Friday, February 17, 2017

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Allegory, fairy tale, magical realism, historical novel-- Anna and the Swallow Man has a bit of it all. It certainly has the characters of an old European folk tale, not just simple good guys and bad guys but demons and shape changers. There's even the lovable fool. The story, set primarily in Poland in WWII, centers on Anna, a child of 7, whose father is taken away one day and never comes back. Though circumstance, Anna begins to travel with a person she names the Swallow Man. Their journey is one of survival, uncovering truths and illusions, falsehoods and fantasies. It is written in elegant, evocative prose, which leaves many aspects of the tale for the reader to imagine, but also filled a place in my reading heart I hadn't realized was vacant. Also notable are the wonderful chapter illustrations and cover art, done by Laura Carlin.
To be honest, I am not sure I was able to absorb all the author packed away in the pages, but this novel is one I am pretty sure I could again and find something new each time.

tags: 2017-read, awardwinner, first-novel-or-book, great-cover, magical-realism, read, still-trying-to-figure-this-one-ou, thank-you-charleston-county-library, translated, will-look-for-more-by-this-author, ya-lit

From the publisher: Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

February 16, 2017 A Day Without Immigrants

The Family of Abraham and Ida Galler circa 1926
My grandparents each fled their homeland in a time of persecution. In America, they not only found a haven and new home, they found each other. Hardworking and with few means, but a lot of drive, they started an egg cart on the East Side of NYC (which is especially ironic since one of their granddaughters is a pysanky/egg artist) that they gave up in the summer of 1929 to move their growing family to the country in Brooklyn and live off the income of the stocks they'd invested in with their profits. Their timing might not have been good, and even though wealth alluded them, their goodness and generosity touched many souls. At my grandfather's funeral, the funeral of a simple shopkeeper and resale man, over 1,000 people came to pay respects. They gave thanks to his widow and children, telling of the many kindnesses he had done them in a time of need, a helping hand, a few dollars here, a meal there. His family was astonished at the number of people he'd helped in his short life. The story is that my grandmother finally got exasperated, exclaiming to her eldest daughter "A nickel here, a dollar there, a bowl of soup there, and all the time his children had to wear second hand clothes and have fried bread for breakfast! Could a little of that generosity have been spent at home instead of giving to others? Did he have to help everyone who asked?" To which her daughter replied, "But Mama, that's what you do. If anyone needs help, they come to you!"

From humble beginnings, they raised a family. Their descendants are dentists, scientists, businesswomen, real estate agents, entrepreneurs, podiatrists, chefs, physical therapists, builders, philanthropists, volunteer workers, scholars, renaissance men, musicians, educators, professors, nurses, researchers, artists, writers, homemakers, teachers, CPAs, administrators, lawyers, doctors, veterinarians, parents, grandparents, and citizens. (And that's only through their children and grandchildren. Great grands and great great grands are still finding their passions, and seeing where their talents take them.)

Today, February 16, 2017, is a day where many have encouraged immigrants, "foreign-born people nationwide, regardless of legal status, not to go to work or go shopping in a demonstration of the importance of their labor and consumer spending to the United States’ economy."*   This granddaughter of immigrants stands with immigrants.

*Rogers, Katie 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

During Y'allFest 2016, I had the opportunity to meet Nicola Yoon (not that she'd remember me, she undoubtedly made a bigger impression on me than I did on her.) Shortly thereafter, I was able to snag a ebbed copy of her TheSun is Also a Star from my fabulous Charleston County Public Library, and fell into that segment of the world that loved the book, enough so that when Blogging for Books offered it, I said yes. I rarely reread books within in a year, let alone within months of the initial cracking of covers, but this is one case, perhaps the only, where I reread it within months. My first read was one of those wild "I can't put this book down and need to see what happens" gallops, so my second was a more leisurely revisit, a wandering through the remarkable prose and the New York Day of Natasha and Daniel.

The publisher's blurb actually didn't win me. It was hearing the attendees at Y'allFest that got me to pick the book up. I was intrigued to see how Yoon handled the concept: Two teenagers, with nothing in common except the city they live meet and fall in love on the day one of them is being deported back to Jamaica. Told from alternating viewpoints, the story is endearing, thoughtful, informative, and a very special gift to readers.

I also am fascinated by the cover, so did a bit of research on it. The jacket art is by Dominique Falla, design by Elaine C Damasco. As anyone who has ever done this type of art knows, this in an amazing work and I remain in awe of Dominique Falla's skill as a tactile typographer and string artist. Even had I not felt the way I do about the book, as a lover of art, the book would have grabbed the art lover in me.

