back to the book, I was thrilled to learn that these two modern-technology themes were the basis of its foundation.
Klara and the Sun was my foray into AI, and since reading it last month, I feel haunted by the questions Ishiguro has left me with surrounding AF (artificial friend) engineering and how it could mould our future.
Will these machines stifle physical human contact even more than the internet has? Can the chemistry and connection achieved through the human heart be mimicked or even supplanted by androids with their keen AI and programming? In the end, will more humans end up alone?
‘”Do you believe in the human heart? I don’t mean simply the organ obviously. I’m speaking in the poetic sense. The human heart. Do you think there is such a thing? Something that makes each of us special and individual?”’
It is through the eyes of Klara, one of the older model humanoid AFs in the shop fronting the busy metropolitan street, that we begin Part 1 and the slow burn through this dystopian tale.
With AFs in rotation for display in the window, they all eagerly await a turn to soak up the Sun’s solar energy and draw in curious onlookers and passersby. Manager discourages them from looking at the people unless they approach the AF first, and only then the AF must respond in kind.
Josie had engaged Klara in the display window a couple of times in previous weeks and had taken a shine to her. The excited AF secretly waited and wished that the girl would one day return and take her home.
That day finally arrived, and although the Mother was inclined to purchase one of the newer B3 models, there was only one friend that Josie had in mind.
After Manager informed the Mother of Klara’s exceptional observational abilities, and the Mother had the droid perform a few strange requests to her satisfaction, it seemed that mayhaps she was the perfect fit for the sickly child after all. And so began, along with Part 2 of the novel, the start of her life with her new human family.
Klara is, technically, a robot, but suppress the urge to refer to her that way, as using the R-word is improper etiquette. She is nurturing, respectful, loyal, and encouraging, a desirable host of traits for a companion to a child, by any measure.
As a devout solar-charged android, Klara’s faith in the Sun and Its power is present throughout and at times seemed reminiscent of a human worshipping their God. She calls upon the divine light to intervene and heal the ill children in the way a mother would pray to her maker for the life of her ailing child.
Just like Man, she seemingly struggles with her faith and even commits acts of sacrifice in an attempt to lessen the dreaded Pollution, in reverence to the great Sun.
‘And it was clear the sun was unwilling to make any promise about Josie, because for all his kindness, he wasn’t yet able to see Josie separately from the other humans, some of whom had angered him very much on account of their Pollution and inconsideration, and I suddenly felt foolish to have come to this place to make such a request.’
In Ishiguro’s scarcely delineated world, there seem to be many children in need of healing. From what I could surmise, the gene-editing chosen by the parents with ‘Courage’ comes at the cost of a weakened immune system for the modified child.
Roll the dice for a chance at a future where the odds will be forever in your favour!
But if, against all odds, you choose to let your child enjoy their youth in health with minimal risk of serious illness, unlike the children of families with ‘Courage,’ the institutional deck will be eternally stacked against them. The system design accordingly offering them no other option than to assume their rightful role as a modern-day serf.
Josie is one of the ‘lifted’ children, thanks to the Mother’s bravery. She is tutored through her ‘oblong’ in place of attending school, only rarely interacting in person with other socially awkward children in strangely crafted social settings, in the hopes of preparing for the social element of college one day.
As she struggles to maintain her health throughout, sometimes not well enough to even sit up in bed, Klara’s primary responsibility is to keep vigil and help the girl find comfort.
Josie’s best friend and neighbour Rick is not ‘lifted’ and provides Josie a peek into an old-school childhood filled with running, playing, and exploring.
Rick is always eager to hang out with Josie when her health will allow it. They are smitten and prefer each other’s company over all else, Klara presenting as a 3rd wheel at times. One of the sadder parts of the book for me was observing the forces aligned to pull them apart when they want nothing more than to be together.
Although the parents of the unedited aren’t appointed the antithetical moniker Cowardly, the message seems clear: not being brave enough to put your children’s life on the line marks you as a traitor to your community and deserving of a lower station in society as a consequence.
Damn! That is not a world I would want to live in!
Ishiguro must have written this book pre-pandemic, but it seems to parallel the virus hell we’re in quite aptly. Between children schooling in isolation via computer screens to divisive narratives of intolerance strategically placed to shame dissenters into submission if they dare choose not to have their children ‘lifted,’ or currently, Covid-vaccinated, this all seems eerily familiar.
Josie’s relationship with the Mother was fascinating for me. I craved more access to their thoughts and motivations; wished for some changing points of view between Klara, the Mother, and Josie. But that would take the focus off Klara, and she is the star of this show.
