Hippie by Paulo Coelho

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My Review:

I loved The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and was hoping his new book would feel as important.  In Hippie, Paulo Coelho writes a story based on his own life experiences, his relationships, political views and personal values, and his adventures of travel and terror of kidnapping.  Throughout this book he has injected his thoughtful ideologies and gives us a description of the ways of the world in the 1970s.

Even though Coelho had gotten himself into trouble often as a young man, it seems as if he was a deep thinker.

“We don’t choose the things that happen to us, but we can choose how we react to them.”

Paulo embarks on a journey from Bolivia to Peru, Chile and Argentina and then to Amsterdam, where he meets Karla, a young girl looking for a travel companion to Nepal.  They take the Magic Bus across Europe and Asia to Katmandu.  We learn about their relationship and the other travelers on the trip.  With no formal plans for the future, what today we might see as a lack of responsibility, the idea of free love and the benefit of simplicity of travel, Paulo communicates his experiences that enriched his life and helped him on his search for meaning.

I particularly enjoyed reading about his discovery of dance and his transformative experience with Hare Krishna dancing and singing in the street.

“Dancing transforms everything, demands everything, and judges no one.  Those who are free dance, even if they find themselves in a cell or a wheelchair, because dancing is not the mere repetition of certain movements, it’s a conversation with a Being greater and more powerful than everyone and everything.  To dance is to use a language beyond selfishness and fear. ”

Even though I enjoyed learning a little more about Paulo Coelho, his rebellious stage and his emotional journey to find the meaning of life, for me, Hippie fell flat. Written like a story, but based on his real life, I didn’t think it portrayed Coelho’s vibrant youth and his travels in a compelling and powerful way.  There were tidbits of insight and lessons but the characters were not developed enough for me to care.  The politically charged, free thinking sex, drugs rock and roll hippie attitude was described but not written completely enough to evoke emotion.  I get the feeling that this piece of writing is more meaningful to Coelho than to readers.  But maybe that is just me…

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

The Brazilian author PAULO COELHO was born in 1947 in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Before dedicating his life completely to literature, he worked as theatre director and actor, lyricist and journalist. In 1986, PAULO COELHO did the pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella, an experience later to be documented in his book The Pilgrimage. In the following year, COELHO published The Alchemist. Slow initial sales convinced his first publisher to drop the novel, but it went on to become one of the best selling Brazilian books of all time. Other titles include Brida (1990), The Valkyries (1992), By the river Piedra I sat Down and Wept (1994), the collection of his best columns published in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo entitle Maktub (1994), the compilation of texts Phrases (1995), The Fifth Mountain (1996), Manual of a Warrior of Light (1997), Veronika decides to die (1998), The Devil and Miss Prym (2000), the compilation of traditional tales in Stories for parents, children and grandchildren (2001), Eleven Minutes (2003), The Zahir (2005), The Witch of Portobello (2006) and Winner Stands Alone (to be released in 2009). During the months of March, April, May and June 2006, Paulo Coelho traveled to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella in 1986. He also held surprise book signings – announced one day in advance – in some cities along the way, to have a chance to meet his readers. In ninety days of pilgrimage the author traveled around the globe and took the famous Transiberrian train that took him to Vladivostok. During this experience Paulo Coelho launched his blog Walking the Path – The Pilgrimage in order to share with his readers his impressions. Since this first blog Paulo Coelho has expanded his presence in the internet with his daily blogs in WordPress, Myspace & Facebook. He is equally present in media sharing sites such as Youtube and Flickr, offering on a regular basis not only texts but also videos and pictures to his readers. From this intensive interest and use of the Internet sprang his bold new project: The Experimental Witch where he invites his readers to adapt to the screen his book The Witch of Portobello. Indeed Paulo Coelho is a firm believer of Internet as a new media and is the first Best-selling author to actively support online free distribution of his work.

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The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

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My Review:

The Weight Of Ink tells the story of Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who becomes a scribe for a blind rabbi in London in the 1600s right before the plague.  At the same time we learn about Helen Watt, a close to retiring British historian who is working on translations of some 17th century documents signed by scribe “Aleph”.  Even though these women lived-in different centuries, both were strong and determined to pursue their interests and fight to be heard, and choosing a life to satisfy the mind and sacrifice the heart.

Ester is a product of the Portuguese Inquisition and although displaced with little family, what feels like home for her is her job a a scribe for the rabbi, where her love of learning is nourished.  She turns down marriage offers as she prefers to work for the rabbi in order to continue her scholarly pursuits.  She has an open mind and longs to converse with philosophers and educated men, and although it is not acceptable for women to engage in these types of discussion, she creates unorthodox opportunities to be heard.

Helen has a love of Jewish history and as she and her American graduate student assistant Aaron Levy investigate the many pages of letters written to and from the London based rabbi to determine the identity of the scribe, it is a race against time as Helen’s physical health is failing, she is approaching retirement, and another team of historians are working on the same project.

We also learn about Aaron Levy, the Jewish assistant, who is interested in a relationship with a girl who is living in Israel on a Kibbutz and is pushing him away.  And then there are Ian and Brigette Easton, the couple who live in the 17th century house where the documents were found.  This is a complex story; a mystery and rich with history and well developed characters.

