Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch

When a Mom says these words, it is usually a positive thing, an indicator that a Mom is expecting her child to be responsible and independent: "He doesn't have to wait for his Mom to tell him everything. He's old and wise enough to decide for himself."  However, in the story of  The Dinner by Herman Koch, those same words written on page 271 and spoken by a Mom named Claire indicate something ominous. Claire wants her only child, a teenager named Michel, to hide his wrong doings by any means necessary.

One steady theme in the story is sibling rivalry and this is the focus of the narrator who is also Claire's husband, Paul.  Paul, an unemployed teacher with a mystery illness resents his brother, Serge, a popular Dutch politician hoping to campaign for the post of Prime Minister.  The characters; Claire and Paul, and Serge and Babette; meet at an up-scale restaurant for dinner then there are flashbacks explaining why all the characters have come together and how each one is connected. The chapters in the story are divided into parts starting with Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert and ending with Digestif. This is a well written story even though it starts off slow in the Apertif section. The story is not for every reader; it is dark. All the characters in The Dinner set in Holland are horrid and the writer makes you dislike them all.

The story makes you think, What would I do in a situation like this?  Would I cover up my child's wrong doing by any means necessary?  Many people do just that.  I am thinking about a teenager in Brunswick, Georgia, De'Marquise Elkins, who tried to rob a mother and ended up murdering her baby. That teenager's Mom, Karimah Elkins, his sister and his Aunt tried to cover for him.  The story makes you think about genetics.  It is not clear if Paul's illness was a mental one but whatever it was, I believe readers are supposed to think the child is not totally responsible for his behavior, that Paul and his son Michel suffer from the same illness.

I have read some interesting books in October.  I finished reading Bel Canto and The Dinner. I have moved on to Open and Shut by  David Rosenfelt which is actually our book club selection for November.

Listen to the writer Herman Koch on NPR.

Friday, October 18, 2013

I Am Loving Bel Canto

I am still enjoying Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and am on page 202 of this 318 page book.  I  like the humor in the story and I am fascinated by the characters.  I am going to recommend this book to the book club. There is a mixed group of about 58 high level officials in a hostage situation. The women and children had been released except for an opera singer, Roxane Coss. The story revolves around her. The male hostages and the terrorists which include two girls are captivated by Roxane's voice; the pure sweetness of her upper register. Page 201 says of Roxane, "She sang as if she was saving the life of every person in the room."  She has become close to one female bandit, Carmen. They braid each other's hair as if they were BFFs.  According to Carmen, Roxane is in love with a Japanese businessman also in captivity, Mr. Hosokawa.

Mr. Hosokawa's personal Japanese interpreter, Gen, is a key character in the story because he speaks several languages and is needed to keep the communication going.  He is very busy in this hostage crisis interpreting Russian, French, English, Spanish, Japanese. Much of the communication is between various male hostages and Roxane and also between the Red Cross official Messner and the terrorists. Gen is in love with Carmen, the young female bandit who wants to improve her education in the midst of this hostage crisis.

Father Arguedas, a young priest and another major character, seems very happy to be a hostage. He loves opera and is grateful to be in the presence of Roxane.  He prays for love, protection, and safe delivery for all but not  for rescue.

The Vice President, Ruben, of this unnamed South American country is an interesting character in the story. The hostages and terrorists are in his home and he is busy cleaning, organizing the cooking, and generally playing host as if this were a normal situation. He's given Roxane some of his wife's clothing. It was funny when he approached Roxane to get guidance on how to prepare dinner. He assumed because she was a woman she would know about cooking.

I am hoping this has a satisfying resolution.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Creating a Reading List for 2014

What will our book club read in 2014?  Club members are checking out certain books to see if the rest of us would be interested in selecting them for 2014. Linda is checking out Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Tom read Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls and reported that he loved it. And I am reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

I am on page 56 and I am loving it so far. Bel Canto is loosely based on the hostage crisis in Peru in December 1996 when members of Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) took hundreds of high level officials as hostages while they were attending a party at the Japanese Ambassadors residence.  President Fujimori sent in Peruvian troops in April 1997 and freed the hostages. One hostage died and all the MRTA members were killed.  In Bel Canto, however, a group of young armed bandits have entered the residence of the Vice President of an unnamed Spanish speaking South American country and are holding the guests hostage. Their intent was to kidnap the President but the President happens to be absent because he chose to stay home to watch his favorite soap opera that night.

Our club meets next Friday to discuss Blood of the Prodigal: an Amish Mystery.