Carol Shields: The Stone Diaries

Plot summary and brief analysis

The 1993 novel The Stone Diaries by the Canadian-American author Carol Shields is awash in paradoxes. It is ostensibly the fictional autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, but in this autobiography we learn more about the people surrounding Daisy than about herself. Since it is a piece of literature, we assume that it is not factual, but included in the book are eight pages of family photographs labeled with the names of the characters (fittingly, though, there is no picture of Daisy). Through these contradictions, Shields builds up a picture of the life of a woman who at first glance appears completely average, but whose life explores the difference between surface and interior.

The novel’s chapter titles – Birth, Childhood, Marriage, Love, Motherhood, Work, Sorry, Ease, Illness and Decline, Death – seem to announce that the novel will be built on the chronology of Daisy’s life. However, in most cases, the novel swoops away from Daisy’s perspective and reveals the inner thoughts and feelings of other people, even people whom Daisy herself never got a chance to meet.

In “Birth, 1905,” we encounter Daisy’s parents: the morbidly obese and orphaned Mercy Stone and her husband, the stone mason Cuyler Goodwill, who finds her sexually irresistible. We also encounter the elderly Clementine Flett, the Goodwills’ next door neighbor, who is in the process of leaving her deadbeat husband Magnus. Mercy doesn’t realize that she is pregnant. She dies as she gives birth to Daisy on the kitchen floor, and a devastated Cuyler turns to religion for consolation. Daisy is sent to live with Clementine as she moves to Winnipeg to be with her adult son, Barker. Barker, a botanist, is obsessed with the flower lady’s-slipper, the shape of which is suggestively sexual. Daisy seems to be happy in this ersatz family unit.

“Childhood, 1916” picks up when Daisy is 11 and Clementine has died after being run over by a bicycle. Cuyler is reunited with his daughter in Bloomington, Indiana, where he is now a successful mason. Daisy grows up, goes to college, and then at 22 year old, in the chapter “Marriage, 1927,” she marries Harold Hoad, a man of similar social standing. Nothing seems wrong with Harold besides his heavy drinking, but before their marriage is consummated in Paris on their honeymoon, Harold flings himself out of the hotel window and plummets to his death.

In “Love, 1936,” Daisy is a widow in Bloomington. Although she has never spoken about what happened on her honeymoon to anyone, somehow everyone knows the story – particularly the part about her marriage being unconsummated, which means that she is still a virgin at 31. Cuyler has built a memorial stone tower to Mercy and has remarried. Later, when he dies, Cuyler’s last thoughts are again with Mercy.

When Daisy goes to visit her old childhood home in Winnipeg, she reconnects with Barker, who finds her very sexually desirable. As we see them in “Motherhood, 1947,” Daisy and Barker have married and have three children. Daisy is a typical housewife, and her life is a reasonably content one, although she is plagued by melancholy and has no sexual desire for Barker. She raises the kids, takes care of the house. Whatever spiritual balm she needs comes from her elaborate and complex garden. When Barker retires, he starts writing a gardening column for the local newspaper.

The chapter titled “Work, 1955-1964” makes it sound like Daisy suddenly gets a high-powered career. But no – rather, after Barker’s death, the work Daisy undertakes is Barker’s gardening column in the paper. Although this chapter is ostensibly about all the writing Daisy does for 10 years, it consists entirely of correspondence she receives – and none of her letters or gardening columns are included. We learn that because of her advice, she becomes a kind of small-town celebrity. Barker’s niece and her out-of-wedlock daughter, Victoria, live with Daisy. Daisy comes to think of Victoria as a granddaughter.

In “Sorrow, 1965,” Daisy’s newspaper column is taken away from her by a conniving male colleague and she falls into a deep depression. Her voice is again absent from this chapter, which is instead filled with the other characters trying to guess at the reason why Daisy is so deeply affected. Losing the column? Burgeoning feminist realization of unexpressed yearning? Mourning for her youth? Loneliness? Exhaustion? Boredom? Regret? There’s no right answer – besides maybe “all of the above.”

As she grows old, Daisy retires to Florida. There we see in “Ease, 1977,” that she lives in a retirement community and thinks a lot about her father Cuyler and her father-in-law Magnus. Victoria visits her often, and at one point Daisy brings her to the Orkney Islands to see Magnus’s grave. Magnus turns out to be 100 years old, alive, and still able to recite large chunks of Jane Eyre from memory. Eventually, when she is 80, Daisy’s health falters. In “Illness and Decline,” she loses physical and mental capacity and eventually ends up near-comatose in the hospital.

