Wonder by R.J. Palacio – Review

“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind” – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Wonder is a beautiful bestselling novel (and a movie in the near future) about 10-year-old August Pullman who was born with a previously unknown type of mandibulofacial dysostosis caused by an autosomal mutation in the TCOF1 gene, which is located in chromosome 5. August has had 27 surgeries on his face since the day he was born but he still looks what most people would call “deformed” (but I don’t like that word now).

In Wonder, R.J Palacio skillfully narrates the story of how a boy who looks different is placed in a Middle School for the very first time and how other kids react. I usually don’t like books where the characters are way younger than me because I feel like I passed that stage, and usually everything they talk about is hard to identify with and could seem superficial, but I have to say Wonder was very different. In Wonder even the chapters narrated from 10-year-old August are consuming and so easy to read. I like that despite the difficulties, the characters are very good-humored and have like good personalities that will have you rooting for them. Of course there are the bullies and everything but that just makes it more real.

I like how it portrays human reaction to people who are different, I like how it portrays what it is like to be the parents of a child who is different, and even more interestingly: the sibling. In an earlier post about my semester in Israel, I write about how I volunteered in a place where we took care and gave attention to kids that have a brother or sister battling cancer. I write how important I think it is since sometimes the parents aren’t able to give them that attention. When I met Olivia “Via” Pullman I understood it even better. It was delightful to read about how she perceived things from the sibling part of the story. I also love how it shows what a difference the education a person gets at home can make in the way they behave towards others.

What I learned:

  • Every day you have three choices, you either choose to be kind to others and make this world a better place, you choose to ignore those who need your kindness the most and you let your indifference help tear this world apart, or you choose to make a shameless contribution to the destruction of mankind by being mean. In my experience you (and the rest of the world) will be better off if you choose kindness.
  • I learned some more about genetic syndromes. When we think of genetic syndromes, Down usually comes up because it’s the most common. In the case of August Pullman, his syndrome doesn’t have any influence in the functioning of his brain and we observe how he thrives academically. I am bothered by the misconception that people like him are “special needs” people. I think all humans are created equal to God’s eyes and just because of the way a person was born looking like, or because of an extra chromosome that delays or partly blocks the development of one’s brain, we have no right to limit them and believe that they cannot achieve great things.
  • There is always more than one part to the same story. Because whether we want it or not we all perceive the world in a different way, so the same event can look completely different to everyone who experiences it.
  • Everybody makes mistakes and forgiveness is one of the most difficult but important things any of us can do as humans. that being said we have to be careful with our word because they have more impact than we might think.

“Always be a little kinder than necessary” – J.M. Barrie

So I absolutely recommend you read this book whenever you have the time and watch out for the movie starring Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts (U.S Premier is Nov 17th, 2017) I promise you will not regret it, it is one of those stories that will stay with you long after you read it.

Love, Knowledge Empress

 

Still Alice by Lisa Genova – Review

Not long ago I wrote a post about Alzheimer’s disease. I discussed how it was a tragic loss of self, and I included some information about the Alzheimer’s Association. However, after having finished this beautiful novel by Lisa Genova today, I have a better image of what it is like for someone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, particularly early-onset. A few years ago I saw the movie for this book where Alice was portrayed by the talented Julianne Moore, and I was very touched, however when I read this book I got a completely different feeling.

This is not just a book about illness. When I saw it in my bookshelf knowing what it was about I thought “oh yeah that’s the book about Alzheimer’s”, and while is it pretty much the theme, I understood after reading it that it is also a book about family and about love. It is a book about awareness, and it is a book about understanding. When you see a person with a physical handicap, or someone who you can visually tell is fighting cancer, we see someone who is brave, someone who is a hero. For some reason when a person suffers with mental illness or with a cognitive disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia in general, the word people tend to use is “crazy”, their fight is undermined and they are thought to be frustrating and hard to cope with.  Alzheimer’s is a very serious incurable and quickly progressive disease and the people who are diagnosed with it have an unimaginable internal fight. A fight to remember. To remember the people they love and that they love them, to remember their name and who they are, their accomplishments, their struggles, or even where they live.

 Background:

Dr. Alice Howland has been a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard for over twenty years, she is an world-renowned expert in linguistics and a published author or many articles and a book. She is a mother of three and has an equally smart and successful husband. She is proud of the life she has built. A little after her fiftieth birthday she starts noticing symptoms of forgetfulness that she disregards as simply menopausal, but after that comes a diagnosis that will change her life and that of everyone around her forever.

