Neshama’s Choices for January 29th

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Absolution by Alice McDermott

Naive Tricia arrives in Saigon in ’63, newly married to Peter, who works for the CIA. Charlene, an expat corporate wife, takes Tricia under her wing and pulls her aggressively into complex schemes that attempt to help the populace, such as visits to hospitals to give toys to napalm-burned children and selling Barbie dolls in Vietnamese garb to raise funds for such activities. Tricia, Catholic, yearns to get pregnant, but miscarriages thwart that wish.  As Tricia reminisces many years later with Charlene’s daughter, who was six then, we learn of her dawning realization about the extent of political manipulations by the US and Vietnamese governments. Tricia’s point of view provides an interesting slant on the infamous happenings of those dim days in history.   


The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright  

The title is a line from Dublin poet Phil McDaragh, who wrote rapturously of love, the beauties of the countryside, and his children, couched in metaphor.  But he deserted his wife and daughters early on, leaving them alone. Now Nell, his granddaughter who’s also a writer, is trying to find herself by exploring her murky heritage and getting involved with all sorts of unsuitable men. Each of McDaragh’s poems prefaces another aspect of the family’s messy life and illustrates the paradoxes often embedded in literature. Lively, full of delightful language.  


I Must Be Dreaming by Roz Chast  

Leave it to Chast to share her bizarre dreams with us in living color. She categorizes them as recurring, lucid, celebrity, nightmare, and more. Often, descriptions of other people’s dreams can become tedious, and I sometimes get overwhelmed by the random barrage of weirdness. But the book delivers partly through Chast’s wit, the universality of dream material, and an exploration of what she calls “Dream-theory Land.”  I appreciate dreaming because it is a form of nocturnal travel. Who knows what this book might do to enrich your dream life and provide entertainment on the page? 


Fear Is Just A Word by Azam Ahmed  

Subtitled A Missing Daughter, A Violent Cartel, and A Mother’s Quest for Vengeance. Miriam in Mexico witnesses up close and personal the terrifying transformation of her town by cartels when her teenage daughter Is kidnapped for ransom. Her daughter is never returned to her despite paying sums she can’t afford.  The government and the police go limp, so it’s up to her to find out who was involved and go after them, which she does with cunning and tenacity. She tracks each down, and they end up in prison or dead until she herself becomes a victim. I’ve seen newspaper articles about these atrocities, but this book brings the nightmarish situation into bold relief through excellent storytelling, well-researched background material, and commentary.