Category: The Bestseller Code 100 (page 1 of 6)

#BestsellerCode100: Number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What it’s about: Three grown sisters return to their hometown when their mother falls ill. Although they grew up together and all were named after characters in Shakespeare’s plays by their father, the three sisters couldn’t be more different. Will the crisis pull them together or break them apart?

Quirky fact:  This book is written in the first person plural.

 

 

Have you read The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first few lines of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown? Feel free to add a link to your review here.

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 87. World War Z by Max Brooks (2006) – Discussion begins May 8, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Unaccustomed Earth Wrap-Up Poll

Time to wrap up the discussion of our latest novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. The conversation started here.

Note: Post does not contain spoilers.

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

We are reading these books because they were picked by the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers as the best of the bestsellers.  Do you agree with the computer that this book should be on the list?  Why or why not?

 What was your final opinion of Unaccustomed Earth?

Do you agree with the computer that this novel is one of the best of the bestsellers?

 

You can also join us on social media:

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  For a synopsis of the book, check out Roberta’s Writer’s Review.

This post does not contains spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Short Story Collection

Unaccustomed Earth is a bit unusual in that it is actually a collection of short stories.  Part One consists of five different stories and Part Two has three stories centered around the same two main characters over the span of several decades.  All the characters are Bengali immigrants adjusting to life in America.

For the most part, Lahiri’s stories were easy to read, with characters keeping secrets and experiencing life’s disappointments and hardships.  Some of the stories were more memorable than others.  A week after reading Part One, I could only remember three of the five short story plots.  In Part Two, the voice changed to first person and took a while to get used to.  Just when I was used to one voice, it changed to the second character’s voice, and then the final chapter was back to third person.

Pervasive Sadness

Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who has a penchant for ending her stories abruptly, with no follow up of the characters.  She likes to leave you guessing as to what happens in the future.  Sometimes that works, but more often I was aggravated.  I wanted more and felt cheated.

While I feel I have a better understanding of how immigrants and their children adjust (or do not adjust) to life in a new setting, Unaccustomed Earth left me sad and depressed, like I’d just spent a week without any sunshine.  Lahiri’s characters reminded me of Eeyore, from Winnie-the-Pooh, always thinking, “Woe is me.”   She would have us believe that immigrants rarely experience joy in their new country.  I hope that is not reality.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of Unaccustomed Earth

Each writer has different strengths and weaknesses. Let’s examine the book we are reading for The Bestseller Code challenge, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, from a writer’s perspective. (The discussion started here.)

This post contains spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What Unaccustomed Earth is about:

In this collection of eight short stories the author explores how the lives of people are changed as they migrate from place to place, specifically from South Asia to America. Jhumpa Lahiri asks the question whether — as a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne suggests — people thrive when they “strike their roots into unaccustomed earth” instead of being “planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil.”

Narrative

If you are  writer, you have heard the advice over and over to “show, not tell.” Yet, sometimes you need to break the rules. In this case Jhumpa Lahiri has gone into her storytelling roots, mixing showing with big doses of telling.

“She pointed out one of the two bridges that spanned the lake, explaining that they floated on pontoons at their centers because the water was too deep. Her father looked out the window but said nothing. Her mother would have been more forthcoming, remarking on the view, wondering whether ivory curtains would have been better than green.”

Some of the telling results from the constraints of a short story. In a full-length novel Lahiri could have had a scene with mother and revealed her personality with dialogue. In a short story that is a luxury the author can’t afford.

 

unaccustomed earth

Characters

Each short story features conflicts within families. Most of the characters are people of either American and/or Bengali descent. Some of the conflicts arise from differences in cultures, some from differences between the generations, and some come from different goals between men and women in relationships.

Setting

Given that Lahiri is exploring the effect of migration on families, it’s not surprising the  short stories are set in a variety of locations. Most are in New England, but London and India figure in several of the stories. The family in the first short story has moved to Seattle. The characters in the final short story find love/passion in Rome.

The author is writing settings that she knows, because Lahiri was born in London and grew up in New England (Rhode Island).  In 2012 she immersed herself in Italian by moving to Rome, the setting of the last story. On a side note, she became so enthralled by the language that she wrote a memoir in Italian entitled In Other Words, which was translated by Ann Goldstein back to English.

 

Theme

A strong theme running through the stories is people hiding important things from one another. In the first story, “Unaccustomed Earth,” the father goes to great lengths to hide his relationship with a woman he met while traveling from his daughter.  In “Hell-Heaven” the mother hides her infatuation with a male graduate student the family befriended. The passive protagonist in “A Choice of Accommodations” tries to keep his former crush a secret from his wife. A sister covers up the fact her young brother is an alcoholic, not even telling her husband. She sees “Only Goodness.” A man has to choose whether or not reveal to his roommate that her lover is cheating on her in “Nobody’s Business.”  In part two, a family hides the fact the mother is dying of cancer. Later the father reveals to his son he has remarried only after the fact. Finally, a new wife hides her grief over the death of a former lover.

