I wrote this a month ago – and it still holds – my fave book of 2020.
My favorite hands down has been Aperiogon by Colum McCann – I just finished it today. It is an amazing novel based on actual events and real people. The plot centers around two unlikely friends, Rami and Bassam, who work together in the Parents Group to speak out against the conditions that led to their childrens’ deaths.
Rami is an Israeli whose daughter Smadar was killed at age 13 in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Bassam is a Palestinian whose daughter Abir was killed at the age of 9 by an Israeli border guard after she left a shop during a school recess. Rami’s daughter’s death pre-dates their friendship; Abir is killed during it.
The book is constructed in 1001 vignettes – an homage to 1001 Arabian Nights. Some are only a sentence long, some are several pages. It is an interesting construct and worked in my opinion.
McCann draws on the geopolitical history of Israel and Palestine. I found myself continually referring to maps and looking up the names of places. I also searched for details on historical events that are referenced throughout the book. In this way the recent conflicts were made much more real and tangible to me.
Even with the violence and sadness that are the central reasons for the book, McCann infuses the book with nature, love and a sense of optimism.
I am interested in hearing how people who may have strong opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian situation react to the book. If you get a chance to read it let me know what you think!
I needed maturity and life experience to more fully appreciate Beloved.
Given the recent passing of Toni Morrison, my book club decided to read Beloved for our September meeting. Beloved was published in 1987. Ms. Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved; she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She is widely recognized as one of the best, if not the best, American writers. Her other works include The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby.
For most of us in the book club (if not all), this was a re-reading as we had read the book 20 years ago… I think I read it in the early 90’s, I would have been about 25 at the time. I believe that I was impressed with the book while I was also horrified and saddened by the story.
Reading it again now, Beloved felt like a new and unfamiliar book to me. I did not recall the beautiful and magical language. I did not recall empathizing so strongly with Sethe the main character. I did not recall the savagery of the treatment inflicted upon Sethe, her family and fellow slaves.
Obviously it was the passage of time – my growing older combined with my experience as a wife and mother, that transformed how I processed the book.
If you haven’t read Beloved and/or read it more than 10 years ago, I urge you to read/re-read it. A painful account of the horror of slavery, it is instructive for especially white Americans to feel (even temporarily as a reader) Sethe’s despair. However you will also experience the strong familial love, beauty, and strength of character that Ms. Morrison’s writing portrays.
I enjoy good historical fiction if it pulls you right in – to the time period, to the conflict, to the characters. Aside from learning historic facts and geographical details, I love being made to feel as if I am there, experiencing in real time what the protagonist is. Here are a few of my recent reads.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (342 pages, published 2017) – It sounds like this was a big bestseller last year among lovers of historical fiction. I liked it but didn’t love it. It is based on an evil woman in the 1930’s in Memphis who basically stole babies and children and re-sold them. The story is told in mystery-format, with current-day Avery trying to figure out details about the early life of her grandmother who has dementia. Avery’s story is interspersed with that of a young girl named Rill who in the 1930’s endured abduction from her parents. Good…. It is entertaining and a page-turner, though you can kind of figure out what’s going to happen. Happy to lend, I have the hardcover edition.
Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton (319 pages, published in 2017) – Written in diary form by a young Quaker woman in the late 1800’s in Philadelphia and its suburbs. Lilli must cope with her mother’s passing and then pregnancy as an unmarried woman. The book describes in great detail the obstacles women faced, especially poor unwed women. This book pulls you in quickly and is a great read until the end when it starts to drag a little bit. Great! Even with the dragging I recommend it for highlighting this under-studied and under-represented viewpoint of our history. Good for book club discussion…. Let me know if you would like to borrow (paperback!) Thanks to Tim & Amy for the gift of this book!
I was glad for the map on the inside cover of The Winter Soldier. Referred to it several times during the book to understand the geography. But please don’t quiz me!
The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason (336 pages, published 2018) – Set in Eastern Europe during World War I and told from the perspective of a medical student who must quickly shed his bougousie upbringing and training and assume the lead of a medical hospital at a front. There are mysteries, there is a love story, there is resolution (as much as there can be in war-torn Europe). You get to learn more about the demise of the Austro – Hungarian Empire, a little bit more about what’s going on in Russia (there are Cossacks!) It is very well written as the author is a medical doctor and he must have spent an extensive time traveling the area about which he writes.Excellent! I loved it. Still thinking about it. Let me know if you would like to borrow!