Last year I set out to read fifty books, roughly one a week, reading anything I could get my hands on. (see my Year in Books here) So one book a month is a practice in restraint. My aim is a "less is more approach" ..keeping my reading time in balance with time for the other things I love. This goal has been great for keeping me in check in that respect, and has had me giving more consideration to my selections, prioritizing my reading list.
My first three books of 2015 took me all around the world and back home again.
And The Mountains Echoed, Kahled HosseiniI was eager to read And the Mountains Echoed after being swept away by A Thousand Splendid Suns and also reading The Kite Runner last year.
*Tough Love Alert* This was my least favorite of the three. I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns. It takes a special kind of book for me to keep on my shelf, or to pass on to friends.. I have two copies, both of them loaned out. It's worth noting that the bar was set high for comparing work by the same author.
And the Mountains Echoed is written in a different structure than Hosseini's prior two books, each chapter told from the viewpoint of a new character. Starting in a small Afghan village, I found the initial story compelling, but it was soon placed on the back burner to accommodate added characters and story lines. It took me some effort in keeping track of how they were all connected, in part because they span multiple generations and jump multiple continents, but some of them seemed altogether unnecessary and too far removed. I just wanted to get back to that first story already.
The ripple (or echo) effect of a single event is the main theme. I get it, but it didn't resonate harmoniously for me. I love Hosseini's writing, but not this book.
And The Mountains Echoed falls short of my Pass on to a Friend caliber.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura HillenbrandAfter hearing numerous mentions of this book, I went seeking it at our local library and found that it was checked out all across our regional library system, I was #17 in queue.
When my copy arrived, I jumped into it. But not before Mitch grabbed it and read it first.
Unbroken is a non-fiction / biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic track star who survived a plane crash in the Pacific theater, spent 47 days drifting on a raft, and then survived more than two and a half years as a prisoner of war in three brutal Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.
Brutal is the word that sticks. This is an intensely brutal, but incredible account.. as the subtitle suggests, Zamperini survives his ordeals, and with resilience.
From this book I learned more about the Pacific / Japanese side of WWII (where my mom's dad served), about the B-24 bomber, and unfortunately, about several U.S. military inadequacies at that time. I felt the author did a tremendous job with her research.
While Louie's story is unforgettable, my favorite character is Phil (Lt. Russell Allen Phillips), for his moral steadfastness through it all. Phil is my kind of hero.
“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Unbroken stretched my mind.
I felt it was a well-told, whole picture of the early 1900's European-American immigrant. Their roots, their journey, making their way in a new and strange place, the sense of gratitude and debt these immigrants felt to their new country, and the longing for the home and people they left behind.
In some ways, the story paralleled that of my great grandfather from Finland. He came to the U.S. on a ship alone at 15 years old, as Ciro does in the pages of this book, and at nearly the same year. They both made a life in America by way of work ethic and willingness to learn. Not long after his arrival, my great grandpa was shipped back to Europe to fight in France in WWI, also as Ciro and so many immigrants did.
The most common criticism this book seems to receive is that it's bogged down with too much description. Yes, it's descriptive, and the hardcover I read is 475 pages long. Part of Trigiani's style is in her description of foods and fabrics. But mostly, she describes settings beautifully. She makes me feel the places in her stories. I was surprised to find that this one, originating in the Italian Alps, then New York City, ends up right here in Northern Minnesota, my own native land. And Trigiani got it right, the Minnesota stuff.
My only complaints: There were (what I thought were) some typos and age discrepancies late in the book. They weren't pertinent to the story, I'm just a stickler for editing detail.
I enjoyed reading The Shoemaker's Wife.
There are a handful of books in the running for my April choice, but so far I'm undecided.
What are you reading? Maybe I'll read along!
PS: Today is St. Urho's Day.
Wishing you many reasons to smile.