Calypso, David Sedaris, author and narrator

calypsoAs a rule, when authors read their own books, I am not a fan, however, since Sedaris presents his stories on stage regularly, he is an expert at the reading of his book. His presentation is spot on, with just the right amount of inflection in his tone to present his subtle interjection of humor into the most unexpected subjects where one would not ever expect to laugh.

I was not happy with all of the pieces presented since some were raunchier than I prefer. Still, because the foul language and inappropriate references were peppered throughout, it was not heavy handed. The sprinkling of vulgarity did not become overpowering. In some ways, he reminds me of Stephen Wright, a deadpan comedian that can make you laugh out loud, surprising yourself, when his meaning hits you, catching you off guard.

As Sedaris talks about the most mundane subjects, across the spectrum of joy and grief, pride and shame, guilt and innocence, the reader can’t help but chuckle under ones’ breath or right out loud.

Many of the pieces in the book have already been published or presented on stage, but for me, they were new experiences. As he describes his homosexuality, his relationships with various friends and family, his acknowledgment of middle age, his father’s aging, his mother’s death, his sister’s suicide, his various health crises, the readers will notice their feelings riding the rollercoaster of emotions. All of his subjects bring his stories into their reality. All will eventually, or will already, have had to deal with the range of life’s journeys that he describes with all of the varied thoughts and sensations they cause.

When he describes himself as very mischievous, even rebellious and perhaps a troubled, insecure young man, his struggles becomes universal. He grew up in a world that did not completely accept or acknowledge him, nor did it deal openly with the problems he faced. So many subjects enter into his tales. Some, like politics, addiction, death, and mental illness will make you wonder that you are even laughing at such a subject. Beach vacations, the care of various wildlife and meal preparation will more naturally touch your heart and funny bone.  Even capitalism enters some of his stories as he describes how proud he is to have a home with a guest room, his idea of the pinnacle of material achievement.

Having just finished Zadie Smith’s book of essays, “Feel Free”, this was almost a culture shock. Where her subjects are incredibly intellectual and require a slow reading, his are easy to listen to and can be described as emotional. Where hers encourage thought, his encourage feeling, but both have redeeming features as one instructs the reader and the other offers the reader a catharsis. Both, however, present a philosophy of life that is worth contemplating further. We all grow old; we all have to deal with disappointment; we all have to deal with life and hopefully find a way to happily muddle through.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Non-Fiction | Leave a comment

Feel Free, Zadie Smith, author; Nikki Amuka-Bird, narrator

feel freeTo be honest, I wanted to stop listening to this book on many occasions because, at times, it was over my head. However, the spectacular quality of the narrator’s reading voice and accent coupled with the magnificent prose of the author kept making me return, even when I could not quite understand the essay, because I could always understand the narrator’s interpretation, and therefore, get some message from the piece.

This admittedly left-leaning author admits that she wrote these essays during the time of Obama’s reign. She adores him and views Trump as a harbinger of disaster. Now, a year and a half into his Presidency, I do not know if her view has changed, but as a committed Liberal, I doubt it. Whether or not it has changed, had no bearing on my appreciation of her essays. I found, though, that she introduces race, and her own view of it, very often, During Obama’s term, I believe the public became more willing to hear alternate views, even when they conflicted with their own, opening a window that seemed, previously, to be kept purposely opaque.

Although I did not find this discussed in reviews, which surprised me, her analysis of race and racial issues, especially as someone who is biracial, is far different than my own, as a white person, on many levels, which leads me to believe that the divide between the the races when interpreting life situations, is far broader and wider than generally understood. As a person of the Jewish faith, as well, I can understand suspicion, fear and even animosity toward some, but I don’t find the negative perceptions and perhaps grudges that are held against some who represent past heinous behavior, as pervasive in my life, as it seemed to come across with regard to her perceptions in her life and the life of others of color. Still, I found many of her arguments had merit and were worthy of further thought and introspection. Overall, I found, for me, the point is to get each party to come to the middle, to try and understand the divide and bridge the gap. I am hoping that I will better understand her views and be able to reconcile them with my own.

