The Book Thief ~ #JNGReads

Here I am, reading another book that I feel utterly unqualified to review. This one I mostly read, and just now finished, on days when I’ve been battling a horrible flu, so forgive me for any incoherency in this review. That being said, I feel that it was almost fitting that I read this novel during a period of sickness, when I was on the verge of hallucination and could almost walk alongside the narrator through the scenes he described.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a novel I wish I had read in high school. This is not to say that it is juvenile in any manner – quite the contrary – but what I mean by saying this is that The Book Thief feels to me like the sort of story that should be experienced by students very early on in their educations. It would’ve been oh so fitting for me to delve into this particular novel during my grade 10 History class, when I first properly learned what the Holocaust was and what that term meant, and I wish I had thought to pick up The Book Thief around the same time I read The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night. The reason that I wish I had been exposed to the story contained in The Book Thief at a time when I was learning all about Hitler’s reign, genocide and World War II is that The Book Thief takes an approach to discussing the Holocaust that is unlike any I have previously encountered.

Of course, Zusak’s story details the wrongful persecution of the Jews living in Germany and many other countries in Europe during Hitler’s reign. Through the character of Max Vandenburg and many other nameless Jewish people, Zusak offers a heart-wrenching depiction of what it meant to be Jewish in Nazi-occupied Germany, of what it meant to hate Hitler, to feel unjustifiably condemned by him, and to live your life secluded in a dark basement for years on end. There are allusions to the grotesque concentration camps and to the suffering of 6 million innocent people. There are references made to the intense hatred and anguish that these innocent people felt toward a man who chose to call himself “leader”, and who was blindly followed. There are certainly moments of horror.

But, what Zusak also chooses to do in The Book Thief, and what I thoroughly appreciated from my role of reader, was emphasize the suffering and turmoil of many innocent German people, those citizens who equally despised Hitler, who were similarly condemned by him, and who met their own tragic ends. Zusak chronicles the life of a German girl, Liesel Meminger, and her relationship with her German foster parents and her German best friend, all the while highlighting the fact that these characters despise Hitler, yet feel powerless to stop or combat him. Certainly Liesel’s foster parents do their best to fight the Nazi regime, particularly by taking Jewish man Max Vandenburg into their basement and harbouring him safely there. However, when Liesel’s foster parents, and her best friend Rudy and his parents, attempt to stand up to the Nazi regime in any meaningful way, they are also persecuted, whipped, beaten, sent away from their families. Although it is made clear many times in the narration of The Book Thief (more on the particular narrative style in a moment) that Liesel and her family members and friends will never suffer in the same horrific way as the Jewish people, they also face their own tragedies and awful, painful deaths. There is no optimism in this tale, and yet the reader is made to understand that Nazi-occupied Germany was Hell not only for the Jews who lived there, but also for the quiet, unsuspecting German people who wanted nothing to do with Hitler and his bigotry and prejudice.

“[Liesel] wondered how many letters like that were sent out as punishment to Germany’s Hans Hubermanns and Alex Steiners – to those who helped the helpless, and those who refused to let go of their children.”

“‘When they come and ask you for one of your children,’ Barbara Steiner explained, to no one in particular, ‘you’re supposed to say yes.’”

Personally, I can’t say I ever gave much thought to what it would feel like to be a German citizen living during World War II. I have, on numerous occasions, read novels that made me empathize and sympathize with the Jewish people who were oppressed, but I never took the time to think about how it would feel to be an innocent German citizen, one who loves and has a kind and gentle heart and must watch as their country is made into a living Hell for so many people. There must have been so much shame and disgrace and desperation in that, and I truly appreciated that The Book Thief offered me the chance to get into the minds of some of these German citizens, to realize just how hard it was for them to witness what their “leader” was doing, how hard that must’ve been to stomach. It also made me question myself and my own convictions: would I have had the courage to open my home to some of the Jewish people, like Hans Hubermann did? If I was a child at the time, would I have been able, like Liesel, to become friends with a Jewish man and risk my life just to say Goodbye to him and hold his hand one last time? Like Rudy Steiner, would I choose to skip my Hitler Youth classes and defy the doctrines and regulations of the time, risking being whipped and beaten and persecuted? I will never ever know, and it is a serious privilege to not have to consider these questions because of the dumb luck of being born in a different time. The Book Thief challenged my perceptions and assumptions, however; it forced me to sit down and think about the people whose perspectives I hadn’t previously considered, and for that reason, it was a highly educational, life-altering and poignant read. This is why I would recommend that any and all high school students read this novel, while learning about the destruction of World War II.

