Neshama’s Choices for April 22

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The Women by Kristin Hannah 

When Frankie’s brother is killed in Vietnam, she’s determined to put her new nursing skills to work over there, despite her wealthy Southern California parents’ opposition. Only the Army will take her, and she gets a crash course in the field, makes deep friendships with two other nurses, has difficult romantic entanglements with a few fellow soldiers, and becomes essential. As the bodies pile up and the US government continues to lie about how the war is going, she becomes cynical but is still dedicated to saving lives. When she returns to California, she’s flattened by anti-war attitudes and the perception that no women served in Vietnam. It’s a bitter homecoming and it takes her years to find her feet. Finally, she found an agency to help other women veterans. Very vivid. It certainly brought those years back to me, especially with song titles of the time. 

The Other Mothers by Katherine Faulkner 

A playgroup in London has a distinctly cliquey tone, as Tash discovers when she enrolls her difficult little boy. Then one of their nannies dies and Tash, a freelance journalist, starts digging; the story might just relaunch her career. Conflicting accounts and shifting alliances abound, and Tash starts getting threats. Some of the mothers befriend her but who can she believe? For the most part, the characters are quite unpleasant, and the denouement is tricksy, but I enjoyed it despite, or perhaps because it demonstrates that money doesn’t buy happiness. 

Independence Square by Martin Cruz Smith 

Arkady Renko, Smith’s wonderful detective, is stuck in a desk job working for a bullying boss. His lover Tatiana, a journalist, has left him and he’s just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. When an opportunity arises to track down Karina, an oligarch’s missing daughter, he’s glad to get out of Moscow. The case takes him to Ukraine and Crimea where all hell is starting to break loose. He investigates a resistance movement in support of Crimean Tartars, and its members are dropping like flies. His boss back in Moscow tells him to back off, but we know Renko. Crossing borders with a price on his head while smuggling out Elena who’s been fingered by the government as an assassin all leads to a suspenseful finish. There’s wit, history, and an added layer of poignancy; the author also is dealing with Parkinson’s. 

A Map of Future Ruins by Lauren Markham 

Immigration dominates the news these days, and the subject is rife with tragedy, ugliness, fear, and paradox. Markham, a journalist who’s been exploring this theme extensively, turns her attention to an inquiry that is both broad and very specific. She explores migration through history, mythic origins, and how those myths play out today, as well as her own family’s journey from Greece. She takes us there, particularly to Moria on Lesbos where a migrant camp swelled to enormous proportions and was then decimated by a fire. Six young Afghans were arrested for arson—totally trumped-up charges—and we follow the lamentable fate of one, Ali. We also travel around Greece with her and her poet husband when they try to relax and recover and celebrate the beauty of the islands. This is my favorite kind of book, anatomizing a complex issue with clarity, and weaving strands of history, politics, poetry, and personal testimony into a cohesive, coherent, colorful offering.