Smith writes on a variety of topics. I don’t even pretend to understand all of her ideas or her philosophy or even her selection of subject matter, at times, but I admired the power of her words, so expressive and analytical were they. The words just seemed to naturally come forth from this author’s hand, in spite of the fact that she disparages her lack of education and laments the fact that so many others with far greater degrees have achieved far less than she has. Yet, so many of the better educated can’t seem to put two intelligent words together to make a sentence that paints any image and she paints masterpieces with her vocabulary.

Some of the topics she discusses are libraries and what they represent to her and the world, socialism and how it served her needs when she was growing up without having everything she wanted or needed, climate change and the perception of some she views as less than bright, the insect world and our perception of it. She analyzes films and comedy skits, art and artists, different forms of music and composers, writers and their intentions, dancers and their identities, realism vs. idealism, the gap that exists between classes, the current immigration policy compared with how it used to be, relationships in families and with friends, suicides, illness, Brexit, Comedy Central and the stars it created, compassion, the internet and its pitfalls, being biracial in a white world, the injustice of the justice system and more.

Her book sometimes reads like a who’s who with so many names dropped, some familiar, some less so, like Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Philip Roth, Jay Z, Beyonce, Sorkin, Zuckerberg, Schopenhauer, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Hurston, Nabokov, Emmett Till, Baryshnikov, Marquez, Astaire, Bojangles, Kelly, Nureyev, Prince, Murdock, Nigel Farage, and Michael Jackson, to name just some of the myriad personalities that appear in her essays and run the gamut of subject matter. She dissects each subject with a fine tooth comb and makes the reader really think about her message.

At one point, I felt like I was part of the narrative. She brought up the Marcy Housing Project, in Brooklyn, where Jay Z grew up, because as a young teacher, of 20 years, when I thought I could change the world and make it a better place, I taught the children that lived there. It was not an easy lifestyle to survive or a very nice place to live, even decades ago.

There is something for everyone in this book, but not everyone will be able to understand all of the essays. Truthfully, I am not a genius, but I consider myself fairly well educated, and I had trouble deciphering some. That is why I highly recommend it in print version, so it can be read in small doses and delved into more deeply. Each essay imparts an important message. The author’s choice of subject matter, diverse as it is, is very intriguing; the reader will be inspired and encouraged to seek more information to better understand Zadie Smith’s philosophy on each subject.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Non-Fiction | Leave a comment

Selection Day: A Novel Aravind Adiga (Author), Sartaj Garewal (Narrator)

