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).
Trillin, Calvin. American Fried. New York: Noonday Press, 1983.
Reason read: March is Food Month
American Fried takes its readers from Kansas City (okay, mostly Kansas City) to New York to Louisiana and beyond on a culinary journey of “good eats” as Guy Fieri would say. Trillin approaches the subject of food and eating with humor and, dare I say, a little sarcasm? He takes a few jabs at the notion French cuisine is superior to all others. He is not one for “fine” dining and he is a man who takes his cream cheese seriously. Pardon the pun, but each essay is loaded like a baked potato: full of fun tidbits.
Not to point out the obvious but American Fried is a little dated. The price of a steak in the mid-1970s is drastically different than today.
As an aside: have you ever seen the show, “Somebody Feed Phil” on I-Forget-Which-Channel? At the end of each episode Phil Skypes with his family and shares a delicacy with them over the screen. Phil’s wife is great and while reading American Fried I wondered if Alice was anything like her.
As another aside, rugelach is Trillin’s favorite pastry. It’s very high on my list, too.
Line I liked, “Hallucinations people suffer when gripped by the fever of Hometown Food Nostalgia” (p 10-11).
Author fact: American Fried was first published as “Adventures of a Happy Eater” in 1974.
Book trivia: American Fried is the first book in the Tummy Trilogy. My edition of American Fried has a new foreword.
Nancy said: Pearl said Trillin “approaches food with humor and much gusto” and called the essays “a treasure” (Book Lust p 91).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food For Thought” (p 91). Interestingly enough, all three of Trillin’s books were left out of the index.
Richter, Conrad. The Awakening Land Trilogy: the Trees. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991.
Reason read: Ohio became a state in the month of March. Additionally, The Trees was published on March 1, 1940. Finally, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a group working towards a common goal. This is a family working towards surviving and establishing a homestead in the wilds of Ohio.
The Luckett family: Father Worth, Mother Jary, and children Sayward, Genny, Achsa, Wyitt, Sulie, and hound Sarge, find their way to the deep woods of Ohio after being driven out of Pennsylvania by famine in 1795. Hoping for a new life, they discover they are in a foreign land of multiple misunderstandings. The family has trouble cultivating the soil so food is scarce. Hunting even the smallest of animals keeps them fed. Worth values this lifestyle and admires the “woodsy” people. Illness hovers over them constantly until finally mother Jary is taken by consumption. The Luckett family misunderstands the neighboring native tribes and as a result, distrust and fear them in equal measure. [As an aside, I had to admit it broke my heart when Wyitt spies on them violently skin a wolf alive for his pelt. When they let the poor creature flee into the woods it was difficult to read of such cruelty.] Other tragedies befall the family but somehow Sayward, the main character, shows true grit and that “woodsy” spirit her father so admired.
Author fact: in his forward Richter thanks “scores of helpful librarians” for helping him research his book. Yay for my profession!
Book trivia: The Trees is the first book in a trilogy called Awakening Land Trilogy.
Nancy said: Richter’s series needs to be read in order, starting with The Trees.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest, Ohio” (p 25).
Evanovich, Janet. Three to Get Deadly. New York: Scribner, 1997.
Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Mystery month.
When we meet up with Stephanie Plum in the third Evanovich mystery, she is still driving her powder blue behemoth of a Buick, she still wears Doc Martins, and of course she still works for her cousin Vinny as a bounty hunter. In fact, Three to Get Deadly takes place only five months after when Stephanie first became an apprehension agent in One for the Money. All of the usual characters are back: Rex the hamster, grandma, Joe Morelli, and Ranger (we have to have Ranger). Even the ex-prostitute-turned-file-clerk Lula is back. She sometimes steals the show. In Three to Get Deadly, Lula is more Stephanie’s seemingly-smarter-than-Stephanie sidekick, ready to kick some butt…or hoping she will anyway. Only this time Stephanie’s new case is beloved Trenton resident and sweet candy store owner, Mo Bedemier. Everyone wants to criticize Stephanie for harassing dear old Mo. No one will be kicking Mo’s butt anytime soon. According to the law, he was pulled over for speeding (harmless) and was found to be carrying a concealed weapon (not so harmless). Speeding and a concealed gun – a double no-no in the State of New Jersey. What makes this case even more controversial is that whenever Stephanie goes to apprehend Mo, she finds a dead body instead. The bodies pile up in alarming numbers.
