Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Butler: Movie




I don't usually post my movie reviews. But, when a movie hits me, and I think it is worth spreading the word about, I post my thoughts.

I am a history buff, even though this is recent history mainly set in the 1950's and 1960's during the radical 60's.

This is a part of history when I was young, I used to say, who cares about that time. I was a young girl and thought so what.  But, now I realize this was a interesting time.   I do wish I was a teenager during these times to enjoy, and understanding the radical 60's.  But I was not a teenager, but younger.  It was also a scary time for change, especially for Black America.

I never really understood what Black America went through until I saw this powerful movie.  I now understand what was different from this movie, than other Afro American movies.  This is the first hand story of the Civil Rights movement from the Black African perspective.

I think it is time that we finally start talking about it.  It is a part of history that has been hush-hush about, this including the Vietnam War.  It is almost 40 years and it is still not thrust in front and center.  But, perhaps after " The Butler", there is a need to talk about the radical, politically charged 60's.

Recently, I started to notice contemporary history novels are being set in the civil rights era. But, this is mainly happening with white authors, not Afro Americans. I hope that more books, and movies will be set during this time. Not like books, like the Help.  But, book describing the Afro American experience.  For us White people to understand that time from their perspective.

My thoughts of, The Butler.  I am a Southern gal, a transplant from N. J. I living in South Carolina.  Where they still think there is a confederate flag still flying in the state capital.  There still is discrimination in this state.  But, not  talked openly about it.

That said, my girl friends and I went to see the movie. Before the movie started my friends told me the movie got a terrible review from our local Myrtle Beach newspaper.  So, right from the start I was waiting to hate this movie.  The more I watched the more, I loved this movie. Thinking what were the reviewers talking about?   My girlfriend told me what they were criticizing was, too much crammed into the movie.

That is ridiculous because there is eight presidents he worked as a butler for.  There was so much going on during that time.  There were protests, sit ins, Freedom Riders, Woolworth counter sit in,  college riots, black/white segregation, busing, assassination of JFK, and RFK, and Martin Luther King JR., Vietnam.

SPOILER ALERT+++++++++++++++++SPOILER ALERT++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
  Finally the last part of his history for this gentleman was seeing for the first time a Black American President, Barack Obama elected in his lifetime.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I so loved this movie, there was a all star cast of Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker,  Cuba Gooding Jr. Mariah Carey, Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson.

I would think most people middle age and over would appreciate this movie.  Anyone that did not live during this time may have a hard time relating.  Understanding the time of the radical 60's. unless you know your American history, and presidents, and the time and culture.

The movie, has some controversy surrounding the title of the movie. They had to change the name of the movie from The Butler, to Lee Daniel's The Butler.

The Butler, was first a piece written by Wil Haygood. in the Washington Post. Then Wil Haygood wrote a book with further detail of his life. It was inspired by true events in the life of Eugene Allen, the White House butler.

The Butler, tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond.

I can't give you too much else or I will spoil the movie for you.   I will tell you when the movie was over, there was standing ovation and clapping from the audience.  So, I am not the only one that loved this movie.

 I love movies, and go to the movies with my friends at least once a week.  This summer there was not too many movies I wanted to go to.  When I learned about The Butler coming out, I couldn't wait.    I hope The Butler wins some awards next year.

The actors, took a pay cut just to get  this movie out, and produced. They all knew this was a important film to bring to the public audience.  For Oprah Winfrey to act again after so many years, must speak volumes as well.



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Visit with Helene Wecker






Finally it's here my interview with Helene, the author of The Golem and the Jenni.  If you have not heard of her, you must have had your head in the sand literally. I can't believe being a debut author this is her first novel. Where has she been?

After reading her fabulous novel. I have not read anything that lives up to anything else.  Lush in history and description of character, place, and time.  It is a tour of nostalgic turn of the century New York City, circa 1899.  You can read my review here.



 Hi, Helene thank you for taking the time to visit me at Susan's Literary Cafe.  Welcome!!!

First I would like to tell you Helene, you have become my favorite author of all time.  Your novel speaks volumes to me.  It has all the elements, of historical fiction, magical realism, romance, storytelling, suspense, and so much more.  The best part, because I am a transplant from the north, you bring New York City to life.  It is more thing that I miss living in South Carolina.

Helene is a debut author for the novel, The Golem and the Jenni.     She grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, a small town north of Chicago, and received her Bachelor’s in English from Carleton College in Minnesota. After graduating, she worked a number of marketing and communications jobs in Minneapolis and Seattle before deciding to return to her first love, fiction writing. Accordingly, she moved to New York to pursue a Master’s in fiction at Columbia University. She now lives near San Francisco with her husband( her husband comes from a Syrian family) and daughter.

