Tag Archives: women’s stories

Book Club: The True Memoirs of Little K Pt. 1

Hello, fellow bookworms! Today I’m unveiling Book #5 in the Finding Delight Book Club. Can you believe we’re already this far into the year?! If you’re new to this series, I’m reading 12 books and sharing about them with you here. I plan to post 4 times for each book. This month’s pick is The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp.

For the full book list CLICK HERE. I’d love to have you along for the ride!

“So whatever you think of me, don’t pity me. I had a beautiful life. I was loved, admired, feted, copied, mocked, treasured, and feared. I am one hundred years old and I am no longer afraid of anything.” 

Synopsis

The year is 1971 in Paris, France and ninety-nine year old Mathilde Kschessinska begins to recant the story of her life. In what feels like a different world, she was the self-centered, flirtatious, determined “prima ballerina assoluta” of the Russian Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg. She remembers a time when the Russian court was inextricably linked to the ballet. And vice versa.

As she carefully reconstructs each chapter of her life, her conquests and failures, we are given box seats to view the very stories that would change the course of history, both for Russia and the world. We witness how Russia evolves as she progresses from girlhood to “tsar-crossed lover” to old woman.

Expertly researched, The True Memoirs of Little K is based on real events and real people. But it reads like a fairy-tale narrated by a woman who has seen it all: the greatest love, heart-breaking loss, and the crumbling of the Romanov empire she so desperately wanted to belong to.

Initial thoughts 

Determined to a fault, Mathilde Kschessinska jetés her way out of the wings and finds herself smack-dab in the middle of the Romanov stage. As a popular ballerina she steals the hearts of THREE members of the imperial family, including the future Tsar himself, Nicholas II. Her life, written as a dictated memoir, opens with the splendor of imperial life as seen through the eyes of someone close enough to taste it. A famous ballerina. As years pass, she sees Russia go from full of lavish traditions to full of upheaval.

I’ve been going through quite the historical fiction phase as of late, so I’m finding Sharp’s novel fascinating and powerful. The portrayal of Mathilde as a woman whose links to “scandal” will forever overshadow her abilities as a dancer is one too easily recognized in our society. I’m excited to see how her character evolves as the book unfolds and the imperial court deteriorates.

While I do think the style is very effective (and makes me truly believe Kschessinska was speaking!), the book’s lack of dialogue could be annoying for some. This absence doesn’t upset me, but I do sort of miss it as a way to build out details within the narrative. Without it, the narrator relies a lot on introspection and long-winded asides to explain historical detail. However, the latter is where Sharp’s research really shines through!

I feel like I’m learning a HUGE chunk of Russian history, but the medicine is going down with a spoonful of sugar because I also get a ballerina’s love story.

Read this if you’re interested in: Russian history, ballet and the lives of Russian prima ballerinas, the Romanovs

Read this if you loved: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, The Romanovs by Robert K. Massie, Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Keep a lookout for Part 2! It’ll be hitting this site next week.

And don’t forget — if you want the full reading list CLICK HERE. You’ll basically become a card-carrying member of the Finding Delight Book Club! ❤

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mid-week round-up

What are you up to this Wednesday? News about the royal baby (ARCHIE!!!) has definitely kept me good and distracted this morning, lol. Anyone else? So happy for Harry and Meghan…and for me, because I love those crazy royals! Haha. But now I’ve gotta snap out of it, buckle down, and get some dang work done! We’re off to Kentucky at week’s end. Hope your middle of the week is proving more productive than mine, but to distract you…

6 surprising things about the royal baby.

[Related: Purebred corgis or NOTHING.]

The magic of estate sales.

Why the world’s best mathematicians are hoarding chalk.

The snake-charming life and tragic death of Grace Olive Wiley.

Menstrual products in the Science Museum’s collection.

How a ‘Brady Bunch’ episode on measles is fueling campaigns against vaccines.

Springtime means I’m brainstorming ways to decorate the great outdoors!

[Related: A Rustic, Boho-Inspired Balcony]

Why women candidates are ruled unelectable so quickly.

Feeling called to purchase some warm weather jammies.

Mike Rosmann left seminary to become a clinical psychologist for farmers.

How to read more books in the golden age of content.

The ‘Baby Dolls’ of New Orleans.

P.S. A few Finding Delight posts you may have missed — Our Favorite Music Festival and For the Love of BOOKS!

