Posts Tagged ‘#NOVNOV22’

‘Another Brooklyn’ by Jacqueline Woodson – A Fictional Memoir of Her Early Teens in Brooklyn

 

‘Another Brooklyn’ by Jacqueline Woodson (2016) – 192 pages

 

In the deep heat of summer, we watched as kids circled around the heroin addicts, taking bets on whether or not they’d fall over.”

Jacqueline Woodson has written more than two dozen books for young adults, middle graders, and children. Thus she knows her way around a story. ‘Another Brooklyn’ is one of only three novels she has written for adults. In ‘Another Brooklyn’, Woodson captures Brooklyn in the early 1970s through the eyes of the young teenage girl August (Auggie), both the good stuff and the bad stuff. Yes, she does not avoid the bad stuff, and there is plenty of bad stuff going on in Brooklyn at that time.

Auggie is now an adult, and she remembers the time when she was 11 and when her father, her brother, and herself moved to Brooklyn from SweetGrove, Tennessee. Her mother had started hearing voices after she found out that her brother Clyde had been killed in Vietnam. Then her mother “walked into water and kept on walking”. Auggie’s own upright father also fought in Vietnam and returned home with only eight fingers.

The three move into a Brooklyn apartment. On the floor below lives a prostitute with two children until her children were taken away from her by the authorities.

We were not poor, but we lived on the edge of poverty.”

Auggie paints a prose picture of the Brooklyn as she saw and lived in then. In Brooklyn, as black people are arriving, white people are leaving.

Without her mother, the only thing that makes life tolerable for the young Auggie is the clique of young friends she makes at school.

Sylvia, Angela, Gigi, August. We were four girls together, amazingly beautiful and terrifyingly alone.”

Each of the girls tells the stories of her own life. Some of the stories are humiliating, some are gruesome. By each girl telling her own story, the four girls form a close bond.

When we had finally become friends, when the four of us trusted each other enough to let the world surrounding us into our words, we whispered secrets, pressed side by side by side or sitting cross-legged in our newly tight circle. We opened our mouths and let the stories that had burned nearly to ash in our bellies finally live outside us.”

In striving to capture this Brooklyn from an earlier time, Jacqueline Woodson uses a language style which is as close to poetry as it is to prose.

I have found that when writers who usually write children’s books turn to adult fiction, they often come up with a story that is vivid and easy to follow. This is true of ‘Another Brooklyn’.

 

Grade:   A-

 

 

‘Silk’ by Alessandro Baricco – Arduous Trips from France to Japan to Buy Silkworms

 

Silk’ by Alessandro Baricco (1996) – 91 pages              Translated from the Italian by Guido Waldman

 

Silk is a unique cloth in that it is produced by worms, silkworms, to form their cocoons. The shimmering appearance of silk is due to the triangular prism-like structure of the silk fiber, which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angles, thus producing different colors.

The novella ‘Silk’ takes place in the early 1860s during a time when a disease in France is making their silkworm eggs unusable. This disease is likely to put the silk enterprise of French entrepreneur Hervie Joncour out of business. The French government has even brought in young biologist Louis Pasteur to study the disease and perhaps find a solution.

Meanwhile Joncour has heard about the thriving silk industry in Japan and how their silkworms are not susceptible to this disease. Joncour decides to make the arduous many month trip from France to Japan of 8,000 kilometers and which requires riding two thousand kilometers of Russian steppe on horseback.

In Japan, he negotiates the purchase of a large number of silkworms to bring back to France with a local Japanese baron, Hara Kei. Joncour becomes infatuated with Hara Kei’s concubine, a girl whose “eyes did not have an oriental slant and her face was the face of a young girl”.

After Joncour gets back to France, the Japan silkworms do not get the disease and they keep Joncour’s business profitable. Joncour makes a couple more arduous trips to Japan, each time becoming more infatuated with the concubine girl. Meanwhile Joncour’s wife stays at home in France.

I have something important to tell you monsieur. We’re all disgusting. We’re all marvelous, and we’re all disgusting.”

I won’t go any further into the story. Let’s just say that ‘Silk’ is an elegant and exotic strange little novella. The story is a romance and is far from realistic, but it doesn’t really matter. Even though it is very short, this novella is not a quick read because the story has many natural stopping points when the reader should just stop and not try to force it.

As I said before, the story takes place in the early 1860s. The Suez Canal, which opened in 1869, reduced Europeans trips to Japan to only 20 days.

 

Grade:    B

 

 

‘Foster’ by Claire Keegan – A Stay with Her Aunt and Uncle

 

‘Foster’ by Claire Keegan    (2010) – 92 pages

 

At the beginning of ‘Foster’, a young girl, perhaps 6 or 7 or 8, is being driven by her father to the farm home of her mother’s sister and her husband Kinsella. Her parents have packed a suitcase for her, so she knows she will be staying there for awhile. Her mother is expecting, so maybe that is why she will be staying with this couple she hardly knows.

How long should they keep her? Can’t they keep her as long as they like?”

In a novella written from a child’s point of view, the author must make sure that the child doesn’t know any more than what that child would know. Of this Claire Keegan is keenly aware. We know that ‘Foster’ takes place in rural Ireland. We are not given any exact details as to when the story takes place. The story could easily have taken place during my childhood. It could have taken place during anyone’s childhood. The story has an eternal feel to it.

This aunt and uncle treat the girl well, and soon she starts to compare her life at this new place with her life at home. She has no idea of how long she will be staying. Perhaps it is permanent.

I won’t be revealing any more about this novella. This is a very quick read as opposed to some novellas which slow you down to savor.

On the cover of my copy of ‘Foster’, there is a quote from the author David Mitchell: “As good as Chekhov”. That still seems to me like an audacious thing to say. However Claire Keegan is a mighty fine writer. And she, like Anton Chekhov, understands that what your characters don’t say is sometimes more important than what they do say and what the author doesn’t write is sometimes more important than what the author does write.

 

Grade:   A

 

 

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