Helene, What was the inspiration for your novel? Why the characters of the Golem and the
Jinni? And why set it in turn-of-the-century New York, instead of modern New York?

When I was in grad school, I started working on a series of linked short stories about my own Jewish family and my husband's Arab-American family. A couple of the stories were okay, but the rest were not very good, and I knew it. I was talking with a friend of mine about it, and how frustrated I was. She suggested I try a different approach. She knewthat I was a scifi/fantasy geek, and she challenged me to add a fantastical element, to take the stories out of the realm of straight-up realism. So instead of a Jewish girl and an Arab-American boy, I decided to write about a golem and a jinni. I thought I was just taking a break and writing a fun little story, but then it became clear that I had a novel on my hands. I set it in turn-of-the-century New York because that was when the first big waves of Jewish and Syrian immigrants were arriving in America. I thought the communities would be new and chaotic enough that a golem and a jinni could hide pretty easily -- unlike today, when you need a driver's license and a birth certificate, and and everything's on camera. Also, one of my original ideas was to tell the story over a hundred years! I got rid of that idea pretty quickly, though.
As a child, were your parents or grandparents big on Jewish folktales?
No,strangely enough! At least I don't remember hearing any folktales from them. My mother's parents were cosmopolitan German Jews, and Old World folktales weren't really their thing. My dad's parents were Polish Jews, and spoke Yiddish, but I don't remember them telling me folktales. Usually they were too busy trying to get me to eat! Instead of folktales at home, I had science fiction, most of it from my dad: Bradbury and Asimov and Heinlein and Star Trek. Only lately have I realized how closely some of the themes in the old golem stories match themes in classic science fiction -- only instead of golems, it's robots.


What was the inspiration for your novel? Why the characters of the Golem and the Jinni? And why set it in turn-of-the-century New York, instead of modern New York?
When I was in grad school, I started working on a series of linked short stories about my own Jewish family and my husband's Arab-American family.

 A couple of the stories were okay, but the rest were not very good, and I knew it. I was talking with a friend of mine about it, and how frustrated I was. She suggested I try a different approach. She knew that I was scifi/fantasy geek, and she challenged me to add a fantastical element, to take the stories out of the realm of straight-up realism. So instead of a Jewish girl and an Arab-American boy, I
decided to write about a golem and a jinni. I thought I was just taking a break and writing a fun little story, but then it became clear that I had a novel on my hands. I set it in turn-of-the-century New York because that was when the first big waves of Jewish and Syrian immigrants were arriving in America.

 I thought the communities would be new and chaotic enough that a golem and a jinni could hide pretty easily -- unlike today, when you need a driver's license and a birth certificate, and and everything's on camera.
 Also, one of my original ideas was to tell the story over a hundred years! I got rid of that idea pretty quickly, though.
As a child, were your parents or grandparents big on Jewish folktales?
No, strangely enough! At least I don't remember hearing any folktales from them. My mother's parents were cosmopolitan German Jews, and Old World folktales weren't really their thing. My dad's parents were Polish Jews, and spoke Yiddish, but I don't remember them telling me folktales.

 Usually they were too busy trying to get me to eat! Instead of folktales at home, I had science fiction, most of it from my dad: Bradbury and Asimov and Heinlein and Star Trek. Only lately have I realized how closely some of the themes in the old golem stories match themes in classic science fiction -- only instead of golems, it's robots.
Did you mean to write a book so massive, in depth and character?
I didn't start out with that goal, certainly. Then the characters and story lines started to proliferate, and I realized that the book was going to be a lot longer than I'd originally thought. It was intimidating, but also exciting, because that's the sort of book I really love: long and involved, with a community of interesting characters. (I'm thinking of genre novels like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or realist fiction like the recent Skippy Dies.) At one point the book was a lot longer than it is now, at least 20 percent longer. I cut out a lot at the sentence level, but scenes and subplots too -- extraneous material that wasn't doing much besides slowing the pace.
Did you realize you had the Jewish theme of free will, or was it a accident? I understand you were not brought up in a religious household, but free will is in your novel. The rabbis teach us young about free will, so if that is the case, where did that come from?
The theme of free will came directly from my characters themselves, from the Golem's servant nature and the Jinni's imprisonment in human form. Once I'd given them these constraints, it seemed pretty clear that this would be what they had in common, and what they would talk about. As for when I first encountered ideas about free will, I honestly think it goes back to all the books I've read: stories of robots acquiring sentience, and defying their creators, and so on. Also I remember reading Paradise Lost in college, and being taken with Milton's idea that God knew ahead of time every decision we would ever make, yet we still had the free will to make those decisions. It seemed like a really interesting paradox.
What do you want your readers to come away with after reading The Golem and the Jinni?
Ideally I'd like them to come away thinking about the issues that prompted me to write the book, like the tug-of-war between duty and free will, and between tradition and modernity. Honestly, I get leery at the idea of books with messages; I think the best way to kill a book flat is to give it an obvious message. I'd rather ask questions instead.
Do you call yourself a fantasy writer or magical realism?
Either! Both! I've been calling this book a "literary historical fantasy," and I know it's being shelved all over in bookstores -- in literary fiction, or historical fiction, or fantasy/scifi. Since this is the only major project I've ever written, I'm not sure yet if I'll only be writing genre-tinged fiction. Maybe someday I'll write a book that's completely realist, which honestly for me would be a real feat. So until then I'll just call myself a writer, and leave it at that.

