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Posts Tagged ‘war’

Win a copy of Ellen Feldman’s novel NEXT TO LOVE!

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Next to Love TPFor fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Postmistress, and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave set during the years of World War II and its aftermath.

Set in a small town in Massachusetts, Next to Love follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible—while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America—from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities—and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.

Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.

Win a paperback of The Tiger’s Wife!

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

*This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to the over 2,000 people who entered!*The Tiger's Wife TPobreht_tea

Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction

One of the year’s best novels is coming to paperback November 1st!

“[Obreht] has a talent for subtle plotting that eludes most writers twice her age, and her descriptive powers suggest a kind of channeled genius. . . . No novel [this year] has been more satisfying.”—The Wall Street Journal

“So rich with themes of love, legends and mortality that every novel that comes after it this year is in peril of falling short in comparison with its uncanny beauty.”—Time

Alexandra Fuller on writing her African childhood: “I am African by accident”

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Don't Let's Go to the Dogsfuller_alexandraThis week memoirist Alexandra Fuller publishes Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, where she returns to sub-Saharan Africa and the story of her unforgettable family that she first introduced to readers ten years ago in her stunning memoir, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, a book The New Yorker called “By turns mischievous and openhearted, earthy and soaring…hair-raising, horrific, and thrilling.” Below is an essay she wrote upon the publication of that book.

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My Africa

I am African by accident, not by birth. So while soul, heart, and the bent of my mind are African, my skin blaringly begs to differ and is resolutely white. And while I insist on my Africanness (if such a singular thing can exist on such a vast and varied continent), I am forced to acknowledge that almost half my life in Africa was realized in a bubble of Anglocentricity, as if black Africans had no culture worth noticing and as if they did not exist except as servants and (more dangerously) as terrorists.

My mother—hard-living, glamorous, intemperate, intelligent, racist—introduced my siblings and me to Shakespeare before we could walk (my sister maintains that her existing horror of reading stems from having Troilus and Cressida recited to her when she was still in utero). My father—taciturn and capable—sat outside on hot summer nights with a glass of brandy and sang us Bizet’s Carmen and explained to us the story of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The cannons of the piece (crackling on vinyl records over the throb of a diesel generator) blasted into the heat-thick night and Dad raised his brandy to the sky. “Bloody marvelous,” he shouted, and far away beyond the river the hyenas shrieked their reply. Vanessa, my sister, taught me the survival skill of self- reliance. We occasionally pottered away the long hours of a yellow summer afternoon pasting old magazine pictures of the British royal family into scrapbooks or holding pretend (if very proper) tea parties for the dogs.

Fuller title page photoWe were poor and we had a knack for picking bad-luck patches of land on which to farm, but (and this was supposedly to our advantage) we were of very particular British stock. My maternal grandmother maintained that we held a better pedigree than the English queen (who is German, after all, while we were part highland Scot), and my mother frequently reminded my sister and me that we were “well bred.” “Well bred” ensured buckled noses, high-arched feet, a predisposition to madness, and an innate knowledge that it is more polite to say “napkin” than “serviette.” “Well bred” assumed a working knowledge of the construction of a decent Irish coffee, the appropriate handling of difficult horses, and a pathological love of dogs. “Well bred” meant, most specifically,an innate belief in our own unquestioning superiority. This archaic way of thinking coupled with Africa’s tumultuous history may make for wonderful literature, but it also made for chaotic living.

By the time I came to Rhodesia in 1972, Africa—Kenya, in particular—had been home to three generations of my family. With the exception of a great-uncle who had shocked his relations and scandalized the European community by going to live with the Nandi people of Kenya (and who became the first person to document their language in the written form), my people were the sort of European stock who brandished their culture before them like some devastating scythe.

In spite of this, Africa—as an idea—dawned on me gradually. I appreciated that we, as whites, could not own a piece of Africa, but I knew, with startling clarity, that Africa owned me. As the land and people around me began to make sense, I was like a snake itching off the excess of an extra skin in the dry season and finding myself milky-eyed, and dangerously blind, in the rarefied, free air of the new order in Africa. From Ghana to Mozambique to Angola, independence had rippled down Africa’s spine, and now it had come to us—to Rhodesia. Whatever happened next, I knew that I had to be either a part of this new world—a working, active, feature of it—or forever apart from it. I could either celebrate the new opportunity we as Africans had been given at independence, at the birth of Zimbabwe, or forever lament the loss of Empire. I would either fight for a new world of political equality or become a servant to the regimes that had assumed the strangling mantle of colonialism.

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When I was in my early twenties, I fell in love with an American (he had come to Zambia as a river guide), and I went with him to live in North America after our marriage and the birth of our first child. I mourned Africa daily (I still do) with something like a physical ache even while I luxuriated in the relative security and peace of a Rocky Mountain life. And it was here, in the high bright air of a Wyoming winter, that the need to write my life became overwhelming for me.

