Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger

soft in the headAs someone who enjoys the written word, and has done for many many years, this book spoke to my inner bookworm. It is very much the whole purpose of World Book Night, which is trying to get non-readers to read or those that hardly do to read more.

It is also about the sheer amount of magical worlds, wisdom and knowledge that remains hidden from illiterates.

It is certainly about people stereotyping certain individuals and thereby curbing their learning experience. Assuming that low ability also means incapable of taking anything on board.’You’re too stupid to learn, so why would I waste time teaching you.’

This is exactly the type of experience Germain has had in school. Faced with ridicule and zero expectations, he has learnt not to venture into realms he doesn’t understand. Even his friends are comfortable with the status quo, so it comes as a surprise and a subliminal threat when Germain starts to venture outwards and upwards.

Margueritte becomes the mother-figure Germain never had, but has always wanted. They are two lonely people living in solitude who become friends. It only takes one person to believe in the abilities of another, to give the less confident the courage to go beyond their imagined boundaries. She teaches him in a such a subtle way that he doesn’t realise what is happening. In the end he snatches the reins from her and his journey becomes one of  personal independence, strength and development.

I was a little confused as to why the setting was in France with characters with French names, and yet the general language was clearly very street English at the beginning, although it did subside after a while. Do the French even know what chavs are? Then I remembered it has been translated from the French language, so the translator (Frank Wynne) has probably just used the English equivalent of the situational language setting.

Overall it is a poignant story, and a good read, hidden within something seemingly unobtrusive. By the way I really like the idea of a four-eyed story.

Buy Soft in the Head at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

The original title is La Tête en friche  and there is also a film based on the book called  My Afternoons with Margueritte.My Afternoons with Margueritte.

Sweet Breath of Memory by Ariella Cohen

Today is my turn on the Blog-tour for Ariella Cohen’s debut adult novel Sweet Breath of Memory. It  is an interesting journey of grief, memories, guilt and friendship.

About the author

Ariella is a graduate of Columbia University, the Hebrew University and the University of Michigan Law School.  Although she makes her home in New England, her dream self resides in County Mayo, Ireland.

Sweet Breath of Memory is her debut novel and she’s hard at work on the sequel. Ariella believes in the healing power of cat purrs, champagne, Vivaldi and almond cookies.

To read more about Ariella Cohen go to ariellacohenauthor.wordpress.com

Follow @ariella_cohen or @Kensingtonbooks on Twitter

About the book

With its tree-lined streets, vibrant downtown and curbside planters of spring bulbs, Amberley, Massachusetts, seems a good place for Cate Saunders to start over. It’s been two years since her husband, John, was killed in Iraq and life has been a struggle. Her new job as a caregiver doesn’t pay much, but the locals are welcoming. In fact, Cate has barely unpacked before she’s drawn–reluctantly at first–into a circle of friends.

There’s diner-owner Gaby, who nourishes her customers’ spirits as well as their bodies; feisty Beatrice, who kept the town going when its men marched off to WWII; wise-cracking MaryLou, as formidable as Fort Knox but with the same heart of gold; and, Sheila, whose Italian grocery is the soul of the place. As Amberley reveals itself to be a town shaped by war, Cate encounters another kindred spirit–a Holocaust survivor with whom she feels a deep connection. When revelations about John’s death threaten Cate’s new-found peace of mind, these sisters-in-arms’ stories show her an unexpected way forward. And Cate comes to understand that although we suffer loss alone, we heal by sharing our most treasured memories.

Review

At the very heart of it this story is about friendship. Strong supportive relationships between women, regardless of their ages and backgrounds. They share bonds through pain, loss and tragedy.

The reader learns about their personal stories and how the bonds between them became so strong in the first place. The main character is welcomed into the folds of this unusual small town. Enveloped by the care, the concern, the questions and the emotions of all these close-knit women.

Cate has been fighting an inner battle of guilt and grief since the death of her husband. He died in combat, or so the powers that be say. She is convinced that there is something fishy about his death. Her own personal guilt about not being able to help him or be there for him when he needed her the most, is what fuels her quest for answers.

Cohen integrates quite a few historical, political and socio-economic issues of our era into the story. One of those is the blanket of silence over the deaths of soldiers in recent wars. Loved ones are looking for answers, and the way veterans and widows (ers) aren’t supported sufficiently after their service to their country is over.

