Neshama’s Choices for May 29th

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Travelers to Unimaginable Lands by Dasha Kiper   

Subtitled Stories of Dementia, the Caregiver, and the Human Brain. Kiper, a clinical psychologist, loves the work of Oliver Saks (as I do) and it shows in this multilayered, informative book. The stories are vivid and often heartbreaking, but it’s the background information that makes it especially rich. What constitutes the self?  How much control is a demented person capable of? Questions like these bedevil caretakers, both on practical and philosophical levels. I learned a lot about the workings of the brain; for instance, empathy is related to mirroring, so  with a lack of expression, Botoxed individuals have trouble feeling it.   


Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra   

The industry in Hollywood is peopled with immigrants and we follow its history through Maria from Italy who joined the eponymous company as a typist but ended up doing a great deal of the work.  Her boss, Artie, is in business with his brother Ned but they don’t see eye to eye and that eventually brings Mercury Pictures down.  Meanwhile, we discover how the industry is involved with the war effort (WWII), is subject to political witch-hunts, and becomes an essential part of the propaganda machine. A sprawling novel, full of “real” people. The book sometimes confused or exhausted me but I got a lot of backstage insights (as it were) and was glad I kept going. Note: very well researched; his acknowledgments cite more than 60 books.  


The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton   

A fierce hurricane in Florida wreaks havoc on a family. Very pregnant Frida dies after giving birth to Wanda. Meanwhile, her partner Kirby is out searching for his two young sons who ventured out in the storm. Only the older one, Lucas, survives but is traumatized and beset by guilt. Wanda, named after the cataclysmic event, is a strange one. She forges an alliance with a neighbor, Phyllis, a naturalist and a prepper, which sees her through climatic and familial troubles to come for a while.  Their tiny town is abandoned by the infrastructure and Wanda uses her wildlife skills to keep alive on her own until she reluctantly comes to trust a tiny band of other survivors. A touch of magic realism: in the water Wanda becomes bioluminescent. A fascinating tale interweaving the natural world with interpersonal stories and a scary look at things to come.   


Solito by Javier Zamora   

A magnificent memoir by a young poet who made the hair-raising journey from El Salvador to San Rafael at age 9, essentially on his own. One coyote hands him off to another when plans go awry, which they do often. There’s physical danger on land and on water and long stretches of boredom before they can proceed again.  A mock family forms, helpful first as part of their disguise and then as emotionally supportive as the real one that awaits him.  Such a steep, essential learning curve: new names and backstories, and identities for each country they pass through. Very vivid, full of sense memory and emotion. Note: I was delighted to discover in his acknowledgments that instructor Carol Adair and her partner Kay Ryan provided considerable encouragement when he landed at the College of Marin.