The Photographer

Guibert, Emmanuel, Didier Lefleve, and Frederic Lemercier. The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. New York: First Second, 2009.

Reason read: Afghanistan gained its independence from British rule in July 1919.

I didn’t know what to expect when I read a review of The Photographer, calling it a “photographic graphic novel.” It is quite unique and simply put, amazing. In three parts, The Photographer tells the story of how the aid workers of Medecins Sans Frontieres, smuggled across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan disguised as women in chadri, provided medical support to small communities during conflict. Didier Lefleve, a French photojournalist, traveled with the group to Zaragandara during the Afghan-Soviet War of 1986. In this district of Yaftali Sufla MSF establishes a field hospital while staffing a second one. The final part is Didier Lefleve’s nearly disastrous solo departure from Afghanistan. As the tagline for MSF reads, “We go where we are needed most,” The photographs and journal of Lefleve tell the entire story in intimate detail. It is a powerful print documentary.
It seems impossible for there to be humor in The Photographer, especially when you read of children with their eyes apparently glued shut and paralyzed by shrapnel, but it exists. One word: peaches. I confess. I giggled. That’s all I can say about that.
Most amazing fact: despite the reality they are fighting the Russians, Afghan doctors are able to obtain x-rays for patients, disguised as English speaking colleagues. they send men who are too old to be conscripted. No one suspects the men of being part of the resistance.

As an aside, I have supported MWF (known by the American subsidiary as Doctors Without Borders), for years. I first learned of the organization when Natalie would invite members to speak about their work during a set break in her concerts. I shared Natalie’s pride when they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. I appreciated learning about Juliette Fournot, the woman who started the US arm of Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Author facts: Emmanuel Guibert is an accomplished graphic novelist. I am only reading one of his works. Didier Lefleve died way too young at only 49 years of age. Frederic Lemercier was the mastermind behind the layout and coloring of The Photographer.

Book trivia: The English translation of The Photographer was publisher in 2009. Lefleve didn’t live long enough to see it. He passed from a heart attack in 2007.

Playlist: Michel Jonasz

Nancy said: Pearl called The Photographer “one of the best books” she read in 2009.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires” (p 3).


Rivergods

Bangs, Richard and Christian Kallen. Rivergods: Exploring the World’s Great Wild Rivers. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1985.

Reason read: June is National River Cleanup Month.

Rivergods balances adventurous text from Bangs and Kallen with gorgeous photography. Christian Kallen and Richard Bangs bring many of the most powerful, yet mostly unheard of, rivers to life as they describe trying to raft or kayak each one. By traveling all corners of the globe, they are able to meet indigenous peoples in South America, Australia, Africa, and Asia. By studying their anthropologies, they learn a little about each culture including head hunting and cannibalism. Each river teaches them about the power of Mother Nature and the real dangers of trying to tame her.
As an aside, when I started running with Dr. Tommy Rivs, one of the things he taught me early on was about Islamic religion. In accordance with the beliefs of Islam, no humans or animals can be portrayed or duplicated by man. All art such as tile work, tapestries, and carpets must be of geometric shapes and flowers. It was cool to see Bangs and Kallen talk about it in Rivergods.

Lines to like, “It was like trying to admire a beautiful painting after having been mugged” (p 108). I wish I could quote all of the reviews from the back cover of Rivergods. Admiration, humor, and maybe a little envy are evident in the reviewer’s words.

Author fact: Richard Bangs has a pretty cool website here. Christian Kallen coauthored another book with Bangs called Riding the Dragon’s Back.

Book trivia: Rivergods is oversized and full of gorgeous photography.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Rivergods.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Water, Water Everywhere” (p 252).


44 Scotland Street

Smith, Alexander McCall. 44 Scotland Street. New York: Anchor Books, 2005.

Reason read: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is in June.