Comments

Even though the characters are from different cultures, they are all universal enough that the reader can relate to them. In fact, the theme of the problems of keeping secrets could apply to anyone. By the end, it is evident that “honesty is the best policy” no matter what the circumstances.

As for the telling/storytelling in the narrative, I found it somewhat difficult to get used to. At times it felt heavy or even pedantic. However, being able to understand and relate to the characters kept me reading.

Did you read Unaccustomed Earth? Did you notice the telling? What did you discover in the short stories?

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Number 89 Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What the book is about:

In this collection of eight short stories the author explores how the lives of people are changed as they migrate from place to place, specifically from South Asia to America. She asks the question whether — as a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne suggests — people thrive when they “strike their roots into unaccustomed earth” instead of being “planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil.”

Have you read Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri? Feel free to add a link to your review here.


__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: The Orphan Master’s Son Wrap-Up Poll

Time to wrap up the discussion of our latest novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list,  The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson The conversation started here.

Note: Post does not contain spoilers.

The Orphan Master’s Son*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

We are reading these books because they were picked by the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers as the best of the bestsellers.  Do you agree with the computer that this book should be on the list?  Why or why not?

 What was your final opinion of The Orphan Master’s Son?

Don’t forget divs around polls

Do you agree with the computer that this novel is one of the best of the bestsellers?

 

You can also join us on social media:

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 89. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (2008) – Short story collection – Discussion begins April 10, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Orphan Master’s Son

The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson, is our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Orphan Master’s Son*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Orphan Master’s Son was an extremely difficult book to read in many ways.  The book is divided into two distinct parts.  In Part One we meet Pak Jun Do, the Orphan Master’s son, who named himself after a Korean Martyr heralded for his loyalty, and thus foreshadows the ending of the novel.  From Pak Jun Do’s early childhood well into adulthood, his journey felt disjointed, with jumps in time and location.  We learn what life is like in present-day North Korea – the hardships, the loss of personal will, the disinformation, and the need for blind adherence to the rule of “Our Dear Leader.”  In Part Two, Pak Jun Do assumes the life of legendary Commander Ga, who is married to the renowned actress Sun Moon and father of their two children.  Also in Part Two we are introduced to a “soft-torture” Interrogator of Division 42, the interrogation headquarters where enemies of the state are tortured for confessions.  Throughout this part, the story alternates between the Interrogator’s personal and professional life – including his interrogation of “Commander Ga” – and the flashbacks of Pak Jun Do’s life as Commander Ga.

Trauma Narrative

I almost didn’t finish reading the book due to Part One.  I didn’t like the voice of Pak Jun Do and found the time jumps disorienting.  More than that, though, I felt like I was reading a dystopian novel of life on some distant planet.  Surely this could not be taking place on Planet Earth?  As Roberta wrote in her Writer’s Analysis:

According to the back matter, the author has described it as a “trauma narrative.” …  In other words, it feels as if it was written by a person who has experienced severe trauma. He says that it would be a mistake to shape it any other way and I have to agree it makes sense.

Trauma narrative is a very accurate description.  I felt traumatized just reading it.

The second part was an easier read, although it did take a while to adjust to the jumps in time from the present day interrogation to the previous year of “Commander Ga’s” life.  I read with amazement and disbelief as everyone walked around the elephant in the room – Pak Jun Do was obviously NOT Commander Ga, and yet he was able to assume the life of Ga because he dressed as Ga and said he was Ga.  In North Korea, you just do not question what anyone in a position of leadership above you says or does.  To do so would mean immediate banishment to the camps and certain death.

Choice and Freedom

Ultimately, this story shows us how the regime of North Korea purposely destroys the concepts of individual choice and personal freedom throughout its population.  The fact that both the Interrogator and Pak Jun Do practice personal choice and experience freedom at the end gives hope that all citizens of North Korea might eventually be able to attain true freedoms, if given the chance.

The Orphan Master’s Son is one of those books that stays with you for a long time and not necessarily in a good way.  There is so much symbolism and so many layers that it really warrants a second reading.   It would be a great choice for a book club to read and discuss, as long as the members were aware of the violence and disturbing nature of the story line ahead of time.  I was not really prepared for that and set the book aside for long enough that the library ended my ebook loan, which has never happened to me before!

