Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami – Book

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“Beware the double metaphors”, our artist, our main character, our guy in an early mid-life crisis is told by the Commendatore. Haruki Murakami bends our brains in fiction once again and his readers, and I, enjoy every minute.

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami does something several books have done recently. It begins at the end and then fills us in. Of course by the time I immerse myself in this story I forget that it is all a flashback. The end of the story we get in the beginning is hardly definitive. But we do meet the artist, acting like a true artist in that little scene.

In present time (in the novel) he is feeling that his life has robbed him of the excitement and ambitions he once had as an artist. He, in a way, blames his wife. He rationalizes that he has had to be practical since he is a family man. He earns his living painting portraits and as his wife works away from home and he is often working at home, he does most of the housework. He feels he has “sold out” by painting portraits, which he considers a lesser form of art. He is feeling dead inside. Just when he is most dissatisfied with life and his art his wife asks for a divorce, says she is sleeping with another man and will not sleep with two men at once.

Yuzu’s husband (the artist) grabs a few clothes (very few) and begins a long journey in his car along the northern coast of Japan. Until he begins naming roads he could be living anywhere. He could be any modern man in any modern nation. He ends his journey months later when he has a very strange and concerning sexual encounter with a young woman and meets the possibly evil man in the white Subaru Forester.

His old college friend and fellow student Masahiko offers him the small mountain house where his father, the famous artist Tomahiko Amada, who is now in a nursing home with dementia, had his studio. Masahiko cannot care for the home as he works and lives in Tokyo.

Up to now. I must say, our artist (unnamed) seems more like an engineer. He has a very pragmatic approach to his wife’s confessions and his road trip. But Haruki Murakami paints his portrait with words. Our guy cannot have a boring identity crisis or get to know himself without going through an ordeal.

From the time he enters that mountain home his inner journey begins and it is a doozy. Temple bells ring in the dead of night with no temple nearby, a deep and magical pit is uncovered with meticulous and unusual stonework walls. There is a secret painting Tomahiko Amada has hidden in the attic with the pretty little owl, there is a collection of opera and classical music on vinyl, and there is a millionaire neighbor with a purring silver Jaguar (car) and many secrets. Then there is the young girl, Mariye, he meets in his children’s art class (about the same age as his beloved sister, Komi, who died as a young teen) and the older, married woman from his adult art class who we get to observe, along with the Commendatore, having satisfying illicit sexual relations with her teacher. Who is the Commendatore and how does he get killed? That I cannot tell you.

There is no blatant spirituality and our artist seems far too self-absorbed and modern to accommodate a deeply religious life, but, even so, in this novel the symbolism (the temple bell, the little shrine, the pit) and a certain sparseness in the prose give a religious tone to the artist’s inward journey. Whether it strikes you as spiritual or not, you can at least enjoy the novel as one great big entertaining Haruki Murakami double metaphor.

 

 

Milkman by Anna Burns – Book

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Milkman by Anna Burns follows none of the rules for storytelling or literary fiction that we are used to. The novel seems to be written as one long sentence (of course it isn’t really). I enjoy reading authors who try something new, especially if they do it well. Anna Burns does it well enough.

Middle sister comes of age in a divided culture, almost a tabloid culture. It is a paranoid, male-dominated place in a perpetual state of war (although most of the fighting happens elsewhere) with the “over the border”, “across the waters” people. Readers identify this unnamed country as Northern Ireland because Middle sister speaks of the on-going hostilities as ‘the troubles’. Men are either renouncers, soldiers, paramilitaries or police. Terrorist bombs from unidentified groups occasionally plague the residents and acts of personal terror up to and including death happen frequently enough to keep people on edge. Toxic masculinity is the expected male behavior. Of course, not all men conform but those who don’t are not allowed much peace by those who enforce the convoluted code these folks live with.

Middle sister is also maybe-girlfriend to her car loving mechanic, maybe-boyfriend, who seems nice and who says he would like to not be a ‘maybe’ anymore. Middle sister has her own reasons for wanting to remain a ‘maybe’ for now. Middle sister does things that make her stand out in a culture where women especially are not supposed to stand out. She reads books while walking (nothing newer than the 19th century). Now that she is of marriageable age her behavior is considered deliberately provocative. She is not being properly observant of possible dangers. She is too self-absorbed. She attracts the attention of the creepy, middle-aged Milkman (who is not the real Milkman).