This is a delightful book if the characters do not drive you nuts. You will meet the community of 44 Scotland Street and the surrounding neighborhood: Tim, Jamie, Bertie, Irene, Stuart, Big Lou, Hugh, Angus, Ronnie, Mags, Pete, Christabel, Melanie, Domenica, Matthew, Bruce, Gordon, Raeburn, Todd, Sasha, Lizzie, and Pat. Twenty year old Pat is at the center of the story. Newly relocated to 44 Scotland Street, she rents a room from vain Bruce Anderson and finds a job in an art gallery with Matthew. She is sort of at a loss as to what to do with her life (she’s on her second gap year from university). It is only after a painting from the art gallery goes missing that the plot picks up, albeit a little predictably: Bruce is an exaggerated narcist who Pat can’t help but fall in love with, while Matthew, sweet and a little bumbling, falls in love with Pat. There are heroes and villains at 44 Scotland Street. They all have their moments of love and loss. At the center of it all is a painting that may or may not be worth some money.

Author fact: Smith has a new book coming out in October. Check it out here.

Book trivia: 44 Scotland Street started off as a daily in a newspaper so it was written as it was being published. Before that, it was an idea from a conversation with Armistead Maupin at an Amy Tan party.

Playlist: “As Time Goes By,” “The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen,” “Good-Night Irene,” “Play Misty for Me,” Red Hot Chili Peppers,

Nancy said: Pearl called 44 Scotland Street “entertaining.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scotland: More Than Haggis, Kilts and Ian Rankin” (p 198). Interesting to note that Ian Rankin does appear in 44 Scotland Street as himself.


Sea Runners

Doig, Ivan. The Sea Runners: a Novel. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1982.

Reason read: Doig was born in June – read in his honor.

Four men escape their Russian-controlled work camp in a stolen canoe: Braaf, Karlsson, Melander, and Wennburg. Courageous, when you consider they started in New Archangel (Sitka), Alaska in the mid-1800s. Herculean, when you add how while paddling their way to Astoria, Oregon they faced rough ocean swells, unrelenting weather, unfamiliar coastal environments, insufficient maps for navigation, hostile Tlingit Indians, starvation, sheer exhaustion from relentless physical toil, and an instinctual deep distrust of one another. They were not friends before they made their escape. Imagine putting your trust in a man who gets seasick often and has a deep fear of the ocean. Even though Sea Runners is fictional, it is based on a very similar true story of a daring escape. Doig learned of Karl Gronland, Andreas Lyndfast, Karl Wasterholm, and a fourth man who was killed by Indians during the journey. From these actual men sprung the stunning adventure of Braaf, Karlsson, Melander, and Wennburg. You could say the sea was a fifth character as Doig’s words makes the ocean come alive with emotion.

As an aside, Doig favors words like slim and slender.

Quotes to quote: none. I would have mentioned a few here, but no part of the publication could be reproduced in any form without the permission of the publisher. I wasn’t going to take the time for a blog no one cares about but me.

Author fact: Doig also wrote Bucking the Sun which is also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Sea Runners is fictional but based on true events.

Nancy said: Pearl only said that while other books about the Inside Passage talk about going up Alaska’s coast, Sea Runners goes down.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Inside the Inside Passage” (p 105).


I Do Not Come To You By Chance

Nwaubani, Adaobi Tricia. I Do Not Come to You By Chance. London: Hachette Digital, 2009.

Reason read: The four-day Argungu Fishing Festival is held in annually every March in Nigeria.

Augustina/Ozoemena’s mother died in childbirth, a sin in Nigeria. It is as if this terrible event had cast a long shadow on the family; one that would follow Augustina into adulthood. Her family of five is wallowing in debt, made worse when her husband falls ill and dies of a stroke. Her son, Kingsley Onyeaghalanwanneya Ibe, being the opara of the family, has been tasked with borrowing money from rich Uncle Boniface. Everyone knows him as Cash Daddy. It is an embarrassment for the family because Cash Daddy does not come by his wealth honestly. There is something dark and dangerous about his lifestyle. But Kingsley can’t come by work honestly; he can’t afford his girlfriend’s bride price; he can’t afford to be the man of the house without a job. What’s the saying? Desperate times call for desperate measures. Despite Kingsley’s reluctance to borrow from Cash Daddy he does so, again and again. This debt ensnares him in his uncle’s world of big corporate scams. Education may have its respectable place, but money moves the world and makes things happen.

