ningerbil (ningerbil) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books 11 and 12

11. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. This one may be my favorite Vonnegut book so far. It's so absurd, but there's an undercurrent of truth, even to the most absurd scenario. The narrator of the story starts out just wanting to do a book on Felix Hoenikker, the co-inventor (fictional) of the atom bomb. During his travels to speak with those close to the famous inventor, the narrator John discovers that Hoenikker had devised a theory on something far more destructive than the A-bomb- and created it. John's travels put him in contact with Hoenikker's three children, one who commands a high position on a tiny remote island called San Lorenzo, one of the poorest areas on the planet. It's during his travels and especially his stay on the island that he comes in contact with Bokononism, a sort of religion that is banned on the island but is nonetheless embraced. The journey and realizations weave in and out like the cat's cradle, but of course all it takes is one pull of a string- ice 9-to unravel everything. The ending is a sort of thumbing of the nose at what we consider conventional.

12. The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier. I found this very hard to put down, and finished this in a weekend. I've enjoyed Chevalier's other books and this one delivers the same wonderful narratives and memorable, nuanced characters we come to expect. What's cool about this book is that most of the setting is in Ohio, mostly the Oberlin area. Honor Bright ventures to America with her sister Grace when the latter becomes betrothed to a man from their town who recently immigrated there. Nothing goes as planned; Grace's sudden death leaves Honor feeling unmoored and lost in this strange new land. I loved the contrasts between Honor's memories of her predictable, orderly life at home and the unknowns in the new country. Everything, from the wildlife to the food to the constant state of movement among the residents, strikes Honor as foreign. The overarching issue is the issue of slavery. The times is the early 1850s, more than a decade before the Civil War. Oberlin had a reputation of being a staunch abolitionist area, and Honor herself, a Quaker and coming from a country that had long outlawed slave labor, feels compelled to help the runaways that come through the area. But her wish to help comes in conflict with the views of her new family and those in her small settlement near Oberlin. The stance is not to support slavery, but not to actively aid runaways so not to conflict with the recently passed Fugitive Slave Laws. Slavery, of course, is deplorable, but The Last Runaway looks at why the institution lasted as long as it did, and why even those professing to be against slavery often considered it a necessary evil, or at the very least, something that needed to be phased out slowly if possible to avoid economic collapse. Honor's new husband and family also have additional reasons for their reluctance to assist runaways, which come out late in the story. The reader may ultimately disagree with their view, but one also can't help but sympathize with their reluctance to take sides. An excellent book that, while it covers a long-ago time period, has a lot of relevance to today's world, where abuses - both with workers and the environment- are written off as economically necessary by many.

Currently reading: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, and The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.
Tags: historical fiction

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