Monday, July 29, 2019

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Second Book Club, Book #4

This book was beautifully written. Whether or not you like novels within the military genre (I usually don't,) this is a must-read for the way the author weaves language together to create the perfect flow. 

Poignant words and powerful stories create a snapshot of the Vietnam War. Life over there, loss over there, survival over there. The emotional overload of war for any one person. A complete journey into war, from this most unique perspective. The realities of Vietnam aren't necessarily within the stories shared here, but the real feelings and fears, ups and downs are conveyed. You see into the puzzling experience war was for a young man, forced into a situation where the art of survival vastly changes.

As a collection of stories, The Things They Carried isn't about what actually happens to this one troop of soldiers, but rather what feelings evoked in you as the reader through your experience. O'Brien even goes so far to question the truthfulness of his own stories while he's telling them. What's true is of so little importance when compared with what was felt, what feelings never go away.

I think the point of this book is the same point that all war stories should have -- there's no moral. There's nothing to learn here about history or the human experience within war. We already know wars are horrible, and that Vietnam was a particular kind of harsh. We know soldiers came back traumatized and damaged in ways that an entire lifetime may not repair. What we're given here is what's often missing during war -- the connection between those really experiencing it and those continuing to live at home. Reaching out through the emotional baggage they're forced to carry into war and then bring home, we're given unique insight into this experience. It almost puts the residual effect of war, from a soldier's perspective, on a level, emotional playing field.

O'Brien's beautiful language and expertly composed stories didn't help me understand war, instead it opened the tiniest window into what it felt like to be there. That level of access, even through fiction, made such an impression and brought together an amazing read.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia

Book club book #6

I wish I was fluent in Spanish so I could have read this in its original language. As a beautiful story in English, I bet it really shines in its native tongue. As is, Murmur of Bees is an intense and emotional tale of an agricultural family in Mexico at the early part of the 20th Century. Part of the wealthier sect as land owners, the trajectory of their lives is forever altered by the discovery of a newborn boy, left by the side of the road, covered in bees.

Adopted into the network of workers, servants, and the boss' family, Simonopio and his bees settle into their own little space. He's a special boy who see things, feels things, understands his life is leading up to a very specific moment.

While we wait for that moment, time passes and huge things happen. The Spanish influenza ravages Mexico and takes a massive swipe at the population. Farming in this particular region transforms with the introduction of orange trees. Land ownership becomes a high-risk occupation as government agencies seize what they want, no questions asked. So many forces push against a successful and healthy life, but with Simonopio's help, his family thrives.

All along, Simonopio continues to grow and wait for his moment, which comes alongside a great sadness. He does what he must, sacrificing much in his continued devotion to the family that cares for him. Without his intervention, the family would have had a history full of suffering instead of just moments of intense strife.

This was a beautifully told story by an unlikely narrator, who isn't even born until halfway through the book. His deep insight into his family allows you to really understand the emotional toll life takes during this time in Mexico's history, along with understanding what some felt they had to do -- good and bad -- just to get through it all.

The author draws on the real history of Monterrey, Mexico and the small, surrounding towns, as the backdrop for a little magic, much love, and a level of familial devotion that creates a great read. The suspense, slowly woven in and built up, makes it a page-turner as well. The payoff is perfect too. You really do have to wait until the end for complete closure of this powerful tale. 

A little slow at the start, the book quickly picks up. You'll have a hard time putting it down before you know it as you get to know each member of the Morales family, whether bound by blood or by the land. It's an exciting read and one I highly recommend.