Lines I liked, “My taste buds had been hearing the smell of my mother’s cooking and my stomach had started talking” (p 17). Sounds like something I would say. Another good line, “Uncle Boniface had exceeded the speed limit in his derogatory comments” (p 103).

Author fact: I Do Not Come to You By Chance is Nwaubani’s first book and it won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Book trivia: I Do Not Come to You by Chance was also awarded a Betty Trask First Book Award in 2009.

Nancy said: Pearl called I Do Not Come to You By Chance humorous yet thought provoking. It reminded me of the movie Dead Presidents. The criminals were forced into a life of crime because they couldn’t catch a break living honestly.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called simply “Nigeria” (p 156).


Invisible People

Eisner, Will. Will Eisner’s New York: the Big City: Invisible People. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1992.

Reason read: to finish the series started in January.

The stories in Will Eisner’s New York: the Big City keep getting sadder and sadder. The subtle humor once found in earlier stories has slipped away in Invisible People. Take Pincus Pleatnik from the short story “Sanctum.” Someone at the newspaper has made a mistake and prematurely put his name in the obituary section. Because Pincus is an unmemorable (invisible) man no one believes him when he tries to prove his living-and-breathing existence. Then there is the librarian, a spinster in her 40s in “Mortal Combat.” She spent her entire life looking after her father. Despite the many sacrifices she has made over the years to care for her dad, once he passes she believes it is not too late to have a life of her own. She tries…except she choses a man exactly like herself, locked into a lifetime of caring for a parent.

As an aside, I was reminded of the lyrics from “Motherland”, a Natalie Merchant song: “Nameless, faceless, innocent, blameless, free. Now tell me what that’s like to be.” The people in Invisible People are indeed nameless and faceless.

Only quote I liked, “the pity of it is that deep-city dwellers carefully sidestep the human debris that they see in the doorways and crannies around them” (p 41).

Author fact: Eisner said he wrote Invisible People in anger. He read an article about a woman who was failed by the system. You can read more about it here.

Book trivia: Invisible People is the last set of stories in Will Eisner’s New York.

Nancy said: Pearl said Invisible People as one of the books about New York City she really liked.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “New York: a Taste of the Big Apple” (p 151).


City People Notebook

Eisner, Will. Will Eisner’s New York: Life in the Big City: City People Notebook. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January.

I am starting to notice a pattern with Eisner’s work: there is a level of subtle tragedy in every story in Will Eisner’s New York. One example – in City People Notebook the throngs of people moving down the bustling sidewalk do not give notice to the man in terrible distress, apparently having a heart attack until he lies prostrate on the sidewalk, dead. It’s a terrible image.
Despite the sadness there is some humor (Hotel LaSleaze where a man assumes he has anonymity and takes out an escort). I especially liked the smell shock. The city smells so bad you don’t recognize when it is on fire.
The same street has many different personalities: empty, angry, sad. Eisner studies the relationship between people and these streets. He calls it an “archaeological study of city people.” The lonely people, the suspicious people, the harried people. They all flow through the streets on their way somewhere. All the while they are unaware of the environmental factors of time, smell, rhythm and space. There is a certain cadence to the city – the element of speed through a maze; a certain cacophony of emissions.

Author fact: Eisner died in January 2005.

Book trivia: Eisner offers up a new introduction for City People Notebook in his compendium.

Nancy said: Pearl lists City People Notebook as one of the books about New York City she really liked.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “New York City: a Taste of the Big Apple” (p 151).


