June 25, 2012 by Reader's Connection
We visit Paris twice, this month–once in a novel and once in an historical account of Americans making that trip. Two memoirs –by Shirley MacLaine and Bill Bryson–are being discussed, and at least five novels, and a book about two society girls from out east who transplant themselves in Colorado. Happy Fourth of July.
Some of the most thought-provoking Holocaust books are about bystanders, including those who say they did not know what was happening. This first novel tells the bystander story from the viewpoint of an innocent child. Bruno is nine when his family moves from their luxurious Berlin home to the country, where “the Fury” has appointed Bruno’s father commandant. Lost and lonely, the child hates the upheaval, while his stern but kind father celebrates his success because he has learned to follow orders. Bruno can see a concentration camp in the distance, but he has no idea what is going on, even when he eventually meets and makes friends with Shmuel, a boy from Cracow, who lives on the other side of the camp fence. The boys meet every day. They even discover that they have the same birthday . . . Shmuel is Bruno’s alternative self, and as the story builds to a horrifying climax, the innocent’s experience brings home the unimaginable horror. — Booklist
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
Giordano’s deeply touching debut novel immediately thrusts the reader into the lives of two individuals, at the moment when each of their young lives takes a sharp turn toward painful solitude: Alice has been crippled in a childhood skiing accident, Mattia is consumed by guilt after playing an unintended but key role in his twin sister’s disappearance. Upon meeting in their early teens, they develop a frequently uncomfortable yet enveloping friendship. What follows is a beautiful and affecting account of the ways in which seemingly inconsequential decisions reverberate so intensely as to change a life forever. Translated from the Italian, this is a book about communication: in lacking a facility for self-expression, our stunted protagonists exist almost solely, and safely, in their own minds. Despite its heavy subject matter, it reads easily, due in part to the almost seamless translation. A quietly explosive ending completes the novel in just the fashion it was started, as an intimate psychological portrait of two “prime numbers.” — Booklist
In this breezy new volume, the 76-year-old actress catalogues some of what she can no longer tolerate. MacLaine is not concerned with what she should not do, for instance, and has a distaste for the hassles of airport travel and government. “I am over everything that involves politics. What happens to me spiritually is far more important to me now.” She has stopped being polite to boring people, and she’s over fame for fame’s sake. “Fame is a false god. Talent and hard work are not.” Flipping the switch, MacLaine also documents many of the things she cannot get over. She still likes good journalists, appreciates her own personal history, and notes performers with whom she has worked in decades past, recalling experiences with Alfred Hitchcock, Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, Jack Nicholson, and others. These stories of Hollywood’s past are among the most engaging. — Publishers Weekly
A charming, funny recounting of growing up in Des Moines during the sleepy 1950s.Bryson combines nostalgia, sharp wit and a dash of hyperbole to recreate his childhood in the rural Midwest. Using a homespun, idiosyncratic voice reminiscent of Jean Shepherd, he tells of a generally happy youth as the son of a loving but often absent sportswriter father and a dizzyingly absentminded mother, a “home furnishings” reporter at the Des Moines Register who once sent him to school wearing her own peddle-pushers. The journey includes visits to stately downtown Des Moines, where Younkers, the preeminent local department store, offered free gifts to patrons of its “elegant” Tea Room; the annual Iowa State Fair, where Bryson tried desperately to gain access to the notorious “strippers’ tent”; and the bacchanalia of Saturday matinees at the local movie theater, where candy and popcorn flew through the darkened theater like confetti. We also meet some of Bryson’s colorful comrades, like George Willoughby, an adept vending-machine thief who also placed bugs in his soup in order to get free ice-cream sundaes from the stricken restaurant manager; and the troubled Stephen Katz, a prodigious substance-abuser who organized the theft of an entire boxcar of Old Milwaukee beer. — Kirkus Reviews
The book’s full title is Same Kind of Different As Me : A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together. According to Baker & Taylor, it recounts how one co-author suffered through plantation-style slavery and homelessness until the 1960s before the wife of the other co-author, an art dealer accustomed to privilege, intervened.