Apart from being a profound and influential text, The Book Thief is also very well written. I don’t know if this is a spoiler (forgive me, but I don’t think it is since you learn about this on page 1) but Zusak chooses Death as his narrator for the story, and in my opinion, this was a perfect choice. Zusak’s Death is much less sinister and horror movie-esque than one would expect, and Death actually tells the tale of Liesel and her loved ones with such sentimentality and feeling that it is impossible not to be drawn to him as a narrator. I found myself empathizing with Death in many ways, as he described having to take away the souls of so many innocent people during World War II. Death is a sympathetic and tortured character in The Book Thief, and it is clear from the start that he hates his job, hates Hitler, hates war and wants nothing at all to do with suffering. It is really interesting to view the events of the Holocaust from this perspective, to see the endless pain and agonizing devastation from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator who is at once complicit in the tragedy but wishes he could be removed from it. Death speaks of Liesel so lovingly that it is hard not to feel sorry for him, it is hard not to wish that he could be exempt from his job, particularly in the moments when it affects Liesel the most. I’m struggling to remember if I’ve ever read a novel narrated by Death before (I feel like I must have, but it escapes me at the moment), but regardless, I can confidently say that Zusak does an excellent job of using Death’s narration as this means to toy with his readers’ emotions and force them to look at the concept of death itself from a totally new vantage point.

I hope some aspects, at least, of this review made sense, but as I said, my reading of The Book Thief was a rather hallucinatory experience. Whether that is because I was feeling sick or because the novel is written in such a hard-hitting, unrestrained manner is hard to say. It seems that Zusak wants to hit right at the reader’s heart, and yes, mine has been weakened recently due to cold and fever…but I have a feeling that even if I was at my strongest, The Book Thief would’ve penetrated right to the depths of my human soul nevertheless.

“I have hated the words and

I have loved them,

and I hope I have made them right.”

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

*Although this novel does deal with very mature themes and is vulgar at times, I highly recommend that it be read by high school students everywhere!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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The Roanoke Girls ~ #JNGReads

How does an author come up with an idea like this?

I don’t mean any disrespect to Amy Engel. This is a legitimate question I am asking. How does an author come up with a concept for a novel that is so deeply disturbing, strange and sinister? I don’t know where this sort of plot could possibly spring from – it must be from a mind much more creative, or perhaps haunted, than mine. It would really make a good basis for the next season of American Horror Story or something!

The Roanoke Girls is a controversial novel…that much is probably an understatement. As many other reviewers have mentioned, it’s virtually impossible to say anything about the plot without giving it away. I’ve also seen reviewers mention that it is best to go into The Roanoke Girls knowing as little as possible about it, and I have to agree with that. The plot is so twisted and unsettling that I feel the right kind of reader will enjoy reading it with that minor description alone, without looking up a synopsis prior. And any sort of real synopsis would have to contain major spoilers anyway.

That being said, The Roanoke Girls is absolutely not the sort of novel that every reader should dive into, and even readers of primarily mysteries or thrillers should give it serious consideration before picking it up. Although it is compulsively and addictively written, it also deals with subject matter that can be extremely upsetting at times, such as sexual abuse, sexual manipulation and child abuse, to name a few. Other reviewers have listed the exact triggers far more thoroughly and accurately than I ever could, and I would encourage any reader who is thinking of picking up The Roanoke Girls to read one or two spoiler free reviews before doing so to be sure that it is the right novel for them. For many it isn’t, and I can certainly understand why!

Having said all of this, and considering that I did find the relationships in The Roanoke Girls to be very dysfunctional and in some cases disgusting, I did actually enjoy reading the novel. I think this is largely down to how it is written: Engel creates a narrator in Lane Roanoke who is at once hardened and emotional, world-weary and trusting. Lane was definitely my favourite part of the novel because, although she is very damaged in many ways, she is also unfailingly loyal and loving in a lot of surprising ways too. She is also fearless without denying her fears, brave without keeping her eyes closed to the injustices and inhumanities of the world, and her quick wit, sharp comebacks and sarcasm really endeared me to her. She surely isn’t a perfect character, or even a perfect and unbiased narrator for that matter, but she is interesting and complex, and I appreciated that as a reader. There was a lot to unpack in all of the characters, but particularly in Lane who I believe hides so much turmoil and angst amidst her narration.

For whatever reason, I couldn’t put The Roanoke Girls down, even in the moments when it disturbed me, and I found that I blazed through it when I sat down to read. Despite that, though, one major criticism I have with it is the pacing. While Lane is a great narrator and the story itself is addictive in that the reader wants to get to the bottom of the puzzle and mystery that is the Roanoke family, a lot of the family’s secrets are revealed at the very start of the novel, and then nothing much happens, no situations change and no new details are revealed, until much later in the story. It felt, to me, like there was some dead/dry space in the middle of the story, when Lane is waiting for her cousin Allegra to be found. Although the flashing back between past and present helped some, I still got the sense, after plowing through around 70 pages in the middle of the novel in one sitting, that nothing much had happened and that the story wasn’t moving forward at all and had pretty much stayed put. At the same time though, like I mentioned, I couldn’t stop reading…so this is a paradox I haven’t yet figured out.

To summarize this rambly review: The Roanoke Girls was fascinating – that’s probably the best word I can use to describe it. It will turn your stomach at times, you’ll want to put it down or throw it against a wall, but it is guaranteed to get a reaction from you, whatever it may be. I’m glad I read it and found out what all the hype was about, but I don’t know that I would rush out to read another novel just like it anytime soon (or ever).