What I learned:

  • Give importance to the present. we often dwell on the past or think about the future, but we fail horribly in embracing the moment. “My yesterdays are dissapearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live for every moment. Some tomorrow soon I will forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I’ll forget it tomorrow doesn’t mean I didn’t live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that does not mean today didn’t matter” Unlike Alice we will probably remember today so we might as well make today worthwile.
  • It is important to build a life we are proud of, but our career and our work shouldn’t keep us from realizing what is the most important part of life. It is family and it is love. We need to have people in our life that love us unconditionaly and will always put us first, and we need to make sure to always put them first and love them unconditionally in return. At the end of the day when we don’t have a career anymore, the relationships we build are what will bring us utmost and true happiness.
  • Lastly I learnt that I should always do my best not to limit people who have either physical or mental handicaps. They are the ones suffering and we are the ones with the responibily to empower them. Also never undermine the pain or suffering of another person, don’t look away and fear them, and whatever happens do not judge.

I really recommend this book and I hope you all decide to read it as some point. If you really don’t read I recommend you at least watch the movie which I believe is currently on Netflix. And whatever you do don’t forget to cherish your today and to love unconditionally.

Love, Knowledge Empress

Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt – Review

I don’t judge books by their covers, but I have to say that some covers just scream at you to buy them at the bookstore. I’m happy this one did, because very rarely do I find such a beautiful and engaging piece of literature. One thing I got to say, my sleeping schedule is not happy with this book because it kept me up until 5:28 a.m. on Friday. Some books you really just need to start and finish the same day because they won’t let you sleep anyways.

Midnight Blue was originally written in Dutch by Simone van der Vlugt and it was thankfully (and very masterfully) translated to English by Jenny Watson. It is set in 17th-century Holland (1654-1655 to be exact) and it is a beautiful portrayal of life there at that time. Midnight Blue is a work of historical fiction, but the historical context and even some of the characters are historical events and figures that are very much real. I especially recommend this book if you if you have an interest in art history, but really even if you have no previous interest, this might awaken one.

Background:

1654. following the death of her young husband, Catrin Barentsdochter takes a job as a housekeeper in Amsterdam. As she assists her mistress with painting lessons she dreams of developing her own skill as an artist. But when her past catches up with her, Catrin must leave behind the comfortable security of her new home for the smaller city of Delft. She dreams of a life in which her secret stays buried, but in a world of tragedy, epidemics, gossip and suspicion that is not always easy. Women’s rights at the time were not a thing and being a woman with no husband (or with an abusive one) wasn’t an easy reality. This story of forgiveness, hard work, perseverance and love is guaranteed to inspire women to chase their dreams and recognize their true power.

Characters:

Catrin Barentsdochter: Born in the little village of De Rijp, Catrin a 25 year old widow wants to move to the city. Most see it as running away and it rises suspicion, but she needs a second chance in life, especially since her late husband Govert was an alcoholic who beat her daily since the day they got married. Catrin is a very talented painter and a very beautiful woman. She is innovative, smart and pious. She has very dangerous secrets that haunt her and people who would like to see her end. Catrin is the narrator, and this is her story.

Jacob: He is the farmhand of Catrin and Govert until she leaves the village. He knows things. He is resentful, ambitious and determined. When he wants something he will find a way to get it, even if it means hurting anyone in or out of his way.

Matthias van Nulandt: Matthias is in his thirties and is very attractive. He has no sense of commitment and would like to conserve his freedom. He is a traveling businessman for his brother’s company and he loves it. He is a kind man but he is also a heartbreaker.

Adriaan van Nulandt: he employs Catrin and is a very kind master. He lives in a beautiful house in Amsterdam filled with art treasures of the time. He is very successful in business, but no so successful at pleasing his wife Briggita, they stay married despite the lack of love, but he is a good husband to her.

Briggita: She is a well to do lady who married Adriaan because Matthias didn’t want to get married. She lost all lust for life after she couldn’t have children and now all she does is paint. She doesn’t have talent and she is critical of herself. She is often sick and on meds. She is kind once she gets used to someone but she is not a warm person.

Evert van Nulandt: Evert is the older brother of Adriaan and Mathias. He lives in Delft and owns a pottery there. Evert is a widower himself and lost all his children as well in a fire. He is a very good boss and a kind man. He is loved by the people in Delft.

The list of characters is very long and there are many important characters I didn’t include in this list simply because it would take forever.

Thank you for reading my review on this beautiful book, I hope you consider it as a possible future read, and if you have already read it let me know what you think and whether I did justice to it.

Love, Knowledge Empress

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – Review

Set in the year 1945 this riveting historical novel by American-Lithuanian author Ruta Sepetys is a revelation of important parts of history that seem to have died with the Second World War. While the characters are fictional the historical context is very much real and it pained me deeply to have never even heard this tragic events took place.

