Torontoc reads and also sees films in 2019
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And the first book- I started reading it last week and finished it in 2019! I found that I didn't do much reading in Dec. - very busy with projects.
1. Moonglow by Michael Chabon. I read this book because one of my friends gave it a very positive review.I was slightly disappointed. I liked the novel but thought that there could have been more editing. Every time the plot moved forward there seemed to be some descriptive passages that went in a different direction than the events that were important in the story. The novel is narrated by a man. "Mike Chabon" who is interviewing his dying grandfather about family history. The reader is pulled into a story that might have some real elements from the author's life and family-but yet again it could be stories that were embellished. Mike's grandfather was an inventor, a man who went to jail for attacking his former employer ,and a soldier who was charged with finding German Nazi scientists for the Americans at the end of World War Two.He was obsessed about rockets throughout his life. He also married a refugee widow who had been hidden during the war along with her daughter. Mike's grandmother had mental illness -perhaps because her life in Europe.The reader discovers that Mike's mother was also affected by events in her life-the one described in the novel is her father's decision to have her live with his brother( former Rabbi and now full time gambler) while he is in jail and her mother is in a mental health institution. The stories are not fully told- everyone keeps secrets. The reader understands that the grandfather tells some but not all to his grandson. I found this an interesting book to read but I liked some of the author's previous works better.
I saw the Japanese film "Shoplifters" yesterday- Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda the story is about a very poor family who survive by working in low paying jobs and shoplifting. The young boy in this family group finds a four year old girl freezing on a balcony-he takes her home and the rest of the family- grandmother, mother and father find marks of abuse on the young girl's body. They take her in and she finds love and acceptance. However- the truth is not alway evident at first as the stories of each member of this family revealed. They have stayed together in order to survive and find acceptance. The story is both sad and hopeful as one traumatic event changes their lives. This film won the PalmeD'Or at the Cannes film Festival last year.
I read this book because one of the my friends- whose opinion I value -loved this book. Parts of it I liked and sometimes I became impatient to" get on" with the story. I liked some of Chabon's other books better.
2. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie I think that everyone must have read this book by now but I found it recently somewhere in one of my book towers. I enjoyed reading it. The author himself had been "re-educated" in the Cultural Revolution. He writes about two young teenagers who are sent to a remote village in the mountains and have been separated from their now disgraced middle class parents. They make the best of a bad situation and befriend the daughter of the tailor. They still have to work at manual labour but find ways to exchange back breaking work for other activities. They help another exiled teenager who would be able to leave if he can collect revolutionary songs from the local people. The story of how they try to hoodwink a very old miller is very funny. The boys mange to steal books - a collection of many European classics that have been translated into Chinese. How they use the stories to entertain the Tailor's daughter and some of the villagers shows cleverness. However they don't realize how the words and ideas of Balzac will change the seamstress's life. This is a really good book to read!
>6 torontoc: Count me as another who's had Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress unread on her shelf for-freaking-ever. Maybe this will be the year!
4. Winter by Ali Smith Ali Smith's writing sort of gives me a jolt- to sit up and react to her pointed comments about our present day society. The story combines the present and past of Sophia, her sister Iris and Sophia 's son Art. Art has got himself into a " situation' just before he is about to travel to Cornwall for Christmas to see his mother with his girlfriend Charlotte. Charlotte has left Art and is playing havoc with his blog. Sophia seems to be a rational older woman getting ready for her son's visit but events prove that she has issues that need dealing with. Iris is the exact opposite of her sister- always the radical she does come through to help Art deal with the crisis on Christmas. Art has hired a young woman to play his girlfriend, but Lux has her own ideas. She helps Sophia and also Art with their own problems with identity and decisions about their lives. The novel covers concerns with climate change, reckless use of arms and the growing realization that choices can be made for change- personal and perhaps political. I enjoyed the language, flights of fancy and essential grounding in understanding the contemporary world we live in.
5.Christian Dior History and Modernity 1947-1957 by Alexandra Palmer This book refers to a show at the Royal Ontario Museum on Dior that took place a year ago. This catalogue was just published recently. The clothes referred to ( hard to call these creations clothes- some are amazing) were all displayed in the exhibit and are in the collection of the Museum. The history, the breakdown and descriptions of all the elements that went into the construction of these garments is exacting. In fact some of the dresses have had the patterns recreated- I now understand why the couturier design houses had so much influence on the development of style. Most of the photos are breathtaking- however the clothes in black are not photographed well. A black background does not do the garments justice. I enjoyed the read and look forward to looking at the photos again. ( the red dresses are spectacular)
6. Strangers with the Same Dream by Alison Pick Alison Pick is a very interesting writer- she wrote a novel that drew on her own personal family history and then wrote a memoir about her conversion to Judaism. This novel is structured like a Japanese film. ( the name I have forgotten) There are three main characters, Ida, David and Hannah, and we read about the same history told from their points of view. The time is 1921 and the place is Palestine where all three are building a communal farm in the north of what becomes present day Israel. The plot is more about the relationships that develop and those that deteriorate than the political. Ida is a young impressionable newcomer to this part of the world having escaped from a pogrom where her father was killed. David is the leader of the group that is establishing the new farm. He had been sent from another community as he had made a terrible mistake that jeopardized the relationships between the Jewish settlers and the neighbouring Arab community. Hannah is David's wife and has much resentment towards David for his actions. The reader see that the building up of farmland came with many sacrifices- from malaria, lack of medicine to treat what are today common ailments to inexperience. The building of this new society was not easy or necessarily understandable to the modern reader. I think that the author does convey the terrible conditions of clearing swamp and stone ridden land, the contradictions of rules agreed to by the new settlers and the problematic dealings with the neighbouring Arabs who are depicted in a sympathetic way. I do think that part of the story does become a little melodramatic but it is an interesting book.
