February 21, 2011 by Reader's Connection
Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians–even those who are American born–targets for abuse. Because Henry’s nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko’s family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. — Library Journal
Published in 1926 to explosive acclaim, The Sun Also Rises stands as perhaps the most impressive first novel ever written by an American writer. A roman à clef about a group of American and English expatriates on an excursion from Paris’s Left Bank to Pamplona for the July fiesta and its climactic bull fight, a journey from the center of a civilization spiritually bankrupted by the First World War to a vital, God-haunted world in which faith and honor have yet to lose their currency, the novel captured for the generation that would come to be called “Lost” the spirit of its age, and marked Ernest Hemingway as the preeminent writer of his time. — Publisher’s note
Pearl S. Buck, who grew up in China and became the first American woman writer to win the Nobel Prize . . . first appears as a bright, inquisitive girl who conceals her blond, curly hair beneath a black knit cap to be less conspicuous in the Chinese town of Chin-kiang, where she lives with her courageous American missionary parents. We get to know Pearl through her best friend, Willow–impoverished, smart, plucky, and Chinese–as they share mischievous and harrowing adventures, a disastrous mutual love for the famous poet Hsu Chih-mo, and a string of tragedies yoked to the paradoxes and horrors of the Boxer Rebellion, China’s civil war, and Mao’s catastrophic rule. Exiled and heartbroken, Pearl achieves world renown by writing about China, while journalist Willow is brutally punished for remaining loyal to her “imperialist” friend. Ardently detailed, dramatic, and encompassing, Min’s fresh and penetrating interpretation of Pearl S. Buck’s extraordinary life delivers profound psychological, spiritual, and historical insights within an unforgettable cross-cultural story of a quest for veracity, compassion, and justice. — Booklist
And now on to March.
The Iliad concludes with an episode far more solemn than the burning of Troy. Achilles avenges Patroclus’ death by slaying Hector, Troy’s greatest warrior, and dragging the corpse behind his chariot before the walls of Troy daily for 11 days. No other Greek, let alone any Trojan, dares to try and stop Achilles. But Hector’s father, Priam, king of Troy, has a vision and acts upon it. He doffs all his royal splendor, has a donkey cart loaded with treasure, and, sitting next to the carter, goes to the Greek lines to ransom his son’s body on bended knee. Australia’s great contemporary novelist expands upon this deeply moving story most obviously by introducing a character not found in Homer, the humble carter; omitting the escort Homer allows Priam; and having the king appreciate human commonality by listening to the day laborer’s domestic and familial concerns. So doing, Malouf breathes a greater egalitarian spirit into an already profoundly humanizing legend–what’s more, he does it in prose as good or better than the best modern Englishings of his source. — Booklist
Leading men and women actors, Tarzans, cowboys, directors, screenwriters and novelists, musicians and composers–they are all represented in this volume.Hoosiers in Hollywood includes Oscar winners and nominees, soap opera Hoosiers, movies shot in or about Indiana and Hoosiers on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The book also includes more than three hundred illustrations, including promotional shots from Hollywood studios and colorful movie posters. — Baker & Taylor
Niffenegger, a Chicago artist and writer with an elegantly romantic and otherworldly sensibility, earned international acclaim for The Time Traveler’s Wife . . . Niffenegger has a discerning eye and a slyly gothic sensibility, elements that shape this tragicomic fantasy about two generations of twins. Valentina and Julia, inseparable, 20-year-old “mirror image” twins, are still living with their parents outside Chicago when they inherit a flat in London from Elspeth, their mother’s long-estranged twin. Unaware of the painful secret that has kept Edwina and Elspeth apart, ethereal Julia and Valentina arrive in London to find they’ll be living beside the historic Highgate Cemetery. The flat below theirs is occupied by Elspeth’s broken-hearted, younger lover, Robert; the flat above is home to Martin, a crossword puzzle-maker plagued with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it seems as though Elspeth is still in residence as a meddlesome ghost . . . Niffenegger tells a gorgeously rendered, utterly bewitching, and profoundly unnerving tale of the mysteries of selfhood and death and the way love can be both a radiant and malevolent force. — Booklist
