Friday, September 16, 2011

SEPTEMBER 2011 BOOKERS MINUTES - A Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei

                                                 “Women hold up half the sky”
               Mao Tse-Tung
  “What kind of woman do you want to be, strong or weak, great or ordinary?”
               Lin Yulan

Thank you to Janet Erwin for hosting “Bookers Season 8 Kick-off.”  We have grown in many ways, often expanding our minds…sometimes learning something new…mostly enjoying the camaraderie of our monthly meetings.  One thing is certain; our love affair with reading bonds us together as we are held captive within the pages that transport us to another place and time.  Twenty-four members joined us including Charlotte Barker, who visits us occasionally and Penny Barshop, who we hope will be able to spend more time with us soon, and we welcomed a new member, Liz Lee.  Bookers’ members Madelyn Chubb and Barbara Creach continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.

MN has again been listening to country music, which served as the basis of today’s warm-up.  In Blake Shelton’s tribute to his new bride, Miranda Lambert, he sings: “You be my sunny day, I’ll be your shade tree.”  Close your eyes and think of who is your shade tree and make a point to thank that person (or persons – some of our group have forests) for being part of your life.

A Thread of Sky, the debut novel by Deanna Fei and winner of the New York Times Editor’s Choice award is a lyrical composition of three generations of women who “set out in a way to be astronomers – focused on chasing the unattainable, on charting the unknowable, but forgetting what made them who they were, what gave meaning to their lives– the connections between them.”  Five years in the making and having spent three in China, Ms. Fei used music to bring to life the characters she had created, which she says are: “equally me, and equally individuals outside of me.  They are family.”  She relates writing to method acting in that the “trials the characters face are those you must endure and what transpires in a few pages might take weeks or months from your life.  If you want your readers to feel anything, you have to feel it many times over.”  When she returned to New York she was “by turns, recently widowed, suddenly betrayed, turning eighty, struggling with bulimia, reliving a long-ago war, facing an unwanted pregnancy, hiking the Great Wall, having sex for the first time, and pursuing an old and doomed flame.”  From a writer’s standpoint, the story people rarely leave, and when they do, “we desperately call them back…and sometimes with music.”

The six women of this book are as severed as they are attached.  Irene’s song is a folk classic, the words; So let it all ebb away, far away/ It wasn't easy/ But we did not cry/ Let it come softly/ Let it go gently/ Now, year after year/ I can't stop missing/ Missing you, missing days gone by" tells of a longing for her husband killed in a car crash by describing the depth of her grief.  Nora had just been laid low with a broken heart and the repetitive words of, “Cheers darlin'/ I got years to wait around for you/ Cheers darlin'/ I've got your wedding bells in my ear/ Cheers darlin'/ You gave me three cigarettes to smoke my tears away,” spoke of her heartbreak.  Kay, had been struggling all year "to trace her heritage in a place where history was being razed, paved over, replaced with steel, glass, and neon," and the lyrics, “these are the scars that silence carved on me/This is the same place/No, not the same place we’ve been before,” was the voice of her Asian American distinctiveness.  Sophie’s song is a rap piece laden with sexual tension representing her new world, one completely apart from her family or their ancestral ties to China, “Honey check it out, you got me mesmerized/With your black hair.”  Susan is forced to remember her tumultuous childhood, the unexplained strife between her parents, her old life, and a cataclysmic love affair.  The piece is set with opulent violins interspersed with the sounds of rushing trains, and ominous percussions, all speaking to the state of mind; haunted, reckless and ready to upend her life, even as she appears to be to her family, just a middle-aged aunt.  The most telling of all is the music of Lin Yulan…silence.  The author tried to find a song for her – an uncompromising woman who devoted her early life to causes, who left her husband and never spoke to him again, who has no patience for nostalgia or tradition.  “She lives in a place beyond music, beyond joy or diversion and only during this tour did she begin to sense what she might have missed.”  We appreciate Mary Jacob for loaning her DVD and for Patsy Dehn whose centerpiece of red silk brought China to us both visually and musically.