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Stardust ~ #JNGReads

“The events that follow transpired many years ago. Queen Victoria was on the throne of England, but she was not yet the black-clad widow of Windsor: she had apples in her cheeks and a spring in her step, and Lord Melbourne often had cause to upbraid, gently, the young queen for her flightiness. She was, as yet, unmarried, although she was very much in love.”

~ Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

Bless you, Neil Gaiman, for that paragraph alone!

Stardust is a remarkably pleasant and enjoyable fairytale by acclaimed and beloved author, Neil Gaiman. As a fan of fairytales of all kinds, from Disney’s versions of tales such as Beauty and the Beast to ancient poems detailing the adventures of Sir Gawain, I found Stardust to be thoroughly entertaining and I would highly recommend it as a quick but fun and adorable read to young adult readers, as well as older readers with a youthful and fantastical spirit.

I should mention that I have never read any other works by Gaiman. I was encouraged to read Stardust by my brother, who recently became a big fan of Gaiman’s work after reading American Gods. My brother thought that American Gods wouldn’t really be my cup of tea, however, so he passed Stardust over to me as soon as he finished it. My husband recently devoured and loved Gaiman’s graphic novel “Sandman”, and so he too was excited for me to delve into Gaiman’s catalogue. There is no doubt that Neil Gaiman is a literary genius, with a versatile writing style that is equally impressive and awe-inspiring, and Stardust was certainly a well-written, well-constructed and imaginative work that I believe deserves a high rating for its uniqueness and creativity, as well as its flow and easily digestible structure.

Having said that, while I was not familiar with Gaiman’s writing before picking up Stardust, I had seen (albeit years ago) the film adaptation of this fairytale. Normally I would hesitate to pick up a book after seeing the movie version because I often find the movie clouds my judgment and perception of the original written text if I do this, but in the case of Stardust, I felt that I had seen the movie so long ago (when I was in high school) that it made sense to read the text and then revisit the movie. I was sure that I had forgotten enough of the movie to make the book interesting to me in its own right. And that is, in many ways, true – there were several aspects of the tale that I had forgotten entirely, a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming at all, and the things I did remember from the film (such as the ending, for example) were altered and different enough in the book that I found I could enjoy the written story in and of itself. Nevertheless, there were elements of the movie that I did have some memory of, which I found lacking in the story – for the first time ever, it seemed to me that the film adaptation delved more deeply into the histories and backgrounds of certain fascinating characters, such as the witch and the sky-ship captain (played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro in the movie, respectively), and I felt while reading that I only had a half-formed, very weak understanding of these characters. I also felt that in the movie version, the relationship between Tristran Thorn and the star Yvaine is fleshed out better and more organically and naturally. I almost felt as though, although the book was definitely entertaining and enjoyable, there was some sort of spark missing from it.

I’ve read a few reviews on Goodreads that implied that for these reasons the film adaptation of Stardust is better than the book…I wouldn’t go that far! I think that in this particular case, one really must look at the movie and the book as two totally separate entities. The book is, according to Gaiman’s own admission in the Introduction, a tale he sat down to write spontaneously and probably completed in a few hours. It’s almost the outline of a tale more than a story itself – it serves as more of a summary, a rubric for a fairytale that has immense room for expansion. I think that’s what the film adaptation did: it took this very short, tiny novel and fleshed it out, imagined scenarios and events in the peripheral that Gaiman certainly hints at but doesn’t delve into himself, and it made those real, depicted them in a way that honours and pays homage to Gaiman’s actual text but also gives it more depth and life. The movie is, then, more of a love letter to the book than an adaptation of it.

With all that said, I really did enjoy Stardust very much, and I am glad that I read it. I do absolutely think I’ll read more of Gaiman’s work, particularly in other genres to get a sense of his versatility. Overall, I would call my reading of Stardust an unequivocal success!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

So Near The Horizon ~ #JNGReads

I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much reading a novel as I did when finishing So Near The Horizon by Jessica Koch.

I am an emotional reader, that’s for sure. But, despite the fact that I often become seriously attached to characters and feel as though I’m living through their stories right along with them, I rarely cry when reading novels. Maybe that’s because I normally stick to fiction and I’m able to remind myself that what I’m reading is, after all, just a story. That doesn’t mean I don’t find myself thinking about a character or agonizing over their drama weeks after I’ve finished a book, but it does mean that I don’t usually allow myself to fall apart because of one.

So Near The Horizon was bound to be a different reading experience from the start because the story portrayed is a true one. I guess the novel should be classified as creative non-fiction in the sense that the author, Jessica Koch, writes about her own true experiences and real-life relationship with her boyfriend, Danny, but adds a narrative style to the whole story that makes it flow as freely and addictively as any fictional romance I have ever read. And, the novel does certainly start off as most other conventional romances do: Girl meets incredibly handsome, but obviously damaged Boy, Boy and Girl begin to go on dates while Girl tries to unravel all of Boy’s secrets. Once Danny begins to share details about his past with Jessica, however, it becomes clear that his story, and their love story together, is unlike anything that has been published to date, and is not so conventional as it originally seemed. On the contrary, Danny and Jessica’s story is heart wrenching, heartbreaking and devastating, and it is a story that I felt truly touched and changed by.

