Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday, January 14, 2012

 at 1:00 PM

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

Discussion Leader: Edna Ritzenberg


Sheltered within the rural confines of his impoverished Tutsi village, Jean Patrick dreams of one day running in the Olympics. But as he grows stronger and faster, so does the conflict between his tribe and the Hutus. Jean Patrick has an exploitable talent, however. His feet can carry the dreams and demands of his country to the outside world, so he is given privileges and concessions other Tutsis are not. Yet when the violence starts, not even those advantages can protect him, his family, and the woman he loves from the slaughter and devastation of a heinous civil war. Awarded the prestigious Bellwether Prize for its treatment of compelling social issues, Benaron’s first novel is a gripping, frequently distressing portrait of destruction and ultimate redemption. If there is an irony about it, it’s that its pace is often sluggish, which diminishes its emotional impact. Still, Benaron sheds a crystalline beacon on an alarming episode in global history, and her charismatic protagonist leaves an indelible impression. -- Haggas, Carol (Reviewed 10-15-2011) (Booklist, vol 108, number 4, p28)
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ Set in the years leading up to the Rwanda genocide, Benaron’s Bellweather Prize–winning debut novel follows Jean Patrick Nkuba, “the jewel in Rwanda’s crown,” a Tutsi boy with a gift for running. Jean Patrick dreams of representing Rwanda in the Olympics, but must contend with abject poverty, an ethnic quota system, and savage bullying. He runs Olympic-qualifying times, moving closer to his dreams as tensions rise between the governing Hutus and the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Force), a Tutsi-led rebel army. Jean Patrick gains the favor of the president, but falls in love with a journalism student participating in antigovernment activism, and finds himself entangled in a vast and calamitous game of political chess. “Something unimaginable is coming,” warns his brother, a rebel soldier, and when the long-smoldering tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis erupt into a hellish conflagration, Jean Patrick must run away from the country he has spent his life running for. Benaron accomplishes the improbable feat of wringing genuine loveliness from unspeakable horror. She renders friendships and families with tenderness and sincerity, and lingers on the goodwill that binds a fractious community, even as those tethers grow taut and, finally, snap. She regards even the genocidaires with clear-eyed charity, allowing moral complexity to color the perversity of their deeds. It is a testament to Benaron’s skill that a novel about genocide—about neighbors and friends savagely turning on one another—conveys so profoundly the joys of family, friendship, and community. This powerful novel recounts inhumanity on a scale scarcely imaginable, yet rebukes its nihilism, countering unforgivable violence with small mercies and unyielding hope. (Jan. 17) --Staff (Reviewed September 26, 2011) (Publishers Weekly, vol 258, issue 39, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ We first meet Jean Patrick Nkuba in 1984 Rwanda as he and his family mourn the death of Jean Patrick's father in a car accident. In the decade to come, we follow Jean Patrick through secondary school, where he becomes both a scholar and a gifted middle-distance runner. His dreams of achieving Olympic glory seem assured, but he is Tutsi, and Rwanda's Hutu-Tutsi tensions are steadily increasing. In the violent explosion of 1994 what happens to Jean Patrick and his family reflects the collective experience of Rwanda's 800,000-plus genocide victims. First novelist Benaron, who has actively worked with refugee groups, won the 2010 Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for this unflinching and beautifully crafted account of a people and their survival. In addition, she compellingly details the growth and rigorous training of a young athlete. VERDICT Readers who do not shy away from depictions of violence will find this tale of social justice a memorable read, and those interested in coming-of-age stories set in wartime will want it as well. Highly recommended; readers who loved Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner will appreciate.— Jenn B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll.-Northeast, TX --Jenn B. Stidham (Reviewed August 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 13, p81)
/* Starred Review */ Benaron's first novel, about a young Rwandan runner whose Olympic ambitions collide with his country's political unrest, is the recipient of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for "fiction that addresses issues of social justice." In the 1980s, Jean Patrick Nkuba and his older brother Roger are both talented athletes and scholars living an idyllic existence with their Tutsi parents at the school where their father teaches. Then Jean Patrick's father dies in a car crash just as tensions begin to build between the Tutsis and Hutus. Although the Tutsis are increasingly discriminated against, Jean Patrick's running talent sets him above the fray, especially after his Olympic potential is recognized in his early teens. Even Roger, who has joined the Tutsi Rebels, wants Jean Patrick to do whatever it takes to represent Rwanda in the Olympics. So Jean Patrick follows his Hutu Coach from high school to college. At first Coach arranges for Jean Patrick to have false Hutu identification papers. Then the government decides that allowing a Tutsi to complete internationally will bolster its human-rights reputation so Jean Patrick is made the Tutsi exception and treated like a beloved celebrity. He even attends a reception with the president. Meanwhile he has fallen in love with Bea despite Coach's disapproval--Bea and her journalist father are Hutu dissidents against the repressive Hutu government--and made friends with a visiting professor from Boston. As the conflict intensifies, Jean Patrick must make increasingly difficult choices, a key one being whether to trust Coach. The escalating violence of Hutus against Tutsis becomes a national mania that ultimately controls Jean Patrick's personal destiny. The politics will be familiar to those who have followed Africa's crises (or seen Hotel Rwanda), but where Benaron shines is in her tender descriptions of Rwandan's natural beauty and in her creation of Jean Patrick, a hero whose noble innocence and genuine human warmth are impossible not to love.(Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2011)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012 at 1:00 PM

