Friday, February 20, 2015

The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans
by M.L. Stedman

Set in Western Australia in the early 1900's, The Light Between Oceans actually deals with issues that still are with us today. The issue of child custody in which there are never really any winners.

Living on a remote rock of an island are the light house keeper, Tom, and his young wife, Isabel. They love their life together in this quiet remote place.  Unfortunately, though, their efforts at starting their family fail as each pregnancy ends with a miscarriage or stillborn birth. 

One day, while tending to the graves of her lost children, Isabel can't believe she's hearing the cries of a baby.  On the beach she discovers a boat has drifted ashore in which she finds the baby she heard crying along with a man who has died.  The baby seems to be the answer to her prayers. There is no identification on the man or baby and no indication of what caused the man's death.  Having recently suffered another miscarriage, no one from the mainland would ever suspect that this is not the child she had been carrying.  She pleads with her husband not to report the incident of the boat drifting ashore with it's unusual cargo and allow her to keep and raise the child as their own.  Tom is torn between the right and honest thing to do and his love for his wife and desire to end her pain. Ultimately he keeps quiet and destroys any evidence of the boat's arrival.

In time they come to find out who the baby is and how she came to be in the boat with her father.  But years have passed and the child is healthy and happy and a delight to both Tom and Isabel.  They know the child's mother continues to mourn the loss of both her husband and child.  Without answers as to what ever became of them, time has not been able to ease her suffering.  Tom wants to assure her that her child is alive and well, but could lose his job and marriage by doing so. Eventually the truth comes out. 

What kept me interested and drawn to this story is the question of the right thing to do at this point.  When a child only knows two people as his or her parents, do you rip the child away from loving people and place him/her with a stranger, even though the stranger is the real parent?  I don't believe there is a right answer to that question.  Did Tom and Isabel hurt the child by keeping her and loving her?  Did they act ethically?  

I can't give away the story, but no matter which way it goes, there is not a winner.  Similar stories appear in the news today regarding children of surrogacy or adoption where a natural or birth parent changes their mind.  It's a very difficult issue and this story dealt with it well.

I give this book 4 of 5 shots.  It dealt with a difficult subject and caused me to reflect on it well beyond the last page.  However, I did have some trouble at the beginning of the book getting into the story.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lost in Shangri-La

Lost in Shangri-La
by Mitchell Zuckoff

I bought a new cell phone in January.  Part of the package was a book app. I don't recall exactly when I purchased (for free) this book on that app, but I found myself reading it on my phone when ever I had a chance.  

This true story takes place in New Guinea toward the end of WWII. A military plane filled with service men and women takes off on a sightseeing tour to view a recently discovered valley in the center of the island. This beautiful valley, nicknamed "Shangri-La" was home to thousands of native people who had never seen or been visited by any other humans on earth.  They were indeed very frightened by the planes that had suddenly begun flying over their villages. 

This sightseeing tour ends tragically when the plane crashes into the dense jungle and bursts into flames.  All but three of the 28 people on board are killed.  Two of the three survivors are seriously injured.  Their survival appears uncertain unless they can move out of the cover of the forest to where they can be seen and hopefully rescued.  Making matters worse is the unknown demeanor of the natives. They are believed to be cannibalistic, and the survivors have no idea whether they are friendly or hostile.

The rescue mission is complicated by the high altitude of the valley, the dense jungle with no options for landing a plane and the distance and terrain that separates them from their post.  The book is scattered with photos of the survivors, the natives, and the paratroopers who came to rescue them.  The story is gathered from diary entries and interviews of those involved.  The epilogue satisfies my curiosity of what became of the military men and women involved in the crash and rescue, as well as the primitive culture found previously undisturbed by outside influence. 

I loved this book and look forward to reading more by Zuckoff.  I give this book 4 of 5 shots


The Last Days of Dogtown

The Last Days of Dogtown
by Anita Diamant

This is the second or third book I've read by Anita Diamant and I still have not read the one I have been wanting to read, The Red Tent.  To be honest, this was an audio book so I didn't actually "read" it.  I started it on my road trip home from Oregon, toward the end of the trip.  Since I really only listen to audio books in the car, and it was the end of the trip, this book took several weeks to complete.  But it's the perfect book for that kind of listening.  

The Last Days of Dogtown is historical fiction.  Dogtown really existed as did the characters in the book.  Each chapter is the story of a different citizen of Dogtown and could easily stand on it's own as a short story. But of course the charm of the book is how each character can also make an appearance in someone else's story weaving the history of the town through it's inhabitants.  

Dogtown was an early 19th century hamlet in Massachusetts that was home to the lowest caste of society and named for the wild dogs that also inhabited it.  These citizens range from widows and  spinsters, to prostitutes and freed slaves. 

I very much enjoyed all the stories of the citizens of Dogtown. I find it interesting, however, in reading other reviews, that many people felt disappointed by this book having read The Red Tent previously.  I am happy that I listened to Dogtown first.  

I give The Last Days of Dogtown 4 of 5 shots.