Sunday, May 30, 2010

Getting Ready for Orange July 2010

Orange Prize for FictionI am very excited about this year's Orange July, and I hope you all will join the fun. As a reminder, Orange July is when you commit to read at least one book that has won or been nominated for the Orange Prize.

As you think about what books to read, here are some helpful links:

Past Orange Prize Winners and Nominees
2010 Orange Prize Long List
2010 Orange Prize Short List
Orange Prize Project Blog
Orange January/July Facebook page
Orange Prize on Twitter
Orange January/July on Twitter

#opf2010 - if you tweet about Orange Prize 2010
#ojj - if you tweet about Orange July

Are you planning on participating in Orange July? Make sure to leave a comment to let us know - and please spread the word on your blog, Facebook page or Twitter profile!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison (Jill)

The Very Thought of You
By Rosie Alison
Completed May 21, 2010

Before being shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize, The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison had not been reviewed by a major literary critic. Now, many reviewers and book lovers are catching up, and reviews are coming in about this dark horse in the Orange Prize race.

The Very Thought of You begins right before England declares war on Germany during the Second World War. Eight-year-old Anna Sands is beginning her journey as a refugee to the English countryside, dispatched by her mother who feared London would be bombed during the war. Anna arrives at the estate owned by a childless couple, Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton. There, Anna assimiliates to a new routine with school, friends and country life. She witnesses, though, conflicts of love and lust that are well beyond her years.

Alison’s depiction of England and the child refugee’s life was eluminating. It’s amazing the sacrifices the English made during this time. Despite the atrocities of war, “regular” life trudged on – a poetry assignment, the purchase of blankets, a daily prayer.

While the historical aspects of The Very Thought of You were interesting, the numerous love issues of the adult characters were troubling. Three marriages were in shambles, with couples cheating on each other, and a general sense of selfishness was abound. It was adultery overkill. Alison should have focused on the demise of one couple, Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, who presented the most interesting case of why a marriage could fail. The rest of the love affairs distracted from the story.

Despite this, I was enamored by Alison’s characters, especially Anna, and intrigued by the historic setting of the story. Alison’s writing style was swift and moving. I would recommend The Very Thought of You to anyone interested in the lives of those on the British homefront during World War II. ( )

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Lizard Cage - Wendy's Review

Men have often reduced his voice to gasps and weeping. They have crushed the power to speak from his body, from many bodies. But words written down outlive the vulnerability of the flesh. His songs still fly through the air like swallows. Recorded words can be passed along. In one form or another they will be passed along. Movement is their essential nature. – from The Lizard Cage, page 138 -

Teza is a Burmese singer, a man whose voice and songs fills the hearts of those who are horrified by the military dictatorship who has slaughtered thousands and silenced even more. It is for his voice that Teza is arrested and imprisoned in “the cage”…a prison where torture and starvation are the norm. Karen Connelly’s absorbing novel centers around Teza and his imprisonment…and it is a heartbreaking story.

As a practicing Buddhist, Teza feels enormous guilt when he is driven to kill the lizards in his prison cell in order to avoid starvation. He attempts to live a spiritual life, often meditating to survive the brutality within the walls of his confinement. Teza befriends the senior jailer, Chit Naing, a man who is sickened by the treatment of prisoners and sympathizes with those who are against the government.

Teza refused to act like a prisoner, which freed Chit Naing from acting like a jailer. For Chit Naing, the illicit friendship was dangerous, though he was sure he could trust Sammy not to betray them. – from The Lizard Cage, page 87 -

After a particularly brutal beating, Teza is moved from solitary confinement to another part of the prison where he meets a twelve year old boy. “Little Brother” has grown up in the cage after being orphaned and is not a prisoner – instead he lives among the guards and prisoners…a lost boy who is seeing far more than any child should see.

This place of brick buildings and high walls is his school and his playground and his home. He does not think of it as strange. He remembers-forgets playing with other children in the village, a long, long time ago – when he was very small. In their kindly misguided way, the Thais are right, and the boy agrees: the prison is no place for little children. Fortunately he is not a little child. The screams in the middle of the night, the sounds of torture, the growls and stifled cries of fighting, of men raping, being raped, the stench of human shit in the dog cells, the clear evidence of men going mad or becoming cruel, the sight of men sobbing, of men dying: he is old enough to know about these things. – from The Lizard Cage, page 190 -

The Lizard Cage is a brutal, searing novel…but it is about far more than the violence within the walls of a Burmese prison. This is a book which examines freedom – the freedom to speak, to read, to write – freedoms which are staunched and punished in a country where the military dictatorship controls everything. In Connelly’s novel, the endurance of the human spirit is revealed as Teza refuses to hate those who imprison him, as a guard makes the choice to be human rather than follow orders, as a hardened criminal protects and nurtures a young boy, and as that young boy learns that in a world of violence there may be those he can trust.

A pen and paper become symbols of freedom in The Lizard Cage – objects that seem so small, and yet represent something much larger.

As long as there is paper, people will write, secretly, in small rooms, in the hidden chambers of their minds, just as people whisper the words they’re forbidden to speak aloud. – from The Lizard Cage, page 57 -

The Lizard Cage is beautifully crafted, honest, and relentlessly heartbreaking. I grew to love Teza, a man who should have no hope and yet is able to still find beauty in the world…a spider spinning her web in his cell, the industriousness of the ants in the walls, and the blueness of the sky seen through a small window. Teza’s hope and love radiates out from him changing the life of one of his jailers, and touching the life of a small boy whose future is still ahead of him. In a novel which reveals the worst that humanity has to offer, Teza becomes a bright and shining example of hope and goodness.

Connelly’s writing is beautiful. I marked passage after passage as I read. Tears pricked at my eyes. I held my breath as I turned pages, afraid for the characters. I just could not stop reading, even when I knew the story would not have a happy ending for at least one of the characters. Novels like this one are a testament to the power of words and stories.

Karen Connelly won the 2007 Orange Prize for New Writers for The Lizard Cage – and it is evident why she won this prize. Although Connelly does not spare her reader the violence and torture found inside Burmese prisons, she allows for hope and the beauty of the human spirit.

I was immensely touched by this novel. It made me cry. It made me angry. It made me appreciate the courage of artists living in Burma. It made my heart bleed for the children caught in the chaos. The Lizard Cage is a must read for those who do not want to hide from the realities of our world. Hope for change is in speaking and writing about that which we would rather not hear.

Highly Recommended.

Monday, May 10, 2010

2010 Orange Award for New Writers - Short List

On April 13th, the short list for the 2010 Orange Award for New Writers was announced:

The Book of Fires, by Jane Borodale
The Boy Next Door, by Irene Sabatini
After the Fire, A Still Small Voice, by Evie Wyld

2010 - Orange Prize Short List

I'm a bit late posting this...the Orange Prize judges chose a short list on April 20th and these were the selected titles:

The Very Thought of You, by Rosie Alison
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
Black Water Rising, by Attica Locke
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, by Monique Roffey

The winner will be selected on June 9th.