Thursday, March 31, 2016


Toni Morrison
Alfred K. Knopf

Ms. Hen is a huge Toni Morrison fan. Everything Ms. Hen has read by Morrison has dazzled her. Toni Morrison seems to Ms. Hen to be a fearless writer: one who is not afraid to go to the dark and dirty places that consist our world, but at the same time, she brings out beauty in each novel she writes.

GOD BLESS THE CHILD could be the best novel that Ms. Hen has read by Ms. Morrison. She was inspired to read this because she attended one of the Norton Lectures at Harvard University delivered by Ms. Morrison. She got her ticket at twelve noon that day, and waited in Cambridge to see and hear the master.

Ms. Morrison said many things during her lecture, one was that at the age of eighty-five she is thinking and writing better than she ever has in her life. This gives Ms. Hen hopes for her future as a writer. Ms. Morrison also joked that she was going to run for president.

GOD BLESS THE CHILD is a story of a young woman named Bride, who never receives love from her mother because she was born with dark skin, almost blue-black skin, but both her parents are light skinned. Her mother is disgusted by Bride, and her father leaves her mother because he thought she had been with another man.

This novel is the only one of Morrison’s set in the present day. Bride works for a cosmetics company, and she gets beaten up because she tries to give a woman from her past money when that woman gets out of jail. Her friend and coworker, Brooklyn, helps her recover. Bride makes mistakes and gets in trouble for them over and over. She doesn’t have a filter that most people do to figure out what is right and what is wrong. She is a complicated character, but the reader grows to love her and want the best for her because all Bride wants is love.

The aspect of this novel that Ms. Hen found strikingly different from any other novel by Toni Morrison is the darkness and depravity that comes page after page. The child molestations, the murders, the wretchedness flows like a fountain throughout the novel. Ms. Hen enjoyed this, and she thinks that Morrison is stretching as she gets older, becoming braver as a writer and a philosopher.

But even though GOD BLESS THE CHILD is full of depravity, there is hope that grows within the story. Throughout the turmoil of the character’s lives, they have a future, and Ms. Hen was happy with this because it makes her realize that someone could have horrific experiences, and recover and simply continue living. Nobody’s life is ever perfect, but we have to work with what we have, and try to do the best we can.

Seeing Toni Morrison at Harvard was a once in a lifetime experience for Ms. Hen, even though she could go again, but she doesn’t think she can make it the next few times. There are six lectures in the series, the last are Monday April 11 and Tuesday the 12th at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge. Tickets are available at twelve noon on the day of the lecture, and it starts at four, but the doors open at 3:15. It’s worth it to hear someone who is considered to be one of the greatest American living writers.

Ms. Hen loved GOD HELP THE CHILD, though it was heartbreaking, it was also uplifting. Darkness exists in the world, but so does love. And sometimes to get to the other side, we have to bear the darkness.

Friday, March 25, 2016


Run Boy Run (Lauf Junge Lauf)
Directed by Pepe Danquart

Ms. Hen stumbled onto this film because she watched the preview and it looked like something she would enjoy: a story of a young boy running from the Nazis in Poland during World War II. She tried to find reviews on Rotten Tomatoes after she watched the film, but there weren’t any critic reviews. She did find reviews, but they were all in foreign languages. She thought she needed to spread the word.

Srulik is a young boy who escapes from the Warsaw ghetto and into the countryside. In the beginning of the film, he is running through the forest in the snow, until he comes to a woman’s house who takes him in and gives him food and shelter for a short time. Ms. Hen was pleased because the woman told Srulik that the Nazis took everything except for a few chickens. The woman feeds him chicken soup and teaches him that he should tell people he is Catholic. She teaches him how to say prayers, Hail Mary and The Lord’s Prayer.

He leaves the woman’s house and travels around looking for food and work. Before he meets the woman, he comes in with a band of children in the forest who steal from farms. A great scene occurs when one of the children steals a chicken and when they go to cook it, they don’t pluck the chicken, they simply cover it with mud, then, when it is cooked, they peel the mud off and eat it. Ms. Hen thinks this is a clever way to cook a chicken, especially if the children are not expert chefs, but she’s not sure how tasty it would be.

Srulik has to hide who he is from everyone he meets. He becomes good at lying. The last time he saw his father, he told Srulik that whatever he did, he had to survive and his father told him to never forget he was a Jew.

