Neshama’s Choices for February 7th

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What Could Be Saved

Laura’s brother Philip, 9, disappeared in Bangkok many years ago. Now she learns he’s resurfaced. Their father, now dead, worked for the US government but the family never knew was he was really up to. And their mother is in the throes of dementia. Bossy, conventional sister Bea and Laura, an artist, have been at odds for years. A bizarre story unfolds, Philip has a health crisis, and ultimately the three siblings uncover the family secrets and make their peace with each other. Haunting and atmospheric.

Upper Bohemia

Herrera’s parents lived an unconventional existence that shifted from Manhattan to Cape Cod to Mexico and beyond and from each other as well when the spirit moved them, which was often. A charmed existence so it would seem, no money worries, but what was it like for the kids? Pretty awful, we learn. Lots of freedom for sure, but inconsistency that led to neglect. They were often surrounded by famous folk-- artists and literary luminaries-- but essentially ignored. Herrera, known for her wonderful biographies of artists, brings her own story to life with the same skill. Fascinating.

The Air You Breathe

A nine-year-old girl toils in the household of a sugar plantation. Nicknamed Jega for “ass” and considered stupid, she comes into her own when a spoiled, rebellious age-mate, Graça, daughter of the plantation owner, wreaks holy hell until she and Jega bond. Music speaks to both, samba overheard from the cane workers, and provides their escape down the line when Graça is to be married to a rich dolt. In Rio they form a band—Graça sings, Jega (now Dores) writes songs, and come to fame. We know Graça’s life will be short from the get go but don’t learn the circumstances until the end. From the ’30 on, from Brazil to the USA, it’s a roller coaster of a tale that sometimes wore me out with superheated emotions but certainly held my interest.

The Fall Guy

Matthew’s cousin Charlie has an elegant summer house in the Catskills and offhandedly invites him to spend the summer in the guest house. Matthew’s at loose ends so it seems like a good deal. Charlie’s also between jobs, as it were, but is much better fixed than his cousin. His wife Chloe is part of the picture as well; she and Matthew have always had a special relationship. Whoo boy, does it get complicated when Matthew discovers she’s having an affair. Lots of sexual undercurrents and bad business in the past that ultimately erupts into a shocking denouement. My head spun.

The Witch's Heart

A retelling of Norse myths from Angrboda’s point of view. She’s Loki’s consort (of sorts) who gives birth to the wolf and the serpent who bring about the end of the world. She seems indestructible, thrice burned, heart ripped out. Loki returns it to her, and then slips in and out of her hermetic life as is his wont. Skadi provides female company and support. When Angrboda’s two “sons” become huge and dangerous and her daughter Hel is thrust into the land of the dead, she sets out to do what she can. I know these myths inside out and loved reconnected with them with this new perspective. But I believe the story, told so directly, will resonate even if it’s new to you.

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