Book Club: Last Night I Dreamed of Peace Pt. 1

Hello, fellow bookworms! Today I’m unveiling Book #4 in the Finding Delight Book Club. My how time flies! If you’re new to this series, I’m reading 12 books and sharing about them with you here. I plan to post 4 times for each book. This month, Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram translated by Andrew X. Pham.

For the full book list CLICK HERE. I’d love to have you along for the ride!

“Come to me, squeeze my hand, know my loneliness,
and give me the love,  the strength to prevail
on the perilous road before me.” 

Synopsis

Amidst the deadliest portion of the Vietnam War, a young woman, Dang Thuy Tram, leaves her family behind in Hanoi and sets off to work in a field hospital. As a recently trained doctor she is tasked with treating civilians and soldiers alike as fierce guerrilla battles occur day in and day out within the foliage nearby.

For comfort, she writes in her diary. She records her patient encounters, friends who have been killed in the fighting, her longing for a man she calls M., and her dreams.

These wartime recollections were rescued when, at war’s end, American soldiers were burning documents. A Vietnamese translator got hold of Thuy’s diary and proclaimed, “Don’t burn this one, it has fire in it already.” 

Breaking protocol, an American officer preserved the diary and kept it for 35 years, eventually delivering it into the hands of Thuy’s mother. It was later published in Vietnam and then translated into English by Andrew X. Pham.

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace is the parting gift from an unlikely heroine, killed at 27. Her voice lives on to help generations to come remember that compassion and dignity can persist in the face of the atrocities of war.

“Half of  our heart is filled with red blood, half with black. In our mind there is also a balance between the bright, intelligent and beautiful facets and the dark, negative, and cowardly parts. If I can grasp that in its entirety, then I can achieve tranquility and stability in this life.”

Initial thoughts 

First off, don’t skip the introduction! This bit of text penned by Frances Fitzgerald (author of Fire in the Lake) is excellent and offers insightful observations about the book’s meaning, history and origins. I don’t know a ton about the Vietnam War and the introduction helped to place Thuy’s writing into the larger narrative of world conflicts.

The fact that the book is a diary, the interior monologue of a young woman enduring the realities of war, is what drew me to it. (Anyone else read Anne Frank as a kid and become obsessed with the war diary genre?) And a new doctor, no less! Throughout the book she talks of caring for wounded Viet Cong soldiers below the 17th parallel that divided Vietnam into North and South. Her life is often in danger as the American “enemy” and guerrillas wage war mere paces from her makeshift field hospitals.

There’s also an element of romance to her life’s tale as she followed a man from back home into this service. She talks of “M.” frequently in the pages of the diary. Unfortunately, they have both become so committed to their duties that striking things back up seems nearly impossible. Thuy mourns the loss of what could have been.

Given her proximity to the violent, bloody, gory scenes of war, it’s interesting to note that descriptions of such things are limited. But of course, Thuy is a physician, not a soldier. This means grappling with the aftermath, putting the pieces back together that war tore apart.

In translation, her writing is extremely lyrical. Less an account of what’s happening and more poetic perceptions and ponderings — about the damages of war, firm communist beliefs, relationships with the people she meets in the clinic, and sometimes their deaths too. This style, along with the repetitiveness of Thuy’s thoughts, could definitely be off-putting to some. But at the end of the day, she’s a woman in her 20’s who can’t figure out which dude she’s in love with! She’s the epitome of “in her feelings.” Add war to that emotional hotbox and I think I can excuse the fact that she often wants to discuss pining for men rather than the AK-47 wounds she sewed up earlier that day.

Finally, reading Thuy’s wartime recollections as an American is a thought-provoking exercise in seeing the “enemy” as human. It’s easy to relate to a person when they lay their hopes and fears bare on a page. Reading that she dreamed of peace hopefully serves as a reminder, that death as a result of war is always a tragedy, regardless of sides.

Read this if you’re interested in: the Vietnam War, medical history, women physicians, wartime diaries

Read this if you loved: Home Front Girl by Joan Whelen Morrison, The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, and When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip

Other works mentioned: Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald

Keep a lookout for Part 2! It’ll be hitting this site next week.

And don’t forget — if you want the full reading list CLICK HERE. You’ll basically become a card-carrying member of the Finding Delight Book Club! ❤

Book Club: The Truths We Hold Pt. 1

Hello, fellow bookworms! Today I’m unveiling Book #3 in the Finding Delight Book Club. If you haven’t heard, I’m reading 12 books and sharing about them with you here. I plan to post 4 times for each book. This month, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris.