I saw a play that was presented in the Inuit language of inuktitut by a performing group from Nunavut ( most Northern territory in Canada).The theatre sent all playgoers a translation of the play the day before and handed out the notes to all those in the audience. The story, Kiviuq Returns was a combination of story, dance and song. Parts of the play were narrated by Inuit elders on film that was projected onto the stage. It was very engaging performance.!
How terrific to experience the Inuit performance.
" member with guest" membership at the AGO and I use it a lot!
On Saturday night I saw a play - The Virgin Trial by Kate Hennig. This play had been produced at the Stratford Festival and this is a revival.The playwright has written three plays about the Queens of England- the first about Catherine Parr The Last Wife , this one about Elizabeth and the third-Mother Daughter about Queen Catherine and Queen Mary to be presented this coming summer.The weather was really cold ( -30C windchill) but since all the performances were sold out, I put on many layers of clothing and ventured out with two friends. We were glad that we did. The play concentrated on the time when teenaged Elizabeth was questioned about the behaviour of her stepfather Thomas Seymour and his intention for revolution against King Edward. The dialogue was contemporary and the costumes were set in modern times as well. The portrayal of Elizabeth as a very smart young woman who cannot be bullied and who can hide her true thoughts was really riveting. The plot may take liberties with accepted truths but it was so interesting!And because of that i pulled out a biography of Elizabeth and re-read
7. Elizabeth The Struggle for The Throne by David Starkey Ah- what can i say- Starkey chose to concentrate on the young Elizabeth and the beginnings of her reign.He showed how she did negotiate through some dangerous situations when she was threatened with treason and later how she worked through the problem of Protestant versus Catholic religious practices. A great re-reread
8. Eternal Life by Dara Horn I am not sure about this novel. The idea is interesting but does it have a resolution in the plot? No. Do I understand the motivation of the two main characters? Not sure. Dara Horn writes well with a thorough grounding in Jewish History and religion that is a main thread in this story. My verdict is still out after finishing this read. Rachel is the daughter of a scribe in Roman occupied Jerusalem. She becomes the lover of Elazar the son of the High Priest. She marries another man but in order to save her son from dying, she undergoes a process that gives her eternal life. After she discovers that Elazar had done the same thing, Rachel meets him in different disguises throughout the years. After living a long life, if Rachel burns then she is reborn so it seems as an eighteen year old and can live a new life. The reader sees her dilemma as she tires of being reborn. I still have problems with where the plot leads us, the readers.
9. The Unfinished Palazzo Life , Love and Art in Venice by Judith Mackrell This book's title is somewhat misleading. The author has written mini-biographies about the three women who lived and redecorated the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice. The three women- Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse, and Peggy Guggenheim- have some similar traits. All had many love affairs and were unhappy unless they had a lover who would help them enrich ( or really define) their lives. Luisa Casati and Peggy Guggenheim had terrible relationships with their children. The author seems sympathetic to all of these women. Luisa Casati had an immense fortune that she ran through during her lifetime as she became really her own work of art through fashion and events that she designed. Doris Castlerosse was probably one of the models for Noel Coward's play Private Lives. She really only had money when she was involved with a rich man. Peggy Guggenheim did put together the famous collection that would form the basis of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. Her life was a mix of bad decisions, good fortune, and original work. She created three important galleries of modern art during her lifetime in London, New York and finally Venice. There is a great gossip component in this history with many famous artists involved with the three women. I liked the read but thought that the decisions made by these women were selfish and inflicted misery on many people. Yet some of the patronage by Peggy Guggenheim certainly influenced the work of a number of important 20th century artists.
12. The Golden House by Salman Rushdie In this novel the reader is introduced to a most unusual family who live in a big mansion that borders the Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District in Greenwich Village in New York City. Their story is narrated by a young man, Rene, who lives nearby. Rene manages to become a friend and observer of the Golden family as he imagines their lives as film that he wants to make. The Golden family appear suddenly in the area- they have come from India and are enormously wealthy. Nero ,the father has asked his three sons to take on names of Roman nobility. Each son has a story that will lead to tragedy. Nero marries a young Russian woman who will also change his life and that of Rene. The reader learns about corruption and the inter-gang rivalries that led Nero to leave India. Interspersed in the narrative are lengthy discussions about philosophy, literature, film, and the contemporary politics of the time of the Obama and later Trump presidencies. Those musings are not necessary in my opinion. This is not my favourite Rushdie novel.
Interesting about Rushdie’s latest. Seems a little early to directly confront Trump in fiction...??
13. Miss Mink Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill I wasn't sure whether this ER book was for children or adults. The illustrations are beautiful. The reader can see that the artist/writer paints so well and the cats and Miss Mink are depicted in a very charming way. That said, I think that this is a book for adults who need some encouragement in order to lead a better life. There are twenty lessons. Each are presented in a double page composition with lovely artwork and short pithy phrases. This is a gift book- I will ask my great nieces and nephew what they think and how the messages relate to them.
Seems a little early to directly confront Trump in fiction...??
Actually, most of the novel was written before the 2016 election, so he did some tweaking after that.
Micallef discusses areas all over the boundaries of the city. He gives a good mix of information that helps the reader understand the city. The book is nicely published by Coach House Press ( an important Toronto literary press) and has good illustrations and a nice fold out map by Marlena Zuber.
