This unusual novel features identical twin sisters, inseparable as children, living in a small town in rural Louisiana. The town’s founder, a light skinned Black man, insisted on maintaining a certain character for the town–only light skinned Black people should live there. At sixteen the sisters run away to New Orleans where they ultimately choose diametrically opposed lives, one passing as white, marrying a wealthy white man who knows nothing of her true past. In spite of the deception and lies, years later their lives become intertwined in unexpected ways. The novel not only addresses themes of race but also sexual identity and who we are as individuals and a country.
One Book a Week-10: A Solitude of Wolverines, Alice Henderson
The perfect book for those who love suspense, Montana, wildlife, wildlife conservation, Alice Cooper, the protagonist, is a young, wildlife biologist who spends most of her life going from one remote research site to another. Here she’s located in a remote area of the high country in Montana, 26 miles from Bitterroot, studying wolverine populations for a wildlife conservancy/trust which now owns a defunct ski resort. While a few of the locals support her work and the conservancy, many more see the trust and her as endangering their way of life, and they are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.
Filled with suspense, reading this page turner will also inform readers about wildlife biology and research, wolverine study, and life in the northern high country.
If you are looking for a fun read where you actually also learn something, this book is the perfect fit.
Note: This is one of three books I have read this month so far. I will post about the other two in the next few days.
One Book a Week-9: “Flights”, Olga Tokarczuk
How to describe this unusual novel? Here’s a possible list:
-No over all plot.
-Several stories about individuals scattered throughout, e.g. read about a person and event, then many pages later back to that person and the consequences of the event(s).
-Short philosophical musings/vignettes interspersed here and there. One reviewer counted 116.
-One common theme relates to the title, Flights, in that in most of the “stories” people are traveling or have traveled on quests for “meaning” or escape from a cumbersome reality.
I learned the following from reading this book:
-Per his request Chopin’s heart was taken from his body. His body was buried in Paris but his sister secretly transported his heart in a jar of special preservation liquid back to Poland, the land of his birth.
-A Dutch anatomist discovered the Achilles tendon after dissecting his own amputated leg.
-Plastination is the method used in anatomy to preserve bodies and body parts. Several characters in the book make their living or are obsessed with this process.
This is not a book for those who prefer relaxing reading or for the “faint of heart”.
Note: The author won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2018. This book won the Mann Booker for translated literature from all over earth in 2018. I plan to read another of her books–have now read two of them–but since the other one in English is 1000 pages long rather guess it might take more than a week for me to read it. This is actually the 11th book I have read to date in 2023 but did not start blogging about them so two are missing in the blog posts,
One Book a Week-8:”The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida”, Shehan Karunatilaka
The Booker (previously Mann-Booker) Prize winner in 2022, this book is filled with gruesome events and dark, graveyard humor. Since if takes place in Sri Lanka, if you know little about Sri Lanka history in the last 50 years, you might want to do a quick review so you know about the civil unrest and the various Sri Lankan ethnicities, e.g. Tamil, Sinhalese, Burgher. Written from the viewpoint of the title character, a war photographer, after being murdered, he resides in a sort of celestial purgatory while he tries to save his two best friends and male lover who are still alive and discover the identity of his murderer. He is given seven moons in which to accomplish this task. Not a book for the faint of heart, it contains gruesome war and torture details but frequently is also quite funny and filled with “truths”. In an interview the author explained, “Sri Lankans specialize in gallows humor; it is our coping mechanism.” As I read, I underlined passages I found especially meaningful, profound, or fascinating. Here are some of them:
“-There are only two gods worth worshipping. Chance and electricity.
-Hell is all around us and it is in session as we speak.
-Evil is not what we should fear. Creatures with power acting in their own best interests; that is what should make us shudder.
-There has never been an era of peace in all recorded history.
-Interest in fair play and democracy are not always the same thing.
-I have a superb name for God. Whoever.
-Laws are needed because made-up religions are not enough.
-The universe is nothing but mathematics and probabilities…we are nothing more than accidents of our births.
-They say the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
-Your race, your school, your family will dictate how the dice of life will fall for you.
-All religions keep the poor docile and the rich in their castles.
-People are ok if bad things happen to people who are not them.
-Do not be afraid of demons; it is the living we should fear.
-I have thought long and there are no answers. There is only this. There is only now.
-We must all find a pointless cause to fight for, or why bother with breath?
-The kindest thing you can say about life. It’s not for nothing.
-I cannot understand why humans destroy when they can create. Such a waste.”
One Book a Week-7: “Memorial Drive, A Daughter’s Memoir” by Natasha Trethewey
Published in 2020, and a must read for anyone who cares about abused women, their rights, and how law enforcement often fails them, this book by Trethewey, 2007 Pulitzer Poetry Price winner for “Native Guard”, voices her struggle to deal with her mother’s untimely death. When Trethewey was nineteen and in college, her mother was shot and killed by her step-father after the police officer assigned to protect her mother left his post early. Additionally, the memoir details the effects of the racism she experienced as the child of a white father and black mother (married when it was illegal where they lived) in Mississippi and later in Atlanta in the 1970s and 80s before her mother’s murder in 1985. The book gets its title from the street on which her mother lived when she was murdered. Through this memoir Trethewey discusses how her parent’s divorce, her mother’s remarriage to an angry, abusive man, and her mother’s murder has informed her life and affected the enduring love she holds for her mother.
One Book a Week-6: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
Even though I try to keep up-to-date on Nobel Prize authors, I was unfamiliar with this one until I saw this book on a table at Barnes and Noble. First, the title intrigued me; then the blurb added more mystery. I bought it–so glad I did. Once I started, there was no stopping–fascinated.
Written in first person, it is contains the thoughts and experiences as related by an older woman. Once a bridge engineer, she now resides in the Polish countryside near the Czech border. Winters are harsh; most of the people who live there live there only in summer. She stays and cares for the houses of the summer people while they are gone all winter. She also teaches English part-time to children at the local school. Her passions are animals and astrology. Even though a science type, she is totally convinced that astrology contains life’s secrets even to the point of predicting the time and events of a person’s death. The book is also a murder mystery with an ending totally different from what I expected.
Now I am going to purchase the author’s book, Flights, which won the Mann Booker prize in 2018.
One Book a Week-5: The Importance of Paris by Cynthia F. Davidson
This memoir take place when the author decides to move to Paris in order to address certain “issues” related to her childhood and young adult years. She grew up in Saudi Arabia before the oil boom and went to high school and lived in Beirut when it was considered one of the best cities in the world. She had to leave when Lebanon became war torn, her dad was kidnapped, and her sister shot. Her return to the US proved traumatizing even though she is not genetically of Middle Eastern descent. Paris was filled with Lebanese refugees so she moves there in an attempt to understand what happened to her beloved Lebanon and why.
This is not an ordinary memoir. I could not stop reading it; I wanted to know what happens next and why. It includes a graphic honesty not found in most memoirs I’ve read. In addition, it contains political and historical explanations for the events that transpired during the time period of the book.
Want to learn more about the background to current events in the Middle East? Want to read about a remarkable life? Then read this memoir.
The First Time I Saw the Nile
Riding hours through emerald mountains
to Bahir Dar.
We drove up a steep road,
monkeys begging near the roadside.
Car parked, we climbed a steep hill.
There she was
a silver ribbon far below
two white robed people
walked, hippos barely visible.
a life’s longing fulfilled.
Flowing from Lake Tana,
she lay below me,
the legendary river,
ancient people, ancient stories,
builder of civilizations,
One Book a Week-4: FINDING THE MOTHER TREE: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest
When it first came out in 2018, I read The Overstory by Richard Powell. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard appears to contain the endless years of detailed research and life story behind one of the characters in Powell’s novel. In fact, in her Acknowledgements, Simard thanks Powell for helping to make her life’s research more accessible to the general populace.
Simard’s book is part memoir, part detailed scientific explanations of her research and how a forest works and lives, and part how difficult it is to be taken seriously in the science world if you are female and your research contradicts the norm. She grew up in Canada. Her family made a living cutting down trees. Her family and life was and is intricately interwoven with nature. Even as a child, she was obsessed with tree roots, crawled around on the forest floor to see what lived there. A specific fascination was all the types and colors of fungi that grew just under the surface. Why were they there? What purpose did they serve? Later this became her life’s work, leading her to discover how trees of varying species use these fungi to communicate with and nurture each other. Of special significance are the “mother trees”, older, larger trees who provide nurturance to all the younger trees around them, recognize their kin, favoring them as they nurture all the other trees as well.
Traditionally, loggers and timber companies clear cut, then replanted with seedlings of all the same species of evergreen. It took Simard decades of research to convince them that it was not only the poorest way to grow new trees but also the least economical. For decades they saw her as some nutty woman, laughed at her research, laughed at her, even using epithets to her face. Ultimately, however, her work led to changes in how forestry is practiced.
This book relates her long struggle to save the forests. For those who are science minded, the final pages of the book contain 32 pages of Critical Sources. If you are interest in learning more about “mother trees”, go to http://mothertreeproject.org. It defines the term “mother tree” and explains how trees communicate. It also contains videos.
One Book a Week-3
While wandering around Barnes and Noble looking for something new to read, I read the blurb for An Imaginary Life by David Malouf, an Australian writer. I bought it. Of course, I had heard of Ovid, seen parts of Metamorphosis, his most famous work, but knew little about him. Emperor Augustus exiled him to the remote regions near the Black Sea for reasons not totally known but perhaps due to the nature of Ovid’s erotic poetry which was very popular. Written in the first person, this book relates Ovid’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings while in exile. The urbane and educated Ovid now has to learn to live with superstitious, illiterate, poverty stricken people whose language he does not know, who possess none of amenities to which he is accustomed, who live in a bare survival mode. They find a “wild child” and Ovid becomes determined to catch him and teach him. The Child has lived with the animals and speaks their language, seems immune to weather even though naked, knows nothing of humans. As Ovid lives with and teaches the Child, he begins to question what it means to be human, to be civilized, to be different. What is the true meaning of life?
Note: If you look up Ovid, you will find a birthdate but no date of death. No one knows exactly when or where he died or where he was buried.