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Clytemnestra by Costanza Casati
This figure from Greek mythology has a bad rap. She’s characterized as fierce and cold-hearted but what forces shaped her? Here’s the inside story from a feminist point of view. Blood sacrifices of two of her children, a very complex relationship with her sister Helen (yes, the Helen whose face launched a thousand ships), and when her husband Agamemnon is off fighting, she ends up ruling Mycenae which flies in the face of tradition. Chilling and fascinating.
The Postcard by Anne Berest
A historical novel based on the author’s family story. I’ve read a lot about WWII and the Holocaust and wondered how yet another depiction of the horrors would offer something fresh. This book delivers because it brings in a poignant interweaving of personal material with an embedded mystery. Said postcard contains only four names. It’s discovered many years later and great-granddaughter Anne devotes herself to finding out where it came from and what it signifies. What especially grabbed me was how Jews kept overlooking the increasing threats, hoping that normalcy would be restored. Beautifully written, evocative, and chilling.
The Country of the Blind by Andrew Leland
Subtitled A Memoir at the End of Sight. The author has a degenerative condition that he knows will eventually result in total blindness, but that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, he’s in a no man’s land in which he can explore this new, daunting territory both as an insider and an observer. The result is breathtaking, in part because he shines a light on the complexity of the malady, with its cultural implications, paradoxes, conflicts, and even gifts. We get to know the two big organizations that support blind citizens which espouse different approaches. For instance, the one with the “we can do anything” motto takes exception to guide dogs, viewed as crutches that demonstrate the user’s apparent helplessness. Leland shares his personal life, his excursions into training for the inevitable, the challenges and pleasures of learning braille, and even brings my hero Samuel Beckett into the picture by referencing Endgame with its wry, philosophical blind characters. Leland, Neil Simon’s grandson, writes like a dream. How lucky we are to have him guide us through a land we wouldn’t choose to visit in real life.
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
In this small Pennsylvania town, Jews and Blacks come together at said emporium, run by Chona who hasn’t a bigoted bone in her body. She’s spirited and generous, and with the community’s help, she hides a deaf boy who’s threatened with institutionalization. Her husband Moshe, who brings musicians to town, opens his theater to integrated dances. A taste of magical realism comes via mysterious Malachi, a brilliant dancer, who shows up when needed, then disappears. The lively interplay of Black vernacular and Yiddish phrases vividly enhances this enthralling tale.