I love historical novels in general (I myself want to become a historical novelist someday) but whenever I read one of Ruta Sepetys’ novels I am truly captivated. Besides being well researched, well written and an important topic, she truly has a way of making her stories alive. When you read her books you are there with the characters and you are living it. She gives you a true experience and you just can’t believe it is fiction. Salt to the Sea is no different. Whether you enjoy historical novels or not, this is a book you must read, simply because it is important. And having read very difficult books in history this is a fast read, it completely takes over you until the very end and does not get boring or annoying at any point.

Background:

The story is narrated through four different perspectives. Four young people with different origins and backgrounds all affected by the war in different ways. All of them hunted and haunted by tragedy, lies, secrets, fear, guilt, shame and fate. The MV Wilhelm Gustloff  was the ship that promised them freedom and safety from their wretched pasts and presets. But when there is war not all promises can be kept.

 The Characters:

Joana Vilkas: Born in Biržai, Lithuania Joana is only twenty one years old. She and her mother repatriated to Germany (her mother was of German origins) to get away from Stalin’s cruel rule and deportation to Siberia or the famous gulags. She is consumed with guilt for someone she cared about and endangered without meaning to. Joana is a studious girl and a talented nurse. She was a physician’s assistant in Isterburg (East Prussia, which was part of the Reich) until she had to flee for her life in early 1945 because the Russians were approaching. She is kind, compassionate and empathic. She has a burning desire to heal or help whoever she sees and is a hero of her own, still she feels guilty for her past and for all the people she has let down. Joana is very attractive and has had a very poor history with dating and romance. She is seeked by many but remains humble, troubled and consumed.

Florian Beck: Florian is from Tilsit, Prussia. He is of age to be enlisted in the German army but he was the apprentice of Dr. Lange, who used him to restore many important art pieces stolen from the rest of Europe by the Reich. He is a talented artist and a fantastic replicator. He is full of resent towards Dr. Lange, Hitler and Gauleiter Erich Koch (the regional Nazi party leader, and one of the most cruel war criminals) and so he intends to take revenge by stealing a mystery object. He’s on the run and very badly injured from an explosion. His mother died and they killed his father. Despite everything he is a very good person and he can’t be indifferent even if he tries. He does not let people see him smile often but when he does no one can deny he is handsome.

Emilia: Emilia is only 15 years old. She is a Polish girl from Lwów. Her mother died giving birth to her little brother (who also did not make it). She loves nature and math. She has been through a lot and is seen as an inferior “filthy pole” by the Nazis. Her father sends her to a farm up north with some family friends for her safety, but was she really safe there? Emilia finds herself running for her life and then she crosses paths with Florian who saves her from a Russian soldier. Emilia is the icon of sacrifice in this book, she gives it all for others and is selfless, she feels alone in her war stricken world and she misses her old life, but she tries to pretend everything is okay. She is so good at pretending she even fools herself with her own lies sometimes.

Adolph Frick: Adolph is a young lad from Germany. He is a late enlister of the German army because he is nothing more than a wimpy psychopath in training. He calls himself “a thinker” and likes to quote Hitler’s ideas from his book Mein Kampf. He has a profound love for the Furher and buys into the whole superior race ideology. He likes to chant a list of Hitler’s enemies. He is in the lowest rank of the navy and assigned to assist in the ship Wilhelm Gustloff in Operation Hannibal. He has unimportant jobs but he is obsessed with becoming a hero to Germany. He writes countless mental letters to Hannelore, his “adored one” from back home. But he is full of fear and resent, he has been bullied and made fun of a lot. He is not very clever, and he believes himself to be. He is very physically unfit and a very much interested in women who will only make fun of him. He reminds me a lot of Hitler himself. He just wants to feel powerful, worth it and useful and he is prepared to get rid of anyone in his path to achieving self confidence.

Heinz “the shoe poet”: this old shoemaker is a character, he’s on the run with Joana and their group. He is convinced shoes tell people’s stories and he just has an obsession with shoes in general. He is a very honest loving man. He is charismatic and caring. Everyone loves him.

Ingrid: Ingrid is a blind girl, this handicap makes her unworthy of living by Hitler’s standards. She has all her other senses sharpened and she can sense many thing others with sight can’t.

Sorry Eva: Eva is also part of the group evacuating with Joana. She has very pessimistic comments to say and always adds the word sorry in every one of them. She is her own priority. She is a bitter woman and the shoe poet describes her a blister.

Klaus: Klaus is a little boy wandering by himself, the group takes him in because he has no one. He is sweet and loves the shoemaker. He calls him Opi (Grampa) and is fascinated by him.

As for the plot I will not spoil it for you now. But my recommendation to you is: read this book. Read it if it’s the only thing you ever plan on reading. Read it if you are not a regular reader, and if you are. This is an important story, please don’t let it die.

Love, Knowledge Empress