Five readings after the summer

Five readings after the summer

Home , by Marilynne Robinson

Virago Press, 2009, pp. 352

“Home. What kinder place on earth could there be, and why did it seem like to them all an exile?” So thought Glory Boughton, 38 year old school teacher, un-lucky in love, having returned to the old family homestead to care for her aging father. Being the only one of 8 children that did not marry, the caretaking job naturally fell to her. While many things develop Glory was not expecting at Gilead, a little American town in Iowa State, one turn of events takes her completely aback.

A twist that fashions this award winning novel, Home, making it a story about family, faith and forgiveness. Marilynne Robinson, well-acclaimed American author, wrote Home not as a sequel but as a sister book to Gilead. All within the same setting, the perspective changes. Rev. Boughton’s prodigal son, Jack, inexplicably returns home after 20 years of no contact, aloof and mysterious as ever. Remembered in Gilead as town thief, drunk and outright trouble, Jack returns to a family whose love has remained steadfast nevertheless. While Gilead considers this turn of events from Congregational Minister Ames Boughton’s perspective, Jack’s godfather, Home brings the reader directly into the family hearth, looking at Jack’s return through the eyes of his sister, Glory. Ready to forgive whatever and help him overcome anything, Glory and Jack form a fast and strong bond. As the novel unravels, however, so do certain secrets from Jack’s past. Has he truly come back in earnest and repentance, or does he have other motives in mind? Though Jack’s return was his father’s dying wish, will it be the cause of his father’s death, as Jack allows his guilt to perceive?

In Home, Robinson taps into universal truths about the pain of love, the power of forgiveness, and the weight of guilt. Every reader will find themselves to some degree at home reading this prize-winning novel.

Little Women , by Louisa May Alcott

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015, pages 414.

Though few current critics have dubbed it ‘old-fashioned’ as it portrays females and family as they would have been found in the 1800’s, those same critics admit to have been delighted and charmed by Little Women. 19th century American author Louisa May Alcott tells the tale of the four March sisters – differing in personality as much as colors in a painting – growing up in Orchard House with their mother during the American Civil War.

The heroine, Jo, is fiery and fierce-tempered, unhappy she can’t be off at war with the men, yet learns to use her rich imagination to keep their poverty stricken household intact and light-hearted. In contrast, there is her pretty and refined elder sister, Meg, her selfless and sweet-hearted sister Beth, and finally, outspoken and proper little Amy. Based off Alcott’s own life, the novel follows the March sisters’ childhood struggles, adventures – which include befriending the young European boy next door, Laurie – the realization of some of their dreams, and the letting go of others.

While many past and present have raved about this book because they can relate to a character or some aspect of Alcott’s world, others admit themselves lost in her world, and yet mark its genius for it. “ Little Women was written by a woman for women” noted prolific 20th writer G.K. Chesterton, “Therefore, my first impulse was to fly screaming. I resisted the impulse and I read the books; and I discovered to my immeasurable astonishment, that they were extremely good.” Chesterton felt as their young Laurie did, a male intruder in a female world, by which he admired its realism and ranked it among the works of famed Jane Austen.

Little Women is a classic because it’s the story of everyman, or in this case, everywoman, and manifests the female genius and unbreakable spirit. The March girls may not be found on the battle field, but they have their own daily battles to attend to which they deal with as we all do – sometimes well, sometimes poorly – but with an earnest desire for good and growth that charms any reader.

What’s Hell Is Not (Ciò che inferno non è), by Alessandro D’Avenia

Mondadori, 2014, pages, 317

Among the greatest regrets people can have at the end of their life are said to be the following: having lived as a prisoner to others’ expectations; having worked too hard under the pressure of competitiveness; not having enough time with loved ones; not having the courage to say the truth, or to say the words “I love you”, “I’m proud of you”, or “I’m sorry”; not having been happy.

But when a life is lived entirely as a gift, is there room for these regrets?

Alessandro D’Avenia, author of the best-seller, White as Milk, Red as Blood (Bianca come il latte, rossa come il sangue) , comes out with a third book, What’s Hell Is Not. It’s the story of Fr. Pino Puglisi, a priest who died in 1993 as a martyr of the Sicilian mafia of Brancaccio.

In the author’s words, “Fr. Pino didn’t regret any of these things. He held them all in love. For him, everything was already real. That’s why he smiles as he crosses the threshold.”

The book aims at drawing the reader from the ideal of a comfortable life built upon appearances, to a true life, which takes on meaning as it is lived for others. It invites us to reflect upon why it is worth it to take on this new, yet ancient, Gospel mission of losing one’s own life in order to find it again.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014; pages 240.

It is better to have a world in which everything works perfectly, but lacks love; or an imperfect world in which love may exist? Is it preferable to have a world without pain and without emotions; or a world in which pain exists, but feelings do also?

These are the great questions addressed by Lois Lowry in her book, The Giver, which has also been made into a film.

The world of the main character, Jonas, is an efficient world where is there no place for freedom, understanding, fraternal correction, compassion…or even love. The birth, death, and life of the entire society are looked at from a “functional” perspective, and are managed in a smoothly despotic way.

Families are no longer built upon love or the will of man and woman who invest in a common project together. They are prefabricated by officials in charge of the creation of “family units”. Children are no longer responsible for their own decisions; someone else decides their life for them. No mistake is tolerated and imperfection is punished by expulsion from the community. The only criterion in this materialistic world is functionality. It explains why the elderly, given their apparent uselessness, are dismissed- physically removed- from this “perfect” world.

Jonas is happy with how his existence develops, or rather he believes such until a certain point. Thanks to a strange figure that lives in his community, he discovers that things could have went in a different direction. Thus begins his great adventure: the search for true life.

The memories of the past will drive him to rediscover a humanity now buried by a cold, monotonous, automatic search for order, comfort, an apparent wellbeing…

The Awakening of Miss Prim (El Despertar de la Señorita Prim), b y Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera
Atria Books, 2014; pages: 272

Prudencia Prim is a young, independent woman with a number of academic titles to her name. A job offer as a private librarian brings her to San Ireneo, a peaceful village where the inhabitants have declared war against the modern world. Miss Prim ends up there as a response to an opening posted by an irritable, ferociously anti-modern and traditionalist man who needs a librarian to order her books. The clash between these two strong, opposing personalities, and having to deal with the strange local people, challenge many of Miss Prim’s firm convictions. Her life is changed forever.

Written with intelligence, grace, and style, “this book is about…a myriad of things, such as romance, beauty, literature, art, philosophy, and even feminism” (Bibliophile’s Reverie, blog review). It echoes directly Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and many other classics of English literature.

The Awakening of Miss Prim , the author’s first novel, has already been translated into eight languages and published in 70 countries. It’s an intellectual bomb in the form of a novel, under the guise of a world saturated in charm, chocolate, pastries and the old fashioned good manners. Behind a non-conventional love story, at least by today’s standards, it is a collision of two worlds. One is the world that is hostile to Christianity (without knowing what it’s even about) and is guided by irrational feelings (though unaware of this reality). The other is an ordered world, guided by reason and enlightened by faith.