1

The Book Trail: Asian Literature Edition

The first Book Trail of 2018 begins with a book I would very much like to read this year, and takes us through some rather interesting Asian literature picks which are going straight onto my to-read list (if they aren’t there already, of course!).  As ever, I am using the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool on Goodreads to come up with this list.

 

1. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie 4101648
Beginning on August 9, 1945, in Nagasaki, and ending in a prison cell in the US in 2002, as a man is waiting to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Burnt Shadows is an epic narrative of love and betrayal.  Hiroko Tanaka is twenty-one and in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. As she steps onto her veranda, wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, her world is suddenly and irrevocably altered. In the numbing aftermath of the atomic bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. In search of new beginnings, two years later, Hiroko travels to Delhi. It is there that her life will become intertwined with that of Konrad’s half sister, Elizabeth, her husband, James Burton, and their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu.  With the partition of India, and the creation of Pakistan, Hiroko will find herself displaced once again, in a world where old wars are replaced by new conflicts. But the shadows of history–personal and political–are cast over the interrelated worlds of the Burtons, the Ashrafs, and the Tanakas as they are transported from Pakistan to New York and, in the novel’s astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11. The ties that have bound these families together over decades and generations are tested to the extreme, with unforeseeable consequences.

 

117877522. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif
The patients of the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments are looking for a miracle, and Alice Bhatti is looking for a job.  Alice is a candidate for the position of junior nurse, grade 4. It is only a few weeks since her release from Borstal. She has returned to her childhood home in the French Colony, where her father, recently retired from his position as chief janitor, continues as part-time healer, and full-time headache for the local church. It seems she has inherited some of his gift.With guidance from the working nurse’s manual, and some tricks she picked up in prison, Alice brings succour to the thousands of patients littering the hospital’s corridors and concrete courtyard. In the process she attracts the attention of a lovesick patient, Teddy Bunt, apprentice to the nefarious ‘Gentleman Squad’ of the Karachi police. They fall in love; Teddy with sudden violence, Alice with cautious optimism.Their love is unexpected, but the consequences are not.  Alice soon finds that her new life is built on foundations as unstable as those of her home. A Catholic snubbed by other Catholics, who are in turn hated by everyone around them, she is also put at risk by her husband, who does two things that no member of the Gentlemen Squad has ever done – fall in love with a working girl, and allow a potentially dangerous suspect to get away. Can Teddy and Alice ever live in peace? Can two people make a life together without destroying the very thing that united them? It seems unlikely, but then Alice Bhatti is no ordinary nurse…  Filled with wit, colour and pathos, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is a glorious story of second chances, thwarted ambitions and love in unlikely places, set in the febrile streets of downtown Karachi. It is the remarkable new novel from the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes.

 

3. The Scatter Here Is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer 18781341
A vivid and intricate novel-in-stories, The Scatter Here Is Too Great explores the complicated lives of ordinary people whose fates unexpectedly converge after a deadly bomb blast at the Karachi train station: an old communist poet; his wealthy, middle-aged son; a young man caught in an unpleasant, dead-end job; a girl who spins engaging tales to conceal her heartbreak; and a grief-stricken writer, who struggles to make sense of this devastating tragedy.  Bilal Tanweer reveals the pain, loneliness, and longing of these characters and celebrates the power of the written word to heal lives and communities plagued by violence. Elegantly weaving together different voices into a striking portrait of a city and its people, The Scatter Here Is Too Great is a tale as vibrant and varied in its characters, passions, and idiosyncrasies as the city itself.

 

212709474. The Smoke is Rising by Mahesh Rao
With India’s first rocket launch to the moon, the scenario is changing fast. It is this changing world of Mysore which Mahesh Rao’s novel speaks about. In this story, Mysore is gearing for an international remake with the construction of HeritageLand, Asia’s largest theme park. Citizens and government officials alike prepare themselves for a complete makeover, one that not everybody welcomes. An elderly widow finds herself forced into a secretive new life, and another woman is succumbing to the cancerous power of gossip as she tries to escape her past. Another woman must come to terms with reality as her husband’s troubling behaviour steeps out of hand. In Mysore, where the modern and the eclectic fuse to become something else entirely, everyone must hang on to their own escapes or find themselves swept under the carpet of the sublime change called development.

 

5. Salt and Sawdust by R.K. Narayan 2682894
A delightful new collection of stories and essays, some never published before, by India’s greatest living novelist  ‘Salt and Sawdust’, the title story, is a witty portrayal of a wife who cannot tell the difference between salt and sawdust (when it comes to seasoning food), leaving her husband with no option but to cook himself. The wife meanwhile is writing a novel, which takes up all her time and when it is finished she is, ironically, advised by her publishers to turn her novel into a cookery book!  In addition to short stories this book also has a section called Table Talk, which, according to R.K. Narayan, is a new form of writing, without the compulsion of an argument or conclusion, on any theme and without too definite a form. Writing in this vein then he gives us humorous pieces on, among others, language, personalities, travel, government—even parrots and a hangover.  Narayan’s stories and sketches are, as always, infused with wit, warmth and a wonderful timelessness making this book an essential read for all Narayan enthusiasts.

