Neshama’s Choices for December 27th

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Subtitled Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training. Stern was surprised to be matched at Harvard for his residency since he didn’t come from a prestigious college. He often felt like an imposter, especially during the early days. The cohort of 14 new residents grew very close and supportive. Especially necessary in a murky field when it’s hard to know whether you’re even helping patients, and of course there are failures. Stern knows how to tell a story and I greatly appreciated his humility, candor, and his reflections on life outside the institution. Fascinating, sobering (especially if you need a psychiatrist in your life), and hopeful because there must be other shrinks out there who are as thoughtful, compassionate, and smart as the author.  


Bill is a pilot. In flight he gets a terrifying message: we have your wife and children.  Fly where we tell you to go or we kill them. What a conundrum! The crew: seasoned Michael, Jo (her nephew in the FBI is currently under a cloud but proves very useful), and Kellie, a new hire. Complex machinations in the air and on the ground. Both Bill and his wife Carrie have considerable communication skills which lead to fascinating interchanges with the terrorists. Suspense up the wazoo. A flight attendant for a decade, Newman certainly know of where she speaks. I often had to suspend disbelief but was swept along by the story and appreciated aviation lore and nuanced morality—compassion for the plotters.

Lucky Broken Girl

A fictional, autobiographical kid’s book in which Ruth’s life is derailed by a car crash and she has to spend many months in bed while her leg heals. She’s already been dislocated by the move from Cuba to Queens in the mid ’60, struggling with language and missing the food, friends, and the culture. Unexpected pals and supporters come forth. Faith too, via her mother’s church, Santeria, Frida Kahlo (patron saint of wounded artists), and Lord Krishna from Ramu, a neighbor and classmate. Behar is a cultural anthropologist which gives this book considerable depth but the tone is light, clear, and pitch-perfect. 


More Than I Love My Life

Nonagenarian Vera is a lively character, but her birthday party is marred by the reappearance of her estranged daughter Nina who’s been living on a remote island. She arrives with heavy news: incipient Alzheimer’s.  Granddaughter Gili and dad Rafael, both filmmakers, set out to capture a family trip to significant places; as Nina gets impaired, she’ll be able to view her memories. Much dark material: abandonment, ideologies vs family loyalties, torture. Grossman is Israeli and the book astutely reflects conflicts and layers embedded in Jewish history. 

Mother May I

Bree in Georgia has risen above her hardscrabble upbringing. She’s now married to wealthy, influential Trey and they have 3 nice kids. At a school play rehearsal, their baby boy Robbie disappears and a cryptic note tells her she must follow instructions or else (including not telling anyone about it.) Not about money; instead some sort of mysterious revenge. Her best friend’s widower, Marshall, a detective, gets involved anyway and that’s loaded as well since there’s attraction between them. One sliver of hope: the baby’s abductor, an old woman, has motherly instincts and Bree plays them up to keep Robbie safe as long as possible. Bree is fierce and canny in her desperation. Suspense galore. 

Back next week.