The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler

“A boy can be two, three, four potential people, but a man is only one. He murders the others.”

4/5 stars.
ebook
Read from January 23, 2018 to February 4, 2018.

A Canadian classic; there are not many books that embody a French-Canadian setting and receive as much praise and success as this one did, especially with a protagonist as despicable as Duddy.

Saying that Duddy Kravitz is ambitious is an understatement.  After taking to heart what his grandfather said about a man owning land, Duddy is determined to rise above the Jewish ghetto in Montreal he has grown up in.

“A man without land is a nobody.”

As you follow Duddy’s life from a young age, you see that Duddy is as smart as he is cunning and his extensive risk taking is starting to pay off. The problem being, Duddy is a shithead con-artist who does not care about anyone but himself. A trouble-maker from a young age, Duddy wants to prove everyone wrong no matter what the cost. Before he has even turned 18, Duddy is trying to increase reputation and his finances to get that perfect plot of land. duddysmposter04 Despite Duddy’s extensive faults, there is an admirable and likeable quality to him that almost has your rooting for him even as he uses and abuses people in his ambitious pursuits. You feel as if, maybe Duddy isn’t as terrible as his ambitions make him and deep down he is a good person. From his obnoxious and hilarious youth to the hard working days of his early adulthood, Duddy befriends and makes enemies with a variety of characters that contribute to his overall success at the end of the novel. However, the success has come at a steep price, one that even Duddy has to question in the end.  I know that even I was a bit bothered, on both ends, when his relationships and friendships fell apart. One part of me wanted things to work out for Duddy and the other part of me wanted to scream at his friends to GTFO.

Richler does magic work with Duddy’s character in getting you, as a reader, to love and hate him. So that even when Duddy does something horribly selfish, you are not surprised and still keep reading to see if Duddy’s ridiculously ambitious and often crude plans come to fruition. The book balances the themes of greed and ambition perfectly, as well as encompassing a snapshot history of Montreal in the 1940s and 1950s. Richler also details some of the current views held on Jewish people during this time as well as some of the political stances of the local French-Canadians. The plot is mixed with humour, cigars, alcohol, and a little bit of violence here and there, making the book not only interesting but somewhat exciting as well.

I can’t say this book would be for everyone but if you enjoy a little of debauchery and can tolerate a less than likeable protagonist out of the sake of your own ambitious curiosity than this book might be for you.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

“Tomorrow. The word hangs in the air for a moment, both a promise and a threat. Then it floats away like a paper boat, taken from her by the water licking at her ankles.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 321 pages.
Read from January 18, 2018 to January 19, 2018.

I need to listen to my friend’s book recommendations more often as I would never have found and devoured this book otherwise. I sometimes struggle with stories set around traditional Indian families because so many of them are filled with intense sorrow in being so heavily committed to family at all costs, even if it means sacrificing your own personal happiness (for example, The Hero’s Walk). tumblr_mlvuppSgUV1rtxj3eo1_500This massive commitment is a foreign concept for me as I grew up in a Western society, neither of which is good or bad, just different. This book, however, I did not struggle with as the characters are so well depicted and the story showcases both the good and the bad of being committed to your family.

This story centres around two women of very different classes in India. Sera is a Parsi housewife who has employed Bhima for many years as a housekeeper. Bhima is extremely poor yet the two women are close friends, practically family. However, the massive class difference between the two of them is a constant reminder that they are very different and each holds different resentments and a fierce loyalty to their own family no matter what.  Bhima has done everything she can for her one and only granddaughter, Maya, whom she was happily able to send to college with Sera’s assistance, but something has happened. Maya has returned to the shabby home of her grandmother and has abandoned her studies, locking herself away. Bhima soon learns that Maya is pregnant. Bhima is furious but Maya refuses to give her grandmother any details as to how it happened.  The cause of Maya’s condition has a tragic origin that when unfurled will devastate the two women and their families forever.

Bhima, poor Bhima, her strength and suffering are so intense. The author has a magical way with words and is truly gifted.

“She is tired of it all—tired of this endless cycle of death and birth, tired of investing any hope in the next generation, tired and frightened of finding more human beings to love, knowing full well that every person she loves will someday wound her, hurt her, break her heart with their deceit, their treachery, their fallibility, their sheer humanity.”

