Thursday, September 29, 2011

State of Wonder

Title:  State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Publication Information:  Harper. 2011. 365 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book because of a familiarity with the author's work.

Favorite Quote"Never be so focused on what you're looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find."

State of Wonder is the story of Dr. Marina Singh, a doctor who now works for a pharmaceutical company. The company is funding a drug development program in Brazil. The book begins as Dr. Singh discovers that a colleague who traveled to Brazil to report on the project is reported dead. She herself travels to Brazil to try and determine what happens.

Her journey is one of discovery about herself, her colleague, the project, and the culture. In addition, the story delves into her memories of her childhood, thoughts of her father who could not bridge cultural gaps to keep his family together, nightmares from a drug reaction, mistakes and people from her past, and reflections on her life and relationships as a whole.

I am left wondering what this book was really about. The book has a somewhat hypnotic and surreal tone that keeps you reading. However, it left me unsatisfied at the end waiting for a resolution. The book is a personal story of this one character. It is also an implicit discussion of medical ethics, ethics of pharmaceutical development, and ethics of going into, adapting to, and/or changing the indigenous cultures of an area. The book does do an effective job of highlighting these issues.

Most of the book focuses on one set of characters and builds the plot and characters in one direction. The end of the story comes from what seems to be a completely separate direction and leaves you wondering, "Where did that come from?". I am still wondering.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One Summer

Title:  One Summer
Author:  David Baldacci
Publication Information:  Hachette Book Group. 2011. 335 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on the publicity for the author.

Favorite Quote"You should respect the past. You should never forget the past. But you can't live there."

One summer is true departure for David Baldacci. From the world of action, adventure, espionage, and thrills to the world of family story and romance. The book tells the story of the Armstrong family - Jack, Lizzie, and their three children. Christmas is coming. Jack is terminally ill and hoping to making to Christmas and hoping to complete his goodbyes. On Christmas Eve, Lizzie is killed in a care accident. Over the next few months, Jack miraculously recovers and tries to put his family back together.

The story is one of loss, love, and guilt. How do you prepare for a loss of a loved one? What happens when the loss you face is not the one you expected? How do you regroup? Does love end with death? How do you deal with survivor's guilt? Jack was the one who was supposed to die. Yet he is alive. Lizzie was supposed to be there, and yet is gone. How do you allow yourself to move on?

The book has a predictable story line - Jack's guilt, the children's reactions, the move, the sympathetic neighbors, and the prospect of new relationships. As such, the characters do not appear dynamic and do not spark sympathy or emotions. The plot and end seem contrived. Not a really bad story but not a memorable and interesting one either. A quick summer read more in line with the books of Nicholas Sparks and Danielle Steel rather than David Baldacci.

The Memory Palace

Title:  The Memory Palace
Author:  Mira Bartok
Publication Information:  Free Press, Simon and Schuster. 2011. 305 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on a Facebook post between friends.

Favorite Quote:   "When you die, there are always two dates, the one you were born on and the date you left this earth. The important dates are the ones in between. Whatever you do in this'll be remembered for something."

The Memory Palace is a memoir which tells of Mira Bartok's life growing up and living with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia . The book begins at the end as Mira rediscovers her mother who is nearing the end of her life. It then proceeds to describe the process of their life in snapshots as rooms in Mira's "memory palace."

The memory palace is a tool that associates our memories with a concrete place and object. Your palace has rooms, and each room has a significant object which triggers memories and emotions. Mira uses this tool as she struggles to rediscover her mother and also her own memories as she recovers from a head injury.

This book is a difficult read because of the strong emotions it elicits. The book makes you cringe at the extremely difficult situation Mira and her sister live with. Yet the book also talks about her overriding love for her mother, her lifelong desire to be able to help her mother, and the heartbreaking decisions she made to survive the situation.

Despite the strong emotions in the book or really maybe because of them, it is a also hard book to put down. I wanted to protect Mira and her sister. I wanted to help their mother. I wanted to question the people around them to see what more could have been done. I imagined what I would have done. I wasn't ready to be done when the book ended because I want to know what happened after.

This is a story told from the heart and meant to be read from the heart.