That sounds fun if one has time to now go explore. I think I have a book like that for Victoria--one day I'll get to check it out.
15. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. This novel is written beautifully- many paragraphs and phrases are so wonderfully expressed. The novel has an element of fantasy to it. It is hard to describe without letting the readers of this review know some of the essential details. However I think that the " surprise" part of the plot is important to the reading experience. The reader learns about two young people in an unnamed country somewhere in the Middle East or Indian continent region. Saeed lives with his parents. Nadia is more of a rebel and lives independently in a culture that is disapproving of such an action. The two become lovers in a time when there is a revolution breaking out. The menace of the life that they lead changes when they are able to escape. How and why lead to a very different life and the stresses that the two young people face. I have to recommend this book without revealing much of the very interesting plot.
17. The Gown by Jennifer Robson Sigh! I know that some people really liked this historical fiction novel about the making of the wedding gown of Princess Elizabeth. I found it pleasant but not great fiction. The reader follows two stories- one about Ann and her friend and fellow worker Miriam in 1947. The two women embroider many of the flowers for the wedding dress.The second story features Ann's Canadian grand daughter, Heather in 2016 as she tries to piece together Ann's story before she moved to Canada.
18. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari I found this history of mankind to be very understandable and full of questions about the development of life on Earth and specifically men and women. i enjoyed the study of how we developed on earth and the future challenges.
and finally two mysteries by Alan Bradley and the adventures of Flavia de Luce
19.As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
20. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd
The first book is set in Toronto- but the reader hardly sees much of the city. The second book has Flavia back in England. I just admit that I found the murders and the solving a little too manic. I didn't enjoy either as much as I did the earlier stories in the series.
21. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell I had seen some of the BBC series that was based on this book . ( but the screen version did take many liberties with the story)The book concentrates on the Durrell family and their eccentricities but the main focus is the young Gerry and his fascination with nature. The book is full of his observations on any creatures, small and big and his obsessive collecting of two magpies, an owl, dogs, gull, water snakes and more. The interactions with his brothers Larry, Leslie , sister Margo and his very understanding mother lead to some very hilarious situations. Gerry makes friends of so many people on the island of Corfu where the family lives for five years. This memoir was fun to read and certainly makes the reader appreciate how Gerald Durrell's early experience led to his life as a leader in trying to preserve diversity of animal life.
23. Molly's Game by Molly Bloom I saw the film and I must admit- I liked it better than the book. However the book really fleshes out the whole story of the author's work in creating the poker games that made her famous. I gather that she only used real names of the players if they had been mentioned publicly elsewhere. It is a story of greed and unlimited money and what those who have it , do with it.
Sometimes the movie IS better than the book! And that was a good movie.
24. One Night, Markovitch by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen This was an odd book to me. I wasn't sure whether I had trouble with the wordy prose because of the translation ( the original is in Hebrew) or maybe it was just the author's style. The story is about a number of people who live in Palestine prior to World War 2 and then early in the state of Israel. The main premise is that a number of men from Palestine are sent by the Irgun organization to Europe to marry an equal number of Jewish women fleeing from what becomes the Holocaust. When they reach Tel Aviv, the plan is that these couples will divorce. However , one man, Yaakov Markovitch is so entranced by his wife, Bella, that he refuse to divorce her. This refusal sets off a number of events. Bella lives in Yaakov's house in a small farming village and refuses to talk to him. Yaacov's friend, Zeev Fienberg has his own issues ( some caused by what we now call PTSD) and soon there are a number of liaisons that cause babies to be born, and secrets soon revealed to the detriment of all. It gets confusing and no-one is happy( spoiler but the reader can see what is happening fairly early.) I did finish the book- there is some nice writing but also some puzzling and coarse descriptions that I don't think helped the story, One of my friends loved the book- I did not.
A good read for the adventure.
27.Melmoth by Sarah Perry Some readers didn't like this book as much as the author's earlier novel The Essex Serpent. I agree. The story begins with the introduction of a suicide note -perhaps- and then the description of Helen Franklin. Helen works in Prague as a translator but is hiding part of her life. In fact she seems to be deliberately punishing herself. The reader meets her friend Karel, his companion Thea and the story of a ghost- Melmoth- who has haunted people throughout the ages. We meet some of them and witness their crimes both big and small. I was disappointed in the end after the buildup of some very impressive stories.
Film "Sunset by Laszlo Nemes. This Hungarian film was directed by the same film maker who directed " Son of Saul". This film was more puzzling. A young woman is seen trying on hats in an elegant store in 1913 Budapest. The viewer learns that she has come to apply for a job. The store had belonged to her parents but they were killed in a fire when she was very young. She had been placed in an orphanage and eventually moved to Trieste. The new owners refuse to hire her but she is very persistent - almost unnaturally so. The young woman finds out that she has a brother. She also learns about his participation in a terrible murder. She becomes more and more unhinged as she find out the truth about the store, and her brother's actions. In fact she doesn't seem to care about her own survival. Some members of the audience were as confused as I was. - we talked afterwards. but it was filmed beautifully.
I really enjoyed this annotated compilation of the correspondence between two incredibly important figures in Canadian history. McLuhan has been almost forgotten. However his views and writing on the impact of technology, media and television on society are very prophetic as we read them today. He was writing in the 1970's yet his work is very modern in approach to what he calls the " global village". His correspondent, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was at first justice minister and then Prime Minister of Canada. The two men were practicing Roman Catholics and very involved in the change in society in the last half of the twentieth century. They did not agree on everything but were interested in maintaining a relationship where ideas and theory were debated through their letters.
