Jan 7, 2011

My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok

This is really an incredible book, though I did get a bit frustrated with some of the stylistic choices. Potok is an evocative author, and I was impressed by his knowledge of artistic movements and terminology. What frustrated me was the silence of the main character, Asher. Though the book is written in first person, I still got the sense of a muted voice. He was narrating the things that were happening to him, but it was almost without emotion. Perhaps this was intentional, a way of expressing Asher's emotional repression by the people and religion he loved.

The book is set against the background of post-WWII Brooklyn, a world in which the wounds of the Holocaust are still agonizingly fresh. Asher's father travels around the world, opening yeshivas and connecting Jews to each other again. Asher and his mother are left behind to wait, and as Asher's artistic talent blossoms, his mother becomes caught in a tug of war between father and son. The big question of the novel is whether the individual is more obligated to himself, or to his people, particularly when his people is downtrodden and oppressed. Asher never answers this question, choosing, I believe, to try and straddle both worlds. Whether he has made the right decision is up to the reader.

Jan 3, 2011

The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley

This book was recommended to me based on my love of Tamora Pierce, and, for the most part, it did not disappoint. Young Harry, a tall, athletic, intelligent girl, is shipped off to join her brother at a border outpost after the death of their father. She soon falls in love with the desert in which she finds herself, and finds herself an increasingly important part of the culture of the natives there. There is magic, swordfights, warhorses, and the omnipresent threat from the North; everything a good coming of age book for the young tom boy requires.

The writing is generally very good, readable and engaging, perhaps a bit more sophisticated than Pierce's writing. My only complaint was the odd chronological structure, which could have used an editor's heavy hand. The pattern seems to be that a section/chapter starts out with "Two days later...", then bends back around to describe what happened in those two days. It would have made far more sense to just write the story in the correct order without these random future-past asides. Section breaks could also have been used more liberally, as sometimes paragraphs do not flow into each other altogether naturally.

But in general, I very much enjoyed this book, and will keep it in my permanent collection for future rereadings.