Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart

Source: Gift from LibraryThing SantaThing
Paperback, 240 pages
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Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart is part travel, cultural immersion, and marital memoir.  El Salvador, the country of her husband’s birth, is seismologically and politically volatile, much like a marriage can be as we seek similarities and rarely understand the differences between us when we first begin a life together.  Kephart speaks of her husband’s country as someone who has never traveled to Central America before and only knows about the country from the horrific political turmoil and devastating earthquakes she has seen on the news.  She begins the novel very much on the outside of her husband’s life before he went to the United States for college and married her, living a suburban, quiet, American life.

“When I married my husband, I married into all of this.  I married a legacy, traditions, danger.  I married a man who is not at home unless he’s standing in the shadows of his grandfather’s land or asserting the privileges of a jeep on jungle roads.  My husband isn’t home here, where we together live, and yet years would go by before I could begin to understand, before my imagination would let me close to where he’d come from.”  (page 10-11)

For a woman that has lived a very privileged American life — for that’s what she says — her experiences traveling were limited to very advanced economies, rather than the more emerging markets in Central America, which have had a harder time coming together and staying together socially and politically.  Speaking only English, as many Americans do, arriving in a country where Spanish is spoken in rapid, unending bursts with little time to pause and translate, Kephart illustrates her loneliness and her separateness when she perches in a tree and merely watches from afar as her husband reconnects with his home and his family.  This separateness is partly her own making because of her almost desperate need to be part of his family in all ways, but also her desire to pull him back into the world of their American life so that she can be more comfortable.

However, this is not just a memoir about a marriage; it is also a memoir about coming to love a country and a culture that at first seems so foreign and incomprehensible to her.  As she sets out to tell her son about his father’s life before America and his heritage, Kephart learns that there is love in the strangest of places — places that were once alien, places that made her feel separate and foreign herself.

What’s beautiful about the memoir is that it doesn’t focus on the rifts or the arguments or the silences these differences between her and her husband may have caused, it is focused on a woman immersing herself in the culture, a history, a people and its coffee.  Through its history — political and otherwise — Kephart paints a picture of a country that struggles with its own land and its own people to find itself.  El Salvador comes alive in her hands, becomes a living, breathing being with its beauty and darkness, and while there are frightening times of civil unrest and bandits, Kephart is huddled in the family bubble — cradled in their acceptance of her.

“It was an accident, Bill’s falling in love with me.  It was a risk, binding himself up in a marriage to an American girl, a suburban girl so entirely naive that she thought she’d be somehow big enough to hold him.”  (page 127)

Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart is about love and learning to love even the strangest parts of ourselves and our spouses, it’s a love that embraces everything despite our initial fears and misgivings and misunderstandings.  Love should be big enough not only to conquer all, but also to breed acceptance for what we do not understand or know about ourselves and those we love.  Love is an expansion of who and what we are; it is the exploration and embracing of what is outside of us and bringing that into ourselves.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, published in June 2009, and a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, released in March 2010.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. She teaches the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mailbox Monday #250

Mailbox Monday (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  December’s host is Rose City Reader.

***The Mailbox Monday poll found that most bloggers preferred the Mailbox Monday blog to be the permanent home for the meme beginning in January.***

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston came unexpectedly from the publisher.

In her small Welsh town, there is no one quite like Morgana. She has never spoken, and her silence as well as the magic she can’t quite control make her a mystery. Concerned for her safety, her mother quickly arranges a marriage with Cai Bevan, the widower from the far hills who knows nothing of the rumours that swirl around her. After their wedding, Morgana is heartbroken at leaving, but she soon falls in love with Cai’s farm and the rugged mountains that surround it, while slowly Cai himself begins to win her heart. It’s not long, however, before her strangeness begins to be remarked upon in her new village. A dark force is at work there—a person who will stop at nothing to turn the townspeople against Morgana, even at the expense of those closest to her. Forced to defend her home, her love, and herself from all comers, Morgana must learn to harness her power, or she will lose everything.

2.  Return to Tradd Street by Karen White for review from the publisher.

Melanie is only going through the motions of living since refusing Jack’s marriage proposal. She misses him desperately, but her broken heart is the least of her problems. Despite an insistence that she can raise their child alone, Melanie is completely unprepared for motherhood, and she struggles to complete renovations on her house on Tradd Street before the baby arrives.

When Melanie is roused one night by the sound of a ghostly infant crying, she chooses to ignore it. She simply does not have the energy to deal with one more crisis. That is, until the remains of a newborn buried in an old christening gown are found hidden in the foundation of her house.

3.  Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson from the publisher for a TLC Book Tour in January.

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother’s rigid expectations forbid Lily from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front.