The final chapter, “Death,” attempts to summarize Daisy’s life in a variety of ways. We see lists of her favorite recipes, places where she lived, all the books she owned, and so on. We see possible inscriptions for her gravestone, ways to explain who was in death notices, and how her friends and family could react to the news that she has died. Daisy herself speculates about what will happen when her children go through her papers, and the inferences and conclusions they will make about her life. In the end, Daisy’s tombstone reads, “Daisy Goodwill Flett, wife, mother, citizen of our century. May she rest in peace.” Then we have Daisy’s last words: “I am not at peace.”

It will not be surprising, since The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Governor General’s Award, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prizer, that reviewers love this book. The novel’s experimental disassembling of the genre of autobiography, its focus on an average and usually forgotten middle-aged woman, and the existential questions about the nature of identity and the definition of the self that lie at the heart of the work, all come in for praise. At the same time, Shields is highly lauded for her “attuned ear for the nuances of language and the way they attach to feelings and probe the most delicate layers of human consciousness,” as Jay Parini put it in The New York Times.



E.M. Forster: A room with a view


Lucy Honeychurch, a young upper middle class woman, visits Italy under the charge of her older cousin Charlotte. At their pension, or guesthouse, in Florence, they are given rooms that look into the courtyard rather than out over the river Arno. Mr. Emerson, a fellow guest, generously offers them the rooms belonging to himself and his son George. Although Charlotte is offended by Mr. Emerson’s lack of tact and propriety, she finally does agree to the switch. Lucy is an avid young pianist. Mr. Beebe, watches her passionate playing and predicts that someday she will live her life with as much gusto as she plays the piano.

Lucy’s visit to Italy is marked by several significant encounters with the Emersons. In Santa Croce church, George complains that his father means well, but always offends everyone. Mr. Emerson tells Lucy that his son needs her in order to overcome his youthful melancholy. Later, Lucy is walking in the Piazza Signoria, feeling dull, when she comes in close contact with two quarreling Italian men. One man stabs the other, and she faints, to be rescued by George. On their return trip home, he kisses her, much to her surprise. She keeps his rash behavior a secret.

On a country outing in the hills, Lucy wanders in search of Mr. Beebe and the supercilious chaplain, Mr. Eager. However, the Italian cab driver leads her instead to George, who is standing on a terrace covered with blue violets. George sees her and again kisses her, but this time Charlotte sees him and chastises him after they have resurnedreturned to the pension. She leaves with Lucy for Rome the next day.

George plays tennis with the Honeychurches on a Sunday when Cecil is at his most intolerable. After the game, Cecil reads from a book by Miss Lavish, a woman who also stayed with Lucy and Charlotte at the pension in Florence. The novel records a kiss among violets, and Lucy realizes that Charlotte let the secret out. In a moment alone, George kisses her again. Lucy tells him to leave, but George insists that Cecil is not the right man for her, characterizing Cecil as controlling and appreciative of things rather than people. Lucy sees Cecil in a new light, and breaks off her engagement that night.

However, Lucy will not believe that she loves George; she wants to stay unmarried and travel to Greece with some elderly women she met in Italy, the Miss Alans. She meets old Mr. Emerson by chance, who insists that she loves George and should marry him, because it is what her soul truly wants. Lucy realizes he is right, and though she must fly against convention, she marries George, and the book ends with the happy couple staying together in the Florence pension again, in a room with a view.



John Steinbeck: The Pearl


The Pearl, which takes place in La Paz, Mexico, begins with a description of the seemingly idyllic family life of Kino, his wife Juanaand their infant son, Coyotito. Kino watches as Coyotito sleeps, but sees a scorpion crawl down the rope that holds the hanging box where Coyotito lies. Kino attempts to catch the scorpion, but Coyotito bumps the rope and the scorpion falls on him. Although Kino kills the scorpion, it still stings Coyotito. Juana and Kino, accompanied by their neighbors, go to see the local doctor, who refuses to treat Coyotito because Kino cannot pay.

Kino and Juana leave the doctors and take Coyotito down near the sea, where Juana uses a seaweed poultice on Coyotito’s shoulder, which is now swollen. Kino dives for oysters from his canoe, attempting to find pearls. He finds a very large oyster which, when Kino opens it, yields an immense pearl. Kino puts back his head and howls, causing the other pearl divers to look up and race toward Kino’s canoe.

