The World is Silent or Not Listening As They Self Destruct

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half a Yellow Sun has shed a scorching light on "the dark continent of Africa. The 47or so countries, have always seemed to be 6 or in a particularly bad years, 9 countries. I just checked; it is second to Asia in size and population. Europe is much smaller in size and population, yet takes up most the American interest (except when it comes to diamonds and other raw materials).

I went to an affluent suburban high school from 1966-1970, the time when the novel is set and I never knew, until reading this devastating novel that the Biafrans were Nigerians trying to separate from Nigeria. The public was bombarded with malnourished children with bloated stomachs ,"Biafra Babies". I believed that they were starving and dying because of drought and bad farming techniques. I don't remember hearing about a revolution .

Adichie's novel focuses on the upper class. The main characters are all well educated and living affluent lives. Olanna and Kainene are twins but not identical. Olanna becomes involved with an intellectual revolutionary. Though they fight for equality and freedom they have a servant and foreign luxury cars. Kainene, a successful financier, is in a relationship with a white British author who has come Nigeria because of his love of ancient pots.

Half a Yellow Sun begins when Nigeria is united and the well to do have European educations, multiple houses, imported whiskey and bank accounts. There are servants , chauffeurs and bribes. The poor are poor, but live with dignity and local food.

Once the revolution begins, the one I never heard of, life changes for all Nigerians. Adichie tells the story of war: battle, destruction, starvation, and degradation. The Biafra babies, which I do remember, lived short lives of innocence. The soldiers and conscripted teens are starved, injured and allowed and even encouraged to rape. Many of the demeaned women die during their attacks or commit suicide after. The young men, often 13 or 14 years old who commit these atrocities are never the same either.

You can't find Biafra on the map. The uprising lasted less than three years. Adichie, who was not born at the time has used her parents's memories , her family's memories and other first hand sources to show the destruction which disorganized war and corruption causes. The British author, Richard, Kainene 's lover, who throws his lot with the Igbo revolutionaries tries to write a book ,"The World Was Silent While We Died."

I'm sure history buffs know this story. If you are like me, one who didn't study Nigeria, you will be surprised by the wealth, the cosmopolitan life style, the corruption of the revolution and the fact that the "civilized world", the U.S., Europe and China basically did nothing while these atrocities spun out of control.

If you're not interested in the war, there is also sisterly love, Baby love, romantic love, lust, loyalty and disloyalty, fashion, food and life under Half a Yellow Sun. This novel is not for the faint of heart or the beach reader. It is for a serious reader who appreciates excellent prose and is willing to take an uncomfortable journey to the past, to a country which 40 years later is just as unstable. The world is still silent.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

The Dinner - Herman Koch, Sam Garrett

The Dinner is a fascinating, but creepy novel which takes place in Holland. The Diary of Anne Frank also is set here and there are references to it and the the Frank dinner. Two brothers, Serge and Paul Lohman, along with their wives, Babette and Claire, meet in an ostentatious restaurant to break bread and share confidences that no families should ever have to share. The waiter brings course after course which delays the meat of their crisis. The flowing wine and sharp utensils pierce civilities.

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The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: Free Preview plus Bonus Material - Gabrielle Zevin

It begins like Silas Marner. A curmudgeon, A. J., looses his wealth, an original book of Poe's. It is replaced with an adorable toddler. From there, A, J., the detached widower, begins to socialize and the world is righted. Of course, since A. J. is a book seller, his life revolves around books. This should be appealing.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos 

This book is fine for a beach read or something right before bed when your attention waning. Because there are so many literary references and strokes for being literate, the reader may enjoy a short stay on an imagined island, Alice, where all of the police take an evening off once a month to discuss detective mysteries . Bi racial relationships are mentioned like a dress color and dropped like a napkin. Somehow, A.J.'s friends are all literary and they all extoll literature. Their lives turn out like plots from books you've, or at least , I've, passed over. I read A Storied Life of A. J. Fikry quickly, maybe because I knew what was coming.

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A Picture Taken, A Story Told

Mary Coin - Marisa Silver

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Ha Ha




The Book Thief May Steal Your Heart.

The Book Thief - Trudy White, Markus Zusak

Death is the narrator. He is omnipresent, omniscient, the great equalizer, most feared and a great relief to many. The fuehrer, Hitler, was the "leader" or "guide". He guided the Nazis to commit heinous crimes and led his countrymen into starvation, degradation, conflagration and despair. We usually read about the horrors that the Jews, the Gypsies, the gays, the communists, the handicapped and other undesirables endured and succombed to. 

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What's the difference between taking a look and spying?

The Dress Lodger (New York Times Notable Books) - Sheri Holman



There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.

—Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

I can't decide if The Dress Lodge is a 3 or 4 star novel. It was very effective in drawing the reader into the 19th century. But it was creepy.

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Hair (Kinky) Today, Gone Tomorrow.