Around her in her single state swings the true chaos of this time and this place. Young people go to bars to drink and mingle – not to dance it seems. Some bars cater to only one group for example, the paramilitary, others attract a more mixed group –  a more dangerous situation with violent fights and explosions more likely. Once Milkman shows an interest in Middle sister other men in the bar scene back off and certain women begin to offer her tips about what to wear and how to act.

Her relationship with maybe-boyfriend continues as he is not part of the mainstream toxic male culture. Middle sister is seriously weirded out by Milkman. She no longer walks and reads. She now runs with Third brother-in-law rather than alone. She knows better than to get in Milkman’s cars or his van. Because of Milkman’s attentions Middle sister becomes an object of gossip because rumor has it that she is having an affair with this Milkman. Until her recent difficulties she did not see herself as belonging or identifying with these grown up mothers (including her own) and widows (lots of widows). As her fate gets more precarious she begins to learn of the subtle power these women have.

Maybe-boyfriend, the car guy, wins ownership of a ‘Blown Bentley’ engine from over the water. Gossips claim that he got to keep the bit with the flag (not the right flag), but he didn’t. Eventually Milkman uses this gossip to threaten maybe-boyfriend whenever he runs into Middle sister – not often if she can help it. He talks about “car bombs”. He’s a real subtle guy.

Some may find this book difficult to read, although words, at first, tend to be short and simple. The breakneck pace lacks pauses or temporary stops, and the vague war between basically unidentified enemies, all the jargon of a carefully controlled society, gets repetitive and makes us long for some specificity. But Middle sister makes the perfect protagonist because, although she knows the rules, she doesn’t always follow them. She is bright, and cautiously adventurous. On occasion her internal dialogue breaks away from the monosyllabic argot and reveals some pretty sophisticated language skills. Of course she was a girl who read books while walking.

Creating a world, or even turning a real world place into something more generic, is not always easy if it is to be a believable world that readers want to occupy for a time. For me the world of Middle sister in Milkman by Anna Burns was well done. But see what you think about that ending.

Find me at

https://thearmchairobserver.com/

Goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson

Tremr.com as brissioni

White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey – Book

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White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey starts with a real resistance movement inside Germany, the White Rose Society, and builds a novel around it. We can imagine that there were Germans living in Nazi Germany who did not buy into Hitler’s racism, his use of fear and instant retribution, the way he used his paranoia about what people said and did in privacy to justify invading everyone’s privacy, and setting neighbors to spy on neighbors.

In White Rose, Black Forest we meet a young German woman who was imprisoned for a short time because she had a boyfriend in the White Rose Society, the German resistance group which published underground news sheets called “The White Rose”. Franka Gerber, our young lady, a nurse in Munich, actually helped write that flyer and distribute it but was assumed to have been naively led astray by her boyfriend Hans. After serving time in prison she is now considered an outcast.

Now with all her family dead Franka lives alone in the family’s cabin in the Black Forest. She is devastated by the things that have happened to her family and the rumors of the terrible things happening to the Poles and the Jews. She sees no way forward for herself. She is planning to shoot herself out in the Black Forest with her father’s gun. It is the middle of winter and winter snows are deep on the ground, the cabin in a remote location, the roads closed due to the snow.

Her suicide is interrupted when she stumbles on a Luftwaffe officer attached to a parachute and unconscious, with two broken legs, who despite his extensive training speaks to her in English. This is where the story goes a bit off the rails. Some of the author’s explanations for what Franka does require a bit too much suspension of disbelief. Although the snow is a great device to buy her parachutist, John Lynch aka Werner Graf, time to heal.

What I did find relevant and worthy of attention were Franka’s interactions with her neighbors dished out in flashbacks to her years as a young girl when she joined the Hitler Youth movement, and with her earliest friends and her first boyfriend who shared these experiences with her. She eventually turned against Hitler and the Nazis, but her old beau, Daniel Berkel, became an agent of the Gestapo, became a loyal Nazi, and with promotions and power became quite a menacing figure.

Much is revealed about the role of women under Nazi rule which was defined by Hitler. Women were house frau’s and child bearers and kept an eye on their neighbors and reported their behavior when it seemed suspect. Women, unless single, did not work outside the home. However many German women became very good Nazi citizens and supported the regime in every way. Others obeyed because the penalties for not obeying were very steep, often even life-threatening.

