Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Whole World Over by Julia Glass

I enjoyed this book. The main character is Greenie, wife of Alan, mother of George. They live in a small apartment in New York. Greenie started her own business as a baker, and Alan is a psychoanalyst. George is 4 years old.

Greenie gets a call from the assistant to New Mexico's governor who has tasted her coconut cake and fallen in love with it. He asks her to come to New Mexico and be his chef. She decides to do it, as a kind of adventure. She takes George and goes out to New Mexico. Alan stays in New York. Greenie ends up loving New Mexico and encourages Alan to join them so he begins to "wean" his patients (which are very few anyway) and prepares to move.

But that move doesn't happen. Greenie meets an old boyfriend and falls in love with him. She decides to separate from Alan. Some things happen that end up with Alan taking George back to New York with him. Then September 11 happens and everything changes again.

It sounds kind of shallow as I describe it, and I was kind of disgusted with Greenie for leaving Alan. But she still was a likeable character. There are a lot of other characters, too. The governor, his assistant, the restaurant owner next door, the bookstore owner across the street, a woman named Saga who has brain damage from an accident, memories of Greenie's mother. Somehow it all works. I liked the characters and the writing. It was a good story that kept me turning the pages. I enjoyed being in New York and New Mexico, especially New Mexico. I thought it was a good presentation of what marriage can feel like, too.

It was interesting to read a novel with September 11 as an event within it. That's a first for me. The author described one of the characters in New York looking out her window and seeing paper falling like snow. I suppose that happened. I had not thought of it, although I saw the photos of all the debris at the towers and on the people there at the scene. It sounds like paper fell in a similar way to ashes falling when a volcano happens.

I recommend this book, and I think I'll try another book by Julia Glass. The book references "the National Book Award-Winning" Three Junes. That sounds familiar; I'm not sure if I've read it or not.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

I liked this book a lot. At first I thought it was kind of confusing. There were a lot of characters, and their names were either Japanese or Dutch, both kind of strange to remember, although the Dutch ones had a ring of familiarity. But it wasn't long before I was caught up in the story and enjoying it very much.

Jacob De Zoet works for the Dutch East Indies Company in Japan, in 1799. I didn't (and still don't) know much about this period of Japan's history, but the book talked about it being after Japan had thrown out all the Christians, and killed many, then tried to keep themselves isolated from the Western world. But they did allow the Dutch Indies Company to have this one port and conduct trade.

The Japanese were so anti-Christian that they actually had a holiday where the people stepped on a picture of Jesus and gave an oath to declare their hatred of Christianity. There were "Hidden Christians" who were killed if discovered. The people of the Dutch East Indies Company were not allowed to bring any religious material into the country. Jacob, though, smuggled in a Psalter, of the Dutch Reformed Church, which had been his great grandfather's. It had a bullet hole where the book had stopped a bullet while being carried by his great grandfather during a war. Jacob felt he could not be so disloyal as to give up that Psalter so he hid it among many other books and hoped it would not be discovered.

It turned out his translator did see it but did not inform on Jacob. This translator had loved and wanted to marry a woman named Aibagawa, but his family would not let him marry her. Aibagawa is a midwife and, rare for a Japanese woman, was studying medicine with a doctor from the company. Jacob becomes infatuated with her, but they cannot pursue a relationship either and Aibagawa is sent to what is almost like a convent run by a secret society.

The author goes back and forth between Jacob and Aibagawa as the story unfolds. He does a good job of telling enough from one character's perspective before changing to the other. I did not get at all frustrated at the switches. There are even a few places where other characters are telling the story and that works, too.

I thought it was interesting to be in another time and country like that, and to get to know these characters. I would definitely recommend it.