Klara’s omnipotent ability to understand the manipulation-volley between the Mother and Josie so accurately through mere observation was freaky. Will future robots be so advanced that they can anticipate human behaviour, even while the flawed human is dizzied by emotion? That’s some scary shit and doesn’t leave us much of a fighting chance in a future battle against the machines.
Ishiguro’s expertise in the psychology of people and their motivations is one of the things I love about his writing. In Klara and the Sun, we are offered a window into a humanoid’s grid-squared mind, and it was fun to see the inventiveness of his descriptions as he attempted to understand and convey the robot as he does the man.
Coming from a subhuman vantage point, so much of this story feels fresh and new, if not under-developed. I never realised how much I thirsted for other-worldliness in a story until having read it, this point alone proving a win for the genre. In short, I’ve been missing out!
That said, other than for Klara, there was never any real connection to the characters formed. I didn’t care for nor dislike them, they were just…meh. I wonder if this is intentional, to let Klara and her star shine? Maybe it was because people had become less admirable due to their dystopian circumstances; more polarised; less likable? Am I blaming the author for sharing a world that is too unappealing and upsetting to appreciate on its merits? Maybe.
The measure of an important book, in my view, is the amount of time I spend thinking about it after I’ve closed the cover. Klara and the Sun bringing to mind topics such as AI, DNA manipulation, pollution, and modern feudalism have left this piece of speculative fiction hovering around me and jumping out from behind corners ever since I put it down; a literary haunting.
I’m not one to reread a book, but this one is headed to the Future-Book-Club list to be properly analysed at a later date. I prefer to take comfort in the solace of differing perspectives from respected readers in my midst, which serves as a great way to attempt neutrality and remain questioning. But most importantly, other people help make processing grave concepts more fun and slightly less frightening, as you collectively share the burden of the conclusions.
Have you read Klara and the Sun? What do you think about gene-editing and AI becoming part of the everyday human experience? As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on these important yet jarring technological advances, so let’s talk in the comments!
This is the Sunshine Bookmark Klara’s devotion to the Sun inspired me to make.
This week on Saturday in Stereo we have the Peachy Books review for Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, read aloud by PeachyTO.
Please visit the Peachy Books YouTube channel or click on the video below to check it out. If you enjoy the reading, I’d be thrilled if you would ‘like,’ subscribe, and hit the notification bell; it will help my channel to grow, and you’ll be the first to know when the latest read-a-louds are available. Thank you so much for your support!
To find the written review for Say Nothing and see the Tricolour bookmark I was inspired to make, please click here.
Oh dear, this book should come with a warning label or a box of tissues because as silly as I felt, I was crying my face off at least three times when reading it. And I am NOT a crier. Or at least I wasn’t until now. I had no choice in the matter. I fell in love with Ove and his neighbour Parvaneh and was so invested that I ended up buried deep in all the emotions the story heaps upon them.
Everyone knows someone like Ove: a grumpy, (possibly) old grouch who others assume is just mean and miserable by nature. This sour curmudgeon may be your grandpa or your aunt, a teacher or a neighbour, but they slog about in ill-temper, with a resting bitch face that could frighten a prison guard.
With a busy schedule and the fear of the unknown providing a buffer, one’s inclination is self-preservation, and accordingly, you may opt to leave them alone to their misery. What both Ove’s wife Sonja and Parvaneh teach us is that our assumptions can be disastrously wrong. I found many similarities between their two personalities and how they related to Ove.
His misunderstood and surly nature is a protective and well-honed coping mechanism, one he crafted as a lonely soul trudging through the depths of misfortune and sadness that life dragged him through.
He has lived through harsh times, in that he has suffered many familial losses, heartache, and disappointment. A man from the old school, his steadfast principles are to work hard, be honest, and do the right thing, no matter what. Well, that and driving a Saab!
The untimely death of his virtuous father, rendering him an orphan in his teens, left him holding firmly to these inherited dogmas and, consequently, vulnerable and plagued with naivety.
The old adage no good deed goes unpunished ran through my mind often as he went it alone and learned about the hard lessons of life, suffering those who would take advantage of his righteous ways.
Backman’s twisting of the past with the present gives us a clear view of the hardening that sets over Ove as trauma and tragedy mould him into the cantankerous sourpuss his neighbours know him to be.
‘He knew very well that some people thought he was nothing but a grumpy old sod without any faith in people. But, to put it bluntly, that was because people had never given him reason to see it another way.‘
As destiny would have it, another of Ove’s unfortunate setbacks was a heart condition that kept him from serving in the Military, that routine-laden world comprised of rules and purpose, where he felt he could belong.
