Book Reviews – Around the World with Books in 120 Days! The Virtual Literary World Tour
This week we are looking at On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat, A Jest of God (Phoenix Fiction), Margaret Laurence, A Very Fine Line, Julie Johnston, and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Mordecai Richler.
- 1957: On the Road, Jack Kerouac
- 1959: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Mordecai Richler
- 1966: A Jest of God, Margaret Laurence
- 2004: The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat
- 2008: A Very Fine Line, Julie Johnston
- 1941: A Very Fine Line, Julie Johnston
- 1947 – 1950: On the Road, Jack Kerouac
- 1940s (mostly 1947 and a few years after): The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Mordecai Richler
- 1960s – early 2000s: The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat
- Mid-1960s: A Jest of God, Margaret Laurence
- The Great Depression lasts for 10 years and ends in 1939
- World War II occurred 1939 – 1945
- The attack on Pearl Harbor takes place on the morning of December 7, 1941, when the Japanese launched a surprise air attack on the U.S. Naval Base.
- Duvalier family dictatorship (1957–1986) in Haiti
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
On the Road by Jack Kerouac is inspired by the author’s road trip across the US with his friend Neal Cassady. On the Road is one of those books that have a permanent spot on the must-read books. When I first started the Virtual Literary World Tour, I tried to find one of the characters who I could relate to, and I often had a very difficult time doing so. As I result, I found myself hating many of the books because the lives of the characters were so very different from mine. I realized that my attitude wasn’t very helpful because the world is made up of different kinds of people, and I have to learn how to embrace all people, even if I think that they are unlikeable.
On the Road tells the story of two friends, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty who embark on a trip across the US for adventure and to find themselves. Kerouac defines the period as the beat generation, and Paradise and his friends indulge in free sex, excessive alcohol intake and drugs – they also listen to jazz and poetry. We get a view of what life is like after the Second World War in America through the eyes of the characters. Paradise and his friends travel to New York, Denver, San Francisco and LA – and most of the times they are hitchhiking.
In the book, I was struck by Sal Paradise’s capacity to forgive Dean Moriarty, who on two occasions left him stranded to go off to be with a woman. One of the times, Sal is ill in Mexico suffering from dysentery, when Dean leaves him stranded, and tells him that Stan, their other travel mate will take care of him. As Dean gets more outrageous in the story, the reader sees that he is suffering from a mental illness, and although many of his friends distance themselves from him, Sal remains loyal.
Despite what I think of the people in On the Road by Jack Kerouac, it takes great courage to do what they do – traveling across the US without having the funds to do so. They make it work for them, and this teaches us that if we are serious about achieving a goal, money isn’t a reason to prevent us from doing so. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty are trying to find themselves by traveling across America, and in the end I am not sure that they did.
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat takes place in Haiti in the 1960s and New York City today. There are several stories within the central story, and the author brings them together in the end. The Dew Breaker tells the story of dictatorship in Haiti in the 1960s and the atrocities committed by the militia – dew breakers or torturers. Ka Bienaimé is an artist, and she sculpts her father. She convinces her friend, Céline Benoit to show Gabrielle Fonteneau a snapshot of the sculpture, and the actress makes an offer. Ka and her father are traveling to Tampa to deliver the 3-foot sculpture. They stop at a hotel to sleep, and when Ka awakes the following morning, her father is gone and so is the statue. She waits for a couple of hours for him to return, and when he doesn’t, Ka notifies the hotel manager and the police. Police Officer Bo questions her and asks for a description of her father. Ka’s father doesn’t like taking photos so she doesn’t have one.
From the description in The Dew Breaker, Ka’s father appears to be very unassuming, and we also learn that he was tortured while in prison. While Ka is still waiting for her father to return, the wait becomes unbearable, and she is scared of what might have happened to her father. She calls her mother and leaves a message for her. Over the next several hours mother and daughter have frantic conversations. Eventually, the father returns to the hotel without the statue. He tells her he will take her to the statue. He takes her to one of the beaches where he has tossed the statue, and this quiet and distant man starts to tell a shocking tale to his daughter.
He was never in prison, and he was never tortured, the nightmares that he suffers from are a result of the people he tortured. He wreaked havoc on the lives of so many people and killing was a sport for him. He escaped from Haiti, went on a diet, thinking that he could change his appearance. He and his wife Anne kept to themselves, not interacting more than necessary with others – he is a barber and she is a hairdresser. He has a long scar on his face, a gift from the last person that he killed, a preacher. The preacher happens to be his wife’s stepbrother.
It’s interesting that he thinks that he can disguise himself. When you kill someone’s parents before their eyes, or torture someone, you are forever etched in their minds. In The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat you are taken back and forth from Haiti to New York and you see the people who are impacted by the dictatorship. During the dictatorship women are tortured by the dew breakers if they say no to go on a date. It’s a heartrending story.
Ka cannot believe what her father is saying to her. When she returns to the hotel she calls her mother, who knows what her husband was. She claims that he is no longer that person – a dew breaker. Ka hangs up the phone on her mother. Although her father thinks he has escaped, we get a sense of hope, because unknown to him, there are people who recognize him for what he was, and what he did to them, and more importantly, they know where he lives, one of them is living in his basement.
A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence
A Jest of God (Phoenix Fiction) by Margaret Laurence is about coming into your own and being comfortable in your own skin. Rachel Cameron, a teacher is what you may call a late bloomer, who never stands up to anyone and allows those around her to walk all over her – she is living in a prison cell of her own making. Her mother, May is overbearing, a master manipulator, and constantly makes Rachel feel guilty so that she can have her own way. Rachel has to leave the university when her father dies, and her mother uses her weak heart to get Rachel to do whatever she wants.
