When I read a description of the book The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris, I was intrigued by its premise and placed a hold on a digital copy from my library once I found out that one was available. Its story is set at the end of the US Civil War and the beginnings of the Reconstruction era when the north followed through on its pledge to do the work to end slavery in the southern states. To be honest, I find stories from this era to be difficult to read because of how terribly slaves were treated. It is unfathomable that the white people of that time believed so completely in their superiority that they treated other human beings so horribly. This era is one of the most shameful in human history. Nonetheless, I read it anyway because I cannot turn down the power and the sense of possibility of what a good book can give.
This harrowing tale centers around a small white family living on a large swath of inherited land that borders several plantations that are worked by slaves. Two black brothers, who were slaves owned by a local and particularly cruel land baron, left one of these neighboring plantations as freed men. Their lives become intricately intertwined with this small white family, for better or worse. Embedded within all of the ensuing complexity is an illicit romantic affair between two white men and former soldiers who secretly meet deep in the woods to spend time together.
This is a good book. Its steady pacing and complex characters drive its plot to places that are unsettling to experience but necessary. It offers a case study in the ways by which racism can decimate any sense of human decency and compassion and a primer on what it means to care for others in times of immense struggle and sorrow.
Is it a lighthearted, easy, and fun book to read?
But it is a book that has a lot of depth and layers, in which actions and consequences are at odds with what is just and fair. It takes the bonds between parent and child, friend and friend, brother and brother, lover and lover, individual and community, and husband and wife into situations in which they become strained and gutted. Up until the final page, we find out which bonds survive.
This is one of those books I hope everyone gets a chance to read for the important example it gives of how racism breeds nothing but destruction. There are plenty of fun and lighthearted books available to read, but it takes a book like this one to see a much bigger and broader view of the world—a panoramic vista that shows us what we need to see.
Writer Kazuo Ishiguro is as accomplished as an author can get. As a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature (among several accolades), he has written novels such as The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go that have resonated with audiences all over the world. Each novel submerges the reader completely into the mind and sensibilities of its characters. Ishiguro’s writing is self-assured and crystalline in its delivery and style. In his new novel just released this year entitled Klara and the Sun, Ishiguro is in mighty, top form.
The story of this novel takes places somewhere in the not-too-distant future. Ishiguro incrementally unravels what this future world looks like, and it is striking to see how believable he makes it all feel. Klara, the titular character, is a robot—one that was designed to act as a companion and confidante for children and teenagers. She is an incredibly sensitive and highly sophisticated piece of machinery that can engage with humans in, well, very human-like ways.
Klara conveys empathy by remembering every nuance of behavior that she observes around her. She aggregates all of the data she compiles to inform how she interacts with the child who keeps her. Internally, she actively questions all she sees and any contradictions she comes across. Her mission is to support the child and his/her wellbeing as completely as possible. The sun and its solar energy are her power sources, and as such, she is a robust and efficient machine that can run itself for as along as possible.
This premise alone is fascinating, but the story itself is incredibly well-crafted. I found myself sighing at the end, which I will not give away here. What Ishiguro offers up in this book is an analysis of the shortcomings of humanity, despite its blistering ambition and technical powers.
If you are looking for an absorbing book that is as tenderhearted as it is disturbing, this book may be right up your alley. Ishiguro, once again, schools the rest of us over how it’s done. He builds depth and complexity out of subtlety and nuance. What appears to be a gentle slap to the face is actually a tight-fisted, forceful punch to the gut. You won’t know what it you.
Once in a while, I come across a book that I simply cannot put down. Reading today’s featured book was one of those instances. I was visiting the lovely library in Woodbury, TN, when I saw this book prominently displayed at the end of a bookshelf. I grabbed it off its little pedestal and read the synopsis on the back cover. I was intrigued enough to check it out, and boy am I grateful that I did!
Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple was an absolute joy to read! To be clear, this is not a new book, but it is new to me. Originally published back in 2012, it caused enough of a sensation to warrant a film adaption of its story starring the luminous Cate Blanchette in the lead role. I have not seen the movie yet, but you can bet your Asian dollar, bottom dollar, and Asian bottom dollar that I will do so very soon.
Because I am a fan of bullet polka dot points, let’s start with the pros:
Steady, even pacing. This story never lags in its telling.
No one-dimensional characters. This is one element that makes this book truly special.
An endearing lead character. The main character Bernadette is a messy, sarcastic, misanthrope who I absolutely adored.
Antarctica. I’ll just leave it at that.
It’s funny—as in a quirky, catch-you-off-guard kind of funny.
What are the cons? Well, honestly, none that I can think of. This book offers up a robust plot line whose foundation is built on a mother-daughter relationship. What is there not to love about that? The city of Seattle, where the story is set, is given a hilarious treatment that probably many Seattle folks would not appreciate, but it is funny nonetheless.
Is this book a piece of classic literature? Probably not, but that should not be the objective of every book.
I opened this book and started reading. I laughed and road along its light-hearted (but quite beautiful, actually) roller-coaster ride of a story. And I felt better for it.
If there’s any objective a book should accomplish, that is certainly it.