As an aside, everyone is a cousin. Eddie Gazarra married Stephanie’s cousin Shirley. Cousin Maureen works at the button factory. Cousin Jeanine works at the post office. Let’s not forget cousin Vinny!
As another aside, I have a crush on the mysterious Ranger. He is funny and sassy and dark and, I assume, handsome. When Stephanie said he went home to eat tofu and tree bark I actually laughed out loud.
Lines I liked, “She could probably be a brain surgeon if she just had a decent haircut” (p 60), “If I allowed myself to consider what was being said about me at this very moment I’d probably fall over in a faint” (p 130), and “Failure makes me hungry” (p 134). It’s Stephanie’s love of food that endears me to her.
Author fact: Evanovich has a series called Stephanie Plum and Diesel.
Book trivia: Three to Get Deadly won a 1998 Dilys Award.
Nancy said: Pearl said “you can’t exactly label as mysteries the hilarious series by Janet Evanovich….they’re better described as irresistible romps through the world of lowlifes” (Book Lust p 171).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).
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).
Wilson, Barbara. Death of a Much-Travelled Woman. New York: Open Road, 1998
Reason read: to “finish” the series started in January.
Cassandra Reilly is back! She is still very much the translator, the “accidental, expatriate, dyke detective.” This time her adventures are contained in nine short stories from around the globe and there is a crime of some sort (mostly murders) in every one. Of interest, Wilson occasionally makes a serious commentary on the perceptions of what it means to be a feminist and the rights of lesbians as legally married couples.
- Death of a Much-Travelled Woman
- Murder at the International Feminist Book Fair
- Theft of the Poet
- An Expatriot Death
- Wie Bitte?
- The Last Laugh
- The Antivariaat Sophie
- Mi Novelista
Author fact: Barbara Wilson also writes under the alias Barbara Sjoholm.
Book trivia: This is the third Cassandra Reilly book in the series.
Nancy said: Pearl included Death of a Much-Travelled Woman in her list of contemporary series featuring female sleuths.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.
Reason read: Dickens was born in the month of February. Read in his honor.
David Copperfield is a classic: character driven and autobiographical in nature. Dickens illustrates the varying sides of human nature; how we all have faults. His portrayal of young David as a naïve child is brilliant. I could picture the boy being unreasonably afraid of a large bird because he acted just as I had when confronted with a gigantic angry fowl; or when Copperfield was bored at church and nearly falling asleep, slipping off his pew; or when he didn’t realize the adults were openly discussing him. His innocence is at the heart of his personality. As David matures and enters adulthood he learns relationships often fail and the motive of some people are not always pure at heart. Malicious people are everywhere. In the end (and I do mean the very end) Copperfield finds true happiness.
As an aside, I heard that the audio book read by Richard Armitage is very good. I didn’t listen to it.
Author fact: I read somewhere that Dickens was born in Landport, Portsea, England. What the what? That sounds like a very interesting place.
Book trivia: David Copperfield is the eighth novel of Dickens and it is his favorite story. Maybe because it is a thinly veiled autobiography?
Nancy said: Pearl said the opening line of David Copperfield was a classic that had slipped her mind.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).
Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years, Volume One. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1926.
Reason read: February 12th the is birthday of President Lincoln. Read in his honor.
Sandburg’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln is detailed, expressive, poignant, and at many times, repetitive and rambling. In the Prairie Years Sandburg, despite filling the book with long and meandering passages, has an overall lyrical language which is to be expected from a writer who is a talented poet first and foremost. He introduces our nation’s sixteenth president as being a captivating and complicated human being long before Lincoln entered the White House. Sandburg starts Lincoln’s story by portraying him as a quiet and sensitive child whose dreams were very important to him; catching the symbolisms of life at an early age. Later, as an adult, Lincoln would see his dreams and symbolisms as a connection to his future. As a teenager, learning became Lincoln’s obsession. He was said to always have a book in his hand; that he was constantly reading. I have an image of him studying big law books while plowing his father’s fields. All that book reading didn’t mean Lincoln was a soft sissy, though. Lincoln was the Superman of his day. As Sandburg frequently points out, because Abe was so tall and strong with “bulldog courage,” people were constantly challenging him to foot races, wrestling matches, and fist fights: anything to prove their strength against him. Sandburg seems proud to report most times these challengers lost.
