Tag Archives: novel

“The Laughing Sutra” by Mark Salzman

I’m creating a new category for this book, which I read about 15 years ago, long before I had this blog. The category is

ADULT BOOKS THAT TURN OUT WILDLY POPULAR WITH KIDS!

Certainly Mark Salzman’s first book, the nonfiction Iron and Silk, an account of his time in China, was intended for adults. So when I came across his novel The Laughing Sutra, I expected the same. And initially, it was adult fiction. In fact, kind of scary. We witness a murder. But that was just a prologue… As I read on, and got to know the characters, I was amused and entertained, and wondered what my eleven year old son would think.

Hsun-ching and Colonel Sun are an unlikely pair of adventurers. Hsun-ching is a orphan, raised by an quiet, old monk. Colonel Sun is confused, wild, strong and lives for excitement. They join forces to seek a sutra (religious poem) wanted by the old monk.

When these two make it to the USA, the intercultural confusion blossoms into hilarity.

I started reading this book to my 11 year old, but the six year old was also captivated! We cackled our way through to the amazing climax, when Hsun-ching and the Colonel try to re-enter mainland China. (At that time, no one re-entered China. The border guards weren’t ready…) Colonel Sun became part of our family repertoire, like the characters in “Ghostbusters” and other favorites. He was at least as real to us as Superman or Johnny Appleseed. Who wouldn’t want Colonel Sun for a companion? I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you the source of the Colonel’s amazing powers.

So read “The Laughing Sutra”. I also liked Salzman’s next (and entirely entirely different) novel, “The Soloist”. I hope he keeps writing.

So far, I haven’t been able to think of another adult book that worked so well with kids. Any nominations for my new genre? I’m curious.

“What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty

I started out with one good reason to read this book, and one reason not to.

Of course I am likely to read a book with my name in the title. “ALICE” is not a common name.

But I would generally not choose to read a book in which BRAIN INJURY is a prominent theme. I dealt with that in real life – I don’t need to pile fiction on top of it. I already know too much.

But here was this novel, handed along by a friend, and said to be funny, gripping, etc. So I plunged in!

The “Alice” of the title, a thirty something mother of three who is separated but not divorced, falls and bangs her head in the midst of a gym workout. TEN YEARS of her memory is obliterated. As she rediscovers her lost decade, she has an opportunity for a “rewind” that few ever encounter. Despite pitfalls and complications and new relationships, she and her husband get back together and rebuild their damaged marriage.

I’ll skip the medical critique. I guess they do things differently in Australia.

This turned out to be a pretty good read. I’ll pass it along the next time a friend needs something to take on a plane.

“The Sea” a novel by John Banville, 2005

This book was recommended to me by a young adult relative. He was supposed to have read it for a college course in Irish Literature. But he didn’t… I think it would be more appreciated by older readers, but I can understand why it was part of a course. It’s so good!

The Sea is about death and memory. The author looks back on childhood as “the time of the gods”, a time of struggle to understand incomprehensible surroundings and mysterious people (adults). Several deaths frame the action. A pair of twins die when the author is vacationing with his family by the ocean. The story is narrated from the other end of life, just after the narrator’s wife has died (horribly) from cancer. 

The twins seem mythic – girl and boy, voluble and silent, normal (whatever that means) and abnormal (in contemporary terms, handicapped). The narrator seeks them out, fascinated by their upper class status and the vast differences between their family and his own. The twins’ deaths are incomprehensible, shocking, unexplained. Probably all death seems that way to a 13 year old. 

Enough detail is supplied to convince us that the wife’s death is brutal. The narrator, suffering, revisits the scenes of his childhood relationship with the twins and their family, without knowing why he does so. He drinks to excess, almost to death, and is pulled back into life by his companions – daughter, stranger and old, old acquaintance. 

Work makes this novel “work”? The writing is beautiful, and I don’t usually say this about authors whose vocabulary exceeds mine. The descriptions of people and settings are detailed and sensual. And the author “closes the loop”, linking beginning and end. Careful writing. I will look for other books by John Banville.