Friday, August 17, 2012

Gold by Chris Cleave

Well, the Olympics have come and gone for another four years, and my family and I enjoyed them immensely. Four two solid weeks, the cheers of "USA!" and "Go, Lochte! Jeah!" could be heard ringing throughout my house, as we were mesmerized once again by the amazing feats of the USA swim team and the Fierce Five. But one sport that I never would have taken the time to watch this year except for having read Chris Cleave's newest novel, Gold, also kept me riveted to the screen. The sport is bicycle track racing - a global phenomenon in other countries apparently, and completely exciting as depicted in Cleave's book.

In Gold, two women and one man become friends, lovers, mothers, fathers, Olympians, and enemies all in the name of track cycling. Done in an arena called a Velodrome, these high speed racers risk life and limb on these bikes, racing millimeters from each others' tires, going so fast that they can hardly breathe, the lactic acid building in their bodies to dizzying degrees. I learned so much about sports medicine, training regimens, and race tactics from this book that you would think it was a boring encyclopedia on biking. But no! The story was just as amazing as the real racers I watched in the London Velodrome. The characters were real, sacrificing everything for their sport, their intense love for each other, and the little child who belonged to them all.

What did each of the characters give up to race for the gold in the Olympics? What would you give up? Everything? Nothing? Read Gold, and you may change your mind about your own goals and dreams. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

The Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva

I can never wait to put the new Daniel Silva on the library shelf - I have to snatch it out of the box and read it myself rght away. I am also not a great series reader, for the most part. I get bored with the same characters and formula after two or three by the same author. But with Silva's Gabriel Allon character, I am never bored. Mr. Allon never disappoints because he is always smart, always secretive, always exotic, and always on the run from someone. A winning combo for a spy if ever there was one.

But Allon is a reluctant spy in The Fallen Angel. He really doesn't want to look at the body of the girl who jumped from great heights in St. Peter's Basilica. He really doesn't want to find out that her death may be tied to underground art theft. He doesn't really want to know that those thefts could really be finanacing terrorist activity in Rome and his homeland of Israel. He is retired after all. All he really wants is to restore paintings and drink wine with his beautiful wife.

So, can his buddies in the Office, Israel's secret service, bring him out of retirement yet again to help with these little problems? Hmmmm. . . You'll have to read to find out. But if you know Gabriel Allon at all, you already know the answer.

I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

I am always interested in different faiths, so this book intrigued me very much when we first put it on the shelf. It has not been wildly popular, but I'm here to tell you, it's well worth a read. If you also are interested in learning all you can about strict, ultra conservative religious sects, like the Patmar Jewish enclave depicted in this book, then I Am Forbidden is fascinating reading indeed.

The books begins Transylvania in 1939 with a Jewish boy named Josef who is rescued by a Christian woman after the murder of his parents. Later, Josef helps a young Jewish girl find a family who raises her after her parents are killed also. The books then takes us through their connected lives, to Paris and Manhatten, looking at the choices that faith and circumstance put before them. It's a fascinating story of twists and turns, secrets, and truths.

This book is also a peek into the lives of Fundamentalist Jews that I have not read about in fiction before. The binding choices that women in this community must make in the name of faith was terrifying and sad to me, but to them, that was just life. It's hard to imagine living such a life as a woman in today's society, but I know that there are many who still do. As a woman of faith myself, I do not like to think that I might need to give up my basic rights as a woman simply to love God or to love my husband and family. But I know, that even today, there are prominent men of faith that believe I do have to give up those rights to be faithful and moral. And there are people, both men and women, who follow blindly, thinking it is the right and moral thing to do simply because someone told them it is.

This issue came up just yesterday as I sat eating with my two daughters in a restaurant full of young people. There was a table of high school girls discussing politics near us, and one girl made the comment that she thought it was funny for one prominent politician to post his "moral status" on his website. She said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Why would he feel the need to do that? Just because those are his morals, why would he think they have to be mine? Like his morals are the only right ones, or what?" All I can say is, "Amen, sister. Amen."