October 26, 2014

A Field Guide to Happiness by Linda Leaming

*This book was received through the Amazon Vine Program*

Bhutan, a country that many have heard about but few have really given in-depth study to.  Which is amazing considering their practices as a country.  Measuring how well they're doing by happiness rather than money.  But it's a country worth getting to know and so this memoir/lessons book is one that opens the door a little wider on Bhutan.

A Field Guide to Happiness is part memoir, part lessons in how to live life happier.  That's not to say that you have to move to Bhutan to achieve the things outlined in this book, it just shows how the author learned these lessons in life while living in the country and following their way of life.  Each chapter has a small lesson and ties into an experience or story from the author's personal life.

I never really felt as if I actually knew the author or her husband.  Which is strange because she did describe both of them, but it wasn't in-depth and I just didn't feel any kind of connection.  And the people of Bhutan were just described in general ways, there was never much of a chance to get to know any of them in-depth as individuals, just as a collective.  She wasn't mean or unkind in her descriptions, just brief, and you can tell she really does love her adopted country.

The whole book can be described as brief.  I get that it was supposed to be in snippets as a lesson format to impart some of the wisdom she learned in Bhutan, but it just felt like large journal entries that were mixed with a self-help book.  The writing was clear, good even, but again, that sense of connection just wasn't there for me.  I don't know if it was the format or the briefness of the chapters, but I just couldn't bury myself into it.  On the positive side though, I like that for her lessons she tried to include snippets of her life in Bhutan.  Especially the descriptions of how the people of Bhutan share and the way they treat property there.  Everyone is striving to be a better person (in general) and that's a commendable way to live.

I enjoyed the book mostly but wish it would have been something I could have immersed myself in.  I think anyone who enjoys self-help, discovery memoirs will probably enjoy it though.  I would definitely consider reading the author's other book on Bhutan.

A Field Guide to Happiness
Copyright 2014
232 pages

October 21, 2014

Russian Tattoo by Elena Gorokhova

*This book was received through the Amazon Vine Program*

I read "A Mountain of Crumbs" and really enjoyed it.  So I was interested in seeing where the rest of Gorokhova's life went after she came to the United States on the arm of her new (stranger) husband.  Having studied English for most of the time she was in Russia, it is still quite the transition to a new culture.

In her previous memoir, Elena meets a young American man who says he will marry her and have an "open" relationship in order to bring her to the United States.  She isn't sure what she's signing up for, but quickly realizes that he is not the man she had thought he might be and that she is lonely and unsure of how to act in this new country.  Eventually they fall apart and she is able to meet another man who will become her husband and the father of her child.  As she transitions into a way of life here, her mother still worries about her though and eventually she has worries of her own as a mother that she must overcome in order to be more at peace with her life.

Elena was very much a worrier in this book.  She worried about everything.  And I can't say that I blame her.  She had a lot going on and felt very out of place and didn't have the support she apparently needed when she first moved.  Her first husband seemed distant and cold, but we are just getting her side of the story.  I do wonder if she ever reimbursed him the money he spent in bringing her to the United States, but I suppose at this point it doesn't matter.  Her mother was not as strongly written in this book either.  She was a sideline, a strife that was dealt with sometimes, and an endearing mother in others that the author recalled fondly. The same goes for her sister who is briefly mentioned.  Her husband gets a lot of detail though (the 2nd one) and I felt that he really was a good person.

I wasn't as engrossed in this one as I was the first.  It was somehow both lengthy and too short all at once.  The parts I wanted more detail on (transition to life in America, customs, etc.) there just didn't seem to be enough of, and those I didn't really care about (family members Dr. appointments) there was quite a bit of.  I thought her interactions with her family were interesting, but didn't need to know every kind of Dr. her mother had appointments at.  I was also surprised at how little time was spent on her daughter as I expected that to be a larger part of the book.  Really, the best detail though was her description of encountering a hamburger for the first time.  It made an impact and showed just how different life in the Soviet Union is from here.