 

147603126. Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar
Sachin Kundalkar started on his first novel at 20 and finished it when he was 22. The novel was Cobalt Blue, the story of a brother and sister who fall in love with the same man, and how a traditional Marathi family is shattered by the ensuing events – a work that both shocked and spoke to Marathi readers.

 

7. The Music Room by Namita Devidayal 6240326
When Namita is ten years old, her mother takes her to Kennedy Bridge, a seamy neighborhood in Bombay, home to hookers and dance girls. There, in a cramped one-room apartment lives Dhondutai, the last living disciple of two of the finest Indian classical singers of the twentieth century: the legendary Alladiya Khan and the great songbird Kesarbai Kerkar. Namita begins to learn singing from Dhondutai, at first reluctantly and then, as the years pass, with growing passion. Dhondutai sees in her a second Kesarbai, but does Namita have the dedication to give herself up completely to the discipline like her teacher? Or will there always be too many late nights and cigarettes? And where do love and marriage fit into all of this?  A bestseller in India, where it was a literary sensation, The Music Room is a deeply moving meditation on how traditions and life lessons are passed along generations, on the sacrifices made by women through the ages, and on a largely unknown, but vital aspect of Indian life and culture that will utterly fascinate American readers.

 

225294018. She Will Build Him a City by Raj Kamal Jha
As night falls in Delhi, a mother spins tales from her past for her sleeping daughter. Now grown up, her child is a puzzle with a million pieces, whom she hopes, through her words and her love, to somehow make whole again.  Meanwhile, a young man rides the last train from Rajiv Chowk Station and dreams of murder.  In another corner of the city, a newborn wrapped in a blood-red towel lies on the steps of an orphanage as his mother walks away.  There are twenty million bodies in this city, but the stories of this woman, man, and child–of a secret love that blossoms in the shadows of grief, of a corrosive guilt that taints the soul, and of a boy who maps his own destiny–weave in and out of the lives of those around them to form a dazzling kaleidoscope of a novel.  Beautiful, beguiling, and audacious, this is the story of a city and its people, of love and horror, of belonging and forgiveness: a powerful and unforgettable tale of modern India.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which have piqued your interest?

Purchase from The Book Depository

Advertisements
0

The Book Trail: The Awfully Long Titles Edition

I have decided to begin this edition of The Book Trail with one of my favourite non-fiction picks of 2016.  As ever, I have used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ feature on Goodreads to come up with the following list of intriguing non-fiction books, all of which have rather elaborate titles.  As ever, let me know which pique your interest!

1. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh 22907030
What is it like to be a brain surgeon?  How does it feel to hold someone’s life in your hands, to cut into the stuff that creates thought, feeling and reason?  How do you live with the consequences of performing a potentially life-saving operation when it all goes wrong?  In neurosurgery, more than in any other branch of medicine, the doctor’s oath to ‘do no harm’ holds a bitter irony. Operations on the brain carry grave risks. Every day, Henry Marsh must make agonising decisions, often in the face of great urgency and uncertainty.  If you believe that brain surgery is a precise and exquisite craft, practised by calm and detached surgeons, this gripping, brutally honest account will make you think again. With astonishing compassion and candour, one of the country’s leading neurosurgeons reveals the fierce joy of operating, the profoundly moving triumphs, the harrowing disasters, the haunting regrets and the moments of black humour that characterise a brain surgeon’s life.  Do No Harm is an unforgettable insight into the countless human dramas that take place in a busy modern hospital. Above all, it is a lesson in the need for hope when faced with life’s most difficult decisions.’

 

2. Adventures in Human Being: A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum by Gavin Francis
We assume we know our bodies intimately, but for many of us they remain uncharted territory. How many of us understand the way seizures affect the brain, how the heart is connected to wellbeing, or the why the foot carries the key to our humanity? In Adventures in Human Being, award-winning author Gavin Francis leads readers on a journey into the hidden pathways of the human body, offering a guide to its inner workings and a celebration of its marvels.  Drawing on his experiences as a surgeon, ER specialist, and family physician, Francis blends stories from the clinic with episodes from medical history, philosophy, and literature to describe the body in sickness and in health, in living and in dying. At its heart, Adventures in Human Being is a meditation on what it means to be human. Poetic, eloquent, and profoundly perceptive, this book will transform the way you view your body.