4.  Taking What I Like by Linda Bamber for review for a TLC Book Tour in January.

Linda Bamber has combined her love of fiction from the past with her propensity to shake things up, taking what she likes and gleefully sharing it with us. As entertaining and contemporary as these stories are, they also remind us what we, too, love about the classic texts she takes apart and reassembles. Bamber’s tales, like the best translations, exist independently while reminding us not to forget the plays and novels they treat. Alternating between admiration and attitude, the stories layer their plots with commentary, history, and politics, pausing as they build only to make room for the sanity and wit of the authorial voice. Emotional and genuine, these stories are also playful, inventive, and hilariously funny. From her long study of the Bard, Bamber has absorbed some of Shakespeare’s own empathy, understanding, and expressive flair. It is not too much to say that her work takes its place in the same literary sphere as the works it engages.

5.  Pieces of the Heart by Karen White from my SantaThing at LibraryThing.

To escape the stress from her all-consuming job as an accountant, Caroline Collier joins her overbearing mother at the family’s vacation home in the mountains of North Carolina. But the serene beauty of Lake Ophelia cannot heal Caroline’s heart, which is still broken by the loss of her younger brother, who died when she was seventeen. And the tension between her and her mother still simmers. Only their neighbors, the husband and daughter of one of Caroline’s childhood friends, seem able to penetrate her cool reserve, giving Caroline the courage to face her biggest fears-and dive headfirst into life.

6.  The Color of Light by Karen White from my SantaThing at LibraryThing.

With a lyrical Southern voice, White delivers an emotionally moving novel of a woman in search of a new beginning and a man haunted by the past.At thirty-two, pregnant and recently divorced, Jillian Parrish and her seven-year-old daughter find refuge and solace on Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Jillian had experienced her best childhood memories here-until her best friend Lauren Mills disappeared, never to be found. At the time, Linc Rising, Lauren’s boyfriend and Jillian’s confidant, had been a suspect in Lauren’s disappearance. Now he’s back on Pawleys Island-renovating the old Mills house. And as ghosts of the past are resurrected, and Jillian’s daughter begins having eerie conversations with an imaginary friend named Lauren, Jillian and Linc will uncover the truth about Lauren’s disappearance and about the feelings they have buried for sixteen years.

7.  Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart from my SantaThing at LibraryThing.

When Beth Kephart met and fell in love with the artist who would become her husband, she had little knowledge of the place he came from—an exotic coffee farm high in the jungle hills of El Salvador, a place of terrifying myths and even more frightening realities, of civil war and devastating earthquakes. Yet, marriage, she finds, means taking in not only the stranger who is one’s lover but also a stranger’s history—in this case, a country, language, people, and culture utterly foreign to a young American woman. Kephart’s transcendently lyrical prose (often compared to the work of Annie Dillard) has already made her a National Book Award finalist. In each of her memoirs she has written about love, using her own life to seek out universal truths.

8.   Books and Reading: A Book of Quotations edited by Bill Bradfield from my SantaThing from LibraryThing.

Over 450 memorable quotes about books and reading from writers, political figures, and celebrities. With provocative declarations from John Keats, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Andrew Carnegie, Theodore Roosevelt, James Thurber, and Oprah Winfrey, among others. A handy aid for speech writers and public speakers, this entertaining collection will delight anyone who loves books.

9.  The Descent by Alma Katsu for review from the publisher.

Lanore McIlvrae has been on the run from Adair for hundreds of years, dismayed by his mysterious powers and afraid of his temper. She betrayed Adair’s trust and imprisoned him behind a stone wall to save Jonathan, the love of her life. When Adair was freed 200 years later, she was sure that he would find her and make her existence a living hell. But things turned out far different than she’d imagined.

Four years later, Lanore has tracked Adair to his mystical island home, where he has been living in self-imposed exile, to ask for a favor. She wants Adair to send her to the hereafter so she may beg the Queen of the Underworld to release Jonathan, whom she has been keeping as her consort. Will Lanore honor her promise to Adair to return? Or is her intention to reunite with Jonathan at any cost?

What did you receive?

Santa Came Early, And Twice!

The Holidays are nearly here, but the books are already rolling in! LibraryThing hosts SantaThing each year with its members and you can choose what level of participation between $10 and $30 and from what retailer whether Amazon or Book Depository. I love this program because you get to specify what kinds of books you’re looking for and most of the time they arrive on your doorstop by Christmas.

This year, I signed on for the $30 level, and my SantaThing got me these goodies (hat not included, that’s mine):

SantaThing 2011 Gifts

My Book Blogger Holiday Swap gifts arrived as well, and I was excited to find a new blogger to follow as well — Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews!

I got a boat load of cool goodies from a Santa ornament in a cowboy hat holding a cactus to a sparkly penguin bookmark and some bookplates.  Who can’t use more bookplates when they lend out books?  I know I can, though I probably would spend a mint to get all the bookplates I would need.  Here’s the goodies I got from Sharon!  THANK YOU!

Book Blogger Holiday Swap 2011 -- Bookplates

Book Blogger Holiday Swap 2011 -- Cowboy Santa

Book Blogger Holiday Swap 2011 -- Goodies

Oh, yes, Wiggles and I with help from Daddy will watch the little Elf grow in water!

Book Blogger Holiday Swap 2011 -- Books