Neshama’s Choices for February 21st

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The Wrong End of the Telescope

Set in Lesbos, the Greek island where all those Syrian refugees have washed ashore in desperate straights.  Mina, a doctor, comes to help.  Her friend Emma, also transgender, invited her. Mina befriends and aids one family in particular; the mother is dying. But that experience leads her down convoluted, often frustrating paths and stirs up her own sense of otherness as a Lebanese immigrant. An author who’s come to document the scene but ends up cowering in his hotel room is also present. (He bears a strong resemblance to Alameddine himself.) Layer upon layer and constantly shifting perspectives convey the complexity embedded in this fraught environment and these multifaceted characters. One more delight: Greek myths are woven throughout. Fascinating. 

Seeing Ghosts

It took me awhile to get into this memoir but I’m so glad I persisted because by the end I wanted to read every page aloud to savor the profound words. Kat’s stoic mother died of cancer much too soon and Kat’s grief permeates her life thereafter. She’s indeed haunted yet plunged into further loss as her mother’s presence gradually fades.  Of course you can’t freeze time despite taxidermy (that dead fish on the cover refers to her father’s failed attempt). We get this immigrant family’s journey as well a broader historical scope. And much forgiveness after recognizing imperfections; they did as well as they could. To paraphrase poet Machado, Chow has “made sweet honey of all her old failures.” 

Deacon King Kong

Church deacon is just one of many gigs Sportcoat performs. (King Kong refers to hooch, and downing it constantly is another of his pastimes.) He does garbage cleanup, helps an old white lady with her plants (he has a gift), and is an important figure in this benighted Brooklyn community which has an ironic view of Lady Liberty. He’s an old guy, beset with many illnesses, but always seems to land on his feet. He also has a very vocal relationship with his dead wife Hettie. Rival drug dealers clash, there’s a wild subplot featuring the Venus of Willendorf, and despite all that mayhem, there’s a happy ending. Sportcoat is a holy fool. And oh, McBride’s language—so rich and popping with local color. A treat!

Tibet

Subtitled Through the Red Box. When Sís finally opens the box, he gets the story of his father’s bizarre, mysterious journey long ago through journal pages and memorabilia. His father had told him fragments when Peter was recuperating from a serious childhood illness.  In this astonishing book he retells the story both in his own words and in his father’s and illustrates it with characteristically detailed and dreamlike pictures. Tibet is a fabled country and Sís conveys this magically. Catalogued as a kid’s book and I never would have known about it until a coworker said, “you have to read this!”  And if you’re at all interested in the subject or in utter artistry on the page, you might too. 

In the Country of Others

The cover depicts an odd fruit, half orange, half lemon.  And, as we later learn, a failure in taste and texture.  It’s like that for Mathilde who falls in love with an Arab soldier and leaves Germany to make a life with him back in Morocco.  Post WWII, and it’s a struggle for Amine who tries to scratch a living from his farm. As a white woman, Mathilde isn’t embraced by his family, and she’s also spurned by the ex-pat community. Meanwhile, sedition is growing against French colonial rule. There wasn’t one character in this book I warmed up to but the sense of otherness and the vivid historical detail kept me reading. 

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