Week 1: War Babies Read-a-Long

Welcome to the first week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of War Babies by Frederick Busch for June.

A short but powerful tale weaving together moral complexity and romantic intrigue, Frederick Busch’s War Babies is the story of an American lawyer in his mid-thirties (Peter Santore) who travels to England in an attempt to tie up the loose ends of his own dark past.  Peter’s father, a prisoner who turned traitor in a Korean War POW camp, might have had something to do with a fellow captive’s death, the father of one Hilary Pennels — now a woman Peter’s age who lives in Salisbury.  When Peter and Hilary meet, they both want information from the other, and more, and find themselves engaged in a wary dance of attraction laced with mistrust.  But it may be a third person, the sole remaining survivor of the camp — a Mr. Fox — who holds the key to the mystery of betrayal that haunts Peter and Hilary alike.  (publisher’s summary)

Because the novel is so short, we’re only hosting 2 discussions for it.

For this week’s discussion, we’ve read pages 1-50, ending with “mine and squeezed.”

Please be aware that there could be spoilers.

Anna: What are your first impressions?

I’m finding it hard to get into the story, mainly because the dialogue seems awkward to me, the characters are odd and unlikeable, and mainly because Pete and Hilary’s meeting seems contrived. Does this author seriously want me to believe that Pete travels from the U.S. to England in search of answers from Hilary and he just happens to have an encounter with this woman at the hotel and later in the market and it just happens to be the one woman he’s looking for? And then Pete expects Hilary to believe that he didn’t know it was her?

Serena: I’m having similar issues the the dialogue, which seems disjointed and choppy at times. And the meeting between Hilary and Peter is contrived and their “relationship” is contrived. I’m having issues with this whole thing.

I do think that if this has preoccupied Peter for as long as it seems to that maybe through research he’s found that Hilary could have some answers for him. And crazier things have happened where people have sought complete strangers out for information. That is believable to me, but the way that it comes about here, is so unbelievable.

What do you make of Fox?

I find him to be a traumatized soldier, but I also think that he embellishes. At least that’s what it seems like to me that he embellishes the goodness of his soldiers and those that died. He’s at least believable to me, though his relationship with Hilary is strange.

Anna: I just can’t get past the improbability of their meeting, and then immediately having sex. I just don’t “get” their relationship; it’s like a lot of what would have made it believable was left out. The author seems to give so little details about everything at this point. What was the extent of Pete’s research? What prompted him to seek out Hilary? Maybe Busch wants to reveals these details over the course of the book, but he’s not giving me much to keep me interested in the story.

The whole thing with Fox is just odd. Hilary can’t seem to decide if he’s an overprotective father figure or a pervert, and her change in behavior around him seems without reason and just weird. Again, I think it’s the lack of details.

Fox does seem to go on and on with his war stories, even though he seems to understand that Hilary doesn’t want to hear them. His stories are given all the details, down to the exposed muscle on the Lieutenant’s injury. He seems all over the place, from saying that he doesn’t hold what Pete’s father did against him, then getting very hostile toward Pete at the end of his tirade, but that could be the booze talking.

It’s just a very odd narrative, and I have no idea where it’s going. The weirdness of the characters and the contrived meeting/relationship seems to detract from what should be the focus of the novel: the war and why it compelled Peter to go to England for answers. He seems to believe his father had something to do with her father’s death, and I hope they can stop having sex long enough for the real story to start.

Serena: I found Fox to be the most interesting character, seems like a war vet with the drinking problem, the constant story telling, the overwhelming emotions and roller coaster of them. But he’s there and gone so quickly and then the relationship with him and Hilary is so ill-explained.

I do like that Fox provides the details about the camps and the life there, but it seems like there’s no explanation about the war and what started it or who was involved except the “Chinks,” “Yanks,” and the English.

I really am at a loss in this one. At least it’s short. Maybe this author assumes the reader knows a lot about the war?

Anna: Maybe, because I’m finding it hard to follow all that, and the disjointedness of the narrative doesn’t help when there are few details about the war. I especially am confused about the different camps they mention; if Pete’s father was at a different camp than Hilary’s father and Fox, I’m wondering how the three men are connected. But the way this story is told, being all over the place and not very coherent, It makes me wonder whether the characters and their odd connections will overshadow the war story.

