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Thursday, April 19, 2012

World Book Night: The Third Batch

I'm really rounding the corner here. Just a few days left, but I've still got plenty of books to talk about.

We'll begin with A History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I was expecting to love this one. Novels about the Jewish experience and dislocation after the Holocaust are kind of my thing. Plus, Kraus is married to Jonathan Safran Foer whose book, Everything is Illuminated, is one of my all time favorites. Krauss shares with her husband a desperate clutching at cleverness and postmodern conventions, but she does not handle them quite as well. However, the loneliness of Leo Gursky, so aptly described, comes close to bringing the novel to Foer's heights. The book is balanced between the point of view of the aging Gursky and pre-teen Alma who are looking for each other without realizing it. I think Alma portions of the book, written mostly in lists, may be what keep me from loving it. The lists became tiresome. This is a really good novel; it just did not live up to my (perhaps unfair) expectations.

Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife is another novel about loneliness (side bar: it's been fun finding connections between the 30 WBN picks) I approached this one knowing absolutely nothing about the plot, and my ignorance paid off with the first few chapters. I had no clear idea what was going on with any of the characters or their motivations; the constant questioning was really what made the first few chapters of the novel. As I said, this is a book about loneliness, but it is also about passion and bitterness and sex. Passionate sex, bitter sex, lots of sex. It is the winter of 1907 and Ralph Truitt is looking for a reliable wife. Besides reliability he has no other real requirements. He just wants someone modest and kind to fulfill the public wifely duties of the richest man in town. Catherine Land, who replies to his ad seeking such a wife, hopes to create these attributes within herself. Truitt is rich and Catherine is beautiful - all should go well. Except there is so much more to it than that. This was an enjoyable novel. The characters were surprising. Not my typical read, but I enjoyed it.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo may end up being my favorite book on this list. It is the sweetest book I have ever read. This is the story of ten-year-old Opal and her dog, Winn Dixie. It's a story that reminds us of the emotional depths within children that often go ignored. Writers like DiCamillo amaze me. She crafted an amazing book about loneliness (there's that word again) and the power of animal-human bonds, and it is written for a ten-year-old audience. Do yourself a favor and read this one.

The subject of Zeitoun by Dave Eggers is Abdulrahman Zeitoun who weathers hurricane Katrina then canoes around the flooded city delivering food and water to animals that have been left behind and helping his neighbors and fellow citizens as he can. So, the book is about Zeitoun but it is also about how truly terrible people can be to one another and how all humanity can go out the window in the face of chaos. Eggers is able to display this through Zeitoun's wrongful incarceration as a member of Al Qaeda. Zeitoun is not a terrorist - he just happens to be Syrian, but in post-Katrina New Orleans those things were seen as one in the same. What happened to Zeitoun and his friends following his arrest is hard to believe. However, I have to separate my feelings for the book from the events it describes. By that I mean that I did not always trust Eggers depictions of the Zeitoun's pre-Katrina life, especially in regards to Abdulrahman's American born wife, Kathy. Bear in mind, I read this book shortly after the announcement that Zeitoun had been arrested for spousal abuse. This information shed a certain light on things said by Eggers, Zeitoun, and others that read as attempts to avoid certain aspects of the man's personality. I still think that the book is an important one to read, both as evidence of the colossal mismanagement of a city and its people in distress as well as then tenuousness of basic human rights.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a book that was written for me. It is about family, religion, social accountability...basically, all of my intellectual sticking points. Through this story of a missionary and his family in the Congo, Kingsolver allows her readers to reflect upon practically every aspect of their lives. I went from dwelling on my moral culpability in modern day Africa, to my own family dynamics, to pondering the values of spirituality versus religion. There is so much in this book. It is the type of novel that reminds me why I want to be a writer, but makes me feel like I could never be one.


  1. I felt the same about Poisonwood Bible, wonderful book. Zeitoun was one I heard on audio, greatly moved by it, and now greatly disappointed. Your reviews always make me want to read the books. Thanks especially for your YA reviews.

    1. I'm so happy to hear that you enjoy the reviews. It's always nice to know that I'm doing my job (pointing people in the direction of great literature!). It is sad to know the truth about Abdulrahman Zeitoun, but I truly do not feel that takes away from the overall truth of Egger's book. In fact, it may even make a discussion of the evils we subject one another to all the more poignant.



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