|Shining Summer Stories|
|Rachel Pauls, Youth Librarian|
|Rosemary Mirsky, Adult Librarian|
|Matthew Day, Head Librarian, Support Services|
|Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian|
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
In her latest novel, Brooks takes a nugget of history and weaves a complex, character-driven tale that gives us an intimate look at life on Martha's Vineyard in the 1600s. The trigger for the novel was the author's discovery of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. What the reader gets is an astonishing story of the culture clash faced by a young Native American man who is willing to forsake his own people and culture to enter a new world, and the price he pays for that passage. But the novel is made even richer by its narrator, Bethia Mayfield, a young girl who befriends Caleb Cheeshahteaumauck and who must confront the limits imposed by her gender at the time and by her minister father's work trying to bring Christ to the island's Wampanoag tribe. Caleb goes to Cambridge as a student and she goes as a servant, craving the kind of learning she can only receive by secretly listening in on the lessons only open to males. A lesser novelist would have made their relationship a romance, but Brooks delivers something much more moving and insightful. Bethia might just go down as one of the great young female narrators in fiction. This book is reminiscent of the author's fine 2001 historical novel Year of Wonders. In short, Caleb's Crossing is not to be missed, and would be a great read for book groups.
The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee
This novel has bedeviled me. I finished it two weeks ago and am still thinking about the three main characters and what the author is trying to tell us about the lasting impact of war and suffering. At the center of the novel is June, Hector and Sylvie, all flawed characters who have disappointed others and themselves. June Han is an orphan of the Korean War who is brought to an orphanage by GI Hector Brennan after witnessing the death of her mother and siblings. There June and Hector meet Sylvie Tanner, the flawed, fragile wife of the orphanage's director. She herself witnessed her own missionary parents killed brutally by Japanese soldiers in China years before. As June and Hector re-unite many years later trying to find June's son in Europe, they re-live their war experiences and how it has influenced their lives and relationships since. The novel is powerful, emotional and even disturbing in places, but it forces the reader to wrestle with the larger questions of surviving loss, betrayal and the limitations imposed on us not only by outside forces, but from within ourselves. Lee's other fine novels are now on my short list. I will begin with Aloft.
Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
One of the theme's of this year's adult summer reading program is the many journeys we make in a lifetime, particularly if they involve experiencing a new world or culture different from our own. In this moving novel, Gibb gives us the story of the British-born Lilly who is orphaned in a Sufi shrine in Morocco following the death of her hippie parents. Her upbringing in the Muslim shrine and her extensive instruction in the Qur'an makes her a part of that world, but a stranger in a strange land when she flees to Harar, Ethiopia years later. Gibb does a wonderful job drawing a wide cast of characters and making the everyday events and religious and political views influencing Lilly's life come alive. Lilly and her white skin make life in Ethiopia a challenge, and her Muslim upbringing and religious instruction make her return to her British roots a contest as well. A great tale of someone caught between two cultures. Next on the list, Gibb's new novel The Beauty of Humanity Movement.
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
This debut novel is a great addition to the list of novels that depict life in war. In this searing novel, Marlantes has us follow the daunting journey of Marine lieutenant and platoon commander Wainos Mellas as he leads a squad into the jungles of Quang-Tri province. Named after the remote jungle base of the operation, Matterhorn depicts all the horrors and challenges of the daily grind of war by an author who himself is a decorated Marine who fought in Vietnam. This title is reminiscent of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead.
City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris
No summer reading list would be complete without one or two compelling mysteries. This is the second title by Ferraris set in Saudi Arabia. In this book, Detective Osama Ibrahim is investigating the death of a woman whose body is found on a beach near Jeddah. The mystery not only has an intricate plot, but a great twist in exploring daily life for Muslim women, be it the victim of this killing, or Katya Hijazi, the forensic technician in the coroner's office who has a difficult time navigating the limited role of women in Saudi Arabia as she tries to help Ibrahim solve the crime. The author does a great job showing the daily life of devout women and men in contemporary Saudi Arabia and the challenges they face. At the heart of the story, too, is the American couple who is brought to Saudi Arabia by the young husband's overseas job, and the dilemmas they face in negotiating the local culture.
Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst
Spy fiction makes for great summer fare, so why not sample some from a respected author in the genre. Furst's eleventh novel is set in the Greek port city of Salonika in 1940, where senior police official Costa Zannis is busy ferrying German Jews from Berlin through Greece to Turkey. Furst is strong at depicting the Balkans setting, the time period and the intricate maneuvers of Zannis, who not only handles all the intrigue with great skill, but falls in love along the way. A strong spy read and a love story -- who could ask for more.
The Emmaus Readers: More Listening for God in Contemporary Fiction, edited by Susan M. Felch and Gary D. Schmidt
A few years ago the Library had the opportunity to have three of the authors in this anthology hold book discussions on three great novels. The three sessions made for lively book group discussions, and the earlier volume of The Emmaus Readers became a great source for books that are particularly well-suited for book groups. The contributors to the two volumes are from Michigan's Calvin College and are regular members of a book discussion group where they have wrestled with many of the insights about the 12 titles detailed in this latest volume. These well-written, insightful essays discuss how novelists use their craft to explore "significant" spiritual questions. This is a great tool for both individual readers and book groups.
Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, edited by Reza Aslan
The relaxed pace of summer is perfect for my pursuit of poetry, essays and short stories. I am the first to admit that I often struggle to extract as much meaning from poetry as I should, but I find poetry soothing. To me, it is to be savored in small bites, and this volume fits the bill perfectly. I am still browsing it and am learning about a world of literature that is very much new to me. As the headlines are filled with news and analysis from the Middle East, this volume has poetry, short stories, essays and memoirs that offer another view – many in an English translation for the first time. Spanning many countries in the region and produced in lands scarred by colonialism, it is an intriguing volume.