In the midst of industry’s wheels just starting to turn, slavery was seen as a profitable business. At the same time, at the age of twenty-three, Lincoln’s political wheels were just starting to turn as well. He wasn’t interested in drinking or fishing. He wanted to continue to learn the law. He became a postmaster so he could have access to newspaper. In the first installment of Sandburg’s biography, we learn Lincoln grew into a complicated man with many sides. Lincoln the storyteller, always telling jokes and stories. Lincoln the neighbor, ready to help a friend, stranger, or animal in need. Lincoln the silent and sad, afraid to carry a pocketknife for fear of harming himself. Sandburg quotes Lincoln as once saying, “I stay away because I am conscious I should not know how to behave myself” (p 22).
Just think of the contemporaries of Lincoln’s day! John Marshall, Daniel Webster; Andrew Jackson was President, Edgar Allan Poe had just been thrown out of West Point and decided to become a writer, Charles Darwin started his journey on the Beagle, Johnnie Appleseed was starting to walk about with seeds in his pockets…
I have come to the conclusion I would have liked to have known Abraham Lincoln, even before he became President of the United States. He had a quick wit and an even faster sense of humor. I would have been drawn to his melancholy, too.
Lines I loved, “Days when he sank deep in the stream of human life and felt himself kin of all that swam in it, whether the waters were crystal or mud” (p 77).
Author fact: Carl Sandburg is better known as a poet. However, he did win a Pulitzer in History for Abraham Lincoln: the War Years (which I am not reading for the Challenge. Go figure.
Book trivia: Abraham Lincoln is a six volume set. I am only reading the first two volumes.
Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about either volume of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1920s” (p 175).
Hoban, Russell. Riddley Walker. New York: Summit books, 1980.
Reason read: Hoban’s birth month is in February. Read in his honor.
I wanted to like Riddley Walker. I really, really did. The problem is that I am not a science fiction consumer by any means. This book will demand your entire attention and hijack your time, thanks to a language that at first blush just looks like horribly spelled English. It’s trickier than that and way more brilliant. I didn’t have the time or inclination to get into it beyond fifty pages. The story opens with Riddley becoming a man at twelve years old. In post-apocalyptical English Kent, civilization is starting over from tribal scratch. Men carry spears and need to relearn skills like rediscovering fire in order to survive. Once man’s best friend, dogs are now killing machines that roam the streets in packs. Riddley finds symbolism in everything.
As an aside, the salvaging of iron reminded me of the opening scene of the movie “The Full Monty.” Aha! A movie I have seen! 😉
Lines I managed to like, “I don’t think it makes no differents where you start the telling of a thing” (p 8). Too true.
Author fact: Hoban was inspired to write Riddley Walker after seeing medieval wall art in a cathedral.
Book trivia: Riddley Walker won a few sci-fi awards and was nominated for a Nebula in 1981. It was also the inspiration for many plays. The movie “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” used themes from Riddley Walker.
Nancy said: Pearl had a lot to say about Riddley Walker. She starts by calling it one of the best of the postapocalyptic genre of novels. She then goes on to say she “doesn’t know of another novel that could arguably be called science fiction which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as the Nebula Award” (More Book Lust p 115). She finishes her praise by offering a suggestion for understanding the language: read it out loud, as her mother did.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Russell Hoban: Too Good To Miss” (p 114). This book finishes the chapter for me.
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).
Sherry, Kristin A. Maximize 365: A Year of Actionable Tips to Transform Your Life. Texas: Black Rose, 2021
Reason read: chosen for the Early Review Program for LibraryThing.
Inspired by a combination of the works of Bob Sager and Zig Ziglar Kristin Sherry has come up with her own five forms of life-wealth: Health and Wellness, Spirituality, Relationships, Career, and Finances. Each chapter is dedicated to themes surrounding the five forms of life-health and each theme is only a page long. Sherry’s book is chock full of great advice although not all of it is hers. She has curated dozens of websites, YouTube videos, Tedx Talks, quotes, articles and books from other experts and compiled them in Maximize 365. I thought of her book as more of an encyclopedia for the learners and the curious; anyone interested in self-development but too busy and overwhelmed to find each resource individually.
There is truth to the information Sherry shares in Maximize 365. My favorite example would be something my husband and I started doing early in the pandemic: taking hikes in the woods. Described by the Japanese as Shinrin-yoku, or “taking in the forest” Sherry reports taking twenty-minute walks through nature several times a week as a way to stave off depression. It works.
Another element of Maximize 365 I could relate to was when Sherry describes being busy as a “status symbol.” That may be true, but it is also a generational thing. My mother and father worked seven days a week. Sitting and reading a book was seen as indulgent or lazy. Always doing something constructive was preferred. Books and sitting still were saved for bad weather or illness. To this day my mother cannot sit in one place for very long. I have inherited her sense of constant motion.