Lots of  Candles, Plenty of  Cake by Anna Quindlen

Discussion Leader: Ellen Getreu                                           


Publishers Weekly:
Weary, battle-hardened reflections on growing older infuse this latest collection of essays by novelist and former New York Times columnist Quindlen (Every Last One). Having chimed in copiously in previous memoirs on now familiar talking points such as raising children, finding life’s balance as a working mother, achieving marital harmony and doling out feminist lessons to three grown children, Quindlen has found one nut to polish in a gratifying sense of survival on her own terms. Now in her late 50s, having lived much longer than her mother, who died when Quindlen was 19, the author finds herself shocked to hear herself referred to as elderly, and no longer troubled by the realization that her sense of control over events is illusory. In essays such as “Generations” and “Expectations,” she is careful to pay homage to the women like her mother who grew up before the women’s movement and thus had fewer choices. Yet Quindlen sees much work still to be done, especially in breaking glass ceilings and in assumptions about women’s looks—including her own. Cocooned in her comfortable lifestyle between a New York City apartment and her country house, surrounded by accumulated “stuff” that is beginning to feel stifling, certain of her marriage-until-death and support of her BFFs, Quindlen holds for the most part a blithe, benign view of growing older. Yet in moments when she dares to peer deeper, such as at her Catholic faith or within the chasm of solitude left by children having left home, she bats away her platitudinous reassurances and approaches a near-searing honesty. (May) --Staff (Reviewed April 2, 2012) (Publishers Weekly, vol 259, issue 14, p)
Library Journal:
Before she published six best-selling novels (e.g., Every Last One ); wrote her million-copy best seller, A Short Guide to the Happy Life ; and won a Pulitzer Prize for her New York Times column "Public and Private," Quindlen attracted eager readers with her Times column "Life in the 30s." Now she's in her fifties and ready to talk about women's lives as a whole. With an eight-city tour and lotsof promotion. --Barbara Hoffert (Reviewed December 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 20, p94)
A humorous, sage memoir from the Pulitzer winner and acclaimed novelist. Like having an older, wiser sister or favorite aunt over for a cup of tea, Quindlen's (Every Last One, 2010, etc.) latest book is full of the counsel and ruminations many of us wish we could learn young. The death of her mother from cancer when she was 19 had a profound effect on the author, instilling in her the certainty that "life was short, and therefore it made [her] both driven and joyful" and happy to have "the privilege of aging." In her sincere and amusing style, the author reflects on feminism, raising her children, marriage and menopause. She muses on the perception of youth and her own changing body image--one of the "greatest gifts [for women] of growing older is trusting your own sense of yourself." Having women friends, writes Quindlen, is important for women of all ages, for they are "what we have in addition to, or in lieu of, therapists. And when we reach a certain age, they may be who is left." More threads on which the author meditates in this purposeful book: childbirth, gender issues, the joy of solitude, the difference between being alone and being lonely, retirement and religion. For her, "one of the greatest glories of growing older is the willingness to ask why, and getting no good answer, deciding to follow my own inclinations and desires. Asking why is the way to wisdom." A graceful look at growing older from a wise and accomplished writer--sure to appeal to her many fans, women over 50 and readers of Nora Ephron and similar authors.(Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2012) 

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How it All Began by Penelope Lively

Monday November 12 at 1:00 PM
Discussion Leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman

When Charlotte Rainsford is accosted by a petty thief on a London street, the consequences ripple across the lives of acquaintances and strangers alike....Through a richly conceived and colorful cast of characters, Penelope Lively explores the powerful role of chance in people's lives and deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet. (Penguin Group USA)

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/* Starred Review */ The ruling vision of master British novelist Lively’s latest delectably tart and agile novel is the Butterfly Effect, which stipulates that “a very small perturbation” can radically alter the course of events. The catalyst here is a London mugging that leaves Charlotte, a passionate reader and former English teacher become adult literacy tutor, with a broken hip. She moves in with her married daughter, Rose, to recuperate. Rose works for Henry, a lord and once-prominent historian, whose ego is as robust as ever but whose mind is faltering as he attempts to launch a BBC documentary to hilarious effect. With Rose out helping her mother, Henry prevails upon his daughter, Marion, an interior designer, to accompany him out of town, where she meets a too-good-to-be-true client. When she texts her lover, who deals in architectural salvage (tangible history), to postpone a rendezvous, his wife intercepts the message. Charlotte begins tutoring Anton, a smart and soulful East European, who affirms her ardor for language and story and awakens Rose out of her smothering stoicism. Throughout this brilliantly choreographed and surreptitiously poignant chain-reaction comedy of chance and change, Lively (Family Album, 2009) shrewdly elucidates the nature of history, the tunnel-visioning of pain and age, and the abiding illumination of reading, which so profoundly nourishes the mind and spirit. -- Seaman, Donna (Reviewed 12-15-2011) (Booklist, vol 108, number 8, p23)
Publishers Weekly:
Charlotte, who is in her 70s, is mugged, leaving her injured and without her handbag. This delightful, absorbing novel relies on a sophisticated and skillfully realized structure to introduce and then follow its endearingly ordinary characters. Though Charlotte’s incident proves to be the first domino to fall, she herself recedes into the background as her daughter, her middle-aged ESL student, her boss, and her boss’s niece come to the fore, going about the business of their daily lives and loves, all on a somewhat different path than they would have, had not Charlotte broken her hip. The interdependency of the characters’ lives, which they remain largely unaware of, builds intriguing momentum, and the pace quickens as the novel develops. Throughout, prolific Booker Prize–winning author Lively (for Moon Tiger) illustrates her knack for charming familiarity and just the right dash of surprise. (Jan.) --Staff (Reviewed November 7, 2011) (Publishers Weekly, vol 258, issue 45, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ In her latest title, the Booker Prize-winning author of Moon Tiger explores the far-reaching effect of happenstance, as individual circumstances shift, lives change, and the known is perceived in an altogether new light. The novel opens with the mugging of retired schoolteacher Charlotte Rainsford on a London street. Subsequently, a diverse cast of richly embroidered acquaintances and strangers find their lives irrevocably altered by this event, which many of them haven't even heard about. We see how the mugging affects Charlotte's daughter Rose, who works for a historian desperate to return to the limelight, and the spillover to his niece Marion, a cash-poor interior designer hunting for a business partner while carrying on an affair eventually revealed through a stray cell-phone call. Lively delivers her story about these intertwined lives with faultless dexterity, sly humor, keen insight, and deft economy. VERDICT Lively's 12th novel is a feel-good masterpiece that will delight faithful fans as well as those new to the work of this consummate storyteller. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/11.]— Joyce Townsend, Pittsburg, CA --Joyce Townsend (Reviewed December 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 20, p115) 

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The List by Martin Fletcher

Monday October 15, at 1:00 PM

Discussion Leader: Edna Ritzenberg

"London, October 1945. Austrian refugees Georg and Edith await the birth of their first child. Yet how can they celebrate when almost every day brings news of another relative or friend murdered in the Holocaust? Their struggle to rebuild their lives is further threatened by growing anti-Semitism in London's streets; Englishmen want to take homes and jobs from Jewish refugees and give them to returning servicemen....
In The List, [NBC News correspondent ]Fletcher investigates an ignored and painful chapter in London’s history. The novel is both a breathless thriller of postwar sabotage and a heartrending and historically accurate portrait of an almost forgotten era...."                                                           (

