The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk

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My Review:

I really enjoyed this short but dense book, The Red-Haired Woman written by Turkish Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk.  In the 1980s, a teenage, fatherless boy is an apprentice to Master Mahmut, a well digger.  They dig for water in the hot sun, and tell stories to pass the time.  They develop a tight relationship and grow to rely on each other as co-workers and as father and son.  One evening the boy observes a beautiful red haired woman twice his age and daydreams about her to get through the difficult days of work.  She is an actress in a traveling theater production and he becomes overwhelmed with desire to see her in the play and meet her.  Then there is an accident and we don’t know what happens to Mahmut.  The boy leaves town and we are not sure who the red-haired woman really is.  The characters connections to one another and the mysteries make this novel a fantastic page turner.

Through stories told to the boy by Master Mahmut, ideas about fathers and sons are explored with references to Oedipus Rex, where a son kills his father and has children with his mother, and Rostam and Sohrab, where the father kills his son. I had to do some googling to fully understand the references, but I like to learn something when I read and this story was captivating.  Love, loss and relationships are touched upon in The Red-Haired Woman, giving the reader a lot to think about, and so well written with a few shockers and surprises.  I loved how myths and real life paralleled each other and I highly recommend this book!

 

As seen on Goodreads:

On the outskirts of a town thirty miles from Istanbul, a master well-digger and his young apprentice are hired to find water on a barren plain. As they struggle in the summer heat, excavating without luck metre by metre, the two will develop a filial bond neither has known before–not the poor middle-aged bachelor nor the middle-class boy whose father disappeared after being arrested for politically subversive activities. The pair will come to depend on each other, and exchange stories reflecting disparate views of the world. But in the nearby town, where they buy provisions and take their evening break, the boy will find an irresistible diversion. The Red-Haired Woman, an alluring member of a travelling theatre company, catches his eye and seems as fascinated by him as he is by her. The young man’s wildest dream will be realized, but, when in his distraction a horrible accident befalls the well-digger, the boy will flee, returning to Istanbul. Only years later will he discover whether he was in fact responsible for his master’s death and who the red-headed enchantress was.
A beguiling mystery tale of family and romance, of east and west, tradition and modernity, by one of the great storytellers of our time.

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About the Author:

Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952 and grew up in a large family similar to those which he describes in his novels Cevdet Bey and His Sons and The Black Book, in the wealthy westernised district of Nisantasi. As he writes in his autobiographical book Istanbul, from his childhood until the age of 22 he devoted himself largely to painting and dreamed of becoming an artist. After graduating from the secular American Robert College in Istanbul, he studied architecture at Istanbul Technical University for three years, but abandoned the course when he gave up his ambition to become an architect and artist. He went on to graduate in journalism from Istanbul University, but never worked as a journalist. At the age of 23 Pamuk decided to become a novelist, and giving up everything else retreated into his flat and began to write.

Orhan Pamuk’s books have been translated into 63 languages, including Georgian, Malayan, Czech, Danish, Japanese, Catalan, as well as English, German and French. Pamuk has been awarded The Peace Prize, considered the most prestigious award in Germany in the field of culture, in 2005. In the same year, Snow received the Le Prix Médicis étranger, the award for the best foreign novel in France. Again in 2005, Pamuk was honoured with the Richarda Huck Prize, awarded every three years since 1978 to personalities who “think independently and act bravely.” In the same year, he was named among world’s 100 intellectuals by Prospect magazine. In 2006, TIME magazine chose him as one of the 100 most influential persons of the world. In September 2006, he won the Le Prix Méditerranée étranger for his novel Snow. Pamuk is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences, and holds an honorary doctorate from Tilburg University. Pamuk gives lectures once a year at Columbia University. He received the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the second youngest person to receive the award in its history. In 2014, Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence received the European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA) given by European Museum Forum in Tallinn, Estonia. In the same year Pamuk also received Helena Vaz Da Silva European Award, an award which “acknowledges exceptional contributions to the communication on cultural heritage and European ideals”. In 2015, he received two significant prizes in Turkey for his ninght novel, A Strangeness in My Mind: Aydın Doğan Foundation Award and Erdal Öz Literary Prize. In 2016 Orhan Pamuk receives The Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award (from the Museum and Estate of Leo Tolstoy) for “Foreign Literature” category with his novel A Strangeness in my Mind.

