What I Read – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Had this novel not been a selection for a book club I belong to, I may not have purchased it. If I had picked it up by my own volition, I probably wouldn’t have continued reading after the first few chapters. Initially, I found The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry boring and depressing.

Harold is a man in his 60s, settling into retirement after a lackluster career in sales. His wife is a career homemaker and domestic martyr who seems to resent having him around. One morning he receives a letter from an old friend, reaching out to him in her final stages of a terminal illness. Harold responded to her note, but on a whim decided it just wasn’t enough. He then set out on a bizarre journey across England on foot, to make amends with his dying friend.

At first, it reminded me of that movie with Jack Nicholson where he retires, his wife dies suddenly, and he drives around in his RV looking back on his life with bitter regret. This isn’t Harold Fry’s story exactly, but it starts off with that vibe. The novel does pick up some momentum, but then it takes a Forest Gumpy detour before getting back to the sad. It’s a downer, but it’s a pleasant read overall. It wasn’t life altering, but it was thought provoking. Stories like this are always a good reminder about importance of taking responsibility for your actions, nurturing your relationships, and confronting your inner demons before they overcome you – because your past is never as far behind you as you might think.

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Her Namesake

I was recently talking to someone about pet names, and I explained how I named my cat.

Later that day, I ordered this.

It’s a copy of a book I absolutely loved when I was little. I decided way back then, if I ever had a cat, I would name her after the feline heroine from this book.

This story is about the have and have nots of the cat world, focusing on the hard life of a stray cat on the streets of, what appears to be Paris. The illustrations are adorable and it has a happy ending.

“Some cats have to button up for nasty weather. They wear green sweaters and matching galoshes.”

It’s true. Some cats do wear green sweaters.

My neighbour’s cat wears a green sweater.

I keep forgetting to ask them about it. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.

I don’t know much about my cat’s past. I didn’t know her as a kitten. She was at least a year old when she came to live with me, and I’m almost certain she was surrendered, rather than a stray (I got her from a woman who rescues and finds homes for cats).

I doubt she’s ever lived the tough life life of her fictional namesake.

Still, I called her Gwendolyn.

How did you name your pet(s)?

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What I Read – The Sandcastle Girls

With most novels, I often find myself slogging though the first few chapters. So few books grab my interest right away. Not this time. The Sandcastle Girls really hits the ground running. I was hooked by the end of the first page.

It’s a love story against the backdrop of WWI and the Armenian genocide of 1915, a barbaric event I’m ashamed to admit, even as a scholar of history, I wasn’t even aware happened. I recalled that the Ottoman Turks fought against us in World War I, and they were kind of douchey. I was also familiar with the military disaster for the Australian army at Galliopli, although my knowledge if that campaign came less from school, and more from the movie staring Mel Gibson. Remember circa 1980s Mel Gibson? It’s hard to believe he was once a young, sexy, leading man, instead of an old, wife beating, anti-semitic lunatic? Those were simpler times.

But I digress.

I didn’t know about this gruesome genocide, but as the author points out, it’s not well known at all. Unlike the holocaust, this happened quietly, in the middle of the desert, while the rest of the world was preoccupied with the great war. To add insult to injury, to this day, it’s not even recognized as a genocide by many governments – despite the fact that the term was coined as a result of the atrocity.

This wasn’t an easy book to read. Some of the descriptions of senseless cruelty and human suffering are hard to stomach. I couldn’t put it down though. It was so easy to get lost in this compelling story, while trying to make sense of the evil that lurks within mankind.

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