Posts Tagged ‘Poverty’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Sarah K’s Picks

December 23, 2014

These five books were the ones that stuck in my mind during 2014. They reveal truths about our shared humanity while introducing readers to new places and new forms of style. Take a moment to try these out; they are well worth your time.

Claire of the Sea LightClaire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
On the night of Claire Limyè Lanmè’s seventh birthday, she disappears. Motherless, her fisherman father Nozias has decided to give Claire away to Madame Gaëlle, a shopkeeper who lost her daughter in an accident years earlier, to ensure Claire greater opportunities. As the members of the seaside Haitian town of Ville Rose, search for her, their interconnected stories, secrets, and losses emerge. Danticat creates vivid characters and her writing captures the beauty and sorrow of daily life.

The CommitmentsThe Commitments by Roddy Doyle
Put together a group of Dublin working class misfits with the soul sounds of the 1960s and you have Roddy Doyle’s punchy and charming novel about the joys of rock and roll. The book follows the escapades of the band as they combat over practice, get through their first gig, cut their first single and run into inevitable creative differences. Doyle’s free-flowing bawdy dialogue is exhilarating. So, if you are looking for some fun, introduce yourself to the Hardest Working Soul Band in Dublin: The Commitments.

My Struggle Book OneMy Struggle Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Karl Ove Knausgaard blurs the lines between fiction and memoir in the first volume of his novelistic autobiography. The book begins with a meditation on death and then proceeds to explore Knausgaard’s childhood and fraught relationship with his troubled father. This expansion and contraction of universal ideas and the minute details of Knausgaard’s life creates a fascinating tension between the author and the reader. Knausgaard lays his life out on the table with unflinching directness for the reader to examine. My Struggle is probably not for every reader, but it is something strange and new.

AusterlitzAusterlitz by W. G. Sebald
Traveling across Europe, the unnamed narrator meets and befriends Jacques Austerlitz an architectural historian. As their relationship develops, he gradually learns of Austerlitz’s search for his lost history. As a small child, Austerlitz’s mother placed him a Kindertransport to Britain where an aged Welsh couple adopted him and gave him a new identity. After learning of his birth family after their deaths, Austerlitz begins to discover his past and how the Holocaust severed his past life from his present. Uncanny, hypnotic, and dreamlike, Austerlitz conveys the incompleteness of memories with their ragged and hazy qualities, while capturing the devastation of the Holocaust.

The Patrick Melrose NovelsThe Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Edward St. Aubyn pillories the excesses and absurdities of the British upper class with elegant prose and vicious wit in this cycle of four novels. He begins with Patrick’s childhood relationships to his sadistic father and neglectful mother, and following him into a ravenous drug addiction, recovery, marriage and fatherhood. His character eventually reaches a form of uneasy redemption. Patrick and the world he inhabits aren’t likable, but there’s a level of truth to St. Aubyn’s storytelling, as Patrick struggles to place himself beyond his lifelong demons. Despite some of their grim subject matter, the novels are deeply, darkly funny.

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Best New Books of 2014: Sarah K’s Picks

December 5, 2014

Identity and struggle are the themes of five of my favorite books from 2014. How does adversity shape who we are? How much do we control our identities and how much are we shaped by external forces? I invite you to check out these following titles

An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Kidnapped by an armed street gang in Haiti, Mireille trusts her wealthy father to pay ransom to return her to her fairy tale existence with her husband and baby. When Mireille’s father refuses to capitulate to her captors, she must find the strength to endure days of torment while trying to maintain a connection to the woman she was. Gay’s frank treatment of rape and its aftermath with clean understated writing adds to the intensity of this book.

On the RunOn the Run by Alice Goffman
As an undergraduate, Alice Goffman moved into a neighborhood in Philadelphia and began taking field notes as she fully immersed herself in the lives of the families living there. The War on Drugs had created a culture of constant police surveillance of the lives of the residents there, especially among the young men, many of whom were in some sort of entanglement with the legal system. Goffman witnessed arrests, escapes from the police and how police use employment and familial relationships as leverage against suspects. Goffman has written an insightful and sobering critique of the policing of poor neighborhoods and the human toll that it takes on the individuals living there.

The Empathy ExamsThe Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
From the confinement of illness to the traps of poverty and prison, Leslie Jamison’s clear-eyed and far-ranging essays explore the intersection between empathy and pain. If you only have time for one essay, read “Fog Count,” which begins with a prison visit, but then expands to include the larger picture of the prison-industrial complex, strip mining and the economy of West Virginia.  Her curiosity about the human condition brings into sharp focus the capacity and limitations of compassion. She deftly weaves personal experience with the universal to create a collection that rivals early Joan Didion.

The Other LanguageThe Other Language by Francesca Marciano
A woman writes about the ideal Italy while homesick in New York. Another seeks out an old companion on an isolated island in the Indian Ocean; while a third buys a Chanel gown on a frivolous whim. In this collection of nine stories, Marciano travels across countries and cultures with a knack for capturing settings and tone. She vividly captures the lives of her characters at moments of transformation with lovely and fluid storytelling that keeps the pages turning.

How to Build a GirlHow to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Eager to escape her lackluster existence as a working-class teenager in the Midlands of England, and her unfortunate Scooby-Doo impersonation on local television, Johanna Morrigan decides to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde, music journalist. After gaining the attention of a London-based music magazine, Johanna/Dolly embarks on a series of professional and sexual misadventures as she tries to figure out how to build her new life. If you were a teenager in the early 1990s, or enjoy bold raucous humor, chances are you will love this book as much as I did.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

April 8, 2014

Flight Behavior by Barbara KingsolverDellarobia is a young housewife living on a struggling family farm in the mountains of Tennessee. She is sneaking away for an illicit affair when she stumbles across an incredible sight. Millions of Monarch butterflies have set down in a field on their land. Dellarobia is so moved by the sight she convinces her husband and father-in-law to put on hold their plan to sell logging rights to raise cash.

