Widowed and jobless, Lev immigrates from Eastern Europe to London in hopes of finding work and a better future for his daughter in The Road Home by Rose Tremain. What he encounters there – friendship, cruelty, kindness, hardship and hope – becomes a snapshot of the world we live in today.
Arriving in London with just basic English language skills, minimum money and an EU passport, Lev finds a menial job washing dishes at a high-end restaurant where he discovers a passion and a talent for cooking. Lev makes some mistakes along the way – he doesn’t always do the right thing – but he is always sympathetic and likeable and you’ll find yourself pulling for him.
You’ll also meet some wonderful characters – Rudi, Lev’s colorful and outspoken but forever loyal friend from home, Christy, his down-on-his-luck Irish flatmate, Sophie, the English woman he has a passionate affair with, G.K., his gruff, rude yet ultimately life-saving boss, the people at the nursing home he visits and his fellow workers. From these wildly different parts he creates a family that sustain and guide him, yet there is always an undercurrent of sadness and longing for home. How Lev finds his way home again, both literally and figuratively, are the heart of the story. Although the ending is somewhat contrived, it is also exactly right.
Unlike James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, the author clearly marks this as a work of fiction. Still, I found myself studying her photograph, wondering just how much of the story she might have actually experienced herself. That’s how real it felt.
In this gritty and sometimes sordid tale about the homeless and the addicted, we follow Joon-Mee through her teen years during the 1980’s in New York City in Miles from Nowhere. Joon, an immigrant from Korea, leaves her troubled home and ends up on the street, falling into prostitution and heroin abuse. All is not dreary, though, as the book has a hopeful ending. In the words of Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl, this is a “starkly beautiful book, shot through with grace and lit by an offhand street poetry. Nami Mun takes a cast of junkies and runaways and brings them fiercely and frankly to life. It’s a measure of the artistry of the work that even in their grimmest, darkest moments, rather than being repelled by these characters, we want to stay beside them, as if to care for them, or at least bear witness to their lives. “
What if you had the chance to live your life over? Would you make the same choices? Marry the same person? Work the same job? How different would your life be now, and where would you be? These intriguing questions are at the center of Allison Winn Scotch’s Time of My Life when Jillian Westfield gets the chance to re-live part of her past.
Mired in an unhappy marriage, feeling trapped by her “perfect Mommy” image, Jillian finds herself dreaming of her former boyfriend and how different he was than her husband. While life with Henry was steady and reliable, life with Jackson had been exciting and fast-paced, and her career had begun to take off. She begins to believe that if she had stayed with Jackson everything would be glamorous and fun.
One morning Jillian wakes up seven years in the past, before she left Jackson, before she married Henry, before her daughter was born. Now armed with 20/20 hindsight, she aims to get things “right’ this time. But it’s not as simple as she thought – the absence of her daughter is a sharp, constant ache, the fast-paced job isn’t as alluring as she’d remembered and fond memories of Henry keep returning. There are poignant moments too, such as when she sees her friend Meg who, in her former world, would die is a couple years, and when she runs into the current Henry and realizes she’s still in love with him. Can she change the course of her life and the lives of those she loves? What might appear to be a simple chick lit is in fact a thoughtful look at choices and consequences and living the life you’re given.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn is by far the weirdest book I have ever read. My good friend who read this for his book group described it which immediately appealed to my fondness for the extreme and freaky.
Geek Love is about the Binewski family of sideshow carnival freaks. The parents decided it would be truly special (and lucrative) to produce their own freaks. Lil, the mom ingests different toxic substances (ie. arsenic) during pregnancy to get the best all around results. The first Binewski child came in the form of Arturo the Aqua Boy who was born with flippers instead of limbs. Second and or third in the birth order is/are the Siamese piano playing twins Electra and Iphigenia. Next comes our narrator, Olympia who is a bald albino humpback dwarf. Lastly, is Furtunato aka “Chick” who at first appeares devastatingly normal. Chick eventually exhibits extraordinary telekinetic abilities and is wonderfully good hearted. Need I say more?
Only that the plot and story lines are as weird and compelling as the characters. Oh, and amazingly very well written.
submitted by Georgann
This inspiring true story is the author’s experience as a sex slave in Cambodia, how she broke free and how she now helps other girls find freedom. Somaly Mam is a simple woman, not well educated, and she tells her story in simple, frank language. I was hesitant to read it at first because I was afraid it would be too explicit and give me nightmares. Although she tells a heartrending story and she still suffers nightmares, it was not so graphic as to give them to me.