The ending is heart-breaking, yet tranquil and gives you some hope that things will get better fro Bhima and Maya. The author depicts Sera so well that you can even appreciate her own individual struggles without resentment as she too, suffers intensely. Sera may not be poor but she is trapped in the tradition of a high-end Parsi family and it has created its own form of suffering. Both Bhima and Sera suffer, yet that space between them keeps them separate and unable to come together.  The book broaches a wide array of distressing themes such as poverty, rape, abortion and domestic violence and how these affect the lives of women regardless of class.  I did not want to put this book down. I was so involved and committed to the characters and plot that I thought about Bhima for a week and felt intense empathetic feelings for a person that doesn’t even exist, though I imagine there are many women out there in similar situations.

I would recommend this book to any woman as think some of the conflicts presented in the story are unique to women. That is not to say that men won’t enjoy this novel too as it represents a lot of different family dynamics that they would also appreciate. If anything, read this book for the gorgeous prose!

Canada Reads 2018 – Favs and Predictions

Debates kick off next week. Have you read them all yet?

It’s almost time! The debates kick off next week from March 26-29, 2018. In advance of the debates, I have read all five novels and have broken down the five into two lists. One, based on which ones I enjoyed the most and two, based on how the book best fits this year’s theme. Don’t forget to click on the links to read my full reviews on each novel!

Let’s start with the theme: One Book to Open Your Eyes. Here is how I think the debates will unfold and which book I think will be the winner.

Predictions:

5) The Marrow Thieves –  Putting a dystopian YA novel in with other quality pieces of literature is always going to be a gamble and while the topic of the treatment of Native Americans is important the execution of this story just didn’t match up with the other contenders. The loose concept of dreams being stuck in bone marrow was a bit of stretch too.

4) Precious Cargo – I thoroughly enjoyed this read. It draws attention to children and families living with disabilities. The writing is lighthearted and humorous but lacks the depth of the other contending novels.

3) Forgiveness – Rife with Canadian history as well lesser-known war details about Canada’s time in Hong Kong during WWII. The author’s grandparents come to terms with the terrible misfortunes that the war has brought them and learn to forgive as their families come together.  The writing can be a bit clunky and did not feel like a finished whole.

2) American War – Another dystopian though catered to a very adult audience. The content of this book is violent and brutal and draws a lot of attention to the realities of war and the politics behind it as well as the people that suffer in its wake.

1) The Boat People – Despite the slow start to this novel, this book takes the cake when it comes to the theme this year. The book is inspired by a real refugee crisis that happened in Canada in 2010 and it really opens your eyes past all the media and politics to the real issue facing refugees.

In terms of the books I enjoyed the most, however, I would rank the novels as such. It was tough this year as I found the difference in genres made it challenging as I enjoyed a few of the stories equally.

Enjoyability:

5) The Marrow Thieves – This book just didn’t click with me. The storytelling tradition aspects of the book are beautiful but the general YA premise just didn’t work for me.

4) Precious Cargo – I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as it was the most uplifting of the five. Had the other books not been as poignant it would have been higher up on this list.

3) Forgiveness –  Despite the issues I had with the writing style, the content about Hong Kong and the author’s time in a Japanese POW was absolutely captivating.

2) American War – This book surprised me the most. I was completely drawn into this world and the ending left me gutted.

1) The Boat People – Based on the first quarter of this book, I thought it was going to be on the bottom of this list, thankfully the dry story quickly came together to create something phenomenal and beautiful. This book combines dynamic and visceral characters paired with a memorable and important story that will be sure to tug on anyone’s conscience.

What do you think of my predictions and favourites? Do you agree? Comment and let me know!

Here are a few more details to get you prepped and ready for the debates! The contenders and their chosen books are:

Ali Hassan from CBC’s Laugh Out Loud will host for the second year in a row.

The debates will air on CBC Radio One at 11:05 a.m. ET, CT, MT, PT; 1:05 p.m. in Atlantic Canada; and at 1:35 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. They will also be live-streamed on CBC Books at 11 a.m. ET and can be seen on CBC Television at 4 p.m. local time.