The news that Kino has found an immense pearl travels fast through La Paz. The doctor who refused to treat Coyotito decides to visit Kino. Kino’s neighbors begin to feel bitter toward him for his good fortune, but neither Kino nor Juana realize this feeling they have engendered. Juan Tomas, the brother of Kino, asks him what he will do with his money, and he envisions getting married to Juana in a church and dressing Coyotito in a yachting cap and sailor suit. He claims that he will send Coyotito to school and buy a rifle for himself. The local priest visits and tells Kino to remember to give thanks and to pray for guidance. The doctor also visits, and although Coyotito seems to be healing, the doctor insists that Coyotito still faces danger and treats him. Kino tells the doctor that he will pay him once he sells his pearl, and the doctor attempts to discern where the pearl is located (Kino has buried it in the corner of his hut). That night, a thief attempts to break into Kino’s hut, but Kino drives him away. Juana tells Kino that the pearl will destroy them, but Kino insists that the pearl is their one chance and that tomorrow they will sell it.

Later that night, Juana attempts to take the pearl and throw it into the ocean, but Kino finds her and beats her for doing so. While outside, a group of men accost Kino and knock the pearl from his hand. Juana watches from a distance, and sees Kino approach her, limping with another man whose throat Kino has slit. Juana finds the pearl, and they decide that they must go away even if the murder was in self-defense. Kino finds that his canoe has been damaged and their house was torn up and the outside set afire. Kino and Juana stay with Juan Tomas and his wife, Apolonia, where they hide for the next day before setting out for the capital that night.

Kino and Juana travel that night, and rest during the day. When Kino believes that he is being followed, the two hide and Kino sees several bighorn sheep trackers who pass by him. Kino and Juana escape into the mountains, where Juana and Coyotito hide in the cave while Kino, taking his clothes off so that no one will see his white clothing. The trackers think that they hear something when they hear Coyotito crying, but decide that it is merely a coyote pup. After a tracker shoots in the direction of the cries, Kino attacks the three trackers, killing all three of them. Kino can hear nothing but the cry of death, for he soon realizes that Coyotito is dead from that first shot. Juana and Kino return to La Paz. Kino carries a rifle stolen from the one of the trackers he killed, while Juana carries the dead Coyotito. The two approach the gulf, and Kino, who now sees the image of Coyotito with his head blown off in the pearl, throws it into the ocean.


Don DeLillo: The Angel Esmeralda

Don DeLillo’s “The Angel Esmeralda” consists of nine short stories originally published in six magazines, from 1979 to 2011. In the first story, “Creation,” all of the three main characters become completely absorbed in their own reactions to being unable to leave a beautiful island because of airline delays. In “Human Movements in World War III,” two astronauts in a space capsule orbit Earth, collecting information for America during the early weeks of the third world war. In “The Runner,” a young man runs laps around a pond in an inner-city park while someone kidnaps a child from its mother. In “The Ivory Acrobat,” a young American woman working in Greece experiences two earthquakes and tries to cope with the terror they induce in her. In “The Angel Esmeralda,” two nuns serve the poor and the afflicted in a Bronx community beset by violence that frequently ends in the deaths of children. In “Baader-Meinhof,” a divorcee who becomes fascinated by portraits of dead terrorists takes up a risky acquaintanceship with a stranger. In “Midnight in Dostoevsky,” two students create an elaborate fictional story of the life of a man they know only by glimpsing him walking on the street. In “Hammer and Sickle,” an inmate in a minimum-security prison watches his two young daughters present doom-and-gloom news broadcasts on a children’s television program. In “The Starveling,” a man whose life consists of going to the cinema becomes infatuated with a woman who likewise attends one movie after another, day after day.

DeLillo, a critically acclaimed American novelist, displays a remarkably consistent engagement in the important question of the challenges faced by people in finding meaning and a sense of belonging in contemporary society, beset as it is by the alienating forces of commercialism, personal interest, and ambition. Each of these stories deals with people who live at an emotional distance from others around them. Often, the prevailing attitudes in a capitalistic society play a major role in impeding the ability of characters in the stories to forge a spiritual connection between themselves and the whole of existence. Over and over, the problem faced by the characters in these different situations is the same one of how to be fully engaged in a society that seems bent on disengagement through manipulating, exploiting, sidelining, or destroying them. DeLillo’s message seems to be that individual salvation can occur only through societal transformation, which must begin with the individual. The problem is that the structures and institutions of contemporary American society do not promote empathy and spiritual fulfillment. This makes it very difficult for an individual to maintain a healthy connection to society, as the author’s characters repeatedly demonstrate. If DeLillo offers any solution, it is merely to portray sympathetically those characters who make serious efforts to forge connections with others, even in the midst of conditions that promote divisiveness. More important, the author persuasively and entertainingly dramatizes the challenges, as he sees them, of remaining spiritually and emotionally engaged in the modern world.