Thank you to Blogging for Books, Delacorte Press, Random House Books, Dominique Falla, and of course Nicola Yoon, for bringing this book to me.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Love, not hate, makes America great

I was born the year after Rosa Parks took her bus seat in history. My first birthday came just a week or so after Little Rock Central High School was desegregated. Nonviolent protest was a common topic among my parents and their friends. At the Ethical Society, where my family went for Sunday discussions with like minded individuals, we children learned a hymn to humanism, which included a paraphrase of Felix Adler's words: "This place we meet to seek the highest is holy ground." Before I turned three, as the Civil Rights Movement gained strength, I have a clear memory of asking my father what race were we. My father paused from his reading, and pondered a moment. My dad, who had eyebrows that rivaled John L. Lewis, ran his fingers through that forest as he did when he was in deep thought. He sighed, and then nodded his head, signifying agreement to some unspoken idea. Then he told me I was of the Human Race and to never forget that. The Human Race. Others might try and break that down, try to belittle one part of the Human Race or another based on beliefs, or color, or sex, or ability, but that was a ploy to something unworthy. We are all part of the same thing.

That was the lesson seared into my soul. I grew up in times of turbulence, but diversity was always championed. When the riots broke out after Martin Luther King's assassination, an African American friend came to our home just over the DC line, to check on my mother (who was experiencing the first debilitating and disorientating symptoms of what was later diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis). She knew my mother usually went grocery shopping on that day, and didn't want Mama to have to be out in the uncertainty that was our city. I asked our friend why people were being violent, because hadn't Dr King believed in nonviolence? "Violence begets violence; hatred begets hatred", she said. "But kindness begets kindness. Your mama and daddy did me kindness at the darkest time of my life. We are all family."

The mothers and grandmothers in my neighborhood all were early activists in the Women's Rights Movement. Many remembered when women got the right to vote (my mother was born the year after, but told me how her own mother would tell of her first time voting as an American, and how my grandmother never missed a chance to vote until the year she died, and only then because she died before the election.) Family  appointments and community happenings were written onto the  League of Women's Voters calendars that adorned every home in the neighborhood. And as I grew from girlhood into my late teens and twenties, Women's Rights and Women's Health became the causes I, too, fought for (though, in fairness, my first protest was against the Vietnam War in the 60's, and I remain  peace advocate. To this day, I respect and honor our military for their service, but pray for the end of the wars and fighting that plague our world.)

Yesterday, the most extraordinary thing happened. People all over the world, on all continents, got together and raised their voices in unity with those who joined the Women's March on Washington.  Though the agenda varied somewhat from activist to activist, all had something to say. I spoke for Human Rights, and for Kindness, for those early lessons run deep. I felt strongly I wanted to stand for something rather than against something.  Yes, there are many things in this world that make me angry, negative, upset, or fearful, but I choose hope. I choose kindness. I believe in the goodness of Humankind. And while technically, because of my health, I could not march,  the Charleston Women's March went right by my window I could watch, wave the signs I'd hand lettered, and give my support. I could rejoice that family, both far flung and near, were able to join in as they chose and speak to support what they hold to be inalienable rights; to breathe life into liberty and equality, with dignity, nonviolence, humor, passion, and yes, kindness.

I've thought about this a great deal, because there are people whose friendships I cherish that didn't see the purpose of yesterday's activism. One person even told me that she could make her own choices about her life, her health, her body, so she didn't see why she should march, or why others even needed to. But she also is too young to remember the days when women's bodies were not our own, when we couldn't choose for ourselves about ourselves,  choose who to love, or any one of a myriad of other issues.

I realized that those who marched, marched for our own beliefs and also for those who disagreed with the protest. We marched to uphold our rights and also their rights, their choice, their expression of belief, even if it contradicted our own.  We marched from all segments of society, the rich, the famous, the just plain regular folks, and those less fortunate. We marched, different colors, genders, education, occupation. We marched to uphold Human Rights. And for the ability to do that, I give thanks. The cadence of yesterday's marchers will ring in my heart and in my head. The words shared I believe, from those early days where I learned the value of kindness, through the dark days after the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME, where l saw the visible demonstration of the strength of love here in my town. Love, not hate, makes America great.
Flow Chart I made to help get it all straight in my head

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Action Plan for today

I need to slip away to my Happy Place. ("Happy Place"; Folly Beach view of Morris Island light house. Mixed Media. 2016)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

But what happened to The Chair

I tend to cross-post to various blogs. as was the case with Resting in the Arms of Love. I've since been asked by several people "what happened to the original Chair"?

