Friday, June 11, 2010

Reading Update

Book #29 was The Program, by Stephen White. The "program" of the title is the Witness Protection Program, in which Dr. Alan Gregory gets involved when he helps out a friend who is on maternity leave and needs someone to substitute for her in doing psychological therapy for people in "the program." I like these novels about Dr. Gregory, and I enjoyed the relationships in this one.

Book #30 was another Elizabeth Berg title, Until the Real Thing Comes Along. Patty is desperate for love and marriage, but especially for children. She has been in love since sixth grade with Ethan, who is gay. I never found either Patty or Ethan to be very convincing characters, and the supposedly happy ending of this book was mostly just sad to me.

Book #31, Let it Rain Coffee, by Angie Cruz, was about Dominican immigrants in New York City. I liked the title better than the book.

Book #32 was also about an immigrant in New York: the unforgettable Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder. Deogratias ends up in New York after his experiences in Burundi, where he was on the run for six months from génocidaires. He continues to suffer in New York City, both from the trauma of what he has already seen, and from the difficulties of someone with no money, no English, and no friends. I admire Tracy Kidder's handling of his material; as in Mountains Beyond Mountains, he manages to be a character in the book without taking over, and in a way that presents his subject to his audience even more clearly. I would like to know more about Deo's spiritual beliefs, which are referred to only obliquely. (We learn, for example, that he is "far from irreligious.") Kidder is uncomfortable with some of his own thoughts about Deo:
She [Sharon] was an unusual person, obviously, and for Deo to have run into her on his grocery delivery rounds was a great piece of luck, maybe even - in Sharon's presence, I was tempted into thinking this - providential.

In Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi writes, "Today I think that if for no other reason than an Auschwitz existed, no one in our age should speak of Providence." But for all the horror visited on Deo, the list of strangers who had saved him seemed remarkable....It wasn't as though there was some sort of outreach program in place for people like Deo...No doubt because I was in Sharon's presence, I found myself thinking, "Something must have been looking out for Deo." And I disliked hearing the words in my mind.

I said to Sharon, "One of the things I've noticed about some of the genocide narratives I've read, people will say, 'God spared me.' The problem I have with that is then you think, 'Well, what about all the people who got their heads chopped off? Did God not like them?'" I added, "So I'm not quite sure that's the way to look at it."

"I have a theory," she replied. "I remember thinking long ago, 'We're loved infinitely for how ever little bit of time we have.' And it's not ultimately tragic to die at any age. Whether we're talking about being blown into little pieces or what is ultimate tragedy, I just think there isn't ultimate tragedy except for evil, and God doesn't will any evil. And we're surrounded by - I tell the kids about the Good Shepherd, I think it's a great image for them, but the vine and the branches is great too - but whether we feel it or not, we are surrounded by this tremendously loving presence, and that covers every second of every day. Of everybody."
This book is often difficult to read; Deo's life has been unspeakably terrible, and he still suffers from the consequences. But ultimately this book is about what human beings can survive and still remain human beings, compassionate and willing to give to others. I would like people I know to read it so that we can talk about it!

This post is linked to the June 12th Saturday Review of Books.


Sherry said...

I'd like to read that last one by Kidder. I have enjoyed his other books, and it's interesting to see him write about his ambivalent and conflicted feelings about God and religious faith.

Plus, he's just a good writer.

Ruth said...

Yes, he's a wonderful writer. His style is deceptively simple, but he is a real stylist.

JHS. said...

Just ordered the Elizabeth Berg books. Have read some of her other work and enjoyed it. Thanks for the recommendation!

I invite you to visit Colloquium and enter to win a copy of "This One is Mine" by Maria Semple. I loved it (you can read my review) and want to pass it on to another reader who will (hopefully) love it, too! Enter any time up to midnight (Pacific time) June 15, 2010!! The winner will be selected at random!


Ruth said...

Hmm, I don't know that I would have called that review of the Elizabeth Berg book a recommendation. Hope you enjoy it, though.

Janet said...

You've read 4 books in a week, AND said intelligent things about them all.

I am speechless.