Unsung Hero

Brockmann, Suzanne. Unsung Hero. New York: Ivy Books, 2000.

Reason read: May is Brockmann’s birth month. Read in her honor.

Back in 2008 I read Defiant Hero, starring Navy SEAL Lieutenant John. Then in 2011 I read Out of Control with the dashing Navy SEAL Ken Karmody. This time we have Navy SEAL Tom Paoletti in Unsung Hero.
Most of Brockmann’s romances have these common details: Navy SEALs, kidnappings, an important grandmother, a terrorist or two, great looking people with hard bodies, and let’s not forget roiling sexual turmoil. Unsung Hero is no different. Tom Paoletti and Kelly Ashton’s conundrum is that they have history dating back to high school: Kelly was too young for next door neighbor Tom so he ran away to join the military a month early. Sweet and innocent Kelly was left with unrequited teenager lust never to be forgotten. But now, sixteen years later, Kelly is all grown up and just happens to be visiting her father. Tom is also back in town trying to convalesce after getting caught in a bomb blast. Kelly never lost the burn for Tom, so much so that even though her father is dying of terminal cancer, all she can think about is getting the doomed man back in bed. She needs to return to her fantasy about Tom and his um…hard body as soon as possible. Even though Tom is damaged goods, his one track mind is no better. He too carries the long burning torch of lust. He eyeballs Kelly’s perfect ass as they blithely discuss her father’s terminal cancer. Insert eye roll here. So sex aside, while Tom is home he catches a glimpse of a terrorist long thought dead. His superiors think the bomb has altered his reality and refuse to take him seriously, leaving Tom no choice but to cobble together his own counterterrorist team to take the man down.

Author fact: I think I read this on a Wiki page: Brockmann dropped out of college to join a band. How cool is that?

Book trivia: Unsung Hero is actually the first book in the Troubleshooters, Inc. Novel series. I read them out of order and like an idiot didn’t catch on that a plot with the same characters just might be a series. Duh.

Nancy said: I like what Pearl said about Brockmann’s novels. She said Brockmann gives a “female slant to the James Bond ethos.” The characters are “sharply drawn” and the reading of her work is “interesting.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here To Stay” (p 203).


The Godfather

Puzo, Mario. The Godfather. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1969.

Reason read: March is usually when the Academy Awards are held. The Godfather was awarded nine out of twenty-eight awards. Another reason: The Godfather movie was released on March 15th, 1972. Also: I decided to read it for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of PPL Book of the Week Pick.

Who does not know the name Don Vito Corleone? Who doesn’t know the infamous “horse head” scene? I haven’t seen the movie but even I have known about these details of The Godfather for decades. People just couldn’t stop talking about the son who was hung like a horse (speaking of horses).
The year is 1945 and World War II is over. Mr. Corleone can go back to his “olive oil” business, if that’s what you want to call it. In reality, this is the story of the Mafia society and all its inner workings. Vito Corleone rules his family from Long Island inside a well fortified compound. Outwardly, he is a quiet, friendly, benevolent, and fair man. He never forgets a debt. Underneath his reasonableness is a ruthless and vengeful gang leader who will stop at nothing to protect his empire of gambling, bookmaking, and controlling the unions. Other “families” are branching out; delving in drugs and prostitution. Don Corleone wants no part of that action but how long can he control business when these vices grow stronger? Even his own sons look like they might betray him. Who will take up the charge and protect the Corleone name?

As an aside, I found it really hard to picture the characters in The Godfather. All of my imagination was consumed by stereotypical Italian traits.

Quotes to quote, “If you had built up a wall of friendships you wouldn’t have to ask for help” (p 38). A true life lesson.

Author fact: Puzo has also written The Fortunate Pilgrim and Dark Arena. Has anyone heard of these books…especially when The Godfather overshadows them all?

Book trivia: The Godfather is part of a larger series.

Nancy said: Pearl compares The Godfather to the HBO show “The Sopranos.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Italian American Writers” (p 129).


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).


Three to Get Deadly

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).


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)


Zero

Seife, Charles. Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea. New York: Viking, 2000.

Reason read: another choice relating to New Year’s resolution. Everyone wants to reset the clock. Zero symbolizes just that.

No other number can do so much damage, so says Charles Seife. He tells you this as he is explaining the Golden Ratio, how Winston Churchill is equal to a vegetable, and how you can make your very own wormhole. Mathematics, religion, philosophy, art, engineering, history: they all connect to zero. Mathematics is a more obvious element, but take religion: Shiva, one of the three gods in the Hindu triumvirate, represents nothing because Shiva’s role is to destroy the universe in order to perpetually recreate it. Seife goes deep to illustrate the importance of the zero and how, historically, it created as well as calmed chaos. Zero is historical and humorous, informative and even a little emotional.

Lines I liked, “To add insult to injury, the ultimate Pythagorean symbol of beauty and rationality, was an irrational number” (p 37) and “But the sand reckoner was destined to meet his fate while reckoning the sand” (p 52).

As an aside, does everyone know the music of Josh Ritter? I couldn’t help but think of his song, Lark, when reading Zero because he mentions “Golden ratio, the shell.”

Author fact: Seife has an M.S. in Mathematics from Yale University. Are you surprised?

Book trivia: Zero is the only book I know that starts with the chapter 0 instead of a preface or introduction.

Nancy said: Pearl lures you in and makes you curious about Zero when she says, “[Seife] offers a mathematical proof that Winston Churchill is equal to a carrot” (p 256). Okay, you got me.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zero: This Will Mean Nothing To You” (p 256).


