This installment: an incredible take on migration (nf); an exploration of schizophrenia (nf); Donoghue’s latest (f); Just Mercy’s Ray Hinton—his own story (nf-CD); Semple’s book as a movie (DVD); and a mind-boggling environmental history (nf).
A Good Provider is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParle
Subtitled One Family and Migration in the 21st Century. In this case, it starts with Tita in the slums of Manila where the author slept on her floor 30 years ago. Filipino families can get very large and we track her and her many offspring as they try to find a better life elsewhere. Primarily her daughter Rosalie who became a nurse—big struggle—and ended up at last in the (not so) promise land, the US of A. Family stories are interwoven with trenchant history and commentary on this topic, in depth in both areas. He’s also a wonderful writer. My best of the year so far…
The Edge of Every Day by Marin Sardy
Subtitled Sketches of Schizophrenia. Sardy’s mother was very strange. She could be very creative and charming, but also had long spells of paranoia and silent retreat. As a child, the author shuttled between her and their father when living together had become untenable. Her younger brother Tom also fell victim to the disease and it eventually killed him. The shape of the book isn’t chronologically straight forward, reflecting the experience of the malady. Her descriptions of her brother’s descent into madness as she witnessed it helplessly are searing. She explores the subject on many levels, very thoughtfully.
Akin by Emma Donoghue
Noah, an octogenarian, is planning a trip to Nice where he grew up. A social worker contacts him; his 11 year old great-nephew Michael needs immediate care; otherwise it’s a group home and no one else in the family is available to take him in. So with great reluctance he says yes. What an odd pairing: the curmudgeon and the wise-ass, both extremely wary of each other and saddled with grief. (Noah’s wife died two years before and his life has become shrunken and joyless.) Quite a journey and it turns out, they are akin after all (whew). Charming!
The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
Subtitled how I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row. Well, I already knew he got released (after 30 years!) from Bryan Stevenson’s remarkable Just Mercy. But that didn’t help as I listened to his own story in my car. The injustice, the rigged evidence, and the blatant racism of the Alabama court system took my breath away once more. A man of faith, Ray managed to make the best of the nightmare prison experience, reaching out to fellow inmates after a three year spell of furious silence after the verdict, and even starting a book club. He went from hate to love and kept hanging in there even after appeal after appeal bit the dust and his beloved mother died. Younger brother Lester made the eight-hour trip every visiting day. You can even hear Ray’s own voice as he reads the very last chapter. Very powerful.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette (DVD)
I put this book on my Choices shelf periodically and was so curious how it would translate to the screen. And liked what emerged. Here Kate Blanchett is truculent, miserable, and spirited as this thwarted, brilliant architect who gave it up 20 years ago after a series of setbacks. Her teenage daughter—short, bespectacled, and devoted to her mother—wangles a family trip to Antarctica. Anathema to Bernadette who does a bunk and reconnects with her true destiny. Lots of coincidences and conjunctions I questioned, but the screen isn’t real life and I enjoyed it despite. Great scenery and a fascinating wreck of a house that reflects Bernadette’s scrambled genius.
Floating Coast by Bathsheba Demuth
Subtitled An Environment History of the Bering Strait. This is an amazing, very serious book that really intrigued me but at a certain point wore me out. The place in question is like a petri dish for our environmental ills: the ocean, the creatures, the land, and the native peoples have all suffered from “civilization” i.e. politics, greed, market values and “progress.” Demuth is a fine writer, describing natural phenomena vividly and lyrically and providing intensive sources for her historical and journalistic material. One striking aspect: with the Americans on one side and the Russians on the other, each side exercises its theories to improve things. Both fail. Fascinating and sobering (in case you’re not sober enough).
Back next week.