The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

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Two streams running independently, alternating chapter by chapter. One stream is a large city, the other a lone woman in the Antarctic.
What do we remember and more importantly who do we remember? How many people have you met in your life? Is it fifty, one hundred, several thousand? Write them down and soon you realise it’s like that old puzzle where someone asks the king for one grain of rice to place on the first square on the chessboard and then double the amount for each subsequent square. By the time you get to the other side of the chessboard how many grains of rice will you have?
When does someone really die? Is it when they cease to breathe or is it when there is no one left who remembers them?
The problem with trying to tell someone else about a book is that if you say too much you may spoil their reading of it. Let me just say that I really couldn’t put this book down. So much so that I walked out of the house this morning without my handbag. I was so engrossed in the book on the train that I didn’t notice the ticket inspector asking for tickets and it was only then that I realised I had no ticket and no way of paying for one. To quote DGR, “Caveat Lector”!! Reading can damage your reputation.
To those of you who may be surprised at how quickly I have read this book (for me) let me explain that there are two reasons for this. The first is that I didn’t want to put it down. The second reason is that I was enjoying the book so much, even after the first few pages, that I read most of the first chapter out loud, in bed, to MDB (My Dearly Beloved) and since then he has been trying to booknap it from me.

SUNDAY SALON: Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

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OK I’ll have a go at this Sunday Salon thing as well. Let’s hope I’ve done the right techy things to get it to work. I have my doubts.

“We are each going to our mothers. That is what was supposed to happen. Your mother wants to
see you now.Sophie. She does not want you to forget who your real mother is. When she left you
with me, she and I, we agreed that it would only be for a while. You were just a baby then. She
left you because she was going to a place she knew nothing about. She did not want to take chances
with you.”

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The narrator, Sophie has been raised by Tante Atie, her mother’s illiterate elder sister. All she knows of her real mother she has learnt from this mother substitute. She only knows her mother’s voice from the spoken cassettes that are sent several times a year. Then one day the inevitable happens, a ticket is sent and Sophie must join her mother in New York.

“My angel, she said, I would like to know that by word or by example I have taught you love. I must tell you that I do love your mother. Everything I love about you, I loved in her first. that is why I could never fight her about keeping you here. I do not want you to go and fight her either. In this country, there are many good reasons for mothers to abandon their children.”

And so it is that Sophie moves from the simple traditional way of living in Haiti to the life of an immigrant in New York, looked down on and called names by classmates. In her luggage she carries not only her few belongings but the weight of the past.

In her mother’s apartment she discovers a photo,

“I moved closer to get a better look at the baby in Tante Atie’s arms. I had never seen an infant picture of myself, but somehow I knew that it was me. Who else could it have been? I looked for traces in the child, a feature that was my mother’s but still mine too. It was the first time in my life that I noticed that I looked like no one in my family. Not my mother. Not my Tantee Atie. I did not look like them when I was a baby and I did not look like them now.”

Though Sophie, her mother and other Haitian friends now live in New York tradition casts a long shadow. The old ways are not easy to leave behind.

“Haitian men, they insist that their women are virgins and have their ten fingers.

According to Aunt Tatie, each finger had a purpose. It was the way she had been taught to prepare herself to become a woman. Mothering. Boiling. Loving. Baking. Nursing. Frying. Healing. Washing. Ironing. Scrubbing. It wasn’t her fault, she said. Her ten fingers had been named for her even before she was born. Sometimes she even wished she had six fingers on each hand so she could have two left for herself.

The strength of women holds the generations together despite what is done in the name of tradition and inheritance. My reading of this book was at a very superficial level, concentrating on the relationships between the generations of women. There is much more to be excavated but first I would need to understand something of the social and political history of Haiti a place where the indigenous population was wiped out, replaced by African slaves under French rule. Ssubsequent interference by a variety of nations followed by a long period of dictatorship in which African roots were emphasied and used against the people by bringing to life the Tonton Macoute or bogeyman of traditional tales.

Don’t be put off by that last paragraph of mine. The book is told through the eyes of the child, Sophie, as she progresses from childhood to womanhood. The warmth of affection between Sophie & Tante Atie manages to keep out the underlying chills.

All about My Mother

Since TLM (The Loom Monkey) went off to uni in Durham I have annexed his room. MDB (My Dearly Beloved) now has a shiny new MAC and so the previous PC has been demoted and resides on a desk in TLM’s room overlooking our back garden and those of our neighbours. So whilst I surf around the web drinking a cup of Earl Grey or Chai tea and nibbling my breakfast I am also looking out on suburbia gardenia.

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My immediate neighbour is paranoid and is certain that, under cover of darkness, tree & shrubs, baddies will creep up her garden and ……… who knows what. So their garden is open and bare of large blobs of vegetation. On the sawn-off trunk of one of the removed trees she has what looks like a bird timeshare chalet and a birdfeeder hangs from the sparsely-leaved, thin-trunked, high-canopied tree that is allowed to flourish. So our garden with its three coniferous but doctored giants and various badly behaved shrub/trees acts as Heathrow Airport and her sawn-off trunk stump is a heli-pad. Goodness know how many tribes of birds secrete themselves in the largest of our trees. We see our winged friends fly in and out but the feathery fronds of the branches are so much like an enormous stick of green candy floss (cotton candy) that we have no idea how many of them are in there at one time.

