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?

 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

“Tea reminds us to slow down and escape the pressures of modern life.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 384 pages.
Read from June 24, 2018 to June 26, 2018.

Apologies for the lull in posts, I have been away visiting family and did not prepare as well as I would have liked since I was fairly overwhelmed with work prior to leaving. #excuses?

It isn’t very often that I read a description that legitimately makes me want to read a book and sticks with me. It hit a few things off my list: the plot is set in rural China, which since I am living out in Hong Kong I always find intriguing, secondly, tea is a major topic and anyone that follows this blog knows how much I love tea! I found this book on Netgalley but the jerks didn’t approve me for it. The book clicked around in my head for a few months and I finally decided to cave and purchase it, I have no regrets. This is also my first Lisa See novel and at this point, I can assure you it won’t be my last.

Li-yan and her family live in a remote village in Yunnan and are a part of an ethnic-Chinese minority called the Akha. Growing up, Li-yan’s life is ruled by strong traditions, superstitions and, of course, tea. Tea is the lifeline of her family and of her people. It is backbreaking work but it is what her family has always done. As Li-yan grows, she becomes the only educated person in her family to speak the mainland’s language and when a stranger appears in their village wanting to make his own pu’reh tea on their land, Li-yan becomes his main correspondence. The connection will transform the way their small village has lived for many years.  Li-yan falls in love with a young man her family does not approve of and when he leaves for work and she falls pregnant she breaks tradition, and instead of slaying her daughter she reluctantly gives her up for adoption. When her man returns a few months later she tries to rectify her terrible mistake but she is too late, her daughter has been adopted out to a family in the United States.  She leads a terrible life with her husband in Thailand before returning to China to start her own tea business.  She is very successful but the hole left in her heart from her daughter never goes away. After a remarkable meeting with an old woman near a marriage market, her life takes a turn she could never have expected. There may be hope that she might see her daughter again…

This story is captivating yet is also a very easy read. Lisa See knows how to sculpt her characters and draw her readers in. I also really connected with Li-yan, maybe it’s an age thing or perhaps the strength of her character.  If this is what Lisa See’s stories are normally like, then I definitely need to add more Lisa See to my TBR pile.

This book would appeal to a wide variety of readers. Anyone that is interested in a happy ending, China, tea, family and survival stories would adore this book. It is a well-rounded story and Li-yan will touch the hearts of many.

My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

Finding hope in the darkness, both literally and figuratively…

3/5 stars.
ARC, ebook, 208 pages.
Read from July 6, 2018 to July 12, 2018.

Expected publication: September 11, 2018

WWII and holocaust survivor stories are some of my favourite reading genres so when I saw this book on Netgalley with the absolutely raving reviews I knew I just had to read it.

Set in Kwasova, Ukraine during WWII, My Real Name is Hanna is a unique coming of age story.  With the rise of Nazi Germany, Hanna and her family don’t initially suspect that that anything will happen to them in their small town.  Hanna spends her time helping her neighbour dye decorative pysanky eggs and hanging out with her friend Leon.  However, the tides quickly change with the Nazis on their doorsteps and the carefree life and childhood that Hanna has known comes to an abrupt end.  Her family is desperate to stay together and do whatever it takes to keep it that way. A few kind friends and neighbours help Hanna and her family plot their escape into the forest when the Nazis come for them.  After their first safe place comes under threat, Hanna and her family are forced underground where they have to learn to live in a cramped cave in order to avoid the horrible Nazi forces.  Finding hope in the darkness, both literally and figuratively, is all that Hanna and her family have left.

Everyone seemed to love this book and while I didn’t dislike the novel I also don’t feel the need to rave about it either. I am struggling to find the words for my indifference to this story as the plot was exciting and definitely nerve-wracking at times.  The plot and layout of this story is its best feature but I felt a disconnect between some parts of the story and with the characters. For example, the book Hanna was given as a gift, which is the focal point of the first chapter, felt absolutely unnecessary in the rest of the book and really could have been edited out.  Based on the reviews I have read, it seems that the majority readers had a strong emotional connection to the characters but I, however, found it a bit lacking. The characters struggles, as awful as they were, did not seem like they were communicated as well as they could have been.  While one of the most touching scenes of the story entails Hanna and her friend Leon but at the same time, Leon also felt like an unnecessary character. If the story had focused on just Hanna and her immediate family members, the characters might have felt a bit more robust to me.

I can see why readers have compared this story to The Book Thief as this book has successfully discussed a difficult and tragic story but has also kept it attainable for youth readers.  However, in terms of potency and character development, The Book Thief is still the clear winner for me.

While I wasn’t as enthralled with this book as other readers the content of the story is good and many others swear by its moving story so I would still recommend this book for those interested in the WWII narrative and YA readers.