Spies of Warsaw

First, Alan. Spies of Warsaw. New York: Random House, 2008.

Reason read: Furst was born in February; read in his honor.

The year is 1937 and German-born engineer, Edvard Uhl, finds himself caught up in smuggling German industrial plans relating to armament and arms. Like joining a gang, Edvard is drawn deeper and deeper into the fold. The tightening entanglement causes Uhl to become more and more paranoid about being exposed. But how to get out? This is how The Spies of Warsaw begins but it is not about Edvard. He is just a pawn; one little cog in the world of espionage. The real protagonist is Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, military attaché to the French Embassy. War is eminent and the stakes couldn’t be higher in the struggle for intel. Mercier, familiar with war as a decorated 1914 veteran, must make his moves carefully. One never knows who is counterintelligence and who is an ally. Who is a betrayer? In the midst of the political drama, Furst gives Mercier a love interest. Anna’s role is not to lighten the story but to add another layer of tension and mystery. While the book only covers seven months before World War II, the shadowy sense of place is heavy across Poland, Germany, and France.
As an aside, I particularly liked the train scenes: travelers waiting on the platform with the falling snow and paranoia circling in equal amounts.

Author fact: Furst has been compared to John le Carre.

Book trivia: Spies of Warsaw was made into a television drama for the BBC

Nancy said: Pearl said Furst’s novels are “great for their splendid sense of place – World War II Eastern Europe” (p 183).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181).


Devil’s Highway: a True Story

Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Devil’s Highway: a True Story. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2004.

Reason read: Read in honor of Arizona becoming a state in February even though Arizona is the bad guy in this story. I also needed a book with the topic of a group working towards a common goal for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Southern Arizona is an unforgiving territory but ask those in the know. The people of Veracruz would say Mexico is even more so. The risk of traversing southern Arizona’s blazing desert is worth it if it means getting out of a dead-end life in a violent country. As Natalie Merchant sings in ‘San Andreas Fault,’ “Go west. Paradise is there. You’ll have all that you can eat of milk and honey over there…it’s rags to riches over there.” The trick is to survive the journey. Enemies abound. Double-crossing smugglers. Keen-eyed border patrol. Camouflaged poisonous snakes. Lightning fast scorpions. None of these can hold a candle to the dangers of desert’s unrelenting heat. In May the temperature never dips below ninety degrees. In the daytime the sun gets so hot human bodies dry out and brains begin to boil. Through barely controlled rage, as if gritting his teeth, Urrea tells the harrowing story of twenty-six men who, in May of 2001, risk everything to make it to points north. The Devil’s Highway (or Path), as this stretch of southern Arizona desert is known, is notorious for being so dangerous even Border Patrol stays clear. Other reviews of Urrea’s book state that twelve of the twenty-six succeeded in making it to safety. I have an issue with this. To say that twelve made it to safety implies that they succeeded in arriving at their various U.S. destinations. They succeeding in disappearing into the fabric of nameless and faceless working-class communities across the country. Instead, they survived the desert, were nursed back to health and only to be regarded as witnesses for a criminal trial against their coyote and ultimately sent back to Mexico. There is more but I will leave it at that.

There were a lot of great lines to quote. Here are some of my favorites, “It was a forest of eldridge bones” (p 5), “As if the desert felt it hadn’t made its point, it added killer bees” (p 6), and “A magus can sit in his pickup and summon the Beast while eating a teriyaki bowl and Diet Coke” (p 13). Harsh realities.

Author fact: Urrea also wrote The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Into the North. Both titles are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: The Devil’s Highway is a best seller and came close to winning a Pulitzer.

Nancy said: Pearl mentions The Devil’s Highway would be a good read for a book group. She also said it has been “well reviewed.” Interestingly enough, Devil’s Highway is an aside in both chapters.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30), and again in the chapter called “Postcards From Mexico” (p 185)


The Building

Eisner, Will. Will Eisner’s New York: Life in the Big City: The Building. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January.