31. The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman. Rachman writes about the life of one Pinch or Charles Bavinsky, son of painter ,Bear. Pinch was raised in Rome by his mother Natalie, an aspiring potter who lived with Bear. Eventually Bear moved back to the United States and had many relationships with other women. He somewhat supported Natalie but had a significant and ultimately damaging effect on his son. Pinch tried many careers- hoping at first to be a painter like his father, then an academic and finally an Italian teacher in London. Bear was a larger than life character and Pinch suffered in his own relationships as he tried to win his father's approval. How Pinch ,in his own way, works to help his half sisters and brothers before and after Bear's death provides the reader with a biting satire in the art world and its values.
This is ultimately a sad book on how a son's life can be altered by the actions of parents.
I saw two films at the Hot Docs Film Festival this weekend.
The first was
"Well-Groomed" was about the groomers of dogs who are part of a new group that- how shall I say-dye and clip dog's hair into fantasy compositions. There were poodles with hair shaped liked chickens and Alice in Wonderland collages.
the film was about a group of groomers who are deeply involved in the competitions for grooming. Quirky but fun although I couldn't believe the way that the dogs were accepting of the contact dying, combing, clipping and washing to achieve the desired effect. ( and the application of doggy rhinestones!)
The second film that I saw was
" Marek Edelman...and There Was Love in the Ghetto" Marek was one of the last survivors of the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto. He stayed in Poland, became a cardiologist and was active in politics. This film shows an interview that he gave just before he died in 2009. In these interviews he tells stories about people in the ghetto who were in love and the tragedy of their brief lives. The stories were dramatized and the film was very powerful.
37. Swarm of Bees by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Rilla Alexander. This is an ER book ( for some reason the majority of ER books for Canada seem to be children's literature) and I thought that it would be a good read for my young great nephew. However, the story is really for the under 5 years old crowd. The illustrations are quite fun as the reader sees a swarm of bees travelling through a variety of situations and people. The narration is simple and to the point. The nice thing about this story is that there is a lesson to be learned about anger and when to stop. I think that the story and bright design will appeal to a young reader( or to a parent who will read to a child).
40. They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson This is a memoir about the author and her family. After her mother dies, Plum Johnson and her brothers have to declutter the very big house that the family owned in Oakville, Ontario. Plum decided to live in the house in order to catalogue the valuable possessions and throw out the mass of other stuff collected over the years by her mother and father. The book relates the very interesting histories of her parents. Her father lived in Portugal, escaped from the Japanese during World War Two and worked in Hong Kong and Singapore before coming with his family to Canada. Plum Johnson's mother was a Southern Belle who went to college in the north, and worked for the American Red Cross in England. The two met and decided to marry fairly quickly. Some of the parent's habits in raising Plum and her brothers would seem too harsh to a modern audience. This book is the author's way of dealing with the relationship she had with her mother and coming to terms with a resolution. A really good book to read.
This book was supposed to be a gift for my brother in the US. He had been struggling with the return of cancer for the past few years. Sadly he died at the end of May. We shared a love of reading. We liked the works of China Mieville, Philip Kerr and C.J. Sansom. We suggested books to each other. He was a leading environmentalist and a believer in interfaith dialogue. He was a kind of Renaissance man- with interests in religion, science fiction, science, Japanese Manga, magic( he was a magician as well), and history. He was a member of Al Gore's Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps. And he was once invited to speak at a international interfaith conference on the environment held in Tehran in 2005. He did go and had some interesting stories to tell afterwards.He didn't publish a book but had written many chapters for anthologies on the environment and articles for publications.
He would have really liked this book.
44. Albert's Quiet Quest I could have used this children's book( from ER) for the non-fiction challenge as well. Albert is a young boy who wants to find a place to read. His friends keep on coming by to ask him for help or to take part in their activities. His quiet reading spot becomes noisier and noisier until Albert raises his voice to shush everybody. He apologizes and his friends find their books to show him that they can appreciate both reading and the activities that they were doing. The story is told in illustrations and very few word. The author also illustrated this lovely book for young people.
I'll save the children's book for my great nephew and niece who will be visiting in August.
50. An Odyssey A Father, A Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn The author teaches at Bard College and had his eighty-one year old father sit in on his spring seminar. This memoir is about his father's life, the seminar,(a close reading of the Odyssey) the Greek cruise that followed the Odyssey story that the father and son took , and the relationship of father and son. In fact I think this book and memoir took on the structure of the Odyssey as the reader and narrator circle around the story. I learned a lot about the Odyssey as well as the strained relationship of father and son. Mendelsohn discovers new truths about his father and his early life. He relates his own issues while describing the events in both his father's and his own life that shaped their actions. This is a wonderful tribute to Mendelsohn's father and mother in addition to being a great seminar on the Odyssey.
I'm not a fan of WWII fiction, but that sounds interesting. I do like a different view of the war.
52. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky. The author was born in Russia but moved to Germany when she was a teenager. This book started off promisingly. The narrator, Rosa, is always scheming to better the life of her daughter, Sulfia, and later her granddaughter Aminat. Rosa pressures Sulfia into marriages which don't work out, and later into an almost relationship in order to move the family to Germany. Nothing really works out for Sulfia although Aminat changes her own life in a way that Rosa could not have planned. The beginning of this novel was interesting and sometimes funny. The story then became tiresome to me and I cannot recommend it.