It is impossible to say too much about So Near The Horizon without ruining it – I truly can’t say anything substantial about the plot without giving away the most important details. But, suffice it to say, it is one of my most powerful books I have read in recent years. It joins the ranks of such texts as Angels in America and Middlesex for how profoundly and poignantly it treats sensitive topics and for how much I learned from and was fundamentally changed by it. Danny is an absolutely remarkable “character” (I use the term “character” loosely because he was, after all, a real person), and I have no doubt that he was an absolutely remarkable man in real-life as well. He has an infectious love for life, for adventure and excitement and motion, and I can only imagine what a force of nature he was to be around. I won’t soon forget Danny, and indeed, Jessica herself is such an inspiring and strong woman that I feel that I am myself a better and stronger woman for having read her story.

So Near The Horizon is without doubt one of the saddest books I have ever read. As I mentioned before, it left me in tears, crushed and sobbing and shaking, at the very end. To reduce So Near The Horizon to just being a sad book would be to do it a great disservice though. So Near The Horizon is also extremely uplifting, if one is willing only to read between the lines and be open to the valuable lessons it has to impart. So much of the book’s strength and force comes from its subtle assertion that life is too short, that people need to grab at it and do everything they can with this one life they have to live. Although So Near The Horizon addresses topics of fear and anxiety, it also continually underlines the notion that life must be lived without fear, that it must be seized and made the most of, that people need to go out on a limb and take risks and love fiercely and ferociously and without restraint. I found myself realizing that I was worried about so many inconsequential things while reading So Near The Horizon, and while I know I won’t be able to stop myself from worrying about the little things completely, I do hope that in moments when my anxiety gets the better of me and I get hung up on mundane problems, I will be able to call Danny and Jessica’s examples to mind and put things in perspective. There is so much beauty to behold in the world, so many adventures to take advantage of, and So Near The Horizon is a serious example to never, ever take any of life’s opportunities for granted.

So Near The Horizon is also a moving and powerful love story, about sacrifice, loyalty and perseverance, and it is such an inspiration for me personally, especially as I enter married life and come to terms with the fact that my new husband and I will have to face so many things in our time together. It is simply inevitable, and So Near The Horizon has taught me that, rather than being bogged down or fearful of these obstacles my husband and I may face, I should always keep my chin up (and encourage my husband to do the same) because love is a magical force that can conquer so many obstacles. The theme of togetherness is so firmly reinforced in So Near The Horizon, and it is an idea that I intend to cling on to.

I would recommend So Near The Horizon to anyone and everyone (in fact, I think I may pass it along to my mother and best friend in the weeks to come), but it isn’t a story for the faint of heart. There is trauma and tragedy in it…but there are also moments of gorgeous light and friendship and love, that it is absolutely worth taking this ride with Danny and Jessica to have a chance to experience and take away the lessons their story can provide. I would not hesitate to mark So Near The Horizon as one of my favourite books, and I know it is a story I will not soon forget.

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

*A huge thank you to Jessica Koch for providing me with a copy of So Near The Horizon to read and review. I am truly touched to have had the opportunity to read Danny’s story, and it was an honour to review the book!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

JNG 2017 Green Heart Awards

Hello dear Readers and welcome to 2018 on The World of my Green Heart!

As you all know, 2017 (and particularly the end of the year) was an extremely busy and exciting year for me – I moved into a new home in a beautiful part of Toronto, I planned an epic (if I do say so myself) Victorian Christmas wedding, I got 2 tattoos (that’s right, I’ll have a post about my second and latest tattoo coming soon!)…and, just over a week ago, I said I Do and officially became a wife. I am absolutely intending to post an entire entry about my wedding day once I have the professional photos, but I will say now that the day was everything I dreamed of and I am reveling in being able to finally call SS my husband!

With all that said, the focus of today’s post is to discuss the books I read in 2017 and rank some of my absolute favourites, so that I can go into 2018 with a clear head and with a log of what worked for me in terms of genre and style in 2017…

Back in January 2017, I set my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for the year at 18 books. In hindsight, that wasn’t really a reasonable target for myself, considering how many books I managed to finish in 2017, but my logic was that I would be commuting to and from work for the entire year and wouldn’t have much time to read at home. I found, though, that when I moved into my own place in May, which is a mere walk away from my workplace, I had so much more time at night to delve into my books and devote time to finishing them. So, I ended up reading a total of 59 books in 2017, which I am EXTREMELY proud of. For that reason, I felt that I needed to devise some sort of ranking system to wrap my mind around all the books I read and determine which ones were my favourite and which authors and genres I’d like to revisit. Thus, I’ve created a few awards that I’d like to hand out to the books I read in 2017 – I intend to use this same sort of ranking system in future years to summarize my reading experiences and be able to reflect back on them and see how my preferences as a reader have evolved. With that said, here are my awards for 2017…

*Note: I have excluded Jane Eyre from eligibility for any of these awards because it is my favourite novel of all time and I didn’t feel it would be fair to include it.