In The Road of Lost Innocence, Mam explains the series of tragic events that lead to her being sold into the sex slave trade when she was about 16. As she relates those years your heart just breaks. What all this woman lived through is just unbelievable.
Eventually Mam escaped and made a life for herself. Now she heads up an organization that helps other women and girls as young as six to also escape. She lives in constant threat to her life and to those of her children, but she perseveres. I was glad I took the risk to read this story. It is a story of hope well worth reading.
This is an unusual true story of a Los Angeles Times columnist who one day takes notice of a violin playing homeless man. Unusual is the music this homeless person manages to produce from a beat up violin with two strings missing. Even the columnist, who has little music knowledge, can tell that this raggedy seemingly eccentric individual must have had some classical training and education. Shortly after approaching Nathaniel, Lopez discovers that he is a former Juilliard student, living on the streets suffering from untreated schizophrenia. The homeless musician stirs something unshakable in the columnist. As Lopez begins to try and improve Nathaniel’s life -by getting him off the streets and back on medication – he finds that Nathaniel has irrevocably changed his.
I was listening to Yo-Yo Ma who was a guest on Garrison Keillor’s radio show last week. I stopped to really listen to this world renowned cellist and was able to imagine Nathaniel Ayers playing in the same orchestra with him over 30 years ago. The Soloist had the potential to be a very depressing read. Instead, it was a hugely wonderful story.
You know what it’s like when you just can’t put a book down? Well, this widely acclaimed book was one I actually had to put down. I just needed to take a break from all the suffering and violence. Still, it’s a book I’m recommending. In fact, I really think that it should be required reading for most adult Americans. Why? Because how many of us are acutely aware of what is really happening in Africa? Sure, you may have heard it on the news, but this book will affect how you feel about those happenings.
The author, Uwem Akpan, is a Jesuit priest who was born in Nigeria and later educated in Michigan. He chooses to tell most of these short stories (a few quite long) through the eyes of children. This, in my view, makes them all the more tragic. For example, in the last story, “In my Parents’ Bedroom,” the young narrator, Monique, can’t understand why the ceiling is bleeding. For me, this was the most powerful story, reminding me of the movie Hotel Rwanda. Monique is the daughter of a Tutsi mother and a Hutu father and the title, Say You’re One of Them, is based upon the advice her mother gives her shortly before the machete-wielding mob arrives.
In the story, “An Ex-Mas Feast,” a 12- year old girl works as a prostitute in order to feed her starving family. And, in “Fattening for Gabon,” two children are sent to live with their slave-trading uncle as their parents die of AIDS. So, no, this is not a pleasant book, but it is an important one. For all those literally starving children in Africa, please at least give it a try.
Ready for an escape this winter? How about a little literary trip to a champagne vineyard in France? Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And yes, I realize it still gets cold there, but you have to admit, the idea of it is pretty romantic.
In House of Daughters by Sarah-Kate Lynch, the story revolves around Clementine, the daughter and rightful heir to the House of Peine, a vineyard that has been in the family for generations. However, after her father dies, Clementine soon discovers that she must share her inheritance with a half-sister she’s only met once and with another she didn’t even know existed! Needless to say, all is not happy in the Peine household. The sisters struggle not only with each other but with trying to keep the vineyard afloat financially. Secrets, scandals and long lost loves all keep this story bubbly and upbeat, but robust enough to savor long into the night. Share a toast to sisterhood and celebrate this read with your own bottle of champagne. C’est la vie!
If you’re a fan of public radio, you’ll love the audio version of this “travelogue of ideas.” Eric Weiner is the reader; as an NPR reporter, he knows how to edit his stories so they make for compelling listening, as well as reading.
To research The Geography of Bliss, Weiner decides to visit countries that rate at the high and low ends of various happiness indexes. The journey, of course, is more interesting than the goal, and we are immersed in the cultures of Iceland, Bhutan, Holland, Switzerland and others. Weiner, with his dark sense of humor, never takes himself or his quest too seriously and makes for a very accomplished narrator. What is the happiest place on earth? You’ll have to read or listen yourself.