Tuesday 27 August: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977 the author’s debut novel was published in 2004.
Purple Hibiscus is set in post-colonial Nigeria and is a touching and sensitive story of Kambili, a fifteen year old girl, who is exposed too earlier to religious intolerance and political and personal brutality.
Many issues were raised within the story of Kambili, too many for most of our group.
These included topics such as colonialism, corruption and hypocrisy mixed with religion and intolerance. Nigeria’s struggle for a modern identity was also reflected through the challenges of the natural world and changing culture of many parts of its society.
We were brought into the intimacy, joys and despair of Kambili’s family where violence was often a close neighbour of compassion and sacrifice for others.
We all agreed that the story of Kambili closed with a hopeful and optimistic feel for the future. However, as Kambili, Jaja and Beatrice leave Nigeria for America we are not totally sure what the future holds for them… maybe Miss Adichie has more to tell us in a second book?
We were pleased to welcome Joy for the first time who told us that we were “livelier than she expected”. Now if that is not a good reason to give us a try and pick up a book, I am not sure what is.
We would give you a warm and lively welcome!
Tuesday 2 July 2013 Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
I chose what jacket to wear to come to our meeting this afternoon. I drove myself here. I walked from the car park with my head held high, my hair uncovered and my book in my hand. I could possibly have said good afernoon to two unrelated men on the way here. This is the freedom I have always had - freedom of choice.
The young women attending the book club in Tehran arrived covered from head to foot in black chador. They bowed their heads when walking and made sure that no wisp of hair was on view. Their books are hidden - if they have indeed been able to obtain a copy. Reading forbidden literature is a crime in Iran as is attendance at a meeting to discuss it. Forbidden literature? What are these books? Wuthering Heights is high on the list and Jane Austen's novels.
The young members of the group know of no other regime than that of Ayatollah Khomeini. The older ones have lived in a country then known as Persia with a much freer lifestyle. What do they feel about the revolution and about living in the Islamic State of Iran?
Azar Nafisi has lived in both regimes. Like many more young educated Iranians, she moves to America so that her children have a chance to be brought up in a freedom which we take for granted. Her book - Reading Lolita in Tehran, is very cleverly put together and very well written. It was on the New York Times best seller list for 177 weeks followings its publication in 2003.
Everyone had enjoyed reading this book. One member of the group said it was the best book we had read as yet. We discussed choices for women in a strict Islamic society and also the ancient Persian culture and the importance of Persian literature throughout the world. We contrasted this culture with life in the Islamic State of Iran which we had read about in Azar Nafisi's book. Because this book is autobiographical we felt that it was more real and had more impact than a novel.
Conclusion - a very good read.
Tuesday 9 April 2013: Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Brick Lane is Monica Ali’s first novel written in 2003. It tells the story of a Bangladeshi family living in the Brick Lane area of London. Nazneen, an 18 year old girl arrives in London from Bangladesh for an arranged marriage to a man twice her age. This story line is contrasted with that of Nazneen’s sister, Hasina, who has run away from the family home to escape such a marriage and in consequence lives a very unhappy life. There is no third option open to them.
Nazneen believes that life is controlled by ‘fate’. One theme running through the book is her developing realisation that she does have choices and the use she makes of this facility to choose.
We discussed arranged marriages and the position of women in an Islamic society, a society to which we with our freedom cannot relate. The author made us aware that boys growing up in this society might join fundamentalist gangs or become addicted to drugs.
Everyone had enjoyed reading the book though one member of the group felt that it had reinforced her prejudices.
The last word must go to Mark Wakelin, President of the Methodist conference, who wrote an article in the Methodist Recorder on March 8th last headed Human Diversity is God’s Creativity’. Food for thought!
We welcomed Sheila Pantin into the group at this meeting and thank her for her valuable contribution to it.
Tuesday 12 February 2013: White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
Zadie Smith’s first novel, White Teeth, was published in 2000 and is the story of three families of different cultures and religions living near to each other in London. All the members of these very different families have white teeth in common—hence the title of the book.
Everyone had found this book difficult to read and felt some parts of it would have been better omitted altogether.
We discussed some of the many issues raised by the book regarding living in a multicultural society, including different languages, customs, legal systems and cultures. There are an amazing number of subjects for debate in this book and we touched on animal rights, Islamic fundamentalist groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Salman Rushdie and the Satanic Verses. We agreed that Zadie Smith had written with wit and humour, portraying a colourful picture of her chosen part of London with its diverse population.
In discussing White Teeth we spent the longest time that we have ever spent on any book as yet and our conclusion was that we felt ‘challenged’ by this book.
The meeting was held at the home of Alan and Margaret Stangroom and we thank them for their hospitality.
PS Husbands beware! A resolution was passed to try out
Alsana’s remedy at times of domestic dispute by answering ‘maybe yes, maybe no’ to all questions!! So annoying………...
Tuesday 11 December 2012: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Very appropriately, the Christmas book read by Wesley’s Book Group was ‘A Christmas Carol’. Whilst most had read the book before or at least knew the story well, everyone agreed that re-reading books reveals much that we had either forgotten or not even noticed on first reading.
