March 29, 2019 § 2 Comments
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. An African-American woman looks back on her metamorphosis through the 1920’s from naive girl to teen to marriage and ultimately independent widowhood, surviving racial oppression, hurricane, violence, and sexism. Hurston is controversial, but her writing is full of humanity and insight. Fiction.
Fordlandia, by Greg Grandin. Who knew that Henry Ford in the 1920’s bought a tract of land three times larger than Rhode Island in the Amazon jungle with the goal of establishing an American-clone utopia and, at the same time, raising rubber trees to avoid Britain’s monopoly? This is the true story of his spectacular failure, its huge cost, and the people who unsuccessfully fought nature and natives for Mr. Ford. Non-fiction.
The Half has Never Been Told, by Edward E. Baptist. A compelling argument that the meteoric rise of the US economy in the nation’s first fifty years and after was directly due to slavery, in both the north (until abolition) and the south. He attacks the widely held notion that slavery was unprofitable and inefficient, explaining how the system worked and produced massive wealth, and supports his position with facts and figures. Baptist weaves in stories of particular slaves and areas to illustrate his points, along with economic data. This well-written book will hold your attention. Non-fiction.
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. The fictional story of Nigerian Igbo tribal leader Okonkwo, his rise in power, his downfall, and the ultimate disaster of his tribe’s traditions and culture brought about by the arrival of white European missionaries. Achebe’s portrayal of tribal ways, religion, mysticism, and customs skillfully immerses the reader in a primitive culture that is unexpectedly sophisticated and complex. Fiction.
Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall. Geopolitics for Dummies. Marshall explains why certain historical events are not only shaped by, but also are made inevitable by, geography. Non-fiction.
The Romanovs, 1613-1918, by Simon S. Monterfiore. History of the Tsars of Russia during the Romanov dynasty. The author draws not only on historical sources, but also on rumor and gossip, which makes for a juicy and spicy stew of back-room entertainment. Extravagant, despotic, autocratic, vicious, enlightened, powerful, psychopathic, murderous, generous, venal, adulterous, paranoid, patrons of the arts, vulnerable, militaristic, and more, the Romanovs held the immense expanse of their nation together for more than 300 years. Mostly non-fiction.
Devil in the Grove, by Gilbert King. In Groveland, Florida, in 1949, four young black men are falsely accused of raping a white woman, and young lawyer Thurgood Marshall comes to their defense for the NAACP. This distressing tale tells of Marshall’s valiant efforts, and the white power structure that sought to thwart him at every turn. The toxic blend of murder, violence, racism, and poverty in the pre-civil-rights era is on full display, along with vignettes of similar injustices in neighboring states. Non-fiction.
Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward. Exploring the lives and interrelationships of a poor, rural family on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It becomes an episodic novel of a black woman’s journey to meet her white husband at Parchman on his release, told from different points of view of various characters, as well as that of a dying grandmother and her spirit, and the spirit of a long-dead prisoner. Fiction.
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. Okay, this is more of a victory lap than a review. On my fifth try I made it through all 1,450 pages. Bravo for me. Fiction.
Ditto, Heather! Great list. Things Fall Apart was required reading at the college I attended. The Romanovs’ impact is often under appreciated vis-a-vis the British, French or Prussian monarchs.
Devil the Grove is suspenseful read of Thurgood Marshall fighting for justice against, literally, all odds. Funny story early in the book about Marshall trying to get his hands on some moonshine in a dry county after a rural Tennessee trial, and the judge using the same supplier. Apparently both of them needed a drink after the unexpetced acquittal.
Excellent novels on this list. Jesmyn Ward is truly a jewel among Mississippi’s already remarkable literary history.