Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Photograph...and a New Book Club Choice and the best thing I did all day

eccentric # 1

The woman in the photograph being forced to sit still and participate in my experiments with collage is not Edith Sitwell, but my great-grandmother. On seeing her photograph, people have often commented that I resemble her. Whether the resemblance went beyond the physical is only one of the things I don't know about her.

Neither I, nor anyone living, knows her name or anything about her life. I suspect, but do not know, that it was neither an easy one, nor a long one. In a final affront, time has conspired to erase, not only her name and her story, but this last vestige of her face.

Was she an eccentric? Did she make art or write poems? I suspect but do not know that such things were luxuries a young woman of her time and place and class had little opportunity to explore.

But whether she wrote them down or drew them or pasted them onto a piece of old wallpaper or made them rhyme, I know she walked through the streets of her town and the surrounding woods, and dreamed abundant and astonishing dreams.

How do I know that? Because looking at her face, really looking, was the best thing I did all day.


In other news, it's 11:40 on the second of November, which can only mean one thing.
In exactly forty minutes until it becomes the third!

That's right, in forty minutes, amazing bloggers from far and wide will begin to post their thoughts on The Third Day Book Club's first selection, Half of a Yellow Sun. Okay, maybe not in EXACTLY forty minutes. Some of you do sleep.

Twenty something people signed on to read and blog Adichie's novel, but I know many were tentative and busy, oh so busy, and Yellow Sun is a 400+ page book. Thus, I have no idea exactly how many people actually went read it. But I've heard enough from several of you to know there is a solid group of us. A real book club!

So how to proceed? Today, Jordan asked if I would link the other readers, and I definitely will. I also suggest that you all link to one another so we can form a chain. Or a circle. On second thought, a circle is much better than a chain.

I've thought of starting a separate book blog for third day where we all could post our thoughts--another good point Jordan brought up--but at least initially, I think it might be more fun to post our thoughts on our own blogs.


1. It will attract new readers to our blogs, where they will undoubtedly find many other amazing things to fascinate and seduce them.

2. It could also draw some of the readers from our individual blogs into the book club.

Gerry wondered what we were supposed to blog about the book. To that end, I'm posting a few discussion questions. Use them or devise your own, review the book as if you were writing for the New York Times, or respond to it with a poem, a piece of art, or however you're inspired to do. Around here, we're nothing if not flexible.

Possible Discussion Questions:

1. The thing that struck me most about this novel was how war transformed the characters in surprising ways. The strong became weak; the good committed horrific acts; a character who seemed cold and somewhat harsh in the beginning revealed herself to be capable of the greatest generosity and courage. Did this feel like a true assessment of how war changes people?

2. Over the course of the novel, Olanna and Ogdenigbo's relationship, which seems strong and vibrant in the beginning, deteriorates to a near complete alienation. And yet, the final scene if a loving one. Do you believe that when the war ended a couple and a family who had seen and endured all that they had could ever be the same?

3. One thing I admired most about the novel was that it was more than a platform to express Achichie's feelings about war. It was a rich and deftly plotted story. What were some of the ways that the author rewarded her readers for their time?

4. Reading this novel makes us confront some uncomfortable subjects: hunger, forced conscription, and the violence that ethnic hatred so often breeds. Did any of those subjects particularly rattle your sleep--and why?

5. Throughout the horrors they endure, Olanna and Kainene never give in to the madness or despair around them. What do you think was the source of their strength?

6. There were a number of vivid and appealing characters in this novel. Which one did you relate to most and why?

This month, inspired by a rave on Myfanwy Collins' blog, I've chosen Daniel Woodrell's novel, Winter's Bone as our next read. The line in Myfanwy's review that most convinced me: "One part coming of age story, one part mystery, one part thriller, one part literary, this book truly defies classification." As all the best stories do!

winter's bone

When I picked it up at the library tonight, I was surprised by its slenderness and by the sparse number of words per page. At less than 200 pages, it should not place too heavy a burden on those who are doing Nano or involved in major preparations for the holidays.

This will be the last selection I make alone. In the coming months, as Third Day grows and hopefully takes its own direction, I'm hoping we can make nominations and then vote on upcoming books.

It would also be great if we we could take turns hosting Third Day, providing discussion questions and the voting forum on our blogs, festival style.

See you all tomorrow!


Anonymous said...

How sad that your grandmother's life went unrecorded, but I like your positive feelings about her dreams. That's giving her a gift for which I'm sure she's thanking you. Lovely collage too!

Anonymous said...

It made me sad to read that your great-grandmother's name has disappeared...and then I realized that if it were me, I'd simply name her...most probably so I could continue my conversation with her. :) Good luck with the book club.

Anonymous said...

That description of Winter's Bone could just as aptly describe another beautiful book I read this year. It's called The Liar's Diary.


Leah said...

how mysterious that your grandmother's name and history is lost. you could probably create many stories from her picture.

Anonymous said...

I see you do have the collage bug now. I adore the page you've posted, the idea of her image fading, and the mystery it holds.

I have a poem that my Grandmother from Ireland wrote which was published in a newspaper and some handwritten letters from my grandfather to her.

I'll be back later...

Crockhead said...

Hey, Patry, where is the list of bloggers who have reviewed "Half of a Yellow Sun?" Am I missing it? My review is up.

Anonymous said...

I love that quote from Edith Sitwell.

Are you going to write a book about your grandmother, make up a biography for her?

The resemblance between you is evident between what we can see of this photo and the cover you showed us of "My Women." It's in the eyes and mouth.

