“I tried to divine which day the world became theirs.”

english_passengersThe Brown Baggers Book group read English Passengers by Matthew Kneale and met on February 16 to discuss it. There were mixed reviews among the book club members.

English Passengers was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction, won the 2000 Whitbread Book of the Year Award, the Australian Miles Franklin Award, and France’s Relay Prix d’Evasion.

This book is a historical novel set during the age of British colonialism and is told by about 20 different narrators. The story spans decades and follows two timelines, 30 years apart. In one storyline, a Manx captain and his band of rum smugglers have a difficult time off-loading their merchandise and end up becoming a passenger ship in order to pay fines imposed on them by British customs officials. Their passengers included a reverend who believed the Garden of Eden is located in Tasmania, a botanist, and a doctor who had sketchy views about the different races of men.

The book also followed the storyline of Peevay, a Tasmanian Aborigine, who was half-aborigine and half-white. The beginning of Peevay’s story was the time period when the British invaded Tasmania and started to decimate the Aboriginal population. The reader learns through Peevay what atrocities the Aborigines experienced at the hands of the British settlers. The two stories and timelines meet up when the Manx ship finally makes it to Tasmania.

Peevay was a favorite character of the book group. Book club members noted that Peevay’s narration had the best language and descriptions of events and really engaged the reader. Other members also enjoyed reading the captain’s storyline and how he managed his interesting passengers.

Other Information
About the author:
http://www.matthewkneale.net/

Reviews of the book:
From the New York Times
From BookPage
From Publisher’s Weekly

Similar Reads:
Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Morality Play by Barry Unsworth
Quarantine by Jim Crace

More Information about the history of Australia:
From the Australian Government
About British convicts who were sent to Australia
About Indigenous Australians

Join the Brown Baggers next month on Thursday, March 16 at noon for Silver Sparrow, the NEA Big Read 2017 selection.

“On what slender threads do life and fortune hang.”

penguin-count-monte-cristoBrown Baggers had a full house, or at least full Madison Room, at the discussion of the classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas on January 19. Written in 1844, Monte Cristo is a tale of revenge. Edmund Dantes, the main character, is wrongfully imprisoned for over a decade. Upon getting out and learning he has lost his love and his family, he recreates himself as the Count of Monte Cristo and seeks vengeance against those who caused his misfortunes.

Assuming new identities was a common occurrence in this book. In addition to the Count, many of the characters he is after also reappear under other names or with new titles. In the Count’s case, readers felt this also came with a personality change. This could be the result of his harrowing time in prison, or maybe just the persona he needed to complete his vengeful acts.  Once he completes those acts readers noted he again seems to make a personality change.
Revenge versus justice was a discussion point as well. Monte Cristo obviously felt he was meting out justice as he regularly states he is just doing God’s will. Or he may have felt they were one and the same. This speaks to Cristo’s sense of omnipotence.  Readers suggested it might have been from the seemingly unlimited wealth that was bestowed upon him. Alternately it could have stemmed from his near dying in prison, as well as his having nothing left to lose once he got free. Either way his story of “dying” as a way to get out of prison only to be “reborn” felt strongly reminiscent of the killing and resurrection of Jesus. This omnipotence also surfaced in his treatment of characters whom he cared for and was trying to help with his constant mantra for them to trust him despite his outlandish requests.
The lack of actual politics in a book that incorporates political story lines surrounding Napoleon’s return to power surprised readers. They felt this might have been a result of publishing for a general audience and not wanting to offend anyone’s sensibilities. It was remarked that the book seemed to be comprised of simpler, less flowery language making it perhaps easier to read for the masses. Although readers familiar with the original French version felt it was the result of translation . Regardless, it was agreed upon that Dumas thoroughly understood the segment of society that he writes about which is not surprising since they are events that occurred in or near his lifetime.

Many in attendance had read this title before but a few were new finishers of the 117 chapter tome. Everyone enjoyed the story if agreeing that it was highly implausible. Favorite features were Dumas’ generous details, sense of humor, and excellent dialog. It was also acknowledged that the story went slightly off course in the middle. Once the action picked up, though, the final few hundred pages really flew by.

More Information:
Author bio
Harvard Magazine article about how his father influenced the book
Mental Floss article with random trivia about the book
Gizmodo article on real life inspiration for the character of Abbé Faria
2005 French movie featuring Gérard Depardieu

Other titles that came up:
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Cousin Bette by Honoré de Balzac (we have the film)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

 

Next meeting will be February 16, 2017 at noon. We will be discussing The English Passengers by Matthew Kneale.

Brown Baggers’ Book Picks

openbook_218939077The Brown Baggers Book Group skipped their usual discussion in December and instead spent the hour deciding what titles the group will read in the upcoming months (and eating delicious snacks).

Many current and classic titles were suggested by members, but after several rounds of voting we had some clear winners. Upcoming titles that the group will read include both fiction and nonfiction books as well as some award winners.

Here are the upcoming titles for June 2017 through May 2018:

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

1984 by George Orwell

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

If you would like to join the Brown Baggers Book Group, you’re welcome to come to the Central Library on the third Thursday of the month from 12-1pm and participate in our lively discussion. You can call us at 434.979.7151 ext. 4 for more information or send us an email. Also, check out JMRL’s wiki for the books that weren’t picked this time as well as book club selections from previous years.