Author Rachel Kadish provides extensive depth: Jewish theology and philosophy, interfaith relationships and lost love, 17th century history, the Portuguese inquisition, the plague and so much more…no skimping on research here, but for me a bit too wordy, complex and long.  The Weight of Ink is powerful, intricate and the well deserved winner of the National Jewish Book Award.  Although this is not an easy book, if you love historical fiction and Jewish history and set aside a big chunk of time to conquer it, you will be rewarded with the beauty of memorable storytelling.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

I often begin writing when something is bothering me. Years ago, I was thinking about Virginia Woolf’s question: what if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister?
Woolf’s answer: She died without writing a word.
What, I wondered, would it take for a woman of that era, with that kind of capacious intelligence, not to die without writing a word?
For one thing, she’d have to be a genius at breaking rules.
My novel The Weight of Ink reaches back in time to ask the question: what does it take for a woman not to be defeated when everything around her is telling her to sit down and mind her manners? I started writing with two characters in mind, both women who don’t mind their manners: a contemporary historian named Helen Watt and a seventeenth century Inquisition refugee named Ester Velasquez. It’s been a delight working on their story.
The Weight of Ink is my third novel, but I’ve also written two other novels and one novella, plus a few dozen essays and stories. Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, I put words to paper because it’s my way of metabolizing life. To paraphrase Henry James: I don’t really know what I think until I see what I say.
Thanks for your interest in books.

Refuge by Dina Nayeri

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My Review:  

In the late 1980s, Niloo, then 8 years old, left Iran with her mother and brother, thinking her dentist father would meet up with them soon after.   As it turned out, this daddy’s girl only saw her father 4 times in a span of twenty years following their exodus.  In Refuge, Author Dina Nayeri follows Niloo as a young married, Iranian woman on a journey to find herself and establish roots.  Concurrently, through her father, Bahman’s experiences, we gain an understanding of their relationship and his attachment to home.

In her early 30s, Niloo is living in Amsterdam with her French husband.  At the same time, in Iran, her father is at the courthouse filing for a divorce from his third wife. She has not seen him in many years and although she feels betrayed and disappointed by him, and has tried to erase him from her memory, Niloo thinks of her father often and recalls their few visits and the precious time they had together when she was a child.  Niloo and her husband are working on their young marriage and establish a list of rules; one of them being to have more fun.  Attending an Iranian poetry night fits the bill and she meets a traditional older Iranian man, along with a bunch of refugees who she befriends, allowing her to feel comfortably connected and bringing her thoughts back to home and her father.

Because Niloo moved away from her country at an early age and has trouble finding her place in society, she lived like a vagabond, always establishing a “perimeter”; an area in her dwelling where all her most important items are kept; a temporary home.   Growing up as a poor refuge, ties she had to her culture were suppressed and although she had the desire to settle down, she seemed to have difficulty laying new roots…constantly being embarrassed by her mother’s stories and not feeling attached to Iran, Amsterdam or anywhere else.  Niloo becomes involved in the world of refugees, spending time developing friendships that feel natural, and helping these people in need seems to feed her soul and give her some clarity and insight into who she is and how she can establish a life with solid footing.

Nayeri guides us through each family visit, Brahman’s decisions to finally leave his beloved Iran, the ups and downs of Niloo’s marriage, and her continual search for purpose, identity and home.  Refuge highlights this special father-daughter relationship with the backdrop of immigration and the feelings of loss, pressures, uncertainty and bravery of all who are forced to leave their homes and plant roots to begin again.

As someone who lives in the same place I was raised, with at least 3 generations of  family nearby for over 100 years, I never struggle with who I am, where I come from or where I belong.   I deeply admire those who have left their country and persevered to make a life for themselves somewhere else: they deserve immense respect and support.  Niloo’s and Bahman’s stories in Refuge remind me of those struggles, from finances to getting an education to being part of a community and ultimately creating a place to call home.  I highly recommend this wonderful novel.

 

As seen in Goodreads:

An Iranian girl escapes to America as a child, but her father stays behind. Over twenty years, as she transforms from confused immigrant to overachieving Westerner to sophisticated European transplant, daughter and father know each other only from their visits: four crucial visits over two decades, each in a different international city. The longer they are apart, the more their lives diverge, but also the more each comes to need the other’s wisdom and, ultimately, rescue.

Meanwhile, refugees of all nationalities are flowing into Europe under troubling conditions. Wanting to help, but also looking for a lost sense of home, our grown-up transplant finds herself quickly entranced by a world that is at once everything she has missed and nothing that she has ever known. Will her immersion in the lives of these new refugees allow her the grace to save her father?

Refuge charts the deeply moving lifetime relationship between a father and a daughter, seen through the prism of global immigration. Beautifully written, full of insight, charm, and humor, the novel subtly exposes the parts of ourselves that get left behind in the wake of diaspora and ultimately asks: Must home always be a physical place, or can we find it in another person?

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Dina Nayeri is a graduate of Princeton, Harvard Business School, and the Iowa Writers Workshop. She spends her time in New York and Iowa City.