Monday, December 26, 2005

Last Book Review from Haiti:

If all goes well, we’ll be departing Haiti tomorrow. So the last book I will read in its entirety on this trip is “The Jane Austen Book Club,” by Karen Joy Fowler, which I finished last night. I purchased a hard bound copy at the Peoria Public library for $3. Why do we pay retail for anything?

With so much attention being paid to Jane Austen these days, mainly thanks to Hollywood, I felt out of the loop, only having read part of one of her six novels, Sense and Sensibility. Somehow, I also own unread copies of Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice, which I will throw in the suitcase for future trips.

“The Jane Austen Book Club” describes the conceit of the novel well; it’s about a group of six people, five women and one man who meet monthly to discuss one of Austen’s novels. The women are Austen fanatics—in real life they seem passionately devoted too—and the man is a newcomer, which puts him a little at a disadvantage. Each chapter discusses one of the novels and the history of one of the character’s lives. There is probably interplay between the characters and the novels that I don’t get, being under read in Austen.

Fowler is a fine writer who coins nicely turned phrases and makes observations that raise a window shade on reality. “Sylvia thought how all parents wanted an impossible life for their children—happy beginning, happy middle, happy ending. No plot of any kind. What uninteresting people would result if parents got their way. Allegra (Sylvia’s daughter) had always been plenty interesting enough. Time for her to be happy.”

In the end, “The Jane Austen Book Club” isn’t really my kind of book. It was easy to read and not too long, but filled with characters that I have a hard time connecting with. Some of them were kind of snobby and not-so-nice; the histories of their lives were unpleasant in a vague, American, late 20th century way. But a lot of people, particularly other women writers, really like this book.

I read parts of two other books “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Bonjour Blanc” by Ian Thomson. Tom Sawyer elicited memories of reading his adventures while at my grandparents’ farm. They had an illustrated copy of the book. Hmmm. . . when I return home, I think I’ll ask my mom if she knows where it is.

Earlier this year, I bought “Bonjour Blanc” for John, as he said it was the best book about Haiti he’d ever read, and he’s read a lot of ‘em. Thomson is an English author; I had to order this book on line and wait several weeks for it. Thomson packs a lot into each chapter—history and observations. His writing is good—detailed and dense. I would read a chapter and then have to put the book aside for awhile.

Some of his chapter titles include: In Cahoots with the Macoutes (the Tonton Macoutes were the murderous henchmen of the Duvalier years), Paris of the Gutter (Port-au-Prince), The White Black Men of Europe (The Polish men who came to fight with Napoleon against the rebellious slaves but defected in mass when they saw how evil the cause of the French was).

I am looking forward to finishing “Bonjour Blanc” soon. By the way, the title refers to the name the Haitians call foreigners. It’s vastly preferable to the “Hey you!” that is hollered at us regularly, a lovely legacy from the Marine presence in Haiti in the early 1990’s.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, 12/27) will be a long and hopefully not too tough day. We are leaving here at 6:30 am to go to Haitian immigrations to get Jackson’s passport and then to the U.S. consulate to get his visa. Then we’ll return here, pick up our bags, and head to the airport, only about five minutes away, for our 3:30 flight to Miami. It will be a grueling day for Jackson, so please say a prayer for him.

I think this will be my last post from Haiti from this trip, but I will keep you updated as to how Jackson is doing.

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