Marriage Monday – mi familia es su familia edition

Early last evening found S. and me in the kitchen  – him preparing a rosemary and garlic stuffed pork loin while I played around on my ipad, trying to look like I was contributing to dinner in some fashion. “What do you think my marriage Monday blog post should be about tomorrow?” I asked him as he stirred the risotto and I flipped through my pins on pinterest.

“Best in-law visit ever,” he said without hesitation. My initial reaction was to reject his response but then I gave it a couple seconds of thought.

“That’s a good idea – great idea,” I said. “Although I’m not entirely certain it was the very best time we’ve had with my parents. We have had several great visits.”

“Best grandparents visit ever, then,” Sam amended, drizzling tomatoes from our garden with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

“Fair enough,” I said. “Fair enough.”

Indeed, we are coming off a very successful parental visit, and I think part of its success was its brevity.  My parents drove to Pittsburgh to babysit Evangeline for an evening so S. and I could attend a fancy-dress up event.  They arrived the day before the event and left two days after, obstensibly because they didn’t want to interrupt our day-to-day routine but more likely because bird hunting season began this weekend and I know my dad heard the clarion call of the autumn woods in Northern Michigan. Another reason the visit was successful, I think, was because Evangeline immediately recognized my mom and dad this go-around and knew she could get them to take her for walks and play with her endlessly.

Perhaps what is most important here, though, is that the visit was enjoyable from S.’s point of view. Negotiating family politics is one of the trickiest problems we tackle together as a couple – in fact, I think it is possibly the most difficult since we tend to agree on our finances (a notoriously sore point with some couples, from my understanding). It’s not that we don’t get along well with each other’s family – quite the opposite, in fact. But even with solid and enjoyable family relations there are still disagreements, disgruntled moments, frustration at how very differently each other’s family behaves.

One of the hardest parts of being a newlywed, I think, is the expectation that you must immediately assume one another’s family as your own. Your mother-in-law wants you to call her mom, your father-in-law insists you sit for a family portrait the first year of your marriage. You are expected to feel for your new family the same way you feel for the one you were raised in, except, because the relationship is relatively newer it feels more precarious – as though it needs great care (and it does). You defer to your new mom on issues you would never keep quiet about in the home you were raised in – you choke down your father in law’sbeef stew even if cooked carrots give you the heebie-jeebies. 

I’ve been blessed when it comes to my in-laws, particularly when it comes to my sisters-in-law, whom I’ve loved fiercely and protectively since well before my marriage made us official relatives, but I get along tremendously well with S.’s parents, too. It hasn’t been until recently, though, that I’ve truly felt like a part of his family, in a way similar to how I feel about my own. I gain strength and confidence from S.’s family much in the same way I do my own, and witnessing the family’s growth and achievements is an incredible feeling. I tend to speak up more, now, than I ever did before but I do try to save my concerns or challenges for issues that *really* matter instead of arguing every point or decision. Year after year, my love for this extension of my family grows and strengthens, but the feelings of family weren’t immediate, and in many ways I resented the expectation (demand, really) of such immediate, intimate feelings.

When did the family you married into really begin to feel like your own?

Posted in Marriage Monday | 5 Comments

And in my 35th year, I give up dieting

My mom told me a story the other day about my grandmother (her mother). It came up in the context of Evangeline, as my mother remarked at how astounded her friends were with Evangeline’s eating habits.  From the day she was born, I haven’t  had to worry about my daughter eating – she nursed so voraciously that more than one nurse mentioned videotaping us to show other new, nursing mothers.  At three months, Evangeline tried stealing eggs off of our plates and now, and nineteen months, she gobbles up Greek yogurt, peas, grapefruit and pesto-slathered chicken with joy and gusto. I am prepared and indeed, expecting, a day where she will only eat orange food or noodles and cheese but so far, with the exception of green beans and red meat, Evangeline has shown a deep and abiding appreciation for all the food the world has to offer.

“You definitely want to maintain her enthusiasm,” my mom said. “You don’t want to do what we did to you, or what my mom did to us, and constantly try different things to lose weight.  I’ve read that the word diet shouldn’t even be brought up in a house with young children.”

“I didn’t realize grandma worried about her weight,” I said. My maternal grandmother certainly had some curves in her younger years but in all the pictures of her I’ve ever seen she had a beautiful, glamorous figure. I knew her as a great lover of food  – rare prime rib dripping with homemade horseradish cream, lemon merengue pie with the merengue piled “a mile” high, chicken wings smothered in blue cheese dressing were just a few of her favorite foods to eat.

“Oh, she constantly worried about it. One time she read in a magazine that banging your hips into the wall as you cooked made you slimmer. She did that for a year before realizing it didn’t work,” my mom said.

Can you imagine? Banging your hips into a WALL, over and over and over again? Really, sometimes there just are no words.

Even though it was said in passing, it helped me to hear my mom recognize the various and sundry diets she and my dad put my brother and me through as kids.  Sometimes we were vegetarian, and sometimes not – occasionally my dad had flings with lower-carb diets like Atkins or South Beach.  The diet that lasted the longest  was the low-fat craze so many people in the eighties grabbed on to when suddenly everyone started worrying about cholesterol. Open my parents’ refrigerator door and you will find evidence of all of these diets – boca burgers, fat-free cheese, sugar-free ice cream, fat-free half and half, salad dressings made up more from chemicals than from actual food. The food of my youth.

I can remember two different times in my life when I haven’t been on a diet, and looking back, I was either at my healthiest or slimmest during those periods of time.  The first time was during my junior year in high school when it seemed like all of my friends, including my best friend, were on some sort of extreme, potentially anorexia-inducing diet and I just couldn’t handle any more conversations about weight and waist size, deciding instead to eat whatever I wanted but just until I began to feel full. I hadn’t been heavy to begin with – at the time I was extremely involved in theater and dance – but the weight I lost just from listening to hunger cues was startling. I managed to maintain that particular relationship to food for years, until a period of crippling depression and anxiety, brought on in such a cliched way by the 9/11 attacks and exacerbated by months of unemployment and anti-depressent medication, caused me to turn to food in a way I never, ever had before.

If I start talking about that period in my life it’s possible I will get incredibly off-track so I’ll save our year in West Virginia for another day and time and simply say I lost *much* of the weight I gained during that period  but not all of it – a stubborn 15 – 20 pounds have remained despite constantly dieting.

The second (and last) time I wasn’t on a diet was during my pregnancy. I sort of feared pregnancy-induced heartburn since I heard so many wicked stories about it and thus ate very small portions throughout the day. I also followed every single pregnancy food rule you could imagine, from avoiding soft-serve ice cream and lunch meat (listeria!) to eliminating almost all fish (which made me sick, anyway) and the end result was a net gain of 24 pounds over the course of the pregnancy, while feeling like I could eat anything I wanted, really. That weight was easy to lose, but still leaves me between 15 -20 pounds above my ideal weight.

I’ve worked hard at losing this weight, to limited success.  I workout regularly, I chase my one and a half year old around the house for hours at a time, I never buy ice cream or make cake or huge lasagna dinners or anything, and yet the extra weight remains. I think this is due to several factors, including a somewhat, although not entirely, sedentary job, obviously not eating the right food all of the time, and the inability, or lack of desire, to make losing this weight my very top priority. There needs to be some ownership here, after all.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself facing overwhelming diet fatigue. I am tired of exercising in order to gain “activity” points and I’m tired of, on days when I am especially hungry, not having the ability to eat to satisfaction, and I’m tired of worrying about protein to carb ratios and thinking, if I want an apple, that I had better eat a “protein” with it or else it will just disolve into sugar that will throw a party on my pancreas. What I want to do, more than anything else, is eat like a normal person – like my most slender friends do.

The more and more I thought about this, I realized I could stop dieting. I mean, it is well within my power to do so – the only one who cares about my protein to carb ratio is me. I could, instead of berating myself every day for having flabbier abs than I would like, be proud of my body – of its incredible energy, flexibity and capabilities. Instead of cursing genetics for what I haven’t been blessed with, I could thank God for what He has given me. I could begin looking at yoga, swimming and dance classes as things I do because I love them (which is true) and not activity points to be translated into food points.  I could…see what happens.

And so – that is what I’ve decided to do. In the interest of full disclosure, I have decided I need to weigh myself every day, in defense against that one year in West Virginia – this is NOT permission to pound pepperoni pizzas and hamburgers and such, like that one year I did just  that. Instead, this is an attempt to see if I can break the chain of dieting and weight loss tricks that have been passed down to me through generations of white anglo-saxon women. It’s an attempt to free up some brain space to think less about calories taken in and calories burned and more about reading great books and finally submitting some writing. It’s an attempt to make the next 35 years of my life about something other than how much I weigh or whether I’m a size 8 10 or a size 12.

I make no promises that I am going to be able to achieve giving up dieting. I’ve been conditioned for decades at this point to worry about my weight, and to chronically try to lose some. But I’m going to give this a chance – I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Posted in Do I Dare to Eat A Peach, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Penn State, concussions and some confusion over football

A couple of summers ago when I was newly pregnant with Evangeline, our friends E & E moved to our neighborhood.  They moved to our Appalachian/sort-of Southern sort-of Northern Midwest/East Coast city from Colorado, and were used to microbreweries, clean air and easy access to vegan cuisine.  They struggled adjusting to Pittsburgh, with our lack of sunshine (although that doesn’t apply this summer!), adoration of Yeungling on draft and preferences for incredibly fattening food.

“Pittsburghers,” the female E said at one point, “Are incredibly proud of their city without necessarily having much reason to be.”  She said this as we walked our dogs through our admittedly pretty shitty neighborhood park – it’s the kind of park that looks constantly hungover from the night before – no matter how much lawn-mowing and flower planting happens, the odd syringe or used condom are bound to show up. And your kid or your dog are usually the ones to find them.

“Furthermore, this city is obsessed- OBSESSED – with football! I don’t get it – I wouldn’t waste one minute of my life watching a football game.”

“I actually like football,” I admitted, guiding Skylar away from a mound of peanut shells obviously collected by an enterprising neighborhood squirrel.  This comment just set her off further.

“What,” she demanded, “Is so great about football? If you can name five good things about football right now I will possibly accept your argument but if you can’t then, well, I will remain convinced football is the dumbest sport in America.”

Her directness took me aback. I have never been great when on the spot but defending football took me into a territory I was particularly uncomfortable in – I would be no more succesful convincing her tempeh-loving heart of the merits of a beautifully marbled steak than I would be convincing her football had any merit.

fall crisp air marching bands cheerleaders friday night lights dances after games football players team colors team chants the wave loyalty my dad, my brother, many of my boyfriends

I grew up in a football-loving household.  I remember my parents telling me how much fun it would be to enter highschool and attend Friday night games with my friends, and they were right. Within a couple weeks of my freshman year, I had “my” spot in the bleachers, high enough to see my friends in the marching band as well as the game and as far away as possible from where my parents and younger brother sat.  When I received early acceptance to Michigan State University, the same college my parents, aunts, uncles and eventually cousins (and my brother) attended, my parents wasted no time in purchasing  season tickets for me because, in their minds, Saturdays spent at Spartan stadium are nothing short of nirvana.  Again, they were right.

Ultimately, I think I find the whole atmosphere surrounding football more seductive than the game itself. Football season begins in the heat of summer and concludes during the deepest chill of winter and in between the leaves change and fall from the trees, children dress up and celebrate Halloween, the days grow shorter, meals grow richer and we all seek light in the darkness.  Footballs games, whether high school games played under celebratory Friday night lights or college games played on gleaming Saturday afternoons or  the raucus of professional football All.Day.Sunday, are certainly one of our national ways to pass time. And, if you grow up with it, the way I did, football can be a thread throughout the ongoing narrative of your life.

Lately, though, both S. and I have been struggling over the ethics of whether or not to watch football. The lies and cover ups Penn State officials were willing to commit in order to protect their football program hovers on the unbelievable while also shedding some “there but for the grace of God go I” light – anyone who thinks their university wouldn’t do the same thing to protect the prestige and money a successful football program brings in hasn’t learned a thing from Penn State. S. and I have talked frequently about whether or not we should continue to watch college football in light of the Penn State scandal.

Then there’s professional football, which I never really enjoyed until moving to Pittsburgh but now I consider myself a decent Steelers fan and while I don’t catch every game I do tend to watch them more often than not.  With the exception of college basketball, I’ve never been such a passionate sports fan that I would rearrange other plans to watch a game, but when given the opportunity I’ll watch – avidly, even. The news of all of the concussion cover-ups and concessions in professional football, though, has left S. and I questioning whether we should still in any way support the NFL.  Sure, on the one hand the players are paid handsomely and it certainly seems they assume the risk of concussion simply by playing the game, but on the other hand it does seem as though the NFL took extraordinary measures to hide just how frequent and damaging the concussions could be.

When this conversation segues into what kind of example we want to set for Evangeline and any other children we have, it gets particularly tricky. S. is adamant that our children will not play football because of the concussion risk, but as a friend of mine pointed out, where does that stop? Will you allow your child to swim, but not become a diver? Play soccer, but not use his or her head? Practice ballet as long as he or she isn’t lifted, play hockey until checking is allowed? It’s an exhausting discussion and unwinnable at that.  Some people will site the violence in football as a trump card, a reason not to watch or support the game, but they do not want to be reminded of the crush incidents that happen across the world at soccer matches, or reminded in any way about the existence of rugby.

A lot of this pondering is actually moot, anyway – last night I found S. in front of the living room television, completely ensconsed in a pre-season Steelers game.  For now we’ve agreed to keep watching football without allowing it to dominate our lives – no turning down plans or opportunities for Evangeline just because a certain game is on, but no quitting cold turkey, either.  I’m not sure if or when we’ll become a football-free house but for now, at least, the sounds of the Michigan State University fight song and the roar of the televised crowd at Heinz Field will again provide part of the sound track to our autumn, and I find myself breathing a deep, contented sigh with that decision.

Posted in Hopelessly Indulgent Reflection, I heart Americana, things I love about Pittsburgh, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Back from Vacation Marriage Monday Post

I have three or four drafts of posts I need to complete that actually AREN’T Marriage Monday posts but I’ve just returned from vacation and wanted to check in briefly. I traveled to Michigan with Evangeline for ten days, visiting various friends and family and let me tell you, after being primarily E’s sole parent for 10 days I feel like I ACCOMPLISHED something -I managed to make sure she got all of her meals and snacks, provided a reliable bedtime and enjoyed a dozen different experiences with her, from learning how to play in a sandbox to swimming in Lake Huron.  It’s one thing to manage a toddler at home with all of our creature comforts and another thing entirely to hit the road with one, but we had a great time and arrived home with minor chest colds, sun on our cheeks and bellies full of homemade wild blackberry pie.  S. showed up now and again – he arrived a few days later, left a day early and spent the middle portion of the trip at our family cabin – which was our agreed upon plan from the beginning.

It turns out some of friends have been rather horrified by our laissez-faire approach to vacation, claiming they would never want to take a week’s vacation and not spend it with their spouse. S. and I have taken vacations together and separately throughout our marriage, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of desire.  At heart I am fundamentally a beach/boat/water kind of girl – there is no where I would rather be than on a beach, swimming in the lake or ocean, boating, etc.  I feel most like myself make-up free with sand beneath my feet.  S. is fundamentally NOT a beach person. He doesn’t like deep water and he  burns easily regardless of how much SPF lotion he lathers on himself, but he does like the Great Outdoors and hiking, especially on cloudy days or beneath canopies of trees, both of which I tolerate but don’t love. However, we both love cities large and small and we are always able to construct a great vacation by choosing a city (say, New Orleans) and then exploring the world outside of it as well.  We are also incredibly fortunate that my family has kept the cabin my grandfather built in Northern Michigan decades and decades ago, which rests on a private lake and is only six miles from a beach, offering an endless array of hiking, swimming and fishing opportunities to satisfy both of us.  I’ve long since come to terms with the unlikelihood that S. and I will ever spend money to lounge around the beaches of Jamaica or Mexico but I comfort myself by remembering that S. loathes the idea of cruises as much as I do so I’ll never have to get on a cruise ship, at least.

For the most part, we travel well together. We both like drinks, snacks, naps, long walks and a little unnecessary shopping.  Our biggest moments of tension occur in the actual preparation for the trip and occasionally, the travel home. We have very different ideas about what constitutes an appropriate time to arrive at the airport, for instance  – his idea being substantially fewer hours than mine.  We fluster at different obstacles and are usually able to talk one another out of any potential freak-outs so vacations and holidays are almost always enjoyable. S. tends to stay up later and sleep in later than I do, but this is the only signicant difference I can think of that is highlighted by traveling together.

Do you and your partner travel well together? Have the same idea of what constitutes a good vacation? How important is traveling well together, do you think?

 

Posted in Marriage Monday | 15 Comments

Marriage Monday – Do you have a “dealbreaker”?