selection.jpgCricket and the white uniforms worn by the heroes of the game are an obsession in India. It is also believed to be the path out of poverty for young boys, like sports is in the United States, and it is the main thread of the novel. The two young Kumar brothers, one 14 and the other not quite 16, have been raised by a slightly unhinged father to be the best cricket players in the world. Their mother left them shortly after they moved to the slums of Mombai. The oldest son, Radha, is told from the get-go that he is wonderful; he is the best at cricket. The younger son, Manju, is told that he is second best. This is Mohan’s wish for both of them when it comes to cricket. He is a father with rigid and quite peculiar rules for them to follow, in order to become the greatest at cricket. He has odd health beliefs and holds weekly inspections of their bodies to see if they are remaining immature and undeveloped. The best cricket players are short, compact not yet sexual or promiscuous in any way, as far as Mohan is concerned.
Radha, the elder brother, dreams of being picked to play for India on Selection Day, of being the greatest Batsman as he has been promised. Manju, on the other hand, is conflicted. He dreams of going to college and becoming a scientist. When the competition becomes so fierce that one brother is pitted against the other, the family begins to come apart. When the second son becomes the greater of the two, the older descends into uncontrollable anger after which he runs away. The youngest becomes the better cricket player, but he is unsure of who or what he is. His sexuality remains an enigma to him. Brother turns against brother and son against father for forcing them into a life that is not fulfilling their dreams.
The father becomes involved with a talent scout who is influential in the cricket game. He makes it possible for them to move from the slums into decent housing in Mombai. All the people involved are interested in their bottom line, their end profit, and the boys are simply the means to that end. They are the tools of the trade. They all want to own the next great cricket player and to make money off his talent. The promise is made that Radha will be chosen on Selection Day to play for India. It is, however, several years away, and in the intervening years, the boys struggle with coming of age.
The brothers, each with different dreams, begin to reject and dislike their father intensely for the pressure he has put upon them to succeed, and their fear of failing him is mind numbing. They have been taught to have but one goal, and to pursue it with maddening effort, to become the greatest cricket players of all time, to be chosen to play for India on Selection Day.
Both brothers have the capacity for violence and cruelty. Hints of that kind of anger and that kind of irrational behavior having existed in other family members in the past, is revealed in stories related in the narrative. As they both come of age, the older brother matures and outgrows the typical successful image of the Cricket body. He begins to be a lesser star. The younger brother, on the other hand, much to his dismay, is able to succeed beyond his wildest dreams. He is obedient and practices. He pleases his father and his sponsors, but disappoints himself.
Manju has one friend who has given up the sport. He is wealthy and he constantly whispers in his ear and advises him to leave both his father and the cricket game. He tells him to come and live with him, to study and go to college and follow his own dreams. However, this friend also has a questionable nature and sexuality, a sexuality which in India is punished by a life in prison sentence.. As Manju struggles with his own thoughts on male and female attraction, this friend, Javed, is both a positive and negative influence on his behavior.
The novel is written in an authentic Indian voice. The reader has the perfect accent and intonation to impart the subtle humor and the often somber moments, with clarity.
The two brothers, badgered by their father, are brought up with Cricket as the most important effort of their lives. Their father’s obsession with their success to lift him out of poverty, coupled with his often bizarre beliefs, creates a picture of a country driven by Cricket, first and foremost, rather than by the thought of education to lift the masses out of the depths of their despair. Although the humor is frequent, it is sometimes tongue in cheek. What I understood made me smile. What I didn’t understand made me want to learn more about the situation.
There are folk tales strewn within the story, and one of the book’s truisms told by the father, Mohan, is that Indians are like elephants, their minds are chained to their masters, they cannot think on their own, cannot think for themselves, do as they are told. The fierce competition turned brother against brother and son against father because they were not allowed to think for themselves. Like the question posed about why boiling water turns to ice before cold water does, Manju’s confusion about his sexuality seems to remain an unknown as well when the final page is turned.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction | Leave a comment

Song of a Captive Bird, Jasmin Darznik, author; Mozhan Marnò, narrator

captiveWhen the author and her family left Iran because of the ongoing unrest, she discovered a book of poems by Forough Farrokzad, among her mother’s belongings. She became fascinated with the poetess who could not be said to have been born either before her time or wished to have been born after it, for even today, her place in time has not yet arrived. Yet her place in Iran’s history was and still is profound. She was a woman who found her voice, although the powers that be tried to silence her, and she was alternately praised or condemned for making it heard. Forough wrote poetry in Iran at a time when women did not write poetry or even work outside the home. Women, even before the Islamists took control, had little power of their own.

As the reader becomes drawn into the story, it will be hard to believe that it is a novel or that it is historic fiction, because the author, Jasmin Darznik, has imbued the character with a personality that is believable, that makes the character very authentic. I could not tell where the real and imagined parted ways. She gave Forough all the wisdom, strength and courage she needed in order to become the defiant young woman who affected so many lives in Iran, many positively, and some, even negatively. Although the story only covers about a decade and a half of Forough’s life, from her mid teens to her early thirties, it feels like it covers far more of the history of Iran since so much other information is imparted by the author with historical facts and through the inserted verses of Forough’s poetry. At the time of Farrokhzad’s life and even more so today, the men made the decisions and controlled the rules that governed the lives of women. They could be seen, but basically, not heard. Their opinions were not considered. Once the Islamists came to power and the Ayatollah became the supreme ruler, the women became even more unimportant; they became invisible, shrouded and silent.

Iran was a country that other countries wanted because of ifs oil. The United States had wanted that oil and had basically established rule in Iran. Under the Shah, there were seeds of unrest budding and blooming. There were Iranians who believed that the oil was theirs, and they wanted to control their own country. They resented the relationship that the Shah had with the West, the control the West had over their country’s economy, and the clash of the cultures which they found degrading to their own and to their women. There were even some Iranians who wanted to return to the traditional ways of Islam, the ways which gave women even less freedom, which demanded that they be covered and silent, completely divorced from having any influence on society.