White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey is a very readable story, but not a polished literary novel. We do end up on the edge of our seats, and you might want to see if they are able to escape their very precarious situation.

From Wikipedia – “The White Rose (German: die Weiße Rose) was a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in the Third Reich led by a group of students and a professor at the University of Munich. The group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign that called for active opposition to the Nazi party regime.”

Find me at Goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson

 

April 2019 Book List

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My April 2019 Book List is part of my ongoing attempt to keep track of new and interesting titles as they are released by publishers. Although I would like to read every title I cannot because of time constraints and financial ones. Some titles I include for others who might use these lists, such as the books about baseball which are on this month’s list. I have placed an asterisk next to books that sound especially to my taste. I may not stick with my original choices. Sometimes readers provide feedback that makes a title more desirable and moves it up in my priorities. Tempting to sit in a comfy chair surrounded by piles of books and just read, but I understand that sitting for long periods of time can rob you of your mobility. Thank goodness you can read at the gym or even in the park. Enjoy!

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

Normal People: A Novel by Sally Rooney *

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad *

Roar by Cecilia Ahem (Short stories)

Lights All Night Long: A Novel by Lydia Fitzpatrick *

Boy Swallows Universe: A Novel by Trent Dalton *

The Girl He Used to Know: A Novel by Tracy Garvis Graves

Courting Mr. Lincoln: A Novel by Louis Bayard

Stay Up with Hugo Best: A Novel by Erin Somers *

Outside Looking In: A Novel by T.C. Boyle *

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Mysteries and Thrillers

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

Odd Partners: An Anthology, Mystery Writers of America, Alison Brennan, et al

Redemption (Memory Man series) by David Baldacci

Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline

The Mother-In-Law: A Novel by Sally Hepworth

Miracle Creek: A Novel by Angie Kim

Metropolis (A Bernie Gunther Novel) by Philip Kerr

The Better Sister: A Novel by Alafair Burke

Confessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow

The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugone

Biographies and Memoirs

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport by Yvon Chouinard

Colin Powell: Imperfect Patriot by Jeffrey J. Matthews

Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America by Jared Cohen

Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement by Rich Karlgaard

Women of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell

The Honey Bees: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees by Meredith May

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

Autumn Light: Seasons of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer

Women’s Work: A Reckoning with Work and Home by Megan K. Stack

Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, The Life of Ernie Banks by Ron Rapoport

The Light Years: A Memoir by Chris Rush

Notes From a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi, Joshua David Stein

Nonfiction

The Last Stone: A Masterpiece of Criminal Interrogation by Mark Bowden

The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

Hotbox: Inside Catering, the Food World’s Riskiest Business by Matt Lee, Ted Lee

The Mission of a Lifetime: Lessons from the Men Who Went to the Moon by Basil Hero

Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe by Steven Strogatz

American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy on the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley

Everything in it’s Place: First Loves and Last Tales by Oliver Sacks

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes what We See, Think and Do by Jennifer Everhardt, PhD

Shakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature by Stuart Kells

Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive and Fall by Mark W. Moffett

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Luminous Dead by Caillin Starling

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World: A Novel by C. A. Fletcher

(and a number of series that have added new volumes)

New York Times Book Review

March 8

Nonfiction

An American Summer by Alex Kotlowitz

Nobody’s Looking at You by Janet Malcolm

Good Kids, Bad City by Kyle Swenson

Nature’s Mutiny by Philipp Blom

El Norte by Carrie Gibson

Fiction

The Wall by John Lanchester *

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Cherokee American by Margaret Verble *

New and Noteworthy

The Art of Bible Translation by Robert Alter

A Desert Harvest by Bruce Berger

Who Killed My Father by Edouard Louis

Max Havelaar, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company by Multatuli

8 New Books Recommended by Editors this Week

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

Nervous States: Democracy and the Decline of Reason by William Davies *

Mamas Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves by Frans de Waal

The White Book by Han Kang

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

Death is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa

The Heavens by Sandra Newman

March 15th

Fiction

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Elsewhere Home by Leila Aboulela

House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

Nonfiction

I.M. by Isaac Mizrahi (Memoir)

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

Ten Caesars by Barry Strauss

Figuring by Maria Popova

Truth in Our Times by David McCraw

The Impossible Climb by Mark Synnott

The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin

The Twice-Born: Life and Death on the Ganges by Aatish Taseer

March 22

Fiction

The Parade by Dave Eggers

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib (eating disorders)

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray (eating disorders)

The Silk Road by Kathryn Davis

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

Nonfiction

First: Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas

The Mastermind by Evan Ratliff

Savage Feast by Boris Fishman (Memoir)

Survival Math by Mitchell S. Jackson

Ten Drugs by Thomas Hager

The Chief by Joan Biskupic (Life of John Roberts)

Zora and Langston by Yuval Taylors

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman (memoir)

Spies of No Country by Matti Friedman

In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan

March 29

If you search and find this issue of the NYT’s Book Review you will find a link to a list of 100 Notable Books of 2018.

