This installment: mid-century Romania; Israeli Army life; a visceral, vibrant memoir; and a memoir that combines books and death (yes!)
Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding
Romania in the '50s (a place I haven't read much about). We meet the protagonist in difficult circumstances: almost dead, then deaf, mute, nameless, and shut down. A young nurse, Safta, rescues him; by coincidence this Tinu was part of her past life before Stalin blasted the social order to pieces. As Tinu recovers he starts to draw again in great detail, and ultimately Safta discovers an essential truth that bring some solace. Eventually they find a place of refuge for this unusual, intense, gifted man and it's another coincidental connection. I enjoyed experiencing Romania, described lyrically, and the opportunity to access the internal processes of the painter of silence.
The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
I'm always a little shocked to think that young people in Israel go into the army automatically--it's just part of growing up. Three young women, friends, endure tedium, fear, camaraderie and brutality amid everyday military life. Yael shoots well and becomes a trainer, Lea does checkpoint scrutiny, and Avishag is a border guard. There's a rough, tough, often bitter humor that comes through--probably part of the territory. Another one of those books that takes me to a place I'm fascinated to visit between covers (as it were) but glad to avoid in real life.
Blood Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
Subtitled: the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef. She was brought up, if you can call it that, by bohemian parents in a "ruined mill" near NYC. Her father, a dreamer and theater designer, her mother, a French ex-ballerina, and 4 siblings. Little money, lots of amazing parties and food. Then the split, when she at 14 and one brother were essentially abandoned for an entire summer. She became a wild girl, in and out of college, always supporting herself with food service jobs. Finally her own improbable but successful small restaurant, Prune, replicating the basic European dishes she learned to cook from her mother and her Italian mother-in-law. Now the marriage--that's a fascinating story in itself. She'd started with girlfriends but this Italian doctor wooed her (he also needed a green card) so they got married, had two children, but continued to live apart. The relationship, if you can call it that, was contentious, confusing, emotionally ill-suited, but they managed for a handful of years together. A very satisfying book, candid, gritty, and sensual.
Blood Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (CD version)
Then I listened to it, read by the author. At first I found her voice flat and tough, but it grew on me and it felt as if she were hanging out in my kitchen, sharing intimate secrets.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Books and death--right up my alley. Will's mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While they're hanging out during chemo sessions they discuss what they're reading. Both are terrifyingly literate: mother was admissions director for Harvard and Will is an editor. Thus the genesis of their ongoing communion. Books strengthened, diverted, and nourished them during this difficult time. Will's mother lived longer than predicted. It was a pleasure to get to know her on these pages, a self-effacing powerhouse with very strong opinions and enormous generosity. (She spearheaded many projects for refugees all over the world, including building a library in Kabul.) And Will is very good at summing up what they read. A great pleasure.
Back next Monday. And take a look at the following link:
It will take you to Marin Poets Live!, our new MCFL digital archive in which I interview local poets who then read their work.