Patry Francis said...

marja-leena: She is a great-grandmother from my father's somewhat turbulent family. They were huge dreamers but poor keepers of history. Thanks for your kind comment on my collage.

marilyn: What an interesting idea! I think if I were the one whose name had been lost, I would be pleased for a great-granddaughter to give me a new one.

Tish: A comment almost worth five million. xo

kat: That is the amazing and wonderful thing about creating art. You start off making a simple, inelegant collage, and find out you have opened a door...

colleen: Yes, the bug has definitely seized me. I think but do not know that this great-grandmother was also born in Ireland, and may have lived there all her life.

amishlaw: Can't wait to read your blog! I will put up all the links of those who participated later tonight. But right now I'm in for a spate of mad housecleaning to music.
(The in-laws are coming this afternoon!)

sara: You can see it! I love that! Somehow that means she hasn't disappeared totally. And yes, maybe she is calling me to channel her story.

The Curmudgeon said...

It's been difficult for me to comment on your posts the past couple of days. I don't know that it's anything to do with you.

But forgotten stories of ancestors rings a bell with me: So many of our ancestors deliberately erased their pasts when they came to this country. And even after: I have press clippings on my grandfather's death, 60 years ago, from several of the Chicago papers. We had, what, six at the time? And not just mundane facts, like my grandfather's age, vary from clipping to clipping, but even the last name of his brother changes from story to story. And there's a story there -- and I only heard hints about what it might be before my father died.

True self-sacrifice by our ancestors: They sacrificed their very selves -- their identities, their stories -- thinking it'd be better for us.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

My blog is about to go up--I'm at my mom's so things are slow.

It's funny Patry, but I just ordered Winter's Bone from the library too! Myf's review did the same for me.

And I totally understand your reasons for not creating a focused blog...I'm excited!

Sustenance Scout said...

My review's up, too, Patry. Happy housecleaning!

Left-handed Trees... said...

I love that you are making up your own stories to go with her life...this inspires me.

I wrote my "review" of Half of a Yellow Sun just now over at my blog...thank you for the encouragement to get into a book I'd kind-of been dodging, though I was curious about it!

Darlene said...

Patry ~ Your collage is beautiful, there must be a way to find out more about her?

Youre book club sounds great. I'm already involved in one, but it is dwindling and we've already discussed letting it close...Your club is my next choice :) I just may read Nov. book after all ;-)

have a great weekend love,
XXX darlene

Shannon Hopkins said...

Mine's not up yet. It will be soon, maybe even today. But if not, certainly soon. Do I get kicked out of the club if it's not up on exactly the third? I love the sound of the next book, and I'm planning on trying to do a more timely job on the next one!

Anonymous said...

Lovely collage, Patry! I like the idea of giving your great-grandmother a name and a story to make up for what was lost.

My post on Half a Yellow Sun is up now, even though I'm still trying to finish the book - and already the new book is looming, yikes! Though it does sound intriguing.

Sustenance Scout said...

Patry, this is so fun reading all the comments about Sun today. I don't think I addressed any of your questions in my review, though. I did note in one of my comments on another blog that the fear of air raids loomed large while I read those sections. And I believe I related most with Kainene and hope that in a time of such extreme crisis I'd act as she does. I had a hard time with Olanna's decision (and yes, it was a conscious decision) to hurt her sister the way she did. It struck me as the weakest plot point of the book, especially since it was so out of character.

Love the photo of your great-grandmother. My family has a pretty detailed genealogy chart, but I know little about my father-in-law's family to pass onto my kiddos. Very sad. My girls were impressed to hear one of their ancestors on my mom's side was a Pilgrim, though! It's so important to hang onto any clues we have to our families' pasts; must be that human need to connect to others that I babbled about in my review that keeps us searching for even more clues. I'm glad you have that photo. K.

Sustenance Scout said...

P.S. (Sorry!) The massacre scene haunted me, too, though having watched Hotel Rwanda I'm afraid I'd expected something like it. I found Olanna's condition after witnessing such a scene (the Dark Swoops) fascinating and wonder if a survivor described that to Adichie. Olanna was a strong character to have been able to overcome what she suffered, though I don't think her marriage was strong at all. And I don't believe any relationship can endure hardship without changing in some way.

I think I'm done now!

Patry Francis said...

curmudgeon: Beautiful words. At times, I have felt quite haunted by those who have erased themselves so that we might inherit the world.

jordan: Talk about synchronicity! It looks like a great book, doesn't it?

k: Kainene truly was a marvelous character who grew stronger and deeper as the novel progressed. Her finest moment for me was when she defended the young soldier who had come to steal their food.

left-handed: I've been spending much too much time on the internet and not enough time reading--or especially finishing--books, so this was an incentive for me, too.

darlene: Thank you for your encouragement and your smiling presence. I would love it if you joined the book club!

tarakuanyin: Take your time. I look forward to reading your thoughts whenever you get them up.

tinker: Winter's Bone is less than half the length of Sun, and I'm already looking forward to your illustration!

Myfanwy Collins said...

Cannot wait to read what everyone has to say about it, but I suspect you are going to LOVE this book, Patry. It is difficult to put down, and yet you must because you don't want to finish it too quickly.

Patry Francis said...

Myf: Thanks for a great recommendation. I'm really excited about this book!

Lorna said...

sorry I couldn't participate. I've started reading the book, and was lucky enough to score the earlier one, Purple hibiscus, at Chapters for $6.99. Haven't read any fiction for a week, and I think that's the longest I've ever gone.

Patry Francis said...

lorna: I'll be interested to hear what you think of Purple Hibiscus. I haven't read that one yet, but after finishing Sun, I'm looking forward to it--after I finish Winter's Bone, of course.

Anonymous said...

Love the photograph!

I absolutely LOVED Winter's Bone. It's a great choice!