When word spreads, the butterflies become a worldwide sensation and focus for controversy. Visitors from all over arrive to see the wonder. Environmentalists mount campaigns to save the butterflies. The local church believes it is a sign from God. Scientists argue over climate change. News crews keep showing up on Dellarobia’s doorstep.

For Dellarobia, it means a glimpse of life outside her small world. In high school she was considered bright and had planned for college when she discovered she was pregnant. Since then she has grown stagnant living in her home town. Now, she goes to work for the scientists who have arrived to study the butterflies and she becomes wrapped up in their work. When they tell her that they will only be there for a few short months she is devastated.

Kingsolver’s novel is wonderfully written and is an insightful study of different worlds colliding. One of my favorite scenes is when an environmental activist tries to get Dellarobia to join the fight “to save the planet”. His list of things people can do to help aren’t remotely relevant to her life. Save electricity by turning off the computer? She doesn’t have one. Bring your own cup to Starbucks? There isn’t one, and they couldn’t afford it anyway. Recycle? Her husband’s truck is on its third engine and they never buy new clothes. The man becomes discouraged and leaves without talking to anyone else in the town. It is hard to reconcile that there are so many in this country living such different lives than what we think of as normal, but Kingsolver does a good job of making everyone in the book realistic and sympathetic. And by the end you are really hoping for a new life for both Dellarobia and the butterflies.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog

 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

February 6, 2012

At one time, the travelers on the road to the Suhar International Airport in Mumbai could look out their car windows and see a tall, shiny, aluminum fence.  Ads for a company that sold floor tiles ran its length.  “Beautiful Forever” read the corporate slogan.

Behind that wall promising eternally beautiful floors lay what airport management didn’t want customers to see:  Annawadi, a slum first settled in 1991 by workers brought in from southern India to repair an airport runway.  Seventeen years later, when Katherine Boo did the research that led to this book, three thousand people still lived and worked there.

Boo introduces us to several Annawadi residents and gives us intimate glimpses into their lives.  There is Abdul, the young entrepreneur striving to improve the fortune of his family through recycling garbage.  We meet Asha, a rising star in the political life of the settlement.  We watch Abdul’s neighbor, Fatima, make a fateful choice that changes lives forever.

This is a gorgeously written book, but not an easy story to read.  Abdul, Asha and Fatima are people with few resources struggling to succeed in a corrupt system that does not seem very fair, especially to the poor.  Boo shows how precarious their lives are, and how quickly hardworking people can find their lives turned upside down by circumstance.

Boo, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and current staffer at The New Yorker, has spent two decades writing about poverty.  She hopes this book will “show American readers that the distance between themselves and, say, a teenaged boy in Mumbai who finds an entrepreneurial niche in other people’s garbage, is not nearly as great as they might think.”

She succeeded with this American reader.  I quickly grew to care about the people Boo portrays so vividly, especially Abdul.  The three years Boo spent in Annawadi researching this story were evident.  She made me see the dwellings and the faces of the people she met, and experience their daily struggles.

I would recommend this book to readers who like nonfiction that reads like fiction, people interested in India, readers with an interest in economic issues, nonfiction book clubs looking for a title with themes that easily lend themselves to discussion, and last, but not least, to devotees of beautiful writing.

Find and reserve this book in our online catalog.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

November 21, 2011

I am always attracted to stories about immigrants moving to a new country and trying to fit in, so I am surprised that I somehow missed this book when it was first released.  I was really intrigued when a friend recommended it and it did not disappoint!

When Kimberly Chang and her mother arrive in New York City after the death of her father, they are grateful for the help given to them by her mother’s sister. Kim’s aunt and uncle paid for the trip from Hong Kong and gave them money to pay Kim’s mother’s medical bills. They had also promised to help them find an apartment and give her mother a job.  What happened when they arrived was shocking, however.  The apartment they were given was in a building that had been condemned.  It was full of roaches, mice, and had no working heat.  Her mother was put to work in her sister’s sewing factory, but was paid only pennies for each piece of work completed.  Money was taken out to pay back her sister for their trip out of Hong Kong and for rent.  Kim had to help her work after school and evenings every day just so her mother would make her quota and have a little money left for them to eat on.

At the same time, Kim was working very hard to make it through school.  In Hong Kong she had always been top of her class. Now she struggled to understand enough English to pass.  Over the next few years, Kim managed to not only pass, but to get accepted at an exclusive Prep school in the city. Every day she is amazed at the privileged lives of her classmates and struggles to hide her living conditions from her teachers and her friends.

Kwok’s description of a modern day sweatshop is both shocking and familiar.  The hard part is realizing that she is talking about modern day, not 100 years ago.  The author does a wonderful job of conveying Kimberly’s initial struggles to understand the language by writing what Kimberly thinks she hears, instead of what the person actually says.  As the book goes on, the translations become less frequent because her English has improved.   The book also gives an accurate portrayal of what many immigrant children go through, living a duel life between school and home, and frequently being responsible for all of the paperwork necessary for life.   It is hard on the child to be the only person who speaks English. In this book, it sometimes feels like Kim is protecting her mother, while other times she seems to manipulate her. In spite of all that, the book is not depressing.  It is a wonderful story about a little girl of amazing personal strength.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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