I agree that Fox is the most interesting character, and I think my judgment of him may be clouded by the fact that Hilary talks about him before readers meet him, so I was expecting this odd, perverted man with a weird obsession with Hilary. I’m also glad that it’s short because I am slightly curious about where the story is heading but don’t want to have wasted too much of my time on it.

Serena: I hear you on that. I guess we’ll have to wait to see what comes next. Right now, all I want to know is what happened to the fathers, not Hilary and Peter. That’s an awful thing to say since they are the main characters.

And yes, Hilary’s comments about Fox have clouded my impression of him. But I’m waiting for the second half.

Anna: Of course, the most interesting things to us are the things not being discussed! I guess we’ll have to wait and see and hope it gets better!

What do you think?  Feel free to respond to our discussion and/or post any questions you might have in the comments.

**Please join us for the final discussion of War Babies by Frederick Busch on Friday, June 27: Pgs. 51-the end (begins with “We didn’t speak again”)

Day of Remembrance — Memorial Day 2014

June Read-a-Long of War Babies by Frederick Busch

As part of the War Through The Generations 2014 Reading Challenge with a Twist, we’ll be hosting a read-a-long for the Korean War.

In June, we’ll be reading War Babies by Frederick Busch.

Discussion questions will be posted on Friday for the designated chapters. As there are no chapter numbers, we’ll have to use approximate page numbers.

Given the small size of the book, we’ll only hold 2 discussions, instead of the usual 4.

Here’s the reading schedule and discussion dates:

  • Friday, June 13: Pgs. 1-50 (ends with “mine and squeezed.”
  • Friday, June 27: Pgs. 51-the end (begins with “We didn’t speak again”)

We hope you’ll be joining us next month for our Korean War read-a-long.

Korean War Linky

The 2014 War Through the Generations Reading Challenge With a Twist has begun. For May and June, reviews for the Korean War should be linked here.

To be clear, you don’t have to read just Korean War books now, but any of the books that fit the war categories.  We’ll just be posting the linkies for the reviews in the months we designated here.

Welcome to the Korean War Reviews linky for May/June:

Looking for the Linky for the Gulf Wars, go here.

Looking for the Linky for the French and Indian War, go here.

Week 2: I Am Regina Read-a-Long

Welcome to the final week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of I Am Regina by Sally M. Keehn for April.

Because this young adult novel is so short, we’re only hosting 2 discussions for it.

For this week’s discussion, we’ve read chapters 14-end, including the afterword.

Please be aware that there could be spoilers in this final discussion:

Serena: Looks like my concerns about Tiger Claw’s covetous nature toward Regina were on target.  What do you think about the author including a disturbing event in a younger reader’s book? Did you think it was well handled?

Anna: I was surprised to find that scene in what appears to be a middle-grade novel.  However, I think the author handled it well; she didn’t get too descriptive, but she also didn’t sugar-coat it.  I think it seemed very realistic and true to the characters she created.  I think that’s what I liked best about this book — it doesn’t stay away from the difficult issues, but tackles them head on.  What did you think?

Serena: I think she handled the scene really well, but didn’t “sugar coat it” as you said. I do like that she made it seem immediate and threatening, but at the same time, it didn’t get into too much detail. I wonder how teachers would approach that in the classroom, especially since those types of things surely happened.

Anna: It reminded me of the discussion we had about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains, and how she avoids the subject altogether.

Did you feel that the story was rushed toward the end? The pace was definitely quick in the latter half, but I think her reunion with her mother was quickly tied up and then the story ended. I think it would’ve been interesting to see how Regina fared after that (even if only a chapter or two), especially since the author emphasizes how much she lost, from her language to her own identity, and how she didn’t want to leave Wolefin behind.

Serena: I do think the book’s ending was a bit rushed, but I wonder if that has to do with the lack of source material about the real Regina. I do think there should have been a bit more about her transition back into a white man’s society. It would have been interesting to see how she acclimated herself or didn’t. I did read the afterword about it, but I think it would have been more interesting to read as part of the narrative, especially as she and her mother reunited.

I do think its an interesting paradox that she would feel so connected to her old family and the Indian family, and how she’s torn about how to choose, even though Wolefin wasn’t exactly nice to her and wanted her to marry Tiger Claw. I think it would make for a good discussion about what identity is and how you hold onto in a time of crisis.

Anna: If there wasn’t much source material about the real Regina and the author had to invent all the previous scenes, I think she could have done the same after the reunion between Regina and her mother. I think the ending is what made this a 4-star book instead of a 5-star for me.