 

3. Butterfly People: An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World by 13330695William R. Leach
A product of William Leach’s lifelong love of butterflies, this engaging and elegantly illustrated history shows how Americans from all walks of life passionately pursued butterflies, and how through their discoveries and observations they transformed the character of natural history. Leach focuses on the correspondence and scientific writings of half a dozen pioneering lepidopterists who traveled across the country and throughout the world, collecting and studying unknown and exotic species. In a book as full of life as the subjects themselves and foregrounding a collecting culture now on the brink of vanishing, Leach reveals how the beauty of butterflies led Americans into a deeper understanding of the natural world. He shows, too, that the country’s enthusiasm for butterflies occurred at the very moment that another form of beauty—the technological and industrial objects being displayed at world’s fairs and commercial shows—was emerging, and that Americans’ attraction to this new beauty would eventually, and at great cost, take precedence over nature in general and butterflies in particular.

 

4. The Snoring Bird: My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology by Bernd Heinrich
From Bernd Heinrich, the bestselling author of Winter World, comes the remarkable story of his father’s life, his family’s past, and how the forces of history and nature have shaped his own life. Although Bernd Heinrich’s father, Gerd, a devoted naturalist, specialized in wasps, Bernd tried to distance himself from his “old-fashioned” father, becoming a hybrid: a modern, experimental biologist with a naturalist’s sensibilities.  In this remarkable memoir, the award-winning author shares the ways in which his relationship with his father, combined with his unique childhood, molded him into the scientist, and man, he is today. From Gerd’s days as a soldier in Europe to the family’s daring escape from the Red Army in 1945 to the rustic Maine farm they came to call home, Heinrich relates it all in his trademark style, making science accessible and awe-inspiring.

 

96341915. Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson
Feathers are an evolutionary marvel: aerodynamic, insulating, beguiling. They date back more than 100 million years. Yet their story has never been fully told. In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history, as feathers have been used to fly, protect, attract, and adorn through time and place. Applying the research of paleontologists, ornithologists, biologists, engineers, and even art historians, Hanson asks: What are feathers? How did they evolve? What do they mean to us? Engineers call feathers the most efficient insulating material ever discovered, and they are at the root of biology’s most enduring debate. They silence the flight of owls and keep penguins dry below the ice. They have decorated queens, jesters, and priests. And they have inked documents from the Constitution to the novels of Jane Austen. Feathers is a captivating and beautiful exploration of this most enchanting object.

 

6. Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality by Helen Scales
Poseidon’s Steed trails the seahorse through secluded waters across the globe in a kaleidoscopic history that mirrors man?s centuries-old fascination with the animal, sweeping from the reefs of Indonesia, through the back streets of Hong Kong, and back in time to ancient Greece and Rome. Over time, seahorses have surfaced in some unlikely places. We see them immortalized in the decorative arts; in tribal folklore, literature, and ancient myth; and even on the pages of the earliest medical texts, prescribed to treat everything from skin complaints to baldness to flagging libido. Marine biologist Helen Scales eloquently shows that seahorses are indeed fish, though scientists have long puzzled over their exotic anatomy, and their very strange sex lives?male seahorses are the only males in the animal world that experience childbirth!  Our first seahorse imaginings appeared six thousand years ago on cave walls in Australia. The ancient Greeks called the seahorse hippocampus (half-horse, half-fish) and sent it galloping through the oceans of mythology, pulling the sea god Poseidon?s golden chariot. The seahorse has even been the center of a modern-day international art scandal: A two-thousand-year-old winged seahorse brooch was plundered by Turkish tomb raiders and sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  A book that is as charming as the seahorse itself, Poseidon’s Steed brings to life an aquatic treasure.’

 

7. Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth’s Last Dinosaur by Carl Safina 40789
Though nature is indifferent to the struggles of her creatures, the human effect on them is often premeditated. The distressing decline of sea turtles in Pacific waters and their surprising recovery in the Atlantic illuminate what can go both wrong and right from our interventions, and teach us the lessons that can be applied to restore health to the world’s oceans and its creatures. As Carl Safina’s compelling natural history adventure makes clear, the fate of the astonishing leatherback turtle, whose ancestry can be traced back 125 million years, is in our hands.  Writing with verve and color, Safina describes how he and his colleagues track giant pelagic turtles across the world’s oceans and onto remote beaches of every continent. As scientists apply lessons learned in the Atlantic and Caribbean to other endangered seas, Safina follows leatherback migrations, including a thrilling journey from Monterey, California, to nesting grounds on the most remote beaches of Papua, New Guinea. The only surviving species of its genus, family, and suborder, the leatherback is an evolutionary marvel: a “reptile” that behaves like a warm-blooded dinosaur, an ocean animal able to withstand colder water than most fishes and dive deeper than any whale.

 

8. The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff
Beginning with Linnaeus, a colorful band of explorers made it their mission to travel to the most perilous corners of the planet and bring back astonishing new life forms. They attracted followers ranging from Thomas Jefferson, who laid out mastodon bones on the White House floor, to twentieth-century doctors who used their knowledge of new species to conquer epidemic diseases. Acclaimed science writer Richard Conniff brings these daredevil “species seekers” to vivid life. Alongside their globe-spanning tales of adventure, he recounts some of the most dramatic shifts in the history of human thought. At the start, everyone accepted that the Earth had been created for our benefit. We weren’t sure where vegetable ended and animal began, we couldn’t classify species, and we didn’t understand the causes of disease. But all that changed as the species seekers introduced us to the pantheon of life on Earth—and our place within it.

