Overstory by Richard PowersWinner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize, The Overstory is a rich and deeply moving epic. The novel follows the lives of nine people whose life experiences with trees bring them together to try and stop the devastation of our forests. The characters are introduced in separate chapters and you begin to wonder how they are connected. But slowly the author unfolds their interconnections into a mesmerizing, beautifully written novel with environmental activism at its heart.

This is not a book to be read quickly but rather to be savored slowly with the beautiful, almost poetic writing of Richard Powers. It is not necessarily an easy read either. I found myself re-reading many passages that were so thought-provoking. This book is great fiction that was so educational and increased my understanding of the science of trees and challenged me to rethink some of my basic beliefs and experiences.

This is one of those books that once you finish it, you want to re-read it for more layers of understanding. I will never look at a tree the same way again.

cellist of saravejoDuring the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990's, a cellist plays in the street at 4:00 pm everyday for 22 days to commemorate the lives of 22 people killed in a mortar shell blast.

The Cellist of Sarajevo uses this true story as a backdrop to tell the story of several people caught up in the Bosnian War, including a baker and a young female sniper who wages her own war with the men occupying the hill above their city.

A beautifully written and haunting novel, it makes you truly feel the fear, suffering and hopelessness of living in a city under siege, where snipers hiding in the hills are killing off civilians one by one.The never ending siege and constant risk of death create a constant tension, making it a page-turner.   Winner of the Globe and Mail Best Book for 2009.

old driftOn one level, this is a saga about three generations of families told largely through the eyes of grandmothers, mothers, and children as they migrate or marry and assimilate into Zambia from 1903 to the near future with each chapter focusing on a single member of the family.

On a second level, The Old Drift is just as much a tale of a changing nation, Zambia, as it undergoes the effects of colonialism and all of the loss that go with it. The Old Drift of the title refers to the name the region near Victoria Falls was given by British colonists in the 1800s, starting with the famous explorer David Livingstone. From the late 19th century, where a white man stakes a claim to land that isn’t his, to several years into the future where technology becomes part of our bodies, The Old Drift lays open the repercussions of colonization.

A combination of historical fiction with a bit of mythical episodes and elements of science. Superb writing, richly imagined with deftly-drawn oddball characters.

eleanor OliphantrevCharming, heartwarming and heartbreaking. Eleanor is a classic “socially awkward” young woman, rigid and very much a self-proclaimed “loner.” Not initially the kind of character that one would call endearing. Set in her ways, she works during the week, calls her highly critical mother every Wednesday night and drinks vodka alone on the weekends.  When she and Raymond, the new IT employee at the office come to the rescue of an elderly man, Eleanor’s carefully ordered life suddenly starts to change.

Through the story, Eleanor’s tragic life is revealed. Ever patient and persistent, Raymond helps Eleanor transform herself as she gains insight and understanding of herself and what happened to her to better learn to interact with others. I found myself cheering her on as she musters the flexibility to adapt and to recognize that caring for others can bring you happiness.

Tragic and hilarious, Eleanor with her many quirks, blunt interactions and ability to overcome her sad past will remain a unique, memorable-and enduring-character for a long, long time!

PachinkoVast in scope, the book is a saga about four generations of a poverty-stricken Korean family that are essentially forced to live in Japan in exile.  Ethnic tensions exist between the Japanese and Koreans due to Japan's colonial rule over Korea and this tension of prejudice and racisim pervades the entire story. 

This is a  character-driven novel so well-drawn that it makes you actually care about what happens to them. The courage of the family members against so many hardships was extraordinary.  But while it is a tale of family relationships, it is also about a fascinating culture including the Japanese occupation of Korea, the existence of pachinko parlors, the underworld in Japan, the racism in Japan of Koreans and more.

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