‘Military personnel wore uniforms and followed orders. All knew what they were doing. All had a function. Things had a place. Ove felt he could actually be good as a soldier. In fact, as he went down the stairs to have his obligatory medical examination, he felt lighter in his heart than he had for many years. As if he had been given a sudden purpose. A goal. Something to be.’
The best bit of fortune he ever received and the highlight of his days was meeting his effervescent bride-to-be, Sonja, on a passenger train one fateful day.
Sonja is life and love in colour, nurturing Ove and her wayward students with smiles of confidence and hope. She sees her husband for who he really is underneath the gruffness and the black and white. The love and appreciation they share for each other are the good stuff that made me feel the painful parts more keenly.
‘And when one of her girlfriends asked why she loved him she answered that most men ran away from an inferno. But men like Ove ran into it.’
‘Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.’
With the passage of time and circumstance, Ove struggles with what remained of his life, as he lacks purpose and connection. Thanks to his job pushing him into early retirement and nothing or no one to live for, what was left?
‘And Ove didn’t know exactly when he became so quiet. He’d always been taciturn but this was something quite different. Maybe he had started talking more inside his own head. Maybe he was going insane (he did wonder sometimes). It was as if he didn’t want other people to talk to him, he was afraid that their chattering voices would drown out the memory of her voice.’
Queue Parvaneh and her cacophonous clan moving in across the way.
Between breaking condo rules, asking for help, and showing up unannounced with home-cooked meals, they shove their way into the void of Ove’s darkened heart, and not a moment too soon. He’d had enough of the struggle to carry on and had been plotting his mortal exit, but thanks to the interruptions of his overly involved neighbours, he would be halted sometimes seconds before he was successful.
The juxtaposition of the grumpy older man alongside the vivacious young mother was a pleasure to read. I could feel my spirits lifting with Ove’s as he started to connect with Parvaneh’s daughters, conspire to tease her dopey husband, and grow stronger from the purpose he again felt in his existence.
It was heartwarming to watch the new seasons of Ove’s life as he blossomed again into a neighbour that put himself out for others, caring enough to do so. His rigidity began to soften while going with the flow of the new relationships being cultivated, his story unfurling into acceptance and light.
This book was an emotional rollercoaster, completely worth the ride. Themes of friendship, purpose, and connection had me mournfully reflective of what the lack of these things means to our society during lockdowns and the isolation of this pandemic. How many Ove’s needing a Parvaneh can’t meet her because of this mess, and what can they do to persevere until things get back to normal?
Community is the key to healing from loss and loneliness. Being a part of a group provides a sense of purpose and a feeling that people care whether you live or die. Sometimes that same community is the one thing that will prevent someone from succumbing to their struggle.
Don’t give up on yourself or your neighbour; be brave, make time, keep smiling, and let the Ove in your life have a second chance.
One of the beautiful things about the internet and blogging is the ability to maintain community, even if we are isolated from others physically. The comments section is an excellent place to do that. Have you read A Man Called Ove? Did it make you ugly cry and have you running to clean your face before your family made fun of you, or maybe that was just me?😭🤭
Reading this moved me to make this adorable Two Pink Potted Flowers bookmark.
I’m noticing that six books a month is the best I can manage given my busy schedule, so I suppose I’ll finally accept this and stop making excuses for a slow reading month, as I did with the last two Month in Review posts. Gone are the days when I could spend endless hours reading books while my son toiled away at his computer for virtual school, and I could be flexible with my time. Instead we get to enjoy bike rides, gardening, and trips to the lake, so all is well that ends well.
I’m pleased to report there were a couple of thought-provoking reads this month. I also read my first horror fiction since my Stephen King days back in my youth, and enjoyed it far more than I’d anticipated. I’ll be working on detailed reviews for Klara and the Sun and The Lion, The Witch,and The Wardrobe, so watch for them in the coming weeks, along with my thoughts on some other fabulous books.
Stephen King was one of my go-to authors in my youth. It was thrilling to spook my teenage self with stories like Christine, Carrie, Cujo, and Pet Sematary. I had an obsession with Anne Rice for a few years while enamoured with The Witching Hour and the Mayfair Witches, when all of a sudden, that was it; creepy tales were banished from my reading list in favour of the classics, contemporary and literary fiction.
Intending to expand my horizons and see what modern horror fiction looked like, I decided to dive into this morbid tale, and I am glad I did. Thankfully I wasn’t traumatised but instead shuddered through an appropriate level of hair-raising and devilish delight as McMahon twisted together the frightful past of the cursed Bradenburg Springs with its modern-day horrors.