 

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

The Book Trail: Lost in the Woods

I am kicking off this Book Trail with one of my favourite books, written for children by one of my favourite lyricists, Colin Meloy of Portland-based band The Decemberists.  The books which follow largely deal with children lost in the woods, or trapped in adult-free lands; a good theme, I feel, for a not-too-obvious Hallowe’en post.

1. Wildwood by Colin Meloy 10431447
‘In Wildwood, Prue and her friend Curtis uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval–a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood. Wildwood captivates readers with the wonder and thrill of a secret world within the landscape of a modern city. It feels at once firmly steeped in the classics of children’s literature and completely fresh at the same time. The story is told from multiple points of view, and the book features more than eighty illustrations, including six full-color plates, making this an absolutely gorgeous object.’

 

2. Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver
‘Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice,until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.  That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.  Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.  From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.’

 

3. Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky
9869553Juniper’s parents have not been themselves lately. In fact, they have been cold, disinterested and cruel. And lonely Juniper Berry, and her equally beset friend, Giles, are determined to figure out why.   On a cold and rainy night Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world’s secrets in a simple red balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t.  M.P. Kozlowsky’s debut novel is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that make us who we are.

 

4. Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham
Max ‘the Wolf’ is a top notch Boy Scout, an expert at orienteering and a master of being prepared. So it is a little odd that he suddenly finds himself, with no recollection of his immediate past, lost in an unfamiliar wood. Even odder still, he encounters a badger named Banderbrock, a black bear named Walden, and McTavish the Monster (who might also be an old barn cat) – all of whom talk – and who are as clueless as Max.  Before long, Max and his friends are on the run from a relentless group of hunters and their deadly hounds. Armed with powerful blue swords and known as the Blue Cutters, these hunters capture and change the very essence of their prey. For what purpose, Max can’t guess. But unless he can solve the mystery of the strange forested world he’s landed in, Max may find himself and his friends changed beyond recognition, lost in a lost world…

 

5. The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton 7843500
Ten-year-old Persimmony Smudge leads (much to her chagrin) a very dull life on the Island at the Center of Everything . . . until the night she overhears a life-changing secret. It seems that Mount Majestic, the rising and falling mountain in the center of the island, is not a mountain at all-it’s the belly of a sleeping giant, moving as the giant breathes. Now Persimmony and her new friend Worvil the Worrier have to convince all the island’s other quarreling inhabitants-including the silly Rumblebumps, the impeccably mannered Leafeaters, and the stubborn young king-that a giant is sleeping in their midst, and must not be woken. Enhanced with Brett Helquist’s dazzling illustrations, Jennifer Trafton’s rollicking debut tells the story of one brave girl’s efforts to make an entire island believe the impossible.

 

6. The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell
Twelve-year-old Clara Dooley has spent her whole life in the Glendoveer mansion, where her mother is a servant to the kind and elderly matron of the house. Clara has never known another home. In fact, she’s confined to the grand estate due to a mysterious heart condition. But it’s a comfortable life, and if it weren’t for the creepy squawking birds in the aviary out back, a completely peaceful one too.  But once old Mrs. Glendoveer passes away, Clara comes to learn many dark secrets about the family. The Glendoveers suffered a horrific tragedy: their children were kidnapped, then drowned. And their father George Glendoveer, a famous magician and illusionist, stood accused until his death. As Clara digs deeper and deeper into the terrifying events, the five birds in the aviary seem to be trying to tell her something. And Clara comes to wonder: what is their true identity? Clara sets out to solve a decades-old murder mystery—and in doing so, unlocks a secret in her own life, too. Kathleen O’Dell deftly weaves magic, secret identities, evil villians, unlikely heroes, and the wonder of friendship into a mystery adventure with all the charm of an old fashioned classic.

 

99728787. The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer
Like the other children who have journeyed to the village of Xibalba, Martin Maple faces an awful truth. He was forgotten. When everyone else in the world disappeared one afternoon, these children were the only ones left behind. There’s Darla, who drives a monster truck; Felix, who used string and wood to rebuild the internet; Lane, who crafts elaborate contraptions for live entertainment; and nearly forty others, each equally brilliant and peculiar.   Inspired by the prophecies of a mysterious boy who talks to animals, Martin believes he can reunite them all with their loved ones. But believing and knowing are two different things, as he soon discovers with the push of a button, the flip of a switch, the turn of a dial…  A whimsical apocalyptic fable that carries readers to a future world without adults, a journey filled with dark humor that every reader will want to take.

