This installment: Hungary in WWII (f); Asian woman, white man–can this relationship be saved? (nf); Hitler’s rise (sounds scarily familiar…) (f); will smart kids save us during the apocalypse? (f); Erdrich’s latest (f).
Editor’s Note: Much of our print collection is now available for holds again. The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with special notes made of digital ebook and eAudiobook availability.
Abigail by Magda Szabo
Gini is the apple of her father’s eye, so why is he sending her away to a very strict boarding school? Because it’s 1943 in Hungary, he’s high-ranking military working with the underground (she doesn’t know this) and he needs to keep her safe. The school has a complex culture, an eccentric cast of instructors, and rebellious Gini alienates everyone from the start. When she finally discovers the truth she’s catapulted from childhood and embraces the peculiarities of Matula Academy fully. Who is Abigail, its mysterious, benevolent problem-solver? Her father said she’d be surprised when she found out, and so are we. I loved Szabo’s The Door and am so glad there’s one more by her in translation; she died in 2007.
Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang
A beautiful memoir that goes from the deeply personal —her relationship with her partner JJ, her parents (mother in Davis, father in China), her stupid job as a tech journalist— to the broader realm of racism, which she works in seamlessly, without polemics. In SF she runs out of patience with her work. JJ gets a graduate position in Ithaca and she reluctantly moves with him, feeling alienated by the new location and increasingly, her connection with him—long lab hours and more failings despite his good nature. A dog and cat don’t help. A very part-time job at a small history museum introduces her to an historical figure, a “new Chinese woman.” She visits her father in China for a challenging two weeks and returns with realizations that help clarify her future plans. A winner!
The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton
In Vienna in 1938, good friends Stephan and Zofie are mostly concerned with their passions; he wants to write plays and she’s a math prodigy. But when Hitler makes his presence known, their lives turn upside down. Enter “Tante Truus,” a childless Dutch woman who arranges for the extraordinary Kindertransports that deliver children over the borders and get them to safety. Truus even manages to negotiate with Eichmann who insists she assemble 600 children in one week and abide by his strict rules or the entire enterprise will fail. Enormous suspense, pathos and courage—an emotional workout for this reader who was haunted by the way that period of time seems to reflect many present-day horrors.
A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet
What a set up: a multi-family vacation on a huge country property. The kids, primarily teenagers, run amok as their parents check out; every hour is happy hour for them. A huge storm creates further havoc and the enterprising kids with the help of Burl, the property’s groundskeeper, find an almost safe haven. Evie’s 11 year old brother Jack, an innocent who loves nature, comes across said book and is captivated by the dramatic stories, especially Noah’s. The apocalypse arrives (armed desperadoes invade their refuge), trail angels help—the ones who leave supplies along the Pacific Crest Trail. When the parents finally show up, they prove to be useless, so our future or what’s left of it is in the hands of these kids. A short book that packs a powerful punch.
Also available as an e-audiobook on Hoopla.
The Night Watchman by Louisde Erdrich
Thomas (Muskrat Is his Chippewa name) is the eponymous figure who guards the factory where many women on the nearby reservation work. Among them Pixie (“call me Patrice!”). She’s independent, smart, and very sought after but wary of attachment. A white high school math teacher is one suitor; he also coaches boxing. Pixie sets out on a brave trip to Fargo in search of her missing sister and returns with her baby.The government intends to terminate tribal rights and a ragtag but very motivated bunch travel from North Dakota to DC to protest. The book is based on Erdrich’s grandfather’s story. It’s full of sensory detail, rich and often funny scenes, and sprinkled with Chippewa—a feast.
See you next week.