Sunday, February 26, 2017


Independent People
Halldor Laxness
Alfred A. Knopf
Translated from the Icelandic by J. A. Thompson

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she is going to Iceland, and she wanted to steep herself in its literature. She read that the author, Halldor Laxness, won the Nobel Prize for Literature for this novel and others, and is the only person from Iceland to ever win that prize. Iceland has more Nobel Prize winners for Literature than any other country per capita, which is one, since the population is so low.

When Ms. Hen bought this novel, she thought it would take a long time to read and it would be dense, but it was not! The book she bought is hardcover, and was cumbersome to carry around, but the story flowed and captured her interest right away. It is an epic of an Icelandic pioneer, Bjartur of Summerhouses, and life on his farm.

The land is cursed by Kolummkilli, a spirit whom if one doesn't give a stone to her tomb, it will bring the person bad luck. Bjartur’s bride wants to give the spirit a stone, but he doesn’t let her, because he doesn’t believe in superstitious nonsense. Thus begins his string of bad luck, but he does not see it that way.

Bjartur is stubborn in a way that no other person is stubborn. He is not upset when his wife dies, and his child might almost be dead, he is not upset when his children are hungry and malnourished which is caused by his stinginess, he only thinks of his land and his independence.

Ms. Hen was impressed by the enormous amounts of coffee that the characters drink throughout the novel. When they would have a party or a gathering, cup after cup of coffee would be consumed. Iceland has a huge coffee culture, and Ms. Hen admires this. She can’t wait to go to Iceland and drink lots of coffee.

In the beginning of this novel, Ms. Hen could not help but think that Bjartur is like Captain Ahab in MOBY DICK; Bjartur has a singular vision, an obsession about his sheep and his land, and does not care about anything else. Later on in the novel, she realized that his obsession is with independence, and not his land. He wants to be an independent person at all costs. He becomes successful during World War 1, when the other countries in Europe are too busy killing each other to produce wool.

The war is Bjartur’s blessing and downfall. He becomes rich, has a bountiful amount of sheep, and two cows, and he is prosperous. But like Captain Ahab, he becomes too obsessed, and it becomes his curse.

Since this is a rural novel, there are many mentions of chickens and hens throughout. Ms. Hen did not underline or bookmark any of the places where the hens appeared because she didn’t want to ruin the book. But Bjartur calls his daughter, Asta Solilja, “chicken,” as a term of affection. Asta Solilja is a wonderful character, the child that is brought back to life after her mother dies, and even though she disgraces Bjartur, he still loves her.

This novel opened Ms. Hen’s eyes to what the independent spirit of Iceland is about. Bjartur wants nothing more than to be able to stand own his own two feet and be able to make his own choices. Bjartur is a fascinating character, though he is stubborn, he knows what he wants. He wants freedom from the chains that have held his people down, and the ability to change his life, which is something everyone should admire, and if we have that ability, to strive towards it ourselves.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ms. Hen writes short stories

The book Ms. Hen is reading right now is lengthy, and she did not finish it in time to review it this week. She didn't feel like writing a film review or any other review, so she thought she would share some things she has had published lately. Ms. Hen doesn't just review things, she writes things, too.

"The Elephant Closest to the Moon," on THE NEW ENGAGEMENT

"Princess Stops the World," on WORDGATHERING


Ms. Hen says, "Have a nice weekend, and don't let the chickens get you down."

Saturday, February 11, 2017


The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood
Houghton Mifflin

Ms. Hen has wanted to read this novel for a long time, and she finally got around to it. She thinks it is the perfect book to read for the political mood in the country. She understands that there is going to be a TV show, which she has not seen, but would like to. She understands how this novel would work as a TV show rather than a film, since there are many avenues that the story could go down.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, which used to be the United States and possibly Canada. She is a type of fertility slave, since the birthrates have become low for Caucasians, women were forced into this type of servitude in order for more babies to be born. She lives with a married couple and their servants. The women are not allowed to read or own property; women are considered to be inferior people, and are not given the same rights as men.

