“When your fight has purpose—to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of an innocent—it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling—when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event—there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it.”
Winner, Orange Prize 2011
Tea Obreht was the youngest author ever to win the Orange Prize. She certainly has stormed onto the literary scene. I was anxious to read the Tiger’s Wife to see if it lived up to the hype. Many times I don’t enjoy a book very much when everyone is talking about it, which is why I try to avoid reviews until I’ve read it because of potential spoilers. But it’s hard not to notice when a book is winning or being nominated for several book awards.
Set in a generic province in and around Yugoslavia, the book alternates between Natalia’s life and that of her grandfather’s, with, of course, some intermingling of the two. They are both physicians, and both timelines are times of war in the region. One aspect of the novel is that I guess you could say it has elements of magical realism, something I’m not really a fan of normally. I enjoyed it with this book, though, because it also had a folktale-ish feel to it as well.
Throughout the novel, there is no coherent timeline at all, it’s all over the place. At first this bothered me but then I realized I didn’t care. The stories were magnificent. It almost felt like a group of interconnected short stories, though they weren’t told chronologically.
My favorite Orange winner so far is Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and no, this novel did not surpass it. But, Obreht is so young; she has years ahead of her to finetune and hone her craft. I will look forward to whatever she writes next.
2011, 338 pp.
“Frost had built on the dead grass, and it skirled beneath his feet. If not for this sound he’d have thought himself struck deaf, owing to the magnitude of the surrounding silence. All the night’s noises had stopped. The whole valley seemed to reflect his shock. He heard only his footsteps and the wolf-girl’s panting complaint.”
I really wanted to read Train Dreams after it was embroiled in the “no Pulitzer” debate. Hey, it was only 117 pages, so I knew it wouldn’t take me long to read. It’s easily read in under two hours. As I write this, I’m still trying to decide between a 3.5 and a 4.5 star rating. I either loved it, or it was under my 4 star par. I guess I’ll just have to average the two and give it a 4.
Why am I waffling? Part of me loved the story, the writing, and the story of the life of Robert Grainier. Johnson definitely packs a big punch in such a small book. I admired how the author gave such a wide sweep of history of the American West and an individual’s life in so few pages. What I didn’t like was the mystical aspects of the book regarding the wolves. It was a little weird.
All in all, I would have been neutral on this title winning the Pulitzer. I’ve certainly read winners that I thought were much worse than this book. I’m definitely glad I read it, if anything to ponder why the Pulitzer Board chose not to pick this one.
2002, 117 pp.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 1992
This was one of the Pulitzers I had been looking forward to reading the most because farming has been in my family for generations. I always appreciate books that depict rural living. Farming is a way of life but it is also a business, and when business and family are combined it can sometimes be a touchy situation. This novel explored that aspect very well. Add to that family secrets, problems with aging, and ‘keeping up appearances’ for the neighbors and you have a very interesting and engaging book.
One of the interesting sidelines of the book for me was the interest in organic farming and the harm of pesticides, etc. to the environment and human health. I am not a fan of the direction that farming is going with GMOs and the use of hormones for livestock. This has trickled down to the local farmer as well, and is not limited anymore to just corporate farms. It’s unfortunate that many family farms have had to resort to these practices to compete; I don’t think they fully realize the risks being done to human health.
I’m not sure I would have chosen this novel for the Pulitzer. To begin with, the plot is somewhat borrowed from Shakespeare’s King Lear. I am of the opinion that the prize should be given to a completely original work. There were also aspects of the relationships among the sisters that were a bit unbelievable for me. Still, I’m glad I read it and deemed it worthy of at least 4 stars.
Departures, aka Okuribito
Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, 2009
My grade: A+
I had no idea what Departures was about when I chose it on Netflix instant view. I just knew it won Best Foreign Language Film and it was something about a cello player. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know, because if I had I might not have watched it.
At the beginning of the film, Daigo lives with his wife in a beautiful apartment in Tokyo and is employed by an orchestra. The orchestra ends up disbanding, and Daigo must sell his cello and go back to the town where he grew up because he can’t afford to live in Tokyo any longer. He returns to his childhood home that his mother left him after she died. As he’s searching for a job in the classifieds, he notices an ad for ‘assisting departures.’ Thinking it’s a travel agency, he applies. When he gets to the agency, the boss informs him it was a misprint and ‘departures’ should be ‘the departed.’ The job entails the Japanese tradition of preparing dead bodies for cremation. Needing the job and the money it provides, he reluctantly accepts.
I cannot begin to describe to you the beautiful ceremony of this Japanese custom, and it is all done directly in the presence of the deceased’s family. The care with which the body is prepared astounded me. I was really taken by surprise with this film. Also beautiful was the cinematography. Just gorgeous scenes, and not just the snowy landscapes. The indoor shots were beautiful as well.
I highly recommend this film to anyone with an interest in Japanese culture or in foreign films in general. I really, really loved this one.