What Love Is by Carrie Jenkins (101)

So many of us are always wondering about what love is. It is a true philosophical question in its own right. Love is one of those mystical things that can be very hard to explain. But when we are in love, we know it. And when we see love, we know it too. But describing it is quite another matter.

Love, we are told, can be felt but not defined according to Carrie Jenkins. No wonder so many of us fall back on the advice of long ago that love is something we shouldn’t overthink.

Though trying to understand love feels like an insurmountable task, the reality is that we urgently need to think more about it. Love is of immense importance and many of us frame our whole lives around it. Tidy definitions of love describing it as just chemicals or just a construct are unsatisfactory.

As a philosopher, Carrie Jenkins reveals that love is both a physical phenomenon preserved throughout evolution – which explains the palpitations, butterflies, and adrenaline rushes – and a constantly changing social convention. In an era in which interracial, queer, and not poly-amorous love are becoming more normal, our ideas of love may not match our parents’ ideas, even if our bodies’ experience of love remain similar.

Carrie Jenkins draws on a whole bunch of cultural, scientific and personal reflections to make this book hard to put down if you are interested in love. Jenkins frees us to see love as layered. It is as political as it is physical and as emotional as it is intellectual and chemical.

I love this book from start to finish. I will definitely re-read it later on and place it on my shelf of philosophical books.

I can appreciate her penetrating probing of the concepts of love because I too am a philosopher who is quite interested in the topic of love.

Thank you Professor Jenkins for such an insightful book!

Rating: 5 stars

Irene Roth

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My Conversations with Canadians by Lee Maracle (100)

On her first book tour at the age of 26, Lee Maracle was asked a question from the audience, one she couldn’t possibly answer at that moment.  But she has been thinking about it ever since.

As time passed, she has been asked countless similar questions, all of them too big to answer but not too large to contemplate.

These questions, which touch upon subjects such as citizenship, segregation, labour, law, prejudice and reconciliation, are the heart of this book.

In prose essays that are both conversational and direct, Maracle seeks not to provide any answers to these questions she has lived with so long. Rather, she thinks through each one using a multitude of experiences she’s had in Canada, as an Indigenous leader, a woman and mother and grandmother over the course of her life.

I really enjoyed this book. It is honest and raw in places as well as humorous.

Rating: 4 stars

Reviewed by: Irene S. Roth

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Finding the Words by Jarred Bland (99)

This is a wonderful series of articles by Canadian writers about the writing life.

In Finding the Words, thirty-one well-known writers share their deeply personal discoveries about writing. The stories are surprising and inspiring. These pieces explore home, exile, and the search for a place to belong.

I loved the book because I too have my stories of writing being a writer in Canada.  Writing is a lot easier, given the Canadian seasons and the need to hibernate in the winter.  I absolutely love reading and writing during the winter. And it is one of my most productive times.

This is a book that all aspiring writers and writers will absolutely love.

The book is written by some of the most well-known and successful Canadian writers. Here is a showcase of the authors who have written articles in this book: Alice Munro, Diana Athill, Tash Aw, David Bezmozgis, Joseph Boyden, David Charindy, Denise Chong, Karen Connelly, Alain De Botton, Emma Donoghue, Gord Downie, Marina Endicott, Stacey May Fowles, Rawl Hage, Elizabeth Hay, Steven Heighton, Lee Henderson, Guy Gavriel Kay, Mark Kingwell, Martha Huwee Kumsa, Annabel Lyon, Linden MacIntyre, Pasha Malla, Lisa Moore, Stephanie Nolen, Heather O’Neill, Richard oplak, Mowz Surani, Miguel Syjuco, Madeleine Thien, and Michael Winter.

Rating: 5 stars

Reviewed by:  Irene S. Roth

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The Chinese Violin (98)

This is a wonderful book about immigrants feel when they come into a new country to make a forever home. There is so much planning and turmoil that a family experiences.

When Lin Lin and her father immigrated to Canada from China, they brought with them one of their most treasured possessions — a traditional Chinese violin. I had no idea that there is a difference between a typical Canadian-American violin and a Chinese one. This was great to learn.

From the beauty of their new country to the uneasiness of not fitting in, this violin sees them through all their experiences, good and bad. One day, however, a terrible misfortune occurs when the Chinese violin is broken into pieces.

Eventually, the strange language and surrounding become more familiar, and life gets easier for Lin Lin and her father. But it does take a lot of time and patience.

She gets a new Chinese violin and performs in the school recital, successfully sharing her Chinese culture with her new Canadian friends.