For the full book list CLICK HERE. I’d love to have you along for the ride!

The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

“Democracy just cannot flourish amid fear. Liberty cannot bloom amid hate. Justice cannot take root amid rage. America must get to work. . . . We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred, and the mistrust.” 

Synopsis

Senator Kamala Harris’s book walks readers through the events of her childhood and early career which have shaped her views and informed her political prowess. First, she is the daughter of immigrants. Her father, an economist, is from Jamaica and her mother, a scientist, hailed from India. They met at UC-Berkeley where they would often attend civil rights events. Later, they would bring young Kamala in a stroller to marches.

This early involvement in activism continued throughout Harris’s young life, leading to law school, and a passion for justice that would establish her as an innovative change agent in law enforcement — first, as a prosecutor, and then through her role as deputy district attorney. From there, she quickly advanced to the elected position of District Attorney for San Francisco, followed by chief law enforcement officer for the entire state of California.

The book highlights key ways Harris provided a voice for the voiceless in these important roles — including a battle with the banks during the height of the foreclosure crisis. It also showcases how important people in her life have impacted her political approach. Most notably, the daughter of a cancer researcher, it is clear how her mother’s science background informs Harris’s emphasis on data-informed decision making.

Now a United States Senator, Harris walks readers through a variety of issues that are affecting her state, as well as our whole country, including; health care, national security, mass incarceration, immigration, the opioid crisis, and inequality. The story of her life and career create the framework for discussing the issues but Harris doesn’t stop there. She offers insight on the work that is still to be done and provides a vision for how we can face these things together — by seeing ourselves in each other. In doing so, we can kickstart a shared effort to create positive change in America.

“In the years to come, what matters most is that we see ourselves in one another’s struggles.”

Initial thoughts 

When I added The Truths We Hold to my 2019 book club list it was because I was interested in what Kamala Harris was doing as a junior United States Senator. I had recently heard her give a few interviews where she discussed her background and I was interested to learn more. Now, Harris has thrown her hat in the ring for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and this book has taken on a completely different meaning. Whereas before the choice felt driven by “What has she done?” now I find myself wondering, “What could she do?”

While the publication date of her autobiography does feel very convenient, I won’t fault her for that. (Obama pulled the same move, you’ll recall… and many of the 2020 hopefuls have followed suit.) The book does a great job in laying out her political platform. It’s a super engaging read and felt authentic in a way that many political memoirs don’t. If you’ve ever watched Harris speak or heard her interviewed, you’ll note that her books “sounds” like her.

Learning more about Harris’s early life was a lot of fun. Her background feels really unique (maybe because she’s not another joe-blow, white dude politician??) but at the same time super relatable. (Similarities with mine include: daughter of an economist, lived outside the U.S. for a bit as a kid, and college debater!) The biographical information weaved through most politician’s books are why I like them so much. It really gives you a window into what issues matter most to them and which they’ll be willing to fight hardest for. I recognize parts of these narratives are blown up a bit for the sake of the optics — but I feel like I have a pretty good bullshit meter and can suss out which ones are genuine and which are a stretch. None of the personal links within the pages of The Truths We Hold felt disingenuous. 

It was also interesting to note how quickly Harris’s career progressed from assistant prosecutor to U.S. Senator. I found myself deeply respecting her hustle and the hard work she’s invested in her career but also on behalf of her constituents, for whom it feels like she has a genuine care for.

Altogether, I believe The Truths We Hold will serve as an effective foundation for this 2020 hopeful and magnetic candidate. However, no matter who you’re backing for this upcoming race, Harris’s book paints an inspiring portrait of what leadership looks like in challenging times. So, if you’re wondering if you should add this memoir to your reading list, I VOTE YES!

Read this if you’re interested in: Politics, U.S. government, recent California history, successful women, leadership, current events

Read this if you loved: United by Cory Booker, This Fight Is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren, and Off the Sidelines by Kirsten Gillibrand. (You could just do a who’s-who of democratic hopefuls by way of Amazon shoppin’.)

Follow Kamala: Twitter and Instagram

Keep a lookout for Part 2! It’ll be hitting this site next week.

And don’t forget — if you want the full reading list CLICK HERE. You’ll basically become a card-carrying member of the Finding Delight Book Club! ❤