Hello Fellow Readers!
November is nearly over – how did you do with the Reading Challenge this month? If the fact that we had to keep restocking the displays at the library are any indication, this was a popular topic. It’s always interesting to take a peek into another life and see how that person lived – and in the process we learn a lot about ourselves as well!
When I looked through the titles for the Other Lives Challenge, I noticed that many (not all, but many) were about unknown or behind-the-scenes women – the wives of famous men or the anonymous women that supported great works. Women have historically been regulated to the background and their voices considered too unimportant to record but through fictional biographies we can gain some insight into what they accomplished and how they lived.
For this month’s challenge I read The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier which is a fictional account of the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Created in the late 1400s in France, very little is known about the artist that created the scenes depicted in the tapestries, the weavers that crafted them or the noble family that commissioned them. Chevalier researched not only the customs and lifestyle of the time period, but also the craft of weaving in the 1400s, an art form that was practiced and mastered in Brussels where the tapestries are believed to have been made.
There is a lot of history in this book including the lifestyles and customs of the 15th century, the art of tapestry weaving and the guilds that protect the quality of the tapestries, the role of women both noble and common. The narrative jumps to a different person each chapter, from the artist Chevalier imagines painted the scenes, to the wife of the nobleman who commissions the tapestries, to the wife of the weaver tasked with such an enormous commission, to the rebellious daughter of the nobleman. There is no clear interpretation of what the tapestries represent and much speculation about the women and scenes even today, but Chevalier has spun a story that intertwines various characters and how the making of these tapestries touched and influenced many lives.
I’ve been lucky enough to see the actual tapestries (they are on display in carefully regulated conditions to preserve them at the Cluny Museum in Paris). They are extraordinarily beautiful, full of detail and color and life and exquisite craftsmanship. The Lady and the Unicorn makes for fascinating reading and is the next best thing until you can visit them yourself.
The Danish Girl follows the lives and work of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. This movie is based on the real lives of these two Lili Elbe was a transgender Danish painter, born Einar Wegener. Einar and Lili were married and lived together painting and illustrating different portraits and landscapes.
Einar Wegener was a Danish landscape painter born in 1882 who married Gerda Gottlieb when they were just 21 and 19. This movie begins with them being happily married with a loving relationship. One of the couple’s friends walks in on Gerda painting Einar as he is holding up a dress and wearing heels and tights. The friend says that they should start calling Einar, Lili instead. This name-giving serves as a sort of shift for Einar.
Einar begins dressing up more as a woman with Gerda even helping him get into character one night when they go to a party. Einar ends up in full Lili garb and this new persona is born. Einar begins treating Lili as if she is a totally separate individual from himself. Einar has begun his transformation into completely becoming Lili, something he always knew he wanted to be. Einar and Gerda’s relationship becomes strained, but they don’t stray from each other’s sides, eventually settling in Paris with Einar fully transitioning to live openly as Lili.
This movie follows Einar’s journey to Lili and how Lili struggles to accept the truth that this ‘Lili’ persona is her true an authentic self. He reveals that he is a woman, that he was simply born into the wrong body, but that it sometimes feels like he has two people in his one body and that they are both fighting to see who will take over. Einar struggles with revealing this admission because the doctors he visits sometimes either do not believe him or wish to send him to a mental institution. Lili eventually meets a doctor who tells her that he can help her become her true self through sex reassignment surgery, something she desperately wants. Gerda and Lili’s relationship evolves and changes throughout this movie as both of them struggle to deal with their new identities. This movie was sincerely eye-opening for me and the actors did a wonderful job of portraying each character.
This movie is also a book, available in a physical copy and also as an OverDrive ebook.
It takes courage to turn your life upside down, especially when everyone is telling you how lucky you are. But sometimes what seems right can feel deeply wrong. My Berlin Kitchen tells the story of how one thoroughly confused, kitchen-mad perfectionist broke off her engagement to a handsome New Yorker, quit her dream job, and found her way to a new life, a new man, and a new home in Berlin—one recipe at a time.
Luisa Weiss will seduce you with her stories of foraging for plums in abandoned orchards, battling with white asparagus at the tail end of the season, orchestrating a three-family Thanksgiving in Berlin, and mending her broken heart with batches (and batches) of impossible German Christmas cookies. Fans of her award-winning blog The Wednesday Chef, will know the happy ending, but anyone who enjoyed Julie and Julia will laugh and cheer and cook alongside Luisa as she takes us into her heart and tells us how she gave up everything only to find love waiting where she least expected it. (description from publisher)
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a delightful little love story. Judging from the cover art, I was expecting it to take place earlier in the century, but it is definitely set in the present day, in a charming English country village called Edgecomb St. Mary.
Major Pettigrew, though retired, is the personification of a very proper English gentleman, fond of all things British, including a cup of freshly brewed tea. When his brother dies unexpectedly, he is surprised to find himself drawn into a friendship with Mrs. Ali, a local Pakistani shopkeeper. As their friendship develops into something more, they discover that many of their friends and neighbors have trouble accepting their new relationship. Throw is some scenes from some recalcitrant family members and you’ve got yourself a full-fledged drama. Well, okay, it’s not a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet, but it is sweet, it is sensitive and it is a refreshingly real love story featuring more “mature” participants. But then, love is not only for the young — and we can all choose to be young at heart.