Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

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At the peak of her career, Alice Howland, a Harvard Professor and published author is developing early-onset Alzheimer’s a degenerative disease for which there is no cure. Very early in the progression she gets lost when she is out running and at that point still doesn’t know what is coming, but of course more challenges come.

She loses her job as a teacher, and her relationship as a wife and mother changes. At each step in the progression of this disease we feel it with her. We feel her hope and disappointment in the testing and attempts to help her. It is especially interesting to see her prepare for a talk with the Alzheimer’s Association Annual Dementia Care Conference not long before she really fades past being able to do that.

Lisa Genova, is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association and brings her own experience in dealing with the facts of the disease. The writing is done so well that you feel like you really know more, maybe too much, about the disease.

About the Author

Lisa Genova  was born November 22, 1970.  She self-published "Still Alice" in 2007 and as the book became successful Simon & Schuster acquired it.  It was then published in 2009 by Gallary Books and today here are over 2.6+ million copies in print, and it has been translated into 37 languages.

 

 

Human Acts A Novel, by Han Kang

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First Line: “In early 1980, South Korea was a heap of dry tinder waiting for a spark”

Park Chung-hee had ruled since 1961 but he was assassinated by the director of his own security services. Another army general, Chun Doo-hawn, stepped in and brought martial law that closed universities, banned political activities and further curtailed the press. Riots and protests followed.

During the Gwangiu violent student uprising Dong-ho goes to search for a friend. He then volunteers, much to his family’s concern, to help a team that was entrusted to guard and care for the bodies of the demonstrators who were killed. His job is keeping a ledger, creating a number for each corpse, and helping the bodies be prepared for coffins.  

Dong-ho’s own ultimate death becomes the connection to the rest of the characters, and their stories make up 6 of the 7 chapters of the book.

These chapters cover from 1980 to 2013. The author, Han Kang, brings us a unique understanding the terrible torture, the survivors, the suffering of families broken, and even the feelings and thoughts of spirits who look back after their death. In one chapter we travel with a body to a holding area where it is laid on other bodies in a pile. Even as they are burned, the spirit of the body is telling us of thoughts and feelings, and it appears he is really alive.

Hans own story is told in the last chapter. She was nine years old at the time of the Gwangiu Uprising, but her writing captures it as if she was right there and she talks us there as well.

See Past Review Tab for a great book on North Korea, "Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick"

Human Acts: A Novel
By Han Kang
 

Book Review: Beartown, Fredrik Backman

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Author Fredrik Backman

Author Fredrik Backman

FIRST PARAGRAPH: “It is Friday in early March in Beartown and nothing has happened yet. Everyone is waiting. Tomorrow, the Beartown Ice Hockey Club’s junior team is playing in the semifinal of the biggest youth tournament in the country. How important can something like this be? In most places, not so important, of course. But Beartown isn’t most places."

This small Sweedish town is located in a forest, near a lake, in the middle of nowhere, where the people are “tough as the forest and hard as the ice.” Everyone knows that it is a Hockey Town.  The boys grow up wanting to play, and the town lives for the games.

To understand what really happened when the coaches daughter is raped before a big game, you have to understand the characters of this story.

The coach, Peter, grew up in the town and was the most successful player they ever had, up to know. He went on to the NFL and came back to be the coach. Sune used to be Peter’s coach and, after 50 years, he is still working at the club. Peter’s wife Kari is not from Beartown and sees things very different than Peter and the locals.

Kevin is the best player the team has had in years, but for Kevin’s dad it is all about winning. For his mother she see’s things very differently, since the big game and the rape.

The book keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end, but the overall story does finally come to a conclusion. I especially appreciated, as part of the ending, learning where many of the characters wind up 10 years later.

I thought Backman’s book “A Man Called Ove” was one that presented deep insight into characters, but this book brings many characters together with even deeper insight for them individually and collectively.

A powerful book and far more than just a hockey sports story, for sure.

 

See Past Reviews Section for Review of "A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman"

Book Review: And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, a Novella by Fredrik Backman

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Backman has brought a unique beauty and intensity of emotion to the words of this moving story. The expressions of feeling suggest poetry and indeed this short story moves in a magical way.

The story is framed around the conditions described so well in the very first paragraph: There is a hospital room at the end of a life where someone, right in the middle of the floor, has pitched a green tent. A person wakes up inside it, breathless and afraid, not knowing where he is. A young man sitting next to him whispers: “Don’t be scared.”

Grandpa’s memories of his grandson Noah are stronger and more detailed than his own son, Ted, but both have to say goodbye to him, even though he lives on in his mind and memories. Those memories take him to special places from his past life and he finds his wife who has passed on. They talk and remember, and she tells him that both he and Ted were given Noah as a bridge between them adding that by spoiling their grandchildren it is a way of apologizing to our children.

The story floats back and forth, from settings and dialog in Grandfathers mind, to those taking place.

Backman offers understanding in a letter to the reader at the beginning of the book. He tells us his greatest fear in growing old is that he would lose his imagination before his body gave up. The story seems to confirm that this isn’t the case.  He calls the book a love letter between a man and his grandson ,and a dad and his boy. He says he never meant for us to read it. I will take him at his word on that, as it is indeed a love letter of recognizable and familiar feelings for all of us.

 

11/22/63 Stephen King, A Novel

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Jake Epping, a recently divorced English teacher, spends a lot of time at a local diner, owned by man named Al, and spends a lot of time just talking with while he is there.

He tells Al of his friend who is dying of cancer because of a lifetime of smoking and they talk about the country. Al shows Jake a wormhole, time portal, in the storeroom that will allow him to go back in time and convinces Jake to use it to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.  The plan is to go back and spend 5 years carefully learning and, of course, not disturbing the future.  When he goes back to 1958 he visits his sick friend, only to find that he and the whole family are heavy smokers even then

Jake takes on a new identity. He is more positive and happy in this new reality. He finds someone he loves, but he continues to wait for the opportunity to change the present, by changing the past.

Partially because I remember those years, but more because of King writing talent, I really felt like I was looking down familiar street.  Watching the Oswald family from a rented room across the street, just made you believe you were there looking out the window.

Jake wants to find Lee Harvey Oswald and learn more about what happened. He wonders if Oswald was just a patsy.

The story is one of action, romance, drama, and even some humor. The characters make the story, and the story doesn’t really wander from the historical time line.  This is no different than other great novels by Stephen King, you just can’t put it down.

Quotes

“Life turns on a dime. Sometimes towards us, but more often it spins away, flirting and flashing as it goes: so long, honey, it was good while it lasted, wasn’t it?” 
-Stephen King 11/22/63

 “We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why. Not until the future eats the present, anyway. We know when it's too late."          -Stephen King 11/22/63

11/22/63: A Novel
By Stephen King