Alexander McCall Smith: Morality for Beautiful Girls

Plot summary

Mma Ramotswe’s business, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, has clients but needs to cut costs and increase revenue from fees. To reduce costs, she and her fiancé Mr JLB Matekoni decide to move the agency to the garage, which has plenty of office space. The original office will in turn be let, to add income. Mma Makutsi, secretary, is given the title of assistant detective, with a rise in pay. Mr JLB Matekoni is behind on his paperwork, which Mma Makutsi can organize. He has been lethargic lately. Mma Ramotswe realizes he needs help, and sets out to help him. He will not agree to see the doctor, so Mma Ramotswe asks Mma Potokwane of the orphan farm to step in. Mma Potokwane brings him to Dr Moffat who diagnoses him as having depression, for which he steps back from his garage while medications begin to work. Mma Makutsi takes over management of the garage and the useless young apprentices, making the apprentices accountable for their work, and making rapid business decisions to make good on the garage’s name, Speedy Motors. She shows her strong management skills from the first hour of taking over her role as acting manager. The young apprentices are impressed with her, and how she applies her detective skills to solving some of the auto problems that the apprentices cannot solve.

An important Government Man, never named, approaches Mma Ramotswe to investigate his sister-in-law, whom he suspects of attempting to poison his brother. Mma Makutsi devises a way to gain access to the family, so the case is accepted, despite Mma Ramotswe needing time for her fiancé and their foster children. Mma Ramotswe is invited to stay at the family farm, so she can meet the family and investigate. While she is away, Mma Makutsi gains a client for the detective agency who wants work done in three days. Mr Pulani runs the beauty contests in Gaborone. The present contest for Miss Beauty and Integrity has five finalists; one is disqualified for theft from a store. The final selection is in three days. He wants to know if there is one finalist who has integrity. He is already under pressure from his financial backers for scandals the year before. He promises a large fee, writing the check as soon as Mma Makutsi agrees to take the case. She travels to the university campus where one contestant lives, under her guise as a news reporter come to interview each contestant. The girl reveals herself to be shallow, a “bad girl”. One of the apprentices drives her to meet the girls; Mma Makutsi realizes that any girls he knows will not be suitable to win the contest. He knows three of the four girls from his bar visits. Mma Makutsi then proceeds to the home of the fourth girl. She proves to be beautiful and modest, and her goal is to attend the Botswana Secretarial College, the same as Mma Makutsi attended. Returning to the office, she reports to the client with confidence that she is the contestant who matches the title of the contest.

At the farm, Mma Ramotswe meets all the family of the Government Man and a few of the staff in the house. She joins the family for a lunch that includes a meat stew. She is poisoned by this meal, as are several others in the family. She recovers and sleeps, waking well before dawn. Walking about the grounds, she encounters the cook, who is starting the fire in the house boiler. He once had worked in Gaborone as an assistant chef, but really did not like the work. He met the Government Man, who suggested he go to the family farm to be the assistant manager, as that was the work he sought, care of the cattle. Arriving at the farm, the brother took him on as the chef based on his experience. The cook had no success in making his case for a different job, so he began cooking badly in hopes they would push him out of that job. Mma Ramotswe decides not to prosecute the cook for the risks he had taken. Back in Gaborone she confronts the Government Man with all the misunderstandings and hurt feelings of each person in that family, the real poison of so many secrets and unexpressed feelings. All of this is out in the open now and the cook is put to a different job. She then goes to see her fiancé at the orphan farm, where he has been connecting with the wild boy, teaching him words, making him toys. The two reach a vantage point above Mochudi, to see how the rains change the landscape. He is getting better.

