Category Archives: Memoirs

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna, by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, is a wonderful introduction to the culture of Kenya, and a fascinating memoir of a talented Maasai boy. Mr. Lekuton tells his boyhood stories and tells how, with the help of his tribe, he was sent to study in an American college, St. Lawrence University in New York.

from the publisher:

Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton gives American kids a firsthand look at growing up in Kenya as a member of a tribe of nomads whose livelihood centers on the raising and grazing of cattle. Readers share Lekuton’s first encounter with a lion, the epitome of bravery in the warrior tradition. They follow his mischievous antics as a young Maasai cattle herder, coming-of-age initiation, boarding school escapades, soccer success, and journey to America for college. Lekuton’s riveting text combines exotic details of nomadic life with the universal experience and emotions of a growing boy.

After graduating from St. Lawrence, he taught middle school in Virginia for many years, and then was accepted at Harvard University where he earned a Master’s degree in International Education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

He returned to Kenya in 2007, and was elected as a representative in the National Assembly of Kenya. He was reelected in 2013. His work has been dedicated to improving the lives of young Kenyans through education.

To bridge cultures you must mix people together,” he says. “Education and travel are the best teachers.

This was a very enjoyable book, a wonderful introduction to Kenya and to a young boy who grew up to be an inspirational man.

Click here to listen to Joseph Lekuton’s TED Talk, “A Parable for Kenya.”

 

I chose to read this book for my personal challenge, Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book about Kenya.

The Upstairs Room

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
― Elie Wiesel

My husband and I started our stay-home/stay-safe time, due to the Covid-19 virus, thirty-seven days ago (yes, I’m keeping track). A little over a month feels like forever, so I understand the growing unrest nation-wide with the lockdown. But I wish all of us would practice more patience (for all our sakes) and try to keep these life-saving measures in perspective. Thirty-seven days isn’t anything compared to the 25 months that Anne Frank spent in hiding, or the author of the book I recently read, who was in hiding with her sister for almost 3 years!

That book was an autobiographical story of a young Jewish girl and her sister who survived the Holocaust by being hidden in the home of some kind villagers! The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss, is a book for young people and was very well written. It won numerous awards, including the Newbery Honor Award, and is an excellent story for children to read and learn about the Holocaust, and perhaps to help them understand self-isolation.

from the publisher:

When the German army occupied Holland in 1940, Annie was only eight years old. Because she was Jewish, the occupation put her in grave danger. Most people thought the war wouldn’t last long, but Annie knew that if she wanted to stay alive, she would have to go into hiding.

Fortunately, a Gentile family, the Oostervelds, offered refuge to Annie and her older sister, Sini. For two years they hid in the cramped upstairs room of the Oostervelds’s remote farmhouse. There, Annie and Sini would struggle to hold on to hope—separated from their family and confined to one tiny room—as a frightful and seemingly endless war raged on outside their window.

 

It was a very moving book to read, and I recommend it highly if you haven’t heard of it.

Honors for The Upstairs Room:

Newbery Honor Book 1973
Outstanding Book of 1972 (New York Times)
Notable Children’s Books of 1971-1975 (American Library Association)
Best Books of 1972 (School Library Journal)
Children’s Books 1972  (Library of Congress)
Jewish Book Council Children’s Book Award
School Library Journal Best Book
Jane Addams Book Award Honor Book
Buxtehuder Bulle  (Outstanding Children’s Book Promoting Peace, Germany)

Johanna Reiss

I also chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book about Netherlands.

They Called Us Enemy

 

They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, is a beautifully written and illustrated autobiography of his childhood years when he and his family were relocated to the American concentration camps during World War II.  This is a book that I think should be a must read for everyone. It is so alarmingly relevant today, and I mean this very day, with Iranians now being detained at our borders and children that continue to be separated from their families and incarcerated at our southern border!

from the publisher:

In a stunning graphic memoir, Takei revisits his haunting childhood in American concentration camps, as one of over 100,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon—and America itself—in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

I was very moved by this book and learned a lot that I didn’t know about that shameful period of time in our nation’s history. It was both moving and uplifting. An excellent book, in my opinion, and one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time!

