Neshama’s Choices for December 20th

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Great Circle

Marian loves to fly. She manages to learn how despite the times; in the ‘20s very few women took to the air. She’s bankrolled by a “protector” but of course there are strings. WWII provides more flying time and ignites a covert relationship with Ruth, another recruit. This book ranges through history and geography, culminating in a pole- to- pole flight that was Marian’s dream. One more layer: a contemporary film based on Marian’s life; the actor who plays her discovers much more about her subject than the script conveys. Big scope, flying lore—a feast. 

Hot Stew

In the London neighborhood of Soho, a building filled with prostitutes lies in the way of gentrification. Developer Agatha is pitted against sex worker Precious from Nigeria and a complex cast of characters from all walks of life intersect, lurch, and grapple on the scene. Who will prevail? Those sporadic underground tremors forecast the amazing denouement. (In this case, Nature bats last.) At times it was hard to keep track of all the spicy, louche ingredients in this stew, but it was so atmospheric and haunting that I kept at it until the clouds of dust settled, with many intriguing flavors along the way.

No Cure for Being Human

Subtitled (And Other Truths I Need to Hear).  Me too, and from such a solid source. Bowler was diagnosed with heavy-duty cancer. Her field in academia: religious history.  What’s so refreshing about this book is how she debunks many feel-good attempts at “improvement” with a big dose of humor rather than bitterness.  She shares her fraught medical journey, the stresses on relationship and work, and lives to tell the tale and write about it magnificently. 

Notes on Grief

Her father, a professor, died in Nigeria in 2020. Adichie, in America, couldn’t believe it. She’d just talked to him recently. He hadn’t been feeling well but no one had seemed concerned. In this slim but powerful book she takes us through the wash of emotions that flooded her after his death. So many visceral sensations. I really appreciated the specifics which by some alchemy make the message even more universal: grief can be devastating but the only way out is through. And I also loved getting to know her father and her family—a beautiful tribute. 

Sankofa

In her dead Welsh mother’s trunk lies a diary that reveals Anna’s father’s identity. Turns out he is still alive in West Africa, once president of a small county and still very influential. She leaves her grown daughter Rose in London, as well as the husband she’s separated from. The sale of her mother’s flat provides funds so she can set out to connect with him. It takes a while to make contact and then it’s a complex dance of suspicion, welcome, and threat. Is her father a savior and/or an arch manipulator? Well, the verdict is as ambivalent and multi-layered as much of African history. An intriguing story, vividly told. 


Back next week.

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