 

8. Vanished by Sheela Chari
Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother-intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon.  When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela’s instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?  Sheela Chari’s debut novel is a finely tuned story of coincidence and fate, trust and deceit, music and mystery.

 

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

The Book Trail: The American Edition

I am beginning this book trail with a novel which I’ve not read, but is by an author whose prose I recently discovered and love.  As ever, I am using the Goodreads ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ feature to generate the rest of the list.

 

1. The Sorrow Proper by Lindsey Drager 23129799
The Sorrow Proper is a novel-length investigation of the anxiety that accompanies change. A group of aging librarians must decide whether to fight or flee from the end of print and the rise of electronic publications, while the parents of the young girl who died in front of the library struggle with their role in her loss. Anchored by the transposed stories of a photographer and his deaf mathematician lover each mourning the other’s death, The Sorrow Proper attempts to illustrate how humans of all relations—lovers, parents, colleagues—cope with and challenge social “progress,” a mechanism that requires we ignore, and ultimately forget, the residual in order to make room for the new, to tell a story that resists “The End.”  This debut novel explores the hypothetical end of the public library system and a young theory in the hard sciences called Many Worlds, a branch of quantum mechanics that strives to prove mathematically that our lives do not follow a singular, linear path.’

 

2. Had a Good Time: Stories from American Postcards by Robert Olen Butler
For many years Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler has collected picture postcards from the early twentieth century-not so much for the pictures on the fronts but for the messages written on the backs, little bits of the captured souls of people long since passed away. Using these brief messages of real people from another age, Butler creates fully imagined stories that speak to the universal human condition. In “Up by Heart,” a Tennessee miner is called upon to become a preacher, and then asked to complete an altogether more sinister task. In “The Ironworkers’ Hayride,” a young man named Milton embarks on a romantic adventure with a girl with a wooden leg. From the deeply moving “Carl and I,” where a young wife writes a postcard in reply to a card from her husband who is dying of tuberculosis, to the eerily familiar “The One in White,” where a newspaper reporter covers an incident of American military adventurism in a foreign land, these are intimate and fascinating glimpses into the lives of ordinary people in an extraordinary age.

 

2431963. Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath by Alexia Brue
Caught up in the tide of travel and exploration, Alexia drifts further away from the life she left behind in New York City. Hoping to find a thriving local bath scene, she dips into hamams, banyas, saunas, and onsen, finding both disappointment and bliss. This work is an account of one woman’s determination to follow her passion.

 

4. Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans by Roy Blount Jr.
The book is divided into eight Rambles through different parts of the city. Each closes with lagniappe—a little bit extra, a special treat for the reader: here a brief riff on Gennifer Flowers, there a meditation on naked dancing. Roy Blount knows New Orleans like the inside of an oyster shell and is only too glad to take us to both the famous and the infamous sights. He captures all the wonderful and rich history—culinary, literary, and political—of a city that figured prominently in the lives of Jefferson Davis (who died there), Truman Capote (who was conceived there), Zora Neale Hurston (who studied voodoo there), and countless others, including Andrew Jackson, Lee Harvey Oswald, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Jelly Roll Morton, Napoléon, Walt Whitman, O. Henry, Thomas Wolfe, Earl Long, Randy Newman, Edgar Degas, Lillian Hellman, the Boswell Sisters, and the Dixie Cups.  Above all, though, Feet on the Street is a celebration of friendship and joie de vivre in one of America’s greatest and most colorful cities, written by one of America’s most beloved humorists.’

 

5. High Steel: The Daring Men Who Built the World’s Greatest Skyline by Jim 11323031Rasenberger
A powerful first-hand account of the many generations and ethnic groups of men who have built America’s skyscrapers.  From the early days of steel construction in Chicago, through the great boom years of New York city ironwork, and up through the present, High Steel follows the trajectory of careers inextricably linked to both great accomplishment and catastrophic disaster.  The personal stories reveal the lives of ironworkers and the dangers they face as they walk across the windswept, swaying summits of tomorrow’s skyscrapers, balanced on steel girders sometimes only six inches wide. Rasenberger explores both the greatest accomplishments of ironwork—the vaulting bridges and towers that define America’s skyline—and the deadliest disasters, such as the Quebec Bridge Collapse of 1907, when 75 ironworkers, including 33 Mohawk Indians, fell to their deaths. High Steel is an accessible, thrilling, and vertiginous portrait of the lives of some of our most brave yet unrecognized men.