In October we had read Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens which provided a good insight into the writing of ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Discussion focused on:
- The enduring appeal of the book
- The fascination with ghost stories
- The opportunity for redemption – if Scrooge can change then so can anyone
- The parallels between the early life of Scrooge and of Dickens
- The real Christmas spirit and the season of goodwill
- The various stage and film adaptations of the book
In order for us to really get in the mood for this meeting, mince pies, cake and chocolate ‘appeared’ with our cup of tea. The following week some of us attending a performance of ‘A Yorkshire Christmas Carol’ by the Bad Apple Theatre Company at Staveley Village Hall. A sort of pantomime with a passing nod to Dickens but……
you never know where joining our group might lead you.
Tuesday 9 October 2012: Charles Dickens - A Life by Claire Tomalin.
‘Charles Dickens – A life’ by Claire Tomalin
This biography, published last year, was chosen for our October Book Group to co-incide with the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth.
Whilst it looks a heavy tomb, it is in fact not a difficult read. Everyone enjoyed the book and appreciated the insights it gave into the family life and society that created both the author and the memorable characters in his books. Claire Tomalin dispels the myth of Dickens as a model family man and ideal father-figure. Much discussion centred on the female characters in his novels and his own bewildering relationships with women.
Our conclusion? A genius, a man of many parts, a complex fascinating character but…a cruel husband and father.
Earlier in the year Claire Tomalin appeared at Wesley talking about the book as part of the Harrogate International Festival. Several members of the group were able to attend the event which brought Claire Tomalin to life for the rest of us.
One Day by David Nicholls
This phenomenally successful book was intended as a ‘light read’ for our August meeting. In fact it proved to be a very cleverly constructed novel that follows the funny/tragic love story of Emma and Dexter over their twenty year friendship, by looking at just one day (July 15th) of each year. It gives a series of snapshots of the relationship and how the two characters develop both separately and as a couple. We are left to imagine what has happened in the intervening 364 days. It has been described as ‘a book about growing up – how we change and how we stay the same’.
We identified with many of the experiences of the characters, often cringingly realistic in the humorous descriptions given. It succeeds as a social novel set in a recognisable modern Britain. Everyone empathised with Emma. Dexter was more complex and at some points it was difficult to understand what Emma saw in him.
The style is simple and unaffected but incredibly subtle – never sentimental or gushing. The dialogue is totally believable. It has a tangible emotional impact because we care about what happens to the characters.
And the moral to the story?
"Live each day as if it's your last', that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn't practical. Better by far to be good and courageous and bold and to make difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance."— David Nicholls
The Island by Victoria Hislop
Wesley’s newly formed reading group likes to travel. In April we were in Leningrad, in June we were in Australia and our latest journey took us to Crete, which is where The Island is set.
Our first three books have all been historical novels, though the next three are firmly based in the U.K., and The Island was definitely the easiest read – perhaps a bit too light-weight for some. However it’s an impressive debut novel for Victoria Hislop – and no, we didn’t know that she would be appearing at Wesley as part of the Harrogate International Festival.
The core of the book is prejudice in relation to attitudes towards leprosy, lepers and leper colonies. The island of the title is Spinalonga, the lepers’ island, and the book details life on the island and how Cretan society, and individual families, dealt with leprosy.
Discussion centred on the strong storyline and the (not so strong) characters. The book led us to consider
- why some characters were happier when they were living on the supportive island than when they were cured and returned to the mainland
- the effect on the whole family of a member being diagnosed with leprosy
- the lengths families go to in order to hide ‘secrets’
- the extent to which we feel responsible for the actions of our children
The Secret River by Kate Greville
The second book our newly formed reading group chose for discussion was ‘The Secret River’ by one of Australia’s best-known authors – Kate Grenville.
This beautifully written winner of the Orange Prize was also shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker.
It is an evocative historical novel, set largely in the early nineteenth century, that showed up our ignorance of early Australian history. The complexity of the clash of cultures between the early Australian convict settlers and the native aboriginal people was decidedly unsettling and often violent and brutal.
The story is based on the author’s painstaking research into archives revealing details of the life of one of her ancestors who was deported to Australia in 1806. The research brought to light details of cruelty and ruthlessness. The novel put flesh on the bones of history to make the research come alive.
Apart from discussion on the storyline and the characters, the book led us to consider
· The evils of colonialism
· The extent to which it is possible to own anything
· How a man, not inherently evil, can be corrupted
· What it means to belong to a country – to call a country ‘home’
· The strength of the family unit in adversity
Can a historical novel be better history than an historian’s history?
In empathising with the characters we are inevitably led to wonder how we would have coped in their situation.
The Seige by Helen Dunmore
Our newly formed reading group (a Wesley and St Peter’s joint venture) chose for our first book ‘The Siege’ by Helen Dunmore.
Eight of us met at Wesley on a snowy afternoon when the boiler was not working. No one complained. Read this book and you should never again complain about lack of heating or what to cook for tea or queues or anything at all.
It is an historical novel based on the first, and worst, winter of the two and a half year siege of Leningrad in 1941, and about the daily struggle for survival.
Whilst all agreed on how well written the book was, some felt that the unrelieved and unremitting grimness made the book hard to finish and indeed read. Others were so gripped by the unravelling of the story that they read it more than once and found the second reading even more rewarding.
Apart from discussion on the storyline and the characters, the book led us to consider
· whether subsequent generations would be as resourceful
· the sacrifices that Russian women had to make
· Leningrad today – two of the group had visited St Petersburg
· the strength of the family unit in adversity
· the changing attitude to death when it occurs on such a large scale
Since the story focuses on the detail of ordinary people’s daily lives you are inevitably led to wonder how you would cope in such a situation.
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