Water Buffalo Days

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam, by Huynh Quang Nhuong,  is a book of memories of a young boy growing up in Vietnam before the war. The memoir was written for children in the middle grades, but tells such poignant stories that there is definitely no age limit on it. I was quite fascinated with learning about the culture this little boy grew up in, and also learning so much about water buffaloes.

…from the Introduction to the book:

I was born in the central highlands of Vietnam in a small hamlet on a riverbank that had a deep jungle on one side and a chain of high mountains on the other. Across the river, rice fields stretched to the slopes of another chain of mountains…

…Like all farmers’ children in the hamlet, I started working at the age of six. I helped look after the family herd of water buffaloes.

…Animals played a very large part in our lives. Many wild animals were to be feared. Tigers and panthers were dangerous and always trying to steal cattle. But a lone wild hog was even more dangerous than a tiger. The hog attacked every creature in sight, even when he had no need for food. The river held a different danger: crocodiles. Other animals provided food, labor, and often friendship. Watchdogs and water buffaloes were like members of our family.

…I always planned to return to my hamlet to live the rest of my life there. But war disrupted my dreams. The land I love was lost to me forever. These are my memories…

Those memories are told beautifully and are quite remarkable. Although this young boy started working with the family’s water buffalo at age six, it was his ten-year-old brother who trained the animal. The training was fascinating, and I had no idea that water buffalo could be so intelligent, patient, and gentle. This water buffalo also became the main bull in the village and was a fierce protector of the people and the village animals.

It was so interesting to see how the villagers worked together and interacted. And I loved the stories of this boy’s daily life, hopes and dreams, and his deep friendship with the family’s water buffalo.

Although, this is not included in this book, the background on Huynh Quang Nhuong is very interesting but sad. The Vietnam War interrupted all his hopes and dreams. During the war, he was shot and permanently paralyzed. He was sent to the U.S. for treatment and never returned to his home village. The war changed all of that for him.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a memoir of a boy growing up in Vietnam.

 

The Magic Apple Tree and Sunflowers

The Magic Apple Tree, by Susan Hill, is a magical memoir about her years living in the English countryside. I loved reading it, and will enjoy rereading it again before too long. One of the passages I highlighted from the book was about summer and sunflowers. It reminded me of my own sunflower garden from a few years ago, and I’m sad that I didn’t plant any sunflowers in our yard this year. Next year, for sure!

Summer means sunflowers – better called by their exquisitely apposite French name, tournesol. It is folly to try and grow them very tall here, of course, the wild winds of the early autumn nights bend and break their thick stems and bow their great shaggy heads to the ground, but I do try nevertheless, because I love them so, their bright faces and open-golden look, and the way the bees swarm about them, I should like a whole marching line of them up against the wall near the woodshed.

My sunflower garden from 2015.

Reflections: June 2019

My June reading was a total pleasure! I didn’t read as many books as I have in each of the last few months, but I enjoyed every minute of the books I did read. It was the beginning of my summer reading, and the weather was nice enough to allow me to sit in my favorite reading spot on the porch for much of the time. July will get too hot for afternoon reading out there, but for now it’s just perfect.

It’s hard to choose my favorite of the month because I read some terrific books! I absolutely loved The Ravenmaster, by Christopher Skaife, a book recommended to me by my bird-loving daughter. The audiobook is the way to enjoy this book because Christopher Skaife narrates it himself which adds tremendous fun to the experience. His stories of the ravens that live at the Tower of London are both fun and fascinating. I learned so much about ravens from him!

I just loved Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee, which I also listened to on audiobook and which was also narrated by the author. Mr. Lee’s voice was full of nostalgia and emotion, and I felt as if he was sitting right next to me sharing his memories with just me. I was reminded of my grandfather, and my father, both great storytellers.

