As much as I enjoyed the other O’Keefe novels, this one just didn’t work for me. It’s still a great novel, but something about the lay out or Polly’s age, or the subject matter just didn’t work for me. It also didn’t help that I ended a job and started a new one all in the middle of reading this book, so the timing could definitely have been better.
A House Like A Lotus is the third of the O’Keefe Family Series, the sixth book published, but the seventh in chronological order in the Kairos (Murray-O’Keefe) series. It continues the themes of the O’Keefe books of humanity and what people can do to make the world a better place for everyone. Maybe that’s what I didn’t like about this one? Maybe it was too hippy-dippy for me? But considering some of the hippier-dippier books I’ve read recently I don’t think so.
One of the things I’ve come to realize re-reading L’Engle’s novels and reading additional ones, is she was not afraid to talk about taboo subjects when she was writing these novels. She talks about teen-sex, family problems, murder and LGBT individuals. And she does it in such a frank way that you can’t help but appreciate who her intended audience was.
“Of course lesbianism exists, and has since the beginning of history, and we have not always been compassionate. I thought it was now agreed that consenting adults were not to be persecuted, particularly if they keep their private lives private. We human beings are all in the enterprise of life together, and the journey isn’t easy for any of us. Xan, come with me. I want to take your temperature.” (Loc. 1427)
“I’d hoped this conversation wouldn’t be necessary. Urs said it would be, sooner or later, since the world considers personal privacy a thing of the past. Have you noticed how, whenever there’s a tragedy, the TV cameras rush to the bereaved to take pictures, totally immune to human suffering?” (Loc. 1544)
And then when you add in her religious leaning and teachings, it’s even more of a “WHOA” moment. There is no judgement, there is no proselytizing. She is writing about human nature and about people who exist and have existed in some form or another for a very long time.
I did finally realize why I struggled so much with this book. There was of course the fact that it was only TWO chapters. This was problematic for me as this was a roughly 335 page book and with only one natural break I struggled to remember what was happening every time I picked it up.
The second reason I struggled, and I think this was a larger theme of the O’Keefe series, is that it was the real world. There were definitely references to the fantastical, spiritual and other-worldly, but overwhelmingly this book was about Polly’s growing up experience and the realization that humanity kind of sucks. This isn’t a bad thing, but I know it wasn’t really for me. It really became apparent when I started the final novel in this super series, An Acceptable Time, and the fantastical and otherworldly started almost immediately! Keep an eye out for that response next week.
Recommendation: I think a lot of people would really enjoy this novel, especially young people coming of age who have a strong social consciousness. This is definitely more of an internal struggle novel with feelings and life experiences, so keep that in mind and keep an open mind. You might not want your teenager to read it, but it’s safer and better written/explained than what they might find on the internet.
Opening Line: “Constitution Square. Athens. Late September. I am sitting here with a new notebook and an old heart.”
Closing Line: “She paused for breath and Omio took my hand and pulled me to the chair next to his. ‘Saranam,’ he said.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from A House Like A Lotus
“Airports get more chaotic daily. There are fewer planes, fewer ground personnel, more noise, longer lines, incomprehensible loudspeakers, short tempers, frazzled nerves.” (Loc. 40)
“A plane is outside ordinary time, ordinary space. High up above the clouds, I was flying away from everything that had happened, not trying to escape it, or deny it, but simply being in a place that had no connection with chronology or geography.” (Loc. 79)
“Now Max held her arms out, wide, and so did Sandy, and they ran and embraced each other. It was theatrical, but it was also real, and I envied the freedom that allowed them to be so uninhibited. I stood watching their pleasure in each other, feeling that I shouldn’t have come in old jeans and a yellow sweater that was too small for me.” (Loc. 345)
“Never believe people who tell you they have no money, Polly. People who don’t have it seldom mention the fact. People who do, tend to be embarrassed about it, and so deny it, especially in front of someone like Sandy, who spends his life fighting the big international megacorps.” (Loc. 399)
“We all bring our own subjective bias to whatever we think about, but we have to recognize what our bias is, so that we will be able to think as objectively as possible. (Loc 480)
“When I saw you in the Square this afternoon you reminded me of a wild pony, ready to shy off if anybody frightened you. You still have that look, as though you might suddenly leap up from your chair and vanish. You’re sophisticated enough to be eating alone on the roof of the King George and yet you have an innocence I haven’t seen in anyone your age in I don’t know how long.” (Loc. 587)
“‘And Lord Elgin, all those marbles he took—’ I looked around. ‘I suppose he really thought he was saving them from the Turks, but shouldn’t they be back now where they belong? At least those which didn’t get lost when that ship sank?'” (Loc. 941)
“Why do I dislike so intensely the skepticism, the self-protectiveness, of allegedly? It’s part of the legal jargon Zachary was inheriting, but it still strikes me as a cowardly word.” (Loc. 1327)
“Max had made me see that inner beauty was better than outer beauty, that it could, indeed, create outer beauty.” (Loc. 1355)
“You don’t have to bear it with me. It’s over. You have a terrifying ability to enter into the experience of others, that’s why you’re such a good little actress. You feel things too deeply to bear them unless you can get them out of yourself through some form of art.” (Loc. 1639)
“Part of growing up, I was discovering, was learning that you did not have to tell your parents everything.” (Loc. 1673)
“‘Little one,’ Max said. ‘There are worse things than dying. Losing one’s sense of compassion, for instance; being inured to suffering. Losing the wonder and the sadness of it all. That’s a worse death than the death of the body.’” (Loc. 2038)
“‘Never think what you do doesn’t matter,’ Max said. ‘No one is too insignificant to make a difference. Whenever you get the chance, choose life. But I don’t need to tell you that. You choose life with every gesture you make. That’s the first thing in you that appealed to me. You are naked with life.’” (Loc. 2130)
“In this body, in this town of Spirit, there is a little house shaped like a lotus, and in that house there is a little space. There is as much in that little space within the heart as there is in the whole world outside. Maybe that little space is the reality of your you and my me?” (Loc. 2369)
“We bring our worlds with us when we travel, we Americans.” (Loc. 2476)
“But it was hot. My sheet was wet. The fan was blowing a warm draft over me, doing no more than recirculating hot air. I put down my book and turned out the light; even the filament of the light bulb added to the heat of the room.” (Loc. 3027)
“Whatever it is, whoever it was, it’ll pass, you’ll get over it. People have bad things happen but they survive.” (Loc. 3332)
“Would I want never to have met Max? Never to have had my horizons expanded? Would I truly want to eradicate all of the good times because of one terrible time? Yes, it was terrible, Max insane with alcohol and pain and fear. But would I wipe out all the rest of it for that moment of dementia?” (Loc. 3910)
“Perhaps the greater the brilliance, the darker the flaw.” (Loc. 3914)
“The cold place within me that had frozen and constricted my heart was gone. My heart was like a lotus, and in that little space there was room enough for Osia Theola, for all of Cyprus. For all the stars in all of the galaxies. For all those bubbles which were island universes.” (Loc. 3982)