What a great book of courage and goodwill.

I loved the book from beginning to end.

Rating: 5 stars

Reviewed by: Irene S. Roth

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Simple Recipes (97)

Madeleine Thien is one of those writers that you can sit with a nice tall cup of coffee or mocha and just peruse page by page.  And that is precisely what I did over two weekends with two of her wonderful books–this one that I am reviewing and Certainty which I will be reviewing next!

These stories are wonderful!  They are dense with imagery and intention.  I just loved them so much!

This book marks the exciting debut of Madeleine Thien. The seven stories in her collection focus on the emotionally changed territory of family relationships and examine the experience of alienation, weaving in the conflict between generations and cultures.

A young woman searches back in time for the pivotal moment when her family lost faith in itself. Her two sisters station themselves across the street from their family home, now sold, hoping that their mother, whom they have not seen in a year, will appear one last time.

It is also a story about a wife that becomes obsessed with someone who discovers that her husband has loved since childhood.

The story also focuses on a high school student who finds herself unable to confront the abuse that may lie beneath a friend’s possessiveness.

Lastly, the story is about a woman who relived the familiar ceremony of food preparation and the moment when her unconditional love for her father was called into question.

This book is introspective and very revealing. You kind of feel that you are peering into the personal lives of these people. And despite the fact that you never met these characters, you feel that you know them very well by the end of the book!

What a wonderful book!  This is one of the most momentous books I read this year!

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewed by: Irene S. Roth

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Certainty by Madeleine Thien (96)

This month, I have read two books by Madeleine Thien.  She is one of those writers that you can sit with a nice tall cup of coffee or mocha and just peruse page by page.  And that is precisely what I did over two weekends with two of her wonderful books–this is the second one and the best in many ways!

This book is her eagerly anticipated first novel.  It is a haunting portrayal of a moment in history, a novel of generations that has at its center two memorable love stories.

Gail Lim is a producer of radio documentaries in Vancouver. She brings to her work her deeply felt yet troubled relationship with her partner. Ansel, a physician, is an adventurous spirit. She believes that sooner or later all things connect. Her parents’ past in war-torn Asia, however, remains hidden and is something that continue to shadow her life.

When Gail’s father, Matthew Lim, was a child, he wandered the Leila Road and the edges of the jungle with his lovely Ani in the dark time of war in Japanese-occupied Sandakan, North Borneo, and the bond that is formed between them will endure throughout the decades.

The war shatters their families and splits the two apart until years later when they re-meet, only to be separated again. The legacy of their shared past will be carried by Matthew and his wife, Clara, across the ocean to Canada, and the secret it holds will eventually touch all their lives in unexpected ways.

As the narrative unfolds, going back and forth in time, we also learn about Ansel’s story, how he discovers the unpredictable nature of grief and comes to uneasy terms with those things he cannot change.

The reader will also follow Clara back to an event in her childhood in early 1950s Hong Kong: later to Australia, where she meets a fellow student, Matthew, a young man burdened by the past.

The story is vivid, poignant and wise. It is a novel that shows the devastation of loss, the dislocations of war, and the redemptive qualities of love.

I loved this book from start to finish.  I will be buying this book through ABE.

Rating: 5 stars

Reviewed by: Irene S. Roth

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Do Not Say We Have Nothing (95)

In Madeleine Thien’s masterful new work, she takes us inside two talented families of musicians in China and the lives of two entwined generations — those who weathered Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and their children who because the 1989 Tiananmen Square protesters during one of the most important political moments of the past century. In her strong, subtle, witty and morally complex style, Thien has crafted characters that leap off the page, by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise.

The story opens in Vancouver in 1990, as ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: Ai-ming, a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen massacre. Gradually, as Ai-ming befriends Marie, she relates the history of her family, from the crowded teahouse during Mao’s ascent to the creative ferment inside the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in the 1960s to the streets of Beijing during the 1989 demonstrations.

The prose in this book is powerful and inspiring. Thien immerses the reader in the whirling lives of three musicians who traverse these times.  The three musicians are the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the ambitious pianist Kai. The three struggle musicians struggle to remain loyal to one another and to the music the defines them, but eventually the relentless tide of the Cultural Revolution forces them to re-imagine their bonds and their fates, with unexpected and lasting consequences.

This is a powerful read, and it a book that musical lovers will love as well as readers who are interested in the lives of musicians. The story is also seeped in history and a lot of background from Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Rating: 5 stars

Reviewed by: Irene S. Roth

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