Fiction

The Old Drift by Nomwali Serpell *

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt *

The Women’s War by Jenna Glass

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

The Promise of Elsewhere by Brad Leithauser

Latest Horror Fiction

The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan

A People’s Future of the United States, ed. By Victor LaValle, John Joseph

The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Bickering Family Novels

White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf

Little Faith by Nikolas Butter

A Weekend in New York by Benjamin Moskovitz

Nonfiction

Doing Justice by Preet Bharara *

Thin Blue Lie by Matt Stroud

Putin’s World by Angela E. Stent

The Age of Disenchantment by Aaron Shulman

Bending Toward Justice by Doug Jones

Foursome by Carolyn Burke *

America’s Jewish Women by Pamela S. Nadell *

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young (memoir)

Publisher’s Weekly Tip Sheet

10 Books Coming Up for Spring

Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Disappearing Earth: A Novel by Julia Phillips

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

I Am God: A Novel by Giacomo Sartori

The Age of Light: A Novel by Whitney Scharer

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

House of Stone: A Novel by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

American Spy: A Novel by Lauren Wilkinson

March 1

Ancestral Night: White Space, Book 1 by Elizabeth Bear * – F

Lovely War by Julie Berry – YA

Little Faith by Nickolas Butler – F

A Fire Story by Brian Fies – Graphic Memoir

Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson – Memoir

An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz – NF

Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzi * – NF

The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt Och Dag, trans. from Swedish by Ebba Segerberg – Mystery

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara – Biography

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi * – F

That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the 11th Hour by Sunita Puri * – NF

The Volunteer by Salvatore Scibona “this is a bold, rewarding novel” * – F

Solitary by Albert Woodfox with Leslie George * – Memoir

March 8

Wolf Pack by C. J. Box (A Joe Pickett Novel) – F

Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future by Kate Brown – NF

American Diplomacy and the Case for its Renewal by William J. Burns – NF

If, Then: A Novel by Kate Hope Day – F

See You in the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy by Frances Mayes  * – NF

The Selected Works of Abdullah The Cossack by H. M. Naqvi (Karachi) * – F

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Aahaimbo Owour -Kenyan woman discovers Chinese heritage * – F

The Trial of Lizzie Borden: A True Story by Cara Robertson – NF

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson – NF

March 15

A Town Called Malice by Adam Abramowitz – F

Doing Justice – A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law by Preet Bharara – NF

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams * – F

The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery by Mary Cregan – Memoir

Leaving Richard’s Valley by Michael DeForge – Graphic Novel

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World by Lyndell Gordon – Biography

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead by Bill Griffith – Graphic Bio

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley – Science Fiction

Memories of the  Future by Siri Hustvedt – F

White Shoe: How a New Breed of Wall Street Lawyers Changed Big Business and the American City by John Oller – NF

The Sun is a Compass: A 4,000 Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds by Caroline Van Hemert – NF

Lot by Bryan Washington – Short Stories

March 22

The Workshop and the World: What Ten Thinkers Can Teach Us About Science and Authority by Robert P. Crease – NF

The Club: Johnson, Boswell and the Friends Who Shaped An Age by Leo Damrosch – NF

Murder by the Book: The Crime that Shocked Dickens’s London by Claire Harman – True Crime

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob – Graphic Memoir

A Change of Time by Ida Jessen, trans. from Danish by Martin Aitken * – F

The Other Americans: A Novel by Laila Lalami * – F

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell – “this is an astonishing novel” * – F

Coders: The Making of a New Art and the Remaking of the World by Clive Thompson – NF

Guantanamo Kid: The True Story of Mohammed El-Gharani – Graphic Narrative – NF

The American Agent: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear – F

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young – NF

March 29

Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison – “underlain with formidable erudition”  * – NF

