A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Our Christmas break seemed to sneak up on me, so I didn’t get a chance to share my favorite books from the latter part of the year. So in the tradition of the many award shows soon to be airing, I’m starting this year off with a look back.
The author is a fellow Clevelander and sets her third novel in our hometown. Middle-aged Tehmina is on an extended visit to her son and his family from Bombay, after losing her husband to a sudden heart attack. She is finding America very different than it seemed on their brief vacations; remote, apathetic and preoccupied with the wrong things. The contrast of the cold, dreary winter days of Ohio and the sunny, bustling cities of India is marked by more than the obvious. But life in India is not romanticized, nor is the U.S. vilified in comparison, in some ways, both places are portrayed more realistically than in most novels.
Tehimina’s interaction with her grandson, Cavas (nicknamed Cookie), are a delight. His mother is remote and rigid and his father has become very Americanized since his arrival to attend an American college, marrying and becoming a businessman. Tehimina herself is intelligent, kind and maternal. It is those traits which lead her to get involved with a pair of abused neighbor boys and when she is hailed as a hero, that’s when trouble starts. What unfolds is told with gentle humor and concern, but is never preachy. The author, who has won many literary prizes, conveys her points within conversations and relationships in a subtle, splendid way. Underlying it all is the question, is home where one’s loved ones are or the familiar place which features in so many memories? The answer is as warm and strong as the cups of tea her characters drink.
William Morrow 2007 296 pp. ISBN 978-0-06-124023-2
1913 by Charles Emmerson
This new book treats the year on it’s own merit and not just as a landing stage for WW1. It’s unique approach is to have each chapter focus on a different city around the globe and not just the usual ones in the U.S. and Europe. The book not only gives a verbal snapshot of the political events and personalities of the time but also a capsule history of that particular city and their ties to the other. Touching on cultural events, civil rights, military conflicts, developments in trade and industry, all written in an informative style with an easy flow. The reader definitely gets the sense of a world entering the modern era, which some countries are prepared for and others aren’t, and they aren’t always the ones ones you think.
PublicAffairs 2013 544 pp. ISBN 978-1610392563 available in traditional and ebook formats
It’s probably shelved under “chick lit”, but this is actually a comic novel that really is funny, with sharp observations, sarcastic comments and a likable heroine. The settings and interactions are true to life and easy to relate to. The snarky fun takes a different turn in the last third of the book, when it becomes darker in tone. The ending was different than expected and that’s what made it all the more realistic and poignant.
Harper 2009 292 pp. ISBN 978-0-06-146136-1
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Having read all of the author’s previous novels, I can confidently say this is one of her best. Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman from England, emigrates with her sister to America and eventually settles into a small town in Ohio, near Oberlin,
which is part of the Underground railroad. Taking place about a decade before the U.S. Civil War, the Quaker community struggles with their moral objections to slavery and the practical consequences of acting upon their convictions. Honor is a very likable person surrounded by a group of well drawn and diverse characters. Masterful in showing the issues in a vivid and relatable way and emphasizing the humanity in the situation, Chevalier is an expert at bringing any period to life and presenting women who are both of and ahead of their time.
Dutton 2013 305 pp. ISBN 978-0-525-95299-2