Saturday, May 18, 2013
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie, had been on my list of "need to read" books for too long. I finally purchased the book last week and read it in 3 days. I have read many books about the "Re-education" of the educated middle class in China, all of which brought me the kind of horror you feel in your heart and stomach....that sinking feeling you get when you realize that horrible things can happen in any society, at any time, with just a slight tilt of the universe. Dai Sijie's story, set in 1971 China, tells about the re-education of two friends in their late teens, sons of medical professionals. Western books are banned and craved by the narrator and his friend, Luo. Also greatly admired is the lovely seamstress, the object of their dreams and obsessions.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Sunday, May 12, 2013
In June of 1941, with the Germans closing in on Leningrad, intent on destroying the city in its entirety, those who worked at The Hermitage, and those citizens who loved it, worked tirelessly to pack over a million art treasures. They were loaded onto two trains which safely evacuated the art they contained to the Urals, until the war and siege ended in 1945. Spending days packing, sometimes for 23 hours at a time without a rest, and nights on fire watch on The Hermitage building complex's roof, Marina and the other volunteers lived with little sleep and less food, as they preserved the collected art history of Europe and Asia.
Told from Marina's perspective, as both an elderly, Alzheimer-threatened woman who emigrated to the United States after the war, and as a young worker at the Hermitage, the story weaves tales of war, suffering, hunger and love for art into a compelling narrative. The Madonnas of Leningrad is also told from the perspective of her daughter, who gives us a side to war survivors that many of us have seen, that of people who have seen such horrors, that they choose not to speak of it. Marina and her husband, Dmitri, have lived a long, full life after the war, and only reflect on their past experiences when age and dementia shuffle their memories.
I highly recommend both reading this book and looking at the website for The Hermitage, www.hermitagemuseum.org. The facts of the story and the human side represented in this novel bring a clarity to a part of WWII that many of us rarely hear about, The Siege of Leningrad.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
The biography, Dearie, by Bob Spitz, enlightens readers about Julia's youth, her west coast upbringing, her service during the war and, ultimately, her love affair with her husband, Paul Child. It opens the door to Julia, the person, as well as Julia the chef.
I loved learning that Julia was highly driven, competitive and absolutely adored men, especially those she called "real He-men"! She always appeared to be so "off the cuff" in her life and work, an impression that she cultivated but one that was absolutely untrue. She was obsessed with the details- all would be planned, researched and rehearsed, step by step, before a recipe or tv show was ready to be used or viewed. She was also a natural performer. She could roll with any gaffe and had a wicked sense of humor. All in all, Dearie was a delight and I recommend reading Dearie for anyone who is just as curious about Julia the person as Julia the chef.