The most heartbreaking part of the film is when Srulik gets his hand caught in a harvesting machine, and the people at the farm take him to the hospital, but when the doctor sees that he is a Jew (by looking at his circumcision) he refuses to operate, and Srulik is left in the hall. He eventually loses the bottom of his right arm. He has to learn to survive with one hand, but then he has to run again because the Nazis are after him.

Srulik runs, and he keeps on running. Ms. Hen wondering what someone would think of the situation who might not be well versed in history, such as a five year old, or an alien from a different planet. It’s ridiculous that grown men are chasing a young boy, who did nothing wrong; his only crime is religion. He’s an ordinary boy, and he loses his whole family and could easily die. Ms. Hen thinks sometimes it’s beneficial to step back and try to imagine what someone entirely innocent might think. The problem with history is that nobody seems to learn from it.

Ms. Hen enjoys watching films that make her angry. She thinks it’s cliché to say that something is a “triumph of the human spirit,” but that’s exactly what this film is. Srulik survived World War II, moved to Israel, got married, and had children and grandchildren. He wears a scar of his experiences on his arm, but he did what his father told him to do, he lived and he never forgot who he was.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Beryl Markham
North Point Press, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
1942, 1983

Ms. Hen decided to read this book because it was recommended to her on Amazon since she read DRIVING MR. ALBERT. She didn’t buy this book on Amazon, nor did she the previous one, but sometimes she likes to read reviews of books she has read on that website.

She thinks WEST WITH THE NIGHT was recommended to her because it is a unique memoir similar to DRIVING MR. ALBERT. WEST WITH THE NIGHT is about Beryl Markham and the events in her life. She grew up in colonial Kenya on her father’s farm. Her playmates were natives; she grew up without a mother. She loved dogs and horses.

She became one of Kenya’s first females to train racing horses. One of the best chapters from the book is “Royal Exile,” which is told from the point of view of a horse her family owned, a proud racehorse named Camciscan. He was dangerous and frightened of being in a new country. Beryl captures his voice. She imagines what is was like to be him and gets inside his skin, which only a horse lover can do.

She finds flying by accident. A car was broken down on the road, and she found the driver stranded. He tells her about flying, and how there is nothing like it in the world. She eventually gets her pilot’s license, and becomes one of Africa’s first female bush pilots.

She starts a business with one of her friends: she takes hunters on safaris to find elephants by flying over them in a plane. She is against hunting, but she likes the money that she makes doing this, even though it is dangerous work. She meets lots of English men hunting elephants. Elephants are intelligent creatures. Ms. Hen didn’t know that a herd would hide the tusks of the bull elephants from hunters because they realize that is what the hunters want.

Markham flies to England from Kenya with her friend Blix. They get stuck in Cairo for a few days because the Italian authorities do not want them to fly over their territories. They need to get permission and they eventually do, but they have to wait. The pair arrive in England. She says she won’t be able to go back to Africa because Africa won’t be the same again.

Beryl Markham was the first woman to fly from west to east in a plane from England to Canada. She planned on landing in New York, but she crash-landed in Newfoundland. She didn’t make the landing she wanted, but she still set a record.

Ms. Hen thought this was a beautifully written book, but there is some dispute over who wrote it. Some people say that Beryl Markham wasn’t actually the writer, but her husband at the time was the ghostwriter. Also, Ms. Hen thought it was strange that there is no mention of any romance in Ms. Markham’s life. A young woman flying around Africa and then the world, and the book doesn’t mention that any men were interested in her. But Ms. Hen found out from Beryl Markham’s Wikipedia page that she was married three times, and had many lovers.

Ms. Hen thought that Ms. Markham might have decided to omit her love affairs from her memoirs because she didn’t want people to think she was a loose woman, which would have happened since the book was first published in 1942. Ms. Markham most likely wanted her book to be about the work that she did, training horses and working as a pilot. But Ms. Hen was curious about her personal life. Which of these men was the most attractive? Did she manage to have all these lovers and not have anyone find out? Was she happy with any of these men? There is nothing about these questions in the memoir, and Ms. Hen thought it was lacking.

Other than her disappointment over the missing romance in WEST WITH THE NIGHT, Ms. Hen loved this book. It is an original memoir because only Beryl Markham lived her life. Ms. Hen has no desire to fly a plane, but she can see the appeal it would have had in that era. The sky was a new frontier, and there were people willing to take flight, like Beryl Markham, to go to new places and to move the world forward. Ms. Hen is glad people like her did what they did to make life easier for us today.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


F. Scott Fitzgerald
1933, 1934

Ms. Hen decided to read this because she had read the novel Z recently, about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda. It made her curious to read more books by Fitzgerald, especially this novel, the one he wrote about her while she was in the psychiatric hospital in Switzerland.

