The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

“Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 307 pages.
Read from July 22, 2018 to July 29, 2018.

Is there a book list out there that doesn’t have this book on it somewhere? Probably not. This book has been awarded numerous accolades, most recently the Golden Man Booker prize for this year. As a Canadian, this book has been on my to-read list since my university days, especially since I have already read In the Skin of a Lion, which I sadly have no recollection of. Admittedly, I didn’t even know what this novel was about prior to picking it up so I was happy to see that the plot is set during WWII as I do enjoy historical-fiction from that era.

WWII may have just ended but not in the minds of those who were deeply involved in it Hana is a nurse who has refused to leave her post at a war-time hospital in Italy despite it being abandoned and still within the vicinity of landmines. She will not leave a burn patient who is barely alive and has no memory of who is he or how he got here. A family friend, who also served, comes to find Hana and ends up staying with her at the hospital. They are then joined later by an aloof stranger who is also can’t stop being a soldier and is having trouble letting go of the war that has traumatized them all.

As a reader, you are kept at length from all the characters in the book, despite their dire emotional states thus following how the characters themselves keep each other and their feelings also at a distance. At first, I was intrigued by the approach and eagerly read my way through the first half of the novel, however, the last half felt like a slog as the intrigue wore off and I realized how the story and the characters were going nowhere. The burned patient, this unknown person who has lost their memory, was initially very compelling especially with the relationship he had with Hana, but I felt the details of his story got too messy and drawn out that by the end that I didn’t end up really caring who he was despite his eventual connections to everyone. The story of this book is like a slow-moving dream including the muddiness that often comes when you dream.

With all that said, I did enjoy Hana’s character and story and there were aspects of this novel that I loved. The story transported me to the historical setting and I did find myself wrapped in that world long after I finished the novel. Many readers feel that this book is somewhat of a love story and I find that is a bit of stretch. I feel the story is more about on the characters trying to heal through each other from their individual traumas and the unique bond of the war that connects them in the strange abandoned hospital.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this novel I just wanted more out of the story than what was provided but it was still a worthwhile read. This story would suit any historical fiction fan and while I cannot remember much of the plot from In The Skin of a Lion, I read that the two are more meaningful if paired together.  Perhaps a re-read is in order?

 

Charon’s Claw by R.A. Salvatore

Will Drizzt act on his building jealousy? Where will this path of revenge lead him?

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 352 pages.
Read from June 27, 2018 to July 5, 2018.

In anticipation of the newest release the in Legend of Drizzt series, I have been trying to make a bit of progress through this immense series. If I am honest though, I don’t really want to catch up. This series has always been a reliable go-to easy and enjoyable read that has almost always gotten me out of book slumps. While the last book in this series, Neverwinter I found a bit lacklustre, this book helped revive the story a bit.

Drizzt is still following his lover, Dahlia, on her path for revenge against the Netherese lord Herzgo Alegni. This is not typical behaviour for Drizzt as he has often followed a path of righteousness, or at least he did with his old companions. As in Neverwinter, you get to see a darker side to Drizzt that wasn’t present in the previous novels. Drizzt does not feel the same remorse while killing and he finds himself feeling something he has never felt before: jealousy. Dahlia and Drizzt’s frenemy Artemis have a connection and an understanding of suffering that he cannot relate to. A suffering that has lead the two of them to questionable lives, in Drizzt’s opinion, but is also drawing them closer together. Dahlia seems a little too concerned about the impending end of Artemis as the journey to kill Herzgo and destroy the sword that has enslaved Artemis well past his human lifespan. Will Drizzt act on his building jealousy? Where will this path of revenge lead him?

It’s kind of nice to see Drizzt have a few faults. I mean, the elf is damn near perfect otherwise and the darker themes lend well to developing his character. Do I like Dahlia? Not particularly. Do I feel bad for her awful childhood? Yes. Artemis, I have always had a thing for as he mirrors the other side of Drizzt. Unfortunately, there are a lot of side characters in this book that I don’t care for that convolute the plot, a problem I also had with this book’s predecessor. I am still, however, looking forward to the final book in this four-part series and will continue to follow Drizzt until the end of the total series in which I am still about 10 books behind in.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 106 pages.
Read on June 5, 2018.

When I realized I was two books behind my reading goal I was frantically looking for a short book on my to-read list to help me catch up. This book has been on my list for a while as it is considered a classic piece of children’s literature, but if I am honest I knew absolutely nothing about this book before reading it other than that. This book is one of the world’s most translated books, over 250 languages in fact. Even in Hong Kong, you can find the book just about anywhere and there is tons of cute apparel and swag that you can buy your kid to accompany it. This is a kid’s book that is kind of meant for adults, hence why it is so appealing to both the young and old.  Many people adore this book and revere it, perhaps I got a bad translation (I did find a free copy online) or maybe this book is best read in French, but this book did not meet the hype for me.

The plot is about a little boy who lives on a planet by himself. The planet is not very big and he has to tend to it otherwise this certain type of tree will grow and destroy his ability to live on the tiny planet. He also has a sheep and a rose. The boy tends to the rose dutifully and does whatever it asks of him in order to make it comfortable. However, the boy decides to leave his planet one day after growing tired of the monotony of it all. On his journey, he encounters other people on their own planets, each of them with a different drive an purpose, like the businessman who is all about money and greed.  The boy eventually finds himself on Earth in which he meets the narrator who is trapt in a desert after a plane crash. The boy also befriends a fox who reminds him of his responsibility and care to his planet, sheep and especially the rose.

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Antoine-de-Saint-Exupéry – photo from Britannia

The plot of this story is like an intense acid-trip that creates a somewhat-fun and philosophical children’s story.  I mean, that isn’t what happened to the author but his own personal story and history is actually quite interesting and based on his inspiration for the book you can kind of understand how the Little Prince came to be. Not only was Antoine an accomplished writer but he ended up becoming an infamous pilot as well. Antoine failed in architecture school before joining the military where he became a pilot. Prior to WWI, Antoine flew everything from mail routes to testing piloting, he even attempted to beat a world record for the fastest trip between Paris and Saigon, in which his plane crashed in the Sahara desert. You can see this experience directly in The Little Prince, with the narrator having also become stranded in a desert from a plane crash. So perhaps The Little Prince is a heat/water-deprived hallucination inspired story? Antoine disappeared during one flight and was presumed dead after he was not found in summer of 1944.

The story is intriguing but my translation definitely seemed clunky, I imagine much of the lessons that the Little Prince learned are much more poignant in French.  I found the story did little to capture my imagination and I am curious as to what a kid today would think of the story.  As an adult, I caught on to the messages of the story but found myself wanting to know more about Antoine, the author, than the story of the Little Prince and his silly rose. I would, however, re-read this book. I think there is more to be taken from it and I think perhaps a better translation might lend itself better to the story.

Parents, what do your kids think of this story? Do you read to them out of nostalgia and do they appreciate it? Perhaps this book is better left for adults even though it was written for kids.  Overall, I am still glad that I read it and can now at least understand and appreciate the references made to this novel in other works.