[Book Thoughts] Come From Away by Genevieve Graham

Book Details:

Format: Paperback
Source: Author
Read: April 2018

Synopsis:

In the fall of 1939, Grace Baker’s three brothers, sharp and proud in their uniforms, board Canadian ships headed for a faraway war. Grace stays behind, tending to the homefront and the general store that helps keep her small Nova Scotian community running. The war, everyone says, will be over before it starts. But three years later, the fighting rages on and rumours swirl about “wolf packs” of German U-Boats lurking in the deep waters along the shores of East Jeddore, a stone’s throw from Grace’s window. As the harsh realities of war come closer to home, Grace buries herself in her work at the store.

Then, one day, a handsome stranger ventures into the store. He claims to be a trapper come from away, and as Grace gets to know him, she becomes enamoured by his gentle smile and thoughtful ways. But after a several weeks, she discovers that Rudi, her mysterious visitor, is not the lonely outsider he appears to be, but someone else entirely—someone not to be trusted. When a shocking truth about her family forces Grace to question everything she has so strongly believed, she realizes that she and Rudi have more in common than she had thought. And if Grace is to have a chance at love, she must not only choose a side, but take a stand.

My Thoughts

Thank you to Genevieve Graham for a copy of this book for review!

Oh my gosh, I don’t even have words to describe how much I loved this book! This is only my second Genevieve Graham story I’ve read and I just adore her writing; her characters are real, lovely, imperfect and yet charming, and her Canadian scenery is completely brought to life: you can envision the setting she’s describing and almost picture yourself there, in the historical Canadian east. Her stories are beautiful and layered and can get your heart beating, but still bring tears to your eyes. Needless to say, I really, really love her writing, just from the bit I’ve sampled so far.

Initially I had my worries because Graham had talked about bringing back the Bakers from her previous novel, Tides of Honour, and all I could think was, “Oh no, another ‘series’ – it’s not going to be good!” However, right off the bat, even before the story starts, Graham writes about the German U-Boats that were stationed off of the shores and talks of what might happen if one of the members of these boats happened to come on shore. The story takes off from there and I fell in love with Grace instantly. She is the daughter of Audrey and Danny Baker, the main characters from the previous novel, so it really was a nice transition in this ‘series.’ We get updates of the Baker family, but while the parents we got to know in Tides of Honour are present, their story isn’t THE story of this novel. I loved the reminders of events that happened in the previous book, and it was wonderful how Graham weaved them into this brand new story.

This is also very much a story of war. The story takes place during WWII and at times it can be hard to stomach. It’s a story of family, love, and loss. It’s a story about the questions that are raised when it comes to who we can trust when it comes to love. It’s a story that will make you laugh, will make you cry, and will get your heart pounding. I adored Rudi and his determination, his courage, and his selflessness.

It’s funny because I finished this story during my kids’ afternoon quiet time, and then later, before dinner, I was doing something – I can’t even remember – and couldn’t help but think of how enjoyable my reading time would be that night, as I get back to the story of Rudi, Grace, and the Bakers. Then I had to remind myself that I had already finished the story. I needed more! I was not ready to let these characters go by the story’s end and really hope we get to meet these characters again in the future. That’s definitely the sign of a great book, when you can’t stop thinking of the characters and you’re not convinced that you’re finished reading the story.

I highly recommend Genevieve Graham’s historical books. They have amazing and wonderful characters, and also weave stories of eastern Canada’s history so well that you can’t help but want to come back for more.

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[Book Talk] Vi by Kim Thuy

Book Details:

Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Read: April 2018

Synopsis:

The youngest of four children and the only girl, Vi was given a name that meant “precious, tiny one,” destined to be cosseted and protected, the family’s little treasure.

Daughter of an enterprising mother and a wealthy and spoiled father who never had to grow up, the Vietnam war tears their family asunder. While Vi and many of her family members escape, her father stays behind, and her family must fend for themselves in Canada.

While her mother and brothers put down roots, life has different plans for Vi. As a young woman, she finds the world opening up to her. Taken under the wing of Ha, a worldly family friend and diplomat lover, Vi tests personal boundaries and crosses international ones, letting the winds of life buffet her.

From Saigon to Montreal, from Suzhou to Boston to the fall of the Berlin Wall, she is witness to the immensity of the world, the intricate fabric of humanity, the complexity of love, the infinite possibilities before her. Ever the quiet observer, somehow she must find a way to finally take her place in the world.

My Thoughts

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me an eARC of this book for review!

I had heard of Kim Thuy’s writing a few years back when her book Ru won Canada Reads. I bought a copy of that book late last year and still hadn’t gotten to it, but couldn’t pass up requesting her latest when I saw it on NetGalley. I’m not sure if this is a companion book to her other books, but it wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. Don’t get me wrong – it was a good book to read, and I read it in one day, but I feel like there wasn’t a connection for me as I was reading.

This is a story about Vi – we learn about her grandparents and then her parents and then we get her story, her journey through love and life, learning not only of her own traditions and culture, but trying to find a balance between the traditions her family has done for generations and the ones she wants to form living in a new country. It’s a refugee story of a family coming as boat people to Canada, as well as the trials and tribulations of a young woman trying to find her way.

I really loved Thuy’s writing and thought there were some beautiful passages. While I enjoyed Vi’s ups and downs with love, I think what I enjoyed most was the traveling through Canada to Vietnam. It was really interesting to get those cultural perspectives, and also explore a part of Canada that I’ve never traveled to. This is a very short book and only took me about 2.5 hours to read, so this is really easily accessible and would be the perfect companion for a rainy day.