Ms. Hen had read that TENDER IS THE NIGHT is supposed to be his greatest novel, and Ms. Hen understands why. She enjoyed it more than she did THE GREAT GATSBY. She thought THE GREAT GATSBY is nothing but debauchery, about rich people behaving badly. There is some misbehaving in TENDER IS THE NIGHT, but Ms. Hen thinks that the characters are more sympathetic in this novel.

This is the story of a married couple, Dick and Nicole, who have a house on the French Riviera, but their happiness is disrupted when a young American actress, Rosemary, sets her sights on Dick. Rosemary is young and innocent, and knows nothing of love. Dick turns her down, and she retreats.

Some of the novel takes place in Paris, which Ms. Hen loved. She thought this novel did a better job of describing Paris in the 1920s than Zelda did. The writing in this novel is exquisite. The way things are described are so unique than Ms. Hen had to step back a few times, and think, what was that? She can understand why Fitzgerald is known as one of the greatest writers of his generation.

After Rosemary goes back to America, the novel travels back in time to when Dick and Nicole first met. She is a patient in the sanitarium where he works, and she takes a fancy to him and wants him to pay attention to her. He thinks she is beautiful, but he knows she is unstable. They get married and he takes care of her, and she takes care of him with her wealth.

Ms. Hen loved this novel, but her feelings about it are different from her feelings about other novels, because she felt she could completely relate to Nicole. She understood the characters of Nicole and Zelda better than she did when she read Z. She felt as if she could have been Nicole in a different life, if she had lived in another time and had other circumstances. It’s not often that someone reads a novel and thinks that she could have been one of the characters. Fitzgerald creates a world similar to the one in which he lived with his wife, and he brings it to life in such a way that Ms. Hen, and possibly others, can relate to this world so well, that Ms. Hen can completely swim inside of it and lose herself and become someone else.

There are no words to describe how much Ms. Hen loved reading TENDER IS THE NIGHT. She wished it didn’t have to end, but was sad when it did. All books have to end, as everything does. It makes Ms. Hen sad that F. Scott Fitzgerald died so young. Ms. Hen enjoyed living in TENDER IS THE NIGHT for a short time.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews FEAR(S) OF THE DARK

Directed by various directors

Ms. Hen chose to watch this because she usually likes French animated films. She didn’t know what to expect before she watched this, but when she sat down to view FEAR(S) OF THE DARK, she fell under its spell.

The animation is quite simple and artistic. Ms. Hen was immediately struck by the high quality of work on the film. The short films were made by different artists about their own deepest fears. The artists are: Blutch, Charles Burns, Romain Slocomb and Marie Calilou, Lorenzo Mattotti, and Richard MacGuire. The anthology is billed as a horror movie, but most of the reviews Ms. Hen read complained that it isn’t scary enough. Ms. Hen is not a fan of scary movies, but she’s a big fan of films that show aspects of art that are unusual. These short films made Ms. Hen think of the type of films that are sometimes on view at contemporary art museums. They have a surreal quality that is perfect for a gloomy night with the wind blowing though the wind chimes.

Six stories intertwine with each other. One of the films is a woman’s voice talking about what she fears the most: she fears everything from the dark to not being liberal enough. The first film is about a man and his vicious hounds that he pushes to attack people.

The second film is about a young man who finds a human-like beetle while walking in the forest, and loses it in under his bed. He moves away to college, and takes his bed with him. He is haunted by the insect, which he believes is still in his bed. One of the strangest films is an anime short about a young girl teased at school, and afterwards, she is being made to dream through her problems. The doctors force her to have nightmares, and she can't escape.

Ms. Hen’s favorite film was the last one, in which a mustached man finds himself in an abandoned house in a blizzard and he looks at someone’s photo album, which has people who are in photos, but appear to be crossed out of the photos, and also a woman’s life. The man gets stuck in the house, and cannot get out.

These short films reminded Ms. Hen of the art of Edward Gorey and the writing of Edgar Allan Poe. They are not contemporary horror stories written to shock people and scare them, such at Steven King, but they are artistic films made to pull the viewer into the artist’s dreams. All the films have a spastic, haunting quality to them.

Ms. Hen enjoyed FEAR(S) OF THE DARK. She would have preferred to watch it during the Halloween season, but she thinks dark movies are good anytime. She gives this film five feathers up.