What a week it has been with lots of activity around me. I was a little under the weather this week so I devoured Maisie Dobbs Mysteries – great reads when you want something to sink your teeth into but don’t want a heavy meal, so to speak. Youngest has somehow skipped his annual fall illness – college must be good for his immune system. He is also undergoing a set of interviews for the study abroad program. Eldest is off celebrating Halloween with friends in the middle of the state. Himself continues to grade, grade, and grade (such is the life of a professor) and also has to think about putting his trees to bed for the winter. Yesterday he went to the Regional XC meet and the boys are going to state! Coupled with a championship win for the Band last night and it was a good day for our high school. Here is what caught my interest this week:
I was 18 years old when Jonestown happened, Congressman Ryan and others were killed at the airstrip, and hundreds upon hundreds of people died in compound in Guyana. Living in Northern California at the time it was difficult to escape coverage of the event and I remember reading the newspaper coverage and wondering why in the world something so horrific had happened. Julia Scheeres has written an examination of the events of Jonestown to put the story , as she states, “on a grander, more human, scale.” Athira of Reading on a Rainy Day, writes a review of this just published work A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown. Using diaries, letters, videos, audiotapes, and paperwork (some recently declassified), the author takes a detailed look at what happen from the eyes of the people who where involved.
A second non-fiction book that caught my interest is Jeff Sharlet’s Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In between which is reviewed by Gavin at Page 247. Sharlet is also the author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and C Street: The Fundamentalist Treat to American Democracy. C Street has long been on my to read list and the new book may have to bump it to a lower number. I grew up in a political family and have long been interested in the inter-weaving of faith and politics so this book seems a natural fit to me. The book is a series of essays about how we gain and loss faith as well as the place faith holds in our lives. Gavin writes:
Sharlet’s newest book is a collection essays that shines a blinding light on how we, as Americans, find, lose and regain faith. How we sometimes blindly accept faith with nothing more than a song and a bottle of whiskey to guide us. There is always a song.
Often compared to writers focusing on life in America, from Mark Twain to Joan Didion, Sharlet searches along the borders where our culture and our religion meet, he is willing to look deep into the mix of religion and politics. Often driven to the edge he finds himself looking over, into the depths of the American heart.
Some time ago a friend recommended I read Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger which won the 2008 Booker Prize and I enjoyed it. I liked the novel’s examination of modern India with all its contradictions and complexities. So I read Swapna Krishna’s review of his new novel Last Man in Tower with anticipation. Set in Mumbai, a wealthy developer wants to build on the site of an existing apartment building. He offers the residents a large amount of money to vacate but one man refuses the offer. Once again Adiga takes a simple situation and breathes into it the nuances that exist in this world. No one is all good or all bad – instead we are driven by our desires and ambitions. I am keeping this book in mind.
Wendy of Caribousmom reviews Solitaria by Genni Gunn, a novel that was on this year’s long list for the Giller Prize. The novel is set in Italy and reaches back into the family’s history in the 20’s and 40’s. During the restoration of a dilapidated villa, the body of a man is discovered. It is determined the man died in the 1950’s and he is identified as Vito Santoro. The family is stunned at this revelation because Vito’s sister, Piera, has been receiving letters from him sent from Argentina. Piera refuses to speak to anyone but her nephew David. Part of the book is narrated by Piera as she tells David the family stories but the reader is unsure of just how reliable Piera is. Wendy links to Kim Forrester’s review at Reading Matters and she includes the following quote in her review:
As often happens in families, once a child’s character is set, he is forever viewed through that filter. So Vito became our black sheep, the scapegoat loaded down with our frustrations and our fears. After always hearing himself accused, Vito began to do the things of which he was accused. He was the one who would skip classes, climb into the windows of an abandoned house, who would settle schoolyard arguments with his fists and win, the one who stole almonds and figs and walnuts from the fields and was viciously beaten for it by Papà, even though all us children had eaten the stolen fruits. He became dangerous and we both loved and shunned him.