Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Recently Read: Bears, Flowers and Alternate Histories! Oh My!

I got a lot of reading done on my trip, so I thought I'd share with you. I haven't had a booky post in a while and I think it's about time.

On the way out to Grand Lake, I read The Golden Compass. I haven't seen the movie, which I hear is completely different, but I have to warn you that this book is a total downer in the end. It was really surprising to find in a children's book so I feel the need to warn anyone thinking about reading it. Otherwise, the book is a fascinating adventure.

Lyra is guided through the murky events of the pseudo-religious scientists in her world by a mixture of kindness, tenacity and luck. She sets out to save children being kidnapped for experiments of an unusual nature and ends up saving all but one of them. Told she is an orphan, Lyra also discovers the true identities of her living parents and is forced to choose between her father and her mother and what she believes is right. It's a great book, which is much more than I hear about the recent film.

While I was hanging out at the lodge, I picked up one of their "library" books, Purple Hibiscus. An African novel, it is set in Nigeria before and after a coup. Told from the point of view of a wealthy, religious, community figure's daughter, we see a heartbreaking picture of a family held in fear of their father and husband as the nation becomes fearful of its government.

For those of you who, like me, didn't know that purple hibiscus is something unusual - it is. Normally they're red. I didn't know that when I started reading and it's something you can pick up as you go along, but it doesn't really tell you that the title is supposed to be intriguing that way.

The strange flowers are a gift to the teens in this novel who are trying to accept a world of interest and excitement apart from their father's strictly scheduled life for them. An ardent (and crazy) Catholic, he enforces "god's will" with an iron fist - or sometimes worse. Their mother suffers two miscarriages due to his abuse in the novel, eventually leading to her passive-aggressive plan to kill her husband. Full of drama and beautiful but sad, this is something for those who liked Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible.

On the way back to Kansas City, I finished up the science fiction/alternative history book I'd briefly started before being distracted by Adichie's novel. Called Darwinia and set in the 1900s, this novel explores a world where Europe is destroyed not by world wars, but by a "miracle" that replaces the entire continent with a savage, otherworldly, jungle version of itself.

At the same time as this shift happens, men are starting to find themselves possessed by beetle "gods" or haunted by ghost soldier versions of themselves. The "science" in this book is very nonsensical, but the main gist is that the consciousness of the Universe decided to record everything that ever was in an Archive before it is destroyed, but now the Archive - and hence the memory and the soul of everything - is in danger. The beetle "gods" are the incarnation of an intelligence that wants to replace the Archive (which is now the world somehow) with just themselves, destroying everything else. Confused yet? I was too.

So the "miracle" turns out to be a type of invasion, and the men possessed by the beetle "gods" are working to bring their vision to a reality on Earth. Meanwhile, the men who are haunted by the ghost soldiers (who are crossing over from their World War reality to help) are faced with the task of saving the world and cursed or blessed with immortality as their reward. Very weird read, but it was pretty amusing. It's very much a Jules Verne-wanna-be.

And that's how I passed the time on my trip. Good story, right?

Related posts:
Choose Your Own Adventure with Jane Austen
Amnesia Moon Rising
Babes in History and Fiction parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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Anonymous said...

Honestly, I would have rather read about what you ate.

Or better yet about what you drank.

Or even better yet about all the wild shenanigans that you got into after getting plowed!

Books are okay too I guess..

May said...

Okay... I ate a whole lot of salads and fruit.

I drank 2 margaritas my first night and two minute cups of wine the second.

...and I did no wild shenaniganing.

See, not at all as interesting.

Anonymous said...

Well poo.

It actually sounds quite relaxing.

Bryan R. said...

Your description of The Golden Compass sounds like it matches the movie exactly, and I personally liked the movie very much. In fact, I found it way better than any other movie in the same vein (Children's Adventure) including either one of the Chronicles of Narnia movies, the Spiderwick Chronicles, and even Mirrormask. Not better than Pan's Labrynth though, but I wouldn't call that a Children's Adventure movie either.

May said...

Me either. And you're the first person I know who actually liked the movie! Maybe I'll Netflix it now.

May said...

@Anon - Actually, it was really peaceful... you just inspired another post. Thanks!

Jenna said...

I'm getting ready to start the Golden Compass (and the other two books in that series). My brother loved them, but has not had a chance to see the movie.

I typically find that after reading a book, it's movie never measures up.

Bryan said...

To Jenna...

That's why you watch the movie first, so you can enjoy both!

May said...

Actually, I only talked to one person who had read both the book and watched the movie. Most just saw the movie and weren't impressed.