Sparked by Words

Posts tagged ‘enduring love’

T is for The Time Traveler’s Wife

I was completely spellbound by The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel. It was a story that seized me by my heart and imagination and didn’t let go for over five hundred pages and many hours of reading. It begins with Clare’s voice: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays… Long ago, men went to sea, and women waited for them, standing on the edge of the water, scanning the horizon for the tiny ship. Now I wait for Henry. He vanishes unwillingly, without warning. I wait for him.

I’ve been in love. Sometimes that means being left at the margins, wondering about the man I love, the parts of him he won’t reveal, waiting for him to come to me, to talk with me. Worrying about the state of our relationship. Clare has my thoughts in her throat.

Henry speaks next: How does it feel? How does it feel? Sometimes it feels as though your attention has wandered for just an instant… I am always going, and she cannot follow.

Is this how my husband feels about us, that he must leave, at least emotionally, and always leave without me? Is this the mutable state of all relationships, that we move not so much together as in close proximity to each other and sometimes in different spheres altogether?

Love stories are a staple of book plots and often boringly predictable. Not so the love story in Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.  Its transcendent circumstances lift its characters well beyond the bonds of earth’s calculable orbit and launch them into a world where calendars can’t determine the time of year, and presence in one year won’t predict continuity. The book follows the relationship of Clare and Henry, a couple who barely stay in touch with each other physically yet remain loyal and infatuated forever – both before and after they’ve met. Nothing in this world or outside of it will ever interrupt the love that binds them, not even Henry’s inability to remain in his wife’s presence for any length of time.

Back and forth between Clare and Henry, the story navigates the complexity of their relationship, in and out of various time periods. The lovers confront each other at different moments of their lives, not always recognizing who they are. Clare is a child. Henry is an adult in his prime. Finally they are at a compatible age to marry and so they do. Then they are apart. Clare, old now, waits. Henry, in trouble, hopes to return to her. In Niffenegger’s deft hands, time is neither permanent, reliable, nor linear but a malleable element to be bent for the purpose of describing the depth of their romance.

Henry suffers greatly for the disorder that causes him to jump in and out of time periods without warning, often landing him in perilous situations, unclothed, vulnerable. His jumps leave him confused, injured, pursued, accused of crimes, and uncertain of his future, even if there will be a future. The one thing he can count on is Clare’s steadfast love, the quality of constancy that brings him back to her.

Anyone who has ever felt the despair of betrayal or of a broken relationship will be moved by the endurance of Henry and Clare’s love, he who meanders in and out of their lives, she who waits devotedly. No one will experience the fabricated genetic disorder that precipitates Henry’s time traveling, but all of us have felt the depth of the couple’s passion. Or long to. Between the book’s covers is a soaring sci-fi/fantasy romance twisted inside a freakish yet compelling storyline.

I’ve read that Niffenegger wrote the book at a time that she was questioning her own relationships. She was also influenced by her father who traveled often during her childhood.

If you’ve seen the movie, but have not read the book, read the book. If you wait for love or have been fortunate to have found it, read the book. And to all others – read the book.

The Time Traveler’s Wife won the Exclusive Books Boeke Prize awarded in South Africa and follows this award given to many other prestigious books, most of which I’ve also read. In other words, a book in excellent company.

I look forward to learning about your favorite T fiction books.

 

Other books that were serious contenders for T:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Time to Kill by John Grisham

The Tortilla Curtain by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

To the End of the Land by David Grossman

A Town like Alice by Neville Shute

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

 

 

Book cover image courtesy: Google images and MacAdam/Cage

 

 

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M is for The Marriage of Opposites

the-marriage-of-oppositesThe Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman is one of many novels I’ve loved by this author, this one being a more recent title in her long career. Hoffman is a consummate writer whose skill has matured, nearly always enriched by the magical realism that identifies her style from her earliest work. Marriage is historical fiction based on the life of Rachel Pomie, the mother of the French Impressionist painter, Camille Pissaro, her youngest and most favorite child. The Pomie family lives on the island of St. Thomas in the early 1800s when it’s still a colony governed by Denmark, a situation made more restrictive for the Jewish residents who are bound to island rules and also the expectations of their religious community.

