Book Review: Our Homesick Songs

Author: Emma Hooper
Published: August 14, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 2/5

This book. I wanted to love it so badly (do I start all not great reviews this way?), but this is a classic case of the prose getting in the way of the story for me. The vagueness of the story and the uniqueness of the prose, led me to feel confused about what I was reading and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s to feel confused about a book. I can handle a little mystery but when I’m 80% through the book and still don’t totally know what I’m reading, I get a little upset.

Our Homesick Songs is about a family in a Canadian fishing village, but there’s one problem: there are no fish in the village. While the Connor parents go off to find an income in other places, their children are left to fend for themselves and cope in their own ways.

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Therein, in that synopsis, lies the problem. It’s a little too vauge – it’s not set in a specific time or a place, so the whole thing feels very anecdotal. While I was writing the synopsis I couldn’t stop thinking to myself “is it about a family in a fishing village with no fish?” Somehow it all just felt so damn metaphorical. Is it about all North American towns that rely on one source of industry? Literally no idea.

I find it really hard to review this book, because despite reading 90% of it (I know I gave up at a weird time), I don’t feel like I grasped what happened. It confused me, it frustrated me, I felt like I wanted to empathize with these people but I just couldn’t even tell what was real and what wasn’t.

Maybe the problem is that I’m reading too far in to it, or maybe I wanted more action and wasn’t quite in the mood for a character driven novel, or maybe, just maybe, I was experiencing a book hangover from Where the Crawdads Sing and I just couldn’t get in to any book that came next. Whatever it was, this one didn’t work for me.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you thought! (Thoughts that don’t agree with me are also welcome!)

 

Four Takeaways from ‘The Plot Against America’

The book “The Plot Against America” is an alternate history of what could have happened in World War Two.

Alternate Histories and Distopian novels seems to be popping up all over the place in the last few months, so to break the mold I tried one that’s not sold out on amazon. 😉 This book was suggested to me by a friend, and I’m so glad I read it.

Consider for a minute (or however long it takes you to get through this post), that FDR had lost the 1940 election, to continue as president for a third term. Would we have entered WWII sooner? Later? Not at all?

Think about how many pivotal decisions in world history are made by presidents and then consider, what if the “other” candidate had won. It’s certainly an interesting way to look at things.

In The Plot Against America, Charles Lindbergh, claimed by critics to be a Nazi sympathizer, wins the 1940 election. The story of the following years is told through the eyes of a seven year old Jewish boy, growing up in northern New Jersey. Charles Lindbergh was an American celebrity, famous for flying the first solo flight across the Atlantic. In the book, he runs a nontraditional presidential campaign, so unexpected that his tactics mystify the more experienced politicians tasked with managing him. He focuses not on facts during his campaign, but on the fear of voters on going through another world war. He’s able to dominate the media coverage by flying to different cities unannounced – sometimes four to five cities in a day – and surprising viewers with each new destination. Many of these points, are not unlike the presidential campaign of 2016, which gives this novel a new twist, despite its publication date of 2005.

Reading a dystopian novel allows us to step out of the world and reflect on the time. Reading this book gave me some good perspectives and takeaways that I’d like to share with my FLW readers.

  1. Hate fuels violence.

Antisemitism is a huge theme in this book. The president of the USA is said to be a Nazi sympathizer and is making deals with Hitler throughout the book. The narrator is growing up in a jewish community and witnessing hate crimes, both first hand and as told through the media.

This book is an illustration of the danger of hatred and discrimination. It acknowledges that if the goal is productive change – hate speech and acts of violence are not the ways to produce that change. In this book, we see the Jewish citizens who are initially the target, turn to violence after feeling the need to be the aggressor in order to avoid remaining the prey.

  1. In The Plot Against America, the resistance dies quickly.

Immediately following the election and inauguration, there is a strong resistance group formed in the Jewish Community.  Several events occur that weaken the resolve, and soon those left in the resistance are portrayed to be just loose cannons.

One thing that I noticed in this book, is that several technologies that we have today, that are helping the current “resistance” movement, are not present in this book because of the historical context. This meaning primarily social media or other internet websites as a way of obtaining information and organizing events such as the Women’s March or other protests.

Seeing the result of the weak resistance, makes me resolved to  keep accessing information available to me and staying on top  of the movement to defend equal rights. This take away  gives me hope that we will continue to be able to #resist.

  1. It is important to realize that everyone is a role model.

One of the main takeaways for me in this book, is that the narrator is seven years old at the start of the campaign. Throughout the course of the book he only ages to age ten. He takes his parents’, and even his older siblings’, actions as fact of how someone should act.

Everyone he knew except his father had giving up on the resistance, so he logically thought his father was crazy. For me, this illustrated the importance of standing up for what’s right and letting the younger generations know what we believe. Many of his family members did not express their opinions because of their unpopularity.

One of my favorite quotes of the book, copied below, shows the importance of learned opinions. (It also illustrates some the great writing in this book):

Lindbergh was the first famous living American whom I learned to hate—just as President Roosevelt was the first famous living American whom I was taught to love—and so his nomination by the Republicans to run against Roosevelt in 1940 assaulted, as nothing ever had before, that huge endowment of personal security that I had taken for granted as an American child of American parents in an American school in an American city in an America at peace with the world.

  1. Donald Trump winning the presidency may not have been that hard to predict.

It is often cited that Donald Trump fooled all the pollsters. That he was sporadic, no one knew what he would do next, and that he often spoke unscripted. Well you know what? So did Lindberg in The Plot Against America (Published in 2005, and probably thought up and written long before that). It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out, just a writer outside of the typical political spheres.

 

Quick Rundown—

Things I liked:

  • The point of view of the narrator
  • Seldon, the neighbor who lived in a flat below the main family, was such a sweetheart and I had so much sympathy for him. I love when a book can provide this good character development of a seemingly small side-character. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (sorry the Oscars were last night…)
  • How accurate Roth got with the description of caring for the leg. I felt like I learned a lot about what it would be like to be or to care for an amputee. It’s not just learn how to use the prosthetic and you’re on your way, but it’s a lifelong battle of care and rest. I was definitely taken aback by the long struggle Alvin had ahead of him.

Things I didn’t like:

  • *SPOILER ALLERT* – How easily President Lindbergh’s compromising actions were resolved. In the end, it all boiled down to the kidnapping of Lindbergh’s son (that happened in real life) being a hoax. The book conspires that the Nazi’s kidnapped the son and that  Lindberg ended up being in Hilter’s pocket through bribery.
  • The speed- This book was a slow one for me. I had to push myself to get through the second half. It  wasn’t very plot driven – more of a study in ideology – so I think it was missing some action or suspense to keep the plot moving.

Final Quote:

This one is said by a Fictional FDR at a rally after Lindbergh is elected president. I thought Roth did a great job capturing FDR’s voice even in this fictional portrayal.

“Let those who would dare in secret to conspire against our freedom understand that Americans will not, under any threat or in the face of any danger, surrender the guarantees of liberty framed for us by our forefathers in the Constitution of the United States.”