Hell. We’re always alone. Born alone. Die alone, says Olive Kitteridge, redoubtable seventh-grade math teacher in Crosby, Maine. Anyone who gets in Olive’s way had better watch out, for she crashes unapologetically through life like an emotional storm trooper. She forces her husband, Henry, the town pharmacist, into tactical retreat; and she drives her beloved son, Christopher, across the country and into therapy. But appalling though Olive can be, Strout manages to make her deeply human and even sympathetic, as are all of the characters in this novel in stories. Covering a period of 30-odd years, most of the stories (several of which were previously published in the New Yorker and other magazines) feature Olive as their focus, but in some she is bit player or even a footnote while other characters take center stage to sort through their own fears and insecurities. Though loneliness and loss haunt these pages, Strout also supplies gentle humor and a nourishing dose of hope. People are sustained by the rhythms of ordinary life and the natural wonders of coastal Maine, and even Olive is sometimes caught off guard by life’s baffling beauty. — Booklist
Knight’s clever and comedic seventh Mageverse paranormal follows a passionate romance between an unwilling female werewolf and an amnesiac Sidhe warrior containing the spirit of a great cat, set against a complex series background incorporating vampires, witches, alien spirits, and the legend of King Arthur. Comics store employee Eva Roman rescues the hunky man she dubs David from evil werewolf sorcerer Warlock. While her furry alter ego is immediately attracted to the catlike David, their romance is complicated by Warlock and his band of werewolf assassins, who will stop at nothing to prevent David from regaining his memory and powers. Eva and David’s fight for survival is leavened by plenty of snappy humor as well as Eva’s hilarious ongoing dialogue with her horny werewolf subconscious. The result is a successful mix of magic, romance, humor, and mind-blowing sex. — Publishers Weekly
David Grann’s The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon will be discussed at the Irvington Library on Thursday, March 10th at 1:30 p.m.
In 1925, renowned British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett embarked on a much publicized search to find the city of Z, site of an ancient Amazonian civilization that may or may not have existed. Fawcett, along with his grown son Jack, never returned, but that didn’t stop countless others, including actors, college professors and well-funded explorers from venturing into the jungle to find Fawcett or the city. Among the wannabe explorers is Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker , who has bad eyes and a worse sense of direction. He became interested in Fawcett while researching another story, eventually venturing into the Amazon to satisfy his all-consuming curiosity about the explorer and his fatal mission. Largely about Fawcett, the book examines the stranglehold of passion as Grann’s vigorous research mirrors Fawcett’s obsession with uncovering the mysteries of the jungle. By interweaving the great story of Fawcett with his own investigative escapades in South America and Britain, Grann provides an in-depth, captivating character study that has the relentless energy of a classic adventure tale. — Publishers Weekly
With some assistance from her husband, Steven, and 19-year-old daughter, Camille, Kingsolver elegantly chronicles a year of back-to-the-land living with her family in Appalachia.After three years of drought, the author decamped from her longtime home in Arizona and set out with Steven, Camille and younger daughter Lily to inhabit fulltime his family’s farm in Virginia. Their aim, she notes, was to “live in a place that could feed us,” to grow their own food and join the increasingly potent movement led by organic growers and small exurban food producers. Kingsolver wants to know where her food is coming from: Her diary records her attempts to consume only those items grown locally and in season while eschewing foods that require the use of fossil fuels for transport, fertilizing and processing. (In one of biologist Steven’s terrific sidebars, “Oily Food,” he notes that 17 percent of the nation’s energy is consumed by agriculture.) . . . Readers frustrated with the unhealthy, artificial food chain will take heart and inspiration here. — Kirkus Reviews
Cases rarely come much colder than the decades-old disappearance of teen heiress Harriet Vanger from her family’s remote island retreat north of Stockholm, nor do fiction debuts hotter than this European bestseller by muckraking Swedish journalist Larsson. At once a strikingly original thriller and a vivisection of Sweden’s dirty not-so-little secrets (as suggested by its original title, Men Who Hate Women ), this first of a trilogy introduces a provocatively odd couple: disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist, freshly sentenced to jail for libeling a shady businessman, and the multipierced and tattooed Lisbeth Salander, a feral but vulnerable superhacker. Hired by octogenarian industrialist Henrik Vanger, who wants to find out what happened to his beloved great-niece before he dies, the duo gradually uncover a festering morass of familial corruption–at the same time, Larsson skillfully bares some of the similar horrors that have left Salander such a marked woman. Larsson died in 2004, shortly after handing in the manuscripts for what will be his legacy. — Publishers Weekly
Daniel Black’s novel Perfect Peace will be discussed at the Flanner House Library on Monday March 14th at 6:30 p.m.