The Last Stone: A Masterpiece of Criminal Investigation by Mark Bowden – True Crime

Gravity’s Century: From Einstein’s Eclipse to Images of Black Holes by Ron Cowen – “both a learning experience and a pleasure to read” – NF

Boy Swallows Universe: A Novel by Trent Walton –“an outstanding debut” – F

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave by David Downing – Thriller

Lost and Wanted by Neil Freudenberger – F

Is This How You See Me? by Jaime Hernandez – F

K: A History of Baseball in 10 Pitches by Tyler Kepner – NF

Loch of the Dead by Oscar de Muriel – Victorian mystery

Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris – NF

Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, the Life of Ernie Banks by Ron Rapoport – NF

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling – F

How Change Happens by Cass R. Sunstein – NF

Women Talking by Miriam Toews – F

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy – Book

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Although All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy is narrated, as it begins, by Myshkin, a young boy, and is also narrated by this boy grown to be an old man in his sixties, this is actually a book that has its roots in a true story of a German artist who travelled in Asia between the Great War (WW I to us) and World War II. Walter Spies was a creative person (and probably a wealthy person) who was so unique and charming that he was considered accomplished and interesting wherever he went, although he was also perceived as somewhat out-of-place, a curiosity. He travelled extensively in India (the author imagines) but he fell in love with Bali and made that his home base in Asia for many years.

Anuradha Roy wrote two stories in one because she admired Mr. Spies and wanted to bring him to life. So she begins her tale not with Spies but with that young narrator in India, a young boy with a mother who was given a nontraditional upbringing by her doting father, a woman born with a passion for an authentic life and a talent for painting and drawing. She was a woman, Gayatri, married to a professor and political activist, who felt held back, held down, imprisoned by her conventional life and loveless marriage. Her husband tried to give her a modicum of freedom but they did not perceive life in the same way. Women of that time, of course, were expected to marry and raise families and did not go traipsing off looking for their bliss.

But Gayatri did run off and left her husband and her young son. She meant to take her son with her but he got delayed at school that day and she had to leave him behind. She is happy in her new life but abandoning her child put a shadow of grief on her happiness. She ran off with a man, Walter Spies, but not to be his lover, rather to be free and live an artist’s life in the way that Walter and his friend Beryl de Zoete were living theirs. Beryl travelled in Asia studying dance and movement.

In this way Anuradha Roy is able to talk about the way women’s lives are curtailed by cultural expectations and public censure. She is also able to tell us about an artist she admired, whose freedom was likewise eventually curtailed, but not by the Asians he lived among, rather the Europeans he had fled.

Gayatri’s boy grows up and becomes, to his father’s dismay, a horticulturist, but he always remains the boy who lost his mother. Years later, as an adult he read the letters his mother wrote to her closest female friend from her life in India. We find that life can destroy our dreams in more than one way.

“As an old man, trying to understand my past, I am making myself read of others like her, I am trying to view my mother somewhat impersonally, as a rebel who might be admired by some, an artist with a vocation so intense she chose it over family and home.”

“But then his father left too to go off on his journey to the center of his self.” Interesting that in India, as in other places, if you are rich enough, both parents can leave but servants and relatives keep the details of the child’s life stable, even at the sacrifice of the child’s heart. Fortunately for Myshkin the grandfather in this story is a kindly and solicitous soul who stands in for the father.

In this way All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy weaves the familiar daily routines of Indian life with the more foreign whims of European artists escaping from the daily routines of their own lives into a believable whole, a novel that explores the tension between art and cultural mores and rules. I just found myself wishing that both parts of the story were based on true events. However I remind myself that the author is an Indian woman and there may be kernels of truth in that fictional family’s portrayal. In the end I have always been happy so far when immersed in a story of India.

Photo Credit: Nancy Brisson

March 2019 Book List

book with glasses by Inc.

March 2019 Book List

I slipped and fell on my icy driveway, and after just getting a manicure too (which I rarely indulge in). My productivity declined in a fog of muscle relaxers that were a bit too mild for the job for the three weeks it took for my back to recover. When your body fails you, however temporarily, you begin to understand all the trendy talk about a mind-body connection. I had to fit my blogging in when I was functional, but my brain was not exactly firing on all cylinders. All of this is my excuse for why this book list is so late. The dog did not eat my homework; I blame this one on winter. Hope you find some good books in here. It looks very promising.

