Monday, February 6, 2017

February Reading

Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri
A huge bestseller in Italy, it has finally been translated for the American market.  Think Girl With the Dragon Tattoo meets Law and Order.  The two main characters are highly appealing:  Dante Torre, a middle-aged man who was kidnapped and psychologically tortured throughout his childhood, living now in an open-air apartment to deal with his claustrophobia, addicted to chemical relief and high-end coffee, highly sensitive reader of body language, provides help with kidnapping cases; his sidekick, Columba Caselli, deputy captain of the Italian police on medical leave, suffering from PTSD, tenacious, intelligent, and courageous, pulled back into police work when a child is taken and his mother viciously murdered.  This is not a mystery for the faint-hearted or impatient (it is loooong), but it is well worth it.  The story line, while extremely complex, is creative and compelling, filling in the pieces right when needed and pushing one to turn pages faster and faster.  As a connoisseur of mysteries and thrillers, I often know 'who dunnit' before the end, but not in this case.  This is an extremely well written and well developed novel that should find it a loyal audience here in America.

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson
As a teacher of English literature, I would delve superficially into the story of Emmett Till when we read Toni Morrison novels; the emotional beginning of the civil rights movement still had interest to my students of the 21st century.  However, I 'did not know what I did not know.'  Having read Tyson's previous book, Blood Done Sign My Name (it is also excellent),  I knew this author was a perceptive researcher and a powerful, honest writer.  The first page of Emmett Till and I was hooked.  This is an in-depth look at the story of 14 year-old Chicago boy, visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955, whose body is found beaten, shot, and drowned in a river.  His mother's decision to hold an open casket, to show the world what was 'done to my boy,' mobilized the nascent movement for civil rights in the south.  WWII had opened up the power of resistance, but the laws of the South, as well as the purposeful blindness of the North, demanded a passionate call to action.  Emmett Till's murder was it.  Tyson does a masterful job of detailing the life of Mamie Till and Emmett's other relatives, the background on the many heroic NAACP workers at the time, the arrest and trial of the two perpetrators, and the life behind the woman who accused the young boy of verbally and physically assaulting her.  At times the long lists of organizations and occasional repetition, particularly in the epilogue, slowed the book down.  However, the historical significance of this event, the tie-in to today and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the powerful story-telling of Timothy Tyson makes this a book that I believe deserves, and needs, to be read.  It would be a powerful tool in a classroom, as well as a worthy book club choice to provoke conversation and connections.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
As a die-hard Jon Stewart fan, I was heartbroken when he left the Daily Show.  I was also 'underwhelmed' when South African comedian Trevor Noah took over for him.  While I do not watch Noah as religiously as I did Stewart, he is starting to grow on me. However, after listening to his autobiography (he reads it himself and is MONEY), I do believe I will be taping his show more.  Noah does a masterful job in this book, and that means a lot coming from me as I am not usually one to pick up memoirs.  Born to a Swiss white man and an African black woman, his birth was quite literally a crime under apartheid, and those laws and beliefs did not just merely vanish when Mandela took over.  Noah's childhood in Johannesburg was in turn scary, fascinating, heart-wrenching, poignant, and quite often, gut-busting hilarious.  As in, I would be walking the dog, listening to this book, and literally shrieking with laughter.  His extremely religious mother makes for some riotous moments, and his alcoholic stepfather creates some pretty scary tension.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough; it would be fantastic for a book club, providing humor as well as conversation.  In addition, for those of us who need some laughter right now with the dark cloud of tyranny seemingly paused over our country, this book will hit you right where you need.

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan
For those of you who have not yet read Seattle writer and New York Times editorialist Timothy Egan (Pulitzer prize winner The Worst Hard TimeThe Big Burn, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, etc.), and you like narrative history, I would high recommend picking up any of his books.  Yet, admittedly, his newest book about famed Irish and American patriot Thomas Meagher is just truly fantastic, and struck me at a visceral level as I watch the plight of refugees and immigrants in America today.  Read in a delightful Irish lilt, I listened to this 14 hour book rather quickly.  The life of Meagher begins in the middle of the 19th century in Waterford, Ireland.  Egan does a masterful job of weaving in the previous Irish history to give the reader a sense of how Ireland operated when the great potato famine hit.  We see the beginnings of the Irish independence movement, the use of Australia as a penal colony, the treatment of Irish immigrants in 19th century America, and yes, even their participation in the Civil War and the movement West to conquer the great frontier, and all through the life and times of one extraordinary man. This is a sweeping novel that eloquently tells the story of an immigrant: the despair when leaving one's beloved homeland, the prejudice of an adopted homeland who creates laws and cultural barriers to full citizenship, the fight to be seen as loyal to one's new country.  These are all themes America continues to struggle with today, as we see orders being carried out to deny a religion access to a safe and free homeland.  Egan has written another historical masterpiece and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this 'immortal' Irishman's life.

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach
I am rather torn in my review for this debut novelist (thank you Net Galley).  On the one hand, Dolan-Leach has created a creative and intriguing plot line.  Identical twin sisters, estranged for two years, are brought back 'together' through the seeming death of the eldest one, Zelda.  Ava, the younger twin, is led on an alphabetical chase through her past, attempting to uncover what happened to Zelda, while at the same time trying to draw some conclusions about her own life and past decisions.  Dolan-Leach segues through time, jumping around a bit much, as she tries to draw the strings together.  The characters are not wholly sympathetic, which is not a prerequisite for me, yet I would have liked to see more depth with not only the two girls, but also some of the peripheral characters.  Although the voice of the girls was sassy and appealing, I felt no connection to either, thus prohibiting me from cheering on either one of them. The ultra-long paragraphs hurt my high-school teacher's heart; it was at times like reading a student's essay and wanting to put the paragraph editing symbol in to remind her to create more of those little beauties.  I was ultimately disappointed in what I saw as a rather cliche ending, but I do have hope for the second of this author's book as I see great potential in her creative plot development.

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