Another teacher, Calla, at Rachel’s school is always giving her small gifts as a way to bribe her into going to the Tabernacle, a Pentecostal church. Rachel feels uncomfortable whenever she goes to the Tabernacle because people are always speaking in tongues. One day she goes with Calla, even though she doesn’t want to, Rachel starts to speak in tongues, and Calla rushes her out and takes her to her apartment. Rachel is in a state, but Calla calms her. Calla also kisses Rachel, which surprises her, and she rushes out the front door. Rachel doesn’t want her mother to know that she went to the Tabernacle. At 34 years old, Rachel is still concerned about what her mother thinks about her.
During the summer, Rachel encounters Nick Kazlick, a year older, who attended the same school as her. Nick is also a teacher. They begin a relationship that’s based on sex, and you get the feeling that Rachel wants more out of the relationship. Rachel misses her period and thinks that she is pregnant. She decides to kill herself, but end up tossing out the pills and chooses to live. After Nick and Rachel start the relationship, he chooses to let her think that he is married. The reader can clearly see that Nick’s behaviour from the outset is not very honorable, but being involved with him liberates Rachel.
When Rachel goes to the doctor, she finds out that she isn’t pregnant, but has a tumor which turns out to be benign. Rachel decides to change her life and move to BC and be closer to her older sister. The mother doesn’t want to leave her home, but for once, Rachel is assertive and does not allow her mother to make her feel guilty.
A Very Fine Line by Julie Johnston
A Very Fine Line by Julie Johnston is a story about the Kemp family with the main focus on Rosalind. Ros is the youngest of six girls, nearly 13 years old and in grade 8 Kempston Mills in Ontario. Some people in the town consider the Kemps to be lunatics. Ros claims that she can remember her christening when she was a toddler but some of her sisters believe that what she remembers is what people told her.
One day, Ros’ great aunts, Nell and Eileen, tell her that she has the second sight – the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter of their family is gifted with the second sight. Of course, this 12 year thinks it’s nonsense because her mother has only six children. Quite upset, Ros runs outside to escape on the bike, but before she is able to do so, Lucy, who has a mental disability, calls her “little sister.”
Various things occur such as knowing that a missing classmate isn’t dead, as believed by others including the police. She also foresees her sister, Vanessa falling out of a tree, but the family thinks it’s coincidence. After that, she insists on being called Ross and does respond to any other name at home. The doctor tells her mother that Ros is just going through a phase. At school, Ros is ridiculed, and even gets beat up by some of the older girls.
Eventually, Ros reverts to being a girl again. Another big event in A Very Fine Line by Julie Johnston is Ros foreseeing Marietta’s death. No one heeds what she has to say because they do not believe in the second sight. When they are at the train station, a girl who is trying to catch the train falls and Ros holds her down, which saves her life. Ros later learns that it was the missing classmate who comes to say thanks for saving her life. The Kemp family finally learns to accept Ros for who she is and she decides to return to school.
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler
Everyone makes mistakes. In life, it’s expected that people learn from their mistakes, that’s how they grow and evolve – Duddy Kravitz isn’t one of those people. First published in 1959, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler is set in a Jewish slum district of Montreal. “Duddy Kravitz was a small, narrow-chested boy of fifteen with a thin face. His eyes were ringed with dark circles and his pale bony cheeks were criss-crossed with scratches as he shaved twice daily in his attempts to encourage a beard…” He is not a model student at Fletcher’s Field High School – he is cheeky and despises his teachers – and not the kind of person you want your kids to hang out with. Duddy lost his mother when he was quite young, and he lives with his father Max, and brother Lennie, who is a model student and son who is studying to become a doctor. Duddy is enrolled in an apprenticeship to life.
Over the years, Duddy has tried his hands at many entrepreneurial ventures – from stealing and reselling spare hockey sticks, selling pornographic comic books, and street gambling. His big goal is to own land because his grandfather Simcha, whom he looks up to always says that “A man without land is nothing,” and this has been Duddy’s drive to become “somebody.” After graduation, Duddy embarks on his journey to become “someone”. First as a waiter in a resort hotel in the Laurentians, and he is the best waiter there. Later, he drives his father’s cab during the nights and during the days he sells toilet supplies and liquid soap. Next he starts a business where he targets wealthy Jewish families and produces color films of weddings and bar-mitzvah ceremonies.
In the story, Duddy suffers from a nervous breakdown, and the reader feels sorry for him because he is so penitent and wants to turn his life around, but he hasn’t changed at all, he is back to conning and using people after he heals. There are times in the novel when you can almost love Duddy because of his discipline, drive and determination, and other times you despise him because he is a con man. When he sees Virgil’s bank balance, he steals two cheques and forges his friend’s signature to get the money he needs to finance his deal – Duddy believes that the end justifies the means. In the end, it is sad because Duddy doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand relationships and certainly doesn’t understand the power of friendships. In trying to please his grandfather by acquiring land, which he does with the assistance of Yvette, his girlfriend, he ends up being a disgrace in Simcha’s eyes. Duddy has acquired land surrounding a beautiful lake in the Laurentians, but he has lost the respect of the people who matter. Duddy ends his apprenticeship, but he is a more corrupt and selfish person.
What kind of journey are you now taking in life? Please add your comments in the box below. Book links are affiliate links.