Friday, September 26, 2008

Change of Heart

Title: Change of Heart
Author: Jodi Picoult
Date Finished: September 24, 2008
Pages: 464

This was my first Jodi Picoult book, after hearing such raves from my friends about her writing. I have to admit, I was very impressed. I was skimming through the new books at the library and happened upon it, so I figured it was a good place to start. This book deals with religion, death row, protection and the grey area between the lines in life. Jodi Picoult does a great job dealing with such a controversial issue, religion, and does not press or support one religion over another. I found myself doing quite a bit of life reflection after reading this book, and enjoyed thinking through some of the issues she presented.

The book opens with one of the main characters, June, tragically losing her husband. She is left behind with a daughter to raise, Elizabeth, and actually ends up falling in love with the police officer who was at the scene of her husbands death. They in turn get married, and while she is pregnant, she comes home to find that the carpenter she hired to finish adding a room on for the nursery, Shay Bourne, has killed both her second husband and her daughter. To make matters worse, her daughters underwear was found in the Shay's pocket. At the trial he is sentenced to death by lethal injection, which is the first case in quite some time in this town.

To complicate matters even more, Clair, June's second daughter, is in dire need of a heart transplant. Shay who exhibits Messiah like qualities wants to donate his heart, but only if it will go to Clair. June is furious when she hears this and will not allow that man's heart to be placed into her only surviving child. Enter two other main characters, Father Michael, who becomes Shay's spiritual advisor, and Maggie Bloom, who is a lawyer for ACLU and is trying to change Shay's method of death to be hanging instead of lethal injection so that his heart can be donated. Father Michael has a secret that he is too scared to share with Shay and Maggie for fear that it could drastically effect his credibility with the court.

Upon entering I-tier, the only place to keep a death row inmate, Shay exhibits Messiah like qualities by turning the water into wine, healing a pet bird of one of the inmates, distributing gum to each of the other I-tier occupants while only having one piece, apparently curing his cell neighbor of AIDS, and quoting scripture from a Gnostic book the Gospel of Thomas. As news travels of the supposed miracles of I-tier, people travel from all over with their sick, dying, blind, etc... loved ones and line up outside the prison in hopes of having them healed by Shay. This creates quite a ruckus, and those who are opposed line up with signs and protests as well.

June is faced with the ultimate decision. Does she lose her only surviving child by rejecting the heart of the man who took her family from her, or does she take the heart and save her child? As the story unfolds, you get caught up in the drama and action in each of the characters lives and find yourself holding your breath in anticipation of what will happen next.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will be sure to pick up another Jodi Picoult book in the future. There were many plot turns in this book that kept you on your toes anticipating which direction the story would take. There were some things that I figured may happen, but for the most part, I was happily surprised by the outcomes. I would highly recommend this book if you have not yet had the chance to read it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love

Title: Eat, Pray, Love
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Date Finished: September 9, 2008
Pages: 331

This work of non-fiction by Elizabeth Gilbert was the third book for my IRL book club. I was a little advantageous before starting this book because of the varying opinions I had heard from others. There are some people that really love this book and others who do not. After finishing the book, I feel like I would fall in the category of "liked" more than "disliked." There were several things that I could really connect to, and others that I felt were out of my league, but on a whole I really enjoyed the story of her journey for love, balance and enlightenment.

After ending up on her bathroom floor in tears night after night, Elizabeth Gilbert finally reaches her breaking point and calls out to God for some help. She has been married for 10 years, is approaching the age of 30, and realizes that she does not want children, or to be married to this man any longer. Eat, Pray, Love is about her year long journey across Italy, India and Indonesia in search of good food, love, and the pursuit of balance in her life. While going through her divorce, she throws herself into an on-again, off-again affair with a man named David. With the advance that she gets on a book deal, she decides to travel and in each of the three "I's" she is determined to get something from them. Her plan is to spend four months in each location, in Italy she will learn to speak Italian and eat wonderful food; in India she will stay at an Ashram where she will learn to meditate and get in touch with herself; in Indonesia she plans to seek out the "medicine man" she met there two years ago who then predicted her return to Indonesia and learn to ultimate balance in life.