Best Short Story or Essay Collection

Although I did read a couple of short story collections this year, the choice for this particular award was obvious to me. I absolutely adored the collection The Dead Husband Project by Sarah Meehan Sirk. It became an instant favourite for me as soon as I completed it, and I’ve even gifted it to friends because I felt so passionate about it. I am so happy I got the chance to be exposed to this remarkable Canadian author, and I would recommend this collection to anyone who likes absurd, unsettling but also incredibly profound stories.

Best Adaptation

This was a tough one – I read a fair number of adaptations of more classic stories this year, and I particularly enjoyed Jane Steele and Eligible. However, I had to give this award to Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. Perhaps I’m biased because of my fondness for Edward Fairfax Rochester’s character, but I found Shoemaker’s adaptation and interpretation of his story to be so touching and like a love letter to Charlotte Brontë’s original work. I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of Jane Eyre!

Best Young Adult Novel

I read a TON of young adult novels, so it was really very tricky to pick my absolute favourite of 2017. When I sat down to really think about it, though, the answer (as with my favourite short story collection above) was obvious. I simply had to go with Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I loved this book and was truly blown away by it, and I also thoroughly enjoyed the film adaptation, which also came out this year. I can’t really say enough good things about this novel and I think that every single teenager must read it because it provides such a unique and poignant look at the effects of bullying. (Sidenote: In my opinion, it is so much more successful at treating the topic of bullying than Thirteen Reasons Why.)

Best Chick Lit./Romance Novel

This is another genre of novel that I read A LOT of, but there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to pick The Hating Game by Sally Thorne for this award. I am OBSESSED with this novel, and I have been wanting to reread it since I finished it about a year ago! It is just that good and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone and everyone. I have a strong feeling I will be reading it again sometime this year, and I am anxious to read whatever Sally Throne produces next because I find her writing style to be so distinct and accessible.

Best Fantasy Novel

Somehow I ended up reading many fantasy books this year, even though I had never been a fan of the genre until this year. I burned through several fantasy series in 2017, and I have many more lined up to read in 2018. With that said, one particular fantasy novel stands out to me as the best, most creative and heart-pounding one I read this year, and that is Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (pictured at the very start of this post). The Six of Crows duology is an absolute masterpiece, but Crooked Kingdom left me in tears and truly touched me. I have recommended it to friends and passed it along to my mother, and I don’t think I will ever forget the story and characters!

Best Series

Although the Six of Crows duology was certainly a frontrunner for best series I read in 2017, I have to award that title to the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas. This series got me interested in the fantasy genre this year, and without it, I wouldn’t have been exposed to any of Bardugo’s work. I was so immersed in the stories throughout the ACOTAR series that I found it hard to let go of them after finishing all three books, and I found myself rushing out to by Maas’ other series, Throne of Glass, which I intend to read in its entirety this year. I owe my interest in a genre that I never before thought I would enjoy to Maas’ writing, and that is why the ACOTAR series will forever hold a special place in my green heart!

Worst Reads of 2017

I hate to do this, but there were two books that absolutely outraged me in 2017 and that I just could not bring myself to say anything good about, despite the hype and praise surrounding them. The first is Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco. I don’t want to go into another rant about what I didn’t like about this book (trying to keep the warm and fuzzy festive feeling for as long as I can, you know!), so if you’re interested, you can read my specific review of it here. Along the same vein, I really did not enjoy the novel Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, which is equally lauded by readers. Again, I won’t go into too much detail (you can read my review of this novel here, if you like), but suffice it to say that I just did NOT understand what everyone loved about these two novels and I felt more frustrated than anything about them!

Top 3 Reads of 2017

This was tricky (particularly with Jane Eyre excluded from the pack), but here it goes…

3) Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

2) A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

1) The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

So, what do you all think? Do you agree with my choices and do you have any recommendations from these genres that I should read in 2018? Please do let me know down below!

xox

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

 

Her Who Loves You Best

– An excerpt from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë –

It is no easy task to choose a single passage from Jane Eyre to play a part in your wedding ceremony, particularly if you are as huge a fan of the story as I am. I spent a long time searching through the novel, trying to find the perfect passage that would encompass all of my thoughts and feelings on marriage and True Love. I of course wanted something substantial, that would speak to Jane’s complex relationship with Mr. Rochester as well, and although there are so many scenes in the novel that I absolutely adore, I feel that there is only one that truly portrays the complexities of marriage, the love and equality and sacrifice. I chose the following quote and it will be read during my wedding ceremony by one of my dearest friends and bridesmaids…in less than one week’s time!

‘“All my heart is yours, sir: it belongs to you; and with you it would remain, were fate to exile the rest of me from your presence for ever.”

Again, as he kissed me, painful thoughts darkened his aspect.

“My seared vision! My crippled strength!” he murmured regretfully.

I caressed, in order to soothe him. I knew of what he was thinking, and wanted to speak for him, but dared not. As he turned aside his face a minute, I saw a tear slide from under the sealed eyelid, and trickle down the manly cheek. My heart swelled.

“I am no better than the old lightning-struck chestnut-tree in Thornfield orchard,” he remarked ere long. “And what right would that ruin have to bid a budding woodbine cover its decay with freshness?”