 

6. American Passage: The History of Ellis Island by Vincent J. Cannato
For most of New York’s early history, Ellis Island had been an obscure little island that barely held itself above high tide. Today the small island stands alongside Plymouth Rock in our nation’s founding mythology as the place where many of our ancestors first touched American soil. Ellis Island’s heyday—from 1892 to 1924—coincided with one of the greatest mass movements of individuals the world has ever seen, with some twelve million immigrants inspected at its gates. In American Passage, Vincent J. Cannato masterfully illuminates the story of Ellis Island from the days when it hosted pirate hangings witnessed by thousands of New Yorkers in the nineteenth century to the turn of the twentieth century when massive migrations sparked fierce debate and hopeful new immigrants often encountered corruption, harsh conditions, and political scheming.  American Passage captures a time and a place unparalleled in American immigration and history, and articulates the dramatic and bittersweet accounts of the immigrants, officials, interpreters, and social reformers who all play an important role in Ellis Island’s chronicle. Cannato traces the politics, prejudices, and ideologies that surrounded the great immigration debate, to the shift from immigration to detention of aliens during World War II and the Cold War, all the way to the rebirth of the island as a national monument. Long after Ellis Island ceased to be the nation’s preeminent immigrant inspection station, the debates that once swirled around it are still relevant to Americans a century later.

 

19680307. The World in a City: Traveling the Globe Through the Neighborhoods in New New York by Joseph Berger
Fifty years ago, New York City had only a handful of ethnic groups. Today, the whole world can be found within the city’s five boroughs–and celebrated New York Times reporter Joseph Berger sets out to discover it, bringing alive the sights, smells, tastes, and people of the globe while taking readers on an intimate tour of the world’s most cosmopolitan city.   For urban enthusiasts and armchair explorers alike, The World in a City is a look at today’s polyglot and polychrome, cosmopolitan and culturally rich New York and the lessons it holds for the rest of the United States as immigration changes the face of the nation. With three out of five of the city’s residents either foreign-born or second-generation Americans, New York has become more than ever a collection of villages–virtually self-reliant hamlets, each exquisitely textured by its particular ethnicities, history, and politics. For the price of a subway ride, you can visit Ghana, the Philippines, Ecuador, Uzbekistan, and Bangladesh.   As Berger shows us in this absorbing and enlightening tour, New York is an endlessly fascinating crossroads. Naturally, tears exist in this colorful social fabric: the controversy over Korean-language shop signs in tony Douglaston, Queens; the uneasy proximity of traditional cottages and new McMansions built by recently arrived Russian residents of Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. Yet in spite of the tensions among neighbors, what Berger has found most miraculous about New York is how the city and its more than eight million denizens can adapt to–and even embrace–change like no other place on earth, from the former pushcart knish vendor on the Lower East Side who now caters to his customers via the Internet, to the recent émigrés from former Soviet republics to Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach and Midwood whose arrival saved New York’s furrier trade from certain extinction.

 

8. The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead
In a dazzlingly original work of nonfiction, the award-winning novelist Colson Whitehead re-creates the exuberance, the chaos, the promise, and the heartbreak of New York. Here is a literary love song that will entrance anyone who has lived in—or spent time—in the greatest of American cities.  A masterful evocation of the city that never sleeps, The Colossus of New York captures the city’s inner and outer landscapes in a series of vignettes, meditations, and personal memories. Colson Whitehead conveys with almost uncanny immediacy the feelings and thoughts of longtime residents and of newcomers who dream of making it their home; of those who have conquered its challenges; and of those who struggle against its cruelties.   Whitehead’s style is as multilayered and multifarious as New York itself: Switching from third person, to first person, to second person, he weaves individual voices into a jazzy musical composition that perfectly reflects the way we experience the city. There is a funny, knowing riff on what it feels like to arrive in New York for the first time; a lyrical meditation on how the city is transformed by an unexpected rain shower; and a wry look at the ferocious battle that is commuting. The plaintive notes of the lonely and dispossessed resound in one passage, while another captures those magical moments when the city seems to be talking directly to you, inviting you to become one with its rhythms.   The Colossus of New York is a remarkable portrait of life in the big city. Ambitious in scope, gemlike in its details, it is at once an unparalleled tribute to New York and the ideal introduction to one of the most exciting writers working today.

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

The Book Trail: From Yugoslavia to England

I am using a source other than Goodreads for today’s book trail – the wonderful Powell’s Bookstore, based in Portland, Oregon, has a wonderful website, upon which I have already made a wonderful slew of discoveries.  I clicked on one of their picks for August’s Women in Translation month as the starting point for this post, and am using their ‘Other Titles You Might Like’ feature for the rest of the list.

1. A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska 28593020
‘Zlata and Srebra are 12-year-old twins conjoined at the head. It is 1984 and they live in Skopje, which will one day be the capital of Macedonia but is currently a part of Yugoslavia. A Spare Life tells the story of their childhood, from their only friend Roze to their neighbor Bogdan, so poor that he one day must eat his pet rabbit. Treated as freaks and outcasts—even by their own family—the twins just want to be normal girls. But after an incident that almost destroys their bond as sisters, they fly to London, determined to be surgically separated. Will this be their liberation, or only more tightly ensnare them?  At once extraordinary and quotidian, A Spare Life is a chronicle of two girls who are among the first generation to come of age under democracy in Eastern Europe. Written in touching prose by an author who is also a master poet, it is a saga about families, sisterhood, immigration, and the occult influences that shape a life. Funny, poignant, dark, and sharply observed, Zlata and Srebra reveal an existence where even the simplest of actions is unlike any we’ve ever experienced.’

