December 30, 2011

The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje

This is my 3rd Canadian re-read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge over at The Book Mine Set. I'm falling a bit behind schedule if I want to finish 13 by the end of June!

Book: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I'm not sure that I like this cover - mine has Kip (the sapper) scaling a mud wall.

First Read: Autumn 1995. I remember finishing this book in the middle of a university Calculus tutorial, and not wanting the book to end, so flipping back to the first page and immediately starting over again.

Original Impressions: I loved this book so much, that I have called it one of my favourite books of all time. What sticks in my mind from the original back-to-back readings were snippets of plot, some very strong images (e.g. a plane coming down in the Sahara desert), but mostly the beautiful language. I approached this re-read with some trepidation; as I was hoping, but not sure (based on Ondaatje's more recent books) that I would still love it so much.

Current Impression: I needn't have worried. I still love this book. It is still written with beautiful language. It is still peopled with strong characters. It is still a memorable book, and my favourite of all of Ondaatje's books that I have read.

I love Michael Ondaatje's poetry; and I think that his earlier novels (The English Patient, and In the Skin of a Lion) best capture the poetic language. This has somehow been lost in his more recent novels (Anil's Ghost, Divisadero, The Cat's Table). His ability to convey so much imagery in so few words is incredible and heartbreaking at the same time. As I was reading this time through, there were some phrases and sentences that caught my attention and triggered memories of my original readings - I hadn't realized that they stuck with my subconscious.

"'Do they have moondials? Has anyone invented one? Perhaps every architect preparing a villa hides a moondial for thieves, like a necessary tithe.'"

"'Could you fall in love with her if she wasn't smarter than you? I mean, she may not be smarter than you. But isn't it important for you to think she is smarter than you in order to fall in love?'"

"I was in her arms. I had pushed the sleeve of her shirt up to the shoulder so I could see her vaccination scar. I love this, I said. This pale aureole on her arm. I see the instrument scratch and then punch the serum within her and then release itself, free of her skin, years ago, when she was nine years old, in a school gymnasium."

"'I shall have to learn how to miss you.'"

There is a very limited cast of characters central to this book. There are 4 of them, in a villa in Italy, in the summer of 1945 in the closing days of the 2nd world war. All 4 are hurting due to the war. Hana is a nurse who has lost her father, all of the soldiers that she has nursed, and her unborn baby. Kip is a sapper (bomb and landmine disposer) who has lost his mentors, his co-workers, and his identity as a Sikh from Punjab. Carravagio is a thief who was recruited as a spy who was caught and tortured, then lost his thumbs and became addicted to morphine. And finally there is the "English Patient" who was burned beyond recognition in a plane crash, but who had multiple losses before the physical injury.

Hana is the one character that I would like to know more about, both after my first readings and after this reading. She appeared as a child in In the Skin of a Lion; and now as a young adult in The English Patient. I would love to see her as she grows into full adulthood, likely back in Canada. There are hints given at the end of The English Patient, but to me, they aren't enough.

I did see the movie made of this book (with the screenplay written by Michael Ondaatje himself), but it didn't make as strong of an impression on me as the book did. It focused mainly on the back story of the "English Patient" rather than the present day interactions between the characters in the villa (which is the part of this book that intrigued me most, but would be hardest to depict in a movie).

I'm so glad that this book lived up to my memories of it!

December 8, 2011

Echoes of the Remnant - Regina Coupar

This book was the first of a list of required reading for a Lay Worship Leader course that I will be taking over the next two years. I should also start by saying that the first weekend of the course was this past weekend, so I've already had a chance to discuss this book with the other course participants.

The cover of the book describes it as follows:
"Echoes of the Remnant is a collection of visual images, poetry and prose which convey the author's unique perspective on spirituality. ... The author asserts that people are responsible for shaping their own worldview by the manner in which they set priorities. As spirituality is awakened and developed, many people find their perceptions and expectations altered. Echoes of the Remnant presents new metaphors which are helpful for discussing spirituality in the language of our time."

I came to this book wanting to like it. The format intrigued me - a collection of pictures, poetry and prose. But somehow it didn't quite work for me.

First of all, I didn't "get" the pictures. I will be the first to admit that I don't know anything about visual arts so I would be open to someone explaining the pictures to me; but they didn't say anything to me.

Secondly, I found the prose to be very ramble-y. There were nuggets of beauty in there, but I had to work too hard to find them. Plus, she committed the cardinal sin of writing, by trying to explain a concept using the same words as the concept. My thoughts as I was reading it was that it would have benefited from a better editor.

Interestingly enough, I discovered while trying to find a cover image to use in this post that this book was published "under her own imprint, Gamaliel Publications." I have found that self-published books tend not to have the same quality as those published by a publisher proper - fortunately there were no glaring typos (though I am the world's worst proof-reader); but that may explain my impression that a better editing job was needed.

What kept me going through this book were the poems. That and the fact that it was required reading! The language of the poems was so clear and precise that I couldn't believe that they were written by the same person who wrote the prose sections. I flagged several of my favourites throughout the book, and I think that including one of them here would be the best way to end off this post. I've already ordered the books for the next weekend in March, and I'm hoping for better things next time around.


the gifts
of the spirit
are gifts of giving

the gift of breath
gives life

the gift of choice
gives dignity

the gift of love
gives relationship

the gift of hope
gives purpose

the gift of faith
gives peace