“You are no ruin, sir—no lightning-struck tree: you are green and vigorous. Plants will grow about your roots, whether you ask them or not, because they take delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean towards you, and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop.”

Again he smiled: I gave him comfort.

“You speak of friends, Jane?” he asked.

“Yes, of friends,” I answered rather hesitatingly: for I knew I meant more than friends, but could not tell what other word to employ. He helped me.

“Ah! Jane. But I want a wife.”

“Do you, sir?”

“Yes: is it news to you?”

“Of course: you said nothing about it before.”

“Is it unwelcome news?”

“That depends on circumstances, sir—on your choice.”

“Which you shall make for me, Jane. I will abide by your decision.”

“Choose then, sir—her who loves you best.”

“I will at least choose—her I love best. Jane, will you marry me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“A poor blind man, whom you will have to lead about by the hand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“A crippled man, twenty years older than you, whom you will have to wait on?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Truly, Jane?”

“Most truly, sir.”

“Oh! my darling! God bless you and reward you!”

“Mr. Rochester, if ever I did a good deed in my life—if ever I thought a good thought—if ever I prayed a sincere and blameless prayer—if ever I wished a righteous wish,—I am rewarded now. To be your wife is, for me, to be as happy as I can be on earth.”

“Because you delight in sacrifice.”

“Sacrifice! What do I sacrifice? Famine for food, expectation for content. To be privileged to put my arms round what I value—to press my lips to what I love—to repose on what I trust: is that to make a sacrifice? If so, then certainly I delight in sacrifice.”

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

The N and the G

I could’ve called myself anything on this blog – but I chose Janille N G.

You all know the story of the Green Heart by now. I’ve talked at length about why I named this blog The World of my Green Heart, and why the symbol of the green heart is so significant to me. (Future tattoo, perhaps? More on this one day soon!)

What I’ve never talked about, though, is why I decided to sign my posts and make all my social media accounts under the name Janille N G. It is my name, rest assured. But why do I include my middle initial? And why am I so attached to my last initial as well? Why not just be Janille and leave it at that?

The N comes from my maternal grandmother. She was an absolute sight to behold, I am told – the most gorgeous, classy woman, with an Audrey Hepburn-esque style and a sophistication that exuded from her every perfect pore. She came to Canada from Lebanon when she was just a teenager, and with her remarkable determination, she picked up both English and French fluently. She leant me (and my mom) our raven black hair and our sparkling brown eyes, as well as our affection for red lipstick. I have also been told that she was the kindest, most caring and generous woman that ever graced this Earth. Not a single person I have ever met has an ill word to say about my grandmother, and on the contrary, I have been told so many amazing stories about her that she has become this overwhelmingly impressive figure in my mind. And I am absolutely certain that she would have adored my fiancé and wrapped him in her arms as if he were her own grandson.

My grandmother passed away at the very young age of 57 after a long battle with breast and ovarian cancer. I was a year old. But whenever I have had the choice, on my university diploma, on all my IDs, on my marriage license, I have chosen to include my middle name in honour of her. And of course, I knew I wanted to include my middle initial as part of my identity on my blog.

The G comes from my paternal grandfather. He was the life of the party, and was in some ways very different from me, from what I can tell. He was constantly joyful, loud and fun, not bogged down by any anxieties or fears. I am told he had the kindest heart and was loved by literally every person he ever met. A true Italian to the core, he was fiercely loyal to his family, providing for them in every manner, but also encouraging my grandmother to get out of her comfort zone. I firmly believe he would have been the perfect grandparent for me to hang out with – I can see him urging me to calm down about my school and work stresses, taking me out for a big breakfast and reminding me that he will love and be proud of me no matter what I do in my life. I can see him at my university graduation, cheering louder than anyone and being impressed by the ambiance and mystique of it all. And I can clearly see him as the heart and soul of my wedding day, encouraging everyone to get on their feet and dance the night away. He had a larger than life personality!

My grandfather passed away at the devastatingly young age of 47 after a long battle with kidney and bone cancer. I was months away from being born. This is a story that absolutely breaks my heart whenever I think about it, particularly now as I am about to get married. My own father has now surpassed his father’s age, my grandmother lost her beloved husband when they were only 47 years old…that is too young, much much too young. What’s hardest for me to fathom, though, is the fact that I was so close to being born when he died. He was months away from becoming a grandfather (I am the first grandchild on both sides of my family), but unfortunately the doctors couldn’t tell my parents if I was a boy or a girl because I was flipped on my freakin’ head or something. So, my grandfather never got to learn if he would have a grandson or a graddaughter…and so many times when I was young, I wanted to just have the power to go back in time and poke him on the shoulder and say, Hey! It’s me, I was a girl! But I can’t do that, and I never will be able to.

I don’t know if I believe in God, but I have to believe that both my grandparents can see me now, as I plan the wedding I have always dreamed of. And, of course, they have become my Something Old as I will be sewing small pieces of their old clothing into my wedding dress.

When it came time to decide whether or not I wanted to change my name after marriage, the choice was easy for me. I have always known that I want to keep my name exactly as it is, mainly because I am so attached to what it represents and who it honours. My fiancé adamantly agreed (his own mother never changed her name), and so I intend to remain Janille N G for the rest of my life.