(source: Wikipedia)

George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four



In the year 1984, London is the principal city of the Oceanian province known as Airstrip One. Oceania, alongside Eurasia and Eastasia, is one of the three totalitarian superpowers into which the world is now divided. The ruling power in Oceania is known as the Party and headed by the mysterious Big Brother, whose face appears all over the city on posters reading “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.” The Party’s rule is supported by four Ministries: the Ministry of Love, the Ministry of Peace, the Ministry of Plenty, and the Ministry of Truth, where thirty-nine-year-old Winston Smith works in the Records Department. His job is to alter, or “rectify,” records and documents in order to make them agree with current Party policy, thereby ensuring that the Party always appears infallible. Engraved on the front of the huge white building that houses the Ministry of Truth are three Party slogans: “WAR IS PEACE,” “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,” and “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.” Through the telescreens installed in every Party member’s home and throughout the city, the Party is able to keep its citizens under constant surveillance while simultaneously subjecting them to an endless stream of propaganda. Most of Oceania’s populace is made up of the “proles,” or proletariat, whom the Party regards as natural inferiors. Meanwhile, the nation is perpetually at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia, though as they are currently at war with Eurasia, the Party claims they have never been at war with Eastasia. An equally important enemy is Emmanuel Goldstein, a discredited former leader of the revolution that brought the Party to power who supposedly now heads an underground resistance from abroad.

Winston still dimly remembers the time before the Party seized power and before his parents disappeared, and he secretly harbors unorthodox ideas. He begins a diary in which he writes “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” and other dangerous entries that could get him arrested by the Thought Police and executed for thoughtcrime. Though he doesn’t believe anyone but the Thought Police will ever read his diary, Winston feels he is addressing it to O’Brien, a high-ranking Inner Party member whom Winston believes might share his anti-Party sentiments. Meanwhile, Winston also becomes convinced that a young woman who works in the Fiction Department is spying on him. One evening he takes the risk of skipping the government-sponsored group activities at the Community Center to take a solitary walk. In a prole pub, he attempts to question an old man about whether life was better or worse before the revolution but receives only the man’s vague and disconnected recollections in answer. Afterward, Winston takes the further risk of going into the junk shop where he bought his diary and chatting with the proprietor, Mr. Charrington, from whom he buys a beautiful antique glass paperweight. On his way out, Winston sees the woman from the Fiction Department coming toward him and rushes home in terror. Sometime later, in a corridor at the Ministry of Truth, Winston sees the same woman trip and fall on her arm, which is in a sling. Winston feels empathy for her in spite of his suspicions, and as he helps her up, she slips him a note that says “I LOVE YOU.” The two arrange a clandestine meeting in the countryside and begin a love affair, although non-procreative sex between Party members who aren’t married to each other is strictly forbidden. Winston regards the first time he sleeps with the free-spirited, sexually liberated young woman, who is named Julia, as a political act and believes unfettered sexual desire has the power to destroy the Party.

Winston rents a room above the junk shop from Mr. Charrington, and this room becomes his and Julia’s sanctuary. The room is old-fashioned, lacks a telescreen, and prominently displays the antique glass paperweight that Winston bought at the shop and now imagines represents the private world he and Julia have created. They often hear a prole washerwoman singing in the courtyard below the shop. Winston comes to strongly believe that the only hope for the future of humanity lies in the proles’ becoming politically conscious and mounting a rebellion against the Party. He and Julia talk about rebelling against the Party as well but are unsure how to do so. Winston believes the two of them should think of themselves as “the dead” since there is no doubt that their transgressions will eventually lead to their arrest, torture, and execution in the Ministry of Love (the most terrifying of the Ministries, which deals with maintaining law and order). They agree that although they will be forced to confess under torture, the Party cannot truly “get inside” them or make them betray their feelings for each other.

One day at the Ministry of Truth, Winston is approached by O’Brien, who gives him his address. Winston is convinced that he has finally made contact with the rebellion he always dreamed of. When he and Julia visit O’Brien’s apartment, the Inner Party official indeed recruits them for the Brotherhood, the underground resistance led by Goldstein. Winston and Julia pledge to do whatever it takes on behalf of the Brotherhood, including murder and suicide, as long as they don’t have to be parted. O’Brien warns them that their crimes against the Party will inevitably lead to their arrest.

At the end of Hate Week, an event meant to stoke antagonism toward Oceania’s enemies, it is announced that Oceania is now at war with Eastasia rather than Eurasia (and therefore has always been at war with Eastasia). That same day, O’Brien sends Winston a copy of Goldstein’s book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. Winston is finally able to read it in the room above the junk shop after the employees of the Ministry of Truth spend a grueling week altering documents to reflect that the Party is and has always been at war with Eastasia. The book explains how the Party claimed and maintains power, including its use of doublethink, a mental process by which an individual can accept whatever the Party says and then forget they ever believed anything different or engaged in this mental process at all. Winston finds the book a reassuring articulation of his own beliefs about Party doctrine and believes its final message must be that hope lies with the proles. Before he can finish it, however, he and Julia are arrested. It is revealed that an antique engraving on the wall of the rented room concealed a telescreen and that “Mr. Charrington” is actually a member of the Thought Police. Winston’s cherished paperweight is smashed and the lovers are separately dragged away.

