Neshama’s Choices for August 16th

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Between Two Kingdoms

Subtitled A Memoir of a Life Interrupted. The adventuresome author was plagued by disturbing symptoms early on but multiple tests were inconclusive.  This didn’t stop her from moving to Paris and taking up with delightful Will, a brand new suitor who upended his life to join her.  But then a crisis and a dread diagnosis which plunged her into the kingdom of the sick. Touch and go, rigorous treatments, and finally remission, but at what cost? The biggest challenge: navigating the in-between territory and embracing life again. By now she’d become a NY Times columnist, making lots of connections with others who’d experienced similar scenarios. She set out on a coast-to-coast trip to visit some of them, including a death-row inmate in Texas. What a journey on so many levels— literal, internal, and metaphorical.  She’s a wonderful writer and I absolutely loved this book.

Blood Water Paint

Young Artemisia Gentileschi suffers as her artist father’s apprentice. Her beloved mother died recently in childbirth. She wants to do her own work but is stuck with tedious tasks or painting for profit under her father’s name. Her primary subjects: Susanna and Judith, both Biblical stories that depict women subjugated but heroic. Her painting instructor in perspective (irony there) rapes her and there’s an agonizing trial. She’s eventually exonerated but convention dictates an arranged marriage. Rome in the 1600s but it’s obvious not that much has changed on the feminist front.  I heard this on CD first, picking up deft iambic pentameter in the reading, and sure enough, it’s a novel in verse.  For teens, no less, but for anyone who wants a vivid, bracing look at power and powerlessness as reflected in art and society.

The Discomfort of Evening

I came across this book which I might not have otherwise picked up but there it was just sitting on our shelves—the 2020 International Booker Prize winner. Jas envies her older brother who can skate over to the other side of the river. When her beloved rabbit is slated for the table she has one of those “I wish God would take my brother instead” thoughts and it comes to pass; the ice was too thin. Thus starts the enormous destabilization of a family already strained by religious strictures and existing incompatibilities between mum and dad. Christmas is cancelled, hoof and mouth disease dooms the herd, and the end is even darker. Rijneveld, who is from Utrecht and uses the pronoun they, really gets into the terrifying magical realism of a child’s mind. Bleak and powerful.

Real Life

Wallace is a gay Black graduate student who feels very other in the Midwest setting.  His field: nematodes: tiny, exacting, and frustrating especially when his samples get contaminated. A surreptitious attack? His small cohort is fraught with complex relationships, both gay and straight.  Miller, who says he’s straight, gets involved with Wallace; their trysts often veer into violence. Wallace experiences lots of self-doubt and anguish. Vivid writing, incredible candor, and the ending left me hanging. A powerful, revelatory book.

Something Unbelievable

All the narrators in this book have salty tongues and in-your-face aggressiveness. My first thought: so mean, but then as the multi-generational story unfolds, we find out why. Survival by necessity has shaped them, from Ukraine to a northern outpost during WWII and eventually to America. Natasha is an actor but with a new baby, she’s resentful and has lost traction.  She develops a one-woman show based on her grandmother’s stories, revealed through many phone calls to Russia. Very spirited and often quite funny.  Took me awhile to sort out the characters but eventually the tale completely took hold and I ended up appreciating these tough, beleaguered women


Back next week.

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