Neshama’s Choices for April 1st

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Three Fires by Denise Mina 

I'm not particularly interested in 15th-century religious fanatics, but when I came upon this slim volume by a brilliant Scottish mystery writer, I was intrigued—and well-rewarded. Savonarola was a miserable, driven Italian clergyman, first unlucky in love, then pushing against all the conventions of the time. His passion and determination captured the populace's attention despite his initial awkward presentation, and he dominated religious life for a spell. But you can't go against the powers that be—the Médicis, the Borgias, the Vatican—without consequences, and he was burned at the stake. He was puritanical, misogynistic, and homophobic, yet he supported the oppressed and spoke out for equality— a fantastic paradox. Mina manages to weave in contemporary phraseology that livens up the narrative yet never jars—I don't know how she does it. 


It's So Magic by Lynda Barry 

I didn't realize my favorite graphic novelist had another book out until this fell into my hands, and that's always a cause for celebration. (I discovered the material is from '1-’’92 as serialized in alternative weeklies, but it still feels fresh.)  It features BBarry's“personal sister,” Maybonne, an incurable optimist. Her experiences are full of joy and wonder, but of course, dark stuff—real life-- enters. She and her siblings live with grandma because mom, primarily drunk, shoved them out. Puberty, rape, and homophobia all rear their heads. Irrepressible, Maybonne offers her poetry, her projects, and her attempt at explaining the inexplicable. A treat! 


Daughters of Nantucket by Julie Gerstenblatt 

This well-researched historical novel focuses on the dreadful fire that almost razed much of this small New England island In 1846. We learn that Nantucketers have always been fiercely loyal and independent, but there were schisms in the tight-knit community, especially about race. Many were Quakers, which presents a mixed bag:  principled but puritan. Various characters reflect the makeup of the community. Eliza, whose whaling captain husband has been at sea for most of their 20-year marriage, starts unpleasant but intense events that bring out her humanity. Meg is Black and has a good marriage and livelihood but is incensed about the hypocrisy over school segregation. She's so heavily pregnant. Maria is the head curator at the famed Atheneum, which houses a collection of literary and natural wonders. Maria has romantic feelings for her dear friend Lindsey—a well-told tale. 


The Fetishist by Katherine Min 

Daniel, a white violinist, has a thing for Asian women. He runs through them, leaving heartbreak and bitterness in his wake. The punk-rock daughter of one of his victims decides to get revenge. She and her Black boyfriend kidnap him, but surprising events take place to change the course of their plans. Another of his discarded conquests, Alma, faces the depredations of MS. She and Danial have significant unfinished business. The author tells us at the start that this is a fable, but despite the sometimes-fanciful happenings, it’ll be painful emotional and cultural truths. A poignant aspect: the author died before the book could be published, but her daughter got it out into the world.