Forough was just a teenager when her heart was stolen by a young man, just over a decade older than she was. He liked poetry and was the one who inspired her in that direction. When her mother discovered their secret relationship, she forced her to submit to a virginity test, which, although it proved she was a virgin, also accidentally stole her virginity from her. In the eyes of any observer, she would be tainted, since no blood could be shed on her wedding night. She had squirmed and the tool being used unfortunately slipped. She never revealed the truth, although she knew it, because she knew no one would believe her. However, that slip of the knife foretold the future tragedies in her life.

Forough was defiant and did not obey the mores of the times. She wrote poetry described often as risqué; she traveled alone and dressed immodestly at times. She had affairs of the heart which were shameful, at the time, and tongues wagged and unmercifully condemned her. Unscrupulous people, her father and husband among them, had her confined to an asylum when she refused to stop writing or to change her ways and return to her child, husband and his family. In the asylum, on a former beautiful estate, she was subjected to shock treatment and medications she did not need. She was not sick, she was not insane. She was only hungry for her own independence.

After she was rescued from the institution by a dear friend, her husband divorced her and obtained complete custody of their child. Her mother-in-law turned her son against her and made him fear her. Although her behavior was unconventional, she was sane. Although her behavior was sometimes promiscuous, she was not a whore, as she was often called. She was, however, someone who wrote her own rules, defied her own culture, and was punished by the behavior of those that disagreed with her. Still, she always knew one thing, she wanted to be free to think for herself, walk about by herself and make her own choices. She wanted her independence and resented her need to be dependent upon others. As she defined alternate mores for women, she was ridiculed and punished by those who had more power than she did and those who wanted more stringent rules. Still, she always seemed to manage to pull herself together and survive.

In her brief lifetime, she became an accomplished poetess, film director, and photographer. However, the fact that she was a paramour in a place that did not accept paramours, colored the perception others had of her. She was a woman out of her time or any other defined time period in Iran, for she would have less freedom, even today, than she had in the nineteen fifties and sixties.

Due to the cloistered nature of Iran, there is not much written about Forough that has survived, except for her poems. The poems reveal her life, as she drew on her own experiences in her verses. Because of her behavior, she lost her reputation, her family and her child. However, her intelligence and sensitivity shone brightly in her writing. Even with little education, she was able to convey her pain, her joy and sadness, and her desire for women’s rights and freedom. Her writing also illustrates the abuse and cruelty she and others suffered during her time of life in a world ruled by men and/or extremists of different stripes. She lived in a world in which a man could have many wives, but a woman could only have her arranged marriage; it was a time in which a man could discard a wife and even have her confined to a prison or insane asylum, simply to get her out of the way. There she would be subjected to cruel attendants, abusive treatments and doctors who also believed women should not have the right to make their own decisions, and there she would be helpless and hopeless. Has that much changed in Iran? I think it may have gotten worse. Do the women want freedom, or are they happy to be shielded from the world? One can only wonder. The one thing the reader will know, in the end, Forough was the mortal bird of the poem.

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction | Leave a comment

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil, authors; Robin Miles, narrator 

girl who smiled beadsAlthough Clemantine is still relatively young, she has lived a lifetime in that brief time, and her memoir is inspiring. In the face of enormous terror and danger, she survived, and actually, she eventually achieved great success. Somehow, she was always able to morph into the person she perceived she had to be in each traumatic situation, even when just a young child, barely kindergarten age. She managed to survive with the help of her sister Claire, who, 9 year older, always managed to figure out a way out of difficult situations, to keep them safe, although not always clean and fed. Often lice infested and starving, living under the sky, if no shelter was available, they lived from hand to mouth, lived on the good graces of kind people. They did not find freedom for 7 years and did not see their parents again for 8, when they appeared on an Oprah Winfrey show honoring winners of an essay contest. Clemantine had entered and won a place. Oprah surprised them with their parents whom she brought in for a weekend visit. Eventually, Claire was able to bring them back to America.

Both sisters grew up during the Rwandan uprisings. The majority government was made up of Hutus who were murdering the Tutsis without reason. They called them cockroaches and said they had to be eliminated. If someone was not willing to kill them, they too were labeled cockroaches and marked for death. To protect them, their parents sent them to live with their grandmother where they believed they would be safer. Their parents remained behind with their youngest brother.