 

What did you think of The Orphan Master’s Son? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 89. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (2008) – Short story collection – Discussion begins April 10, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of The Orphan Master’s Son

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is an incredibly deep, complex novel. Let’s take a brief look at it from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Orphan Master’s Son*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: The history and culture of North Korea are mysterious. Adam Johnson pulls back the curtain, and delves deeply into the lives of leaders and regular citizens alike. It follows Pak Jun Do who eventually assumes the identity of Commander Ga, the husband of a famous actress named Sun Moon.

Some of this analysis follows the “Questions and Topics for Discussion” in the back matter of the book.

Genre

Because it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, one would assume The Orphan Master’s Son is a work of literary fiction. Although it follows some of the tenets of literary fiction, such as emphasis on themes and exploration of the inner life of the main character, it borrows from many genres. It has been called a thriller, a romance, and a work of political dystopia,  although each of these categorize only parts of the novel.

According to the back matter, the author has described it as a “trauma narrative.” He says,

“Trauma narratives are hallmarked by fragmentation, broken chronology, changing perspectives, shifts in tone, and absented moments.”

In other words, it feels as if it was written by a person who has experienced severe trauma. He says that it would be a mistake to shape it any other way and I have to agree it makes sense.

Character

The protagonist throughout the novel is Pak Jun Do. He starts out life as the son of a man who runs an orphanage. Because of this, he is often mistaken for an orphan in later life, a label that means most of the time he is treated poorly.  After spending a few years working in the total darkness of the tunnels that pass under the DMZ into South Korea, he moves on to become a kidnapper who grabs Japanese citizens and brings them back to North Korea. Climbing up the food chain, he joins a fishing boat to spy on boats and submarines from other countries. Finally he assumes the persona of Commander Ga, a confederate of the “Dear Leader.” Other, more fantastical, events occur along the way, including a trip to Texas.

In most books we expect one protagonist. In this case, however, the novel is so epic and the tones and topics change so much throughout the course, perhaps one was not enough. It might have been easier for the reader if the author had followed multiple characters and tied them together at the end.  Frankly, it strains the imagination that one person had all these things happen to him.

Setting

The novel is unique because it is set in North Korea, a place that remains largely cut off from the rest of the world. Adam Johnson has gone to great lengths to make sure the setting is a real as possible. He interviewed people who defected from North Korea, he read newspapers from North Korea, and even traveled there to see it first hand. This level of research takes the book to the prize-winning level.

The realistic underpinning makes reading it an educational experience. At one point I wondered why the North Koreans went to Japan to kidnap people when their own citizens were starving. It became clear as the novel progressed that they cherry-picked victims to perform tasks that they couldn’t, such as finding English-speakers to help teach English or stealing away particularly talented singers.

 

(Note:  this photograph was taken in South Korea -for obvious reasons)

Symbolism

We haven’t discussed the symbolism in the novels we’ve read up to now for this challenge, but symbolism is such a big part of this novel, it deserves a special mention. For just one example, when Jun Do goes to Japan, he is given expensive new sneakers so he can blend in with the locals. Later, around the time when Americans board the fishing boat he’s on, his crew mates find brand new sneakers floating in the water from a container that has fallen off a ship. They collect the sneakers at first, but throw them overboard again once they return to North Korea. What do you think sneakers symbolize?

Comments

The Orphan Master’s Son is by most accounts a difficult book to read, particularly in the beginning. There are, however, many things about it that make giving it a try worthwhile. It is particularly rewarding if you want to experience an imaginative and innovative way to handle a difficult and complex topic.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 89. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (2008) – Short story collection – Discussion begins April 10, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: Number 90 The Orphan Master’s Son

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Orphan Master’s Son*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

This novel won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Summary: The history and culture of North Korea are mysterious. Adam Johnson pulls back the curtain with this fictional work, delving deeply into the lives of leaders and regular citizens alike. It follows Pak Jun Do who eventually assumes the identity of Commander Ga, the husband of a famous actress named Sun Moon.

 

 

What did you think of The Orphan Master’s Son? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

Have you written about The Orphan Master’s Son? Feel free to add a link to your review here.

 

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 89. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (2008) – Short story collection – Discussion begins April 10, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: The Horse Whisperer Wrap-Up Poll

Time to wrap up the discussion of our latest novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans. The conversation started here.

Note: Post does not contain spoilers.

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

We are reading these books because they were picked by the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers as the best of the bestsellers.  Do you agree with the computer that this book should be on the list?  Why or why not?

 What was your final opinion of The Horse Whisperer?

Do you agree with the computer that this novel is one of the best of the bestsellers?

 

Join us on social media:

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 90. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (2012) – Discussion begins March 27, 2017

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