Orhan Pamuk’s tenth novel, The Red-Haired Woman  (2016) is the story of a well-digger and his apprentice looking for water on barren land. It is also a novel of ideas in the tradition of the French conte philosophique.

Apart from three years in New York, Orhan Pamuk has spent all his life in the same streets and district of Istanbul, and he now lives in the building where he was raised. Pamuk has been writing novels for 40 years and never done any other job except writing.

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The Boyfriend Swap by Meredith Schorr

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My Review:

If you are looking for an escape this holiday season The Boyfriend Swap by Meredith Schorr is just what you need!  So Robyn is a teacher and she is dating an actor.  Her family would like her to meet a guy with ambition and some success but they are always disappointed with the creative types she is drawn to.  Sydney is a lawyer at her father’s law firm and she is dating a lawyer.  Her father is obsessed with the law and tends to talk business incessantly; something she has no patience for.  Ann Marie is Robyn’s roommate and she works for Sydney at the law firm.  The three girls were together at a wine party and Robyn and Sydney were discussing their trepidations about bringing home their respective boyfriends for the holidays when Ann Marie suggested they swap  for the weekend.  It would take the pressure off and the guys wouldn’t be left home.  Sounded like a perfect solution that would eliminate their concerns…Surely nothing would go wrong…

Reminiscent of Sarah Dunn’s The Arrangement, another fun read where a theoretically great idea leads to the unexpected in reality, The Boyfriend Swap is a little steamy, funny with a few surprises, Meredith Schorr thoroughly entertained me with this well written, romantic comedy that would be delightful for the big screen!  Take the stress off this holiday season and pick up a copy (great Secret Santa gift, too!)!

As seen on Goodreads:

Is Christmas really the most wonderful time of the year? New Yorkers Robyn Lane and Sidney Bellows aren’t so sure.

Robyn has always dated struggling creative types. For once, her parents would love her to bring someone with health insurance and a 401(k) to their Chrismukkah celebration. Her actor boyfriend doesn’t qualify. While across town, Sidney’s professional life already belongs to her parents. She’s an attorney at her father’s law firm and she works tirelessly to keep her love life private. If she brings her lawyer boyfriend to their annual Christmas extravaganza, her parents will have the wedding planned by New Year’s Eve.

A mutual friend playfully suggests they trade boyfriends for the holidays. The women share a laugh, but after copious amounts of wine, decide The Boyfriend Swap could be the perfect solution. This way, Robyn can show off her stable attorney boyfriend and Sidney’s high-society family will take no interest in her flakey actor beau.

It’s a brilliant plan—in theory. In practice—not so much. When Will turns out to be the boy-next-door Robyn crushed on hard throughout her teenage years, and Sidney’s family fawns all over Perry like he’s an Oscar-winner rather than a D-list wannabe, one thing is certain: The Boyfriend Swap might just change their lives forever.

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About the Author:

A born and bred New Yorker, Meredith Schorr discovered her passion for writing when she began to enjoy drafting work-related emails way more than she was probably supposed to. After trying her hand penning children’s stories and blogging her personal experiences, Meredith found her calling writing chick lit and contemporary women’s fiction. She secures much inspiration from her day job as a hard-working trademark paralegal and her still single (but looking) status. Meredith is also the co-founder of BookBuzz, a live author/reader event held annually. She is a loyal New York Yankees fan and an avid runner. Novelista Girl is her fifth novel.

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Sourdough by Robin Sloan

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My Review:

Sourdough by Robin Sloan is perfect blend of culinary secrets and technological experiments.  Lois is a programmer who spends her endless days writing code and programming a robot arm.  She resorts to drinking a Slurry (an unappealing nutritional concoction) for lunch during the day, and ordering delivery of spicy soup with delicious bread from a neighborhood hole in the wall at night.  She falls into this comfortable routine and when the delivery guy tells her he and his brother, the chef, have to leave the country, she is distraught. Because she had become to them the “Number One Eater”, they are leaving her with a valuable secret…the special starter for the sourdough bread she adores, and they asked her to keep it alive.  Now burdened with the task of baking the perfect loaf, Lois builds an oven and teaches herself to bake.  The secret recipe they left her with is amazing and she begins selling the beautiful and tasty loaves to her company’s caterer, who encourages Lois to sell at the farmer’s market.  Working at the robotics company by day and baking at night, she has little sleep, but is energized.

