Book review: Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

38664775*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Sea Prayer

Author: Khaled Hosseini

Publisher: Viking Books

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

ISBN: 9780735236783

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A short, powerful, illustrated book written by beloved novelist Khaled Hosseini in response to the current refugee crisis, Sea Prayer is composed in the form of a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey. Watching over his sleeping son, the father reflects on the dangerous sea-crossing that lies before them. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Homs, Syria, before the war, and of that city’s swift transformation from a home into a deadly war zone. Impelled to write this story by the haunting image of young Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed upon the beach in Turkey in September 2015, Hosseini hopes to pay tribute to the millions of families, like Kurdi’s, who have been splintered and forced from home by war and persecution, and he will donate author proceeds from this book to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and The Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help fund lifesaving relief efforts to help refugees around the globe. 

It’s been a long while since a book has moved me so easily to tears, but this illustrated story inspired by the young boy whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey, conveys through art the intense struggle of the refugees fleeing Syria in search of safety. Illustrated by Dan Williams in incredible watercolour, Sea Prayer, moves from a beautiful and vibrant portrait of a pre-war Syria fields, markets, and food–a place where people of many faiths coexist and respect one another–through the rise of darkness and war. The tones change from such colour, to oppressive greys and browns devoid of life and hope.

This epistolary story, from a father to a son, tells the stark truth of this family’s life. The father, like any father, wants only the best for his son. This story is desperate and regretful, a prayer almost, hoping for life, but fearing death. It shows the deep and unwavering faith that children place in their parents and how parents bring joy to their children, shielding them as best they can from the horrors of the world. Through word and stunning visuals, Hosseini and Williams jointly share a tale that is to relevant, honest, and raw. They share absolute truth. It is a story that we all need to read and understand.

I would highly recommend this story. It’s short–a picture book–so it’s an incredibly quick read, but the emotions it brings with it are surprising and fierce. It’s an intensely moving story, but as Hosseini impressed us with The Kite Runner and A Thousands Splendid Suns, so too did he impress me with Sea Prayer.


Book review: The Waiter by Matias Faldbakken

38657796*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Waiter

Author Matias Faldbakken

Translator: Alice Menzies

Publisher: Gallery Books/Scout Press

Publication Date: October 9, 2018

ISBN: 9781501197529

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In a centuries-old European restaurant called The Hills, a middle-aged waiter takes pride in the unchangeable aspects of his job: the well-worn uniform, the ragged but solid tablecloths, and the regular diners. Some are there daily, like Graham “Le Gris”—also known as The Pig—and his dignified group of aesthetes; the slightly more free-spirited drinking company around Tom Sellers; and the closest one can get to personal friends of the waiter, Edgar and his young daughter, Anna. In this universe unto itself, there is scarcely any contact between the tables…until a beautiful and well-groomed young woman walks through the door and upsets the delicate balance of the restaurant and all it has come to represent.

I’m sad to say that I did not enjoy Faldbakken’s The Waiter. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what this book is about. It fell very flat and was full of two-dimensional characters whose purposes I am not certain about. The story is told from the perspective of a waiter who takes great pride in his job. He is able to execute his roll in the dining room with precision, but keeps a very formal relationship established between himself and the patrons. Beyond that, the story really lost me. It seems to be more of a fly-on-the-wall scenario, observing the inner workings of the customers at this restaurant, with no real plot to move this story along. The characters are flat, with no real personality or relate-ability.

This story did remind me a lot of a Food in Victorian Literature course that I took in my undergrad. This course was a fascinating study on the meaning of food within literature, indicating wealth, poverty, excess, happiness, etiquette, status, and so much more. We did a study on gastronomy and changing trends in the serving of food. If I were to really do an in depth study of the food in this book, perhaps I could glean more meaning, but I still feel as though the lack of authenticity and connection with the characters would still leave me wanting more.

I feel particularly disappointed in this book because I was so enthralled by the cover and with the description. It really sounded like a story that was going to be right up my alley. My expectations were high and they were sadly not met. I was going to call this one a DNF, but I really wanted to give it a change. In the end, it really wasn’t a story for me.

Book Review: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

39172103.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Women Talking

Author: Miriam Toews

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: August 21, 2018

ISBN: 9780735273962

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events. The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak.

Women Talking is a tough and heavy read of a novel, but it highlights the very real struggle that exists for women in some cultures and living situations today. In Women Talking, the main characters–who are also all victims of a heinous and ongoing sexual crime–do not have a voice. They are illiterate and uneducated, not by their own choosing, but by the circumstances and the laws of their community  They are, perhaps for the first time in their life, called to a position of autonomy in order to make a decision that affects not only them, but their children, grandchildren, and generations to follow them. These women lived in a patriarchal, conservative Mennonite community.

This story is based on real life events of the repeated rape of women and girls in an isolated Mormon community. These women were attacked in their homes by those they trusted most. They were told that these violent acts against them were God’s punishment for their sins. They were told that it was simply ghosts or demons. They were also told that because these acts happened to them when they were unconscious, that they were not in need of counselling or therapy because they didn’t really experience them. All of these things were told to the women by the men that they’d always known and trusted.

Now in the aftermath of these horrid acts, these women are forced to make a decision. They can stay and do nothing, forgiving the men so that they can all achieve salvation and join God in Heaven. They can stay and fight, which stands in direct opposition to their faith’s law of pacifism. Or they can leave and face a modern world that they do not know with nothing but their wits and one another to aid them. These women struggle with their incredible belief in God and their desire to live piously, while at the same time protecting themselves and their children. They want to uplift God and uphold their faith, yet find safety, refuge, and knowledge for themselves. This story is especially prevalent as we experience the #metoo movement. These women have no voice at all–even their story must be told by a man because these women cannot read nor right. Although August does his best to record what the women are saying, his story is not without the male gaze as he interrupts with his own observations, musings, and interjections.

This story is absolutely incredible. It’s well written, it’s poignant, and it’s thoughtful. August is an excellent narrator, although his position as the narrator is inherently flawed. This story is heart-breaking. It’ll ignite a fury in your heart and open your soul to these women. These female characters are so intelligent, yet they have not been given the space to really grow and take ownership of their lives until now. Miriam takes them on an incredible journey as they discuss their situation together.

I would highly recommend this book. It’s so relevant in our world today. Miriam opened my eyes to a world I knew little about, but it’s a world full of women who are not so different from myself, who deserve to be heard, and loved, and understood.