Neshama’s Choices for June 7th

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A Bright Ray of Darkness

It was the striking cover that grabbed my attention. Then a colleague filled me in: the author’s also a well-known actor. In this novel, a film star reeling from a divorce is brought onboard a Broadway production of Henry IV. He feels outclassed by the seasoned stage actors and the estimable director but seizes the challenge—Hotspur—and gives the role his all. Lots of drama and internal revelations along the way. Shakespeare’s lines woven cleverly into the text. Bracing and full of inside dope about The Stage.

 The Death of Murat Idrissi

Two young women, Arab immigrants living in Holland, go on a jaunt to Morocco. Fixing a mishap to their rental car wipes out their funds. Salah, a guy they recognize from home, befriends them and convinces them to smuggle Murat to Spain, promising to check on him during the two-hour ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar. He doesn’t, Murat suffocates in the wheel well, and Salah absconds with the payment. What a disaster! This small-scale story reflects the embattled history of the region, as Wieringa describes in the prologue. A slim book with a powerful punch. Haunting.

 Everything Comes Next

This Palestinian-American poet is a great favorite of mine, the Young People’s Poet Laureate. These collected and new poems are a cornucopia of delight. Section titles include the words Holy Land—of childhood, of people, and The Holy Land That Isn’t which refers to the occupied territories. She finds the sacred in everyday life, as children do, like the miracle of a lost yellow glove that reappears downstream three months later. Such a wide range of subjects, like a tribute to San Antonio where she lives or a tribute to Ted Kooser (another favorite poet). Accessible, lyrical, precise, thoughtful, joyous!

 The Mission House

We know something is off with Hilary, a gawky, nervous Brit who ends up renting a cottage in India’s highlands. His landlord is a clergyman who lives with young Priscilla, a quiet girl he adopted; she has some deformities. Jamshed, a rickshaw driver, takes him around town on a regular basis. We eventually learn Hilary’s sad backstory and we witness his grotesque romantic fixation on Priscilla. Jamshed’s nephew Ravi has dreams of becoming a country-western singer; for that he needs a horse. We get intimations of tragedy early on through references to a police inquiry and reports of religious tensions in the region.  The denouement comes as a wallop. There’s sly humor interwoven with melancholy. For me, that’s reading pleasure.

A Question Mark Is Half A Heart

Elin is a sought-after photographer in New York City but she seems increasingly distracted and detached during photo shoots. Things are also tense at home; her husband wants more of her presence, as does her ballerina daughter.  What happened? A note from a childhood friend back in Sweden, long out of touch, spirals her into dysfunction. Chapters toggle between her childhood horrors—absent alcoholic father, crazy mother, extreme poverty—and her current life in which no one knows her true history. Finally, a trip back to Sweden addresses the problem and there are intimations of healing. Atmospheric and intriguing.

Back next week.