jan struther

Five Best Books: Hope

In this week’s 5 Best Books we are asked to list our Five Best Books: Hope.

This week’s Top 5 is a more positive spin on last week’s Top 5 (Recovering from) Tragedy. It may infringe a bit on last week’s list. But overall in these books tragedy is kept to a minimum, hope is the dominating feature.

1.   Seryozha: Several Stories from the Life of a Very Small Boy by Vera Panova. This is one of my childhood favourites. A fatherless boy, Seryozha, grows apart from his mother after her remarriage. But little Seryozha is warmly embraced by his step father, Korostelyov and it is he who refuses to abandon him just because he is not his biological child. I couldn’t hold back my tears after reading about the troubles of a boy my age. I understood Seryozha’s bewilderment at the changes in his life and his pain wringed my heart. Every time I read the book I was so grateful to Korostelyov for understanding the little boy and giving him the love and care that he deserved. The last page especially filled me with hope that everything was going to be alright.

2.  The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. This is the story of four mothers and their daughters. The mothers try hard to maintain their Chinese heritage while the American born daughters fail to understand them. The lack of communication between the generations creates a deep chasm between them. I found the mother’s stories to be stories of hope. I was especially touched by Suyuan Woo’s story. Though there are many tragedies in their lives the four mothers and daughters ultimately find what they were looking for.

3.   A Kiss for Cinderella by J. M. Barrie. A Kiss for Cinderella is set during WWI. A poor and lonely young woman, ‘Miss Thing’, works as a maid and dreams that she is the fabled ‘Cinderella’. As the play progresses, ‘Miss Thing’ slowly becomes mentally unstable and nearly dies of hunger and cold. But in the end, the surly local policeman becomes her unlikely hero and even though the doctor makes a gloomy prediction about her health she does get her happy ending.

4.  Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgings by Charles Dickens.

      Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy by Charles Dickens. 

Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings and Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy are two of Charles Dickens’s Christmas stories. The books describe a Mrs Lirriper’s experiences as a lodge keeper. Most of her experiences are light hearted and humorous. Sad events do take place (a young woman is ruined by a wicked impostor, a fire destroys a home; etc) but overall the tone of the books remain pretty hopeful. Everything turns out to be all right and even the misfortunes always leave behind a reason to smile.

5.   Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther.  This book is a collection of little observations that the eponymous characters makes about trivial everyday matters. The time is during World War II so the tone of the book is subdued but Mrs. Miniver manages to remain practical and cheerful. The book is said to have helped gain sympathy for the people in Europe.

Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther

Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther began its life as a series of newspaper columns for The Times  in 1937. The columns were published in book form in 1939.

In the book Mrs. Miniver makes little observations about trivial everyday matters in a simple but engaging way. The original columns and the book were based on Jan Struther’s own experiences.

Mrs. Miniver became an enormous success upon publication. During the dark days of the Second World War the book helped raise awareness about the plight of the Europeans as the war with the Nazi Germany intensified.

The book consists of a series of loose vignettes. There is no real central story but through these miniature slices of everyday life we get to know the Miniver family and the world they inhabit.

The book is very easy to read. Its uncomplicated narrative and languid pace was really nice.

I liked reading about the everyday life of the Miniver family. Mrs. Miniver’s observations are witty and often very accurate.

I liked the strength of Mrs. Miniver and her relationship with her husband, Clem. The children Vin (eldest ‘manly’ son), Judy (‘doll loving’ only daughter) and Toby (younger son and the baby of the house) are all a bit bland and stereotypical.

I fail to see how this gentle book that makes very few actual references to the war could have helped gain sympathy for the people in Europe. There is one chapter that has the Miniver’s getting their gas masks, another one describes a war time Christmas with several refugee children staying with the Miniver family (which is personally my favourite chapter) and a few other stray references to the war here and there. That’s about it.

I haven’t seen the 1942 Greer Garson movie of the same name. But as I read the book I couldn’t picture her as Mrs. Miniver.

Jan Struther’s writing is good. Her prose is clear and witty. Like when Mrs. Miniver describes the awkwardness of inviting married friends over to dinner when you only like one half of the said couple,

“A single person is a manageable entity, whom you can either make friends with or leave alone. But half of a married couple is not exactly a whole human being: if the marriage is successful it is something a little more than that; if unsuccessful, a little less. In either case, a fresh complication is added to the already intricate ‘business of friendship: as Clem had once remarked, you might as well try to dance a tarantella with a Siamese twin.”

In Jan Struther’s world almost no one is bad or ill mannered. It’s an unreal, sanitized world but nonetheless very charming. I am sure most readers would appreciate this simple, gentle book.

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Teaser Tuesdays (April 05)

Teaser Tuesdays asks us to:

Grab our current read

Open to a random page

Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like our teaser!
My Teaser:

I began this book last night and on opening the book for the first time found the following lines to be very comforting,

“She rearranged the fire a little, mostly for the pleasure of handling the fluted steel poker, and then sat down by it. Tea was already laid: there were honey sandwiches, brandy-snaps, and small ratafia biscuits; and there would, she knew, be crumpets. Three new library books lay virginally on the fender-stool, their bright paper wrappers unsullied by subscriber’s hand. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed, very softly and precisely, five times…A sudden breeze brought the sharp tang of a bonfire in at the window. The jig-saw was almost complete, but there was still one piece missing. And then, from the other end of the square, came the familiar sound of the Wednesday barrel-organ, playing, with a hundred apocryphal trills and arpeggios, the “Blue Danube” waltz. And Mrs. Miniver, with a little sigh of contentment, rang for tea.”

Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.