Literature has taken various shapes during the last few years and has morphed brilliantly. Although excellent pieces of literary art can be traced through the ages, over the last years thought-provoking and reflective works have emerged and captured the attention of readers around the globe, changing the way people think.
2009 was another year full of excellent books. Readers had a variety of options among excellent fiction books with brilliant stories, science-fiction books filled with imaginative worlds, or biographies written in an honest and straightforward style. In 2009, literature flourished. Here’s an indicative sample of some, admittedly, great readings that no one should miss.
‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett $13.72
Set in Jackson, Mississippi during the civil rights movement, ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett is a story that captures the reader with its true voices that are hard to believe they are fictional and its strong message about love, hatred, faith, fear and distress. Narrated from the points of view of its three main characters, the book deals with the civil rights movement in Mississippi, but it hardly overwhelms the reader with gloomy descriptions. Instead, it is well-structured conveying the message of selfless kindness and courage.
The story evolves around Miss Skeeter, a twenty-two-year-old white woman, who has just graduated from Ole Miss University; Aibileen, a black maid, who has raised seventeen children and has lost her own son in an accident at a lumber yard; and Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, a short, fat black maid, who cannot mind her tongue and her sassy, almost rebellious character.
Although they are seemingly irrelevant, they are too much related. Miss Skeeter is the educated one, the white one and the privileged one from the cream of white society, but also the only one of her class, who is seemingly capable of shifting her life from charitable events and teas with her girlfriends to discovering social inequality. Her aspiration to become a writer leads to a wonderful project: the idea of collating the stories of the domestic maids. In a 1962 setting that is not favorable towards the black communities this is a radical, almost illegal, project that gives voice in print to the black people contravening the Jim Crow segregation laws.
‘The Help’ is a brilliant book that possesses a unique brand of genius. By exposing the points of view of Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny, ‘The Help’ helps the reader to realize many sides of life in Jackson. Each of the many relationships that evolve in the book is perfectly captured, and there is layer after layer of irony to dig out as Stockett describes the lives of white women of Jackson. Yet, the most impressive and attractive element of book is the blend of rage and humor that makes this novel equally horrifying and savagely funny. As the three characters work on their secret project, the tension builds when they realize the implications of getting discovered. Their strength and dignity prevails over an unjust system and the fruition of their project makes the novel beautifully structured, touching, thought-provoking and compelling.
‘The Help’ is one of the best books dealing with race relations in the segregated Deep South of the 1960s. Gentle, powerful, and realistic, it gives the real picture and makes the reader think what it means to live in peace and to be human. ‘The Help’ is highly recommended.
‘Cutting for Stone’ by Abraham Verghese $17.29
The story of Marion and Shiva Stone, two twin scions of a secret union between Sister Mary Joseph Praise, and the British surgeon, Thomas Stone, begins in Addis Ababa in 1954. Their mother dies at birth, their father disappears and the two brothers are raised by two doctors on the brink of revolution in Ethiopia.
Medicine plays a key role in the novel as readers learn a lot about medical practices carried on in the underdeveloped areas of Africa, as well as revolutionary practices for the time. Besides, the political upheaval of that period provides another setting for the story. The historical backdrop, Ethiopia’s internal conflicts and revolutions, convey additional depth to the book’s realistic atmosphere.
Yet it is not politics, but love for the same woman that tears the two brothers apart and forces Marion to immigrate to Bronx in America as soon as he graduates from medical school. As the time goes by and the past destroys him, Marion must hand over his life to his father who abandoned him and his brother who betrayed him.
‘Cutting for Stone’ is a magnificent novel that stands out for being genuinely moving, and surprisingly funny. Throughout the novel, the question is repeated over and over again: is your brother your identical twin or a stranger, a person that deserves to be cared for? And this question is affirmatively answered over and over again by Verghese’s talented writing that offers readers a great story about power, understanding, and the beauty of healing others.
‘Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival’ by Norman Ollestad $17.15
This is the autobiography of Norman Ollestad written in an extraordinarily unusual manner. The book captures the reader by conveying the emotional and physical strength of an 11-year-old boy to climb down a mountain and become the sole survivor of a plane crash.
In 1979, Ollestad, his father and his girlfriend were the passengers in a single-engined plane that crashed into the side of a snow-covered Californian mountain during a blizzard. Ollestad’s father and the pilot were killed right away, while the girlfriend was seriously injured. Ollestad was rescued nine hours later and he was the only survivor.
The book is much more than the memoirs of a survival. It took Ollestad 30 years to write about it and one could explain that he needed to become a father himself in order to be able to put his relationship with his father on the proper context. In reality, the book is all about the relationship of Ollestad with his father even before the plane crash. It is the story of a free-spirited, yet demanding father who had instilled in Norman the inner strength to climb down the mountain and survive the plane crash.
‘Crazy for the Storm’ is a wonderful book, tremendously moving and brilliantly written in a spare yet richly evocative style. It’s also an excellent analysis of the relationship between a father and a son.