The popular farmer’s market does not accept her but she is welcome at the mysterious underground market where food is being improved with technology, and unique and unusual products are being developed and sold.  Lois uses her engineering prowess to take on the job of programming the robotic arm to crack eggs, a challenging task, per the request of the market’s sinister leader, so the arm can assist her in the baking process.  Her love of baking and feeding people who enjoy her sourdough bread is overwhelmingly fulfilling and she leaves her programming job to bake full time.

This book was charming and fun, with several chapters devoted to The Lois Club, a club Lois was a member of where she attending meetings with other Lois’s in her neighborhood.  Working long hours and baking bread at night, Lois didn’t have much time to develop friendships so this group of women were her support.  Loved Robin Sloan’s quirky characters, the story of Lois and the inherited sourdough recipe and enjoyed the fast pace and charm!

I’m probably not going to start baking bread any time soon, although a loaf of warm sourdough with salted butter would be delicious…but having so many friends already with my same name, I am tempted to start a Jennifer Club!

 

As seen on Goodreads:

Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread.
Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive.  Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show.
When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?

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About the Author:

Robin Sloan is the author of the novels Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Sourdough. He grew up near Detroit and now splits his time between the Bay Area and the internet.

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White Fur by Jardine Libaire

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My Review:

The more I think about this novel, the more I love White Fur.  It’s the 1980s and Elise, a school dropout and recently homeless young girl is living in New Haven with a friend she met on the street.  Jamey is one of the white, privileged and wealthy guys in the apartment next door; the longtime buddies are students at Yale and everything material has been given to them on a silver platter.  The unlikely attraction between Elise and Jamey is powerful, lustful and trepidatious on Jamey’s part, as Elise is from low-class, poor, unsophisticated stock, and although she has big love for her family and knows what she wants out of life, his fancy and pretentious family and trust fund friends would not be receptive.  Their quirky relationship starts out behind closed doors, mostly confidential and strictly sexual in nature, and as their mysterious attraction builds they slowly become a couple.

Elise, always clad in her white fur coat, something she acquired in a trade on the streets, loves Jamey for who he is and not for the money.  Jamey becomes whole as he blossoms under the devotion of Elise and her unconditional love for him; his upscale life has proven money can’t buy you love, and he gives up his fortune to be with his girl.  They spend the summer together; the bright lights and the dark alleys, the lust and grime of  1980s NYC come alive when they move there for Jamey’s summer internship and between sexual escapades, experiences with new friends, evidence of white privilege and being on the receiving end of relentless judgement, they stick together and in the process he saves her from a life of being alone and she saves him from a meaningless existence of wealth with shallow relationships.

Beautifully written with some shock value and sprinkled with description that triggered memories of my own time in NYC (not the raunchy parts, more like the mention of Dorrian’s on the upper east side!), Jardaine Libaire tells the story of a girl who is neither white nor black who does not identify with any group and a boy who challenges the expectations of his family all in the name of love.  One the outside, Elise appears to be a lost soul, but she is solid and in touch with her wants and needs while Jamey looks the part of a successful, young, wealthy well-adjusted guy yet he is broken and unsure of who he is.  Author Jardine Libaire’s story causes you tho think about what is truly important in life and relationships and the meaning and importance of family.  As much as Elise and Jamey were addicted to each other, I was addicted to White Fur!  A wonderful and unique story of love with a crazy and unexpected ending!

As seen on Goodreads:

When Elise Perez meets Jamey Hyde on a desolate winter afternoon, fate implodes, and neither of their lives will ever be the same. Although they are next-door neighbors in New Haven, they come from different worlds. Elise grew up in a housing project without a father and didn’t graduate from high school. Jamey is a junior at Yale, heir to a private investment bank fortune and beholden to high family expectations. The attraction is instant, and what starts out as sexual obsession turns into something greater, stranger, and impossible to ignore.

The unlikely couple moves to Manhattan in hopes of forging an adult life together, but Jamey’s family intervenes in desperation, and the consequences of staying together are suddenly severe. And when a night out with old friends takes a shocking turn, Jamey and Elise find themselves fighting not just for their love but also for their lives.

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About the Author, Jardine Libaire:

I’m a fiend for books, bookstores, lit journals, found poetry, libraries, graffiti, artist books, diaries, screenplays—anything that tells a story. My MFA is from Michigan, which is a dearly beloved program. For the last ten years, I’ve been living in Austin, TX, a city that is very sweet + kind to artists 😉 Over the decades, I’ve worked as a motel chambermaid, real estate agent, dishwasher, bartender, assistant to a perfume designer, art model, copywriter, grantwriter, and restaurant manager. I worship at the feet of Willa Cather. Every Thursday evening, I facilitate a storytelling class at the Lockhart Women’s Prison here in Texas, and I’ve learned more about life from the women in the class than I have taught them, I’m quite sure. Right now I’m working on a new book about a cheetah and a deaf teenager.

William S. Burroughs said: ‘Hustlers of the world, there is one mark you cannot beat: the mark inside.’ And Dolly Parton said: ‘I would never stoop so low as to be fashionable.’ And Oscar Wilde said: ‘It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.’ I love them all! xo

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Sybil’s List October 2017

 

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Every Tuesday new books are released and my reading pile is continually growing (See all photos in this post!).  I follow lots of book websites and Facebook pages along with many published lists to decide what I want to read and review.

 

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Sybil Steinberg, former book reviewer and contributing editor at Publisher’s Weekly presents her picks twice a year at the Westport Library in Westport, CT, one of the most highly ranked libraries in the nation.

Sybil Steinberg’s book picks presented this month at the Westport Library.

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Here is a bit more about Sybil…

How do you decide what to read next?

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New People by Danzy Senna

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My Review:

I really enjoyed New People and was intrigued by who the description, “new people”, referred to.  Maria and Khalil are a seemingly happy, engaged couple living in Brooklyn, both light skinned, mixed race.  Khalil, a technology consultant, comes from a solid, intact family unit and is close with his parents and sister who is darker skinned than he is.  Maria has no relatives; she was adopted by a black woman who was hoping to raise a “mini me” and has since passed away.  She is spending her time writing her dissertation on Jamestown and busy learning about the mass suicides, how this could happen, and how those people kept going as long as they did. Maria’s previous boyfriend was white and although something about him made her despise him as a person, they had unrivaled physical chemistry.  She now is planning her wedding to Khalil, but is distracted by her attraction to a black poet who she keeps running into.

Maria has done something in her past that is dishonest and cruel to Khalil.  He is unaware and loves her very much.  Now that she is obsessed with another man she makes questionable decisions which lead her into some dicey circumstances but the details are not revealed to Khalil so the reality of who she is and what she does in her life remain hidden.  She has been and continues to be deceitful, yet for me, she is still likable and worthy of compassion.

I believe Maria’s studying of Jamestown, the people who were looking for their true selves and a place to belong in this world, and the music that enriched, was a representation of her personal quest for belonging.  With a college friend she doesn’t even remember, she has a brush with Scientology, as she allowed this former classmate to perform some tests on her, and then she feels a pull, back to the ideal life of Khalil and his family.  She looks white but feels black so her identity is unclear as she seems to be searching for people she can relate to, often feeling disconnected.  Maria’s bad judgement and and questionable decisions lead to some unusual situations that were humorous and uncomfortable.  New People, referring to mixed race people, this story of identity, relationships and communication was enjoyable, short and easy to read and I highly recommend it.

 

As Seen on Goodreads:

From the bestselling author of Caucasia, a subversive and engrossing novel of race, class and manners in contemporary America.

As the twentieth century draws to a close, Maria is at the start of a life she never thought possible. She and Khalil, her college sweetheart, are planning their wedding. They are the perfect couple, “King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom.” Their skin is the same shade of beige. They live together in a black bohemian enclave in Brooklyn, where Khalil is riding the wave of the first dot-com boom and Maria is plugging away at her dissertation, on the Jonestown massacre. They’ve even landed a starring role in a documentary about “new people” like them, who are blurring the old boundaries as a brave new era dawns. Everything Maria knows she should want lies before her–yet she can’t stop daydreaming about another man, a poet she barely knows. As fantasy escalates to fixation, it dredges up secrets from the past and threatens to unravel not only Maria’s perfect new life but her very persona.

Heartbreaking and darkly comic, New People is a bold and unfettered page-turner that challenges our every assumption about how we define one another, and ourselves.

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About the Author:

Danzy Senna is an American novelist, born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts in 1970. Her parents, Carl Senna, an Afro-Mexican poet and author, and Fanny Howe, who is Irish-American writer, were also civil rights activists.

She attended Stanford University and received an MFA from the University of California at Irvine. There, she received several creative writing awards.

Her debut novel, Caucasia (later republished as From Caucasia With Love), was well received and won several awards including the Book-Of-The-Month Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association.

Her second novel, Symptomatic, was also well received. Both books feature a biracial protagonist and offer a unique view on life from their perspective.

Senna has also contributed to anthologies such as Gumbo.

In 2002, Senna received the Whiting Writers Award and in 2004 was named a Fellow for the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.

Danzy Senna is married to fellow writer Percival Everett and they have a son, Henry together. Their residences have included Los Angeles and New York City.

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The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard

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My Review:

I highly recommend reading The Best of Us , just make sure you have a box of tissues.  Joyce Maynard finds the love of her life in her 50s, many years after being divorced and raising her children as a single mother.  She and Jim, her new love, had a wonderful connection and were enjoying life to the fullest.  And then their future was shattered when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  She stood by him, provided hope and continued to look for treatments and solutions until the end.  Her love story is beautiful and devastating as she chronicles the time before she meets Jim, during their love affair and his battle with this devastating disease, and afterward when she must pick up the pieces.  She talks about the years being divorced and on her own, how she was looking for connection and to feel that unconditional love, when she decided to adopt two girls from Ethiopia.  Their relationships and interactions were not what she had expected, and after struggling to provide a good home and feel love from these girls, a little over a year later she chose to find them a different home and say goodbye.  Then she met Jim and love blossomed.  When he became ill she was his dedicated nurse and advocate.  Her commitment to Jim is admirable and heartfelt, and with writing that is emotional and passionate she shares her personal journey.

Joyce Maynard had been vilified in the media for giving up her adopted daughters and in her book she talks about their challenging family life which makes clear her reasons for placing the girls in a different family.   I am supportive of her decision and appreciate her honesty and candor as she revealed details about the difficulties of this heartbreak.  She is relentless with her unwavering support and love for Jim as he wins and loses small battles during the fight and ultimately loses the war to pancreatic cancer.  I admire her strength and courage as she stays by his side to fight for more days together.

Joyce Maynard has been through so many ups and downs in her life and she communicates her love, pain and everything in between through her life affirming experiences, written with great emotion and clarity in this beautiful memoir, The Best of Us.  I highly recommend it.

As Seen on Goodreads:

In 2011, when she was in her late fifties, beloved author and journalist Joyce Maynard met the first true partner she had ever known. Jim wore a rakish hat over a good head of hair; he asked real questions and gave real answers; he loved to see Joyce shine, both in and out of the spotlight; and he didn’t mind the mess she made in the kitchen. He was not the husband Joyce imagined, but he quickly became the partner she had always dreamed of.
Before they met, both had believed they were done with marriage, and even after they married, Joyce resolved that no one could alter her course of determined independence. Then, just after their one-year wedding anniversary, her new husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During the nineteen months that followed, as they battled his illness together, she discovered for the first time what it really meant to be a couple–to be a true partner and to have one.

This is their story. Charting the course through their whirlwind romance, a marriage cut short by tragedy, and Joyce’s return to singleness on new terms, The Best of Us is a heart-wrenching, ultimately life-affirming reflection on coming to understand true love through the experience of great loss.

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photo credit: Catherine Sebastian

About the Author:

A native of New Hampshire, Joyce Maynard began publishing her stories in magazines when she was thirteen years old.  She first came to national attention with the publication of her New York Timescover story, “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life”, in 1972, when she was a freshman at Yale.

 

Since then, she has been a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, a syndicated newspaper columnist whose “Domestic Affairs” column appeared in over fifty papers nationwide, a regular contributor to NPR and national magazines including Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, and many more. She is a longtime performer with The Moth.

Maynard is the author of seventeen books, including the novel To Die For and the best-selling memoir, At Home in the World—translated into sixteen languages. Her novel, To Die For, was adapted for the screen by Buck Henry for a film directed by Gus Van Sant, in which Joyce can be seen in the role of Nicole Kidman’s lawyer. Her novel Labor Day was adapted and directed by Jason Reitman for a film starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, to whom Joyce offered instruction for making the pie that appeared in a crucial scene in the film.

The mother of three grown children, Maynard runs workshops in memoir at her home in Lafayette California. In 2002 she founded The Lake Atitlan Writing Workshop in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala, where she hosts a weeklong workshop in personal storytelling every winter.

She is a fellow of The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo.

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Reading With Patrick by Michelle Kuo

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My Review:

Heartbreaking, inspiring and a tribute to dedication, Reading With Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship  is the memoir of an Asian American Teach For America teacher and her friendship with a poor, black student in Helena, Arkansas.  Their special relationship is in the forefront of the story with race relations, education and the legal system the backdrop for setting.

Michelle had always been encouraged by her traditional Taiwanese parents to get an education, settle down and get married.  But Michelle found the job of teaching troublesome kids in the Delta extremely rewarding. She stuck with it for a couple of years during which her student, Patrick, attended, on occasion.  His home life was less than perfect and his family was not overwhelmingly supportive or encouraging when it came to school.  Most of the people in the small towns were moving to the big cities and those left behind were the poorest and least educated.  After two years, Michelle, feeling pressure to fulfill her own personal goals and responsibilities, left Arkansas to attend Harvard Law School.  Upon her graduation she learned Patrick had dropped out of school and was currently in jail for murder.  Feeling a sense of responsibility, she gave up her life and returned to the Delta to meet with him, try to guide him legally and then continued teaching him while he was in prison.  The beautiful gift she gave him of being his mentor and teacher changed the course of his life. While in jail, Patrick wrote many letters to his daughter, allowing him to grow and prepare for all the work it would take to develop that relationship once he was released, while Michelle developed her inner strength to fight for what she believed in even if it went against the wants and needs of her beloved parents.

I admire the commitment Michelle Kuo made to Patrick; we must tend to the people in the poorest of neighborhoods where mentors, guidance and education are most needed.  She clearly made a difference in her student’s life, but currently, with a felony on his record he has a hard time finding a job.  According to a Random House Q & A with the author, Patrick’s “food stamps recently got cut off because of a federal law that cut off aid for 500,000 of the poorest people in the United States.”  On a positive note, his daughter is in third grade and doing well.

I highly recommend this inspiring story of dedication and human responsibility to teachers and everyone else who is able to contribute positively to our society.

As seen in Goodreads:

A memoir of race, inequality, and the power of literature told through the life-changing friendship between an idealistic young teacher and her gifted student, jailed for murder in the Mississippi Delta.

Recently graduated from Harvard University, Michelle Kuo arrived in the rural town of Helena, Arkansas, as a Teach for America volunteer, bursting with optimism and drive. But she soon encountered the jarring realities of life in one of the poorest counties in America, still disabled by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. In this stirring memoir, Kuo, the child of Taiwanese immigrants, shares the story of her complicated but rewarding mentorship of one student, Patrick Browning, and his remarkable literary and personal awakening.

Convinced she can make a difference in the lives of her teenaged students, Michelle Kuo puts her heart into her work, using quiet reading time and guided writing to foster a sense of self in students left behind by a broken school system. Though Michelle loses some students to truancy and even gun violence, she is inspired by some such as Patrick. Fifteen and in the eighth grade, Patrick begins to thrive under Michelle’s exacting attention. However, after two years of teaching, Michelle feels pressure from her parents and the draw of opportunities outside the Delta and leaves Arkansas to attend law school.

Then, on the eve of her law-school graduation, Michelle learns that Patrick has been jailed for murder. Feeling that she left the Delta prematurely and determined to fix her mistake, Michelle returns to Helena and resumes Patrick’s education–even as he sits in a jail cell awaiting trial. Every day for the next seven months they pore over classic novels, poems, and works of history. Little by little, Patrick grows into a confident, expressive writer and a dedicated reader galvanized by the works of Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Walt Whitman, W. S. Merwin, and others. In her time reading with Patrick, Michelle is herself transformed, contending with the legacy of racism and the questions of what constitutes a “good” life and what the privileged owe to those with bleaker prospects.

Reading with Patrick is an inspirational story of friendship, a coming-of-age story of both a young teacher and a student, a deeply resonant meditation on education, race, and justice in the rural South, and a love letter to literature and its power to transcend social barriers.

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About the Author:

Michelle Kuo is the author of the memoir READING WITH PATRICK, a story of race, inequality, and the transformative power of literature. She taught English at an alternative school in the rural town of Helena, Arkansas, located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.

