May 22, 2020 § Leave a comment
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The title refers to the golden rising-sun emblem on the national flag of the short-lived (1967-1970) Republic of Biafra (Bee-afra) that seceded from Nigeria, prompting a bloody tribal civil war in which millions were slaughtered and starved to death, and this is a story of that era. We see the unfolding events through several characters, including a professor, twin sisters from a patrician family, a house servant, an Englishman, and their interactions with each other and various minor figures. Adichie is a skilled storyteller adept at developing character, and she has a keen eye for description that she deftly crafts into entertaining prose. Fiction.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Pulitzer-Prize-winning “novel” that is actually a set of 13 discrete stories through which many of the same characters weave in and out as time oscillates from story to story between the present, past, and even future. The style and voice vary from chapter to chapter, rewarding the reader with a kaleidoscope of expression and points of view. Not only is the structure of the novel unorthodox, but in one chapter Egan adroitly describes a family’s interrelationships through a teenager’s power-point presentation. The writing is bright and crisp, the characters vivid and sharply drawn. Highly recommended. Fiction.
Calypso by David Sedaris. Yet another collection of amusing essays. We have come to expect laugh-out-loud passages in Sedaris’s work, and there are some here. But his reflections in this book on aging, his father, and his siblings sound a more somber, reflective tone. Still, if you enjoy Sedaris, you will enjoy this collection. Fiction or non-fiction; you decide.
Never Enough by Judith Grisel. A PhD neuroscientist and former addict explains addiction from a scientific and experiential point of view. If you’re like me, you will skim the chemistry and get right to the explanations of how addiction occurs, how different substances have different effects, and what is and is not effective treatment. Non-fiction.
A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelly. A lost treasure, first published in 1962, but largely overlooked and overshadowed as civil-rights confrontations were beginning to grab headlines and attention. Rediscovered and republished in 2018, it is the story of a fictional southern state located between Mississippi and Alabama, and the exodus of its black inhabitants. Kelley, who was black (he died in 2017), tells the story from the viewpoint of the white people who become enraged over the development, with predictable results for that era. Fiction.
The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason. An Austrian medical student joins the army of the Holy Roman Empire in World War I and is assigned to a field hospital in Hungary where he falls in love with a mysterious nun serving as a nurse. Mason’s writing sparkles, but the plot is thin to the point of transparency, and the book tends to plod toward its finish. Fiction.
An Unexpected Life by Mary Ann Connell. A bored housewife surreptitiously enrolls in law school against her husband’s wishes and goes on to become house counsel for the University of Mississippi, guiding the school through some of its most momentous legal challenges. This book is a Mississippi Who’s Who of the 60’s through the 2000’s, but more significantly is the tale of an indomitable spirit. A native of Louisville and daughter of a small-town lawyer, Connell’s poignant childhood molded her into an overachiever who relentlessly pursued education and excellence. Non-fiction.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. The remarkable story of the great migration of blacks from the south to the north from 1915-1970. Told through the lens of three emigrants, one from Mississippi, another from Louisiana, and the third from Florida, the book details the struggles, poverty, and oppression that drove them to seek better fortunes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. They found greater freedom and prosperity, but experienced more discrimination and diminished opportunity than they expected. Woven through the stories of the three is the greater story of the millions who were a part of the mass movement. Non-fiction.
The Jersey Brothers by Susan Mott Freeman. Three brothers from New Jersey enlist in the Navy in World War II. One is stationed in the Phillippines when the islands are overrun by the Japanese and he is taken prisoner. This is the story of the family’s quest to find him. Non-fiction.