Friday, April 12, 2019

Two More Books

So, as you can see by the number of books I have described thus far, I am well on my way to meeting my self imposed goals of reading 25 books. 

Here are the two latest books read--one fiction, one non-fiction.

By Kristin Hannah

I usually like fiction that is literary—i.e. the author does not have a plot driven approach, characters are well-rounded, dialogue is not stilted, and descriptions are not passé.
And, I do enjoy fiction based on historical events.
For example, I love ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE.

So, I approached reading THE NIGHTINGALE in that frame of mind. The novel is focused on two sisters in occupied France during World War II. The older sister, Vianne, is married with one daughter. She and her husband live in a village outside of Paris. When the war begins, her husband is called to military duty and shipped off to fight the Germans. That leaves Vianne and her daughter alone. All is manageable until the Germans occupy France and take over life everywhere. Eventually, a German office comes to Vianne’s house, and billets with her—and of course she has no say in the matter. She tries to stay inconspicuous, not wanting to anger the German occupiers. 

Meanwhile, the younger sister, Isabelle who has always been rebellious is searching for a way to resist the German occupation. She finds it when Allied pilots are downed over occupied France and need to survive and escape.  That becomes Isabelle’s focus. She is, in fact, the Nightingale. The inspiration for this character is based in history on one particular woman who helped rescue many Allied airmen.

But, on Goodreads, I rated this book as three out of five stars. Why?

I wanted to like all aspects of this story—but the narrative technique kept getting in the way. For example, the details that are given, sometimes in excruciating repetition, are banal. Frequently, what Vianne is cooking is described—odors, sounds, appearance, all. Again, and again. Further, both Vianne and Isabelle are described repeatedly as beautiful. OK—but so what? Would they have been more or less courageous if they were ugly?
The novel is still a good read—maybe best as a beach book.


I also gave For All the Tea a 3 star rating, but maybe 3 1/2 is more accurate.
Here's why.

Parts of the book are very good--if you're a history buff this is for you.
But other parts drag--extensive details of the protagonist (Robert Fortune) as he makes his way to inland China. Some portions I found tedious and extraneous. An example--encounters along the way of ruffians, opium users, etc. Of course, those details are needed to understand the risk Fortune was taking--but, page after page?

The two distinct parts to this book are intertwined. The obvious one is the adventures of Robert Fortune, an Englishman who was sent to China to "steal" tea plants, bring them to India, and shift the geography of tea growth and production. He succeeded. 

In turn, tea grown in India under the auspices of the East India Tea Company displaced completely China's prior dominance. The East India Tea Company in turn became one of the first global businesses. It also manifested the pattern of colonial domination--power intermingled with disregard of native populations.

Fortune worked with Chinese laborers, who had to help him penetrate into the interior of China to find where tea grew. While he depended on these workers, he displayed a paternal, dismissive and colonial view of people who were "natives." 

That same attitude was displayed when Fortune succeeded, and tea became an established crop in India. Once again, colonial power ruled over native populations. When the Indian rebellion of 1857 occurred, and British people were slaughtered at Cawnpore, the disastrous result spelled the end of the East India Tea Company--and it solidified England's place as an empire. Tea production was simply taken over by the British Empire, with India as the jewel in the crown.

The other part of the book is the way in which stealing tea from China helped spur the modern world. The best part of the book, for me, was the concluding chapter. Not because the book was over--although, there were times the narrative lagged, and I just wanted things to move on--but because Sarah Rose, the author, outlined the various ways in which tea advanced people. 

Those benefits remain today...and, I think, I'll go drink a cup of tea.