Then there is Miriam’s story, which becomes the inspiration for Cate and her writing. The tragic tale of a war refugee, a Holocaust survivor and a woman who has lost everything. Cate starts finding single pages of a journal written by Miriam or rather the pages find her. The pages tell the tale of her tragic journey from the Lodz Ghetto all the way to Amberley. She describes the horror of war, of the Holocaust and of the death she managed to escape.

The underlying element and moral of  Cohen’s story is allowing ourselves to feel compassion for others. Learning to recognise how similar we are and yet how different our reactions are to grief, loss, anger and sorrow. An interesting read.

Buy Sweet Breath of Memory at AmazonUK, Waterstones or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Talent for Humanity

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Talent For Humanity is edited and introduced by Patrick Gaffney and foreword is written by Thierry Sanchez.

This book presents the stories of people, who have had and are still having a great impact on their fellow humans. Readers learn about their individual paths or journeys of enlightenment and their discovery of self.

My Seven Voyages by Reza
His voyages into the Persian culture and how deeply he has been influenced by the words and poetry of said culture. He explains how he came to understand the true meaning of injustice and his road leads to a crossroads. Making the choice between two roads ‘one of inaction and renunciation or the exposure and denunciation of injustice.’

His path leads him right into the open arms of the Shah’s secret police. Reza mentions the months of torture almost in passing, as if it is a mere blip on his radar. His letter to humanity speaks of the tool with which he chooses to communicate the pain, turmoil and journeys of his fellow humans.

Making the World a Better Place Through the Arts by Sherry & Bob Jason
Many decades ago Sherry and Bob Jason ‘created a non-profit organization called City Hearts, which is dedicated to bringing the arts to underprivileged children.Giving them the opportunity to experience creative arts in a way they would possibly never have the chance to. ‘Our goal was to show these children that there were other choices they could make – positive ones.’ Their letter to humanity speaks of helping young people to find their path and putting their talents to work.

In the UK both the Primary and Secondary Schools always try to introduce a steady flow of the creative arts, especially to children in low socio-economic areas, because realistically they will never get to experience them in their home life. It does give them a new perspective and opens their eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.

Rise! by Aliza Hava
Aliza’s experience with injustice was on a personal level and started very early on in her life. When she discovered music she realised the career she wanted to embark upon.She had a profound experience after reading a specific book, which changed the way she understood and embraced what she calls ‘God consciousness.’ Her letter to humanity speaks of her deep connection to her faith and her hope that others will find inspiration in her experience and words.

In My Own Voice by Deeyah Khan
Deeyah uses the phrase ‘music is my home and my exile’ to describe a doorway into her special place. Perhaps a doorway she needed, because she grew up as an outsider. I understand completely how she experienced growing up as a foreigner, outsider or as someone, who is perceived as different from the majority. Her passion to have a voice puts her life in physical danger, despite that Deeyah decides to give a voice to others.

She specifically sheds a light on the topic of honour killings that take place even when the victims live in countries, where it is clearly deemed a crime. Deeyah set up Sisterhoodnetwork.org to empower young Muslim women. Her letter to humanity is actually a very heartfelt appeal to one of these victims, an apology of sorts, because society is still not doing enough to protect them.

Connecting the Dots by Yarrow Kraner
Spending a significant time of his life bearing the brunt of the ‘anger and resentment against white people’ on a Native American reservation. He uses his negative experiences to empower others.‘Superheroes aren’t simply the characters we see on the big screen.’ His letter to humanity speaks about the ability to envision and believe.

On Tastes, the Journey and Clowning by Daniele finzi Pasca
I want to start Daniele’s segment with his poignant words ‘In the very early morning, we would pick up the bodies of those who had died during the night.’ His letter to humanity speaks about fear being so controlling that it traps us in a corner. Making use of the talents we carry in our hearts.

Putting Our Heart into The World by Patrick Gaffney
Patrick asks important questions, ‘why is it so difficult for us to think and act out of altruism and not out of self-interest.’ It describes how humans in general tend to fixate on themselves. Selfish rather than selfless. How we can improve our own self-worth, morale and positive feelings if we volunteer and help others. His letter to humanity is to leave a blank page for the reader so they can write your own Letter to Humanity.

A common thread within the people in these stories is being an outsider and/or a minority in the midst of a majority. In the introduction Gaffney points out that this isn’t supposed to be a self-help book. Instead it is a way of honouring men and women, who have dedicated their lives to helping others. Paying tribute in form of a book.
I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley.