Harper Lee: Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman covers four primary periods in the life of Jean Louise Finch:

1. Childhood Memories

Although Go Set a Watchman is set when Jean Louise is 26 years old, her flashbacks to childhood make up a significant portion of the novel. Jean Louise’s mother died when Jean Louise was 2 years old, and her father, Atticus, and her family’s black cook, Calpurnia, raised her. As a young girl, Jean Louise spent most of her time playing games of make believe with her brother, Jem, and their friend Dill. During this childhood, Atticus defended a black man accused of rape in a high-profile trial.

Hank proved to be a hero once again when Jean Louise attended her first high school dance. She wore a pair of false breasts underneath her dress that slipped out of place while she was dancing. Hank noticed and took her outside, where he threw the offending “falsies” into the darkness. The next day, the high school principal was furious after finding the falsies hanging from a school billboard and threatened to punish the owner. Hank cleverly managed to keep both himself and Jean Louise from getting into trouble.

2. Homecoming (Saturday)

Jean Louise travels by train from New York City to her childhood home of Maycomb, Alabama. At the train station, she is met by Hank, who has always loved her and asks her to marry him on their drive home. Jean Louise refuses but agrees to go on a date with him. They return home, where Jean Louise sees her father, Atticus, and her aunt Alexandra. The four of them make small talk, briefly discussing politics and recent court rulings undoing racial segregation in the South.

After Hank and Atticus leave for work, Alexandra tells Jean Louise that Hank would not be a suitable husband because he is of a lower social status. Alexandra’s prohibition makes Jean Louise more interested in marrying Hank than she has ever been. She and Hank go on a date that night, visiting a dock that the Finch family used to own. They flirt and push each other into the water.

3. Disenchantment (Sunday)

The next morning, town gossips claim that Hank and Jean Louise were swimming naked the night before. Alexandra is furious that Jean Louise has damaged the family’s reputation, but Atticus doesn’t mind. They attend church, where the music director, Herbert Jemson, tries to play new music because a Northerner told him to. Uncle Jack chides Herbert and insists that traditional Southern hymns are better.

After Sunday dinner, Hank and Atticus go to a citizens’ council meeting at the courthouse. Jean Louise finds a pamphlet about the inferiority of black people in the living room, and Alexandra tells her that it belongs to Atticus. Troubled, Jean Louise goes to the courthouse and eavesdrops on the meeting, where a pro-segregation speaker talks about black people by using the same offensive language as the pamphlet, and Atticus and Hank sit there seeming to approve of his words. Jean Louise can’t believe that her father and Hank would be part of such a group—especially not Atticus, who has always fought for justice for blacks.

Shocked by what she has seen and heard, Jean Louise wanders out of the courthouse and to the site of her childhood home, where an ice cream parlor now stands. She buys a pint of ice cream, eats it, and vomits. Then she goes home and goes straight to bed, asking Alexandra to cancel her date with Hank and to tell him she is having her period.

4. Coming of Age (Monday)

Jean Louise wakes up early on Monday and mows the lawn until her aunt yells at her to stop waking the neighbors. Hank comes over during breakfast to tell Atticus that Calpurnia’s grandson Frank hit and killed a white man while driving his father Zeebo’s car. Atticus says he will take the case to keep the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from getting involved. Jean Louise goes to visit Calpurnia, hoping to console her and to be consoled in return. Calpurnia is polite but distant, treating Jean Louise as a “white person,” not as someone who is nearly family.

Jean Louise attends a “Coffee” (a women’s social event) that Alexandra holds in Jean Louise’s honor, where she listens to women talk about race and realizes that her community has always been far more racist than she realized. Afterward, she goes to visit Uncle Jack, who tells her that she needs to understand Southern history in order to understand the racial tensions around her. When she leaves, Jack calls Atticus to tell him about her crisis of belief.

