Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, The Last Samurai, Asta's Book

Asta's Book by Barbara Vine

(a pen name
for Ruth Rendell of mystery writer fame)

Title is Anna's Book in the US

Paperback, 448 pages

Penguin UK (1994)


This is literary fiction, not a mystery. There is good suspense from tip to tail, but there is a much deeper story here. A Danish woman recounts the family's emigration to England during difficult times and how she manages raising her children and coping with her loneliness. Her fisherman husband is gone for extended periods of time. There is a murder in the story that is not resolved right away. Very likable characters. Well written. Four stars out of five. This was my first Rendell experience. If her mysteries are half as interesting I will be trying them very soon.
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The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Paperback 284 pages



A well-meaning physician decides to spare his wife from a life of raising a child with the disabilities and short life expectancy of Down's Syndrome. The child is one of twins she has just given birth to. The other child, a boy, is perfectly healthy. He orders his nurse to take the newborn girl away to an institution and make sure no one ever knows about her. The nurse is torn by his request and does something no one would ever expect.

It starts in the late 1950's and follows the couple's life with their son and the doctor's guilt over what he still believes, for heart-breaking reasons of this own, was the right thing to do. We are told in a parallel account what happens in the life of the other child too as she grows up. I was a child during this same time period and the attitudes and actions toward disabled children rang true for me. Many people did put their children "away" in institutions. And often never spoke of them again. This story, about the difficult decisions we take upon ourselves and the consequences to everyone around us is universal, and emotionally engaging. A good story, that I will read again. Hard to believe it's Kim Edward's first novel. Four stars out of five.
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The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt

Paperback


A young boy searches for the identity of his father through the study of famous scientists and artists when his intellectual mother refuses him any information about him. A single mother, she has her hands full trying to support them by transcribing manuscripts and keeping a very gifted child stimulated and fulfilled. Sprinkled throughout with scientific and literary references this book is a masterpiece of originality and a hoot as well. Her obsession with a Kurosawa film of the same name explains the title, NOT the recent Cruise film. This is one of the best books I've read this year. Five stars. Highly recommended.

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If you've read or reviewed any of these books, feel free to leave comments (no spoilers please) or links to reviews. I'd love to read them. Have you read any other books by these authors and which can you recommend?

Next Review: The Raw Shark Texts by Steve Hall

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