So much tragedy and human heartache surrounding one building: the story of Monroe, a man trying to save all the children of New York after an accident involving a young boy changes his entire life; PJ Hammond and his singular obsession to buy the building he grew up in; the love affair between Gilda and poor poet, Benny in the shadow of the building (until Gilda goes and marries someone else for money); and Antonio Tonatti, the man who loved to play music in front of the majestic building until it was torn down. One building, so many stories. It’s as if the giant structure made of glass and steel stood guard over all these lives.There is one final story which ties all the other stories together. It’s bittersweet and beautiful. Quintessential New York.

Author fact: Eisner has a comic Hall of Fame award named after him.

Book trivia: Look carefully at the illustrations. Characters come back from other stories.

Nancy said: The Building is included in a list of books about New York that Pearl has enjoyed.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “New York City: A Taste of the Big Apple” (p 151).


Across the Savage Sea

Fontenoy, Maud. Across the Savage Sea: The First Woman to Row Across the North Atlantic. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2006.

Reason read: my good friend Frank was born in January and he loved, loved, loved boats and the sea. Read in his memory. Also as a selection for the Portland Public Library 2021 Reading Challenge: An extreme survival story.

Maud Fontenoy was twenty-five years old when she decided to embark on a nearly four month journey across the North Atlantic in 2003. She was officially at sea for 117 days. While she kept in constant contact with family, friends, sponsors, and news agencies, Fontenoy was alone with only what the ocean could offer her for company. She was entertained by dolphins, mesmerized by whales, stymied by fish, and terrorized for a short time by sharks. Occasionally, a tanker would cross her path, as she was squarely in their shipping lane for a good part of the journey. The real threat to her journey, however, was not the sharks, nor the tankers but the weather. Tropical storms would wreak havoc on Fontenoy and her little boat. Despite the fact meteorologists kept her abreast of developing weather patterns, there was little she could do to avoid the high seas and violent winds that came with them. Her strength and fortitude to just survive were astounding.

Confessional: I read this book before I started the Book Lust Challenge. I opted to read it again because I couldn’t remember many details. Plus, it’s a pretty short book so it was easy to add it back on the list. If I ever met Fontenoy in person I would like to ask if anyone ever found her message in a bottle.

Somebody helped me out. There is a moment when Fontenoy was convinced a much larger vessel was bearing down on her. She describes how her radar detector went off, beeping like crazy. However, she later shares that her detector was defective and said it “detected no vessels during the crossing.” So, what was the beeping? Does that mean the droning of the vessel’s engine and the smell of exhaust was all in her imagination? Was there a near miss with another vessel or not?

Quote to quote, “I wondered why the god of the sea had chosen to keep me in the palm of his hand” (p 95).

Author fact: Fontenoy has written two books about sailing. Both are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: there is a small section of photographs for which I am grateful. I had a hard time picturing Fontenoy’s craft, Pilot.

Nancy said: Pearl said Across the Savage Sea is “well worth your reading time.” I completely agree. So much so that I’m reading it again for the Challenge. I said that already.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row your Boat” (p 191).


Alcestis

Beutner, Katharine. Alcestis. New York: SoHo, 2010.

Reason read: Female Dominion Day in parts of Greece is celebrated on January 8th. The premise is the women get to leave their husbands at home with the housework and kids while they celebrate being matriarchs.