Amazon

Fiction

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

The Wall: A Novel by John Lanchester

The Old Drift: A Novel by Namwali Serpell

The Altruists by Andrew Ridker

A Woman is No Man: A Novel by Etaf Rum

The Parade by Dave Eggers

Daisy Jones and the Six: A Novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself: A Novel by William Boyle

Little Faith by Nickolas Butler

The River: A Novel by Peter Heller

Mysteries and Thriller

The Lost Night: A Novel by Andrea Bartz

Wolf Pack (A Joe Pickets Novel) by C. J. Box

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The Terminal List: A Thriller by Jack Carr

Run Away by Harlan Coben

The River by Peter Heller

Unto Us a Son Is Given (Guido Brunetti) by Donna Leon

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog) by Don Winslow

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

Cemetery Road: A Novel by Greg Iles

Biographies and Memoirs

Louisa on the Front Lines: Louisa May Alcott in the Civil War by Samantha Seiple

The Sun is a Compass: A 4,000 mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds by Caroline Van Hemert

Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution by Amber Tamblyn

Good Talk: A Memoir on Conversation by Mira Jacobs

I.M.: A Memoir by Isaac Mizrahi

Too Much is Not Enough: A Memoir of Fumbling Toward Adulthood by Andrew Rannells

Magic is Dead: My Journey into the World’s most Secretive Society of Magicians by Jan Frisch

The Impossible Climb: Alex Honnold, El Capitan, and the Climbing Life by Mark Synnott

No Happy Endings: A Memoir by Nora McInerny

First: Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas

Nonfiction

The Human Tide: How Population Shaped the Modern World by Paul Morland

The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity by Amy Webb

The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book’s Five Hundred Year Odyssey by Margaret Leslie Davis

An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotiowitz

The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviors by Matthew O. Jackson

Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan

Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone by Brian Switek

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves by Frans de Waal

Horizon by Barry Lopez

All That Remains: A Renowned Forensic Scientist on Death, Mortality and Solving Crimes by Sue Black DBE FRSE

The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Giant Superbug by Steffanie Strathdee, Thomas Patterson

Science Fiction and Fantasy

One Way by S.J. Morden, Bk. 1

No Way by S.J. Morden, Bk. 2

Winter World by A.G. Riddle

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

Women’s War by Jenna Glass

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The Municipalists: A Novel by Seth Fried

The New York Times Book Review

Feb. 8

Fiction

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, 1stvolume, Dark Star Trilogy by Marlon James

Same, Same by Peter Mendelsund

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

I Am God by Giacomo Sartori

Nonfiction

Unexampled Courage by Richard Gergel

The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams

A Bright Future by Joshua Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist

Maid by Stephanie Land

An Indefinite Sentence by Siddharth Dube

The Short List – Einstein’s Legacy

Einstein’s Shadow by Seth Fletcher

Einstein’s Monsters: The Life and Times of Black Holes by Chris Impey

Breakfast with Einstein: The Exotic Physics of Everyday Objects by Chad Orzel

New and Noteworthy

The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman

Only in New York by Sam Roberts

Jimmy Neurosis by James Oseland

The Missing Pages by Heghnar Zietlian

The Wild Bunch by W. K. Stralton

9 Books Recommended by Editors

Notes from a Black Woman’s Diary: Selected Works of Kathleen Collins by Kathleen Collins

Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib

As Long as We Both Shall Live by JoAnn Choney

The Plotters by Un-Su Kim, trans. by Sara Kim-Russell

Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe by Roger McNamee

Antisemitism: Here and Now by Deborah E. Lipstadt

Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why it Matters Now by Alan Rusbridger

Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts by Jill Abramson

The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash

Political Tell-Alls

Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in Trump’s White House by Cliff Sims

Let Me Finish by Chris Christie

The Threat: How the FBI protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew McCabe

Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law by Preet Bharrara

Feb. 15

Fiction

Landfall by Thomas Mallon

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

Nonfiction

All the Lives We Never Lived by Katharine Smyth

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

Wild Bill by Tom Calvin

Lady First by Amy Greenberg

Walk This Way by Geoff Edgers

The Short List – 5 Essay Collections by Women of Color

Womanish: A Grown Black Woman Speaks on Love and Life by Kim McLarin

Notes from a Black Woman’s Diary: Selected Works of Kathleen Collins by Nina Lorez Collins

Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Religion by Nishta J. Mehra

Black is the Body: Stories From My Grandmother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard

Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottam

Blockchain Tech

Blockchain and Law: The Rule of Code by Primavera De Filippi and Aaron Wright

The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trust by Kevin Warback

Crime

Stalker by Lars Kepler

Careless Love by Peter Robinson

The Wedding Guest by Jonathan Kellerman

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

New This Week – Audio Books

Atomic Marriage by Curtis Sittenfelf

The Stranger Inside by Laura Benedict

Power Moves by Adam Grant

The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm by Christopher Paolini

The Last Days of August by Jon Ronson

9 New Books We Recommend

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham

Nobody’s Looking at You: Essays by Janet Malcolm

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring by Richard Gergel

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

An Indefinite Sentence: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex by Siddharth Dube

Einstein’s Shadow: A Black Hole, a Band of Astronomers, and the Quest to see the Unseeable by Seth Fletcher

Feb. 24

Nonfiction

How to Disappear by Akiko Busch

Silence by Jane Brox

Separate: The Story of Plessy v Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation by Steve Luxemberg

Notes on a Shipwreck by Davide Enia

If We Can Keep it by Michael Tomasky

Sleeping with Strangers by David Thomson

Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg

Fiction

The Cassandra by Sharma Shields

Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman

Leading Men by Christopher Castellani

New Fantasy Fiction

The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyon (Series – Chorus of Dragons

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

Fiction

Wella and Hesper by Amy Feltman

Coming of Age Overseas

What Hell is Not by Alessandro D’Avenia

99 Night in Logas by Jamil Jan Kochai

March 1

Nonfiction

Mama’s Last Hug by Frans de Waal

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Empires of the Weak by J.S. Sharman

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

The Third Pillar by Raghuram Rajan

Memoirs of Love and Loss

How to Be Loved by Eva Hagberg Fisher

Joy Enough by Sarah McColl

The Art of Leaving: A Memoir in Essays by Ayelet Tsabari

Fiction

The White Book by Han Kang

Death is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa

Zuleikha by Guzel Yakim

Crime

The Border (last in a trilogy) by Don Winslow

Unto Us a Son is Given (Guido Brunetti) by Donna Leon

A Friend is a Gift Yourself by William Boyle

Cemetery Road by Greg Iles

Fiction

The Heavens by Sandra Newman

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

NYT’s article – Sabra Embury, a writer, asks authors to draw 10 second drawings of rabbits (bunnies). Not a book, but fun to check out.

www.nytimes.com/2019/03/01/books/sabra-embury.html

A few books recommended by editors

The Threat by Andrew McCabe

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman

Sleeping with Strangers: How the Movies Shaped Desire by David Thomson

Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman

Publishers Weekly Tip Sheets

Feb. 4

Stalin’s Scribe: Literature, Ambition, and Survival: The Life of Mikhail Sholokov by Brian J. Boeck NF

Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson NF

Europe: A Natural History by Tim Flannery NF

El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America by Carrie Gibson NF

Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk by Amy S. Greenberg NF

What We Did: A Novel by Christobel Kent F

A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams F – short story anthology

The Ruin of Kings: A Chorus of Dragon’s, Book 1, by Jenn Lyons F

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken F

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides F

Magical Negro by Morgan Parker F

I Am God by Giacomo Sartori F

The Age of Light by Whitney Sharer F

Off Season by James Sturm F, graphic novel

The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang NF, essays

The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber F

Feb. 11

The Pianist from Syria: A Memoir by Aeham Ahmad NF, Memoir

Leading Men by Christopher Castellani F

The Night Tiger by Yongsze Choo F

Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving by Caitlyn Collins NF

Parkland by Dave Cullen NF

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts F

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli F

Rag by Maryse Farrar F, short stories

Honey in the Carcase by Josip Novakovich F

The Reckoning by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, trans. from Icelandic by Victoria Cobb F

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, trans. from Japanese by Geraldine Harcourt F

American Spy by LaurenWilkinson F

Feb. 18

Trump Sky Alpha by Mark Doten F

Where Oblivion Lives by T. Frohock F

In the Dark by Cara Hunter F

How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr NF

The Darkest Year: The American Homefront, 1941-1942 by William K Klingaman NF

Broken Stars (Anthology) edited and trans. from the Chinese by Ken Liu F, science fiction short stories