Jean Louise goes downtown to confront first Hank and then Atticus. Although neither one totally agrees with the racist rhetoric of the citizens’ council, both of them have reasons for choosing to tolerate it. Jean Louise condemns them both and returns home to pack and leave Maycomb for good. Uncle Jack comes to stop her, and when she won’t listen, he hits her so hard she nearly passes out.

The blow calms Jean Louise, and she listens quietly as Jack tells her that the real root of her anger is that she has always relied on Atticus as a model of right and wrong, and now for the first time she is developing a conscience of her own. Jean Louise goes to pick up Atticus from work and asks his forgiveness, but he says he is proud of her for defending what she believes is right.

(source: cliffsnotes.com)

 

Advertisements

Alexander McCall Smith: Tears of the giraffe

The Tears of the Giraffe is an amusing book by Alexander McCall Smith about the lives of two people who become engaged in Gaborone, Botswana. Mma Ramotswe, the founder of the No. 1 Ladies’

Detective Agency, agrees to marry Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the proprietor of the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. This is the second time he had proposed marriage to her and he does not believe his good fortune. He worries that she changed her mind during the night. When he calls her in the morning, they agree to meet for lunch at the President Hotel to celebrate their engagement.

Both Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni and Mma Ramotswe are ethical people with deep roots in the traditional old fashioned Botswanan values and customs. For example, Mma Ramotswe becomes upset by people who shake hands without putting the free hand on the forearm or accept a gift with one hand instead of two. Both are kind and considerate people who appreciate each other and they both have a problem of being persuaded by people who they cannot say no to.

Mma Ramotswe is the only lady detective in Botswana. Her inability to say no to Mrs. Andrea Curtin results in her attempt to find out about the disappearance of Andrea’s son, Michael, ten years ago. She also becomes involved in uncovering the activities of her fiancee’s unscrupulous maid. Mma Ramotswe ends up promoting her secretary to the position of assistant private detective and investigating the philandering wife of the butcher, Mr. Badule, to see how she comes up with money to send their son to a private school.

In the middle of all this, her finance appears with two orphan children that he has been talked into accepting by the matron of the orphan farm. He wonders how he was persuaded to do this without consulting his fiancee, Mma Ramotswe. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni feels that he cannot go back on his promise to the children to provide a good home for them. Instead of being angry about his impulsive actions, Mma Ramotswe says that she is lucky to be marrying such a kind man. So a few days after their engagement, they become a family of four.

This delightful book reveals some insights into Botswana’s changing society where the youth are losing the traditional values of their culture like youth everywhere in the world. Both Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni adhere to the old fashioned values. The reader will find this easy to read book very refreshing and will enjoy the reading of the book and the situations that the characters seem to find themselves in.

(source: bookrags.com)

 

 

Amy Tan: The Joy Luck Club

 

Note: without having read the book yet, it seems it has a lot of interrelated chapters difficult to sumarize, so I put here a brief introduction and a link to the chapters summary.

Ramon

link: https://www.shmoop.com/joy-luck-club/summary.html

Summary

We’re going to be honest here: there’s way too much going on in The Joy Luck Club to briefly summarize. You should definitely go check out the chapter summaries to get a better grasp on everything that happens…and everyone it happens to.

Here’s why: this book details a whopping eight perspectives on living a life that’s rich with both Chinese history and traditions and American life and traditions. The novel is comprised of sixteen chapters, with each woman (with the exception of Suyuan) getting two chapters with which to tell her story.

And, surprisingly, this novel isn’t several thousand pages long. (It weighs in at at relatively slim 288 pages.)

The novel opens after the death of Suyuan Woo, an elderly Chinese woman and the founding member of the Joy Luck Club. Suyuan has died without fulfilling her “long-cherished wish” to be reunited with her twin daughters who were lost in China. Suyuan’s American-born daughter, Jing-mei (June) Woo, is asked to replace her mother at the Joy Luck Club’s meetings.

At the first meeting, Jing-mei learns that her long-lost half-sisters have been found alive and well in Shanghai. The other three elderly members of the Club – her mother’s best friends and Jing-mei’s “aunties” – give Jing-mei enough money to travel to China and meet her sisters. Essentially, Jing-mei has the opportunity to fulfill her mother’s greatest wish. Jing-mei’s aunties assign her the task of telling her twin sisters about the mother they never knew. The only problem is, Jing-mei feels like she never really knew her own mother.

This simple premise allows the book to cast a much wider net—it raises the question of how well daughters know their mothers. The other three members of the Joy Luck Club – Ying-ying, Lindo, and An-mei – all have wisdom that they wish to impart to their independent, American daughters. However, their daughters – Lena, Waverly, and Rose – all have their own perspectives on life as Americans.

No shocker here: the moms and daughters don’t always see eye to eye, despite loving each other. They’re intelligent, complicated women whose lives are made even more complicated by the fact that they live at the intersection of different languages and cultures.

At the end of the book, Jing-mei flies to China to meet her half sisters. She’s extremely apprehensive about meeting them but, when the sisters do meet for the first time, they instantly hug and cry. Jing-mei’s mother’s wish has been fulfilled, and through the process, Jing-mei feels that she has come closer to her mother.

(source: shmoop.com)

 

Alan Bennett: The Uncommon Reader

The title’s “uncommon reader” (Queen Elizabeth II) becomes obsessed with books after a chance encounter with a mobile library. The story (follows the consequences of this obsession for the Queen, her household and advisers, and her constitutional position.

The title is a play on the phrase “common reader”. This can mean a person who reads for pleasure, as opposed to a critic or scholar. It can also mean a set text, a book that everyone in a group (for example, all students entering a university) are expected to read, so that they can have something in common. A Common Reader is used by Virginia Woolf as the title work of her 1925 essay collection. Plus a triple play – Virginia Woolf’s title came from Dr. Johnson: “I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be generally decided all claims to poetical honours.”

In British English, “common” holds levels of connotation. A commoner is anyone other than royalty or nobility. Common can also mean vulgar, as common taste; mean, as common thief; or ordinary, as common folk.

(source: Wikipedia)

Donna Leon: suffer the little children

When Commissario Brunetti is summoned in the middle of the night to the hospital bed of a senior pediatrician, he is confronted with more questions than answers. Three men—a young Carabiniere captain and two privates from out of town—have burst into the doctor’s apartment in the middle of the night, attacked him and taken away his eighteenth-month old baby boy. What could have motivated an assault by the forces of the state so violent it has left the doctor mute? Who would have authorized such an alarming operation? At the same time, Brunetti’s colleague Inspector Vianello discovers a money-making scam between pharmacists and doctors in the city. But it appears as if one of the pharmacists is after more than money. Donna Leon’s new novel is as subtle and fascinating as ever, set in a beautifully-realized Venice, a glorious city seething with small-town vice.

(source goodreads.com)

 

Siri Hustvedt: The Summer Without Men

Mia Fredrickson, the wry, vituperative, tragic comic, poet narrator of The Summer Without Men,has been forced to reexamine her own life. One day, out of the blue, after thirty years of marriage, Mia’s husband, a renowned neuroscientist, asks her for a”pause.” This abrupt request sends her reeling and lands her in a psychiatric ward. The June following Mia’s release from the hospital, she returns to the prairie town of her childhood, where her mother lives in an old people’s home. Alone in a rented house, she rages and fumes and bemoans her sorry fate. Slowly, however, she is drawn into the lives of those around her — her mother and her close friends,”the Five Swans,” and her young neighbor with two small children and a loud angry husband — and the adolescent girls in her poetry workshop whose scheming and petty cruelty carry a threat all their own.

From the internationally bestselling author of What I Loved comes a provocative, witty, and revelatory novel about women and girls, love and marriage, and the age-old question of sameness and difference between the sexes.

