Book: The Secret Chord

secret chord book cover*I received a free copy of this ebook through netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

I was very excited when I got access to this book. I have read Geraldine Brooks’ March, which is the story of Mr. March from Little Women while he is at the war. I really enjoyed her taking a character and giving a new voice to him. I knew most of the basics of King David’s story, so I was interested to see her take on it.

The book is from the perspective of the prophet Nathan and David is already King. Nathan is chronicling David’s past from speaking with others from his past, getting stories of his childhood, his defeat against Goliath, and becoming close with King Saul. Nathan is also recalling his past with King David, as he met David as a child who’s family had been killed and began prophesying. David spared him and brought him into his royal court. The current time of the story is right before David commits his grievous sin of adultery.

From the description, there are a lot of jumps in time. At times, this made the book very confusing. Sometimes it wasn’t clear if Nathan was speaking with someone or if he was recalling his own memories. Some of the interviews he had and his own memories overlapped. Once the story caught up with itself, it read a lot easier.

Overall, I thought Brooks’ did a great job depicting the story of David, the man. She paints David as passionate and fiery, but also deeply spiritual and poetic. I loved that she often brought up the music and songs David created. It fit very well with scripture as he is known to have created most of the book of Psalms. Although the timeline was confusing, I liked the story’s perspective told from Nathan. It allowed Brooks to give a more honest portrayal, as he foresaw what was to come.

One of the strengths of the book was Brooks’ portrayal of the female characters, such as David’s mother Nizevet, his first wife Michal, and Bathsheba. Each of them was mistreated in a way or cast out by their husbands, as wives were treated like property. They shared their story with Nathan, and he expressed sympathy for each of them. However, these three female character were not depicted as weak. They were still strong in the ways that they could be strong. I appreciated that they were all given such a strong voice where most Biblical women do not have one (not counting Esther and Ruth).

One of the downsides of the books was the violence and language. I expected most of the violence, since the Old Testament had a lot of war. David fought lots of battles to gain his kingdom, and they were very gruesome. I prepared myself for that. I did not prepare for the very violent incest/rape scene. I am usually not squeamish, but I had to set the book down for a second to keep reading. I didn’t think the scene was necessary in that detail and greatly impacted my feelings on the book.

I also did not expect the profane cursing. I understood what Brooks was trying to do. David’s men were soldiers and they probably had their languages’ equivalent of dirty slang and curses. But I couldn’t handle the use of ‘f***’ in the context of the book. That wasn’t a word that was even created until the 15th century. Using modern curses for a story set in David’s time just didn’t work for me. She should have been more creative then that.

Overall, I would rate the book 3 out of 5. The book had great moments and the writing was still very strong, although I don’t think it is Brooks’ best work.

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Movie and Book: The Help

I remember when The Help came out and how everyone seemed to be reading it. Initially, I wasn’t interested in the story. I became a little bit more interested when the move came out. Then when Octavia Spencer won her Oscar for her roles in the film, I thought ‘well now I really have to see what all the fuss is about.’

ThehelpbookcoverI listened to The Help as an audio book (libraries for the win!). The Help is about the lives of a young white woman Skeeter and black maids Aibileen and Minny. The book begins with Skeeter returning from college and determined on becoming a writer. She lands a gig writing the domestic help column for the local newspaper. Through writing the column, she forms a friendship with Aibileen. Skeeter had a very close relationship with her own family’s maid (Constantine) growing up and decides to write a book about the maids’ experiences working for white families. With Aibileen and Minny’s help, the book becomes published and is called ‘The Help’.

I think when the book first came out, I was daunted by how long it was. The unabridged audiobook didn’t feel that long though. It was actually a lot of fun to listen to. The voice actors were fantastic and really embodied the characters. I loved that Octavia Spencer was the voice for Minny, the same role she played in the movie. Overall, I really enjoyed the book. It was part drama, part humor. There were literally parts that made me laugh out loud while listening to it. I would rate the book 4.5 out of 5.

help movieI felt that the movie was very close to the book. There was a few changes in the scenes and timing of things. Emma Stone was a little underwhelming as Skeeter. But Viola Davis, Allison Janney (playing Skeeter’s mother), and Bryce Dallas Howard (as the racist queen bee of the town) were fantastic in their roles. Octavia Spencer simply is Minny Jackson.

One of the issues I had with the movie was the pacing. The pacing of the movie was really awful as you did not realize how much time passed. In the book, several years pass. In the movie everything seems to happen in a matter of a couple months. I think that was an editing issue. My other big issue with the movie was Cecily Tyson playing the role of Constantine, Skeeter’s childhood nurse. Don’t get me wrong, Cecily Tyson is a fabulous actress and she has done some great pieces of film in her time. However, she did not fit the role of Constantine.