Our cast of reviewers each took on a character and provided insight into who they were and what formed their relationships with the others.  Linsey Garwacki offered an overview of the story of a family submerged in secrets trying to find compassion for each without giving too much of themselves in the process.  She led us on a character journey into Irene Shen, fifty-five years old, a brilliant Chinese-born scientist living in Queens, who decided to forgo her career and make her American-born daughters the center of her universe.  She was determined to give them a different upbringing than her own but stay true to the one Chinese word that summarized life – Jia, meaning family, house, and home.  When Bill, her husband of thirty years, announced he needed a break she said, “Good riddance” and told the girls, “Your father is leaving us.”  Irene was haunted by her words and realized she needed to find a way to bring her family home to each other or she would surely die alone.  A two-week tour of their homeland seemed to be her only shot so the six women reluctantly agreed to the trip – to search for an intangible that could reconnect the threads of their lives.  Janet Noblitt, in the role of the eldest daughter, Nora, Harvard graduate and Wall Street trader in the midst of the “golden boys” endured a barrage of sexist comments about her “Asianness, translating to sexy, docile and inarticulate.”  She was terrified of abandonment and commitment holding on to the Wall Street mantra of “cut your losses or bleed to death.”  Daryl Daniels as middle child, Kay, is the one most interested in her Chinese heritage and spends a year in the country her parents once called home.  She finds out she doesn’t fit in any better in China than she did in America…there is still the question, “Where are you from?”  Patsy Dehn took on the role of the youngest, Sophie, just seventeen and fighting to establish her identity all the while competing with her sisters to equal their academic accolades.  She is an artist, a perfectionist, obsessed with her looks, as she is petite and round, not beautiful like her sisters.  She is fighting the monster inside, bulimia, and is tormented when she learns she was “unplanned.”  Beverly Dossett assumed the role of Irene’s sister, Susan, the poet who found not poetry, not passion, but safety and structure inside the scaffolding of love with husband, Winston.  When she reads her ex-student-lover has published a book, she is tempted to rekindle the passion, duck under the safety net, and let a failed relationship once again rule her life.  This time she made the right decision to stay.  Pat Faherty in the role of matriarch Lin Yulan told us of a revolutionary woman who stood for women’s rights and was part of the Nationalist movement during the Japanese occupation of China.  She mercilessly judged others by standards they were bound to fail and encouraged her family to be more than a baby machine.  “A woman’s duty is to make a difference – it’s important to leave a legacy especially in a free country.”  Although she was at the forefront of women’s rights, she was a victim of a womanizing husband who “lost” their only son and offered a “replacement” – the child of his mistress.  ‘Ma’ divorced herself from her husband not only in name and distance, but in emotional ties – the secret of their California “son” would die with them.  In conclusion, from Linsey, the generations found a way back to each other – a thread of sky that connected them as family once again.
Without taking a head count it was obvious the majority of our members didn’t like this book – it read like a travel log, each character was obsessed with their own issues, the writer failed in developing characters that you cared about, it was boring and slow-paced, there was an emotional distance between the characters, the author must have had a bad time growing up, in our color coding system it should have been rated “black,” you shouldn’t have to read a book twice to find something to like, it needed more tenderness, it was the Joy Luck Club without  joy, the style of writing was inept and confusing…all opinions voiced by our members. Having said that it did live up to the Bookers’ book standard in two respects…it generated a great deal of conversation and the writing was graceful, poetic and rhythmical, if not appreciated for its’ beauty.  We all demand different things from the books we read and this selection highlighted our diversity in that area more than any other selection.  We are as individual as books are plentiful so to assume we are all going to appreciate the same qualities in a book is naïve at best.  Bookers is never about “my way or the highway,” but always about respect for the opinions of others.  Our discussion centered on the question, Are people different because they look different?  What role does culture play in the makeup of an individual? Did the author purposely pit the journey against the self-absorbed characters in an attempt to emphasize the importance of that journey?  The classification of Type A personalities fit the mold of today’s over-zealous parenting in a race to push their children to the top.  Does this mean these children are of a certain ethnic background, or a result of an over-competitive environment or are all children at risk?
On the business side
Book selections for the remainder of the year will be chosen by popular vote.  Several choices were discussed in the meeting, but we ask that if you have a book you would like included, please let me know as soon as possible as I will be compiling a list before our October meeting.  Voting procedure will be included in the e-mail.


WHITE:                       Light read
PINK:                          Moderately challenging
RED:                            Challenging

October 11th:                Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
                                    Home of Cherry Fugitt, co-hosted by Jane Freer
                                    Reviewer: Jane Freer

November 8th:              Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress
                                    Recommended by Mary Jacobs & guest, Pam Parks
                                    Home of Lorene O’Neil, co-hosted by JoDee Neathery
                                    Reviewers: Mary Jacobs & Pam Parks

December 13th:             Holiday Party & Meeting
                                    A Week in Winter by Marcia Willett
                                    Recommended by Bernie Crudden, MN & JoDee
Home of Jean Alexander, co-hosted by Bernie Crudden
Reviewed by Janet Noblitt

January 10th:                 Book TBA
                                    Home of Beverly Dossett, co-hosted by Patsy Dehn

February 14th:               Book TBA
                                    Home of Daryl Daniels, co-hosted by Janet Noblitt

March 13th:                  Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
                                    Recommended by Beverly Dossett, Lee Durso, Alison Crawford,
                                    Jane Freer, Melanie Prebis, Jean McSpadden
                                    Home of Lee Durso, co-hosted by Kay Robinson
                                    Reviewed by Lee Durso

April 10th:                     Book TBA
                                    Home of Donna Walter, co-hosted by Charlotte Pechacek
                                    Reviewers: MN & JoDee

May 8th:                       5th Annual Wine & Cheese Evening Meeting, 6:00 PM
                                    Home of Melanie Prebis (she never learns!), co-hosted by Linsey

June 12th:                      Bonus Bookers meeting to be determined

FYI, Beverly Dossett has found “the Chinese silk-filled comforter” purchased by the group while on their tour.  Check it out at

Don’t forget to check out for your link to Amazon to purchase books.  We get a percentage of the sales and will use them to either defray any costs we might have or to include in a basket for the PWC golf tournament. 

Learn a way to let those who love you, love you.

No comments:

Post a Comment