I feel a bit sheepish admitting this, but I’ve been following the split between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes relatively closely. I’m not so far gone that I’m seeking the information out myself but if yahoo is featuring an article on the divorce, I’ll read it – if Good Morning America covers it, I’ll watch. Like so many people, I find myself cheering wildly on the inside for Katie Holmes with nothing more than tabloid fodder to substantiate such an emotional reaction.  Katie Holmes and I pretty close to the same age (she’s two years younger than I am) and I loved watching her on “Dawson’s Creek” as well as her early foray into movies, particularly “Wonder Boys.”  I wouldn’t consider her my favorite actress but I found her extremely talented. When she and Tom announced their romance the whole thing just felt too weird for words and while it was tempting to fall down  the rabbit hole wondering whether she was pregnant or not or whether Scientology had corrupted her or not I mostly just ceased paying attention because really, there are only so many hours in a day and if you spent too many of them thinking about Suri, Tom and Katie the chances of finishing Anna Karenina are even less than they were to begin with.

But their split? I am paying attention to it if only because of the lengths Katie went to distance herself from Tom. From disposable cell phones to lining up lawyers in three different states, Katie did her damndest to ensure she had primary custody of Suri and that she would be the one in charge of her “spirit” and education.  If we take at face value that it really was because of Tom’s desire to send Suri away to Scientology school for her education and Katie’s steadfast determination to prevent any such thing from happening, then I think we know what Katie’s dealbreaker is – separation from her daughter and/or her daughter’s participation in Scientology.

All of this has me thinking about “deal breakers” in marriage.  I would hope that verbal or emotional abuse would be a deal breaker for everyone reading my blog – infidelity I think is a little trickier. I am at a point in my marriage where I honestly would like to *think* if S. cheated on me it would be a deal breaker but ultimately I am not sure at all I could do that to Evangeline – I honestly don’t even like speculating on it and instead just remain grateful that S. is the wonderful man he is!

In term of deal breakers in our household, I really believe that if I enforced a vegetarian or vegan diet on the household S. would at least consider leaving me.  It might sound funny to an outsider but S. is a meat and potatoes kind of guy – his girlfriend prior to me criticized his adoration of bacon and he made tracks faster than Mitt Romney running from his history with Bain.  He eyes the tofu and soy-based food I buy for my lunches with the utmost trepidation and groans out loud if he witnesses me making overnight oatmeal complete with chia seeds.  It’s been a bit surprising to see him remain so steadfast on this even as we move to our mid-thirties – a time even the most dedicated meat eaters often consider a vegetarian night or two a week, but he remains as serious as ever on this and I know that if I were to become really passionate about this issue it would cause a serious rift at the very least.

A deal breaker for me, potentially, would be if S. were to  return in a serious way to his Catholic faith. I’m not bringing this up here to start an argument – I think there is a lot that is magnificent and lovely about the Catholic church, but I also know I could not allow my daughter to be raised in that faith.  If S. took his faith to the point where, for instance, he didn’t want us practicing birth control or became one of those people protesting with hideously blown-up abortion photos in front of Planned Parenthood – well, either of those would be a deal breaker for me.  It’s easy to say, of course, that this would never happen but we’ve also witnessed his father return to the faith recently – he advocated strongly for a Catholic presence at Evangeline’s baptism which we didn’t agree to accommodate.  To be clear – if S. ever chooses to worship as a Catholic, I would be okay with it – but I do not consider Catholic school an option for our daughter.

Do you believe in deal breakers, or does the very concept violate the vows you took? Do you have deal breakers of your own?

Posted in Marriage Monday, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

it’s the little things (marriage monday)

You hear over and over and over again –  “it’s the little  things” that make a marriage or partnership work…the coffee your partner brews for you each morning or the neck rub he/she gives you each night. The small considerations we do for one another…taking out the trash, picking up the dog poop, making the bed a certain way – these are the kind of daily considerations that contribute to a successful marriage.

We’ll talk about those some other day.

I also think it’s the seemingly small things that can drive you absolutely bananas in a marriage.  While not necessarily capable of causing a signficant rift in your relationship, certain small things can, in the immortal words of Amanda when I wrote a similar post on the matter, make you stabby.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, ever since we had central air installed in our house. Firstly, thank all Gods S. convinced me this would be a good idea. I’ve spent most of my life without air conditioning  and despite some pretty wicked seasonal allergies it isn’t something I would have advocated for when so much needs to be accomplished around the house, but S. insisted we would need it this summer now that E. is old enough to dash this way and that and he was right.  Central air offered tremendous relief during our recent heat wave and ensured we all slept well.  It has, however, emphasized the different temperature tolerances S. and I have – an argument converation that has occurred off and on since our first six months of dating.  In more recent years I’ve mused to myself, friends and even on occasion to S. directly that the best-case scenario for us when we retire is living side-by-side in apartments somewhere, each with our own thermostat while the worst-case scenario is retiring in totally separate environments, not separated or divorced so much as finally comfortable with the temperature.