I always think of my mother when I sit here doing my individual census of what flies out of our green giant and on to next-door’s heli-pad. When I was about three and four years old we lived in a bungalow set diagonally on a corner plot with a back garden that measured a third of an acre (so I have been told). All along one boundary line was what I thought was a forest inhabited by witches and princes rescuing princesses from eternal sleeps and tall towers and everything that princes do. In daylight hours that “forest” was a haven for wildlife and my mother taught me the names of common British birds as they emerged from that sylvan paradise to visit us. Sparrow, robin, great tit, blue tit, coal tit, starling, blackbird, wren, wood pigeon, green woodpecker, jay, magpie, pied wagtail (little trotty wagtail). I’m sure we SAW all those but I have my doubts about the yellow hammer. Clutching my ladybird book of birds I was amazed that a bird would utter the phrase “a little bit of bread and no cheese” and I can still see the buff cover embossed with dark brown letters and illustration as it had lost its jacket due to being handled so much. So from my mother I learnt the names of birds. She also passed on the names of trees and garden plants. Nothing fancy just the ability to recognise that wonderfully slim dark green plant that spurts forth its tiny yellow star flowers in the middle of winter – winter jasmine and other regular residents in suburban gardens. I never realised what I knew till I came across school friends who had no idea what the stuff in their gardens was called. I also took it for granted that everyone knew how to make a white sauce even if it did come out lumpy. At least I knew that I should have kept stirring/beating it with a wooden spoon and g r a d u a l l y add the milk. I just took it all for granted while I was growing up and she was alive. Years later when I discovered that not only did some other women not consider their mother their best friend but even hated her it really struck home how lucky I had been with mine. MLD (My Little Darling) can be stroppy and her taste in music is a bit invasive at times but I like to think that there is a glimmer of how I feel about my mother that she feels about me.

How to Remember

I was doing my usual morning hop around my favourite blogs:

Dove Grey Reader, Anne Holloway, Harriet Devine, Stuck in a Book, Living with Dragons, Cornflower and finally Random Jottings where Elaine was talking about a book that would teach you the origin of weird and wonderful words. Pop over there now and have a taste of what the book she talks about is all about.

I recently had to pop into Borders to collect a reserved book for MLD (My Little Darling) and my eye fell upon a volume that had to come home with me.

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You can see why I was tempted, can’t you? We all know ” i before e, except after c” and a few of the other handy ways of remembering important info but thanks to this book I will now also be able to remember the chronological order of the three most important Greek philosophers. All I have to do is think of them chilling out together with slices of cucumbers on their eyes being pummelled by a Swedish masseur in a SPA (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle).

Can you name the vital processes of life? Well as soon as I have a quick revision session I should have that under my belt as well. I did get Biology “0” level you know, phew I managed a science and I can still label a herring. Anyway to get back to what the book teaches you – “Mrs Gren”. In other words those VPs of life are: Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion, Nutrition.

Pathetique at French? Well don’t worry, as long as you can remember the word ADVENT
you will be able to recall the main etre verbs:
Arriver-Partie
Descendre – Monter
Venir – Aller
Entrer – Sortir
Naitre – Mourir
Tomber – Rester
and the 13th verb all on its own – Retourner

Clever eh?

Never / Always Judge a Book by its Cover?

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I have a feeling that a great many of you will have at least seen this book even if you haven’t read it. I had no idea who the cover illustration was by until MLD (my little darling) arrived home with a book of poems by Carol Ann Duffy with this gorgeous cover …
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The illustrator is one Petra Borner and you can see her website here. In the same series are several other covers by her
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What a treat and I’m tempted to acquire them for my hoard whatever they may contain.
Why is that when books can look so amazing those ghastly metallic, pierced covers are allowed to exist.
There should be a law against ugly books and I should be allowed to be the judge of what passes for good and what should never see the light of day.

Sound cue

“Goodbye then and have a good day” was all he said but the voice he said it with resonated deep in his chest and with the passionate inflections peculiar to the Welsh people.

I was transported back more than forty years. The extended family gathered around a battered upright piano, my Mamgee vamping out the chords while Gramp provided the vocals in his approximation of a performance by a concert singer. “Bless this house, O Lord we pray, make it safe by night …. anddd   d  a  y”, he hammed. “Sh Jim, sh” calmed Mamgee, ever the one to preserve propriety.

Mini rug

Some of you have been supporting me while I try to warp my loom up again and get weaving. Here’s my attempt using some bits and bobs lying around. Next I promise I will listen to you all and plan. Meanwhile here are my strange selvedges and warp-faults for you to give me feed-back on. It is just under A4 in size.

On my 4-shaft counterbalance loom I threaded my heddles up going through shafts 1234,1234
only used the first 4 pedals and treadled 1&2, 2&3, 3&4, 4&1 …..

I have a feeling that this would be an appropriate time to learn about BALANCED WEAVE, & warp-faced & weft-faced.

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Can’t work out how I got these “loopy” bits on the selvedge unless I mis-treadled sometimes.
Any ideas?

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