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

The Persian ~ Le Personnage Principal of A Christmas Fairytale

All signs led to him.

“I was immensely interested by this story of the Persian. I wanted, if there were still time, to find this valuable and eccentric witness. My luck began to improve and I discovered him in his little flat in the Rue de Rivoli….I also went into the past history of the Persian and found that he was an upright man, incapable of inventing a story that might have defeated the ends of justice.”

~ The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux

Long before I read a single Victorian novel, I was obsessed with a different story. The musical The Phantom of the Opera was my absolute favourite story from the moment my grandfather first took me to see it when I was in elementary school. Something about the heartbreaking love story (which is so similar to my favourite Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, in many ways) touched me profoundly, and my passion for the music, characters and eventually the original French text of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra has been ingrained on my heart for what feels like my entire life. I sincerely believe in the power of music on the human soul, and the soundtrack to The Phantom of the Opera has very much been the soundtrack to my life – it is the music I instantly turn to when I am stressed, the opening notes from The Point of No Return are my alarm clock tone, and I have derived infinite pleasure from seeing the musical on more than half a dozen occasions, in many different cities around the world.

Years later, when I started studying the French language, I picked up Gaston Leroux’s novel and flew through it. This was a turning point for me, when I realized that I did in fact understand French…and that I absolutely adored the language. I would not be even close to where I am today, in terms of my education and my career, if I didn’t speak French, and I credit my desire to pursue the language all throughout my schooling to my first experience of reading and loving Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. The text branded itself on my heart alongside Andrew Lloyd Weber’s gorgeous music.

I remember distinctly when I was in third year university and stressed out of my mind studying for my French exams (ironically). That was the year that the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera was performed at the Royal Albert Hall (again, ironic, considering that the venue is named after one Prince Albert of England), and lucky for me, it was broadcast by Cineplex at a theatre only 10 minutes away from my home. I bought tickets as soon as I learned they were on sale, and since I was single at the time, I dragged my mom with me to the theatre. I was truly and utterly blown away by the production, and I became attached to the portrayal of the characters by Sierra Boggess, Hadley Fraser and most particularly Ramin Karimloo. Karimloo performed as The Phantom, and although I will always be loyal to my first Phantom, Colm Wilkinson, Karimloo totally blew me out of the water with his incredible voice and tortured portrayal of one of my favourite characters. I was obsessed, and I went home and Googled him immediately, purchasing as many of his CDs as I could. I learned that Karimloo was Iranian born and had moved to Toronto when he was a child. He grew up in Toronto, where he first saw The Phantom of the Opera, and because of Colm Wilkinson, decided to pursue acting and singing. I didn’t know much about Iran, but somewhere in my searching I read that Iranians are often referred to as Persian…whatever that meant. It certainly wasn’t relevant to me at the time.

Flash forward to just over a year later, when a bookish girl who believed in nothing more than True Love sat down across from a kind, gentle, loving boy. He asked for her phone number, after only moments of speaking to her, and the rest, as they say, is history. In an attempt to get to know this new guy who had entered my life and who seemed to be taken with me, I started texting my now fiancé before our first date, asking him some key facts about himself. One of these questions was his nationality, to which he replied Persian.

Persian… Persian… I scratched my head at that one and asked my mom where exactly Persia was on the map. Turns out, it isn’t on there anymore and my mom (who is Lebanese) explained that Persian people hailed from Iran. Then, it hit me…Ramin! He was Persian! Well, if that sexy, brilliant singer was Persian, then I was certainly planning to give this new guy a chance. I went on my first date with SS with an open mind and heart. (Imagine my disappointment, though, when I learned early on that he couldn’t sing. Haha!)

It wouldn’t be until years later, when I was studying the text of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra again that it all came back in a flash. The Persian…arguably the most influential and significant character in Leroux’s novel. He is written out of the musical adaptation for reasons of keeping the plot concise, I can only assume, but he is the character that is responsible for most if not all of the action in the novel. He is the one who guides Raoul down to the Phantom’s lair to save Christine. He is an intimate friend of Erik, the Phantom. And, he is only ever referred to as The Persian. How could I forget this character? And if the text of this novel was stamped on my heart…then perhaps a Persian man was there too, long before I ever met my very own Persian man in real-life.

References to Persian rugs and artifacts abound in Victorian literature too. They’re seriously everywhere. Was I perhaps, then, being led toward SS throughout my entire life?

It’s funny how Fate works. I remember vividly that in high school, I was constantly looking for signs from the universe that my crush was my future husband. If his name was whispered in my vicinity, or I saw an object we had talked about or that was somehow associated with him, I took it as this notice from Fate that yes, in fact we would end up together. But, needless to say, we didn’t, and in the years before I met SS, I often wondered what the point of all those signs was. Now, I realize, I was looking at the wrong signs; I was being distracted, led away from realizing that a Persian man had always played a role in my life, from childhood, and that one Persian man in particular would become the love and light of my life.