When the revolution spread, their grandmother sent them running, alone, with no adults, but hoped that they would be able to escape the horror and survive. She entrusted them to G-d’s hands. What followed was more than a half dozen years of escaping from place to place, country to country, until they settled finally in the United States where Clemantine, because of her youth, was awarded all benefits possible. Claire, on the other hand, had married an aide worker at one of the camps they found themselves and had already had two children with a third on the way. Her husband was a no account who tended to violence because of deep feelings of insecurity brought about by his loss of a future because of the war.

Claire does not seem to blame anyone but herself, if they don’t survive. She is very resourceful and looks for ways to support them and feed them, to house them and clothe them, no matter where they wind up, and usually she finds a way. She never gives up, although Clemantine has to be her maid which she resents, although, caring for the children and taking care of all chores that have to be done enables Claire to hustle while on the run, and, even in America.

When, finally, Clemantine is placed in a series of foster homes with several women who change her life, providings her with material comfort and a wonderful education, supporting her emotionally and physically, she improves and begins to be a bit more trusting of others. She is sent to a reputable boarding school, and although one of the few black students, she makes friends and achieves success. She adapts to each situation she faces with deftness. She somehow knows what is expected of her and she performs.

When Clemantine speaks of Rwanda, it is touching. It is hard not to picture the peace and beauty of her early life. Her father owned a car service. She describes her home as lovely, with gardens and laughter. Although they did not show affection or emotion, as was the custom in Rwanda, since women were taught to be very reserved, not even expressing emotion at funerals, she knew she was loved. Food was plentiful and life was good. She was young, she played outdoors and was a happy child. However, although girls were valued and were able to get land and other valuables because they were child-bearing, they could have their lives ruined if they were raped which rendered them valueless.

When the uprisings came, she was too young to understand what was happening. She never adjusted to the way they were treated by Rwandans or the world. She experienced so many years of suffering that she believed that no one could truly identify with her pain, unless they were there with her. She resented their empathy.and compared her experience to those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust after reading Elie Wiesel’s night. Clemantine blames the Rwandan Genocide on the colonization of the country by Belgium. She believes that they created divisiveness. The tribes used to live together, work together and get along. After Belgium left and the economy worsened, the tribes went into their corners, no longer working together. A violent, terrifying war was launched. People were hacked to death, murdered in their beds; they were being forced out of their country.She arrived in America, emotionally scarred from her devastating experiences, but she did not dwell on them and quickly adapted to her situation. She accepted it and was determined to conquer it. Her sister was not given the same opportunity since she was an adult, now with children.

In the end, she was afforded every advantage that even Americans were not given. She had a fine education, full freight at Yale, first class travel to conferences, and was invited to speak and tell her story at various venues. Still, she was often angry and arrogant because she felt misunderstood, abandoned by the world.

The title refers to a story told to Clemantine. She considers herself the girl who smiles beads, the girl who fits in, makes the best of situations.

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Non-Fiction | Leave a comment

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King, Rich Cohen, author, Robertson Dean, narrator

bananaThis is the story of Sam Zemurray, A Russian Jew, originally from Maldova, who led the United Fruit Company for 25 years. He was born in 1877 and came to America in 1891 at the age of 14. When he arrived, he had nothing. When he died he had lived a life that took him to the very pinnacle of success and back down again to the bottom. At one time, he was one of the richest and most powerful men. He had influence with both the leaders of the United States and the leaders of foreign countries. His influence over the Latin American banana business was monumental. His influence over Latin America was widespread.

He got the idea for his banana business one night, while walking in New Orleans. As he describes the street he was standing on, it sounded like he could also have been on the Reeperbahn, in Hamburg Germany’s red light district of yore. From the moment he witnessed the sight of this magical fruit, called the banana, which has no growing season and produces fruit all year long, his life’s map was drawn. El Amigo was born. The Banana King’s history had begun in earnest. From the head of his successfully run business Cuyamel, he morphed into the man who controlled the largest banana business in the world, United Fruit.