What books would you like to share that you enjoyed ?

book recommendations: do you read Neil Gaiman? His AMERICAN GODS is really, really good. Also you might like JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL by Susanna Clarke

Have you published anything before writing The Golem and the Jenni ?

I have a written a short story, from a online journal. Here is the website at http://www.joylandmagazine.com/stories/san_francisco/divestment
Thank you for visiting and come again when you have some time.

you Helene for taking the time to visit me. Hope to hear, and read more fantastic books by you in the future.

For you book lovers that are living in the south. Please visit your local independent book stores, or solicit your Jewish organizations. I would love to see a book event in the south, particularly South Carolina. Maybe with a bit of luck we can get Helene to come down south. I have corresponded with her publicist and the only way that will happen is if I can promise 100+ people to come to a event.

Please let your book seller know about this terrific writer. If enough people tell their book sellers maybe we can get her to come. I am willing to travel at least 2 hours to see her. Her book is that good.

We southerners don't have a large literary presence here in the small southern communities. But, if you keep telling the book sellers you want Helene maybe someone will bite!!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Didn't Expect a Great Read: Winter Garden




Winter Garden
By Kristin Hannah

My copy by Nook


I was expecting another romance novel.  I have never read Kristen Hannah before. The reason I picked this up was for the book club discussion today.  Actually the book was chosen by accident.  I am glad it was. I was not expecting such a awesome novel.  I expected a another romance novel.

It is the story of Meredith, and Nina. Meredith is the homebody and responsible one. She stays home to take of the house, and children and family, and  family orchard business in Washington State. Where Nina, has a boyfriend, Daniel. She is a photojournalist, and is traveling all over the world.

 But, then their father becomes ill. He asks each one of them to promise to listen to the fairy tale. You see when they were younger they were told the story but never the entire Russian fairytale.  This is the only connection the mother has with her daughter. Their mother is very cold and disapproving.   Her mother Anya is a very cold and disapproving.  Her daughters have never been able to get close to her.  Their Dad, is a very warm caring person,

The story of Anya is told through fairy tales. Anya's life in Leningrad has been kept a secret for over fifty years. The story goes back and forth in time.  The sister's eventually find out the hidden truth about their mother.  This story is about secrets, family, motherhood, it is historical fiction.

I did not expect this from a novel. I thought it would be a light fluff novel.  It is light reading, but it is heavy subject matter.  It takes you to Leningrad, to Alaska, and Washington state to find out the secrets, and find ways to understand their mother's odd behavior.  Why did she go out to the winter garden ? What happened to her children? What happened to her family? How did she end up in the United States?

The first half of the novel was not getting anywhere then when she started talking about Leningrad it became interesting for me. I am a sap when it comes to history.  After reading this I want to do some research with the Leningrad Seige.  For the first time in a digital book, there is supplemental reading and book club discussions questions at the end. There is some Russian recipes that you can use for your book club.

SPOILER*******************************************************************

How would you feel finding out the answers to your family later on in life? I would be upset that it is after many years that years have been wasted trying to make up for lost time. There is not alot of time to understand your mother and her secrets? But, you can't cry over spilled milk either.

There is one thing that asks the question at our book club? How can you make a choice on which child should you stay with? Could you? I don't think I could.  Anya has to decide they have train tickets to get out of the country.
Her son is very ill, and will most likely will die.  He can not get on the train because he is ill. Her daughter is healthy, would you be able to send her away, and you stay behind? You know the son will not survive, how do you choose?

The shocking truth at the end of the story.   When we find out what happened and the secret was out.
I could not believe the end of the story. I was at the doctor's office and did not want anyone to see me crying and wiping the tears.   I was so glad I just finished the book, and headed right for the book club.  What timing. This is a novel you can't wait to discuss, and especially since I just finished it... It was so heart wrenching.  At the end you need lots of tissues, and a shoulder to cry on!!



Check out my Review of Small Great Things

Check out my review of Jodi Picoult's novel, Small Great Things https://bagelsbooksandschmooze.blogspot.com/2017/08/small-great-things...