After graduating from Harvard Law, she became an immigrants’ rights lawyer at Centro Legal de la Raza, a nonprofit in Oakland, California. She advocated for tenants facing evictions, workers stiffed out of their wages, and families facing deportation.

Michelle has also clerked for the Honorable John T. Noonan at the Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit and taught courses through the Prison University Project at San Quentin Prison.

The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Michelle grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams

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My Review:

Don’t let this exceptional new novel fall under the radar!  Based on war-torn Africa and the innocent people caught in the middle, the stunning debut, The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams takes us to Uganda where a young girl, Lily, goes missing.  The authorities are hard to come by and disorganized, so her aunt, Sabine, a former aid worker, travels from Germany to the village where she was last seen, to trace Lily’s steps and try to understand if she was in danger and kidnapped, or if she had a motive to disappear.  At the same time, a Ugandan woman, Rose, previously kidnapped and emotionally and physically abused by the Lord’s Resistance Army but now back in her village, is looking for her missing boyfriend, Ocen.  Sabine and Rose work together to unravel the intertwined lives of their loved ones, leading them back to their own deep, dark secrets.

Having had aid work experience herself, author Jenny D. Williams takes us on a vividly portrayed journey through Uganda, and  this incredible story was inspired by real events.  In 1996 there was an abduction of 139 school girls from St. Mary’s College in northern Uganda.  Operation Lighting Thunder was the name of the military action by the Ugandan government against LRA forces.  In the book, one of the characters talks about the problems there saying “The conflict in Congo is probably the most complicated war in the world.  Two wars, technically, in the last twenty years, but they overlap quite a bit.  Nine African nations.  Twenty armed groups.  Five and a half million people dead, mostly from disease and starvation.   Large-scale fighting has been occurring in various provinces since Rwanda invaded eastern Congo – it was Zaire, then – 1996.  Ever since, the country has been mired in one conflict after another.”

Jenny D. Williams has traveled and lived in Uganda and then to Germany where she wrote the book.  Her knowledge of the country is evident and her complex characters slowly reveal themselves as we learn about their pasts.   With beautifully expressed emotion and character complexity Williams allowed me to feel the pain and struggles as the story progressed. She provided insight into why the characters are who they are, giving them dimension.

During the frantic search for her niece, Sabine recalls her deceased sister’s comment about being a mother, “It feels as though a piece of my heart exists outside my own body, in another person.  And I can never get it back.”  Sabine is introspective and recognizes why she will never have children, “why would you want a piece of your heart in such a precarious location as someone else’s body?  Why choose that uncertainty, that terror, that utter lack of control?  As she grew older, this approach extended to lovers and friends, because how could she do her job if her heart was elsewhere?  Love made you selfish; love made you choose some above others.  And so all these many years later, her heart was lonely but whole.  Unseen – but intact.”

Visit www.JennyDWilliams.com for more from the author and pick up a copy of The Atlas of Forgotten Places; Beautiful writing and chock full of emotion, this suspenseful, historically rich debut is not to to be missed.

 

As seen in Goodreads:

The Atlas of Forgotten Places is that rare novel that delivers an exquisite portrait of family and love within a breathlessly, thrilling narrative.

After a long career as an aid worker, Sabine Hardt has retreated to her native Germany for a quieter life. But when her American niece Lily disappears while volunteering in Uganda, Sabine must return to places and memories she once thought buried in order to find her. In Uganda, Rose Akulu—haunted by a troubled past with the Lord’s Resistance Army—becomes distressed when her lover Ocen vanishes without a trace. Side by side, Sabine and Rose must unravel the tangled threads that tie Lily and Ocen’s lives together—ultimately discovering that the truth of their loved ones’ disappearance is inescapably entwined to the secrets the two women carry.

Masterfully plotted and vividly rendered by a fresh new voice in fiction, The Atlas of Forgotten Places delves deep into the heart of compassion and redemption through a journey that spans geographies and generations to lay bare the stories that connect us all.

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About the author:

JENNY D. WILLIAMS has lived in the U.S., Uganda, and Germany. She holds an MFA from Brooklyn College and a BA from UC Berkeley. Her award-winning fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and illustrations have been published in The Sun Magazine, Vela, and Ethical Traveler, as well as several anthologies. A former Teachers & Writers Collaborative fellow and recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation grant for emerging writers, she currently lives in Seattle with her husband and dog. The Atlas of Forgotten Places is her first novel.

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