The Drowning Kind doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, so be forewarned that this story shines a blinding light on mental health, infertility, and self-harm.
What a hoot! Aliens on Vacation was the hilarious first book in the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast series (review for it here), and this gem was the second. I dare say it was better than the first, which, given how rarely I’ve experienced this phenomenon when reading or watching films, is quite the honour for the second novel in a series to obtain.
David is super excited to be back at his grandma’s B & B for another summer, but when things don’t start off on the right foot between him and the new crabby off-world employee Scratchull, he begins to feel differently. With the help of David’s new ravenous alien-pet Snarffle, there may be hope for the summer, and humanity at large.
This is Where it Ends is the miss of the month for me. I struggled to take in the first 50 pages with its slew of characters, changing viewpoints, and info-dumping. In hindsight, I should have quit while I was ahead, but I restarted and felt confident enough to keep going the second time and saw it through to the end.
Although the theme of a school shooting is an intense one, I was bored when reading this. I had no attachment to the characters who felt fake and forced, as did their connections to each other. I read that this author is part of an initiative for inclusive YA publishing, and quite frankly, was left feeling that this goal ended up taking over the story to the point where all else was lost. Tokenism is not the road to inclusivity.
I’m still feeling a bit hazy weeks after reading Ishiguro’s latest. I’m not sure that I fully grasped all that he was trying to convey. Artificial intelligence is the way of the future, and I have mixed feelings regarding this technology and how it will interact with the easily swayed masses. I was hopeful that I would come out the other side of this novel with a clearer picture of what AI can and might do for society, but, alas, I am just as befuddled as when I went in.
Klara is an AF (artificial friend) commissioned to keep 14-year-old Josie company as she struggles with her health and tries to maintain her education via a tutor on her oblong (something similar to a tablet, if I’m guessing.) This thought-provoking novel is presented through Klara’s naïve first-person narrative while she attempts to navigate life amongst the humans in this apparent dystopian society. I have my fingers crossed that I will be able to hash out more of a coherent understanding once I start dissecting my notes and working on a full review, so stay tuned.
This tragic tale of unrequited love, denial, and self-loathing is heartbreaking. Paradoxically, I despise David whilst harbouring a sadness in my heart for the man he never truly allows himself to be.
My head is foggy amidst the desolate exploitation that permeates this story and its characters as I recognise the societal fear, opposition, and hatred that pushes it to the fore.
I have so many thoughts still swirling that this review will likely become more detailed with time. For now, I will continue to process this heartbreaking and ugly tale while I wallow in the gloomy yet masterful prose of James Baldwin.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia series as far as the storyline but is the first published and most beloved of the seven fantasy tales. There has been much contention in literary circles over the years regarding which order is most appropriate to read them in, but we just made it simple and went in keeping with the plot.
This internationally renowned children’s classic is a magical tale of adventure that unfolds in the wintry fantasy land of Narnia, where the children learn lessons about life and themselves. Reading this is a reader’s rite of passage, so I hear, but although I will admit to enjoying this book, some parts set off my creep metre. I’ll save these thoughts for my detailed review. 😉
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series that I have enjoyed reading aloud to my son, thanks to all the animated voices I can use for the talking animals and bold characters. To hear my dramatic reading of Chapter 11 of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Aslan is Nearer, click here.
Have you read any of these titles? What was your favourite read from July?
Historical fiction is one of my top genres, so I was eager to read this book set in depression-era New York City with my Li’l Peach. Just like mum, the budding bookworm is a lover of history. We had only ever read non-fiction books about the past, so this was an exciting read that introduced him to a beloved genre.
At the commencement of this fast-paced story, Vita and her mother had just traversed the ocean from England to assist her ailing grandfather. Her mother was hopeful that with the clearing up of his financial affairs, he would return to the UK with them in the coming weeks. The loose ends would take a little more work to clear up than anyone had imagined, least of all Vita.
The frail man defeatedly admitted that for a mere two hundred dollars, the equivalent of three thousand today, he had been scammed out of ownership of the historic family castle by a bulldozing, real-estate mogul. Although her grandfather seemed resigned to this fact and his inability to do anything about it, Vita had other plans.
If she could get into the castle and dig out some abandoned treasure, they would use the proceeds from the sale of the gem to get a fancy lawyer and set things straight. This lofty goal would seem all the more difficult to achieve given her apparent limitations: the painful and maldeveloped foot she acquired from her battle with Polio years earlier and her ignorance about the big city that she now must expertly navigate.
