Saturday, January 5, 2019

Mini Reviews: Copenhagen || The Mothers

Copenhagen by Michael Frayn

Genre: Stage play
Pages: 132
Publication date: 1998
In 1941 the German physicist Werner Heisenberg made a strange trip to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart, Niels Bohr. They were old friends and close colleagues, and they had revolutionized atomic physics in the 1920s with their work together on quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle. But now the world had changed, and the two men were on opposite sides in a world war. The meeting was fraught with danger and embarrassment, and ended in disaster.

Likes: I don’t read many stage plays because watching them is always more fun than reading them, but I thought I’d give Copenhagen a shot. It has amazing reviews and has been nominated for many, many awards. What could go wrong?

I enjoyed the historical aspect of the play. It’s based on a real meeting that occurred in 1941 between physicists Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. They were both working on secret government weapons projects, and they found themselves working for opposite alliances during WWII. There is debate over what they talked about at their meeting. This play imagines the conversations they might have had. I think the “characters” are believable. They’re passionate about science, but they have complicated feelings about their actions during the war and how their work will be used by people in power. This is a play about memory, ambition, and regret.

We have one set of obligations to the world in general, and we have other sets, never to be reconciled, to our fellow-country men, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our family, to our children. We have to go through not two slits at the same time but twenty-two. All we can do is to look afterwards, and see what happened.Copenhagen

Dislikes: So . . . unpopular opinion time: I know this play is beloved by everybody, but I struggled with it. A lot. Even though it’s short, it seems long because I got really, really bored. I think it needs actors to bring it to life. The dialogue is dry. Reading it is like reading an argument between two college professors about a topic that I don’t understand and don’t care about.

This play also has no stage directions. That made it hard to picture what was happening. The characters often talk to the audience or talk about each other like they’re not all on stage together. It’s very jarring until you get used to it.

The Bottom Line: I got bored and confused.

The Mothers by Britt Bennett

Genre: Adult literary fiction
Pages: 288
Publication date: October 2016
It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother's recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor's son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it's not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

Likes: Drama! Well-written drama.

Who knew that one tiny church could contain so much scandal? The Mothers is an unusual novel. It’s narrated by a Greek chorus of “church mothers.” These are the gossipy old women who know everybody’s business and speculate about the private lives of their friends. The mothers are telling the story of two teenage girls, Aubrey and Nadia, who get into a relationship with the preacher’s son. This is a novel about motherhood in all of its forms. Almost all of the characters are women of color, and almost all of them end up becoming mothers, even if they don’t give birth to a child. They become mothers to younger women and to their community.

I like that the book focuses on a small church and how the actions of a few people can cause big problems. While the characters are making choices and keeping secrets, they’re also dealing with the expectations and judgments of their community. The church starts to fall apart when the characters let each other down. Every issue in this book is handled in a nuanced way. The characters have realistic reactions to the problems in their lives.

Speaking of the characters’ problems, there are many of them: suicide, abandonment, grief, selfishness, cheating, racism, abortion, injury, betrayal, regret. There is a lot going on, but the plot never feels bleak or overwhelming. I always had the sense that the characters would be okay. They occasionally make infuriatingly reckless choices, but I knew they’d learn from their mistakes. They’d correct their behavior before they destroyed themselves.

Reckless white boys became politicians and bankers, reckless black boys became dead.The Mothers

Dislikes: I wish the plot moved a bit faster. I was never bored, but it’s a slow book. Sometimes I just wanted it to get to the point.

The plot mostly centers on a love triangle, which I didn’t love. It’s a complex love triangle, and I understand why it happened, but romantic angst isn’t the best at holding my attention. I often wanted to reach through the pages, shake the characters, and tell them to move on with their lives. Get over the silly teenage nonsense. You’re grown women now.

The Bottom Line: Slow and drama-filled, but also complex and well-written. It mostly lives up to the hype.


  1. Regarding Copenhagen, I've never even heard of it. I'm not into plays so much so that would make sense. Now operas are a different story - I'm addicted to them. But, now I'm curious to read/watch it. Sorry you found it confusing!
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review

  2. I loved Copenhagen...but then I never tried to read it. I saw it on the stage and it was very powerful and memorable. But it's not a play that I would want to read.

    1. Watching it would probably be a lot more interesting than reading it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. Interesting, both of them, but I doubt I will read wither (I would like to see Copenhagen). And yes, churches have drama, but so any group of people.

    1. I’d recommend watching Copenhagen and not reading it. The church in The Mothers has A LOT of drama. It’s a good book, though.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  4. I haven't heard of either of these, but they don't sound like my cup of tea! I'm sorry the first one was a bust for you, but I'm glad the second one made up for it!

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

  5. Anything with a love triangle is generally ignored by Chuckles!

  6. I had The Mothers on my TBR for a long time and then randomly took it off. I don't even know why because reading your review, it definitely sounds like a book that would appeal to me.

  7. Ogh I had never heard of Copenhagen! I love anything about quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle! too bad it was confusing!

  8. I haven't read too many stage plays either. I think that the concept of Copenhagen sounds intriguing, but it does sound like something I would prefer onstage.

    I am really intrigued by The Mothers. That cover is so interesting and the concept is as well. I am glad that you enjoyed it so much. I will have to give it a try as well. :)

  9. Haven't read many stage plays either -- not even the Cursed Child, despite good intentions to do so. The Mothers I shall have to check further -- it does sound intriguing and complex.

  10. I haven't read either of these but I am sorry Copenhagen didn't work for you. I love reading plays but it can be touch and go and some plays are SO much better to see in action than read. Oh my goodness, The Mothers is one I should read. As a regular churchgoer I see how much drama happens in a church you wouldn't believe xD