At the start, I tried to write my life as fiction. I wrote eight or nine spectacularly unsuccessful novels. I felt as if I needed to find a way to explain the racism I had grown up around, to justify the hard living of whites in Africa, to expunge my guilt over the injustice I had witnessed in my youth. I wrote and rewrote the characters of my childhood and I wrote the landscape I loved over and over again until the smells of the place burned on my palate. But the novels still felt like lies because in them I had tried to soften the voices of the whites I had known and to write into full life the voices of the black men, women, and children who had been silenced by years of oppression. These works of fiction, I eventually realized, were the writings of a woman who was scared to look the world in the face, and if there was one thing Africa had taught me, it was to shout above the sting of a dry-season wind loud enough to be heard from one end of a farm to another.

I made the decision, then, to write my life exactly as it had been: passionate, wonderful, troubled, oppressive, chaotic, beautiful. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight is the story that was born of that decision. It is not a political story or the story of Empire. It is the story of how one African came to terms with her family’s troubled history; it is a love story for the continent.

Alexandra Fuller
Jackson Hole
, Wyoming
August 2002

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Bobbie Ann Mason on book clubs: “Keep the momentum going”

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Mason_bobbie annI visited with my first book club recently—the Winder Binder bookstore in Chattanooga, TN.  A pleasant bunch of folks had read one of my books, and they were overflowing with enthusiastic questions, as well as insights that had never occurred to me as the author. It is always a nice surprise when readers find interesting connections in the text that I didn’t know were there. What can be more gratifying for a writer than to have one’s work taken seriously and with good feeling?  It is not the forced assignment of a classroom syllabus, but a voluntary attention and an honest response to the words inside the covers of a book.  The book–that revered relic.  Let us all get our paws on as many as we can and talk about them and share them with our friends.   Even e-books can work.  Reading  is something like being inside a tent. When you are finished, you crawl out and return the book to the shelf, but  an e-book magically retreats into the clouds. The tent goes too, stakes and all.

Reading is so private, and it is often a reader’s  habit to finish a book, close the covers, and plunge into the next one without a backward glance.  “I just  read this terrific book, couldn’t put it down.” End of story. Reading  can be just feeding, but smart reading takes us further.  The classroom is one way to go deeper, but we can’t stay in school forever.

Writers want to be reread.  They want to think that their words don’t just flash by but deserve some reflection.  Girl in the Blue BeretSometimes a book I’m reading is so terrific that when I finish, I simply turn back to page one and start all over again to see what I’ve missed,  to experience it again, more deeply, or because I don’t want to let it go.  In a book club  you can keep the momentum going, let the book ricochet around a group of readers.  A book club is a way to prolong the book, deepen your journey into it, and enjoy  refreshments with friends.

I can hardly think of a more benign and cheerful way to hand in a book report.

I hope you’ll read my new book, The Girl in the Blue Beret, and if you like it share it with book clubs in your area.  This book is very special to me—it takes place in France!  It’s about a bomber pilot who was shot down in Europe during World War II. In  later years he goes back to find the people who had helped him escape from Occupied France.  One of those is a mysterious man named Robert, and of course there was a girl in a blue beret.

Buy the hardcover or eBook

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Consider these questions when reading The Girl in the Blue Beret:

1. Discuss the special bond between Allied aviators and their European helpers.  Why did it take so long for many of them to reunite after the war?

2. What does flying mean to Marshall?  Discuss Marshall’s failed B-17 mission and the effect it had on his life.

3.  Look at and discuss the images of flight throughout the novel. How does the final sentence  tie in?

4.  What is Marshall’s feeling about the young man he remembers as Robert? Does Marshall romanticize him? Why is finding Robert so important to Marshall?

5.  Love and war.  There are two main love stories in this novel–the younger couple, Annette and Robert,  and the mature couple, Annette and Marshall.  How are these relationships different from each other?   What does war do to love and romance?

6. Why is Marshall so unprepared for what Annette reveals to him?  How does he deal with her story? What possibilities lie ahead for him?

7. The name Annette Vallon is inspired by a historical figure–a woman who was William Wordsworth’s lover during the French Revolution, and the mother of his illegitimate child. What suggestions are being made by the use of the name here? What else can you learn about Annette Vallon from further research?

8. What do you make of the epigraph, by William Wordsworth?  Is it appropriate? How does it connect with the use of Annette Vallon’s name?

9. What do mountains mean to Marshall?  Trace the importance of mountains at different stages of his life.

10.  How does Marshall look back on his war experience? How does his  perspective change during the course of the novel?

11. How do the experiences in the book compare with your own experiences of war? Have you ever known anyone captured during wartime?

12. What is meant by second chances?

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