There are tricky and problematic things about Iran, no question…but now that I know a thing or two about Persian people and their culture, I can say that they are warm and genuine, caring and good, and I am very lucky to have a number of them in my life. Ramin, of course, with his voice that soothes me when I’m stressed. And, my fiancé especially, whose very presence in my life is something I consider a real miracle.

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

A Letter to Mr. Rochester

Dear Mr. Rochester–

My name is Janille N G and we first became acquainted eight years ago. I do not expect you to remember me, as I am sure you meet many new people each year, most specifically young women. We have, however, rekindled our acquaintance multiple times over the course of the last eight years, and I have thought of you, and indeed of your dear wife Jane, often. I have particularly been thinking of you both this past year, and it is with this in mind that I decided to write you this letter.

Sir, I write to you mainly to express once and for all that I am your greatest advocate and biggest fan. When I first met you, I admit that I knew nothing of you at all and knew not what to expect. None of my acquaintances had met or spoken to you, save for my literature teacher who urged me to make time to meet you and Jane. I knew very little about your country of origin, your culture or the time period during which you lived, but I was eager to learn all of this. What I did not expect was that I would learn a great deal about myself, and about love and relationships, through my interactions with you and Jane.

I should also mention before I proceed, sir, that I am on the cusp of becoming married. I am engaged to a man who is both like you in many, unexpected ways but who is also distinctly himself. While he has never met you personally, I have spoken very highly of both you and Jane, and my dear fiancé considers you both among his friends. He and I have used your relationship with Jane as a model for our own throughout our time together, and I particularly have thought of you both regularly as I prepare to take on the role of wife. I have supported my own internal meditations by reading texts inspired by your relationship with Jane, first the gothic and macabre novel Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, and most recently the biography of your own life Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. There are only two people who can reasonably confirm any details of your life and history – yourself and Miss Charlotte Brontë – but (and I hope you will not think it too forward of me to say this) I have always felt a sincere kinship toward you and I feel that I can state with confidence that Ms. Shoemaker has done an excellent job of describing your past. Although much of what she writes is mere conjecture, from what I know having met you many times in my life, Ms. Shoemaker seems to have hit the nail on the head, as they say, with her characterization and portrayal of you as a man at times mercurial and stern, but also deeply loving, passionate and sensitive. Again, I hope you will not find it presumptuous of me to profess this opinion.

What Ms. Shoemaker brought to the forefront of my mind, sir, is your identity as a husband – not only to Jane, but also to your first wife, Ms. Bertha Antoinetta Mason. I apologize if any allusion to your first marriage is painful or unwelcome, but I am of the opinion that you became the man I hold in such high esteem, and whom Jane is clearly very fond of, during this first, albeit tragic, union. As I stated previously, I have always been and will continue to be your firmest advocate, but there are those who have chosen to criticize you for your actions towards Bertha, saying that it was heartless and criminal to keep her locked in a secluded attic. What I have learned, since finishing Ms. Shoemaker’s account of your life, is that you honestly and truly tried your best to do right by Bertha. I always somewhat blindly supported your actions because I so desperately adored your relationship with Jane, but now I have come to see how complicated and dismal the matter really was for you. How could you care for a woman who struggled with such severe mental illness while still maintaining your own sanity? How could you honour her family’s desire to keep her out of an asylum? It was admirable of you to insist that she remain at home with you, and surely you cannot be blamed for managing in whatever means you thought most safe and secure. Perhaps you didn’t have a full understanding of Bertha’s ailment, but who can blame you, considering the times in which you lived and the lack of knowledge and information on this subject. I firmly believe that you did your best, and it is clear that Ms. Shoemaker agrees. I personally would not hesitate to defend you on this point.

With all that said, I still find it hard to accept the way you handled this subject with regards to Jane. I will always feel that it would have been best for you to mention your history with Bertha to Jane from the very beginning. As I enter into a marriage of my own, I sincerely hope that my future husband and I will never have the urge nor the occasion to lie to one another as you did to Jane. But, again, I understand that you were in a difficult position, and love does in many ways make us fearful and anxious, for there is nothing worse than the prospect of lost love.

Mr. Rochester, I apologize for my ramblings and for making you read this long missive, but as I said, I have found myself thinking of you often of late. You were, truth be told, the first man I ever felt a profound love and affection for, not in the sense that I would ever want to take you from Jane, but in the sense that I sincerely wished and hoped to one day meet a man like you. Of course, I am very glad that my fiancé doesn’t have a wife hidden in his attic (that I know of), but I am also supremely happy that he is my best friend, my greatest earthly companion, my true second self and kindred spirit. I never imagined that I would be able to meet someone with whom to have a bond as strong as you have with Jane, but I will admit that I kept your image in my heart for many years as a reminder of what sort of companionship I desired. When I met my future husband for the first time, you were in my heart, and you will continue to reside in it now, as I embark on my own journey of marriage. I will forever be grateful to have you as my guide.

I am happy that you found your peace and happiness, and that you continue to live with Jane in utter harmony and adoration. My kind regards and warmest wishes to Jane and to your children. I have no doubt that I will see you all again very soon.

With much gratitude and affection,

Janille N G

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) for Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester, which reminded me how special Edward Fairfax Rochester is (not that I could ever forget).