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah is the dream of poor people all over the world. There the streets are paved with gold. Education is free and of high quality. How many poor and oppressed have given up family, all their cash and belongings, their language, culture and identity, and even their names to travel in steerage, illegally stowed in trucks, in caskets, over hidden paths through the desert, rafts in open seas and on student visas, etc. just to be Americanah. If these immigrants are"lucky" they stay and build the U. S. If they are unlucky, they remain hidden in the shadows or are deported, with nothing but the scars of their dreams which have exploded.
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Puss'n Boots?

The Art of Forgery

The Art Forger - B.A. Shapiro

Crime does pay, at least in art. Most artists, visual, musical, dramatic, literary, etc. do study other artists and incorporate techniques and do ideas, bits and pieces, reseen. This is how art works.

The Art Forger is not about that. It's about a painter who works for "Reproductions.com" to supplement her own art. She has a messy love life with an artist who adds his name to her work. This isn't forgery, it's robbery. Her next romance is with a collector who involves her in a conspiracy to commit fraud, to forge a Degas painting stolen from The Gardiner Musum.

Clair has lots of talent and no luck until she becomes a detective. I'm not a mystery fan, but this one was pretty easy to figure out.

I did like Shapiro's description of the layering, painting and discovery process, the first time. After the second or third time, I got the picture. The writing is not brilliant like that in Tartlett's The Golfinch and the detective work was not intricate or colorful like Atkinson's Jackson Brodie Series nor effecting like Jess Walter's Citizen Vince. This is a quick read, a painting you might pick up in department store or Musak, if you will.

Middlemarch: An explosion of tradition or why and how we marry


Middlemarch is perfect. I loved it! Why can't I write a review? Well, for one thing, every time I look back, I replay the whole wonderful experience.

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Listen to award winning authors read excerpts .  They are inspiring me to read faster.  


A Carpet Ride without the Magic



Picture the lower East Side, in the late 1890's. (You have to picture it. Wecker describes each tenement room as tiny and bare. She neglects any other details.) There are small crowded enclaves of Jews, Syrians, Poles, Russians and others, layered on top of each other and crammed next to each other, but separate. Each group maintains their own language, religions foods, cultures, and fantasies.

The golum, a mythical animated lump of clay, arrives from Poland, unaccompanied. Her master dies in steerage. Around the corner, a Syrian jinni is released from his vase, a vessel, which has bound Ahmad for a thousand years. Coincidentally they each are found by humane humans who accept their fantastic powers and their even more fantastic stories.

In literature you have to suspend rationality and just go along for the ride. The golum, Chava, is found by a rabbi who just brings her into his one bedroom apartment and let's her hide under the bed as he teaches his all male Hebrew classes. Ahmad hides in the tin smith's workshop and prowls the streets all night. 

Neither jinnis nor golems sleep nor do they need to eat. Ahmad easily climbs into a socialite's second floor bedroom, bed and heart. The golum is able to hold down a job in a bakery, befriend a bakery worker, dance and marry. No one, not even her husband, notices that she is cold to the touch and has no heart or heart beat.

This unlikely pair, Chava and Ahmad, travel across the Atlantic and the even larger divide, the Lower East Side, to Park Aveue. The novel is set in the 1890's but seems like it is the present, devoid of cell phones. Sorry. This is not my great grandmother's Canal Street. This novel has lots of turns and twists, but does not transport me. I did not find the characters soaring and the writing is fine, but not magical.

Reading in bed?



Pass / Fail

Passing - Nella Larsen

This  compact novel is as powerful, as unconventional and as good as Kate Chopin's best. Both Irene and Clare are Chicagoans light enough to pass. They grew up together, colored. It is the 20's and their worlds are changing, just not fast enough.

Irene marries a successful, decidedly black, doctor. Clare, orphaned at 16, runs away from her white relatives with a white man. Twelve years later, the two old friends serendipitously meet in a restaurant while passing.

This magnetic novel is about: prejudice, insecurity, control, desperation, marriage, and of course passing. I'm not sure which character, Irene or Clare, is more destructive and is more destroyed. Both are finely drawn, and belong to a minority. According to the characters, whites are less discerning and more easily fooled. African-Americans are able to detect their brethren and are more forgiving of their light skinned brothers when they choose to deceive. Neither route is easy for the African Americans in the 20's, nor is it easy now, almost 100 years later. (Barack Obama is half white and half black. Yet the world lauds his ascendency to the presidency of the most powerful White country in the world. Please don't get picky and say that Whites are in decline in the U S and China is more powerful.)

I read this in honor of Black History Month, but it is a valuable, moving and devastating novel for all time.

A year ( 15 months) Abroad?

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison - Piper Kerman

There's lots of buzz about this series on Netflix. I watched the first episode and thought this might be a fun trashy book. WRONG. This memoir is not really fun and not Trashy. It's a heartfelt memoir of Piper, a Smith graduate who rather than do an unpaid internship, got involved with an older woman who was a successful drug runner.

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