 

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
‘A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. In dialogue with but diametrically opposed to the narratives of the Vietnam War that have preceded it, this novel offers an important and unfamiliar new perspective on the war: that of a conflicted communist sympathizer.  It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s astonishing novel takes us inside the mind of this double agent, a man whose lofty ideals necessitate his betrayal of the people closest to him. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.’

 

258527843. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
‘From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America.  In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.   Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality — and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.  Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.’

 

4. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
‘Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.  The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.  They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.’

 

5. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown 16158542
‘For readers of Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.  The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together — a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.’

 

6. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
‘From the #1 New York Times bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania, published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the disaster.  On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship — the fastest then in service — could outrun any threat.  Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small — hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more — all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.  It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.’

 

104314477. Wildwood by Colin Meloy
‘Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. That is, until her brother is abducted by a murder of crows and taken to the Impassable Wilderness, a dense, tangled forest on the edge of Portland. No one’s ever gone in — or at least returned to tell of it.  So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval — a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.’

 

8. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
‘Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute she sneaks out to join him.  So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?’

 

Have you read any of these?  Which have piqued your interest?

Purchase from The Book Depository

4

The Book Trail: A Persephone Special

We begin this edition of The Book Trail with one of my favourite reads of late, Elizabeth Jenkins’ depiction of a real Victorian murder case, Harriet.  As ever, I have used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed…’ feature on Goodreads to compile this list.  Harriet is a Persephone publication; each of the recommended reads on its page, as well as pages for following books, is also published by the same wonderful press.

1. Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins 13607031
This story traces the life of Harriet Richardson, a mentally-disabled young woman who was allowed to die of starvation by her husband.

 

2. Tea With Mr. Rochester by Frances Towers
When these captivating and at times bizarre stories were published posthumously in 1949, Angus Wilson wrote: ‘It appears no exaggeration to say that Frances Towers’s death in 1948 may have robbed us of a figure of more than purely contemporary significance. At first glance one might be disposed to dismiss Miss Towers as an imitation Jane Austen, but it would be a mistaken judgment, for her cool detachment and ironic eye are directed more often than not against the sensible breeze that blasts and withers, the forthright candour that kills the soul. Miss Towers flashes and shines now this way, now that, like a darting sunfish.’ ‘At her best her prose style is a shimmering marvel,’ wrote the Independent on Sunday, ‘and few writers can so deftly and economically delineate not only the outside but the inside of a character…There’s always more going on than you can possibly fathom.’ And the Guardian said: ‘Her social range may not be wide, but her descriptions are exquisite and her tone poised between the wry and the romantic.’

 

14458613. Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Downes
‘For fifty years Mollie Panter-Downes’ name was associated with “The New Yorker”, for which she wrote a regular ‘Letter from London’, book reviews and over thirty short stories; of the twenty-one in “Good Evening, Mrs Craven”, written between 1939 and 1944, only two had ever been reprinted – these very English stories have, until now, been unavailable to English readers.  Exploring most aspects of English domestic life during the war, they are about separation, sewing parties, fear, evacuees sent to the country, obsession with food, the social revolutions of wartime.’

 

4. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
The setting for this, the third novel by Dorothy Whipple Persephone have published, is Saunby Priory, a large house somewhere in England which has seen better times. We are shown the two Marwood girls, who are nearly grown-up, their father, the widower Major Marwood, and their aunt; then, as soon as their lives have been described, the Major proposes marriage to a woman much younger than himself – and many changes begin.

 

5. The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher 2703159
Although this novel first appeared in 1924, it deals in an amazingly contemporary manner with the problems of a family in which both husband and wife are oppressed and frustrated by the roles they are expected to play. Evangeline Knapp is the perfect, compulsive housekeeper, while her husband, Lester, is a poet and a dreamer. Suddenly, through a nearly fatal accident, their roles are reversed: Lester is confined to home in a wheelchair and his wife must work to support the family. The changes that take place between husband and wife and particularly between parents and children are both fascinating and poignant.

 

6. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
Tells the tale of a woman who goes on a cruise and is swept overboard. She lives for three years on a desert island before being rescued by a destroyer in 1943. When she returns to England it seems to her to have gone mad: she cannot buy clothes without ‘coupons’, and she is considered uncivilised if she walks barefoot or is late for meals.

 

7. Doreen by Barbara Noble
Describes the mind of a child torn between her mother, whom she leaves behind in London, and the couple who take her in.

 

8. Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski 163544
Hilary Wainwright, poet and intellectual, returns after the war to a blasted and impoverished France in order to trace a child lost five years before. Is the child really his? And does he want him?

 

Which of these books have you read?  Have any of them piqued your interest?  Which is your favourite Persephone publication?