The book definitely does make you think about identity and all the gray areas when it comes to war. It’s interesting how the war is so central to the story, especially in how it sends the warriors away and leaves the women to fend for themselves in the harsh winter, yet it also manages to stay in the background. So I definitely think the issues of identity and faith are more prevalent.

Serena: I agree that the issues most prevalent are faith and identity here, and I think that Regina’s strong religious upbringing helped her tackle the challenges ahead of her as an Indian captive.

I do like that this one included most about the French and Indian War than the previous book I read, Indian Captive (which is also based on a true story). This made the dangers of war more immediate and their actual impact on the village more immediate for me, with the warriors heading off to battle and leaving the women alone to find whatever rats and nuts they could in winter to get sustenance.

Regina seems to endure quite a bit more loss when her “sister” Nonschetto is killed and she’s forced to leave the village with the white men and lose her “mother” and her dog. Why do you think she’s not as despondent at Quetit?

Anna: I think it’s because that’s the only home Quetit has known, so she’s bound to feel the loss more keenly. When they are forced to leave the village, Quetit is the same age as when Regina was taken captive. That scene really brings the book full circle; at the beginning, we see the Indians killing and stealing from the white men, and at the end, we see the white men burning the Indian village — and with all the kindness we witnessed in between, it really drives home the point that there is good and evil on both sides.

This book really took me on a roller-coaster ride. I was so upset at Regina’s happy family life being torn apart and her being thrust into this new world against her will. And then I was sad that she lost her old self, but I was glad she was able to cope and even find moments of happiness in her new life. And then I felt so bad when she was torn away from that into another situation full of chaos and uncertainty. This really was a downer of a book, and I think that’s why I had a problem with the ending because reuniting with her mother was supposed to be a happy time — she was getting a piece of her old life back, after all — but all I could do was feel bad about how confused she was about who she was and worry about how she would cope.

Serena: I agree the end could have been fleshed out more. I could have even been ok with just a bit more solace from Regina when she’s in her mother’s arms, rather than the bit about the song. I wanted a bit more emotion there. While I get that the song is important to her, I just wanted her to articulate some form of comfort or emotional connection with her mother.

I did enjoy the book more than the other book I read on this time period for all of these reasons and for the inclusion of war. I do think this would be a great discussion for a book club or in a classroom.

Any final thoughts?

Anna: I’ll be honest — I didn’t have high expectations for this book, but I ended up really liking it. The story itself was interesting, more so knowing that it was based on a true story. I think the author did a great job with Regina’s evolution to Tskinnak, and I like how it was a balanced story.

Please feel free to share your thoughts about I am Regina in the comments.

We hope that you’ll join us in June for a read-a-long of the Korean War novel, War Babies by Frederick Busch. SCHEDULE to be released in May.

Week 2 I Am Regina Read-a-Long Discussion Postponed

 

Due to some schedule issues and ailments, Anna and I are postponing the I am Regina read-a-long discussion until April 30 for Chapters 14-end (including afterword)

Please come back for Part 2 on April 30.

If you missed part 1, go here.

Week 1: I Am Regina Read-a-Long

Welcome to the first week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of I Am Regina by Sally M. Keehn for April.

Because this middle-grade novel is so short, we’re only hosting 2 discussions for it.

For this week’s discussion, we’ve read chapters 1-13.

Serena: When we start out in I am Regina, we meet the main character and her family.  What role do you think Regina plays in the family structure, and do you think that her role in her own family plays a role in why she is selected by the Indians?

Anna: I’m not sure Regina’s role in her family had anything to do with her being taken. I assumed that had more to do with her being a girl and a child. It seemed as if the other captives that day were either children or women, aside from the one man who spoke the Indian’s language.

As for her role in the family, she is the youngest, and her innocence comes through, especially in her outright fear about the rumors of Indian sightings and her constant need for comforting from her mother. It seems like her bond with her mother will be important throughout the story, and the author does a good job of setting that up from the beginning, even though we only meet her mother for a few pages. The close-knit structure of the family makes it even more heartbreaking when Regina witnesses her father and brother die, knows nothing about the fate of her mother and other brother, and is pulled away from her sister when the Indians part ways and go to their respective villages.

