An unlikely relationship, a problem at the airport, and an interview with a famous writer…three parts, seemingly unrelated: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday delivers more than you would expect!

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My Review:

If you haven’t picked up a copy of Asymmetry yet, do yourself a favor and buy it today!  Delve into this book to absorb what you can, then after, you may want to read the discussion questions.  Hint:  If you want to discover more…read Alice in Wonderland, read a Philip Roth book, then read Asymmetry again to make sense of it, and look up each character’s name and origin and anything else that can be googled.  You will be surprised and overwhelmed with the incredible amount of literary knowledge and evident research Halliday included in this masterpiece of a debut.

First we are observing a relationship between a young female editor and a much older, successful writer.  At times it may seem natural and then is also may feel highly inappropriate.  Next we are inside the mind of a muslim man detained at the London airport, and finally, we read an interview with a self centered, arrogant pulitzer prize winning author. Lisa Halliday’s novel, Asymmetry, is made up of three seemingly unrelated sections.  At a closer look you may find in Folly, the first section, editor Alice and writer Ezra are very similar to real life young Halliday and Philip Roth.  In Madness, section two, the author writes as if she is a Muslim man, with authenticity and knowledge of life in Iraq and a wartime mindset.  The final section is an interview with the brash prize winner where his true colors are evident and not altogether pleasant.

Without any spoilers, I must stop here!  My book group chose this novel and it was the most enlightening and interesting discussion to date!  If you would like more information about Lisa Halliday and Asymmetry, check out this author video interview.

If you have any comments or questions about anything related to Asymmetry, I would love to hear it!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Lisa Halliday has worked as a freelance editor and translator in Milan, where she lives with her husband. Her short story ‘Stump Louie’ appeared in The Paris Review in 2005, and she received a Whiting Award for Fiction in 2017. Asymmetry is her first novel.

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.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

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A beautifully written story about a flawed family who’s memories and hopes over time get confused with reality.  Ingrid, a college student, and Gil, her professor, have an unconventional love affair leading to pregnancy. This forces Ingrid to give up her academic goals in order to marry Gil and raise her two daughters, Flora and Nan.  Gil’s primary focus is  writing and all his family responsibilities are neglected while his relationships go unnurtured.  During the couples years together, Ingrid writes letters to Gil about how she is feeling about motherhood, their marriage, and what she discovers about him, but instead of giving him the letters she hides them in his books.  Then one day she is gone.  Did she drown like many are saying or did she run away from the life she had with Gil and her young daughters?

Years later the daughters return home to take care of Gil who has been in an accident.  He has fallen while chasing a woman he thinks is his wife, Ingrid.  One daughter insists he was wrong and going senile while the other is open to the possibility of her mother miraculously being alive.  There was never any proof of death and when the girls were younger Gil had said “It is difficult to live with both hope and grief,” she may be waiting for us when we get home, or, she’s dead. “A balancing act.”  And later on in age he questioned whether it is better to live with imagination and hope or to know the truth. Ultimately he told his daughters it is not good to “have an imagination which is more vivid, wilder, than real life”.

Gil was the proclaimed writer yet he only wrote one book, which Ingrid spawned and dictated to him.  She wrote all the letters to him expressing her feelings and recounting their courtship and marriage.  He was a dreamer, a philanderer and a collector of books with writings in the margins.  His interest was in the handwritten notes; they told him about the reader.  He said, “Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important.”   Ingrid gave up her hopes and dreams and struggled with marriage and being a mother and Gil’s lack of success as a writer, husband and father made for a heartbreaking story.

Author Claire Fuller delves into love, a dysfunctional marriage, and contemplates the value of truth and living with unrealistic hope.  The complex characters deal with their own selective memories and ambiguous loss where there is no closure.  Swimming Lessons was an engrossing, thought-provoking novel.