Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Importance of Remembering

It’s a rare book that when I get to the end I read it all again, but this is what happened with The Time In Between by María Dueñas. When I read the last sentence, without so much as getting up for a cup of coffee, I went right back to the beginning and started in all over again with the first sentence. I wasn’t ready to let the characters go. I wanted to hear their stories again and again. I wanted to be in Sira’s world once again. I wanted to learn more about that time in our world’s history which I knew so little about.

I probably would never have picked this novel up were it not for the fact that it was a selection for my bookclub. Not even out of the box and it had three strikes against it as far as I was concerned. First of all, I normally don’t like to read translated works. Part of the author’s job is to create worlds of words, which may (or may not) be lost in translation. I want to read what the author actually wrote. I want to note subtlely of phrase. I want to immerse myself in the author’s words as much as the story. And this book is translated from the Spanish.

Secondly, the length of the book would have totally put me off, and this one is long - 600 pages they say, although in my case it’s hard to tell since I read it on a Kobo.

And thirdly I’m usually not a great fan of historical fiction.

The one thing this book did have going for it is that I’m a great lover of all things Spanish. Always have been. I love the language, the culture, the literature. I pride myself that back in my more Spanish-speaking days, I even read a few short literary works in Spanish by another of my favorite Spanish authors Isabel Allende from Chile.

I studied the language through high school, and ten years ago I studied it for two years at university. Even now, I sometimes tune into Univision so I can practice. I’ve been to Cuba and Mexico, but Spain and Chile other parts of South America are still on my bucket list.

The Time In Between is a novel about the Spanish Civil war which dovetailed itself into the WWII. It’s not a part of history that I know much about or had studied for more than a sentence or two in my school history classes. But it is a fascinating part of our world’s culture and history. It’s worth knowing about. It’s worth learning. I found out, for example, that the Fasicsts from Germany were helping to supply arms and intelligence to the Nationalists in Spain while the Russia supplied intel and arms to the Republicans there. One extreme to the other, while the country and its people were in turmoil.

Are you yawning yet? Well, it’s not that interesting in my telling of it here, but the novel makes the story sing. Main character Sira Quiroga begins as a somewhat selfish but beautiful young woman who works with her mother as a seamstress in Madrid. She ends up running away with a very handsome man, who ends up double-crossing her, stealing from her and leaving her with a huge hotel bill. From there she must work her way back, pay back her debts and rebuild her life. The backdrop to this love betrayal is the war, which is escalating on all fronts in Europe, including Spain.

As you know, if you are a regular reader of this blog, I always look at the beginning of books, their first sentences. Here’s how The Time In Between begins:

A typewriter shattered my destiny.

And yes, if it wasn’t for the typewriter, Sira would never have met the lover who wooed her away from her “safe” fiance, thus setting into motion the entire rest of the book, including her foray into espionage.

In some editions, this book is entitled The Seamstress and sewing and fashion are the threads that run through this book.

Why is it important to read books like this, yes, even though I am reluctant to admit it—books wihich have been translated? It opens up a whole new realm of understanding for us. We get a peek into a different culture, to find a new way of thinking, a new way of feeling.

We are seeing first hand in our world what xenophobia does - when we constantly look at people as "other" and different. It’s done to us, and by us. When we constantly look at the numbers of walls we can build around ourselves, rather than the bridges of understanding, when we want to to fortress ourselves rather than tables of understanding, we are sure to shatter.

I love the motto of our Canadian province of Quebec — Je me souviens which means simply, "I remember."

When the motto was unveiled this was said about it:

"The province of Quebec has a motto of which she is proud and which she likes enough to carve it on her monuments and palaces. This motto has only three words: "Je me souviens"; but these three words, in their simple economy of expression, are worth more than the most eloquent speeches. Yes, we remember. We remember the past and its lessons, the past and its misfortunes, the past and its glories.

It’s important to look back, to never remove the ravages of war from our collective memories. The telling of war stories should never end, until maybe one day when we'll "get" it.

For more on the Spanish civil war click here.

And now a question for my readers - I would love to watch the movie version of this book, but can’t seem to find it online. It doesn’t seem to be rentable on iTunes Movies or Netflix. Anyone know where I can watch this? Here is the movie trailer.

Next time: A look into a young adult book (YA in the vernacular) and written in verse, and worth reading - for everyone. Totally Unfamous

Thursday, February 11, 2016

How To Start Something New (A kayak lesson)

Today I Like It takes a different turn. I'm not reviewing and endorsing a book but instead will be recommending kayaking. But wait, if kayaking interests you about as much as BASE jumping off the CN Tower, have no fear, this post isn’t only about kayaking. It’s about starting something—trying any new thing—at whatever age you happen to be.

Two years ago I had never sat inside a kayak. It looked like it might be “fun,” but I was way too old to try a new sport, wasn’t I? Nevertheless, I looked with longing at kayakers on the television, in videos, on Facebook, or on the lakes and rivers near my home. “Is it fun? Is it easy to learn?”

Yes and yes, I was told.

My first kayak was a molded plastic one of the kind that are available at any department store. In other words, it wasn’t a real kayak but more of a toy. Since I really wanted to try it, maybe this would be a good introduction. So, for my birthday, my husband bought for me a bright yellow 8 foot plastic kayak. I kayaked that summer, mostly around our sailboat, since that’s where we kept it. I loved it.

Then came last winter when we were in Florida and had the use of two Old Town Loon Kayaks, My first reaction when I got inside was - there was something wrong. I was barely paddling at all and I was going. Fast. And straight. Was there a current? How could there be a current on a lake? This was not my experience with my beloved yellow plastic kayak. I learned that this is what kayaks are supposed to do— track straight in the water and go pretty fast. 

This past summer we gave my yellow kayak to a grandson and bought two Old Town Heron 11’ kayaks. We probably spent more of our summer kayaking than we did sailing. And now we are thinking of trading in our Heron 11XTs for two of the brand new Loon 126s

To me kayaking is sort of like swimming, and I adore swimming. Oddly, I go back in my memory and I can’t remember a time when I had to learn how to swim. It just always seemed that I knew. When I see water I want to be in it. Because you’re so close to the water level in a kayak, it fills my swimming need.

Kayaking is only one of a number of new things I have done since I have officially entered my dotage. I’ve become an Indie author, and if you scroll back—way back—in my blog, I write about leaving Christian publishing to write mainstream mysteries and publish them independently. I chose to ignore the voices that said, “You’re too old to try something new. You’ll lose all your readers…”

Maybe the voices have been partly right, but I’m gathering new readers, and I’m enjoying what I’m doing. And that's what it's about.

I’ve also, in my dotage, had another look at the faith I grew up with. Am I too old to believe a new thing? I wrote about that in my previous post where I endorsed the book Faith Shift. 

As well, since January of this year I have taken up colored pencil drawing. This began rather timidly with a colouring book. This past spring with some birthday money, I bought said colouring book and a package of colored pencils. I ended up loving it. I loved all the mixtures of colors I could get on the page. It was almost like fingerprinting.

A month ago I decided that maybe it might be fun to draw my own pictures and color them. Now, I had never drawn anything before in my life. Both my father and mother were talented artists. I have a brother who is a super phenomenal artist, and a very creative sister, but I always thought the "creative" gene for me landed in writing rather than visual arts, so I never even tried.

Well, after enjoying color and colouring so much, I decided what the heck? Why don’t I just “try” drawing? So I did, and I’m loving it. And something else wonderful is happening to me. For the first time I am noticing things—the cracks in the sidewalks and what color they are, and can I duplicate that on the paper? A week ago in church I was mesmerized by the chalice and bread on the table at front, the way the sun from the skylight shone down on it causing little dots of white to appear all over one side of it. White. Yes they were white. Could I mimic that? Maybe.

There are many examples of people starting late in life to do things and succeeding. Here are just a few (some require no explanation):

Colonel Sanders

Grandma Moses

The 77 year old body builder Ernestine Shepherd

Helen Hooven Santmyer whose first novel was published when she was 88

My friend Richard Mabry whose first novel was published until he was 70 and now with 9 novels under his belt and in his 80s he’s still going strong.

My friend’s mother who, when she was 88 decided she’d had crooked teeth long enough and got braces. Her teeth straightened so well, and the dentist was so proud of his work, he put her in his local TV commercial. She was then 90.

Another friend who began kayaking when she was 75 and it has become a favorite summer activity for her.

And then there is my writer friend Martha Rogers who started writing novels when she was 63, but didn’t get published until she was 73. Now, at almost 80 she’s still writing every day and has written and published 13 novels, 3 novellas and has Indie published a novella.

A week ago we while kayaking here in Florida, we went through a portal and ended up in heaven. I swear this is true, We were kayaking on Chassahowitzka River. I thought - I would have missed this if I hadn’t simply tried something new two years ago. It was almost too beautiful to be there. 

This thought, which I'd seen on a poster, came to me: 

Religion is sitting in church and thinking about kayaking. Spirituality is sitting in a kayak and thinking about God.

And if perchance, you are interested in my colored pencil art, all of my pictures are up on my Pinterest site. But please be kind, I’ve only been drawing and colouring for a month.

Next time:  The Time In Between by Maria Dueñas