Serena: I agree that I’m not sure her role in the family has anything to do with her capture, but does establish her sort of as the younger child who is just beginning to learn responsibility in her own family unit. It strikes me that they would want to capture those who are young enough to be trained but not too young that they cannot work.

I also noticed that these were German immigrants and that the ship’s name was Patience. I wonder if that is a foreshadowing for Regina. Perhaps she needs patience, and definitely, her faith to cope with what’s on the horizon. It seems like religion is a big part of this novel.

Anna: But they also kept the girl Regina named Sarah, who was so young she had to be carried the whole way to Tiger Claw’s village and doesn’t seem to do any work when she first arrives. Being told from Regina’s point of view, we unfortunately don’t see their reasoning for deciding who to kill and who to capture.

That does seem like a major foreshadowing, and it also gives readers a bigger understanding of the difficult life Regina has lived for someone so young, from the arduous journey on the ship to America to establishing and working the farm to the latest, even harsher, upheaval.

Religion does play a big role in the novel, but I like that it’s not one of those preachy stories. The author does a good job showing how her faith helps her to survive.

Knowing that this book is based on a true story makes it even more moving and sad to me. Do you think the author does a good job balancing the “good vs. evil” aspect of the various sides of the war? As Regina is assimilated into the village, it’s a wake up call to her that there are shades of gray, that both sides have done some really terrible things.

Serena: I do like how the author portrays the religion as her faith that she turns to to keep herself strong. Comparing it to Indian Captive, which I read recently, with a similar story, the religious aspects are more even handed here. I like that.

As for the balance between good and evil, I think that’s done well too. There are good and bad among the tribes and good and bad among the whites. Regina goes from being a naive girl fearing the Indians to realizing that the Indians can be good and caring too. Both this and the Indian Captive are based on true stories, and it seems that this was a regular occurrence during the French and Indian War.

Do you think Sarah’s age made it easier for her to adapt to her new life and name, Quetit, than Regina?

Anna: Yes, I think Sarah’s age made it easier for her, especially if she’s not able to remember her life before. The fact that she didn’t talk until arriving at the village also helped her cope, I’m sure, because she didn’t have the same struggle Regina had in wanting to hold onto the language she has always spoken and needing to communicate in the tribe’s language to get along in her new life and avoid beatings or worse for refusing to embrace her new status as Indian.

I think the author does a great job of showing how Regina struggles with the memories of what happened on the day she was captured and how she struggles to adapt to this new life, where she has to work even harder at every day tasks than she did on the farm. There was even a moment where she felt guilty for dancing. I’m really curious as to what will happen in the second half, because she seems to be settling into her life in the village now, making friends and even softening to Woelfin, and as war comes knocking on her door, I’m sure she will have some very difficult choices ahead of her. How long can she hold onto her memories and her language?

For a middle grade novel, I am very impressed so far.

Serena: I think Regina has gotten stronger as the novel moves forward, thanks to some kind guidance.

While I’m worried about the impending war coming to the village, I’m also concerned about her near Tiger Claw, especially since he’s drunk most of the time and he’s seen her dressed up. That concerns me.

I wonder how much of Woelfin’s bitterness is tied to the death of her husband and the disappointing son, both of which had help from the white man? Also, I wonder if Regina would return to the white man when all is said and done, if she’s given that chance.

Anna: I think any sexual interest Tiger Claw may have in Regina probably would be glossed over, since it is a book for younger readers, but I was thinking the same thing. I think Woelfin has a lot to be bitter about, and I’m curious to see how her relationship with Regina evolves. If Regina has to choose between the tribe and the white men, I think whether or not her mother is still alive will figure heavily into that decision, and hopefully that won’t be an unanswered question for her.

Serena: You’re probably right that they will gloss over the sexual aspect, but he could still try to make her his wife. And I think you’d get the picture about what he’s after, at least older readers would.

Woelfin is an enigma. We know about her past, but we also know about her current life in the village too, and it seems that she has less than others and part of that is related to Tiger Claw. He seems more interested in drinking and war than much else, including caring for his own mother.

I do wonder about Regina’s brother and mother and whether they were captured, killed, or escaped from captors. That will be interesting to find out. I find this middle-grade book to be well done.

Any final thoughts?

Anna: That’s why I’m torn about the first-person viewpoint. I think it’s essential on the one hand to show Regina’s internal struggles and assimilation, but it also prevents us from getting a handle on the other characters.

I can’t wait to read the second half!

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