My biggest pet peeve: sometimes Sherry will refer to a book but not give the author credit.
Confessional: I skipped the religious piece because what if I am not a practicing Christian? What if my belief does not have a capital G god? What if my book of faith is not the Bible?
Another way to make Maximize 365 more inclusive is to remove the word “marriage” and call it life relationships or intimate partnerships. Some people cannot get married because of their sexual orientation or ethnic differences. What if someone wanted to work on their relationship skills as a parent?
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).
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Reason read: Vasant Panchami is a holiday celebrated in India to mark the coming of spring. I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of “a PPL Book of the Week pick.”
While this is the story of Gogol Ganguli, first we must start from the beginning. Perspective must be established. Before Gogol’s birth and as a Bengali Indian keeping with her culture, Ashima Ganguli comes to the United State to partake in an arranged marriage. By 1968, Ashima has only been in Cambridge, Massachusetts for eighteen months before becoming pregnant with her first child. This is where Lahiri first draws attention to the many differences between American and Indian practices and this is where Gogol’s life begins; in this state of conflicting cultures. But back to Ashima. The first evidence of cultural confusion: the fact women in Bengali do not give birth in a cold, sterile hospital. They birth in the warm and comforting home their parents. Gogol is out of place even before he has been born. Then a subtle example of cultural ignorance: once Ashima is in labor the nurse cannot figure out how to fold Ashima’s six yards of silk sari. Most importantly (and the crux of the story), Indian parents do not choose the name of their child on a whim. It is this last detail that sets the stage for Gogol’s life story: the importance of identity; the necessity of belonging; the eventual learning to compromise in order to belong in harmony. We follow Gogol through childhood into manhood as he navigates relationships with his family, love interests, and homeland.
As an aside, when Lahiri mentions the Boston Globe story about Andrew Wyeth and his Helga paintings it grounded me to time and place.
Lines I really liked, “American seconds tick on top of her pulse point” (p 4) and “If there is nothing decent on television she leafs through books she has taken out of out the library, books that occupy the space Ashoke normally does on the bed” (p 163). This last quote struck me because I do the same thing when my partner is away.
Author fact: Lahiri is American, but her parents are Indian immigrants from West Bengal.
Book trivia: The Namesake, New York Times bestseller, was made into a movie. Of course I have not seen it. Yet.
Nancy said: Pearl said The Namesake is slightly less depressing than Mukherjee’s Jasmine.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Immigrant Experience” (p 123).
Dickey, Eric Jerome. Liar’s Game. Rockland, MA: Wheel Publishing, Inc., 2000.
Reason read: Read in recognition of Black History month being in February. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Reading challenge for the category of a book written in multiple perspectives.
Vincent Calvary Browne, Jr. is a Negro Black Man trying to date after divorce. His ex-wife cheated. Adding insult to injury, she left him taking their three year old daughter out of the country. Baggage, baggage, baggage. Dana Ann Smith is a single woman trying to land on her feet in Los Angeles after leaving heavy debts and an even heavier romance in New York. Baggage, baggage, baggage. When Vince and Dana meet they are immediately attracted to one another. They seem like the perfect fit. However, in an effort to present their best selves to one another they hide their secrets under a pile of lies and more lies. Sooner or later, those lies start to reveal themselves as the couple gets more and more involved and Dana’s ex arrives from New York. Can Dana see beyond Vince’s lie about never being married or having children? Can she respect him as a father with an ex-wife? Can Vince hear Dana over the warning bells about her debt? Can he trust she is truly over her rich and hunky ex? What makes Liar’s Game so much fun is the varying perspectives of the same story. As the saying goes, there are are always three sides to every story: his side, her side, and the truth. Dickey gives us all three.
A word of warning – the writing is a little dated. In today’s society, I don’t think many people would consider a cell phone a piece of technology for players.
I have to admit even though the sex scenes were a bit cliché it was refreshing to see a condom play a major role in the hot and heavy relationships. There is even a scene when the condom gets “lost.”
Simple but great lines to quote, “Hard living and bad loving ages a man” (p 2), “A smile is the shortest distance between two people” (p 6).
Author fact: Dickey died of cancer in January of this year. Sad.
Book trivia: I could see this as a movie or a daytime soap opera.
Nancy said: Pearl mentions Liar’s Game as another good example of fiction written by an African American male.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “African American Fiction: He Say” (p 13).
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)