Tag Archives: Book Club Reading List

Review: Homecoming

Homecoming Book Cover

Homecoming
By Bernhard Schlink
Knopf Doubleday
January 2009 (reprint)
272pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

A child of World War II, Peter Debauer grew up with his mother and scant memories of his father, a victim of war. Now an adult, Peter embarks upon a search for the truth surrounding his mother’s unwavering—but shaky—history and the possibility of finding his missing father after all these years. The search takes him across Europe, to the United States, and back: finding witnesses, falling in and out of love, chasing fragments of a story and a person who may or may not exist. Within a maze of reinvented identities, Peter pieces together a portrait of a man who uses words as one might use a change of clothing, as he assumes a new guise in any given situation simply to stay alive.The chase leads Peter to New York City, where he hopes to find the real person behind the disguises.

The Short of It:

I liked it, but I didn’t like it and if this brief statement makes absolutely no sense to you, then read on.

The Rest of It:

Homecoming is one of those novels that is a story, within a story. I usually love these types of books. A book about a book? I’m there. BUT, this one promised to be an adventure and for me, it sort of petered out halfway through. As Peter heads out on his quest to find the truth, the story starts to get a bit muddy and then I started to skim, and then I was completely lost. By the end, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what happened, but after thinking about it for a day or two, I realize that I really have no clue.

To his credit, Schlink’s characters are lovely. I liked them very much and felt as if I really got to know them. If it weren’t for the strong characters I probably would have given up on the book because it just didn’t grab me as much as I expected it to. The ending was very strange too. Almost surreal at one point. It didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story.

Homecoming is my book club’s pick for this month so I’m hoping that the discussion on Thursday will shed some light on what exactly happened there at the end. Have any of you read it? If so, what did you think of it?

Source: Checked out from the library.

Review: First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Book Cover

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
Loung Ung
HarperCollins
April 2006
288pp

The Short of It:

A young girl’s heart wrenching tale of her family’s struggle for survival during the Cambodian Genocide (1975-1979). Hard to stomach at times but beautifully written.

The Rest of It:

Ung’s tale begins in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Once known at “the pearl of Aisa”, Phnom Penh is the home of the Ung family which consists of her mother and father, and her siblings, Meng, Khouy, Keav, Kim, Chou, Loung (the author) and Geak. Life in Phnom Penh is quite pleasant for Loung. Her father (Pa) works for the government and is highly respected in the community.  Due to his class standing, they live in a nice house and Loung’s mother (Ma), does not need to work. However, as the Khmer Rouge invade Cambodia, the Ung family is forced to leave their home. This is Loung’s story of what happened to them on their way to Thailand.

As you can imagine, this is a very tough story to read. Loung is so young when her family is forced to move. She is only five-years old. Caring for her younger siblings and sometimes even the older ones, must have been very tough for her. As her family makes their way from one work camp to another, their fight to stay alive becomes more difficult as food rations dwindle, and violence abounds all around them.

This is from page 149/50 of the paperback. Loung is referring to her younger sister’s emaciated body:

My eyes stay on Geak. She does not talk anymore. She is so thin it is as if her body is eating itself up. Her skin is pale yellow, her teeth rotten or missing. Still she is beautiful because she is good and pure. Looking at her makes me want to die inside.

Ung’s story is quite compelling. Her relationship with her father comes through as being strong and solid, so much so, that when the soldiers take him away, her world falls down around her. Since it is impossible to know exactly what happened to her father, she fills in the gaps with visions she has of the event. These visions seem plausible and serve as closure for her, and I found them to be quite effective. She uses this technique again towards the end of the story and although I saw it coming, it was just as effective and shook me to the core.

What was particularly poignant for me, were her memories of life in Phnom Penh. The clothes they wore, the food they ate. She never realized how good she had it until all of it was taken away. Those moments seemed so small to her at the time, but in reflection, they end up being the cement that holds her together.

My book club chose this book for May. We meet to discuss it next week. I didn’t know too much about the Cambodian Genocide before reading it. Although it is a tough read and hard to stomach at times (it took me a really long time to finish), I am glad I read it. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about this topic.

Source: Purchased.