Monday, 10 December 2012

Monday Morning Book Club - Favourite Reads of 2012

1. Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner

Our Shearer's second Monday of the month book club opted to read Wallace Stegner's Crossing To Safety following an extraordinarily positive endorsement by all on the panel of ABC TV July's First Tuesday Book Club.
Our group was unanimously equally smitten, and, by a long shot, voted it as our favourite book this year.
The novel recounts a long adult friendship between two couples who meet in 1937, and, over the following four decades, by a quiet, but totally engaging narrative alchemy of flashback and reflection, we learn of the highs and lows of their marriages, their aspirations, and the complex bonds and strains of their friendship.
Stegner's characterisation is gifted, with his characters drawn with such psychological accuracy, depth and insight, they resonate as if they are real people.
Truly, a masterpiece.
- Carol

I was fortunate that our Book Club group chose this story to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Dickens’ birth.   It’s amazing how I recognized many contemporary characters as Dickens perceptively described every nuance and foible of each of the many characters.   Every element of a great novel is  there – travel, adventure, romance, tragedy, hatred, evil, goodness, parsimony, poverty, snobbery and much more.  The language is so rich and stretches the reader’s vocabulary but he also introduces his own words which don’t need his dictionary as they are so bizarre and descriptive that the reader perfectly understand the author’s intent and meaning.  I urge everyone to read at least one Dickens every year as it reminds us why we love books and storytelling.

- Caz
3. The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman 

‘The Street Sweeper’ is an absorbing work of fiction within the context of well- researched historical facts. It spans half a century and encompasses the civil rights movement in USA, the Holocaust, Chicago unions and life in twenty-first century New York. Some fictional characters are based partly on real people (see Author’s note).

Lamont Williams is an African American on probation and working as a janitor in a hospital. Adam Zignelik, an Australian historian, is an untenured professor at the University of Columbia. Both men are struggling with aspects of their lives. Their stories are linked through connections with friends, family, acquaintances, strangers and others whose lives ebb and flow through the story.

At risk to his own future Lamont befriends a patient, Henryk Mandelbrot, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, dying of cancer. As the friendship develops through empathy and acts of kindness Henryk entrusts Lamont with his story of life in the ghetto and concentration/death camps, especially his time in the Sonderkommando unit, Jewish prisoners who were forced to bury the bodies from the gas chambers.

 In a library storeroom Adam discovers the original tapes of the first interviews with Holocaust survivors after the evacuation of the camps. These tapes tell the story of the Sonderkommandos uprising at Auchwitz-Birkenau and the courageous women who smuggled quantities of gunpowder to the men in the camp.

Although the Holocaust is a powerful component of the book with the depiction of terrible events and injustices, its scope is much wider. It is a story of hope, resilience, love, courage, healing, happiness, heroism, kindness, survival and the way stories and lives can connect and intersect in unexpected ways within community and varying social strata.

There are many interesting and intriguing characters, which the author develops with understanding and sensitivity enabling the reader to feel deeply for them. The Street Sweeper portrays the complexities of life across a broad range of experiences, emotions and time. It is a long book but interest does not wane as the author moves the story with great skill from one situation to another and back again.

This is a powerful story, which revives our recollections of history, engages, enlightens, informs, and challenges us to reflect on the human spirit. It is a remarkable, well-crafted book - one of the best this year (if not the best).

- Mavis

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