American Heroin by Melissa Scrivner F

Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives in World War II by Adam Mako NF

Nobody’s Looking at You: Essays by Janet Malcolm NF, essays

The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America edited by Nikesh Shukla, NF, essays

Feb. 25

Vacuum in the Dark by Jen Beagin F

The Very Best of the Best: 25 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozios F, short stories

After She’s Gone by Camilla Grebe, trans. from Swedish by Elizabeth Clark Wessel F

Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement by David K Johnson NF

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe NF

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie F

Mother Country by Irina Reyn F

PTSD by Guillaume Singelin “This is a glorious meditation on the lingering horrors of war.” F

Hot Protestants: A History of Puritanism in England and America by Michael P Winship NF

 

You can find my book blogs at:

https://thearmchairobserver.com/(both books and politics)

https://nbrissonbookblog.com/  (book blogs only)

on Goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson

 

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker – Book

thedreamers

The Dreamers by Karen Thomas Walker is a story of a viral outbreak, think ebola, only without bodily fluids. This virus hits a small college in the middle of nowhere, a tiny town, one road in-one road out. Where did the virus originate? Some said a strange haze moved through their college town one day. The town is in the middle of a drought. Is that the cause? The author suggests that letters from earlier centuries hint at a similar infection.

The virus strikes in the freshman college dorm first. Mei is a new student at Santa Lora who is finding social life difficult, but her roommate Kara connects with the other students easily. Kara is the first to feel woozy, she is the first to fall into her bed fully dressed after a night of drinking and partying, and she is also the first to die from whatever this is.

Caleb is the only person in the dorm who has the social skills to deal with Kara’s grieving parents. When the students drown their seriousness in a party that is pure escapism Caleb puts the moves on Rebecca, child of a religious family, home schooled, but finding herself a social success at school When he wakes everyone up in the morning with his screaming there is Rebecca in his bed and she has the virus.

The author tells us, “The first stage of sleep is the lightest, the brief letting go, like the skipping of a stone across the water. This is the nodding of a head in a theater. This is the dropping of a book in bed. Rebecca falls quickly into that first layer. Ten more minutes. She sinks further, just the beginning of the deep dive. This is when a sudden dream floats through her. She is at church with her parents. A baby is being baptized,”

The virus turns people into dreamers who cannot be awakened. If they are not fed through tubes and given water through IV’s they die of dreaming. It seems just a gentle virus, and few discussions of gross bodily functions trouble that dreamy quality (although such care must also be required).

I enjoyed reading The Dreamers but it left me with more questions than answers. Is it symbolic that this happens in a college town? Is it symbolic that the woods are dying from an attack by insects, that the lake is drying up from a long string of perfectly sunny days – a drought? Is it symbolic that the college administrators house the dreamers in a library?

The author takes us through the disciplines of thinkers who have dealt with dreaming, with mental time travel, with the past, present and the future – the Classics, the Psychology section, the Philosophers, the Physicists, the Linguists. Time does seem to morph for these dreamers in subtle ways.

Is it symbolic that Rebecca sleeps with a “sleeper” – a baby growing inside unknown to all, a baby whose every stage of development is described. Why does Rebecca dream that she has a boy child and then lose her sweet boy when she is delivered of a girl. She goes through the rest of her life loving her daughter but missing her son, who seemed more real in that dream state than what turns up in her actual life?

As with any virus some who fall to dreaming never wake up.

Is the small fire that begins in the forest and is quickly put out a foreshadowing of another key fire in this story?

The isolation of the college perhaps stops the virus from becoming widespread. So many volunteers show up to tend to the dreamers. In spite of protective suits and masks some get ill anyway and take their place on a cot. Some defy their suits to offer some personal gesture to a dreamer and get infected. Once you come into the village you cannot leave.

I just don’t know if this book simply takes us through an experience, the way an epidemic does, or if it has a point, a meaning, is perhaps a conceit, an extended metaphor. It strikes me as a skillful exercise in writing, immersive, beautifully realized, but, except for the baby growing in the midst of all that sleepiness in that lovely dying landscape, it seems without relevance, especially since it happens in a place almost as remote in time and place as Brigadoon. Perhaps a deeper message will dawn on me at some later moment. However Walker truly created a dreamy quality and that is skillful, like a painter who can capture transparency.

From a Google Image Search – The Bibliofile