A different type of memoir stole my heart next — Susan Hill’s The Magic Apple Tree is one of the loveliest books I’ve read in a long time. I was so captured by her beautiful writing and her remembrances of her life in the English countryside! Even before I finished the book, I started searching for two others that she wrote in a similar vein. They were hard to find, but I ordered them from Abe Books and was delighted when they arrived. More summer reading!

Some time spent reading The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy, and then re-watching the movie with my husband was fun. A light mystery, a classic science fiction novel, and a return to my childhood with a re-reading of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse rounded out the month.

I hope you are enjoying your summer reading as much as I am enjoying mine!

Cider With Rosie

Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee, is a memoir that captures beautifully a time and place. Laurie Lee was a poet, and this memoir (the first of a trilogy of memoirs) was poetic and lyrical and beautiful to read. I also had the pleasure of listening to the audiobook of Laurie Lee himself reading this first volume. For me, it was a very moving experience. His old voice was filled with emotion and nostalgia. As he read, I thought of my grandparents and of my father … the stories Laurie Lee told were familiar and in some ways similar to stories my elders told me as I was growing up. My father, too, grew up in a small village in a small valley. He, too, told stories filled with nostalgia, and his descriptions of the valley and the stories of his childhood became part of me. So I loved this little book and look forward to reading the next two memoirs.

Below are two samples of his storytelling, and examples of why I loved this book.

A brief snippet from one chapter that told wonderful stories about two old ladies in the village, their lives and deaths completely intertwined…

“Me dad planted that tree,’ she said absently, pointing out through the old cracked window.
The great beech filled at least half the sky and shook shadows all over the house.
Its roots clutched the slope like a giant hand, holding the hill in place. Its trunk writhed with power, threw off veils of green dust, rose towering into the air, branched into a thousand shaded alleys, became a city for owls and squirrels. I had thought such trees to be as old as the earth, I never dreamed that a man could make them. Yet it was Granny Trill’s dad who had planted this tree, had thrust in the seed with his finger. How old must he have been to leave such a mark? Think of Granny’s age, and add his on top, and you were back at the beginning of the world.”

A description of his mother’s garden…

“Our terraced strip of garden was Mother’s monument, and she worked it headstrong, without plan. She would never control or clear this ground, merely cherish whatever was there; and she was as impartial in her encouragement to all that grew as a spell of sweet sunny weather. She would force nothing, graft nothing, nor set things in rows; she welcomed self-seeders, let each have its head, and was the enemy of very few weeds. Consequently our garden was a sprouting jungle and never an inch was wasted.”

 

 

 

 

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It was also on my list for my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge. And I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust“– to read books from each country of the world. This was a classic from United Kingdom.

Sunday Afternoon Listening

It’s a warm Sunday afternoon. Our neighbor is burning leaves and stuff in her backyard, filling our yard with the smoke. So we are inside instead of working outside for awhile, and I am listening to a new audiobook:  Cider With Rosie, written and narrated by Laurie Lee! It’s like sitting next to my grandpa listening to him telling stories from his life. It’s a lovely old recording, and he is a beautiful writer and storyteller.

November Reflections 2018

With the darker, colder days arriving, I found it much harder to keep my spirits up during November. That’s not unusual for me, or for many people at this time of year, especially in the Pacific Northwest.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. The change of light, the shorter days, and staying indoors more on colder days can lead to melancholy or depression. My reading is my personal antidote to that SAD feeling. It broadens my perspectives and gives me new ways of looking at the world. That cheers me up and also gives me a new appreciation for friends and family.

So with that said, November turned out to be a pretty good reading month for me. I enjoyed getting lost in a variety of books — a mystery, some classics, a Christmas book. I read a number of graphic novels this month, and I’m liking that genre more and more. I especially loved Debbie Tung’s Quiet Girl in a Noisy World, and look forward to her new book, Book Love, to be released in the U.S. on January 1st. My favorite book this month was Michelle Obama’s, Becoming, because it was full of courage and dignity, and hope.

For those of you living in the northern hemisphere, I hope your reading in November was enjoyable and an antidote to the darker, colder days. And for the rest of you, I also hope your November was spent immersed in wonderful books!

My November reads: