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It’s an old story--a new person arrives in town--but feels fresh in Shua Dusapin’s hands. This time, a French illustrator in a Korean border town. In a novel about mixed identity and misunderstanding, what I loved most was how delicately missed opportunities were handled. Spare and elegantly written, this book gave me goosebumps.
“Grandmother had a fear of heights. Once she stood up on a low stool and broke out in tears because she was so panic-stricken that she couldn’t get down. Grandfather hurried over to her and held out his hand, led her to a comfy chair, and held her hand until she calmed down. At that moment I realized he was with her voluntarily and that, unlike me, he could leave anytime.”
“Families are complicated” is quite the understatement when describing the family in this book. The narrator is a young boy whose grandmother thinks he’s a dolt. The grandmother is a former Russian ballerina who constantly fusses and insults everyone around her. The grandfather is in love with his neighbor. And the boy’s parents? You’ll have to read to find out.
Alina Bronsky knocks it out of the park with this one. MY GRANDMOTHER’S BRAID is darkly funny but so full of empathy and sensitivity. And I can’t get over how good the narration is. I’m very excited now to go back and read her previous book THE HOTTEST DISHES OF THE TARTAR CUISINE when I get a chance. I hope you love it too!
What a pleasure to read this story of a seven-year-old girl playing truant to accompany her father, a traveling salesman, on calls. She learns about life, hardware, ghosts, and, most of all, how to be a salesperson in this quirky and spirited coming-of-age novel set in Chile’s Pinochet era. I couldn’t put it down while reading, and then I didn’t want to let it go once I’d finished. There’s mystery and wisdom in these pages, a real treasure.
I love ALL GOD’S CHILDREN for the simple reason that it’s an excellent read. The loping narration coupled with a gripping story make it a pleasure to get lost in day after day. You’ll root for Cecilia, love Sam, and worry for Duncan. To me, this novel highlights the strangeness of the relationships we form, how seemingly random they are at times and surprising in how they settle, as well as the search for freedom and how that shifts your identity--a beautiful western.
I was initially intrigued when I saw blurbs from Franz Kafka and Susan Sontag on the back--I mean, what?? After reading the first paragraph, I knew I was in for an outrageous ride. It begins like this: Michael Kohlhaas is a horse merchant living in 16th-century Germany. He’s a hard-working, god-fearing man, respected by his neighbors and loved by his family. He would have been remembered as an honorable citizen if his love for justice hadn’t led him to robbery and murder. Thus begins a winding tale of trickery, misunderstanding, and things generally blowing way out of proportion. It's a farcical blast from the 19th century that you don't want to miss.
"The only comfort I have . . . is that it will happen to me too. Otherwise it would be too unfair."
In this shocking little volume, de Beauvoir recounts the end of her mother's life and death (which perfectly illustrates many of the problems Gawande discusses in Being Mortal). Reflecting on this book now and rereading some passages, I feel my heart drop and I wonder why I and so many are drawn to such material. I suppose it's simply because death is part of the human condition. It's that inevitable experience we'll all share though no one can experience it with us. No doubt this is one of de Beauvoir's best works in its power and intelligence--utterly maddening, touching, and haunting.
“He thought of the boys who caught mynah birds with orange whirls around their eyes and sold them at traffic lights. You bought a bundle of three or four birds trapped in a net, out of pity, only to take them home and free them back into the sky. But the birds were trained in captivity and flew right back to the boys who, having taught them never to be free, caught and sold them again.”
Bhutto’s prose falls like gently pressed piano keys as she lays out the lives of three very different young people living in Karachi and London. (In fact, I highly recommend reading while ambient piano plays in the background.) The struggles of these characters are both timeless and incredibly timely, tapping into the particular complexity of our (nearly) current moment. And all is infused with a deep compassion and understanding for feeling out of place and seeking change and connection.
“In the cupboard in a velvet case lies a drawing from the hand of another young lover, of a beautiful, large-eyed woman smiling a little, demure in her bonnet. Perhaps the artist is saying something that causes her to forget, for a moment, some bitter things she has learned. His enamored pencil does not catch, perhaps, a certain fated expression in her eyes. . . . The young lover sees only his own kisses there."