Possible impediments aside, our fearless heroine ventures out on her own to do a recognisance mission when she ends up crossing paths with my favourite character of the book. Silk, a homeless young teen, rough around the edges and tough-as-nails, is a hustling pick-pocket, the perfect match for the courageous Vita. As fate would have it, she also befriends Samuel and Arkady – performers in a travelling circus running temporarily at Carnegie Hall, just across the way from where her grandfather lives. Together they form a tattered yet tenacious crew of ‘good thieves,’ and the story jets off from there.
Bravery, ability, and determination are the guiding forces for this talented gang of kids as they seek to defeat the scoundrel Sorratore as he stealthily attempts to snatch up historic properties across New York City. Thanks to their diverse skillset: Samuel the acrobat, Arkady the animal whisperer, Silk the street hustler, and Vita with the expert aim – a skill she picked up when she was a small child, under the tutelage of her now infirm grandfather – a tightly-woven plan was all they would need to succeed.
The all-important red notebook held the path to victory as Vita prepared every step needed for things to come together. Unfortunately for them, they met much friction along the way. Vita is an admirable role model for young readers, as her organisational skills and strong leadership are matched only by her grit to fight through the discomfort and pain of her mission.
There were teachable moments throughout the story, as themes of family, friendship, loyalty, racism, crime, and dishonesty are in abundance. Visually evocative scenes play out as Rundell transports us through the bustle of Manhattan, the landscapes of suburban New York, and the majesty of the decaying castle.
Endearing characters, an exciting plot, appropriate pacing, and sheer enjoyment have me rating this middle-grade fiction gem 4.5 peaches and adding Rundell’s other popular offering, Rooftoppers, to my list without delay.
Have you or your little ones read The Good Thieves or Rooftoppers, and if so, what did you think?
Here is the bookmark I was inspired to make whilst reading this fun novel.
Ooh, I ripped right through this wild ride, and no amount of ruckus from my little lad, ringing from the telephone, or beeping from the oven timer *insert photo of burnt rolls here* was able to break my concentration!
The One was a timely read for me, given I had recently read The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson. The latter is a non-fiction book about Jennifer Doudna, one of the pioneering scientists behind the RNA CRISPR technology used for gene editing, and John Marrs’ offering is an inventive fictional story about soulmate matching via DNA chemistry. Not the same in premise, but with both selections, I found myself lost in thought about the ethics of scientists being able to play God, so to speak, and the unintended consequences of tampering with our genetic makeup.
Sure, it might seem like a splendid proposal, being matched with your soulmate, therefore bypassing all the wasted dates with Mr. or Ms. Wrong, and instead, being fast-tracked to blissful happiness…but what of the Mr. or Mrs. Mediocre that you love and were already married to – with 3 kids and a mortgage – before the advent of this Machiavellian scientist’s discovery? What about the people that don’t have matches, and become the lower tier of society: the ‘unmatched,’ and consequently, unloved? Damn, those unintended consequences sure can do a number on the innovations of society.
Ethical debates aside, this is one of the fastest-moving novels I have ever read. I’m sure that the adeptly crafted point-of-view changes between five different clients that were ‘matched’ with their DNA soulmate had a lot to do with this, but it is also an intensely suspenseful thriller that kept me fully immersed. It is like reading five independent books simultaneously, as each person’s story follows its ups, downs, and plot-twisting climaxes, but there is no struggle to keep them straight.
Each tale is unique and inspires reflection, yet my only contention with this style of writing in an average-sized novel is that there is no chance for any substantial character development. Maybe I’m just loyal to an aspect of a story that I cherish, though, and this isn’t required for all books, as clearly the entertainment value was not lacking.
There is a whole lot of crazy in these characters, as well as some exceptionally creative plot lines that challenge conventional wisdom. This had me curious about Marrs’ other books and what unique perspectives they may offer, so halfway through The One I took a trip to his Goodreads Author page, where I promptly added all of his books to my queue, haha. I’m not sure when I think I’m going to read all of the thousands of books on my growing TBR list, but I digress.
The themes offered throughout, however succinct in their delivery, are surrounding love, manipulation, desperation, mental illness, and revenge. Although you won’t find any earth-shattering quotes to pin up on your mirror, the writing is sound and the flow is smooth. I’m going to give this one a 4.5 peaches, with that half a peach remaining for the loss I felt of not being invited to know the characters and their motivations more keenly.
So, the next time you find yourself in the dreaded reading rut, give this one a go, it will blow your mind!
This is the DNA Strand bookmark I was inspired to make after reading The One.