Booklist Reviews
NBC special correspondent Fletcher (Walking Israel, 2010) makes his fiction debut with a moving novel based on his parents' lives. In London at the end of WWII, the Jewish refugees who settled there to escape Hitler are facing anti-Semitism in their new home. Edith and Georg, who are expecting their first child, spend their days looking for work and trying to learn the fates of the family members left behind in Vienna. Edith mends nylon stockings, while Georg, a lawyer, tries to find a suitable position. Battling the prevailing attitude that Jews are occupying real estate and filling jobs that should belong to returning British soldiers, they often wonder why they left Europe. Still, visits to the refugee center to check the lists of the dead and the missing remind them of their luck. A long-lost cousin, Anna, who survived the camps, finds them and moves in among the eccentric occupants of their boardinghouse. She befriends Ismail, an Arab from Cairo who is involved in mysterious business. The British occupation of Palestine and the Zionist efforts—including terrorism—to create a Jewish homeland are cause for both hope and feat. Fletcher has written a touching story that brings a little-known aspect of Jewish history to life. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews
Having fled the Nazis, a young Austrian couple in 1945 London discovers that for Jews like them, the war did not end with VE Day. While they desperately seek word on the possible survival or whereabouts of family members sent to concentration camps, petitions are being signed by anti-Semitics in their neighborhood of Hampstead to "send the aliens home"—ostensibly to clear space and jobs for returning British soldiers.Veteran NBC correspondent Fletcher's engrossing first novel, loosely based on his parents' story, captures a neglected piece of postwar history through the plight of the spirited Edith, who is seven months pregnant with her first child following a miscarriage, and Georg, a reserved lawyer reduced to making buttons for a living. When Edith's first cousin Anna unexpectedly arrives, traumatized by her time in Auschwitz, she raises hope, however dim, that other relatives will follow, maybe even Edith's father. It's a time when the horrific truths of the camps are not yet widely known or understood—and when lies about Jews, including the notion they have any "home" to return to—are passed off as truth. Drawn to Ismael, an Egyptian Arab who despite his seeming antagonism toward Jews has a habit of coming to their rescue, Anna slowly emerges from her personal darkness. The lightly veiled truth is that Ismael is actually Israel, part of a secret plot to assassinate British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin for his part in the blockade to limit the number of Jews allowed into Palestine. Fletcher (Walking Israel, 2010, etc.) is more convincing as a domestic observer than a spy/political-thriller writer. As fact-based as this book may be, the narrative is a bit too neatly tied up and cozy with coincidence for the novel to gain as much traction as it could have. But this is still a powerful, affecting work.
A post-Holocaust novel that should be required reading wherever lessons about the plight of modern-day European Jews are taught.
Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
In NBC special correspondent Fletcher's satisfactory first novel, Viennese Jewish refugees Edith and Georg Fleischer build their new life in 1945 London while Zionist revolutionaries plot an assassination that could jeopardize all asylum seekers in Britain. Living in a Hampstead boarding house, the Fleischers are expecting their first child while waiting to hear news of their relatives (most of whom perished in concentration or death camps) and find out whether they can stay in Britain. Edith's cousin Anna arrives, but her time at Auschwitz has changed her almost beyond recognition. After Edith makes a speech at a meeting about repatriation petitions, Georg becomes a target for retribution. The mysterious Ismael, an Egyptian Arab living at the boarding house, steps in to protect Georg, beginning an unlikely alliance. Meanwhile, in Palestine, the Lehi—a group considered to be freedom fighters, or terrorists, take your pick—plot to force out the British and open the border to any Jews who wish to enter. There are jarring shifts in point of view and shallow descriptions, but the novel's warmth and humor will have readers rooting for the Fleischers and the neighbors who, in the wake of horror, become their new family. (Oct.)
[Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Monday, September 10, 1 p.m.

Discussion leader:  Ellen Getreu

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, longtime New Orleans residents Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun are cast into an unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water. In the days after the storm, Abdulrahman traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. A week later, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared-- arrested and accused of being an agent of al Qaeda.


Booklist Reviews *Starred Review* Eggers burst onto the scene in 2000 with his hugely successful memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Unlike many memoirists, he has resisted the temptation to parcel out the unpublished parts of his life into yet more memoirs. Instead, in his most compelling works since his debut, he has told the stories of others. What Is the What (2006) explored, in novel form, the ordeals of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese "lost boy," and now Eggers chronicles, as nonfiction, the tribulations of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian American painting contractor who decides to ride out Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Although his wife, Kathy, leaves town with their four children, Abdulrahman (known as Zeitoun because few locals can pronounce his first name) stays behind, hoping to protect their home, their job sites, and their rental properties. After the storm, he paddles the flooded streets in a canoe, rescuing stranded people, feeding trapped dogs, and marveling at the sometimes surreal beauty of the devastation. Was it God's plan that he help others? he wonders. Then people in uniforms take him at gunpoint and incarcerate him. There are no charges, only the guards' insistence that he is "al Qaeda" and "Taliban." Zeitoun's odyssey—23 days of grueling imprisonment, held incommunicado and deprived of all due process—is but one nightmare of many lived after Katrina. But it is exceptionally well told: here, as in What Is the What, Eggers employs a poetic, declarative style, shaping the narrative with subtlety and grace. More importantly, it is exceptionally well chosen. In the wake of disaster, we often cling to stories reassuring us that we respond to trials heroically. But Zeitoun reminds us that we are just as capable of responding to fear fearfully, forgetting the very things we claim to value most. Heartbreaking and haunting. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

 Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at   11 a.m.

Discussion leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman

In the 1970's, a group of idealists set out to live off the land.  They find themselves living in a decrepit mansion called Arcadia House and the land surrounding it.  Handy, a musician and the group's leader; Astrid, a midwife; Abe, a master carpenter; Hannah, a baker and historian; and Abe and Hannah's only child Bit, who is born soon after the commune is created are the main characters in the book.  While Arcadia rises and falls, Bit, too, ages and changes.  Can he remain connected to the peaceful homestead life of Arcadia and its inhabitants and yet become his own man, venturing out into the world he must learn to live in?