Hoffman immerses us into the native folk remedies and superstitions, stories and food, language and history of St. Thomas. The island is a vivid character in the story, and we feel and see her in the seductive scent of frangipani blossoms that pervade its air, the blazing flamboyant (Poinciana) trees that blanket it with red fever, and the tropical storms that ravage it, threatening the shoreline huts where the poor live. Always there are intense colors, notably “haint blue,” promising protection from demons and sorrow, but also hinting of the passion for painting that one day will inspire the young Camille before he is sent to Paris to study art.

Written in first person from Rachel’s point of view, she states, “I was a girl who knew what I wanted…a country where the moon rose like a silver disc into a cold, clear sky.” Young Rachel’s life is privileged as only the child of wealthy Europeans transplanted to a tiny humid island in the Caribbean can be. Her isolation is abated by reading the stories in her father’s library, filling her with her own stories. She is friends with Jestine, the beautiful, half caste daughter of Adelle, the wise native woman who is her family’s maid. Indulged, headstrong, and rebellious, Rachel is at constant loggerheads with her mother who expects her to submit to the demands of her social class. She dreams of Paris – the fashion, the elegant civilization, and especially the cold climate. When his business is threatened, her father arranges a marriage that solidifies the family’s fortune. Rachel marries a widower with young children from a first marriage, and though she never loves him, she does love his three children and bears him four more.

At the crux of the book are the many love affairs that disregard social conventions, yet flourish despite snubbing by the most important residents. Rachel herself suggests she will never marry but does, and finally finds true love with Frederic, the nephew of her dead husband. Jestine, Adelle’s daughter and Rachel’s friend, falls in love with Rachel’s cousin, Aaron. Both women are forbidden to marry the men they love because of laws prohibiting familial or interracial marriages. Rachel and Frederic defy Jewish law and have four children born out of wedlock, scandalizing the community which ostracizes the family. Jestine’s and Aaron’s beautiful, nearly white little daughter is kidnapped and taken to Paris under the premise that her life will be so much better than what her half black mother could provide.

Flouting all rules, both women remain devoted to their men. Ironically, decades later Rachel cannot abide by her son Camille’s love for a French woman who is not Jewish. Thus comes true her mother’s curse, “I hope you have a child that causes you the misery you have caused me.” The passions, suffering, betrayals, and hypocrisies of one generation do not translate as sympathy for the next, and it is many years of loneliness before Rachel understands that much of her misery is a by-product of her own prejudices.  She notes, “You couldn’t see love, or touch it, or taste it, yet it could destroy you and leave you in the dark, chasing after your own destiny.” Indeed, love lures her, drains her, and consumes her.

From the emotional stew of this complex story emerges the passionate painter who will become the Father of Impressionism, a man whose art opposed convention in search of ground breaking artistic acuity. It is this rebellious young man who responds to Jestine’s heartache for her lost daughter and helps reunite them. Rachel Pomie’s life was shackled by her time and her culture yet she bequeathed a fiercely independent spirit to her son who founded one of the world’s most beloved art movements.

Alice Hoffman wove much of the historical Rachel Pomie into the fabrication of her story. The Marriage of Opposites reveals a determination for identity and self realization where opposing forces sometimes tear each other to shreds but occasionally, sublimely benefit each other. As a woman, a writer, an artist, a wife, a mother, and a Jew, I am indebted to Rachel Pomie and grateful to have met her through Hoffman’s book.

I look forward to learning about your favorite M fiction books.

 

Other books that were serious contenders for M:

The Magus by John Fowles

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

The Merlin Trilogy (3 books plus one more) by Mary Stewart

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

Mila 18 by Leon Uris

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Mudbound by Hilary Martel

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

 

Book cover image courtesy: Google images and Simon & Schuster Paperbacks