This is my favorite book of 2020 so far. Scanning the pages I’d dogeared and underlined gave me shivers—the passages are beautiful and scary and freeing. Diane Johnson’s biography of Mary Ellen Peacock Nicholls Meredith infuses what she calls a “lesser life,” a life that for a time orbited the “greater” life of writer George Meredith, with urgency and poetry and meaning. If you live a lesser life too, it’s utterly heart-stopping. I’ve never read a biographer like this who treats her subjects with such speculativeness, tenderness, and honesty.
"Let us live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry." -Mark Twain
The history of human evolution presented here is uplifting and very unlike what I learned in school. The stories of humanity and running are somehow hopeful, pure, and wistful. You'll find plenty of sports jargon but also wisdom and hopefully an itch in your legs to go outside to run with joy and abandon.
This little book is the perfect addition to any cooking collection. It has recipes for classic cookies but also super fun things like mocha mamas (a favorite among my friends) and Mexican chocolate snickerdoodles (a house favorite). The recipes are fast and easy, which is perfect for someone like me. And since they're all vegan, you take no risks eating the dough.
Abigail is about a Hungarian girl trying to fit in in a fortress-like boarding school during WWII. She's not used to a severe or devout life and quickly makes enemies among her classmates. She struggles to answer questions like, "How can I get the other girls to like me?" But she has other questions too: Why did her father send her there? Why is she forbidden communication with the outside world? What is her father's role in the war? My first question was, since the girl's name is Gina, who is Abigail?
This is one of those novels that gnaws at you long after you've put it down. Taking place in India during the 1975 State of Emergency, it follows four characters struggling for independence and security. They manage to form a rag-tag family to support each other in extremely tenuous circumstances. But the bottom keeps falling out, and every time you think things can't get worse they do. Yet somehow the characters carry on--"You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair." It's also a page-turner!
If you want a good time, look no further. This truly is an incredible adventure! Twenty-eight explorers bound for Antarctica in 1915 get trapped on an ice floe without a ship or any hope of rescue. Based on interviews and crew members' diaries, Lansing presents this story of survival with fully fleshed characters (like the stowaway with his cat) and details (like the raw skin they all had at the ends of their noses from icicles forming and breaking off) that feels like fiction but is amazingly real. After reading this book I wanted to immediately start over at the beginning--it's that good.
I was not prepared for how much fun I'd have reading this. The form was way more interesting than I expected, and I was completely sucked into the story. Now I need to watch all the movies to sustain this creepy headspace.
Strange and haunting, Shapton is back at her game combining images and text in evocative ways. One chapter is filled with pictures of empty beds while another tells the story of a tennis prodigy's unrealized dream. As loose as some of the threads become, every chapter harkens back to the title with an underlying yet palpable suggestion that we all live with ghosts of some kind.
Growing up under the threat of Hutu violence in Rwanda, Mukasonga, the only survivor from her family, wrote this memoir as a tribute to her mother. Mukasonga shows us daily life as a displaced Tutsi, especially in women's spaces and roles. As readers, we get to be vessels for other people's stories and can keep them alive, even if only through memory. I treasure the opportunity to read Mukasonga's beautiful prose and, if in the tiniest of ways, honor a way of life that's all but gone.
Delusion is one of the driving forces in The Collector and what is possible when common stories people tell themselves are acted upon in extreme ways--a creepy and consuming novel about the evil next door. (Fans of You will love it!)
Don't skip this classic! It's part anthropological view of a new planet, part political intrigue, part story of survival, and all written with stunning depth--beautiful!
Big surprise that this is an utterly devastating book. If you haven’t read de Beauvoir or have only read The Second Sex you’ll be blown away by the power of her fiction.
Though set in Naples, I find this book (and series) reminiscent of Doris Lessing, struggling with growing up in the ragged environment, the musing of girlhood friendships, struggling to be individual, constantly threatened by men, a retelling of political upheavals of the 20th century, and the saving redemption of art.
WHERE THE WILD LADIES ARE is a bizarre and subversive retelling of traditional Japanese folktales centered around ghostly women. Not terribly scary or dark, Matsuda brings the absurd, mundane, and fantastic together in these layered stories that keep giving the deeper you go. And if you, like me, find yourself curious about the classical tales they’re based on, flip over to the book’s end for a synopsis of each! I hope WHERE THE WILD LADIES ARE hits you in that sweet spot where comical, real, and unreal (and undead) intertwine. And remember: if you see monsters, know that they see you too.