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/* Starred Review */ This beautifully crafted novel follows Bit Stone, the first child to be born in the late 1960s on an upstate New York commune called Arcadia, from childhood through the year 2018. An introspective youngster who can often go months without speaking, Bit “watches life from a distance.” He can see how hard his parents work to make Arcadia successful, but he can also see that the self-indulgent commune leader frequently fails to live up to his own ideals. As the backbreaking work, continual poverty, and near-constant hunger work to undermine the once-flourishing sense of community, Bit’s family leaves the commune to make their way in the outside world. Bit becomes a photographer and teacher but is always anchored to the place of his childhood, even marrying the emotionally damaged daughter of Arcadia’s guru, but happiness proves elusive, both for him and for the greater world, as a flu pandemic sweeps the globe. Groff’s second novel, after the well-received The Monsters of Templeton (2008), gives full rein to her formidable descriptive powers, as she summons both the beauty of striving for perfection and the inevitable devastation of failing so miserably to achieve it. -- Wilkinson, Joanne (Reviewed 01-01-2012) (Booklist, vol 108, number 9, p35)
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ Groff’s dark, lyrical examination of life on a commune follows Bit, aka Little Bit, aka Ridley Sorrel Stone, born in the late ’60s in a spot that will become Arcadia, a utopian community his parents help to form. Despite their idealistic goals, the family’s attempts at sustainability bring hunger, cold, illness, and injury. Bit’s vibrant mother retreats into herself each winter; caring for the community literally breaks his father’s back. The small, sensitive child whose purposeful lack of speech is sometimes mistaken for slowness finds comfort in Grimms’ fairy tales and is lost in the outside world once Arcadia’s increasingly entitled spiritual leader falls from grace and the community crumbles. Split between utopia and its aftermath, the book’s second half tracks the ways in which Bit, now an adult (he’s 50 when this all ends, in 2018), has been shaped by Arcadia; a career in photography was the perfect choice for a man who “watches life from a good distance.” Bit’s painful experiences as a husband, father, and son grow more harrowing as humanity becomes increasingly imperiled. The effective juxtaposition of past and future and Groff’s (Delicate Edible Birds) beautiful prose make this an unforgettable read. Agent: William Morris Endeavor. (Mar.) --Staff (Reviewed November 21, 2011) (Publishers Weekly, vol 258, issue 47, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ Bit Stone was born in the early 1960s to a devoted couple living in a secluded hippie commune in western New York. He was a mostly happy boy, if quietly unnerved (his mother struggles with seasonal depression), who loves Arcadia and his parents and all the people there who lead hard, pure lives, living off the land. His parents, Hannah and Adam, are at the center of the loose Arcadia administration whose acknowledged leader, Handy, increasingly butts heads with Adam. It is no surprise that as the population of Arcadia grows and drugs become more prevalent, the community, set upon by political events that move the narrative into the near future, falls apart. Bit and the other core members go out into the real world with a wildly fluctuating level of success. VERDICT Groff, author of 2008's magnificent The Monsters of Templeton , eschews counterculture stereotypes to bring Bit's interior and exterior worlds to life. Her exquisite writing makes the reader question whether to hurry up to read the next beautiful sentence or slow down and savor each passage. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 9/19/11.]— Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI --Beth E. Andersen (Reviewed December 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 20, p114)
/* Starred Review */ An astonishing novel, both in ambition and achievement, filled with revelations that appear inevitable in retrospect, amid the cycle of life and death. As a follow-up to Groff's well-received debut (The Monsters of Templeton, 2008), this novel is a structural conundrum, ending in a very different place than it begins while returning full circle. At the outset, it appears to be a novel of the Utopian, communal 1960s, of a charismatic leader, possibly a charlatan, and an Arcadia that grows according to his belief that "the Universe will provide." It concludes a half-century later in a futuristic apocalypse of worldwide plague and quarantine. To reveal too much of what transpires in between would undermine the reader's rich experience of discovery: "The page of a book can stay cohesive in the eyes: one sentence can lead to the next. He can crack a paragraph and eat it. Now a story. Now a novel, one full life enclosed in covers." The "he" is Bit Stone, introduced as a 5-year-old child of that commune, and it is his life that is enclosed in these covers. Following a brief prologue, representing a pre-natal memory, the novel comprises four parts, with leaps of a decade or more between them, leaving memory and conjecture to fill in the blanks. At an exhibition of Bit's photography, a passion since his childhood (documented in some shots), those who had known him all his life realized, "What they found most moving, they told him later, were the blanks between the frames, the leaps that happened invisibly between the then and the now." The cumulative impact of this novel is similar, as the boy leaps from the commune and subsequently his parents, becomes a parent himself, deals with the decline of his parents and finds his perspective both constant and constantly changing: "He can't understand what the once-upon-a-time Bit is saying to the current version of himself or to the one who will stand here in the future...worn a little more by time and loss." A novel of "the invisible tissue of civilization," of "community or freedom," and of the precious fragility of lives in the balance.(Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2012)

Biography of Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia
Lauren Groff was born in 1978 in Cooperstown, N.Y. She graduated from Amherst College and has an MFA in fiction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Her short stories have appeared in a number of journals, including the New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly,  Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, One Story, and Subtropics, and in the anthologies Best American Short Stories 2007 and Best American Short Stories 2010Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best New American Voices 2008. A story will be included in the 2012 edition of PEN/ O. Henry Prize Stories.
She was awarded the Axton Fellowship in Fiction at the University of Louisville, and has had residencies and fellowships at Yaddo, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Vermont Studio Center and Ragdale.
Lauren's first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, published in February 2008, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection and bestseller and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers. Her second book, Delicate Edible Birds, is a collection of stories. Her second novel, Arcadia, was published in March 2012.
She lives in Gainesville, Florida with her husband and two sons.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Submission by Amy Waldman

Edna Ritzenberg, Discussion leader
  • Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 11 a.m. 
Selected for a jury that must choose an appropriate memorial for September 11 victims, Claire Burwell struggles to navigate a media firestorm when the winning designer is revealed as an enigmatic Muslim-American.

Amy Waldman was a reporter for The New York Times for eight years, including three as co-chief of the New Delhi bureau. She was also a national correspondent for the Atlantic.  The Submission  is her debut novel and was named a New York Times Notable Book for 2011, one of NPR's Ten Best Novels, Esquire's Book of the Year, Entertainment Weekly's #1 Novel for the Year, a Washington Post Notable Fiction Book, and one of Amazon's Top 100 Books and top ten debut fiction. It was a finalist for the Guardian (UK) First Book Award. Waldman's fiction has appeared in the Atlantic, the Boston Review and the Financial Times, and was anthologized in "The Best American Non-Required Reading 2010."

Waldman graduated from Yale University and has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and at the American Academy in Berlin. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.