In his third novel, Black revisits the small Arkansas town of Swamp Creek, also the setting of They Tell Me of a Home. This is the heartbreaking tale of Perfect, the seventh child born to Gustavus and Emma-Jean Peace in 1941. What should be a joyous occasion is clouded by Gus’s conflict over having another mouth to feed. And Emma-Jean has an overwhelming desire to have a girl after giving birth to six boys. Deciding to deceive her family and others, Emma-Jean makes the decision to raise Perfect, born a boy, as a girl for the first eight years of his life. When circumstances force her to reveal the truth, everyone involved has to grapple with the consequences. VERDICT Black courageously delves into such sensitive issues such as sexuality, racism, and family dynamics and enchants readers with strong pacing and Southern imagery. Those who enjoy rich and complex works of literary fiction will be provoked to discuss this novel’s many layers. — Library Journal
Drawing on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Schine has written a witty update in which a late-life divorce exiles Betty Weissmann and her adult daughters, Annie and Miranda, from a luxurious life in New York to a shabby beach cottage in Westport, CT. Annie is the serious daughter and Miranda the drama queen. Both women find unexpected love, while Betty, a sweet, frivolous spendthrift, struggles with her newly impoverished state. What comfort the Weissmanns enjoy is owing to the generosity of Cousin Lou, a Holocaust survivor and real-estate mogul, whose goal in life is to rescue everyone, whether or not rescue is needed. While beautifully preserving the essence of the plot, Schine skillfully manages to parallel the original novel in clever 21st-century ways–the trip to London becomes a holiday in Palm Springs; the scoundrel Willoughby becomes a wannabe actor. — Library Journal
Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brother’s long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Verghese’s weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel. — Publishers Weekly
Gladwell . . . brilliantly illuminates an aspect of our mental lives that we utterly rely on yet rarely analyze, namely our ability to make snap decisions or quick judgments. Adept at bridging the gap between everyday experience and cutting-edge science, Gladwell maps the “adaptive unconscious,” the facet of mind that enables us to determine things in the blink of an eye. He then cites many intriguing examples, such as art experts spontaneously recognizing forgeries; sports prodigies; and psychologist John Gottman’s uncanny ability to divine the future of marriages by watching videos of couples in conversation. Such feats are based on a form of rapid cognition called “thin-slicing,” during which our unconscious “draws conclusions based on very narrow ‘slices’ of experience.” But there is a “dark side of blink,” which Gladwell illuminates . . . Unconscious knowledge is not the proverbial light bulb, he observes, but rather a flickering candle. Gladwell’s groundbreaking explication of a key aspect of human nature is enlightening, provocative, and great fun to read. — Booklist
Best-selling author Tan will not disappoint her readers with her most recent work. As with The Joy Luck Club (1989), Tan’s narration represents the perspectives of both the Chinese-born mother and the American-born daughter. Ruth, a successful freelance ghostwriter, has lived for nine years with her partner and his two daughters. She is the only child of LuLing, who was widowed shortly after Ruth was born. Now in her mid-forties, Ruth begins to examine her feelings toward her mother, her relationship with her partner, and her career. In the midst of her emotional confusion, she rediscovers her mother’s handwritten story of her life in China. After arranging for a translation, Ruth learns some long-hidden truths about her family, which help her to appreciate her mother better. Tan explores the conflicts faced by many women who seek independence while caring for partners, children, and family. She writes with compassion about the tension between immigrant parents and American-born children caused by differences in language and cultural upbringing. This is another fine novel by an important American author. — Library Journal