>99 torontoc: I admired how Powell was willing to write a memoir where she is decidedly not a sympathetic character and I very much enjoyed it up until the part where she travels around as an exceptionally privileged white tourist. That part just frustrated me. While I'm sure the trips were very nice, the value to the reader in learning about trips in which you are assigned a local caretaker to protect you from having to learn anything about the culture outside of the curated experience is minimal.
>101 RidgewayGirl: Powell was definitely not sympathetic- I didn't understand the world trips as well- she could have gone to see butchers in Italy or...
Hustvedt is one of those writers that after I read - I think- why don't I find more of her books
>102 dchaikin: It is a great read and I do have to re-read the Odyssey
" who killed the victim" is a bit of a surprise but plausible. Three boys, Sean, Jimmy and Dave survive a terrible event although one of the boys- Dave- does go missing but escapes.. They go their separate ways as adults. A terrible tragedy leads to their reuniting. Sean has become a policeman and he is trying to solve the murder. Jimmy tries to get through the loss of a loved one. And Dave is married to a cousin of Jimmy's wife. The reader learns about clues that could lead to the killer. The story is well paced . I thought that the novel was well written with good character revelations.
I also saw the film -The Farewell- lovely story but the film could use about 20 minutes of editing .
62. The Floating Feldmans by Elyssa Friedland I received this ARC from the publisher ( one of the few times I entered a draw and was lucky) The book, however, is rather sad. The story is about the extended family of Annette Feldman and their time on a cruise. Annette wants to celebrate her 70th birthday with her daughter and son and their families. She also wants her husband, David, to have a good time as he has cancer( although the children don't know). The reader learns about daughter Elise and her husband Mitch, their teenage children , Rachel and Darius and son Freddy and his girlfriend Natasha. Of course during the cruise everyone's secrets are revealed, and some roles are reversed. I think that some parts of the story are meant to be funny but , no, they are not. Everyone seems to solve their problems at the end of the cruise and book. I was disappointed.
63. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai This is a wonderful and very touching novel about the beginning of the AIDS crisis and the effect on friends and relationships. There are two connecting stories told in alternate chapters. In 1985, Yale is struggling with his relationship with Charlie and his friends who are getting sick. His friend Nico dies and this sets off an number of events that impact on Yale. He is also working hard at his job at a university gallery. Yale is trying to bring in a collection of 1920 's drawings and paintings to the gallery. They are the property of Nora -the great aunt of Nico and his sister, Fiona. The second story takes place in 2015 where Fiona travels to Paris in search of her estranged daughter, Claire, and grand daughter. She stays with a photographer, Richard who had documented the lives of her brother and his friends many years before. The stories of love, loss and a lot of betrayals combine with the damage that the AIDS epidemic had on Claire, Yale and their friends. This is a very sad but beautifully told story.
64. A Table for One Under the Light of Jerusalem by Aharon Appelfeld This memoir has so many interesting passages that reveal the growth of the author. Appelfeld's history and writing style as well as his influences of place and person are covered as he details the cafes he frequented. Appelfeld struggled with a new language and his personal history of Holocaust survival as a young boy. The reader learns about Appelfeld's past and his growth as a writer as he uses the various cafes in Jerusalem as his writing office or laboratory. This memoir is brief and so well-written,It contains so many truths about human nature that it is a book that I will return to again.
I am about to pick my films for the Toronto International Film Festival- this year the festival decided not to publish a paper schedule and of course the computer systems failed. In addition- the schedule had the wrong times for the films so it took some time to figure out what I want to see. Hmm...
Have you watched the Netflix show? I haven't, but hear it's great. Which came first? Book or show?
Wisconsin. Her early life does involves some dramatic events- she has an automobile accident that kills a boy in her senior high school class. A brief traumatic involvement with the boy's brother leads to more trouble. Afterwards Alice becomes a school librarian and leads a quiet life for many years until she meets Charlie Blackwell -the charismatic son of a wealthy family that is prominent in Republican Party circles. Alice's marriage to Charlie means that she makes many decisions that seem to go against her own private liberal opinions. She thinks about her private beliefs and the public stands that Charlie and his family make. The book delves into Alice's thoughts about the life she leads and the compromises that she has made. This is a very interesting novel and I enjoyed the read.
Our Lady of the Nile
directed by Atiq Rahimi
This film is adapted from a book by Scholastigue Mukasonga that was published in 2012. The story traces the lives of some young Rwandan girls who are at a Catholic boarding school in Rwanda. The school's mission is to educate the elite of the country. However although the book is set in 1973, events at the school foreshadow the genocide of 1994. There is tension between some Hutu and Tutsi girls.The school only accepts a small percentage of Tutsi girls. The story focuses on a Tutsi girl who wants to know more about her ancestors. Another is determined to get rid of the Tutsi girls that she does not like. And there is a young who struggles with identity being half Hutu. The story is empathetically directed by Atik Rahimi- this is his third film and the first that he has not adapted from his own novels. ( Atik Rahimi is from Afghanistan, and received political asylum in France. It is a beautiful film.
Very interesting study.
directed by Armando Iannucci
At the end of the film there was a Q &A with the director and film stars. Iannucci said that with all that is going on in the world today, this film's was to bring joy. And it really did. There is a wonderful cast that is colour-blind. Dev Patel was a terrific David Copperfield. The story of Davi'ds early childhood and the hardships that he endured give way to success that is due to friendships that overcome bad decisions and foolish acts. The visual effects are surprising. And I must say-what a cast! Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Rosalind Eleazar and more. The staging and vision bring this story to the 21st century. Great film!
