Monday, June 14, 2010

double trouble book review: every house needs a balcony & scout, atticus and boo

I confess..whenever I have more than one item to review (or am addressing an email to more than one person), I struggle with the order question. So, let's just go with the order I read them (in emails, I often go alpha). Legal-type disclaimer: These reviews are based on proof-versions provided to me by HarperCollins.

  • Every House Needs a Balcony, Rina Frank
This is a recent translation of a top-selling book by an Israeli author. I've always struggled with processing my reaction to translations. A good translator maintains the spirit of not only the plot but also the language. That said, it can never be flawless and without the translator's imprint.
The plot is the life story of an Israeli woman. She grows up in poverty, the daughter of immigrants. The family (Mom, Dad, narrator & sister) shares a single room and the young narrator spends a lot of time observing her own family as well as her neighbors. When she is older, she meets a wealthy man and briefly relocates to Barcelona before returning to her native land to have a child.
I expected to really enjoy this novel. The plot sounds up my alley and it is a character-driven story. However, it really lost me in the telling (hence the author/translator ponderings). The chapters alternate between first-person accounts of the narrator's childhood and third-person accounts of her adult life. While that kept the timelines distinct, it was jarring (hopefully the editors will catch the few errors in the voice that are in the proof version). Neither voice captivated me. I like flawed characters so don't need a perfect heroine, but I never felt connected to the main character.
I don't like not liking books. I did a few internet searches and did find a reviewer with similar sentiments...that made me feel better. Fine story but lost in the telling....whether that is the author or the translator is something I can't judge.
  • Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird, Mary McDonagh Murphy
This compilation is a celebration of Harper Lee's beloved novel. I am among the many who fell in love with the book on first read and I have reread it many times. Wally Lamb provides a foreword that is followed by a section in which Murphy provides a bit of insight into the book's history. The real meat of the book is the series of reflections from notable readers including Harper Lee's sister, the actress who played Scout in the film, Oprah Winfrey, Andrew Young, and many others including actors and people familiar with the Southern town life portrayed in the book.
Harper Lee hasn't granted an interview in many years. I hope she enjoyed this celebration of her novel. I did and, although I don't have a ton to more to say about it, I definitely recommend this book to any fan of Mockingbird.

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