Book Review: A Paris Apartment

aparisapartmentA mystery inside a mystery. April Vogt, Four starsContinental furniture specialist with Sotheby’s, gets the opportunity of a lifetime when the Paris office requests her assistance to assess the contents of a Paris apartment that had been closed for 70 years. Full of incredible furniture finds, as well as an unknown painting by Giovanni Boldini, the contents promise an exceptional auction. Then April finds journal entries of the woman who walked away from the apartment 70 years ago, Marthe de Florian, a 19th-century courtesan whose life intersected with many of the turn of the 19th-to-20th century Parisian personalities and her estimates of the potential auction proceeds skyrockets. But she can’t convince those in charge to follow her suggestions.

In addition, April is uncertain of the state of her marriage and is attracted to the lawyer for the apartment’s beneficiary who plays a key role in getting access to all the journal entries as well as to the woman who wants to sell the contents.

Gable’s story is full of all the key plot twists and turns authors are instructed to include, on two levels: April’s life as it plays out in the novel as well as Marthe de Florian’s in the journal entries. Maddeningly for April, the journal pages provide an incomplete picture of Marthe, leaving her convinced she needs to learn more in order to persuade her bosses to set up a special auction of all the pieces instead of breaking up the collection to add individual pieces to several general auctions. Or does she simply want to satisfy her own curiosity?

Gable’s story is intriguing, all the more so because its premise is real. The real life Marthe de Florian walked away from her Paris apartment at the beginning of World War II where the furniture and the Boldini portrait remained out of sight for 70 years. Love letters to Marthe were also found in the apartment. Gable invents a few characters, a relationship or two, but remained true to the bones of history.

While I enjoyed the characters, some of the relationship contortions that Gable has April put herself through diminished the entertainment, the reason I assigned only four stars.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group–My First Post

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeIt’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group Wednesday. I signed up last week when I learned of the group and its requirement to post each first Wednesday of the month. So here’s my challenge for the week.

I know I have to prepare a synopsis of my memoir. I know I should prepare an outline. I know these things, but I’m having trouble getting started.

One reason for the problem is that preparing an outline suggests I have control over the events to include in it. But the events as they happened don’t fit so neatly into the hero’s journey or the 15 essential plot points.

I can reorganize the scenes to fit the desired order, but then the story wouldn’t be as it happened. It wouldn’t be “true.”

Is it appropriate to be creative with the timeline for a memoir?

 

My First Liebster Award

A big thank you to Charm the Explorer for nominating me for a Liebster Award. I am thrilled to be nominated, especially by someone who is physically so far away from me. Charm’s home is in the Philippines.

Charm blogs about traveling on a budget. Since she lives in the Philippines, many of her trips are to places in Asia I would love to see. Two places I’ve already been–Tokyo and Seoul. One place I would love to see to contrast it with my great-uncle’s description from the 1930s–Macau.

The Liebster Award is given to bloggers by other bloggers. This is a way to recognize great fellow bloggers for their work and to promote their blogs and our blogs as well.

LIEBSTER AWARD GUIDELINES:

These are the guidelines to keep this award going when you decide to accept the award.liebster-award

  1. Display an image of the award and write about your nomination.
  2. Thank and link the person who nominated you for this award.
  3. Answer the 11 questions prepared for you by the blogger who nominated you.
  4. Nominate 5-11 awesome bloggers who you think  deserve this award, and create 11 questions of your own for your nominees to answer.
  5. List these guidelines in your blog post.

MY ANSWERS TO CHARM’S QUESTIONS:

1. Your dream destination and why do you want to go there?

Bali, Indonesia, is my dream destination. I’ve been there once, and I’ve always wanted to go back. I was blessed on that first trip to have a friend in Bali who was studying Balinese music, especially the gamelan. He was able to take a few days off to guide me around the island on the back of his motorcycle so that I saw more than just the beaches and the tourists who filled them.

Paradise for me is a small cottage with windows that open to a view of the ocean and a palm tree providing shade just outside that window. Whenever I conjure up that image, I am back in Bali again.