(source: Sirreadinggroupguides.com)

 

Jo Nesbo: headhunters

Roger Brown, the main protagonist in Headhunters, is an intriguing guy. He is small: only 1 meter 68 centimeters – five and a half feet. Despite what some might view as an obstacle, he is extremely successful, very well-respected, and quite attractive to beautiful women. He has that certain “je ne sais quoi” – that extra-special something; the glitter in the eye, the wit, the sharp edge, the charisma. He is hands-down the best headhunter in Norway, and he knows it. His talent has led to stunning successes for some very fortunate corporations and has saved others from ruinous disasters.

Roger Brown is married to the stunningly beautiful and desirable Diana – definitely a sight for sore eyes but a very expensive woman to maintain. So, even though Roger makes a small fortune at his profession, he finds himself in deep financial trouble. He and his delightful and charming wife always manage to spend far more than even Roger is able to bring home.

So Roger needs to make some serious money on the side. Which he does. He has a second career where he is every bit as competent as he is in his “day” job. Roger Brown is an extremely adept art thief. In a sense, he has leveraged his job as a headhunter into this second, highly profitible career – Roger-the-Headhunter learns many things that are useful for Roger-the-Thief. And he doesn’t mind stealing from his clients, just as long as the chances of his being found out are minimal.

However, after breaking into the house of the ideal candidate for a very high-level position, he suddenly realizes he may have gone one step too far. Brown felt certain that the theft of the candidate’s Rubens would be the solution to his financial woes. The final solution, in fact. But in the house, he discovers something which leads him to believe that the relationship between him and his beloved Diana may not be exactly what it seems. Then, the next morning he finds his “partner in crime” dead in the front seat of his own car. Something is very wrong, indeed: The headhunter/art thief has now become the prey of a depraved but very smart and experienced man-hunter. If Roger is to come out of this in one piece, he will have to employ all of his considerable brainpower, wits and skills, and will need a very hefty dose of luck as well.

(source: bookblog.scandinavianbooks.com)

Virginia Woolf: Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway is not your typical day-in-the-life story, but it is a day-in-the-life story – a revolutionary one at that. It covers one day for Clarissa Dalloway (with some other central characters, too) as she prepares for a big party that will take place that evening.

Plot summary:

As the novel begins, Clarissa strolls through Westminster, her neighborhood in London, on her way to a flower shop. Along the way, a few big things go down: she runs into an old friend named Hugh Whitbread, an explosion comes from a diplomatic car on its way to Buckingham Palace, and an “aeroplane” does a little skywriting. (Wow, that’s way more than what typically happens to us on the way to get flowers.)

When she gets back from her errand, an old friend and former suitor, Peter Walsh, shows up unexpectedly. They’re happy to see each other, but there’s still some tension. Peter is clearly still in love with Clarissa, and she feels like he judges her for the decisions she’s made – among them marrying the conservative but loyal Richard Dalloway (instead of him). Numerous flashbacks – including one of Clarissa’s kiss with a girl named Sally – fill in the story as it happened years ago at her family’s country home, Bourton. Feeling desperate over his own unfulfilling life, Peter gets weepy and asks Clarissa if she really loves Richard. Before she can answer, Elizabeth (her daughter) interrupts, and Peter heads out to Regent’s Park.

We then move to the perspective of Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked World War I veteran who saw Evans, his friend and officer, killed in war. Septimus’ wife, Lucrezia, is trying to distract him as they wait for an appointment with Sir William Bradshaw, a mean old psychiatrist.