My copy of Ru is gorgeous, so I think this one would probably look equally as nice on the bookshelf. Getting an eARC of the book had a few issues – the formatting was a little wonky, for example. There were chapter headings that cut in and out of the first paragraph of each chapter and it took a while to get used to. I’d really like to see the layout of this book in physical format and maybe even give it a reread to take it in better. I really can’t wait to read Ru now and experience more of Thuy’s writing.

5 Translated Works I Recently Read (#2)

Since I’m hoping to read more translated fiction in 2018, I thought I would gather up reviews in a single post throughout the year. Hopefully you can find some titles that interest you! 

The White Book by Han Kang (Translated by Deborah White)

As I’m writing down my thoughts for Han Kang’s latest book, The White Book, I’m realizing that I don’t remember much about it. I do remember it starting out talking about things that are white, I remember it being about grief and suffering, life and death, and the human experience. I remember that there were beautiful photographs. I remember it being a very quick read, since there is a lot of white space in the book. I remember it being quite a bit different from the last work by Kang that I read, The Vegetarian, but it still having that feeling that it is a Han Kang book – her voice is definitely recognizable.

But in the end, I’m realizing that while this book was good, it might not be for everyone. It’s very much a concept book full of prose and poetry and photographs, and it does have a general theme throughout, but I feel like unless you’re a huge fan of Han Kang, this probably won’t be the most memorable book. I did feel a wave of grief come over me as I read the stories of Kang’s sister, who died at birth, but I also had a hard time connecting with a lot of the book. I found that the photographs, while beautiful, didn’t seem to have any connection to the content, and probably wouldn’t have been missed if they weren’t included. Ultimately, I would have to say that if you’re looking to just try out Han Kang’s writing, maybe you should try The Vegetarian or Human Acts first.

The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Andersen (translated by Tiina Nunnally)

Alright, so I of course have heard of Hans Christian Andersen (I have children who love Frozen so I don’t live under a rock), but I haven’t ever read anything by him – at least, not that I can remember. And I think I would remember because this collection of stories is really, really messed up. I recall Andersen being a children’s author, yes? HOW ARE THESE STORIES FOR CHILDREN?

The stories are definitely creative but man are they messed up. They don’t really have any messages for children, or other readers, like stories would nowadays, and some of his endings reminded me of the Brothers Grimm. I also both liked and disliked the writing style of the stories – they’re written in a very chatty way, like someone is sitting next to you telling you a story, but I think what I would’ve preferred is some more descriptions and less telling of everything. There were also endings that came after pretty much no tension and had me saying, “What? That’s the end?”

I honestly don’t know how Andersen is so popular because when I think about fairytales, I think of so many other beautiful fairytales that aren’t quite so morbid. So while I enjoyed this a little bit, it’s definitely not one I could see myself sharing with my children or anything – or even reading again.

Circe and the Cyclops by Homer (translated by Robert Faegles)

Even since I started watching Jean’s BookTube channel over at Jeans Bookishthoughts, I have been very very interested in antiquity. She talks with such passion of the Greek myths and Greek stories that you probably only hear about if you take a class in university. I did take one of these classes while in school and thought it was interesting, but I think Jean makes it sound even more interesting, and not only that — accessible.

Whenever I thought about stories by Homer or Dante or any of the ancient Greeks that are still read today, I always had this idea that the stories would be hard to read, hard to understand, not to mention dull and boring. BUT I decided to dive into this one one night and thought it was absolutely delightful! I loved this excerpt of Odysseus and his crew – and learning what a terrible person Odysseus was. I loved meeting Circe and going into the cave. This book was just so much fun! I read the whole thing out loud to myself and loved the flow of it and the way the whole story was constructed.

I may have had reservations before about reading The Odyssey, thinking it would be boring or unreadable, but reading this tiny little excerpt has made me very eager to try it out one of these days!

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor)

I was so excited to read this book after seeing it on so many reading lists for the winter! It had been released in the U.K. as Lullaby and The Perfect Nanny everywhere else (personally, I prefer the U.K. title, as usual) and it just sounded like the perfect thriller, though completely horrifying since it opens up with the narrator saying that the baby was dead and the other child was going to be dead soon. What a gripping way to start a book!!

However, in terms of this being a thriller, I think that the opening was probably the most thrilling part of the book. We do get into the mind of this nanny that the family hires and it was interesting to see how she could just go from 0 to 180 in terms of mood with the children. As a mother, it reinforced that all kids can press buttons but also horrified me in the way that this nanny wanted to react.

As I said, I was so excited to read this, but something was missing from this story. It was a very intriguing idea and I think it was just executed poorly. I finished this wanting a lot more, and there probably could have been more, since it was a fairly short book.

As a side note, I read in another review that this story was written based on an event that actually happened in France, which makes this story even more creepy. And really, if you look at this story as a book about the people we invite into our homes, it really asks the question of how well do we know people? Especially the people we get to watch our children?

Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov (translated by Robert Wilks)

This was a book that was included in my 80-set of Penguin Little Black Classics. I picked it up to read after seeing that Katie from Books and Things had reread it and said how much she loved Chekhov’s writing. I had never read any Chekhov, but the way I move through my classics tends to be based on what other people are reading or current read-alongs, so I picked it up.

This was a collection of three short stories and a really nice introduction to Chekhov’s writing. I loved the first story, The Kiss, and thought it was hilarious how this one soldier who has a brief encounter in a coat room with a mysterious person (who was obviously there for someone else) suddenly starts dreaming up this life with this person, nearly falling in love. This was my favourite story in the book, but Chekhov really has some interesting scenarios, some great characters, and he can really pack a punch in one short story. I look forward to not only rereading these in the future, but also trying out some more Chekhov.

Have you read any translated fiction lately? What are some of your favourite translated works? Have you read any of these authors?