His story includes the tragic history of the 20thcentury with the Depression and the Holocaust influencing many of his decisions. When the dream of a Jewish state was realized, it was with his help. He was influential in persuading many Latin American heads of state to agree to the creation of the Jewish state, and so he helped birth the state of Israel. Although as a Jew, he was not deeply rooted in the practice of Judaism, he was rooted in the idea of being a Jew. He had a hand in many events of the world, and in some ways, he was an unsung hero but on the opposite side he was an unsung villain. His business practices and influences on governments were often brutal with disastrous consequences.

When he wanted something, Zemurrary got it. He used legal and illegal, moral and immoral means to attain whatever he wanted. He dealt with the heads of multiple governments, not only his own, he made bargains with a heavy hand, was influential in overthrowing governments, most notably Honduras and Guatemala, one in defiance of the United States and one working in unison with them.

The names he was involved with are famous. He dealt with J. P. Morgan, Hunt, Pierrepont, Roosevelt and many other government and banking names that live on today. On the other side he was also involved with men who were tyrants or revolutionaries, like Che Guevara, Christmas, Castro and Chavez, among others.

His name was often synonymous with revolutions as well as commerce. He witnessed the birth of the banana business and the death of his influence in it. His life, like the business, ended on a downward trend, but his rise makes quite a story.

 

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ years old-Hendrik Groen, author.