The Irvington Library will host a discussion of Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden, on Thursday, July 12th at 1:30 p.m.
Wickenden shares the story of her grandmother Dorothy Woodruff, who, along with close personal friend Rosamond Underwood, spent nine months teaching at a remote settlement school in northwestern Colorado in the early 20th century. This highly personalized and meticulously researched account is more than a simple family history: it tells a great backstory about American development in those years, an “alternative western,” in Wickenden’s words. These rich and well-educated young society women, tired of social conventions and frustrated by suffrage work, came face to face with another America in the years before World War I–one that was poor, diverse, remote, lacking in modern conveniences, occasionally violent, and yet spectacularly beautiful and “new.” Although far from being a scholarly account, the story here adds to our understanding of the complexity of women’s experiences in presuffrage America. As college students today do transformative volunteer work worldwide, so, too, did these two young women. Their lovingly preserved letters richly demonstrate how in seeking to assist others they also changed themselves. — Library Journal
In this dreamy and lyrical paean to all things French, a restless African-American woman with a French name (Nicole-Marie Roxane, 56), shucks routine and expectations to live out her dream of traveling to Paris. But her exotic getaway turns into a relentless search for a beautiful woman known to Nicole only from an old photo, Ruby Garrett, whose race and connection to her father are both mysterious. In alternating narratives, Nicole uncovers secrets long held by her difficult parents, as the ferociously independent Ruby describes the freewheeling Paris of the early 1950s, where ambitious black musicians found an appreciative audience and colorblind acceptance. Luckett skips surprisingly smoothly across six decades as the narrative unfolds the mystery of Nicole’s identity. But the mystery is hardly the point: Luckett weaves a fascinating portrait of women of color who defy family and tradition to follow love and chase success. Ruby’s unflinching, unapologetic choices–even her lies about her race–unsettle Nicole. But Ruby is equally puzzled that Nicole would choose the ordinary over adventure. In the end, it’s the soulful, headstrong, romantic Ruby whose passion resonates in this story of discovery and acceptance. — Publishers Weekly
Marina Singh gave up a career as a doctor after botching an emergency delivery as an intern, opting instead for the more orderly world of research for a pharmaceutical company. When office colleague Anders Eckman, sent to the Amazon to check on the work of a field team, is reported dead, Marina is asked by her company’s CEO to complete Anders’ task and to locate his body. What Marina finds in the sweltering, insect-infested jungles of the Amazon shakes her to her core. For the team is headed by esteemed scientist Annick Swenson, the woman who oversaw Marina’s residency and who is now intent on keeping the team’s progress on a miracle drug completely under wraps. Marina’s jungle odyssey includes exotic encounters with cannibals and snakes, a knotty ethical dilemma about the basic tenets of scientific research, and joyous interactions with the exuberant people of the Lakashi tribe, who live on the compound. In fluid and remarkably atmospheric prose, Patchett captures not only the sights and sounds of the chaotic jungle environment but also the struggle and sacrifice of dedicated scientists. — Booklist
One of America’s most popular historians and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, McCullough has hit the historical jackpot. Travelers before the telephone era loved to write letters and journals, and McCullough has turned this avalanche of material into an entertaining chronicle of several dozen 19th-century Americans who went to Paris, an immense, supremely civilized city flowing with ideas, the arts, and elegance, where no one spit tobacco juice or defaced public property. They discovered beautiful clothing, delicious food, the art of dining (“The French dine to gratify, we to appease appetite,” wrote John Sanderson). Paris had not only pleasures but professional attractions as well. Artists such as Samuel F.B. Morse, Whistler, Sargent, and Cassatt came to train. At a time when American medical education was fairly primitive, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and other prospective physicians studied at the Sorbonne’s vast hospitals and lecture halls–with tuition free to foreigners. Authors from Cooper to Stowe, Twain, and James sometimes took up residence. McCullough mixes famous and obscure names and delivers capsule biographies of everyone to produce a colorful parade of educated, Victorian-era American travelers and their life-changing experiences in Paris. — Publishers Weekly