Thursday, February 11, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

What a brave and heroic way to live and die. I was inspired by Paul Kalanithi's approach to life and his continuous quest to learn and experience what it means to live a life of quality and meaning. Just when many of us would give up the fight and settle in and let illness guide our lives, Kalanithi decided to strive to accomplish his goals and live his passions - what gave his life meaning (gaining wisdom, family, friends, helping others).

This memoir is very tragic and sad but I loved how Kalanithi embraced and accepted death at the end as a natural part of the life cycle. His courage, dignity and integrity in the face of such an awful illness reminded me that although death is not something we strive for it is something we will all experience at some time. Yes, the unknown is always scary but death, too, is a part of life and must be embraced. I truly hope that when my time comes that I will be ready to accept death with grace, dignity and no regrets. I also hope that those that have been part of my life will have felt that I loved them fully and deeply and that I leave them having given all that I could.

My Thoughts: Truly inspirational. Highly recommended. Read-a-likes Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom.

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

What a great multi-generational saga. Galsworthy had such a gift of character and story building. How he kept the multiple perspectives interesting and intertwined the major themes of the novel throughout all three books and the characters' development was amazing. I was nervous at first about starting such a tome but I was interested in Galsworthy's attempt to capture such a transitional period, Victorian era to Edwardian era, and how industrial advances and the role of women would affect those of the moneyed-class.

Galsworthy did a wonderful job developing the themes of possession and materialism verses art and beauty. One of the most prominent storylines throughout the saga is Soames Forstye's, the Man of Property, who was such a dislikable tragic character whose need to possess everything from objects to people keep the love he so desires at bay throughout his entire life. One almost wants to feel sorry for him but cannot because Soames is his own worst enemy. He is rude, selfish, crass and self-centered. Everything is about him or about what he could possess and control. His most cherished possession is his first wife Irene who does not love him and is in love with someone else but he will not let her go. She belongs to him like the many pieces of art he collects. He treats her like property and abuses her and wonders throughout his entire life why she never loved him.

Toward the end of the novel one hopes that life has changed Soames but no, he is such a static character that he repeats his mistakes by marrying another woman, Annette, that does not love him but is beautiful, young and French something no one else in his family has. If that were not enough they have a daughter, Fleur, together that he raises in his likeness and she becomes her father's daughter and the heir to repeating the past once more. The saga ends with Soames at High Gate cementry reflecting on his life and still wondering why life turned out for him the way it did. He is alone and unloved but he is the still the man of property.

The novel deals with many more important themes like the restricted role and expectations of women during this time and how they changed with legal legislation: the Married Women's Property Act, which allowed women to own property; the Matrimonial Clause Act, which allowed women to legally separate from abusive husbands; and the Jackson case which "held that a man could not confine his wife in order to enforce the restitution of conjugal rights" (Galsworthy, Introduction).

My Thoughts: All in all, a wonderful book with many, many interesting characters. Some of my favorite characters and storylines were those of June, Old Jolyon, Young Jolyon and Irene. Although not perfect in any way they were the most kind, humane, and loving of the bunch.

The novel was worth the month long read!