Home Front

Kristin Hannah is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I bought “Firefly lane” for my book club a while ago, and absolutely loved it. Most of the girls in my book-club have read it too, and it has touched each one of us in a different, yet special way. I have just finished reading “Home Front”. I had a lump in my throat by the end of the first chapter, and had tears in my eyes for most of the novel.

The story follows the life of Jolene Zarkades’, who is a mother of two young girls (aged 12 and 4) and a helicopter pilot working for the US military. After growing up in an abusive home, her parents (who were alcoholics and drug addicts) are killed in a car accident when she is 17 years old. She meets the man she is going to marry, some years later in the future, in a lawyer’s office, while pleading to not be sent into foster care as she was soon to be 18. At which point, she joined the military as she had nowhere else to go.

She is painted as a tough, strong, always positive woman, who is a hands-on mother to her girls, despite having had a shocking upbringing, and despite having a demanding career in the military. And then two things happen that alter the path of her life, changing who she is forever. Her husband, who had been her best friend, lover and confidant through thick and thin, tells her that he is not in love with her anymore, only moments before she receives a call from her best friend and colleague to say that they are being deployed to Iraq for one year. In less than two months, she would be in the middle of a war-zone; without the love and support of the only man she has ever loved.

Jolene has to come terms with leaving her family, her young children who need their mom and a marriage that is rapidly falling apart, to fulfil her commitment to her country. The portrayal of the emotions felt by each character in the book is classic Kristin Hannah. She has this way of making the characters feel like they are your best friends and your heart breaks for each of them. What got me the most was how Jolene’s two daughters dealt with the news of her deployment. The sulkiness and anger from pre-teen Betsy and the irrational emotional outbreaks from four-year-old Lulu broke my heart. I could imagine Alex, who is the same age as Lulu, behaving in a similar way, crying and pleading for me not to leave, promising to be good, tidy up his toys and eat all his food if I stay. Jolene expresses her fears that her children will forget her if something happens to her. She writes letters to her husband and girls in the event that she does not return from the war, which made my blood run cold. I must admit, this is something I think about often, which is partly why this blog exists, so that my children have a view into who I am if I am not around…

The story, which grabbed my attention from the first chapter and remained gripping, is filled with tragedy and sadness. It made me cry more than a few times, but is ultimately about forgiveness, hope, and the tenacity of real love.

I have just started “Night Road” which is proving to be just as un-put-down-able as her other novels.

Bloom

Love me. Love me. I’m not what you expected, but oh, please love me.

I ordered Kelle Hampton’s book as soon as it was available for pre-order on kalahari. I love her blog, she writes beautifully and her photos are amazing. I had tears streaming down my face for the first chapter, and had quite a few more teary moments throughout the remaining chapters.

Kelle writes about the experience of finding out that her baby has down-syndrome on the day she is born. She is shocked and devastated, and this book explores her feelings and emotions, as she comes to accept the diagnosis. She envisions her new-born baby looking up at her and saying “Love me, love me. I am not what you expected, but oh, please love me”… Throughout this process, it is clear how much she loves this baby, but at the same time, she needs to mourn the loss of the “normal” baby she was expecting. Her raw, emotional account is both heart-breaking and uplifting. The book took my breath away, and made my heart break for this incredibly strong woman. As a mom, I can only imagine the range of emotions that she must have experienced: loss, fear, disappointment. But at the same time, the over powering surge of love that one feels for a new-born, that instinctual need to protect and care for them, no matter what.

It made me think back to my appointment with a foetal specialist when I was 12 weeks pregnant with Caris. Being over 35, and cognisant of the higher risks associated with a pregnancy in one’s late thirties, I wanted to be sure that the baby growing inside me was perfect. (And Gary had already suffered the loss of a baby due to a birth defect, an experience that no-one should have to repeat in one lifetime.) So my gynae suggested I see a specialist to confirm that all was okay, and do an amnio if need be. I remember lying on the examination table with the cold ultrasound probe pressed against my belly, and thinking “Please God, let my baby be ok, please let it be perfect.” Thankfully she was. I am still not sure what I would have done if there had been something wrong. In Kelle’s case, she did not know that her baby had Downs until the moment she held her for the first time. (And she was perfect in her own way.)  Is it better to know if there is something wrong with the baby, so that you can prepare for what lies ahead? I have always been pro-choice, but surely the decision to perhaps terminate a pregnancy must be one of the hardest decisions a mother should ever have to make? Is it better to know, so that you can prepare yourself for the potentially difficult path that lies ahead? Or is it better to deal with it at the time? These are all very sobering questions.

The book is sad, yes; but it is ultimately a celebration of life, love and family. It is beautifully written and is adorned with stunning photographic images. Well worth reading (and have a box of tissues close by.)

A thousand splendid suns…

I love to read, and have read thousands of books in my lifetime. But there are two books that come to mind, that have allowed big watery tears to leak all the way down my cheeks and drip onto my collarbones.

The first was “The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone. It details the life of Michelangelo, trying to survive in the Cruel 16th Century, trying to make a living from that which is his passion. He lives in poverty, endures abuse and is treated cruelly and unfairly for most of his life. It is a beautifully written book, highly detailed and spans many many pages. Written over fifty years ago, the writing style is very different to modern day novels, somewhat “old-fashioned” I suppose.  Ironically, the first half of the book,  took me over two years to read. Ridiculous, I know, but it is the sort of book that needs concentration, and needs to be read in long stretches, definitely not as a pre-bedtime quick read. So over a two year period, I started and restarted the book umpteen times. The second half of the book was read on holiday in Mauritius a few years ago, in the pre-baby days where reading for a few hours at a stretch was still possible. The last few pages were frantically turned as our flight home made the decent into Johannesburg. I did not even notice the tears streaming down my face until Gary asked me what was wrong, as I closed the book, having finally conquered it. I cried for the injustices that Michelangelo had been dealt. I cried for this poor wretched soul who was trapped in his own brilliance. Misunderstood and mistreated. I cried for how sad his life was, and how unfair.

The second is, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini which I finished reading on Sunday morning. Famous for his first novel, “The Kite Runner”, this is Hosseini’s second book. The story follows two young girls living in Afghanistan, a generation apart, whose paths cross when they become married to the same man. It tells a tale of the injustices done to women, of their mistreatment, of the hardships they have to bear, their lack of true freedom, and of the devastation that war causes. It is also a love story, and one of how true friendship develops and endures even the greatest misery. It is one of the most heart-breaking books I have ever read.  The book is an easy read, just under 400 pages, and is un-put-down-able.  Khaled Hosseini is a magical story teller, and paints his characters and scenes with beautiful words. I truly felt that I knew these women that he spoke about, and my heart broke for each of them on many occasions. Although a work of fiction, the events described are real, and the way in which women are treated is real. The book made me think of how fortunate I am, and how easy my life is compared to people who experience such devastating suffering. And how the stuff I complain about is so small in the bigger scheme of things. It made me feel grateful for my freedom as a human being, grateful for my relationship with my husband and my children. This book has definitely become one of my all-time favourites.

The title of the book comes from a line in the Josephine Davis translation of the poem “Kabul”, by the 17th-century Iranian poet Saib Tabrizi:

“Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye

Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs

And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”