White Oleander, Janet Fitch



Always learn poems by heart. They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they’ll make your soul impervious to the world’s soft decay

Already half way through December!  Yeesh!  And now I finally plod in with read #7.  You don’t know how much grief I have been giving myself, all the while 500 pages of Bleak House still beckon to be read for my exam on Monday.  Instead I decided to take up White Oleander today, another original to a favourite film of mine.  I read White Oleander to the tragically beautiful soundtrack by Thomas Newman.     

White Oleander is narrated by Astrid, daughter of a callous, but brilliant single mother, writer and poetess, Ingrid Magnussen, who is found guilty and imprisoned for poisoning an ex-lover with white oleander and DMSO.   As Astrid passes through her adolescent years, she is passed along from foster home to foster home, encountering multiple mother figures and families in the process of breaking down, all the while bombarded by letters from her mother in prison.  Although constantly denied brilliance by her overshadowing mother, Astrid is a poet, but tells her story with a pulsing heart against the cold passion of her narcissistic mother.  

This was a cruel story to read.  Its cold beauty was almost too much to take in mid-December.  I fell in love with the way Astrid tries on the identities of all her mothers, and although moments of absolute love poked out from around the social debris and Astrid’s own broken hopes, I found the hopelessness to generally be too overwhelming.  I don’t say this often as an eager reader of all sorts of sadness.  The scary reality of the American foster child system and the state of families in general read almost nightmarish to me, a far more sheltered woman than Astrid Magnussen.  With this broken society, there is no fix in sight.   Men and women constantly wounding each other, wounding themselves, wounding their children…  Ingrid’s callous words and heartless perspective for the world ring out throughout the novel, but the truths are ultimately left to be decided by Astrid and, of course, the reader. 

I must pick a happier read for the next one.  

(I urge you to check out Thomas Newman’s lovely soundtrack here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxreHIVW2wI)

Books Read: 7


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