Sunday, February 10, 2013

O Tempora, O Mores

Much of my attention this weekend was absorbed by snowstorm Nemo, the latest in a series of meteorological insults to afflict the northeast. One aspect of this storm that irritated me (other than the fact that we are completely snowed in and are not likely to have clear streets for at least another day) was the complete lack of knowledge of what the name "Nemo" signifies.  I took an informal poll of the people around me -- and I work in a school -- and 99% of those asked identified Nemo as the clownfish in the extremely successful Disney movie.  Wrong answer.  Nemo is, classically speaking, the captain of the Nautilus.  The Nautilus was a fictional submarine that forms the center of the novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne.  The name Nemo means "no one."  I would have been satisfied if someone had identified Nemo as the opium-ridden law-writer in Bleak House, but no, not even that.  O tempore, O mores.

I promised a fiction post, so here it is.  First, The Impostor Bride, by Nancy Richler.  Scanning the jacket blurb, I initially thought that this was one of the genre of mail-order brides go west, etc., but I was wrong.  The impostor bride in question is Lily Azerov -- or so she says -- and she is a Holocaust survivor who has come to join her husband-to-be, Sol Kramer.  Sol, however, turns her down on sight, leaving his brother to pick up the pieces.  Nathan Kramer marries her and they have a daughter together before she disappears, leaving no trace.  This book gives a fascinating glimpse of post-war Montreal, and is also suspenseful enough to keep you reading until the end.

A Winter's Night, by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, also focuses on an environment utterly changed by war, but otherwise couldn't be more different from the above book.  A translation from the Italian, this book focuses on the Bruni family of the Po Valley.  Three generations and two wars pass before the book's story ends; it's not the easiest reading but it is compelling and full of emotion and complex characters.  The Kashmir Shawl also takes the reader far afield, but to India of the Raj Period.  By Rosie Thomas, this is more light-reading romance fiction than anything else, but it's a great story, if a little convoluted.  It's told in flashback, so it does get a little confusing at times.

If you've ever admired the work of Washington Irving, I would strongly recommend Seven Locks, by Christine Wade.  Set in Revolutionary Period Dutch New York, Wade retells an Irving tale from a completely different standpoint, but manages to keep much of Irving's feeling for setting.  It's an old story, but the author brings a fresh and new feeling to it, inviting in a generation of readers who may have never experienced Irving's work.

I think I hear snowplows outside, so I'm going to go cheer them on.  More next week.

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