Neshama’s Choices for October 9th

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Be Mine by Richard Ford   

Frank, who’s appeared in other books by Ford, is now retired but has an onerous, essential job: taking care of his grown son Paul who has ALS. Off they go on a crazy road trip from Minnesota—Paul’s been in a fruitless clinical trial at the Mayo Clinic—to Mt Rushmore of all places. Travel is uncomfortable by nature, but coupled with their challenges, there are more low than high points. Despite the potentially grim elements, this book manages to be mordantly funny and touching--no mean trick.  


You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith   

In this unusually structured memoir Smith, a poet, anatomizes the dissolution of her marriage and what happened after. Very short chapters describe what went wrong and how she’s salvaged what was shredded by betrayal. She poses unanswerable questions about her identity and her function in this new iteration. She often addresses us, (the Reader) directly which makes the book especially engaging. The epigraph from Emily Dickinson, “I am out with lanterns/ looking for myself” sums it up succinctly; Smith’s insights illuminate a path through emotional tangles that offer clarity and solace amid the murk.  


Arletis, Abuelo, and the Message in A Bottle by Lea Aschkenas  

I loved her first book, Es Cuba, and when this new one came out, I leaped on it. It’s for kids but such a heart-lifting tale that I wanted to share it here. Arletis, 10, has a sweet life in a little town in Cuba but she’s always curious about what lies beyond her tiny island.  She puts a message in a bottle which washes up in Sausalito, into the hands of Esteban who then makes his way to Cuba to meet her—the beginning of a beautiful relationship. This is a true story! Esteban told it to Ashkenaz when she worked at the Sausalito library and that was the genesis of this beautiful book.  


My Father's House by Joseph O’Connor  

When the Germans invaded Rome in ’43, Vatican City became a refuge for many seeking safety; not under official auspices, of course, but a coalition of clerics and citizens of all stripes gathered to help them flee. Hauptman, the vicious Gestapo functionary in charge, kept tightening the screws but the volume of successful escapes was humiliating. Monseigneur Hugh, originally from Ireland, spearheaded strategies by forming a “choir;” during rehearsals, participants sang while passing notes, maps, and diagrams to memorize, then destroy. They used knowledge of the intricate byways of the Eternal City to move money and clothing and get people to safety. Lots of suspense, rich language. Based on a true story. I think it would make an amazing movie.