I loved how she broke down the book. There are three sections to represent the three locations she will be staying in. But further than that, each section is broken down into thirty-six (36) chapters who relates to not only to her age, but is representative of the traditional beads that are worn in India that have 108 beads.
"Amid he more esoteric circles of Eastern philosophers, the number 108 is held to be the most auspicious, a perfect three-digit multiple of three, its components adding up to nine, which is three threes." (p.1)

I would have to say that my favorite section was Italy, but I really enjoyed the others are well. I have always wanted to go to Italy and her descriptions throughout the book are wonderful. Upon arriving in Italy, she connects with a set of twins who would like to learn English in exchange for teaching Italian, which is exactly what Elizabeth is looking for. She fantasises about falling in love, or in bed with Giovanni, one of the twins, but has promised herself that she will remain celibate throughout this year of searching for enlightenment. While she is in Italy, you learn the story of her divorce, and her relationship with David. I love how she is able to make friends no matter where she goes. She does not do much sight-seeing while in Italy, but when she does travel around she always asks for the best place to eat when she gets there and goes straight there and asks for their best dish. I love how adventurous she is with food. There are so many times when people travel to another place, but do not want to actually experience it because they are afraid, or picky, or it just looks weird.

The journey to India was interesting in that her goal there is to go to the Ashram and dive into meditation in the pursuit of devotion. I have never been one for deep meditation, especially with how hard it is to quiet the brain just to sleep. While Elizabeth is in India she meets Richard, from Texas. He is probably one of my favorite characters in the book. While they are at the Ashram, it is a place of quite, soul searching, meditation and there he is cracking jokes with her, calling her "Groceries" and making fun of her reactions when she is not able to meditate properly. He is great comic relief for a very intense section of the book. Although it takes her a while to finally be able to meditate and know that there will always be thoughts running through your head, you just have to ignore them. Before Richard left to go back home he had something to share with her "And, Groceries? Do me a favor? Move ahead with your life, will ya?" "I am." "What I mean is - find somebody new to love someday. Take the time you need to heal, but don't forget to eventually share your heart with someone. Don't make your life a monument to David or to your ex-husband." (p.188-189).

The part of this section that really touched me the most was Richard's description of the word soul-mate. "Your problem is you don't understand what that word means. People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that's holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it." (p.149).

Her last leg of the trip was to Indonesia. Right before she left India, Elizabeth realized that she had no idea how to find this "medicine man" of hers, or even if he would remember her. Upon arrival, she is informed that she is only allowed to stay for one month, which totally disrupts her plan, since she was intending to stay for four months. But, not letting this discourage her, she finds a hotel to stay in, and eventually finds her "medicine man." Much to her disappointment, he does not remember her at first, and even when he does, he does not remember offering her a place to stay. She forms a bond with him, and he considers her a true friend. Even though she does not end up teaching him English, like originally discussed, she learns a great deal from him. Not only about what he does as a "medicine man," but also about those who come to see him.

While in Indonesia, Elizabeth does eventually fall for a man named Felipe. Having a hard time letting go of her promise to stay celibate for the entire year, she eventually opens up her heart and lets Felipe in. Although I was happy for her finding someone to love, I could not help but wonder what her trip would have been like had she ended it completely on her own. She made some good friends while she was in Indonesia, and even had help from her friends in the stats to get one of them enough money to buy a home for her and her children.

I really did enjoy Elizabeth's journey and hope that she was able to continue her meditation and enjoyment of life once she was immersed back into her daily life in New York. It is often much easier to focus on something if that is all you do all day. In a different environment where you do not have the same distractions or commitments you do back in your own reality. I have heard that some consider her selfish for taking the time away to write this book. I would have to disagree. I think we all need to take the time to focus on ourselves once in a while, and to do that, yes, you do have to be a little selfish, but in our society, I think it is much needed. We are always willing to help other people, and often times we forget to help ourselves. It is hard to admit when we are depressed and need help, but it is something that lots of people go through, and there is nothing to be ashamed about. We need to be able to pick ourselves up, and get the help that we need. If that makes us selfish, then so be it!

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Enemy's Cradle

Title: My Enemy's Cradle
Author: Sara Young
Date Finished: September 5, 2008
Pages: 384

I have been wanting to read this book for a couple of months now, and had actually considered it for my selection in my IRL Book Club. However, when a friend told me about the Bang Bang Challenge, I decided to hold off a little bit and use this as one of my five choices. I have always been a fan of War book and movies, which being a girl will often get me strange looks, but I am particularly interested in World War II and anything that has to do with the Holocaust. In school, this was one of the most interesting topics for research and discussion for me and continues to make me wonder how things like this were allowed to happen.