Winston finds himself in the Ministry of Love, where he is kept in a windowless cell. Other prisoners come and go until Winston is left alone, at which point O’Brien enters and reveals that he has been loyal to the Party the whole time. For the next several weeks or months, Winston is brutally beaten by armed guards, then interrogated by Party intellectuals until he confesses to a long list of invented crimes. In the next phase of his torture, O’Brien delivers waves of pain and electric shocks to Winston while attempting to convince him to accept Party doctrine. This is all, O’Brien says, done in the interest of “curing” Winston of the insanity that prevents him from seeing the only true reality—the reality created by the Party. For a while after these “sessions,” Winston is left alone in a cell to recover, but when he involuntarily shouts Julia’s name and then confesses that he still hates Big Brother, he is taken to the ominous Room 101 for the final step in his “cure.” There, each prisoner faces the one thing they find completely unendurable, which in Winston’s case is a cage containing two rats set to devour his face. As O’Brien lowers the cage over Winston’s head, Winston finally betrays Julia by begging for his punishment to be transferred to her.

After his release, Winston is no longer of interest to the Party. He spends his days drinking copious amounts of gin at the Chestnut Tree Café, occasionally going to work at his new job on a pointless Ministry of Truth sub-committee. He and Julia see each other once in the park and confess that they betrayed each other. Rather than feeling the desire he once had for Julia, Winston wants only to return to his usual table at the Chestnut Tree. His final defeat comes when, after the telescreen in the café announces Oceania’s victory over Eurasia, Winston is overcome by love for Big Brother and a joyous hope that he will soon be executed.





Dashiell Hammett: Red Harvest


The Continental Op is called to Personville (known as “Poisonville” to the locals) by the newspaper publisher Donald Willsson, who is murdered before the Op has a chance to meet with him. The Op begins to investigate Willsson’s murder and meets with Willsson’s father, Elihu Willsson, a local industrialist who has found his control of the city threatened by several competing gangs. Elihu had originally invited those gangs into Personville to help him impose and then enforce the end of a labor dispute.

The Op extracts a promise and a signed letter from Elihu that pays the Continental Detective Agency, the Op’s employer, $10,000 ($140,000 in 2017 dollars) in exchange for cleaning up the city and ridding it of the gangs. When the Op solves Donald’s murder, Elihu tries to renege on the deal, but the Op will not allow him to do so.

In the meantime, the Op is spending time with Dinah Brand, a possible love interest of the late Donald Willsson and a moll for Max “Whisper” Thaler, a local gangster. Using information from Brand and Personville’s crooked chief of police, Noonan, the Op manages to extract and spread incriminating information to all of the warring parties. When the Op reveals that a bank robbery was staged by the cops and one of the mobs to discredit another mob, a gang war erupts.

But the Op wakes up the next morning to find Brand stabbed to death with the ice pick the Op handled the previous evening. There are no visible signs of forced entry. The Op becomes a suspect sought by the police for Brand’s murder, and one of his fellow operatives, Dick Foley, leaves Personville because he is uncertain of the Op’s innocence.

The Op, now wanted by the police, entices Reno Starkey, a gang lieutenant, to take on the last strong rival mob, led by Pete the Finn. The last gangs are whittled down by pipe bombs, arson, gun fights, and corrupt cops gunning down the survivors.

The Op tracks down Starkey, the only gang leader still alive. Starkey is bleeding from four gunshot wounds, having just killed mobster Whisper Thaler. Starkey reveals that he was the one who stabbed Brand, and that she had collided with the semi-conscious Op so he looked like the culprit.

The corrupt police chief Noonan and the gang leaders are all dead. The Op blackmails Elihu Willsson into calling the governor, who sends in the National Guard, declares martial law, and suspends the entire police force. Elihu Willsson gets back his town, as promised—although not in the way that he had anticipated. The Op returns to San Francisco, where the Old Man (the chief of the Continental Detective Agency’s office) gives him “merry hell” for his activities.

(source: Wikipedia)


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.



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.




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.




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.