Monday, May 24, 2010

Blackbird Hill by Alice Hoffman

As I've said before, Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors for many reasons. Her style and language are so deftly crafted, smooth, and lyrical that the reader simply gets lost in the story and characters. Her characters are so vivid, and you are able to love and care about them from the very first meeting. The Cape Cod setting is also close to my heart, as my husband and I started our life together on the east coast and spent a couple days on the Cape before moving back to the Midwest. It's a beautiful place full of history.

Blackbird Hill is both the title and the significant place in the novel which ties all the individual chapters together. The book first started a short story published by The Boston Globe. Hoffman then took that story and created more stories that all happen along a timeline from the early 1800's to the present, all with different characters who live in the house on Blackbird Hill. The house and the landscape tie the people's histories together flawlessly, and while each chapter could possibly stand alone as a wonderful short story, together they make a beautiful tapestry of a novel that will stick with you. From the original owners of the house on the Cape whose lives end in tragedy, to the present day girl who survives her personal obstacles and settles into herself and her life, they all have something to share about love and the ability of the human spirit to overcome and change our lives to fit us.

I picked this one up at our annual Friends of the Elgin Library book sale, but I'm going to put it into the collection. So, come check it out this summer and get lost at the Cape as I did.

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

Island Beneath the Sea is the story of Zarite, a slave girl on the island that is now Haiti. The book traces her life from girlhood when she is sold to a plantation owner named Toulouse Valmorain. Because her master wishes her to be more refined in order to care for his delicate wife, Zarite, or Tete, as she is called, goes to "train" with a famous concubine named Violette, and although they don't realize it until much later, their lives are irrevocably changed and intertwined because of their meeting.

This beautifully written saga takes us through Zarite's life as a slave in Valmorain's house over years of island unrest and revolution both abroad in France and on the island itself.  Zarite again and again must put aside her own humanity and dignity in order to survive and realize her dream of becoming a free woman. It's th powerful story of women who are abused by a system they have absolutely no power over, but who nonetheless persevere and work that system as well as they can to get what they want.

I loved this books for its writing, it's wonderful sense of place and history, and for the wonderful characters who struggle for the things we still struggle for today - peace, equality, freedom of body and spirit, and an end to discrimination of all kinds. Check it out today, and you'll be glad you did.