Beutner takes Greek mythology and turns it on its head. It is no small feat to retool a myth and turn Euripides’s male-centered drama into a lesbian love story. This is the story of Alcestis, the woman who sacrificed her own life to save her husband’s. Her outward loyalty knows no limits, beginning with faking the end of her virginity on her wedding night when, like some men with a secret lover, Admetus can’t perform. But internally, Alcestis is no ordinary woman. She is a mortal with many complex personalities: as a dutiful daughter, a sacrificing wife, a ever-loving sister, a sheltered princess, and the passionate lover of a goddess.
Once Alcestis volunteers her life and she is in the underworld, she observes a place in a state of constantly shimmering and shifting allusion. It is difficult, but Alcestis begins a three-day search for her beloved sister who died at ten years old. Every time she inquires about Hippothoe she is met with strange riddles in place of replies as if to protect her from an unknown horror. No one wants to clearly say what has become of Hippothoe. Alcestis perseveres boldly for she is not afraid of the underworld, nor the gods who rule there. She will not take no for an answer. In the meantime, she says yes when she is seduced by, and ultimately falls in love with, Persephone. Alcestis seems to grow larger than life as her sexuality becomes more fluid and not as easily defined. When she is “rescued” and brought back to the living Alcestis is forever changed.

Line that stuck with me, “My mind stuttered and stuck” (p 189).

Author fact: Beutner earned her BA in classical studies from Smith College in 2003.

Book trivia: Alcestis was nominated and a finalist for a LAMBDA award in 2011.

Nancy said: Pearl called Alcestis a good novel.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).


We Wish to Inform You…

Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda.

Reason read: The movie Hotel Rwanda was released in the United States on December 22nd, 2004.

The title of the book comes from a letter written to Paston Elizaphan Ntakirutimana. In it, several Advent pastors, hiding in a hospital state, “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families…” (p 42). Such a devastating cry for help…only to end in betrayal. But probably the most helpless and hopeless line in the book (for me anyway), was “I took it we were under attack, and did nothing because I had no idea what to do” (p 33). I can’t imagine knowing full well murderers were coming for me, and yet having no idea how to save myself. Imagine having nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. No way to protect yourself. Heartbreaking. Like macabre trick or treating, gangs went from town to town, just looking for people to massacre.
I find myself asking over and over again how neighbors, friends, relatives, business partners could rise up against their brethren. To kill over and over again with such horrific brutality. Not just an impersonal shot to the head. Not just a quick execution from a far off distance, but an up-close and personal hacking, slashing, chopping; a hand to hand combat/rape/pillage with machetes and knives, sticks and stony rage. The willingness, the eagerness to turn on people you had once worked, lived, learned or played side by side. Colleagues killed colleagues. Neighbors annihilated neighbors. Teachers assassinated their students. Friends turned one another with surprising ease. Gourevitch tries to make sense of it in We Wish to Inform You… by going back historically and analyzing the time before the genocide. His style is to think about the subject from a distance and then living with it up close. He walks around a topic to scrutinize it from every angle. His focus was to ask what really happened and how its aftermath is understood today (at the time of his writing).

Quotes to quote (besides the ones previously mentioned), “Five hundred years is a very long life for any regime, at any time, anywhere” (p 49), “But the decimation had been utterly gratuitous” (p 180), and “What does suffering have to do with genocide, when the idea itself is the crime” (p 202)?

Author fact: Gourevitch spent his childhood in Connecticut.

Book trivia: We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families was awarded the Guardian First Book Award.

Nancy said: Pearl called We wish to Inform You…”personal” and “heart-wrenching” in Book Lust. In Book Lust To Go she included a link to a video of an interview she conducted with Gourevitch in —. The video is no longer available, but I have been able to request archives from Seattle Channel before so…an update: The super fantastic folks at Seattle worked their magic! Within a day I got an email with a link to the interview! Spectacular.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Africa: Today and Yesterday” (p 9) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).


Last Friend

Ben Jelloun, Tahar. The Last Friend. Translated by Kevin Michel Cape. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.

