Centuries ago in an unspecified rural location, a small village of farmers spot a mysterious cloud of smoke coming from the outskirts of their land. This occurrence might not seem extraordinary, and certainly not any cause for alarm, but to the villagers it signifies a change in the air. It means that outsiders are nearby, perhaps watching them. Are the owners of this smoke cloud friend or foe? No one can be sure at first, but when the village master’s dovecote is destroyed by a fire, the fearful community turns to the mysterious smoke cloud for answers. As they soon learn, the fire belongs to a small family – The Beldams – that has set up camp near the village, and though they may look harmless enough, someone must pay for the crime that has been committed.
Longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, Almost English presents the tension and identity crises that occur within a blended, multicultural family. While 16 year-old Marina might identify as English on paper, her family life and heritage is much more complicated. Marina’s mother, Laura, married a Hungarian man named Peter, but his binge drinking and general lack of enthusiasm for family life left Marina fatherless for the majority of her upbringing. And the life of a single mother hasn’t been easy for Laura, either, especially considering that they are still very closely tied to Peter’s family. Marina and Laura have lived with Peter’s mother and her two sisters in a tiny London apartment since Peter’s abandonment, which has propelled them into a sort of cultural limbo.
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman
A Novel by Eve Harris
So, I’ve spent the past few weeks knee-deep in the Frum (Orthodox Jewish) world. That’s basically what Eve Harris’s The Marrying of Chani Kaufman was. It took me forever to read this. I’m usually a speedy reader, and this? This I had a hard time picking up. It’s not that it was a bad book; it just lacked any excitement for me.
Harris depicted the insular and oppressive world of Orthodox Judaism in England in modern times. This could, however, be anywhere: London, Brooklyn, Jerusalem, and really, nearly any time period as well. I myself am Jewish, and found myself rather familiar with much (though not all) of the terminology – often in Yiddish form. However, I imagine if you weren’t familiar, the glossary at the back (especially in e-book form) did little to help you decipher certain things.
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman
A Novel by Eve Harris
2013 / 350 Pages
Chani Kaufman is only 19 years old, but she already has major responsibilities. She was raised in a very conservative Jewish family in London, and between her religious duties and her job as an art teacher’s assistant, poor Chani barely has time to prepare for her wedding. Chani and Baruch went on just four dates before he proposed, which is apparently typical of Jewish dating customs, and now Chani oscillates between feeling lucky and blessed and completely terrified. Mrs. Kaufman already has 7 other children to care for, so she barely has time to answer her young daughter’s questions about life and marriage. Chani attempts to gain answers from The Rebbetzin (The Rabbi’s wife), but she has just suffered a terrible miscarriage at the age of 44 and is therefore grief-stricken and preoccupied. Their religious customs prohibit Chani from speaking too openly about intimate things like sex, marriage, childbirth, and birth control, so she must do what the women before her have done – become a wife and figure it all out little by little.
A Novel by Jim Crace
2013 /208 pages
Within the first few pages, I wanted to toss this book and yell “Boring! Boring!” The latter I did. Quite a lot, actually. But, it’s not a large book, only 208 pages, and I felt I owed it to my BookerMark kin to keep at it. And, I’m glad I did. After a spell, I fell into the cadence, which mirrors ye olde time England quite well. Harvest is not modern, in setting or in style. Though the themes are timeless; being an outsider, mass group-think, violence, loyalty, to name a few.
Hilary Mantel’s brilliant sequel to her 2009 novel, Wolf Hall, has once again earned her a spot on the Man Booker Prize shortlist. Bring Up the Bodies is a continuance of Thomas Cromwell’s story as it intersects with Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. As the novel opens, it is the fall of 1535 – Former Queen Katherine of Aragon is on her deathbed and current Queen, Anne Boleyn, is also inching dangerously close to death. She has made many promises in her relentless efforts to become Queen, yet the most important promise – to produce a male heir to the throne – has yet to be fulfilled. In the meantime, rumors have begun to circulate that perhaps Anne has not been faithful to her husband, and that, perhaps their daughter, Elizabeth, was fathered by another man.
Pretty soon, the swirling rumors reach the ears of the King, and although Henry is outraged at the prospect of his wife’s extramarital encounters, he also sees it as an opportunity to rid himself of Anne Boleyn, who has turned out to be more trouble than pleasure for Henry. And of course, “Queens come and go,” so Henry enlists the help of Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell to remove Anne Boleyn of her position so that a new (and hopefully more fertile) Queen can take her place. Luckily for Cromwell, “the affairs of the whole realm are whispered in his ear,” so the process of Anne’s removal is expedited. In fact, it takes just about a month for Cromwell to compile a case against Anne, have her tried in court, and finally beheaded. The crimes against the infamous Queen include treason, incest, and adultery, and her trial and subsequent death prove to be extremely consequential for the Tudors. Many others are sent to their deaths because of what they may or may not have said and done with Anne Boleyn, and Henry’s Court is in disarray after living in the midst of potential conspirators and traitors.