1

The Book Trail: The Holocaust Edition

I begin today’s edition of The Book Trail with a poignant memoir, Marceline Loridan-Ivens’ But You Did Not Come Back.  As ever, I have followed the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed…’ link on Goodreads to come up with an interesting list of tomes.

1. But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens 9780571328024
In 1944, at the age of fifteen, Marceline Loridan-Ivens was arrested in occupied France, along with her father. They were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. When they arrived, they were forcibly separated. Though he managed to smuggle a last note to her via an electrician, she never spoke to him again.  But You Did Not Come Back is Marceline’s letter to the father she would never know as an adult, to the man whose death has enveloped her life. With poignant honesty, she tells him of the events that have continued to haunt her, of the collapse of their family, and of her efforts to find a place in a changing world.  This is a breathtaking memoir by an extraordinary woman, and an intimate and deeply moving message from a daughter to her father.

 

2. The Heavens are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod by Avrom Bendavid-Val (preface by Jonathan Safran Foer) 8302861
In the 19th century, nearly five million Jews lived in the Pale of Settlement. Most lived in shtetls—Jewish communities connected to larger towns—images of which are ingrained in popular imagination as the shtetl Anatevka from Fiddler on the Roof. Brimming with life and tradition, family and faith, these shtetls existed in the shadow of their town’s oppressive anti-Jewish laws. Not Trochenbrod.  Trochenbrod was the only freestanding, fully realized Jewish town in history. It began with a few Jewish settlers searching for freedom from the Russian Czars’ oppressive policies, which included the forced conscriptions of one son from each Jewish family household throughout Russia. At first, Trochenbrod was just a tiny row of houses built on empty marshland in the middle of the Radziwill Forest, yet for the next 130 years it thrived, becoming a bustling marketplace where people from all over the Ukraine and Poland came to do business. But this scene of ethnic harmony was soon shattered, as Trochenbrod vanished in 1941—her residents slaughtered, her homes, buildings, and factories razed to the ground. Yet even the Nazis could not destroy the spirit of Trochenbrod, which has lived on in stories and legends about a little piece of heaven, hidden deep in the forest.

 

6197853. Wallenberg: Missing Hero by Kati Marton
A fearless young Swede whose efforts saved countless Hungarian Jews from certain death at the hands of Adolf Eichmann, Raoul Wallenberg was one of the true heroes to emerge during the Nazi occupation of Europe.

 

4. The Diary of Mary Berg by Mary Berg
After 60 years of silence, ‘The Diary of Mary Berg’ is poised at last to gain the appreciation and widespread attention that it so richly deserves, and is certain to take it’s place alongside ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ as one of the most significant memoirs of the twentieth century. From love to tragedy, seamlessly combining the everyday concerns of a growing teenager with a unique commentary on life in one of the 556980darkest contexts of history. This is a work remarkable for its authenticity, detail, and poignancy. But it is not only as a factual report on the life and death of a people that ‘The Diary of Mary Berg’ ranks with the most noteworthy documents of the Second World War.   This is the personal story of a life-loving girl’s encounter with unparalleled human suffering, a uniquely illuminating insight into one of the darkest chapters of history. Mary Berg was imprisoned in the ghetto from 1940 to 1943. Unlike so many others, she survived the war, having been rescued in a prisoner-of-war exchange due to her mother’s dual Polish-American nationality.  Berg’s diary was published in 1945 when she was still only 19, in an attempt to alert the world to the Nazi atrocities in Poland, when it was described as “one of the most heartbreaking documents yet to come out of the war.

 

5. Into the Tunnel: The Brief Life of Marion Samuel by Gotz Aly
1839242When the German Remembrance Foundation established a prize to commemorate the million Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust, it was deliberately named after a victim about whom nothing was known except her age and the date of her deportation: Marion Samuel, an eleven-year-old girl killed in Auschwitz in 1943. Sixty years after her death, when Götz Aly received the award, he was moved to find out whatever he could about Marion’s short life and restore this child to history.  In what is as much a detective story as a historical reconstruction, Aly, praised for his “formidable research skills” (Christopher Browning), traces the Samuel family’s agonizing decline from shop owners to forced laborers to deportees. Against all odds, Aly manages to recover expropriation records, family photographs, and even a trace of Marion’s voice in the premonition she confided to a school friend: “People disappear,” she said, “into the tunnel.”  A gripping account of a family caught in the tightening grip of persecution, Into the Tunnel is a powerful reminder that the millions of Nazi victims were also, each one, an individual life.

 

6. Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Israel Gutman 458673
One of the few survivors of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, Holocaust scholar Gutman draws on diaries, personal letters, and underground press reports in this compelling, authoritative account of a landmark event in Jewish history. Here, too, is a portrait of the vibrant culture that shaped the young fighters, whose inspired defiance would have far-reaching implications for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which pique your interest?

Purchase from The Book Depository