/* Starred Review */ After venomous deliberations over anonymous design submissions for a 9/11 memorial at ground zero, the jury selects an elegant garden as the ideal embodiment of remembrance and rebirth. But when the identity of the architect is revealed—Mohammad Khan, the American son of Muslim immigrants from India—the dream of national healing warps into a hysterical nightmare. As public outrage ignites, entangled characters struggle with anger, fear, conscience, and ambition. Mohammad, called Mo, is stubborn and aloof. Journalist Alyssa is desperate to capitalize on the excoriating scandal. Down-and-out Sean, who lost his firefighter brother, flounders as spokesperson for the victims’ families, while two young 9/11 widows—Claire, wealthy and glamorous, and Asma, an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh—push through grief to try to do the right thing. In her magnetizing first novel, replete with searing insights and exquisite metaphors, Waldman, formerly a New York Times reporter and co-chief of the South Asia bureau, maps shadowy psychological terrain and a vast social minefield as conflicted men and women confront life-and-death moral quandaries within the glare and din of a media carnival. Waldman brilliantly delineates the legacy of 9/11; the confluence of art, religion, and politics; the plexus between the individual and the group; and the glory of transcendent empathy in The Bonfire of the Vanities for our time. -- Seaman, Donna (Reviewed 07-01-2011) (Booklist /* Starred Review */ After venomous deliberations over anonymous design submissions for a 9/11 memorial at ground zero, the jury selects an elegant garden as the ideal embodiment of remembrance and rebirth. But when the identity of the architect is revealed—Mohammad Khan, the American son of Muslim immigrants from India—the dream of national healing warps into a hysterical nightmare. As public outrage ignites, entangled characters struggle with anger, fear, conscience, and ambition. Mohammad, called Mo, is stubborn and aloof. Journalist Alyssa is desperate to capitalize on the excoriating scandal. Down-and-out Sean, who lost his firefighter brother, flounders as spokesperson for the victims’ families, while two young 9/11 widows—Claire, wealthy and glamorous, and Asma, an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh—push through grief to try to do the right thing. In her magnetizing first novel, replete with searing insights and exquisite metaphors, Waldman, formerly a New York Times reporter and co-chief of the South Asia bureau, maps shadowy psychological terrain and a vast social minefield as conflicted men and women confront life-and-death moral quandaries within the glare and din of a media carnival. Waldman brilliantly delineates the legacy of 9/11; the confluence of art, religion, and politics; the plexus between the individual and the group; and the glory of transcendent empathy in The Bonfire of the Vanities for our time. -- Seaman, Donna (Reviewed 07-01-2011) (Booklist, vol 107, number 21, p28) 
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ Waldman imagines a toxic brew of bigotry in conflict with idealism in this frighteningly plausible and tightly wound account of what might happen if a Muslim architect had won a contest to design a memorial at the World Trade Center site. Jury member and 9/11 widow Claire Burwell presses for the winning garden design both before and after its creator is revealed as Mohammed "Mo" Khan, an American-born and raised architect who becomes embroiled in the growing furor between those who see the garden as a symbol of tolerance and peace, and various activists who claim patriotism as they spew anti-Islamic diatribes. Waldman keenly focuses on political and social variables, including an opportunistic governor who abets the outbreak of xenophobia; the wealthy chairman of the contest, maneuvering for social cachet; a group of zealots whose obsession with radical Islam foments violence; a beautiful Iranian-American lawyer who becomes Mo's lover until he refuses to become a mouthpiece; and a trouble-sowing tabloid reporter. Meanwhile, Mo refuses to demean himself by explaining the source of his design, seen by some as an Islamic martyr's paradise. As misguided outrage flows from all corners, Waldman addresses with a refreshing frankness thorny moral questions and ethical ironies without resorting to breathless hyperbole. True, there are more blowhards than heroes, but that just makes it all the more real. (Aug.) --Staff (Reviewed May 23, 2011) (Publishers Weekly, vol 258, issue 21, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ After four months of wrangling, the jury commissioned to choose from the 5000 anonymous submissions for New York City's 9/11 memorial acceded to the affecting widow's steely determination. The Garden, entry #4879, would be a place, Claire opined, where families could "stumble on joy." But jury chair Paul Rubin sees his ambitious plans for elite fund-raising soirees evaporate when the architect's name is revealed. Mohammed Khan's Muslim moniker hits the news like an explosion, reopening still raw wounds. The volatile Sean Gallagher of the Memorial Support Committee is apoplectic, politicians pander to their constituents, lawyers salivate at perceived opportunities, and the Muslim American Coordinating Council sees the besieged Mo Khan as a tool to advance its own agenda. Can he be pressured into walking away from his finest artistic achievement? From this cacophony of intolerance, the single voice calling for reason emanates from Asma Anwar, a non-English speaking Bangladeshi widow whose husband also perished in the burning towers. VERDICT Waldman fluidly blends her reporter's skill (New York Times ) at rapid-fire storytelling with a novelist's gift for nuanced characterization. She dares readers to confront their own complicated prejudices steeped in faith, culture, and class. This is an insightful, courageous, heartbreaking work that should be read, discussed, then read again. [See Prepub Alert, 2/7/11.]— Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL --Sally Bissell (Reviewed July 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 12, p75) 
/* Starred Review */ The selection of a Muslim architect for a 9/11 memorial stirs a media circus in Waldman's poised and commanding debut novel.The jury assembled to select a design for a memorial in Manhattan represented every important interest group: a 9/11 widow, an art critic, a governor's representative and other major stakeholders. They considered blind submissions before arriving at a garden-themed design. The one contingency they didn't plan for was that the winner would be a Muslim, Mohammad Khan. Though he's not especially religious and his bona fides as an architect are impeccable, Khan still becomes a target for anti-Islam firebrands, and even his defenders are left wringing their hands. Waldman skillfully presents the perspectives of a handful of major characters, including Claire, a 9/11 widow; Sean, a pugnacious victims' activist who lost his brother in the attacks; and Mohammad, who vacillates between gloomy isolation and outspoken defiance at attempts to reject or tweak his design. Waldman shrewdly, subtly reveals the class and race divisions that spark arguments about who "owns" the design; it's no accident that wealthy Claire played a leading role on the jury while Asma, a working-class Bangladeshi woman who lost her husband in the attacks as well, is all but unheard. Waldman, a former  New York Times  reporter, discusses 9/11 victims, memorial gardens and Muslim-American life, but her keenest observations are of the media. She has a canny understanding of how a New York Post front page can stoke right-wing rage, or how a New York Times article can muddy the waters. There's a slight cartoonishness to her characterizations of cub reporters and radio hosts, but overall this is a remarkably assured portrait of how a populace grows maddened and confused when ideology trumps empathy.A stellar debut. Waldman's book reflects a much-needed understanding of American paranoia in the post-9/11 world. (Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2011) 
Further reading:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nemesis by Philip Roth

June 11, 2012    1 p.m.

Discussion Leader: Jane Shapiro

View the Readers' Packet prepared by H-WPL's Staff

Reserve your copy of Nemesis by Philip Roth on the ALISCat website.