Directed by Keren Yedaya
Mami is a young woman living in a desolate community in Israel. She marries her sweetheart , Nissim who then has to return to his army service. When Nissim is traumatically injured, Mami has to think about a way of supporting them. Here is where the film becomes very surreal. Nasty big city corruption, the plight of Palestinian workers, the divide between the establishment and the poor, and the conflict between Israelis of Sephardic ( middle Eastern or North African) and Ashkenaz ( eastern European) backgrounds are the main focus. And this film is a musical- every word is sung by musicians who play all the roles in this film. The director updated a rock opera performed in Israel in the 1980s and commissioned new music to reflect the present day. Does it work? I am still thinking about that.
directed by Mahnaz Mohammadi
This story is told from two points of view. First the mother and then the son. Leila is a widow working at a failing factory. She has two children-a little girl and a 12 year old son, Amir. A bus driver has proposed to her but one of the conditions of marriage is that she cannot have her son living with the family as the driver has a daughter who is about the same age. As the driver explains, he would not have any trouble with Amir living with them, but others would condemn them for this.
Leila is conflicted but when she is fired from her job and her daughter becomes sick. She looks for a solution. An old woman friend convinces Laila to place her son in the school where the woman works. However, the family will have to lie as the school is for students who are deaf. At this point the film focuses on the son who seems like an ordinary boy. The pain on his face as he tries to take part in the masquerade is heartbreaking. The viewer sees how this custom will destroy the future for Amir. This is a very sad story. The director ( who had just flown in from Iran) had done extensive documentary work in Iran. The film had gone through the inspection system of the Iran government. But I believe that the writer of the script and co-producer, Mohammud Rasoulof cannot leave the Iran now.
Sound of Metal
Directed by Darius Marder
O.K. This was a free film from TIFF for members and I am one. The story is about a drummer who loses his hearing. He has been traveling with his girlfriend to various cities for performances but it is a precarious living. The sounds in the film imitate what the drummer-Ruben- would have experienced. ( Riz Ahmed gives a great performance) Eventually Ruben ends up in a community for deaf people and one that also deals with those who have been addicts. He rebels against some of the classes where teaching is done to increase communication using sign language. In fact this community creates a deaf culture where sign language is the only way to talk. Eventually he does learn and does fit into this society. However, he still wants to hear and does have the operation to give him back kind of hearing. Some parts of the plot are not realistic- where does he get the money to pay for the surgery and later take an expensive flight- but Ruben's discovery of what is important to him works. The film is till too long and could use some editing
Directed by Oren Gerner
This was a lovely " quiet " film. The director's parents were the lead actors. The story focused on Meir, an older man who find himself at loose ends when he is no longer needed to work on the annual village event that he has organized in the past. His children have lives of their own and his physical condition is not as good as it was. He was always a busy person with a workshop that was always in use. He decides to build a bed for his grand son in order to keep himself occupied when his wife is busy with her activities. The title refers to a trip to Meir and his wife took to Namibia. Some of the events filmed did involve Oren Gerner's parents. It is a tribute from son to his parents.
Tammy's Always Dying
Directed by Amy Jo Johnson
Kathy is a bar maid living in Hamilton( Ontario) who has always rescued her mother Tammy. Tammy is an alcoholic and regularly tries to kill herself by jumping off a bridge. Kathy is always there to stop her. Kathy is treated very badly by Tammy with insults and more. Kathy's life seems almost as chaotic as her mother's. Her one relief is the friendship of her boss and friend Doug who also helps Tammy. Tammy is played so well by Felicity Huffman. There is a crisis and Kathy tries to change her life by making some choices that do not involve her mother. This is a well told story with great acting.
Directed by Taika Waititi
Jojo Betzler is a 10 year old living in Nazi Germany. He is an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth although he doesn't have any co-ordination. ( he injures himself throwing a grenade that backfires) He also has an imaginary friend who cheers him on-that friend is a version of Hitler.( play by Waititi) So starts this satire that has elements of Monty Python and the violence of war. Jojo is confused when he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house. At this point Jojo has to confront his own prejudices. The combination of satire and the sobering violence of war make this film amazing. At the Q and A , Waititi was asked why he made this film. He said that there were statistics that showed that adisturbing percentage of American youth did not know what Auschwitz was. He mentioned that his grandfather fought in World War Two and that his mother's family were Russian Jews who ended up in New Zealand. He said that he used satire to bring the threat of Fascism to the public's attention.
>134 Cariola: hopefully this will be available to watch.
The Capote Tapes
directed by Ebs Burnough
American director Burnough was able to access tapes made by George Plimpton about Truman Capote for this documentary. Plimpton interviewed many of the friends and society ladies that Capote cultivated. The story of Capote's rise to fame as a writer and later exile from his society friends is told skillfully by the director. There are many insightful interviews- Kate Harrington was Capote's assistant. The story of Capote's unfinished book-Answered Prayers- shows how Capote used his society connections to write a devastating account that theoretically was fiction. However many of the people who Capote befriended saw their stories in the three published chapters. A very good documentary.
The Burnt Orange Heresy
Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi
USA/ United Kingdom
This is supposed to have film noir aspects. Well, I found that plot to be not so clever. James Figueras is an art historian who gets by by giving lectures to tourists in Italy. He meets a mysterious American woman who accompanies him to a villa on Lake Como owned by art collector Joseph Cassidy. ( played with relish by Mick Jaggar) Cassidy wants James to procure ( aka steal) a painting by recluse painter Jerome Debney ( played with fun by Donald Sutherland) Debney is noted for not exhibiting for many years and also for the destruction of his two studios. He is living on the property owned by Cassidy. Well, the clues are weak and there is much destruction. The film is good for seeing the acting skills of Jaggar and of course, Sutherland.
Directed by Dan Friedkin
This film is based on a true story and real people. As one audience member said to me- this is a good film -not a great one. Joseph Piller is a Dutchman and Jewish who had fought with the Dutch resistance during the Second World War. Afterwards he was attached to the Canadian army and tasked with hunting for collaborators who had stolen art. He focused on Han van Meegeren who had sold a Vermeer to Hermann Goring. Van Meegeren is a dandy who seemed to have profited from his many sales to the Nazis. His defence was that the paintings were all fakes. The films shows the conflict between the Western allies in Holland and the Dutch government. Piller tries to prove that Van Meegeren was really a master forger before the Dutch government executes him. Guy Pearce plays Van Meegeren as a vain and sly person with many secrets. Claus Bang is the solid investigator trying to find the truth. A gripping film( Van Meegeren was found innocent but died soon after the trail. The film was interesting in that the audiences saw how the forgeries duped many experts.
A Bump Along the Way
Directed by Shelly Love
This story takes place in Derry, Northern Ireland. Pamela is a single mother who likes a good time. She hooks up with a man 20 years younger than her the night of her 44th birthday. As a result she finds herself pregnant. Her daughter Allegra is a fairly straight laced teenager who is vegan and focused on her schoolwork and art. Allegra is horrified that her mother is pregnant. A reversal takes place. Pamela is more attentive to better diet and behaviours and Allegra finds new friends at school and tries to be a party girl. A few mishaps lead both mother and daughter to a better understanding of each other and a meeting in the middle for how they will live happily. A very nice film!
Directed by Fernando Meirelles
It was so good to watch two excellent actors- Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Bergoglio and Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict. The film concentrates on the dialogue between the two men as Bergoglio wants to resign as cardinal and Benedict is thinking about giving his role as pope. Benedict is the more conservative and Bergoglio believes in a more liberal church. The Argentinian's history is described more than that of Benedict. Bergoglio made some bad choices during the so-called " Dirty War" in Argentina. He describes his anguish at the fate of former friends and priests. And the dialogue! The two men spoke in English, Latin, Italian and Spanish. see this one.
Directed by Kasi Lemmons
This is a biography of the life of Harriet Tubman. Cynthia Erivo is terrific as Harriet Tubman. Tubman only got her name after she escaped from the farm that she worked on as a slave and walked 100 miles north to Philadelphia. The story does have some moments that are more fiction than fact. However the majority of Harriet Tubman's accomplishments are true- the number of slaves that she freed and took north, her role in the Underground Railroad, her travels to take Blacks to Canada after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the US Congress, her role in the Civil War as a leader and more. Erivo is abled assisted by the fine acting of Leslie Odom Jr. and Janelle Monae.
69. All Things Consoled A Daughter's Memoir by Elizabeth Hay Elizabeth Hay is a Canadian author who has written many fine novels.( She has won the Giller Prize.) Here she writes about her relationship with her very aging parents and recalls some troubling early memories. The time periods shift between their home in London, Ontario and their residence in Ottawa at a seniors' complex. Her father, Gordon, was a teacher and later a superintendent. Her mother discovered painting and was very adept at her work. However, as one of five children, Hay's memories are sometimes very grim with her father's terrible temper, her mother's accommodations to him as well as some eccentricities towards saving food. Hay also seems to feel that her own accomplishments are not recognized. (When her father packs up books to take with to Ottawa he leaves out Hay's set of personally inscribed novels.) As Hay and her husband are the prime caregivers to her parents in Ottawa, she learns how to work with them as the weakness of old age, health and memory loss contribute to their decline. Hay also recognizes the strength of her parents love for each other and their children. This is a very moving memoir.
And last films today.
Directed by Marjane Satrapi
This is a very different biography of Marie Curie. Rosamund Pike plays her as a very difficult woman to deal with- she is headstrong and totally devoted to her science. She does meet and marry Pierre Curie and the two of them discover Polonium and Radium. The film uses animation to explain radioactivity. This story was taken from a graphic novel by Lauren Redniss. There are many scenes of the modern world that show what radioactivity led to in terms of destruction.
This is a very feminist version of Marie Curie's life- the story concentrates on her struggle to be recognized and to get the financial support that she needed for her work.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
This is a satire that does a great job of explaining how very rich and immoral businessmen can obtain great wealth for themselves while driving companies into bankruptcy. I like watching the films of this director. Steve Coogan stars as a very rich ( or super rich) businessman, Richard McCreadie, who is planning his sixtieth birthday party on the island of Mykonos. He has hired a writer to create a biography and the viewer sees how McCreadie exploits small factories in India and Sri Lanka for his clothing empire. The big birthday party is off to a rocky start as Syrian refugees are camping on the public beach near his hotel , the fake Roman arena is nowhere near completion and the lion that is supposed to be part of the event is too tired to work. His ex-wife, mother, children and assistants have their own issues. This film is funny but does pack a punch in explaining how the very rich get their wealth by exploiting the very poor.
Well- 16 films in 10 days
The winner of the People's Choice Award for the Festival is Jojo Rabbit.
70. Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga I had to get the book after I saw the film at the film festival. The plots are similar although the book describes the visit to the school of the Queen of Belgium. The book was translated from the French and has the same evocative feeling that I got from seeing the film.
73. Splendors of Imperial China Treasures from the National Palace Museum. Taipei by Maxwell K. Hearn I went to the museum in Taipei many years ago. I also went to see this exhibit in 1996 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This is the catalogue that I bought in New York. The author gives an overview of Chinese history with an emphasis on the development of painting, calligraphy, pottery, lacquerware and jade carving. I was reminded how wonderful this collection is. I know the history of how it got to Taipei. No matter the politics- it is important that the collection exists.
and I reached 75 books read so far in 2019!
75. Hidden Figures The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterley O.K. this is one case where I liked the film better than the book. I wasn't prepared for the dense compendium of facts. Now they were interesting- with the stories of how the women got their educations, their interests and the development of the NASA agency. It is just that the individual stories of these very accomplished women got lost in the presentation of the background in the 1940's and 1950's attitudes towards Blacks in the southern states. I didn't know how the state of Virginia defied to the order to desegregate public schools but shutting them all down for a number of years. I missed the account of the work done by the women employed as human computers and later engineers. I think that the film did simplify the story but did the women justice by focusing on their work.
78. Flights by Olga Tokarczuk The author just won the Nobel Prize and this book is a winner of the Man Booker International Prize. The novel is composed of a group of stories and fragments that loosely have a theme of travel. Some of the stories do have an ending and some do not. The fragments cover a wide variety of topics although there are some that focus on dissection and the preserving of anatomical specimens. The time periods vary as well from the carrying of Chopin's heart from Paris to Poland, the letters of a daughter begging the Emperor of Austria to let her bury the preserved skin of her father ( on exhibit in the emperor's collection) to a modern day woman escaping from her life in Russia. Some times there is a theoretical discussion of life and some times not. I don't know - I am thinking of other authors who also play with prose- like Italo Calvino or W.G. Sebald and I have come to the conclusion that I like their works better. I did learn some things in reading this book but one of the stories ( about the skin) I knew before and had more of an understanding about the circumstances.
I saw the film "Judy"- excellent!
82. Small Game Hunting At The Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles I should not have finished this book. But it is on the Giller Prize Short List so I was curious. Well, the story was so depressing-it took place during a bad storm in Newfoundland. The author had the various characters give what was almost a soliloquy on their life and present circumstances. Two of the main women characters- Iris and Olive- were victims of bad choices and the inability to act. The men were aggressors or witnesses to terrible actions. The setting was the Hazel restaurant where most of the people were stuck during the storm. I don't know why this writers used very weak women as the focus of the novel. Anyhow I have a cold, and reading about the awful weather and women being victims was not good for me.
>157 torontoc: And jeez, talk about wrong book wrong time. Not sure what the right time would be for that setup, though... I'll definitely pass on that one.
83. The Dinner Party a symbol of our heritage by Judy Chicago This is a reread of the first of two volumes on the origin and making of Judy Chicago's massive art piece. I remember that I saw this exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario-the only reason there was a show was that the Women's Committee( since disbanded but oh how valuable) made arrangements to bring the piece to Toronto. This book is about how the Dinner Party originated, the collaborations that were established and the descriptions of the plates and the floor. There were biographies of all the women who were chosen to have their names inscribed on the tile floor. There are illustrations of all the plates and the women that they honour. It was good to do this reread and remember all that we take for granted today.
I’m catching up from way back and enjoyed your reviews and seeing what you’re reading. Several books caught my attention:
>146 torontoc: I’m fascinated by the various reactions to The Testaments. Seems CR embraced more than, for example, Goodreads. I had issues, but...
>148 torontoc: hmm. Maybe I don’t need to read Hidden Figures. Enjoyed the movie.
>149 torontoc: Lampedusa sounds terrific
>152 torontoc: interesting about Flights. I do want to read Tokarczuk
>154 torontoc: I was happy to let SPQR pass and just read reviews, but your comments make it sound very appealing, maybe corrective. (But I have a lot of books to read...)
>162 torontoc: The Quarter sounds fascinating. (And I need to read Mahfouz anyway)
>163 torontoc: glad this was good. I would like to read more Patchett. This might be a nice one to try.
(Hmm. That was really a lot of bullets, so to speak)
89. Yiddish Civilisation The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation by Paul Kriwaczek I have mixed feelings about this history. The topic was interesting as the author traced the development of Jewish or Yiddish language and people from the time of the fall of the Roman Empire through to the medieval times. The development of Yiddish words from Latin and Greek was interesting. The descriptions of Jewish society and movements from the west of Europe to the eastern areas of what is now Ukraine and Poland was new to me. However the author used only secondary sources in his study and made the decision to have his work extend to the 1930's in the US and England. I would have liked this book to give more information on the medieval sections and perhaps use more primary sources. The author also made statements about how certain people in his study " probably would have" done certain things. I admit that in this day and age there is little physical evidence to support certain conclusions and the author's guesses are probably right. So, an interesting study but I think that I wanted more.
90. Fairy Science by Ashley Spires This is an Early Reviewers book- I find that books available to Canada from ER are usually children's books and sometimes young adult stories. This beautifully illustrated story shows young children the important role that science plays in our lives. The story relates how a young fairy named Esther believes that scientific method is important in the discovery of how things work in nature. Her fellow students believe in magic to solve any problems. Esther looks at data and evidence. She helps restore a tree to life using a scientific method. At the end of the book there are instructions given by Esther to grow seedlings from beans. The design is attractive and the story shows the young reader how to think about cause and effect in nature. This story is a very good teaching tools for young readers.
>174 dchaikin: I asked my niece's husband for some recommendations- he is a prof at a college in Maine.