The Chair eventually went to chair heaven, but not before every spring was sprung, upholstery (second time round) completely worn, strange lumps that conformed to no one's body developed, and the recliner function became useless for even the most stout-hearted. Bumma replaced it with a white recliner, scaled once again for diminutive folks. After she went on to that comfy reading chair in the sky, our daughter got it, where it was promptly claimed by her then (now ex) husband who dragged it to his man shack in the back yard. It turned dark gray from the smoke and general grime. When they split, it was too filthy to reclaim so it remained with him. I still feel guilty I let it go to such a fate.

My mother in her throne, the last month of her life.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Resting in the arms of Love

My father used to say he was a trendsetter. After all, he'd called people meatheads for years before Archie Bunker nicknamed his son-in-law that on  All in the Family. He also had a chair, a throne, that no one else was supposed to sit in besides him. One of the first purchases he and my mother made in 1968, when the family finally moved out of the little house that had been our home for 17 years, was a recliner just for him. I remember sitting on the arm of the chair, or on the floor near by, talking with Daddy about his life as a child actor, and growing up in the Bronx.  But to sit in it, myself? Never! (except if he wasn't home and I wouldn't get caught!)

An aside: My favorite story was when he was cast as "the pest" in a silent movie called Womanhandled, and the cast had to go on a road trip to Texas to film scenes where Richard Dix was pretending to be a cowboy. My father was a little kid, maybe 6 or 7 (though he was diminutive, as I am) and was playing the part of a 4 year old brat. Regardless, he couldn't travel alone, so my grandmother accompanied him. She, however, kept strict kosher, and refused to let him eat what the rest of the cast did. She bought food and prepared meals for the two of them. And when there was a barbecue in the cast's honor, she held fast and refused to let him eat all that wonderful food-- which was why my little Jewish grandmother and her son were the only two people in the entire production that did not come down with food poisoning afterwards. Sometimes religious dietary laws really come in handy.

By the time I'd gone off to college, the rules had relaxed. We all knew, though, that once my father got home from work, The Chair was his, and we had to park our bottoms elsewhere. He even co-opted  a hand signal that was actually a punchline to a joke -- a hand signal in the joke that meant "enough of that shit". 

(Left: that's me, in 1977, with our mutt Patonka and my flute, and some very stylish glasses, in The Chair. It's hard to describe the fabric. A modern weave that was kinda scratchy, enough so that you never wanted to sit in it in shorts. )

That chair traveled with the family from St Louis to Charleston, back to St Louis. After my dad died, the chair became my mother's throne. It travelled with her one more time, back to Charleston when we joined households. By this time, it was a bit tattered, so she had it reupholstered. Javaczuk marveled that she was able to find another fabric just as scratchy. 

At some point, my mother decided that though she loved The Chair, it was becoming hard for her to get in and out,  or to push it back to recline in, so she got another chair. The Other Chair wasn't allowed in the living room, because The Chair ruled there. But later, when we'd shifted to the house on the lake, the Other Chair, emerged and became part of the room we all spent the most time. I remember my nephew, who now is in high school, crawling all over it when he was under two, and delighting that he could make the seat of Other Chair shift into a reclining mode. After a bit, Other Chair, shifted again up to the cabin, so my mother could have a comfy spot there. Most of the pictures I have of her in it are really terrible, but I like this one,  because I love how she's bundled up inside the cabin, during winter (yes there was a fire going, maybe 5 feet away from her). As one who also is always cold, it makes me realize I come by my tendencies honestly.
The other picture, which I also love,  though it is not of my mother, was taken in 2006 or 2007. (The dating of it comes from the knowledge that we changed the curtains in 2007 and painted the door, but it was in the fall and this visit was spring.) Heatherico came up to the cabin with me for a visit. You can see who claimed the green chair in a characteristic arms over head pose.

We are now talking about selling the cabin, moving into yet another new phase of life. Some of the furniture will convey, some we'll sell, and some we'll keep. When the fires threatened the area, it was a lesson in "what would I miss the most? " There aren't that many things I really want to keep:  a painting or two, a gift from Heatherico I treasure, a picture, some things Javaczuk wants, and, the chair. But I was resigned that it might not be a possibility. Luckily, the forest fires, though they were close, didn't directly threaten our little haven. And when my sweetheart went up to winterize the place (there still was too much smoke in the area for me to safely go), he came back with what he could fit in the car from our list, including the chair.

We have it set up in our room, where Javaczuk has a reading nook in one corner and I now have one in the opposite corner. I started meditating in an effort to help improve my breathing and health, and the chair is my place of choice. I delight in curling up in it to read, or to have my tea. It's comfy, designed for diminuitve folks, and is stuffed full of memories. And every time I sink into it, I feel I am resting in the loving arms of dear ones now gone.