/* Starred Review */ The fourth in the great and undiminished Roth’s recent cycle of short novels follows Everyman (2006), Indignation (2008), and The Humbug (2009), and as exceptional as those novels are, this latest in the series far exceeds its predecessors in both emotion and intellect. In general terms, the novel is a staggering visit to a time and place when a monumental health crisis dominated the way people led their day-to-day lives. Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1940s (a common setting for this author) experienced, as the war in Europe was looking better for the Allies, a scare as deadly as warfare. The city has been hit by an epidemic of polio. Of course, at that time, how the disease spread and its cure were unknown. The city is in a panic, with residents so suspicious of other individuals and ethnic groups that emotions quickly escalate into hostility and even rage. Our hero, and he proves truly heroic, is Bucky Canter, playground director in the Jewish neighborhood of Newark. As the summer progresses, Bucky sees more and more of his teenage charges succumb to the disease. When an opportunity presents itself to leave the city for work in a Catskills summer camp, Bucky is torn between personal safety and personal duty. What happens is heartbreaking, but the joy of having met Bucky redeems any residual sadness. -- Hooper, Brad (Reviewed 07-01-2010) (Booklist, vol 106, number 21, p8)
Publishers Weekly:
Roth continues his string of small, anti–Horatio Alger novels (The Humbling; etc.) with this underwhelming account of Bucky Cantor, the young playground director of the Chancellor Avenue playground in 1944 Newark. When a polio outbreak ravages the kids at the playground, Bucky, a hero to the boys, becomes spooked and gives in to the wishes of his fiancée, who wants him to take a job at the Pocono summer camp where she works. But this being a Roth novel, Bucky can't hide from his fate. Fast-forward to 1971, when Arnie Mesnikoff, the subtle narrator and one of the boys from Chancellor, runs into Bucky, now a shambles, and hears the rest of his story of piercing if needless guilt, bad luck, and poor decisions. Unfortunately, Bucky's too simple a character to drive the novel, and the traits that make him a good playground director--not very bright, quite polite, beloved, straight thinking--make him a lackluster protagonist. For Roth, it's surprisingly timid. (Oct.) --Staff (Reviewed August 2, 2010) (Publishers Weekly, vol 257, issue 30, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ During the summer of 1944, young men like Bucky Cantor needed good reason not to be fighting overseas. Though he had bad eyesight, was the sole support of his grandmother, and was the best phys ed teacher Newark's Chancellor Avenue School ever saw, Bucky's guilt informed his life that long, hot summer and forever changed its trajectory. With an incredible eye for historical detail, Roth paints a vivid picture of the polio epidemic that hit the Jewish neighborhood of Weequahic on the Fourth of July weekend, pitting ignorance against science, neighbor against neighbor, and fear against common sense. Bucky excels at his job, keeping the kids active and naively believing that he can personally hold the disease at bay. But as one child after another falls ill, he loses faith in God even as he obsesses over the chance to join his girlfriend, Marcia, in the Poconos. VERDICT Roth, one of our greatest American writers, is unrivaled in his mastery at evoking mid-20th-century New Jersey, but it's the thoughtful examination of the toll guilt takes on the psyche, the futility of raging against God or Fate, and the danger of turning blame inward that give this short novel its power. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/10.]— Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib., Ft. Myers, FL --Sally Bissell (Reviewed August 1, 2010) (Library Journal, vol 135, issue 13, p74) 
/* Starred Review */ For those who monitor the growing list of books by Philip Roth, his forthcoming, Nemesis, presents a revelation as startling as the discovery of a planet or the alignment of a new constellation.The top of the list remains reassuringly familiar: "Zuckerman Books" (those featuring Nathan Zuckerman, Roth's alter ego), "Roth Books" (another alter ego, "Philip Roth," in a category that includes fiction and nonfiction alike) and "Kepesh Books" (another serial protagonist who may or may not be an alter ego).But then there is an emergent category: "Nemeses: Short Fiction," which encompasses four recent novels, including the new one. What this means to the ardent Roth reader is that three works previously considered unrelated—Everyman (2006), Indignation (2008) and The Humbling (2009), formerly scattered at the list's bottom with some of his earliest efforts as "Other Books," are now connected. And Nemesis provides the key to that connection.A little longer than the other three, Nemesis could be the darkest novel Roth has written and ranks with the most provocative. It's a parable of innocence lost in the author's native Newark, where polio threatens a neighborhood that is already sacrificing young men to World War II. The protagonist is Bucky Cantor, a 23-year-old playground director, who has seen his best friends enlist in the war while he was rejected for poor eyesight.Instead, "Mr. Cantor" (as his charges call him) finds himself facing a more insidious enemy. "No medicine existed to treat the disease and no vaccine to produce immunity...(it) could befall anyone, for no apparent reason," writes Roth. It arrives without warning, and it changes everything. If anything, it was scarier than cancer or AIDS is now.Narrating the story is one of polio's victims, though he barely emerges as a character until the novel's epiphany. Until then, Roth lets the reader wonder how a narrator named only in passing could penetrate the protagonist's mind and relate a series of incidents that the narrator couldn't have witnessed.As Bucky's boys succumb to the disease, temptation lures him from the city to what appears to be a safe oasis, an idyllic summer camp where his girlfriend works. Yet his conscience (already plagued by his 4-F status) pays the price for his escape, an escape that might prove illusory.What is Bucky's nemesis? Maybe polio. Maybe God, "who made the virus," who kills children with "lunatic cruelty." Maybe mortality—death and the decay that precedes it, the ravages of time that distinguish man from God.But maybe Bucky's nemeses include Bucky himself—a layer of meaning that makes this novel something other than another retelling of Job and forces the reader to reconsider the previously published "Nemeses" in fresh light. For it is within these short novels that Roth tackles nothing less than the human condition, which finds its nemesis in the mirror.(Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2010)

Further Information

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

  • Monday, May 21
  • 1 p.m.
  • Discussion leader: Ellen Getreu

Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks came to live on Martha's Vineyard in 2006.  In her travels, she ran across a map by the island's native Wampanoag people that marked the birthplace of Caleb, the first Native American to graduate Harvard College in 1665.  Her interest piqued, she unearthed his thin history, immersing herself in the records of his tribe, of the white families that settled the island in the 1640's and the 17th-century Harvard.

Reserve your copy of Caleb's Crossing on ALISCat

Readers' Packet prepared by the HWPL Staff

Book Reviews from the NoveList Plus database:

/* Starred Review */ Brooks, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her Civil War novel, March (2006), here imagines the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The story is told by Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a preacher who traveled from England to Martha’s Vineyard to try and “bring Christ to the Indians.” In 1660, when Bethia is 12, the family takes Caleb, a Wampanoag Indian, into their home to prepare him for boarding school. Bethia is a bright scholar herself, and though education for women is discouraged, she absorbs the lessons taught to Caleb and her brother Makepeace like a sponge. She struggles through the deaths of her mother, a younger sister, another brother, and her father. When Caleb and Makepeace are sent to Cambridge, Bethia accompanies them as an indentured servant to a professor. She marries a Harvard scholar, journeys with him to Padua, and finally returns to her beloved island. In flashbacks, Brooks relates the woes of the Indian Wars, the smallpox epidemic, and Caleb’s untimely death shortly after his graduation with honors. Brooks has an uncanny ability to reconstruct each moment of the history she so thoroughly researched in stunningly lyrical prose, and her characters are to be cherished. -- Donovan, Deborah (Reviewed 03-15-2011) (Booklist, vol 107, number 14, p27)
Publishers Weekly:
Pulitzer Prize–winner Brooks (for March) delivers a splendid historical inspired by Caleb Cheeshahteaumauck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. Brooks brings the 1660s to life with evocative period detail, intriguing characters, and a compelling story narrated by Bethia Mayfield, the outspoken daughter of a Calvinist preacher. While exploring the island now known as Martha's Vineyard, Bethia meets Caleb, a Wampanoag native to the island, and they become close, clandestine friends. After Caleb loses most of his family to smallpox, he begins to study under the tutelage of Bethia's father. Since Bethia isn't allowed to pursue education herself, she eavesdrops on Caleb's and her own brother's lessons. Caleb is a gifted scholar who eventually travels, along with Bethia's brother, to Cambridge to continue his education. Bethia tags along and her descriptions of 17th-century Cambridge and Harvard are as entertaining as they are enlightening (Harvard was founded by Puritans to educate the "English and Indian youth of this country," for instance). With Harvard expected to graduate a second Martha's Vineyard Wampanoag Indian this year, almost three and a half centuries after Caleb, the novel's publication is particularly timely. (May) --Staff (Reviewed March 14, 2011) (Publishers Weekly, vol 258, issue 11, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ In 1965, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck of Martha's Vineyard graduated from Harvard, whose 1650 charter describes its mission as "the education of the English and Indian youth of this country." That much is fact. That Caleb befriended Bethia Mayfield, the free-spirited daughter of the island's preacher, is of course fiction—but it's luscious fiction in the capable hands of Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (March ). As one might expect from Brooks, Bethia is a keen and rebellious lass, indignant that she should be kept from book learning when her slower brother gets the benefit of an education. She first encounters Caleb in the woods, learning his language and ways while stoutly arguing her Christian beliefs; later, Bethia's zealous father brings Caleb into the household to convert him. And so begins Caleb's crossing, first from Native to English Colonial culture and then from the island to Cambridge, where he studies at a preparatory school before entering Harvard. Bethia ends up at the school, too—but as an indentured servant. VERDICT Writing in Bethia's voice, Brooks offers a lyric and elevated narrative that effectively replicates the language of the era; she takes on the obvious issues of white arrogance, cultural difference, and the debased role of women without settling into jeremiad. The result is sweet and aching. Highly recommended. [Prepub Alert, 11/15/10.]— Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal --Barbara Hoffert (Reviewed March 15, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 5, p106)
(The following is a combined review for CALEB&#39 and S CROSSING)The NBA-winning Australian-born, now New England author (People of the Book, 2008,? etc.) moves ever deeper into the American past.Her fourth novel's announced subject is the eponymous Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wampanoag Indian tribe that inhabits Massachusetts's Great Harbor (a part of Martha's Vineyard), and the first Native American who will graduate from Harvard College (in 1665). Even as a boy, Caleb is a paragon of sharp intelligence, proud bearing and manly charm, as we learn from the somewhat breathless testimony of Bethia Mayfield, who grows up in Great Harbor where her father, a compassionate and unprejudiced preacher, oversees friendly relations between white settlers and the placid Wampanoag. The story Bethia unfolds is a compelling one, focused primarily on her own experiences as an indentured servant to a schoolmaster who prepares promising students for Harvard; a tense relationship with her priggish, inflexible elder brother Makepeace; and her emotional bond of friendship with the occasionally distant and suspicious Caleb, who, in this novel's most serious misstep, isn't really the subject of his own story. Fascinating period details and a steadily expanding plot, which eventually encompasses King Philip's War, inevitable tensions between Puritan whites and upwardly mobile "salvages," as well as the compromises unavoidably ahead for Bethia, help to modulate a narrative voice that sometimes teeters too uncomfortably close to romantic clich??. Both Bethia, whose womanhood precludes her right to seek formal education, and the stoical Caleb are very nearly too good to be true. However, Brooks' knowledgeable command of the energies and conflicts of the period, and particularly her descriptions of the reverence for learning that animates the little world of Harvard and attracts her characters' keenest longings, carries a persuasive and quite moving emotional charge.While no masterpiece, this work nevertheless contributes in good measure to the current and very welcome revitalization of the historical novel.(Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2011) 

Further reading:

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz

Discussion leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman
Monday, April 23, 1 p.m.

Tragic, comic, and utterly honest, A Tale of Love and Darkness is at once a family saga and a magical self-portrait of a writer who witnessed the birth of a nation and lived through its turbulent history.

Reserve your copy of A Tale of Love and Darkness on ALISCat
Readers Packet (Part I), prepared by our staff
Readers' Packet (Part II), prepared by our staff

Reviews from the NoveList Plus database:

Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ This memoir/family history brims over with riches: metaphors and poetry, drama and comedy, failure and success, unhappy marriages and a wealth of idiosyncratic characters. Some are lions of the Zionist movement—David Ben-Gurion (before whom a young Oz made a terrifying command appearance), novelist S.Y. Agnon, poet Saul Tchernikhovsky—others just neighbors and family friends, all painted lovingly and with humor. Though set mostly during the author's childhood in Jerusalem of the 1940s and '50s, the tale is epic in scope, following his ancestors back to Odessa and to Rovno in 19th-century Ukraine, and describing the anti-Semitism and Zionist passions that drove them with their families to Palestine in the early 1930s. In a rough, dusty, lower-middle-class suburb of Jerusalem, both of Oz's parents found mainly disappointment: his father, a scholar, failed to attain the academic distinction of his uncle, the noted historian Joseph Klausner. Oz's beautiful, tender mother, after a long depresson, committed suicide when Oz (born in 1939) was 12. By the age of 14, Oz was ready to flee his book-crammed, dreary, claustrophobic flat for the freedom and outdoor life of Kibbutz Hulda. Oz's personal trajectory is set against the background of an embattled Palestine during WWII, the jubilation after the U.N. vote to partition Palestine and create a Jewish state, the violence and deprivations of Israel's war of independence and the months-long Arab siege of Jerusalem. This is a powerful, nimbly constructed saga of a man, a family and a nation forged in the crucible of a difficult, painful history. (Nov.) --Staff (Reviewed November 15, 2004) (Publishers Weekly, vol 251, issue 46, p56)
Library Journal:
Award-winning Israeli author Oz (The Same Sea ), whose childhood ambition was to be a book, has constructed a memoir full of family wisdom, history, and culture. Oz's father was a librarian and, like his mother, a member of the local literary community. In the 1940s, a time of great upheaval in Jerusalem, young Oz believed that if he were a book there would be a good chance that one copy of him would survive and "find a safe place on some godforsaken bookshelf." The influence of Oz's parents on his career as a writer dominates this warm, funny, personal history; a standout anecdote involves Oz's grandfather, who revealed to his grandson the key to being admired by many women: be a good listener. As much as this distinguished book details the lives of the Oz family, it also captures the history of Israel. For biography, literature, and history collections in academic and public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/04.]—Joyce Sparrow, Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas Cty., FL --Joyce Sparrow (Reviewed August 15, 2004) (Library Journal, vol 129, issue 13, p80)
/* Starred Review */ A moving, emotionally charged memoir of the renowned author's youth in a newly created Israel."Almost everyone in Jerusalem in those days," writes novelist Oz (The Same Sea, 2001, etc.) of the 1940s, "was either a poet or a writer or a researcher or a thinker or a scholar or a world reformer." Oz's uncle Joseph Klausner, for instance, kept a 25,000-volume library in every conceivable language, its dusty volumes providing a madeleine for the young writer, "the smell of a silent, secluded life devoted to scholarship," even as his grandmother contemplated the dusty air of the Levant and concluded that the region was full of germs, whence "a thick cloud of disinfecting spirit, soaps, creams, sprays, baits, insecticides, and powder always hung in the air." His own father had to sell his beloved books in order to buy food when money was short, though he often returned with more books. ("My mother forgave him, and so did I, because I hardly ever felt like eating anything except sweetcorn and icecream.") Out in the street, Oz meets a young Palestinian woman who is determined to write great poems in French and English; cats bear such names as Schopenhauer and Chopin; the walls of the city ring with music and learned debate. But then there is the dark side: the war of 1948, with its Arab Legion snipers and stray shells, its heaps of dead new emigrants fresh from the Holocaust. "In Nehemiah Street," writes Oz, "once there was a bookbinder who had a nervous breakdown, and he went out on his balcony and screamed, Jews, help, hurry, soon they'll burn us all." In this heady, dangerous atmosphere, torn by sectarian politics and the constant threat of terror, Oz comes of age, blossoming as a man of letters even as the bookish people of his youth begin to disappear one by one.A boon for admirers of Oz's work and contemporary Israeli literature in general. (Kirkus Reviews, July 14, 2004)  Further information:

Monday, February 6, 2012

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Discussion leader: Edna Ritzenberg

Monday, March 12

Marina Singh, a medical researcher at a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota, is sent deep into the Amazon basin to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Anders Eckman, her lab partner.  Her original mission was to bring back news of Dr. Annick Swenson, a charming but despotic professor who is on the company's payroll working on a miracle fertility drug.  The pharmaceutical company wants Dr. Swenson and the new drug tracked down.  The widow, Karen, does not believe her husband is dead.  Only Marina can perform the mission impossible and bring back evidence for both parties.

Reviews from the Novelist database:

Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ Patchett (Bel Canto) is a master storyteller who has an entertaining habit of dropping ordinary people into extraordinary and exotic circumstances to see what they're made of. In this expansive page-turner, Marina Singh, a big pharma researcher, is sent by her married boss/lover to the deepest, darkest corner of the Amazon to investigate the death of her colleague, Anders Eckman, who had been dispatched to check on the progress of the incommunicado Dr. Annick Swenson, a rogue scientist on the cusp of developing a fertility drug that could rock the medical profession (and reap enormous profits). After arriving in Manaus, Marina travels into her own heart of darkness, finding Dr. Swenson's camp among the Lakashi, a gentle but enigmatic tribe whose women go on bearing children until the end of their lives. As Marina settles in, she goes native, losing everything she had held on to so dearly in her prescribed Midwestern life, shedding clothing, technology, old loves, and modern medicine in order to find herself. Patchett's fluid prose dissolves in the suspense of this out-there adventure, a juggernaut of a trip to the crossroads of science, ethics, and commerce that readers will hate to see end. (June) --Staff (Reviewed April 4, 2011) (Publishers Weekly, vol 258, issue 14, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ In this superbly rendered novel, Patchett (Run ) takes the reader into the primitive world of the Amazon in Brazil. Pharmacologist Marina Singh from Minnesota works for the pharmaceutical company Vogel. Her colleague Anders Eckman dies in the jungle while trying to locate Dr. Annick Swenson, who has been working on a fertility drug for Vogel by studying the Lakashi people, whose women bear children into old age. Marina's journey to the Amazon to find the uncommunicative and intimidating Dr. Swenson and to discover the details of Anders's death is fraught with poisonous snakes and poisonous memories, malarial mosquitoes and sickening losses, but her time among the Lakashi tribe is transformative. VERDICT Not a sentimental view of a primitive people, Patchett's portrayal is as wonderful as it is frightening and foreign. Patchett exhibits an extraordinary ability to bring the horrors and the wonders of the Amazon jungle to life, and her singular characters are wonderfully drawn. Readers who enjoy exotic locales will especially be interested, but all will find this story powerful and captivating. [See Prepub Alert, 11/29/10.]— Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA --Joy Humphrey (Reviewed April 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 6, p84)
/* Starred Review */ A pharmacologist travels into the Amazonian heart of darkness in this spellbinder from bestselling author Patchett (Run,? 2007, etc.).Marina Singh is dispatched from the Vogel pharmaceutical company to Brazil to find out what happened to her colleague Anders Eckman, whose death was announced in a curt letter from Annick Swenson. Anders had been sent to check on Dr. Swenson's top-secret research project among the Lakashi tribe, whose women continue to bear children into their 60s and 70s. If a fertility drug can be derived from whatever these women are ingesting, the potential rewards are so enormous that Swenson has been pursuing her work for years with scant oversight from Vogel; the company doesn't even know exactly where she is in the Amazon. Marina, who went into pharmacology after making a disastrous mistake as an obstetrics resident under Dr. Swenson's supervision, really doesn't want to see this intimidating woman again, but she feels an obligation to her friend Anders and his grief-stricken wife. So she goes to Manaus, seeking clues to Dr. Swenson's location in the jungle. By the time the doctor turns up unexpectedly, Patchett has skillfully crafted a portrait from Marina's memories and subordinates' comments that gives Swenson the dark eminence of Joseph Conrad's Mr. Kurtz. Engaged like Kurtz in godlike pursuits among the natives, Swenson is performing some highly unorthodox experiments, the ramifications of which have even more possibilities than Vogel imagines. Indeed, the multiple and highly dramatic developments that ensue once Marina gets to the Lakashi village might seem ridiculous, if Patchett had not created such credible characters and a dreamlike milieu in which anything seems possible. Nail-biting action scenes include a young boy's near-mortal crushing by a 15-foot anaconda, whose head Marina lops off with a machete; they're balanced by contemplative moments that give this gripping novel spiritual and metaphysical depth, right down to the final startling plot twist.Thrilling, disturbing and moving in equal measures—even better than Patchett's breakthrough Bel Canto (2001).(Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2011) Further reading: