A Memoir in Six Words


My lovely friend Jill has tagged me to participate in a meme that originated way, way over here to post a six-word memoir on my blog. These are the rules:

1. Write a six word memoir
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration or photo if you’d like
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to the original post if possible so the meme can be tracked as it travels across the blogosphere
4. Tag five more blogs with links
5. Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

My offering is still fermenting - this is a lot more challenging than it sounds - I want to do it justice and retrieve a suitable image - so, pardon me I am off to do more thinking!

Spirituality ...

With my love of reading books that touch upon the spiritual and with a view to my triple 8 challenge spiritual category I have joined in with Callista's Spirituality challenge.

I am savouring my choosing and have yet to decide - an embarrasse de riches!  For me personlly the label spiritual does not necessarily mean a book that is overtly 'spiritual' or 'religious'.  Some books lead us to a spiritual plain -maybe unexpectedly.  Others relate part of a spiritual journey while others may be inspirational such as a memoir or a biography.

I am contemplating some of the following;
Nicholas Luard The Field of The Star - A Pilgrim's Journey to Santiago de Compostela
 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison
Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Collected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins 
Weil, Simone. Waiting for God 
Yeats, William Butler. The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats 
Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity
Adams, Henry. Mont-Saint Michel and Chartres 
Gordon Strachan, Chartres: Sacred Geometry, Sacred Space 
 Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily
David Foster, Reading With God

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

Just completed this brilliant essay  for A Novel challenge.  It was originally  presented by Virginia Woolf to undergraduates of Girton and Newnham Colleges, Cambridge, England in 1929.  In essence it is centred upon the theme of women and fiction - yet she devlops ideas that move through life, literature, philosophy and society.  I loved her reflective thinking and the way in which she linked her thoughts so seamlessly. 

In my opinion it was five star plus plus and one of the most wonderful reads I have ever experienced - on a par to war and Peace in terms of impact ...
I reserved this book from the library and received the Hogarth press edition of 1959 - that is an old book!  However I simply must get my own copy - it has so inspired me.  There is a sense of compulsion as I read that I knew I would have to read this work again.  I savoured every page, idea and reflection.  If you are interested in women, their place in society through history and their writings this is a must for you!  


9 / 64 read. 14% completed. 

Victim falls prey to temptation ...

I wonder if you recognise this ? Despite book cases bulging, piles developing around the house, three books packed safely for a week away plus one in hand luggage I am magnetically drawn to the airport book shop and leave with an impulse buy. Now if I tell you that I already had Nadime Gordimer, Virginia Woolfe and Mary Doria Russell lovingly wrapped in amongst my clothing – you may well wonder what was I doing. Answer – we may be in the season of Lent but I fell, hook, line and sinker prey to temptation. The lure of a Nobel prize winner for Literature had me enthralled. Orhan Pamuk was the culprit, Snow the title of the book. So far so good but from here onwards matters became a little less straight forward.
In this book an exiled poet returns to Turkey in turbulent times with Islamist and secular intrigue set in the somewhat surreal town of Kars. The town is cut off by a blizzard thus making the setting all the more surreal, not to mention the poems of the poet that play such a central part but never appear.
There were times when I felt I would not get through this work. Yet something in the writing drove me on despite my having to re-read bits, reflect and go back in places. I kept asking myself ... why? Was it the politics and my lack of understanding of the situation? Was it the inaccessibility of the unusual? Maybe of more interest, I should suggest we ask what is it that kept me going? Something to do with the quality of writing. the clever and reflective use of the 'snow' theme. The latter certainly intrigued me ... I really wanted to learn about Turkey and the state - religion, change, politics and traditions.   To be honest what I learnt from this novel seems very much at odds from what I glean from the news and BBC, but hey who says they have the monopoly of what is ‘truth’.

Considering some inexplicable element drove me on I have been trying to understand ‘why’? So what is this book about we wonder? It is about the tensions of change and education, it is involved with politics, East - West tensions and religion, the wearing of headscarves and theatre. We see events from the fundamentalists point of view and their concern regarding the growth of liberalism.   We witness the murder of the Director of Education Institute in the New Life Pastry shop. He was wired for sound and we eavesdrop the harrowing conversation with his killer. Violence seems so commonplace in Kars, the Turkish town in which the novel is set. Day to day life is in such stark contrast to my life, my expectations of the society in which I live, my freedoms and my professional life. Yet, the counterbalance to this horrendous violence is the love of the main character Ka for Ipek. To say it is complex, multi layered and a challenge is a bit of an understatement as far as this reader is concerned!  From time to time I felt I was missing the point or was not sufficiently knowledgeable to understand some of the dialogue and cultural elements.
Overall I think this book is deserving of the acclaim it has received but my personal view is that I felt that the author was simply making it too difficult for me, the reader to become truly engaged.  Hence my three stars, but I would be interested to know your thoughts.

7 / 64 words. 11% done! 

'It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness'

This book, I Have Lived A Thousand Years – Growing Up in The Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson won the 1998 Christopher Award – Books for Young People. So … you may well ask. Personally this was an award I had never heard of up till now. I am so glad that I researched The Christophers as I came across the strap line that is the title for this review.  Written in short diary type of entries this memoir of Elli takes the reader from Hungary to Auschwit. It is another inspiring work reflecting faith, hope, triumph and love. I became immersed in stories of perseverance, loyalty, courage and a determination never to give up. As Livia writes in her very personal forward ‘My story is my message: never give up’. Once again there is rending heart ache recorded in fairly short, almost matter of fact sentences yet all without evidence of the faintest sense of self pity. Faith, motherhood, daughterhood, friendship and family predominate and of special interest to me was the development of the mother daughter relationship throughout their experiences. This would be an excellent memoir to share with young people and one that would remind  them that it is better to light one candle rather than curse the darkness.   

6 / 64 books. 9% read!

Surviving with Wolves: The Most Extraordinary Story of World War II by Misha Defonseca

This memoir left me incredulous – at two levels. Firstly, that young Misha, the seven year old Jewish girl could journey as she did, hungry often starving, blistered, alone and yet survive. She travelled across three thousand miles through Nazi occupied Europe - a trek that defies belief and yet reflects the strength of the human spirit.
Secondly that man’s inhumanity to man was so evident and that a child of seven should have witnessed so much murder, brutality and even rape. Yet there is hope in this The wolves of the forest were to be relied upon – Misha lived with wolves and became a wolf in body and spirit. She learns to be at one with the pups and their mother but even this experience is terribly marred by the actions of man.
Inspirational and honest as she shares insights into her life in far off America her journey through life remains challenging. Yet her hope shines through as in the following quote
… ‘I shook with fear again one September 11th on soil that I’d believed was safe from war. Did I have to begin running again? I didn’t run. I started writing again …’ As to the final words dear reader – read them for yourself – you will not be disappointed. 

Appendix to my original words.  Sadly as confirmed here it appears that the author of this book has been dishonest. Tthe story that earned $25 million and was translated into 18 languages was fiction.  Misha Defonseca, whose real name is Monique De Wael, admitted yesterday the bestseller she co-wrote, Misha - a Memoir of the Holocaust Years, was a fake.   She did not live with wolves and did not spend four years crossing Europe from Belgium to the Ukraine in World War II.   Apparently she is not even Jewish.  "I ask for forgiveness from all those who feel betrayed," she said.

5 / 64 books. 8% read!

When The Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

This was, and will remain a very special book to me for a variety of reasons. Sent from one of my bookish friends (thank you so much Jill) across the pond, having been previously read by another mutual friend (dear Laura) this book epitomises all that has been so wonderful about my venture into sharing reading lives through the internet. Here, I am thinking of so much more than the act of reading books. We are learning, not simply about the facts, the history and geography of place but about the viewpoints of others and the expansion of horizons that even as an educationalist committed to life long learning never ceases to amaze me.        
Written from the point of view of unnamed characters this short elegantly written novel taught me about events that were previously unknown to me. How can writing be so direct yet so deep and unashamedly honest, almost point blank? There were moments when it felt as if this was not a work of fiction and with a sudden jerk you are catapulted into the reality that this did actually happen to real people and all not so very long ago.  As someone who has read a number of wartime experience type of books I realised that I was woefully ignorant about the plight of American Japanese aliens during the second world war.  Do read this wonderful work - you will not be disappointed.
I wonder how we can learn from this novel … wherever we are in the world …       

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Thurston

First sentence
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.
Final sentences
Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.
These sentences reflect the beauty and lyricism of the narrative of this novel. This story takes the reader on a journey away from the idealized and stereotyped afro American woman. Somehow, and in spite of the afro – American dialect in which much of the book is written the way in which our central character Janie grows, develops and reflects upon life as a whole person, as a woman has much that spoke to me regardless of skin colour and roots. 
Speaking personally some of the dialect was at times tough going. Such was the power of the writing, the life of Janie, that the challenge of the dialect was no longer so!   In essence we follow Janie as she journeys from a sixteen year old to a mature woman. Her awakening is likened to her experience of her watching singing bees on a pear tree.
‘Oh to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with her life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her?’
A thought provoking story – worthy of four stars. Do be sure to read an edition that contains an introduction by Holly Eley and the afterword by Sherley Anne Williams.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Closing the final page of my beautiful edition of this great epic was one of those moments when feelings of joy and sorrow are so closely aligned.   As I had journeyed nearer the conclusion the more I became aware of the nagging in the back of my mind.  I didn’t want it to end and the questions - what will I read next, how can any book I read in the future follow this experience?  Now, of course that may well seem rather melodramatic to you dear reader as it does to me as I write in the cold clear light of day. There are many many readers who read many great authors and their satisfaction of one does not diminish the other.  But this was a very real thought to me as I travelled through this book.  How can any other book I ever read live up to what I experienced over the last month?

To even begin to contemplate giving such a work a star rating seems highly inappropriate - let alone even begin to write a review!  This book spoke to me in a myriad of ways as it has for so may others - such is the greatness of the book.  

I have been left with a very strong desire to encourage others to read this work.  Do not shie away from it, persevere through the first part, do not be discouraged.  Most of all please do not think that you are in any way not 'good, or clever enough' to enjoy it - it is not an endurance test, a badge of office to be won or a medal winning feat to have read it!  Having mildly ranted I have to say I am thrilled that I fulfilled my desire to read it and feel a very contented healthy sense of pride in my success.

Should you feel even mildly interested please do contact me as I would be pleased to support you and share resources.  If you think you would like to read it along with friends there is a Library Thing group here that has just started.  Why not check it out?  You will not be disappointed.
After thoughts ... at one point a friend asked me how was I 'tackling' the book?  I replied ...

' you used the word 'tackling' and how appropriate. On reflection I have used strategies to tackle it and so far, so good .... here are one or two ideas that have supported me.

Firstly, I read quite widely round the work. This included reading other readers views and the way in which they found the work enjoyable or challenging. As a number of colleagues found the characters daunting I also downloaded some notes in relation to the characters.
Next, I tried to learn as much as I could about the translations available and deliberately chose the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation.

As I began reading I wrote on the character list, added my thoughts, scribbled down links and family tree relationships. As far as my reading 'sessions' go I adopt a completely different approach to this work! I sit at the table along with my fountain pen, journal and notes and approach it as a study session. In this way and for me personally I sense that I am more fully engaged with it than I would otherwise have been.   Interestingly, further into the book read a lot in bed, on a couple of long train journeys and simply in the arm chair!

Finally, the fact that I have joined the War and Peace 08 group has given me a timetable for reading the work with discussion starting on Part 1 from January 15 2008 with a completion date in April.

Unlike many of you I rarely read more than one book at a time. At present I am doing so and have the feeling that in a curious way this is helping me focus on War and Peace. Reading ‘lighter’ books in parallel is helpful and I do have other books demanding to be read!'