Ms. Hen thinks that reading this novel is like going into a swimming pool little by little; she didn’t quite understand everything that was happening until she was over her head in the water. Offred suffers because she remembers the way the world used to be, when she had a husband, a daughter, and a job, had money, and lived a life as we know now. She comes to have nothing; she is a prisoner, she has no choice of what to do with her life, and no hope for the future.

This novel concerns Ms. Hen because she thinks it could be the way the world is turning now. Births are down, and many women don’t want to have children. Men are trying to take rights away from women. Men are afraid that women have had too much power of their own, and many men want to usurp the power they think is their right. Ms. Hen worries the United States may be going down this path. It could all start slowly, little by little, until we are dwelling in Gilead with Offred and the other Handmaids.

There are many chickens and hens in this novel, and an egg is a motif that is shown over and over. Ms. Hen decided it has to do with eggs being ovaries, and the women are considered to only be good as how fertile they are.  One day Offred looks at the egg she is going to eat for breakfast:

“The shell of the egg is smooth but also grained; small pebbles of calcium are defined by sunlight, like craters on the moon. It’s a barren landscape, yet perfect, it’s the sort of desert the saints went into, so their minds would not be distracted by profusion. I think that that is what God must look like: an egg. The life on the moon may not be on the surface, but inside.”

When Offred goes shopping, she buys chicken for the household to eat. Sometimes she doesn’t like the chicken, but she always eats it.

Ms. Hen thinks THE HANDMAID’S TALE is an important novel in the vein of 1984 and other dystopian novel, but with a feminist twist. She loved reading it, even though it scared her. She hopes that the TV show is high quality, and introduces people to the book. She prays that this novel is not as prophetic as she imagines it could be, and also that she never has to live in a place like Gilead.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews SPIN CYCLES

Spin Cycles
Charles Coe
Gemma Media

This small treasure happened to fall into Ms. Hen’s lap recently. SPIN CYCLES is a novella published by the Gemma Media Open Door Series for new readers. Not necessarily young readers, but people who are new to reading as adults. The books are very simply written, and brief. Ms. Hen happened to read this book in one day, on the train on her way to work, then she finished it on her lunch break.

The story of the homeless man is heartbreaking. He wanders around Boston, looking at people, finding places to sleep, scavenging food, and tries to survive in a world that does not want him. The character is brilliant; he went to MIT, but his parents kicked him out of the house because of his instability.

If you are a fan of Ms. Hen’s blog, you will know that she is interested in fiction about mental illness. This book is an accurate portrayal of a young person who is severely bipolar, and has no choice but to wander the streets of Boston, without meaning, and without hope. He only finds comfort in watching the spin cycles in the Laundromats around the city; the steady rhythm of the clothes going around and around soothes his busy brain. He doesn’t have access to medication or therapy, and does not have a home, and watching the machines is the only sedative he has.

Ms. Hen thinks that this book is a lovely description of a walking tour through Boston. The character walks from the JFK Park in Harvard Square down the river to Copley Square, and to the Boston Common. Ms. Hen could picture the character walking through the city on a late autumn day, because she’s been there, and has experienced the beauty of the city during that time. But she also understands the tragedy of the character; there are people like this everywhere, which the general public ignores and never considers what the homeless might be going through.

Ms. Hen doesn’t remember reading a novel or a novella about a homeless person before. She did some research to find out if there are a lot of books like this, and there aren’t many. There are a number of nonfiction books, and young adult books, which SPIN CYCLES could be considered, but there are very few novels about homeless characters. Ms. Hen thinks that the homeless are people who do not have a voice, and most people don’t care about them, they just walk by, and don’t see that they are people. A book like this attempts to understand the character from the inside, and to see his life from his point of view. Ms. Hen thinks that this is a perfect book for new readers, since reading fiction fosters empathy, this small book has the potential of teaching people what it’s like to live in another person’s skin for a short time.

There are no chickens or hens in SPIN CYCLES, but that doesn’t mean Ms. Hen didn’t adore this book. She enjoyed the simplicity of the story, and the tenderness of the character, and opening her eyes to thinking about homeless people around the city, that they all have stories, and have had former lives, and could have genius and potential the same as anyone else walking down the street.