Reason read: Ben Jelloun was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

In 1950s Morocco, schoolboy Ali meets Mamet (Mohammed) for the first time after a school yard fight. Their personalities and views on life could not be further apart. They are opposite in every way. Mamet has to fight every aspect of his life: rebelling against the Communist party sexually; betraying his religion with food and drink; ignoring his culture by committing adultery. To compensate for feeling inferior he is full of unnecessary bravado. Yet, their differences make them curious friends. Best friends at that. Without knowing it, they protect each other time and time again. Over the span of thirty years and many trials and tribulations, their relationship deepens into a profound bond; one even their wives find hard to accept. It is as if Ali and Mamet’s separate relationships orbit around their singular connection. Despite moving apart Ali and Mamet remain close until a misunderstanding and an even larger betrayal comes between them.

The lines I loved, “Friendship begins with sharing secrets” (p 16), “I discovered that ideology indoctrination can bind even an intelligent mind” (p 26), “In friendship, as in love, everyone needs an element of mystery” (p 51), and “I found myself walking down a boulevard under a cold sun, considering different scenarios to protect our friendship from the tragedy of death” (p 154).

As an aside, I never thought of Bob Marley as a misogynist.

Author fact: Ben Jelloun also wrote This Blinding Absence of Light which I read almost a year ago.

Book trivia: There is a scene in a Bette Midler movie where a mother picks a horrendous fight with her daughter in order to force her daughter to live her best life. While the fight is extremely painful to the daughter, she is able to pick up the pieces and move on. The final scene of the movie is of her getting married while her mother watches from a distance. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but The Last Friend could be a movie with a similar scene…

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t say anything about The Last Friend specifically, but she mentions the translation by Linda Coverdale is “superb.” I didn’t read that version.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “North African Notes: Morocco” (p 161).


Burnt Shadows

Shamsie, Kamila. Burnt Shadows. New York: Picador, 2009.

Reason read: Confessional: this was supposed to be read in August for a myriad of reasons: Shamsie’s birth month, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and the anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. Somehow I missed it in August but wanted it read before 2021.

Burnt Shadows spans 56 years, from 1945 to 2001 moving from Nagasaki, Japan to Delhi, India to Pakistan and New York, all the while addressing the political geography of the time. India’s independence from British rule serves as a subtle character in Burnt Shadows as it changes the identity of others. At the heart of the story is the necessity of identity: human culture based on the desire to belong somewhere. Every character in Burnt Shadows struggles with a spiritual homelessness and drifting identity. Consider main protagonist Hiroko Tanaka: she fled Nagasaki, Japan after the bombing. Right before the attack she was engaged to a German, but ends up marrying an Indian she meets at the home of her deceased fiancé’s sister in Delhi, India. A misunderstanding leads the couple to Pakistan where they have a son, Raza.
The story opens with the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka loses her fiancé in the blast. How ironic is it she only agreed to marry him that same day? How tragic! In time she makes her way to India and lands on the doorstep of Konrad’s half sister, Elizabeth Burton and Elizabeth’s husband, James. Reluctantly, they take in Hiroko. Sajjad Ashraf, from the province of Dilli, works as a translator for James and Elizabeth Burton and agreed to tutor Hiroko. A beautiful relationship develops between them.
Burnt Shadows is also about the unspoken observation of marriage; the relationships that fail and those that stand the test of time “until death do us part.” Elizabeth and James had small, invisible cracks in their relationship before Hiroko arrived. Hiroko and Sajjad barely knew each other before their hasty marriage and yet it endured.
The last third of the book is difficult to read in that the story moves from one of interpersonal relationships to one of political unrest. The events of September 11th, 2001 play an enormous part in the narrative. It is as if Shamsie has another message, one that she has been waiting for 200 pages to deliver.

Quotes to quote, “There was no moment at which things went wrong, just a steady accumulation of hurt and misunderstanding” (p 109), “She felt she had been waiting all her life to arrive here” (p 295),

Author fact: Shamsie has ties to the Northeast, having gone to Hamilton College in New York and University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Burnt Shadows but it is the last book mentioned in the chapter.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: Pakistan” (p 212).