Neshama’s Choices for March 18th

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Dearborn by Ghassan Zeineddine  

In these short stories, many Arab Americans who fled Lebanon during the war against Israelis live in this eponymous Michigan city near Detroit. It often feels like their homeland minus the rubble, with the concentration of Arab shops, food, customs, and relatives. We meet various marvelous characters who reveal how they’ve negotiated the transition to a new milieu. Some do well; their beaming faces on billboards attest to their prosperity. More often, they struggle, like two young men who want to be actors but are stuck in boring, dead-end jobs. Or the family man who ventures forth surreptitiously in full niqab (a woman’s garment with only a slit for eyes) to explore his inner trans yearnings. These stories are pitch-perfect and very inviting in their humanity. Universal themes are beautifully delineated. 


Whalefall by Daniel Krause  

In this astonishing, improbable story, a diver is swallowed by a whale and lives to tell the tale. Jay plans to dive to the spot off the California coast where Mitt, his problematic father, committed suicide and intends to drop Mitt’s ashes. But a big gulp from a sperm whale thrusts him into desperate action. He uses everything he can lay his hands on, including light from a jellyfish and the beak of an octopus that serves as a knife, to stay alive against unfavorable odds. He hears his father's and the whale's voices, offering survival tips and philosophy. The action never stops as the air in his tank diminishes. I listened to this on CD and kept saying, “Oh no!” and “Come on!” as calamities intensified, but the images kept haunting me, so I’m sharing this book with you. 


Afterword by Nina Schuyler  

When a Bible salesman wanted to meet Virginia’s husband Haru—he’d heard them talking in the next room—she said no. Virginia had recreated him on the computer through AI after his death.  When China learned about her formula, they proposed she sell it to them to serve as “best friends” for lonely people. She donated most of her vast payment to an orphanage in Cambodia.  But when she got wind of China’s real purpose: to spy on citizens’ private lives and then tag and punish dissidents, she desperately tried to fix that ominous change in the formula without success. Surprises towards the end, including Haru’s history, the timeline of their relationship, and the ability of AI to make its own decisions. Schuyler conveys complex subjects like mathematics and technology so I can understand them (no mean feat), weaving this material into a poignant, subtle human drama.  


Going Zero by Anthony McCarten  

Cy, a young technological wunderkind, has developed a spyware program he wants to sell to the CIA.  The test: 10 participants tried to evade detection for 30 days. Most have extensive tools and experience to stay under the radar, but all get scooped up soon despite their varied strategies. Except for a mild-mannered librarian.  How did she get into the lineup in the first place? Of course, there’s a complex story behind all these machinations with intense bait-and-switch action and implications for the Fate of Mankind. (Especially interesting in light of Afterword, with the common theme of universal AI surveillance but such a contrasting approach.)