Saturday, December 1, 2012

Elderly Escapades

Little Big Man (M) by Thomas Berger is the first novel that I read with an elderly protagonist. Many may be familiar with the film of the same name starring Dustin Hoffman. One-hundred and twenty-one year old Jack Crabbe has been raised by a white man and a Cheyenne chef.

Like a latter day Forrest Gump, Jack finds himself in various times of history of the Wild West. The dual cultural battle is interesting. As a Cheyenne, Jack eats dog, had four wives and battles against General Custer in the Battle of Big Horn. As a white man, he slaughters buffaloes and tangles with Wyatt Earp. This novel is an eye-opener for its time as it examines the issue of human rights for native peoples. Berger presents his amateur history with big dollops of humour and folktales with a sensitivity that is amazingly profound. As one reviewer stated “ The funniest tragedy I have ever read”!

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (M) by Jonas Jonasson is a novel that I am pushing for everyone to read. It has quite a long title but it describes the book to a “T”. I love the description on the back of this book “A reluctant centenarian with a life much like Forrest Gump's (if Gump were an explosives expert with a fondness for vodka) decides it's not too late to start over...” I read a lot of different types of books but I must admit humour and satire are usually on the top of my “must read lists”. When I stumbled across this book it rose up on my list very quickly. While I did enjoy Allan Karlsson's life story, it was his present day adventure that tickled my funny bone the most. After all how many centenarians would climb out a window in the first place. Then, in his great escape, he manages to steal 50 million Swedish Crown notes from the Violin bike group. Yes, Violin! When their jackets were made the seamstress misspell Violence. The group changes its name to “Never Again” but that is another tale. The comedy of errors just continues to get more and more bizarre from there. It is no wonder this novel is an international bestselling sensation.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores (M) Gabriel Garcia Marquez begins this novel with the lines “The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin”. I know the first reaction is yuck! But as you read further in this novel you actually have sympathy for this unnamed Colombian journalist and teacher. He has never married, never been in love and lives in a crumbling family home. He has never bedded a woman that he has not paid for. By the time he was 50 there had been 514 (you do the math). He contacts the madame of the city's most successful brothel to arrange his wish. She arranges for him to meet a 14 year girl. But unlike Humbert Humbert and Lolita, the man finds he enjoys watching this young girl sleep. It is interesting that at such an advanced age he is experiencing his first love. This short novel, 115 pages, can be be finished in a small amount of time but you might just want to savour the language this master of prose presents.

The Secret Scripture (M)Sebastian Barry was shorted listed for the 2005 Booker Awards for his novel A Long Way and he shows his brilliance again in this novel. One-hundred year old Roseanne McNulty was once one of the most beautiful girls in all of Ireland. Her long mysterious life is one of of misfortunes, misunderstanding, and neglect. She is institutionalized at Roscommon Regional Asylum. This hospital is scheduled to close and it is up to Dr. Grene to evaluate the patients and decide if they can return to society. Roseanne is of particular interest and as he researches her he finds a document written by the local parish priest. Roseanne herself revisits her past and hides her manuscript under the floorboards. The power of the Catholic Church versus its parishioners and government presents an interesting background to this compelling tale.

Seventy one year old Lucy Caines is a little young for this blog but since it is a story of Halifax I thought I would include Glass Voices (M) by Carol Bruneau. In some ways Lucy's story could be any woman's story. When her husband suffers a severe stroke, Lucy is forced to examine what sort of woman she has become. Like most of her generation she is a woman who has always worked hard for her family but never gave herself permission to give to herself. Lucy and Harry's life has been one of both love and, at times, loathing. Their house was destroyed in the 1917 Halifax Explosion and that completely changed their fortunes. The novel follows their tale through their struggles to make ends meet, the strained relationships with their son and daughter-in-law and their hippie grandson. Harry's health forces them all back together to deal with the past and make strides to the future. And along with the changes brought because of the Depression, Prohibition, two World Wars, and the social turmoil of the sixties, this novel is one that presents quite an interesting tale.

I can't help but switch this blog's fiction focus with the addition of a wonderful biography of two remarkable sisters. Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters'first 100 years (M) is a 1993 New York Times bestselling book of oral history written by Sarah “Sadie” L. Delany and A. Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany. The ladies' ages is remarkable in and of itself, but what is even more remarkable is that they are daughters of a former slave. Their father became the first African-American elected bishop in the Episcopal Church of the U.S and Vice Principal of At. Augustine's College. As well, their mother was a teacher and administrator. The sisters achieved advanced college degrees at a time that any woman, regardless of colour, would have found it very difficult. Sadie received her Bachelor's degree in education in 1920 followed by a master's degree in education in 1925. She was the first African-American permitted to teach at a high school level in NYC. Bessie was a 1923 graduate of Colombia University's school of Dental and Oral Surgery. She was the second African American woman to practice dentistry in the state of New York. They were successful career women and civil rights workers. The sisters never married and lived together all their lives. Bessie stated “The reason we've lived this long is because we never married. We never had husbands to worry us to death”!

I want to add one particular DVD to this list, Young @ Heart: you're never too old to rock. (M) You haven't heard or seen anything until you have a bunch of seniors sing The Ramone's “I Want to Be Sedated”. I highly recommend this documentary for all ages.

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