The AC does an amazing job of keeping our house cool, and for that I am grateful.  Where our differences surface, though, is at exactly what temperature it should be turned on and when it should be turned off and the windows opened for some much-needed fresh air. I love the feel of the breeze blowing through open windows in the summertime – something S. could  take or leave, I think.  S. is much more sensitive to heat, as well, and requires a particularly  cool room to sleep in, which means unless I get the whole pajama/sheet/blanket ratio just right AND he doesn’t steal the covers from me in the middle of the night (and yes, sleeping and marriage will certainly be a marriage Monday post down the line) I end up much too cold. In the summer. During heat waves. Which is ridiculous. And also an entirely privileged problem, I realize.

Temperature – it’s something we constantly have to negotiate.  It’s just one of many little things we work through on a regular basis, not nearly as taxing, say, as moving households or even states (both of which we’ve done) but certainly more frustrating than choosing what’s for dinner.  Other little but rage-inducing things include our different approaches to grocery shopping, how the laundry is washed and folded, and arguing over whether or not certain frequently-used kitchen ingredients like salt and oatmeal should be left on the counter or not (I am firmly in the yes camp on this – S. is not). For the most part we are able to adjust to one another’s needs and desires and maintain a harmonious home, but there are times when, after a night of shivering in my sleep and realizing it’s because S. stole all the covers, and then finding neither the coffee or the oatmeal where I left them the day before that, yes, I feel absolutely stabby.

 

Posted in Marriage Monday | 5 Comments

Cutting for Stone

I haven’t reviewed a book here in a really long time.  It’s been slow-going reading-wise for me this year. I’ve only completed six books and four of those have required quite a bit of thought and attention, and while I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read I haven’t felt moved to review any of them until Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese.

First of all, let’s talk about the author for a minute. Before you (or I!) make excuses about not having time to write, here is his bio: Abraham Verghese is Professor and Senior Associate Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the Standford University School of Medicine.  He was the founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, where he is now an adjunct professor…a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has published essays and short stories that have appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Granta, The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

See what I mean? No excuses, people! Anyway, I was somewhat hesitant a few weeks ago when  both my mom and my dad recommended I read this book, although I can’t pinpoint what caused the hesitancy.  I think it sounded “too serious” for summer. I’m glad I ignored my initial hesitation because I found this book enthralling and educational at the same time.

Part of the beauty of this book is its setting – much of the novel takes place in Ethiopia. I carried such a stereotype of Ethiopia in my mind, which this book shattered into a thousand pieces. Forced to confront my own ignorance I actually consulted a map – a map, people – to improve my understanding of Africa in general and  Ethiopia in particular. While I knew on a very basic level that Ethiopia is located in the mountains, and that the Italian occupation influenced its culture,  I had no idea the extent and breadth of the country’s environment and culture.  Since I am not overly adventurous by nature, only the most evocative senses of place in a book make me want visit…think Bill Bryson’s Australia, Pat Conroy’s South Carolina, Herman Wouk’s Poland…but I find myself incredibly drawn to the idea of visiting Ethiopia after reading Verghese’s book.

So the sense of place he creates is outstanding, but Verghese also tells the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, twin brothers orphaned by one parent and abandoned by another, who are raised in Addis Ababa while Ethiopia is on the brink of revolution. Their shared interest in medicine allows us to journey through their lives while learning about tuberculosis and fistulas and liver transplants and trauma surgery and how all of it is practiced in Ethiopia.

I’ll admit I’ve grown softer since becoming a mother – I used to devour mysteries and horror novels but lately I’ve been shying away from those kind of books. It’s surprising to realize that one of the reasons I loved this book is the heart behind most of the characters – so much love. Often the love is misplaced or misguided or, in one character’s case, crippling – but Verghese recognizes love in so many of its forms and its ability to motivate characters in the most astounding ways.

I fully recommend this book – I found it so powerful I’ve already added his memoir and the books he used to inform this novel to my to be read list.

Posted in On the Nightstand, Uncategorized | 4 Comments