Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
Trust and an open heart are the keys necessary to repair a broken soul.
Trust and an open heart are the keys necessary to repair a broken soul.
19 Bookers met on Tuesday, November 9th ironically marking the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, ‘the night of broken glass,’ when the Nazis and their sympathizers in Germany and Austria engaged in attacks on Jews and their property. How fitting our book selection, Stephanie Kallos’ Broken For You, built her debut novel around this theme.
Melanie Prebis opened her beautiful home to us and we welcomed back Lee McFarlane who was able to join us this month. Our group has some very creative members who often provide visual demonstrations to enhance the review of the book. Our two Peas in a Pod, Patsy and Patty, did not disappoint and we all appreciate your efforts to bring this book to life for us, especially since you both have a lot on your own plates! And, speaking of visuals, those of us in attendance were witness to the persona of the resident boxer taking center stage performing a “stimulating” floor belly-dragging dance…you had to be there.
Adorning the coffee table were two wooden crosses and bags of broken tiles, stones, and beads in a variety of colors. Each character in the book was identified by a color, i.e…Margaret… rust, Wanda…white, MJ Striker & Gina…brown, Irma…turquoise, Troy, Gus, Peter, Susan & Bruce…tan, Stephen & Daniel…gold, Margaret’s mother, Cassandra, and father, Papa O…beggar beads. Patsy provided a summary of the book followed by Patty with a series of discussion questions. As the characters were identified, a corresponding tile or bead was placed on the crosses.
This novel is littered with characters whose plight in life, whether of their own volition or not, was shattered into pieces. The lifelong searches to put “humpty dumpty back together again” evolved into an unlikely family-by-proxy serving to heal their emotional and physical lives. The baggage each one brought to the table was taxing, but remarkably, they repaired the damages and completed their mosaics. By placing the pieces in the proper place, the adhesive that bonded them together and the grout that gave them definition proved to be the right formula for a fulfilled life.
Living and breathing tesserae, seventy-five year old Margaret Hughes, weathered a childhood that “began happily ever after, but didn’t end that way.” A doting father, who unbeknownst to her, profited from the sins of others, and a mother she viewed as “an ice queen,” dominated her early years. Adulthood was not kinder as she suffered the tragedy of losing a child in an automobile accident at the hands of her husband. Despair and guilt drove her to a solitary life of sacristan, communicating only with her massive collection of stolen treasures. However, when Margaret was confronted with her impending demise, she reached out to work on the relationships in her life – she faced fear with courage and determination, and systematically broke what was haunting her.
Wanda O’Casey Shultz arrived into Margaret’s world with a broken heart and spirit – abandoned as a child by her parents and obsessed with tracking down the boyfriend that dumped her, literally landed inside a broken body, physically joining the emotional pieces residing inside her psyche.
The remainder of the cast of “thousands” all suffered the same affliction – a life spent focusing on an endless search for what they deemed necessary to complete themselves. In the end, the creation of mosaics pieced together their disjointed lives and revealed what they were looking for existed within those who loved them.
The more practical members of our group questioned the need to destroy all the treasures. Why not just sell them and give the profits to designated charities? Margaret answered that question in her own mind when she realized “bodies had been shattered…but things had not.” “Purging anger” defines a highly successful method used in grief counseling…the theory being that an object represents your life and by destroying it, you then are able to rebuild it. Each object in Margaret’s possession was given a voice – each had a story, each one broken in remembrance. “Tikkun Olam” in Hebrew means repair the world serving as “the narrative catalyst of the book – one of redemption.”
The majority agreed Margaret was unaware until later that she was piecing together a family mosaic with all of the participants of the Crazy Plate Academy. We talked about the tragedy of feeling “invisible” as isolation breeds hopelessness; whether or not Wanda was really searching for her father instead of Peter and how ironic it was (or was it?) that both men sported long gray ponytails; how Wanda was comfortable with both her father and Troy because “they can be with her and be silent” – was that because the silent ones are generally the good listeners?
There were some confusing segments of this multi-layered book, one of which was the significance of the two figurines Margaret’s father brought to her when she was just four years old – one was very colorful, a shepherdess dressed in a costume exactly like her outfit, the second one “all white, because the clay in this one is so pure, so rare, so magnificent that it requires nothing else…just form and light.” One was the original, the other a copy – “remember how important it is to recognize purity – recognize it and prize it. Papa O will not always be here to tell you what is pure and what is the copy.” Years later Margaret thought the “most obvious and important thing (about this memory) is the way her father had costumed her – not as the original, but as the object of lesser worth.” Hmmmm…what was he telling her?
The question was asked, what does the YOU in the title of the book mean…who is YOU? The Jewish people is the obvious answer, but consider this…the author used second person (you) in several parts of the book as opposed to the more common usages of I (first person) and she (third person.) This technique puts the reader (you) literally in the role of the narrator...maybe YOU is all of us in need of mending.
Magical realism was used in Margaret’s three dream sequences where the author blended magical elements into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality. Her dreams always began with a journey and ended with Margaret sobbing with the exception of the last one – she had reconciled her life, was content with her relationships, and was happily being steered towards heaven by her mother. Ms. Kallos tells us to “look at what you value, what you hold dear, objects first not because of their innate value, but because of they are endowed by your mind, imagination, memories – by sentimental value. Then look at the faces and bodies of those you love – each one a living fossilized record – their experiences is what renders them beautiful.”
Those of you who either had not read the book or had not finished it were lost at times during the discussion…some of you who read it in its entirety felt the same way, but overall, the selection proved a worthwhile and challenging addition to our list of books
Jean Auel’s sixth and final book of the “Earth’s Children” series, The Land of Painted Caves may not be the end. Reportedly, she is not through with the characters so there might be more to come.
I am going to the Arts & Letters series at the Dallas Museum of Art on Tuesday to hear my favorite author, Pat Conroy, speak. Think I should ask him…what were you thinking with South of Broad?
We are considering several books you have recommended for the upcoming months, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, Room by Emma Donoghue and Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler. We’ll keep you posted.
Color code rating system:
WHITE: Light read
PINK: Moderately Challenging
December 14th: Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky
January 11th, 2011: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
February 8th: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
In the author’s acknowledgments, she thanked Deborah Frockt for “illuminating the real reason behind the glass-breaking at the end of a Jewish wedding!” At the conclusion of the book (page 366) we are treated to the different views of this tradition as follows: “Technically…it is supposed to remind us of the desecration of the Temple…however, feminists insist that it symbolizes the breaking of the hymen on the couple’s wedding night…personally, I think it’s just another one of those Jewish guilt things, I mean, God forbid there should be one day in your life when you’re happy! God forbid we shouldn’t be suffering! It’s supposed to remind us happiness is transient.” The book has been described as a dance of friendship, a novel of redemption, a formula to repair what is broken, a story of creating family in the most unlikely places, but maybe the simple statement…happiness is transient…is at the core of this novel…what do you think?