Cyrla, who is half-Jewish, half-Dutch, was sent to live with her late mother's relatives in Holland when things in Poland were threatened by the Germans during World War II. Having her mother's blond hair, Cyrla's father believes she would be safer living with her mother's Dutch family than remaining in Holland with him and her two brothers. She and her cousin, Anneke, become like sisters and are always sharing things with each other. Cyrla is somewhat jealous of Anneke and the way she commands attention when she enters a room, how she can get the attention of any may she desires and how much simpler her life seems since she is not Jewish. To Anneke, the fact that Cyrla is half-Jewish does not really register, because for her, it is a moot point. They are family and that is all that matters. Anneke's father on the other hand, is very quick to point out that Cyrla could bring them problems with the SS since she is staying in their house.

Anneke falls in love with a German soldier, Karl, who is not really a Nazi sympathizer. Anneke becomes pregnant with Karl's child and after telling her parents is forced to be tested by the doctors at a Lebensborn, which is a home for women who are pregnant with German children. If a father is named, he is given rights to the child. If he is married, then the child is taken into his home and raised by his wife, if he is not married and does not wish to keep the child, it is put up for adoption and placement in a German family. The mothers are not allowed to keep the child for fear that they will take the kid back to their hometown and raise it to be an enemy of Germany or eventually birth children who will be enemies of Germany.

After some heartbreaking pages, Anneke is found dead by Cyrla and her aunt. Anneke's death is blamed on her father for wanting to send her to a Lebensborn and he disappears into the night. Cyrla's aunt decides that it is no longer safe for her and so she is urged to use Anneke's name and go to the Lebensborn in her place. Cyrla and Anneke are so identical they could be twins, but Cyrla fears that she will not be able to fool the doctors, nurses and other expectant mothers. The most obvious reason being she is not pregnant. Upon coming to live with her relatives, Cyrla made friends with a young Jewish man named, Isaak. Cyrla has very strong feelings for him and so she approaches him with her problem and he is willing to help her.

Cyrla will not leave Isaak without making him promise that he will come get her before she delivers the baby (since it will not be German) and he eventually promises to do so. Upon her arrival at the Lebensborn, Cyrla realizes that she has been taken to another location, inside Germany. With no way to relay this to Isaak, she becomes desperate to keep her identity hidden from those around her. Cyrla makes friends with some of the girls in the house, and one of the nurses, who she realises is not like the others. Even though she must keep her identity a secret, she longs for companionship and compassion. Not being able to communicate with her family, or even knowing where they are weighs heavily on her and keeps her constantly on her toes.

Karl appears at the Lebensborn one day after being informed that he has a pregnant woman there with him listed as the father. Upon seeing Cyrla instead of Anneke, Karl does not blowing her cover, instead he waits until they can speak privately to find out where Anneke is and what is going on. After delaying as long as possible, Cyrla finally decides to tell Karl the truth. He did not know that Anneke was pregnant and told Cyrla the story of what really happened the last day he saw Anneke. Not knowing that she was coming to tell him her big news, he had his own big news to share. He was not in love with her, but was actually falling for her cousin, Cyrla.

* Spoilers ahead*

Having a hard time believing anyone who wears the German uniform, Cyrla tries to ignore the kindness that Karl is bestowing on her, and for quite some time, she lies to him and denies anything he offers her. Eventually, she realizes that he really does care about her, and not just because she is Anneke's cousin, but for who she is. They fall in love in a time of war and hardship and both suffer great losses before the war is over. Not only does Cyrla lose her cousin, she finds out Isaak was killed in a concentration camp, possibly along with the rest of her family. Karl suffers a great deal too, he lost a child he did not even know about and when he helped Cyrla flee the Lebensborn, he was sent to a concentration camp himself and they removed his hands, since his pleasure in life was making boats.

This story, like many others during this World War, break my heart. I am always amazed at the strength some of those people portrayed, and hope that if I were ever put in a similar situation, I would be able to bend and not break. Sara Young does a wonderful job with the characters in this book and you feel as if you are there with them, helping them fight their battles, and hoping that she is never discovered.