secretThis is a very tenderly written epistolary novel written with a subtle humor. Hendrik Groen lives in a nursing home in the wing for independent seniors. His friend Evert lives in his own apartment in the same facility. His dear friend Eefje lives in the same wing as Hendrik, and she has had a positive effect on his life and he on hers. They have a deep and comfortable friendship that keeps growing until the consequences of life intervene.
Hendrik has made a decision to keep a diary for the year 2013, to let people get to know the real Hendrik Groen through his private entries. His daily posts are heartwarming comments are genuine, alternating, at times, between melancholia and wit, depending on the events of his day. During the year of 2013, he turns 84 and expresses a hope to be around a bit longer, but realistically, he knows that his days are numbered and chance plays a big part in his continued presence in the world.
As his entries reveal what life is like for him and for the other residents, in this sterile institution, it also reveals how the residents look upon their own lives. Their moods and ideas run the gamut from hopefulness to hopelessness. They have dreams, although they have little to hope for, they have fears, although they have little control of what is coming their way. Some of the elderly make the most of every opportunity, facing everyday optimistically; some face the future with dread. Some don’t venture outside for fear of what the future will bring. Some have decided to behave in anyway they please since consequences have little effect on them so late in the game. They may even take risks.
When a small group of residents decide to form a group called The Old But Not Dead Club, planning bimonthly mystery outings, it gives them a purpose they had not had before. It gives them a reason to go on living. However, this tight knit intimate group of friends is causing angst in the world of other nursing home residents because they resent the fact that they were not included in the group, not asked to join in their fun. Each of the actual members of this group has his/her own distinct personality ranging from cantankerous to compassionate, but they all get along regardless of their different ways of approaching life, because they all like and respect each other, and they all enjoy being with each other. They accept each other’s little idiosyncrasies and forgive them their little lapses.
As the friendship between Hendrik and Eefje grows, his nature begins to soften; he is so comfortable with her, whether or not they speak or stay silent. They tolerate each others differences and enjoy each others similarities without judgment. For Evert, she becomes an important stabilizing part of his life, a part that brings him joy and contentment, a part that inspires him to continue to live and participate in life rather than sitting by a window and vacantly staring outside at the lives of others. He begins to take greater chances, buys himself a scooter and wishes he had done so sooner since it opened up the world for him. He accepts his need for a diaper to keep his hygiene up to snuff rather than fighting the inevitable. He begins to make plans to do things and to care more about each member in his growing group of friends. When some of the members begin their decline, he is kind and considerate, doing what he can to help them. He investigates ways to help Grietje deal with her Alzheimers and Evert to deal with the loss of a limb. He walks his dog for him. When Eefje is ill, he reads to her and gets her an ipod so she can listen to music. He visits her daily, sometimes more than once. However, he still continues to make a conscious decision to live out his own life and not give up, albeit with the help of Evert who puts iron in his back. Evert convinces him to stop wasting his time, convinces him to decide, move on or give up. He decides to continue to live each day to its fullest. Evert, on the other hand, is determined to make as much mischief as possible until the end of his. How bad can the consequences be?
The book deftly handles the inevitable issues that will arise in a home for the aged. Old people are in a state of decline that will never improve, but instead, will steadily get worse. Some will become physically ill; some will have strokes, falls or other mishaps, while others will sink into the world of mindlessness, dementia or Alzheimer’s. Not all will follow that road, though. Some will live out all their days, self aware and healthy until their last breath. The trick is for the resident to keep on hoping, keep on doing, to keep on creating encouraging ideas, to keep a stiff upper lip and an optimistic view. The trick is for the residence management to provide that atmosphere for them.
As the residents are subjected to the bureaucracy that controls what they can and cannot do. They are subjected to the slings and arrows of life. Some handle them more delicately than others. Some are dignified and some behave poorly. Some rail against the end of life and some appear to welcome it, preferring to choose the time of their death. None, however, wish to die in pain or in a vegetative state. Laws and the powers that be will often prevent their merciful release, however and will often take away their power to decide for themselves, and instead, treat them the way they once treated their own children, guiding them in the direction they thought was best. These are not children, however, and many want the right to decide things for themselves. Once they are able to taste that feeling of freedom that they once had, they are less afraid to face the future, and they are far happier.
I chose to read this book in small increments to enjoy the pleasure from it in small doses. I kept it on my nightstand and simply picked it up at will, reading a few entries at a time to put a knowing smile on my lips. None of us, if we are lucky, will escape the aging process, but we all need to deal with it. Hendrik’s diary lays out our options for us, clearly. He seems to come round to the theory of a friend of mine, someone with troubles galore, who announces to all that she has a choice to be happy or sad, and she chooses to be happy. I think that the year 2013, was the year that Groen chose to be happy, to find hope and opportunity where it presented itself and to deal with life’s foibles, great and small, gracefully. It is a lifestyle he hopes to continue as long as he can. He will continue writing in a diary.
It was heartwarming to witness the way he cared for those in greater need than himself and to read about the way each of the friends and residents rallied around each other when the need arose, providing comfort and care as necessary, although there was the curmudgeon or two that defied that image.
In my research, I discovered that Hendrik Groen, the author’s name, is a pseudonym for Peter de Smet, a Dutch author who does not seek fame, ergo little is known about him. He is not a resident of a senior home, and this is not his diary. In his words, “Not a sentence is dishonest, but not every word is true.” Yet he has authentically captured the feelings of the elderly, their dreams and hopes, their stress and disappointment, their fear and their frustration.
The book presents Interesting topics for discussion in a book group. Groen illuminates the real degradation and debilitation that aging causes and also illustrates its effect on the elderly as their lives diminish in size and scope. Opportunities and possibilities no longer exist as they used to when youth prevailed. The formation of the group that conducted twice monthly trips was literally a “lifesaver” for these elderly residents because in spite of the dead end that they all faced, they all had hope to live, and more importantly, to enjoy another day.
The right to die would be an interesting topic for discussion as is the availability of services for the elderly who sometimes outlive their money because they lived a lot longer than they expected. The elimination of services for them because of cost cutting is traumatic for them, but inevitable when others deal with it. They think they will die anyway, so why waste money on them. The bureaucracy that interferes with their quality of life, the rules and regulations that control their ability to be independent because of a fear of accident and litigation is also an interesting topic for discussion. Everyone goes down this road; everyone needs to address the concerns raised in this book.
Although it is told with tremendous warmth and humor, it is also very heart wrenching as the residents succumb to the inevitabilities of life that aging brings to them, from diapers, to lack of mobility, to slower reflexes and forgetfulness, to mention a few. Losing friends forces them to deal with a constant overlay of sadness, forces them to face the path open to them from independence to dependence, to deal with the depression and a desire to try and control what is left to them, of life. Unfortunately, regulations interfere with their quality of life on all levels. Where they used to make their own decisions, others step in to make the decisions for them, often decisions they disagree with but are helpless to change. Aging brings helplessness to its victims and it is a constant effort to find ways to bring back strength and control to their lives, to bring back hope.

Posted in Books for Adults, Fiction, Non-Fiction | Leave a comment