Although the movie was a decent adaptation, the movie lacked the same depth and soulfulness that the book possessed. I would rate it a 3 out of 5.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Boyne, John. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2007). 224 pages. OUP. $12.99

During my brief stint with working at Border’s, I was in charge of the displays of the newest bestsellers. My manager made me in charge of the kid and Young Adult shelves. His reasoning was that I seemed to care about them most (out of the other employees, which was sadly true). This book was considered as a Young Adult novel, and all I knew was it dealt with the Holocaust. I decided to check it out.

The book started off promising. It begins with very innocent 9 year old Bruno who only cares about hanging out with his best friends, until his dad receives a promotion in the military and they have to move to a place Bruno calls “Out-with” (a not-so-clever name for Auschwitz). The novel continues as the Bruno family move into their new home. The Bruno family is composed of an emotionally distant, domineering father, an alcoholic mother (who presumably has an affair with a German officer), and an older sister who only plays with her dolls. A very bored Bruno explores his new home, and meets a boy with striped pajamas, Shmuel, who lives on the opposite side of the wire fence. They become fast friends in their unique situation as Bruno goes out to meet Shmuel every day.

Bruno begins questioning about all the people living on the other side of the fence in his new home, and questioning what his dad does in his new position. However, he doesn’t question enough. Bruno is very naive which works for the beginning of the novel, and then begins to fall flat. He never develops, never grows, and never seems to understand how Shmuel really lives. He continues to be a selfish brat after a whole year of living in his home, still not pronouncing the name Auschwitz correctly after being told multiple times (he also refers to Hitler as The Fury).

For example, Shmuel asks Bruno to bring food on his daily visits. Pampered Bruno gets hungry on his trips to visit his friend, and most of the food never makes it to Shmuel. Bruno seems to be entirely ignorant of what being a Jew is and even asks his sister if he himself is a Jew. I find this a little hard to believe since Nazi Germany would have certainly educated Bruno on the Jews. Bruno continues to not realize what Shmuel’s life is like and that people die daily on the other side of the fence. Even when Bruno eventually visits his friend by going to the other side of the fence to help Shmuel find his father, (Bruno for some reason thinks he is a detective and can find clues of where Shmuel’s father could be), Bruno STILL doesn’t seem to understand the death, devastation, and despair of Auschwitz.

More depressing is that the book is actually meant for kids (ages 9-12) and some teachers use it as a way to teach children about the Holocaust. There were moments in the book where Bruno’s character should have developed, and instead he stayed static. I don’t feel like he’s a reliable narrator for the devastation of the Holocaust, and there are plenty of better books to teach children with. A book that had a lot of promise fell terribly short of my expectations. I give it a rating of 2/5.

Then I heard there was an indie film released based on the book. And, of course, I had to see how they compare, hoping that the screenwriters might have made Bruno a little more conscientious and little less self absorbed.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008). PG-13. Starring Asa Butterfield and David Thewlis. Directed by Mark Herman. 94 min. $29.99.

The movie begins with a happy family, excited about the father’s new promotion and their move to the country. I was a little thrown off by the movie being entirely cast with English actors, but I got over it and tried to focus on the film. I did not want to like the movie because the book upset me so much. However, I tried to keep an open mind and am happy to report that the movie was marginally better.

The movie initially shows Bruno’s content family, and as the movie progresses the family unit slowly begins to unravel as they continue to stay in Auschwitz. This works much better than the book beginning with a very discordant family, one that has issues from the very start. It helps the viewer have a lot more sympathy for the characters. I cared a great deal more for Bruno’s family in the movie than I did for them in the book. This might not seem a big deal, but it greatly affects the outcome of the ending.

Bruno is still self absorbed, but he does not remain naive. He is taught about who the Jews are and what the camp is for, from his tutor, his sister, and partly by his father. He begins questioning his father’s job and what is done to the people in the camp. After a very key event in the plot, Bruno also begins to doubt if his father is a good man. He changes his mind when he secretly watches a propaganda film on Jewish camps, which makes him think the best of his father.  This worked a lot better than the book because it kept his character naive, not stupid. Of course a young boy is going to want to think the best of his father, even if evidence suggests otherwise.

The liberties they took with the movie actually worked a lot better than the book itself, and a lot of the good parts of the book remained in the movie. The only big difference was that the timeline seemed very different. In the book Bruno lives in Auschwitz for a whole year, while the movie only seemed like a few months. This also worked better for the movie though, because his character did not age nearly as much as he did in the book. A definite improvement over the book, I would rate the movie 3/5.