The third person omniscient narrator takes us back to Septimus’ life before the war: he was an aspiring poet, read Shakespeare, and loved Miss Isabel Pole. After the war and Evans’ death, Septimus becomes emotionally numb – he can’t feel anything. On a total whim, he becomes engaged to Lucrezia, whose home he’s staying at in Milan, Italy. Back in the present day, Septimus is driven deeper into madness, including some crazy hallucinations. Lucrezia is also miserable, homesick for Italy, and tired of taking her husband to various soulless doctors. Whereas Dr Holmes thinks Septimus is just “in a funk,” Dr Bradshaw diagnoses that he “lacks Proportion.” Neither acknowledges the fact that the war has impacted Septimus (which seems pretty obvious to us).

While Clarissa rests and prepares for the party, Richard has lunch with the impressively rich and British upper crust Lady Bruton. After lunch, Richard wants to go home and tell Clarissa he loves her, but he cops out and just gives her flowers instead. Clarissa actually cherishes the independence she has in her marriage, knowing that she could never have that with Peter. In the meantime, Clarissa’s daughter goes off shopping with her friend Miss Kilman, whom Mrs Dalloway hates. And by hates, we mean despises, loathes, and absolutely cannot stand.

Meanwhile, Septimus and Lucrezia wait at their apartment for Sir William Bradshaw, who is coming to take Septimus to a psychiatric home. The couple shares a rare moment of joy, but before Bradshaw enters the apartment, Septimus throws himself out the window and is impaled on the fence outside. He would rather die than have the doctor steal his soul. Yikes.

When Clarissa’s party begins, she circulates, making sure to pay attention to every guest – especially the prime minister (um, yeah, we’d do the same). Peter and Sally patiently await some attention from Clarissa as they talk about their memories of Bourton. A late arrival, Sir William Bradshaw, shows up with his wife, who announces that Septimus has killed himself. Clarissa is annoyed that Lady Bradshaw mentioned death at her party, but she is envious of Septimus’ ability to embrace the moment. Finally, she returns to the party and her appearance fills Peter’s heart with joy.

 

(source: shmoop.com)

 

J.M. Coetzee: The Childhood of Jesus

Summary:

After crossing oceans, a man and a boy arrive in a new land. Here they are each assigned a name and an age, and held in a camp in the desert while they learn Spanish, the language of their new country. As Simón and David they make their way to the relocation centre in the city of Novilla, where officialdom treats them politely but not necessarily helpfully.

Simón finds a job in a grain wharf. The work is unfamiliar and backbreaking, but he soon warms to his stevedore comrades, who during breaks conduct philosophical dialogues on the dignity of labour, and generally take him to their hearts.

Now he must set about his task of locating the boy’s mother. Though like everyone else who arrives in this new country he seems to be washed clean of all traces of memory, he is convinced he will know her when he sees her. And indeed, while walking with the boy in the countryside Simón catches sight of a woman he is certain is the mother, and persuades her to assume the role.

David’s new mother comes to realise that he is an exceptional child, a bright, dreamy boy with highly unusual ideas about the world. But the school authorities detect a rebellious streak in him and insist he be sent to a special school far away. His mother refuses to yield him up, and it is Simón who must drive the car as the trio flees across the mountains.

(source: goodreads.com)

 

Siri Hustvedt: The Blindfold

Plot sumary:

Iris Vegan, a young, impoverished graduate student from the Midwest, finds herself entangled with four powerful but threatening characters as she tries to adjust to life in New York City. Mr. Morning, an inscrutable urban recluse, employs Iris to tape-record verbal descriptions of objects that belonged to a murder victim. George, a photographer, takes an eerie portrait of Iris, which then acquires a strange life of its own, appearing and disappearing without warning around the city. After a series of blinding migraines, Iris ends up in a hospital room with Mrs. O., a woman who has lost her mind and memory to a stroke, but who nevertheless retains both the strength and energy to torment her fellow patient. And finally, there is Professor Rose, Iris’s teacher and eventually her lover. While working with him on the translation of a German novella called The Brutal Boy, she discovers in its protagonist, Klaus, a vehicle for her own transformation and ventures out into the city again–this time dressed as a man.

(source: goodreads.com)