Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Few Notes On Amaryllis in Blueberry

Wow.  That was one heck of a story.  At first I had a difficult time settling into the story of the Slepy family.  Seena was so vague to me, and it took me a little bit to get the girls all straight.  I found Yllis a fascinating character; so physically different from her sisters and also given the gift of synesthesia.  It does get her into trouble sometimes, though.  And in 1976, no one really understood it. She seemed like the wise old woman of the story, even though she was the youngest one in the family.

I felt the family's trip to Africa was both a disaster and a revelation for each one of them, particularly Seena and Mary Grace.  Seena's reaction to Africa, the people, and the lack of education for the girls in the village reflects what some  people would feel upon first impression--especially those of us who come from a country where we take clean running water for granted.  And her awareness that she was a racist just by thinking the Africans were so much worse off than she was put it into perspective for me--some people are so obvious in their reactions to different cultures and peoples that it's clear how they feel; sometimes we shock ourselves when we realize what we think is simply our view of a culture is really an aspect of prejudice.  Material goods and things are not what makes a life. Mary Grace literally strips everything from herself in order to find the true Mary Grace.  She is reborn in Africa.  I found her "rebirth" to be one of the best parts of this novel.

 The Africans in this novel were much more in touch with life and death; they were happier even celebrating the funeral of a young girl.  Life is life, and death comes when it comes.  I think Seena realizes that in Africa and it turns her around.  Her discussions with the Queen are an enlightenment to her attitude and "wake" her up.  Can she be the mother she needs to be?

So what about the trial?  What did you think?  Were you shocked at the end, when you realize who killed Dick and why?  

Dick.  An interesting character.  Someone you despise, yet reading from his perspective, you understand what a lost soul he is, coming from a family that did not love him when he needed it.  His desperation at wanting someone to love him.  One of the most impactful chapters I read was Dick's view of his funeral.  His ability to find forgiveness and understand his feelings for Seena, and most especially, his total love for Yllis was so touching.  His spirit "falls into them", a drop for each woman in his life.  What a brilliant way of describing keeping someone close when they are gone.  I was very satisfied at the journey Dick takes spiritually--even though it takes dying to do it.

So.  This is a book that requires reflection.  It was tough for me to get through, and after finishing it yesterday, I am glad I read it.  It was not what I expected--I'm not sure what I expected, really.  Certainly a plot line that was new to me.

October's pick is The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson.  I will be announcing November's pick next week, and I think we will skip December due to the holiday craziness.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Amaryllis in Blueberry: A Few Questions

I haven't started Amaryllis in Blueberry just yet, but after reading an interview with the author, I am so intrigued with this novel I may just have to start it today!  Here are a few questions I found on the Simon & Schuster website for book club questions and interviews with the author:


Amaryllis in Blueberry takes place in Michigan and West Africa. What personal significance do these landscapes have for you? What appealed to you about using two such dramatically different locations in the novel?

I grew up in Michigan and continue to spend time there every summer. Although I no longer live in Michigan year-round, it will always be home to me at some level. Michigan represents family to me. It represents summers on the lake. It represents holidays. While the characters in Amaryllis in Blueberry are purely fictional, the Danish Landing is very real. My family has owned property on the Danish Landing for over a hundred years. Nearly all of my most poignant childhood memories take place on the Danish Landing. I remember my grandmother standing at the stove flipping blueberry pancakes. I remember exploring the Old Trail. The Danish Landing gave me my first campfire, my first sunburn, my first leech! To the degree any place on earth makes me feel grounded, the Danish Landing does. I imagine Yllis would find part of my soul on the Danish Landing.

And I imagine she'd find another part of my soul in West Africa. I worked for a short time in West Africa during my twenties, and I continue to have ties to West Africa through my nonprofit work. To the degree the Danish Landing is my place of peace, West Africa is my place of prodding. West Africa nudges me, with its energy and rituals, its colors and smells. As a twenty-something living in West Africa, I did not feel peaceful, but I sure felt alive. I did not feel grounded; I felt flung from Addae's slingshot. And when I landed, I had a different perspective, one that was far more nuanced. I was drawn to writing about these two places because on the surface they are so very different, but beneath the surface of each, there's another world. And these beneath-the-surface worlds are surprising—and surprisingly similar in many ways.

Why did you decide to begin the narrative with The End, rather than have the story unfold along a more linear time line?

I find perspective fascinating. What if we could begin at The End? Or what if we could take the knowledge of The End and revisit our lives? Would we see ourselves differently? Would we see our lives differently? Would we become different people altogether—are we merely the sum of our choices? Or are we who we are at our core, indelible at some level no matter our choices? Would Seena or Yllis, Tessa or Mary Catherine, Grace or Dick or Clara or Heimdall be the same person to the reader if I had started at the beginning and moved straight to the end? Or did each become a different person to the reader because the reader had foreknowledge of certain outcomes? Did the reader's altered perspective change each character in some fundamental way? I don't know the answer to any of these questions, but I think the questions are worth asking, worth exploring.

Have you started it yet?  I'm interested in how Michigan, West Africa, Greek Mythology, and this family all tie together.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Oops! What do you want to do?

I'm a big doofus, and I mixed up September and October picks.  Does anyone mind if we read Amaryllis in Blueberry this month instead of October?  If no one disagrees, we'll just stick with Amaryllis for September.  Sorry.  Must  have books on the brain :)

September Read: Amaryllis in Blueberry

Ok!  We're into September, and this month's read is definitely different from The Lost Girls.  Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum takes place in Africa and Michigan.  What ties these two places together?  The four Slepy sisters, each with a particular personality trait that will determine their fate in Africa.  

I love the cover of this book.  It certainly hits the mark, and makes people pick it up!  I have heard from fellow readers that this book is great, so I am ready to start reading.  I've attached a link to the author's website, so hit the book title to go there and read about her other book Madapple, reviews, and discussion questions.  I'll be posting questions and my own observations about this book at the month rolls on!  And I may have to read Madapple.  I remember when this was on the shelves in our bookstore; it was one of those "I want to read it someday" books.  Well, that someday may be in September.  

Enjoy your holiday weekend, and start reading!  This is available in paperback and e-book format.