I can't say that it was an exceptionally strong 2nd memoir, but it certainly was expressive writing.   It does what a memoir should; bring you the life of the writer.

Russian Tattoo
Copyright 2014
315 pages

October 19, 2014

Ravens of Avalon by Diana Paxson

Despite being a part of the "Mists of Avalon" series, this book was not actually written by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  However, it was written by a woman who did co-author several books with her, and the similarity of their voices make it seem as if they are one and the same.

Ravens of Avalon tells the story of Boudica.  Boudica was actually a real life queen who waged war against the Romans.  This fictional telling of her story has her start life as a young royal who is sent to train with the druids and priestesses of Briton.  Instead of choosing a destiny as a Priestess, she decides to return home and serve her family and people best by marrying.  During this time the Romans have forced a truce with the different tribes of Briton and become increasingly antagonistic, which spurns a war that Boudica must lead.

Boudica is an interesting woman in history.  Because you don't hear of very many warrior queens (although there are a notable few).  I liked how I got quite a bit of her backstory in this book and what her life could have possibly been like before she was Queen.  But I don't think I got to see enough of her warrior side, and I was slightly disappointed in that.  Lhiannon was also somewhat of a disappointment.  I didn't really like her character in The Forest House (same series) but thought maybe her younger self would be more interesting.  I still saw her lead around by the will of others and of a certain Priest and although she thought she was free, she never really truly seemed to be free.

This book had a slow pace.  But not quite as slow as some of the other books in the series.  Both Bradley and Paxson enjoy detail and spend a lot of time building up history and people in the books.  This one in particular covered a lot of people in their younger days and the quarrels, loves, and aspirations that they held.  I did think that the war scenes were well done, although a tad brutal.  Since this was the story of Boudica you'd expect their to be some battles, but more time was given to history and character building than to gory descriptions and bloody scenes.  There was also some magic as well, which, depending on your stance of myth and legend, is what really made this a work of fiction.

I don't think it was the best of the series, but it's not a bad prequel.  Just one you'd probably not want to read until after having read all of the others.

Ravens of Avalon
Copyright 2007
394 pages

October 11, 2014

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha by Sarah Erdman

Sometimes I'm sorely disappointed when I read a Peace Corps memoir because it is all about the person and includes little to no information about the place and people they volunteered with.  This one is vastly different from that.  Erdman tells little of herself but instead opens up the village of Nambonkaha to you and introduces you to some of its people.

Erdman is selected to be a health worker in the village of Nambonkaha as her Peace Corps assignment.  For two years, she will work to bring better practices to the village and improve health there.  She chooses to do this through the women of the village by introducing baby weighings and vaccination programs.  She also focuses on AIDS education.  But she just introduces and actually uses the villagers to enact the change on the village and uses a variety of local people to accomplish these tasks.

I actually still don't feel as if I know much about Erdman.  Well, aside from the fact that she did a good job as a volunteer.  I know more about her village.  Because those are the people she described in the book.  You feel as if you especially know the ones she was close with.  The boys she taught to read, the women she interacted with on a daily basis, the nurse she worked with at the clinic.  All of these people she described the good and bad on (although mostly good) and took great care to outline their personalities.  It's what made this book worth reading.  Because she took the time to know who she was working with rather than focusing on herself.  And she is very non-judgemental, despite the practices that she abhors and witnesses.

That being said, this book is a long read because it is very detailed.  While I enjoyed getting to know all the aspects of village life and the challenges there were to overcome in the education of healthcare, I felt as if things were very repetitive and drawn out.  It was helpful that there was a glossary at the end for some of the translations and words specific to the village.  There were several times I had to look up just what an object was so I could understand it in context.  I also would have loved to see some pictures of the village and its people, so I could put faces to names.

If you enjoy Peace Corps memoirs or travel writing I think this will be a very good book to read.  It details the experience, not the person writing it, and is one of the more honest accounts I've seen.

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha
Copyright 2003
322 pages