2. When was your first ever trip that you rode an airplane? Any unforgettable experiences?

My first airplane trip was from Fargo, North Dakota, to Newark, New Jersey. I was picked up by a pastor from a Lutheran Church in Weehawken, New Jersey, where I was looking forward to volunteering in an arts, crafts, and recreational program for elementary school-aged children that summer. The plane ride itself was exciting, but it didn’t surpass the rest of the experience.

That was the summer that changed my life. I always wanted to travel and live in foreign countries so I had been studying foreign languages to make those dreams possible. But in New Jersey I discovered I already knew a foreign language–English, my native language. When I returned to my home in Minnesota, I changed my major from German to English and then set out to learn how to teach English as a second or foreign language.

3. Do you make an itinerary for your trips or you just surprise yourself?

My answer to this question has changed over time. When I first traveled, I picked out a destination but I didn’t want to plan anything beyond the flight and my first night’s hotel room. I wanted to discover what was there by serendipity.

As I have aged, I see more value in planning. But I take a middle road–some planning, but not too much. For example, I enjoy staying at all inclusive resorts where it is still possible to leave blocks of time open for discovery. I also enjoyed the one cruise my husband and I took–there was something to do at every minute of the day or night, or I could just sit down in a lounge or around the pool with a book.

4. Among all your trips, what is your most favorite food that you’ve tried?

I have trouble naming my favorite anything–music, movie, or food. But I can narrow my options down by selecting a type of food and that would be Thai.

I love the sweetness of the coconut milk in Thai dishes. I love the heat of garlic and peppers in Thai dishes. And I love rice–ever since I lived in Iran where one cup of uncooked rice per person was the usual recipe guideline.

The first time I had an Iranian meal placed in front of me, I thought it was to be shared with the three others at the table. And then I saw three more plates the same size being placed in front of the others.

5. Food that you think you would never ever dare to taste?

Monkey brains. Can’t imagine eating that no matter how it is prepared.

6. One item that you always bring in a trip that always end up not using.

That extra pair of shoes. It seems like a good idea to have an extra pair, but somehow I always end up with a pair that doesn’t really go with anything else. So they stay tucked into the bottom of my suitcase.

7. When traveling, do you make it a point to make new friends?

I’m not sure I can claim that I make friends while traveling, but I do enjoy meeting people. On one of my first international trips, from Greece to Tehran, I sat next to two Belgian brothers who were traveling to Iran for business. Since I had been living in Iran, they were eager to ask me questions, though I believe they thought they had done enough research already. To test this theory, I asked if they knew what year it was in Iran. (It was 1976 in the Western world.) They told me they knew Iran followed another calendar and that the new year was in March (we were traveling in April), so they concluded it was now 1355 in Iran. A month earlier, they would have been correct. But two weeks before the new year, the Iranian parliament changed the calendar from the Muslim solar calendar (the rest of the Muslim world follows a lunar calendar) to the Imperial calendar which considered year 1 to be the beginning of the Persian empire. So Iran leaped from 1354 to 2535 that year. I was glad to have something to add to their preparation.

8. Have you ever slept in an airport? If yes, any tips? If no, would you dare?

I have never slept in an airport, although I have many times wanted to nap while I waited between flights. Much of my traveling has been done as part of my work, so I’ve been fortunate enough to have overnight accommodation as part of the package paid for by my employer.

I take comfort in knowing that if I absolutely positively had to sleep in an airport, I’d have little trouble doing so. I can fall asleep standing up, if necessary. Just ask my husband.

9. Will you still travel in your senior years?

I’m already in my senior years, and I’m not done traveling yet. Admittedly, most of my travels these days are between where I live and where the rest of my family lives, although my husband and I take advantage of other places along the way.

10. What made you decide to start a blog?

This is my third blog. I started my first blog, Better Than The Alternative, in 2010 order to learn just what is involved. The office I worked in at the time provided self-hosted WordPress sites to other offices as part of a collaborative workspace effort designed to break down the silos that separated staff from other departments. I needed to know what WordPress was in order to support my internal customers. I rarely post anything to this blog.

My second blog, Sandra Yeaman’s 365 Project, is on Blogspot.com. I created that blog in 2013 in order to challenge myself to write at least 500 words per day for 365 days. My goal was to get into the habit of writing. Many of the pieces I wrote then are now in revised form in my draft memoir, the working title of which is Stuck in Stage Two: A Memoir of Cross-Cultural Confrontations and Miscommunication. I no longer add anything to this blog, but occasionally I go back to look at what I wrote.

I created my current blog, Sandra Yeaman: From Adventure to Mission, to build my platform to market my memoir once I complete it. Until I get closer to finishing it, I use this blog to review books and take part in blogging challenges, such as the April a-to-z-challenge, in order to reach out to the blogging community to find like-minded souls.

11.If it is the end of the world, which country do you want to see for the first and last time?

There are two countries in the world that I have always wanted to see but haven’t: Bulgaria and Burma. I’d pick one of those if I could only travel to one more place before the end of the world.

MY LIEBSTER AWARD NOMINEES

Since my current blog is an effort to build a platform from which to market my memoir, I spend a lot of time reading other blogs about writing and by authors. I have learned much from those bloggers and wish to nominate the following in recognition:

  1. Ryan Lanz of A Writer’s Path because he provides such wonderful tips to aspiring writers.
  2. Laura Roberts of Button Tapper Press because she told me about the a-to-z challenge and she amazes me with the breadth of her writing activities.
  3. Rhondi Peacock of Ya Gotta Laugh About It because I love both the name of her blog and her real name.
  4. Ankita Shukla of No Agenda In Life because everyone should learn a bit of foreign languages and she introduces readers to French, one bite at a time.
  5. Ginni of GinniBites because I am always amazed by poets. She’s already received a Real Neat Blogger award, but deserves another.
  6. Sarah of The Critiquing Chemist because I love to discover how someone in a different field reacts to what I love–books.
  7. Sarah of The Sarah Doughty because as I said, I am always amazed by poets.
  8. Lori of As the Fates Would Have It and Promptly Written and A Whispered Wind because I am blown away by her productivity and creativity. She has already received a One Lovely Blog Award, but she deserves another. Or more likely at least two more for her three blogs.
  9. Jordan of Literary Fuzz because he writes 50-word stories.
  10. Kadri of Books First since it has been awhile since she was last nominated for a Liebster Award.
  11. Yinglan of yzhengblog because she is so creative and productive and I can’t tell if she has ever received a Liebster Award before.

MY QUESTIONS FOR BLOGGERS:

  1. What book(s) are you reading now?
  2. Who else do you think would enjoy reading it? Why?
  3. Which author would you like to write your life story? Why?
  4. Name three authors you would like to invite to dinner. Why?
  5. Summarize your life in three sentences.
  6. What was the last book you read that kept you up late into the night to finish?
  7. Have you read a book recently you decided was a waste of time? If so, what is it? Who might like it?
  8. What’s your favorite genre? Why?
  9. What genre haven’t you read much of yet?
  10. What would be a good title for your autobiography?
  11. What’s the title of the next book you plan to begin reading?

 

 

Book Review: Scribbling the Cat

scribblingthecat“The windows of the pickup were rolled down because we, in Five Starscommon with everyone else in this part of the world, were jealous of every drop of fuel we spent. And, under these circumstances, air-conditioning (like the exorcism of war memories and the act of writing about it) was an unpardonable self-indulgence. K had gone quiet and the muscle at the back of his jaw had begun to quiver. Air-conditioning ices memories with its blandness, but with the windows wound down the past came rushing back at K. ‘Do you smell that?’ he asked me more than once, looking at me as if expecting to see the same war-shocked look on my face as he wore on his own. I nodded. But what I was smelling was not what K was smelling. I was smelling now, he was smelling memories.”

In Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier Alexandra Fuller tells the story of her return to Zambia in order to travel with K, a soldier who fought in the many wars of independence in East Africa in a search to make sense of what the war had done to them both. Still a child during the wars of independence that turned Rhodesia into Zimbabwe, Northern Rhodesia into Zambia, and freed Mozambique from the Portuguese, Fuller experienced it as a time when both her parents were defenders of colonial way of life. In her first memoir, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, she recalls being left behind with her sister and mother as her father heads off in camouflage and a blackened face so that he won’t be visible. Fuller the child wants to yell out to him in warning as she watches him walk down the drive leading to their farm that she can still see him, that he must watch out. She also sits at her mother’s feet during her mother’s periods of assignment at the map of lights set up to give white farmers a warning system if attacked. If one of the lights came on, a call to arms would go out to defenders to race to the farm under attack.

Years later, Fuller, now married and mother of two children, returns from her Wyoming home to visit her parents in Zambia. She meets K, a soldier who is still battling demons unleashed during his time as a soldier in the RLI, Rhodesian Light Infantry.

“Because it is the land that grew me, and because they are my people, I sometimes forget to be astonished by Africans.”

Fuller begins her narrative with the lines above. K astonished her because he was still in Africa after years of fighting against the native Africans who were fighting to take possession of the land. K has lost his farm, his son, and his wife. But K has found God. He has turned his life over to God, asking God for guidance every day. K asks God if He has sent Fuller to be with him.

Fuller admits she and K were on the wrong side in the fight. And yet her parents remained. K remained. And she returns again and again, feeling African more than any other nationality in spite of her American husband and Wyoming home. She invites K to return with her to Mozambique, where K spent most of his time fighting to retain possession of African land, in the hopes that she can help him find reconciliation and she can find understanding.

“You can’t rewind war. It spools on, and on, and on. Looping and jumping, distorted and cracked with age, and the stories contract until only the nuggets of hatred remain and no one can even remember, or imagine, why the war was organized in the first place.”

In the end there is no reconciliation, no understanding. There is only the story of “what happens when you stand on tiptoe and look too hard into your own past and into the things that make us war-wounded the fragile, haunted, powerful men-women that we are.”

This is a naked story of warts and wounds and victims of war. Fuller opens up the door to let the reader see her Africa, an Africa she loves in spite of its terrors and dangers. She uses the language those she meets would use, unflattering in its references to black Africans, but without apology. She simply reports.

To any who choose to pick up her story, and I recommend doing so but not until after reading Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, be sure to turn to the back of the book to review the Glossary before diving into this story.

Book Review: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight

dontletsgotothedogstonightAlexandra Fuller’s first memoir covers her chilFive Starsdhood in Africa, including stints at boarding schools far from her parents, ending with her marriage to an American who brought her out of Africa and into another land.

Her parents were grounded in Africa, her mother by birth and her father by experience. Yet after the death of their second child, a boy, they chose England, perhaps to escape the threat of the Coming-Back Baby because they hadn’t buried their son far enough away from their Rhodesian home or perhaps to avoid the rising threat of violence in the increasingly independence-minded region. In the few years the family lived in England, Alexandra was born.

But success in England eluded them. In view of insurmountable debts, Fuller’s father returned to Rhodesia, and her mother brought the two girls, Vanessa the first born and Alexandra, back by ship to Cape Town and then by train to Rhodesia.

Fuller tells the naked story of her family’s successes and failures in England, several spots in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) including on the border with Mozambique, Malawi, and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), without judgment, as an objective participant, if that isn’t an oxymoron. There is no apology in the book. There is just the story, told with candor and compassion, with humor and hope. Fuller uses the language of her mother, not hiding her mother’s colonialist views of the Africans. But she also tells of the loss of two more children which bring her mother at least to the brink of a nervous breakdown. Since her parents’ life choices differ so widely from what most people would consider average, it is difficult to be certain how far from the Fuller-normal either parent ever drifted. In the end, her mother survived.

Fuller describes the Africa of her childhood down through the layers of dirt and muck under her feet with love. Learning how to recognize possible improvised explosive devices and how to handle a gun are normal elementary school requirements. When the girls go to sleep, they worry about terrorists hiding under their beds. Yet there is no judgment as she writes. This is Africa, she writes. And it is home.  We should all have such warm feelings of home.