Siddhartha

Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. Translated by Hilda Rosner. New York: MJF Books, 1951.

Reason read: New Year’s Day always evokes resolution talk. Meditation is big on people’s lists. Read Siddhartha as a resolution for someone out there.

How do I describe Siddhartha? In simple terms I would say it’s one man’s journey to find his identity. In the end he finds peace in listening to a river and hearing his heart. In listening, he learns. In hearing, he loves. There is a great deal that happens in between, of course. The proudest and more profound moment was when Siddhartha recognized the pain he currently experiences as the exact same pain he inflicted on his father so long ago. What goes around comes around, as they say.

Quotes to quote, “Had he ever lost his heart to anyone so completely, had he ever loved anybody so much, so blindly, so painfully, so hopelessly and yet so happily” (p 99), and “It seems to me, that love is the most important thing in the world’ (p 104).

Author fact: Hermann Hesse was a German-born Swiss poet and painter in addition to being a novelist.

Book trivia: This is short enough to read several times over. Do, because it will surprise you every time.

Nancy said: Pearl said :no list of books on Buddhism, however short, would be complete without recommending Hermann Hesse’s deceptively simple novel” (Book Lust p 255-256).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 256).


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).


One for the Money

Evanovich, Janet. One for the Money. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

Reason read: I read somewhere that January is Female Mystery Month.

Suspend most of your beliefs in regards to reality and you will enjoy Stephanie Plum and her naïve and bumbling beginning as an amateur bounty hunter. After her cousin Vinnie temporarily loses an agent he hires down and out Plum to take his place. She has absolutely no experience but she’s desperate. She’s already hocked a few appliances to keep the rent going and her car has just been repossessed. Her first case worth $10,000? Who does she need to bring in, you may ask? Her old childhood nemesis, Joe Morelli. They have history dating back to a high school indiscretion that took place behind a case of cannoli and then was gossiped all over town. Plum is still embarrassed all these years later. Now Morelli’s a cop accused of murder and on the run. Self defense, he claims. Armed with pepper spray and an unloaded gun she doesn’t really know how to use, Stephanie Plum sets out to capture Morelli by stealing his car and stalking him across Trenton, New Jersey. He’s not that hard to find. She keeps running into Morelli all over town. Problem is, every time she tries to apprehend him, he gets her all hot and bothered instead.
Speaking of being bothered, here’s where I really get annoyed. Stephanie is viciously attacked by a sexual deviant boxer named Ramirez. This madman comes close to raping her and yet later, Joe is able to climb into her apartment through a window. As someone who was nearly a rape victim, why would she leave a window open? That detail doesn’t seem to be as important as collaring Morelli and getting her ten grand. Will Stephanie keep her cool and get her man?

Quote to make me cringe, “Truth is, I wasn’t used to being a minority, and I felt like a black man looking up a white woman’s skirts in a WASP suburb of Birmingham” (p 108). Ouch. she also doesn’t like handicapped old people who take all the best parking spots. Double ouch.
Lines I actually liked, “Doesn’t matter whether it’s cats or coleslaw, death is not attractive” (p 124) and “Range etiquette was never to point the gun at the guy standing next to you” (p 150). Good point.

Author fact: to date Evanovitch has written twenty-six Stephanie Plum mysteries. I am reading ten of them.

Book trivia: One for the Money is the first book in Evanovich’s series starring Stephanie Plum.

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t think Evanovich’s books should be in the category of mysteries.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


Vile Village

Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #7: Vile Village. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.

Reason read: to finish the series started in October in honor of Halloween.

Once again, right off the bat, Snicket asks you to go read someone else’s book. He says, “And if you insist on reading this book instead of something more cheerful, you will most certainly find yourself moaning in despair instead of wriggling in delight, so if you have any sense at all you will put this book down and pick up another one” (p 6). With an introduction like that, how could you not keep reading Snicket’s book? Very clever. By now you know the format: Snicket is still offering meanings for words and phrases. The three orphaned Bauldelaire children are looking for a place to call home. Violet is a teenager and still very much interested in inventions. Klaus is on the cusp of turning thirteen and still loves reading. Sunny is still an infant with four teeth who still can’t speak in full sentences, but she loves to bite things. They have escaped (again) from Count Olaf and his band of wicked accomplices. Banker and Bauldelaire family friend, Mr. Poe, is still in charge of sending the Baudelaire orphans to their next town of tragedy. This time it’s V.F.D. (“Village of Fowl Devotees”), a mysterious town covered in crows. The problem is, no one in the town wants to be responsible for the children. As the name suggests, the community is devoted to their murder of crows. At a Council of the Elders, a timid and loner handyman who is too skittish to speak up at Council meetings, is order to become the children’s guardian. All day long they must do chores for the community and always be respectful of the crows, crows, and more crows. By day, thousands of them hang around in town but by night they roost in the Nevermore tree on the outskirts of town, conveniently right by the handyman’s house.
As an aside, I skipped from Book 3 to 7. By not reading books 4-6 I missed out on Violet working at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, Klaus being enrolled at Prufrock Preparatory School, and all three children living with a couple named Jerome and Esme Squalor. At the end of book 6 Duncan and Isadora, two of three triplets are kidnapped. In Vile Village it is up to Klaus, Violet, and Sunny to rescue them.
Additionally, what is pretty amazing about the series of unfortunate events the Baudelaire orphans experienced thus far is that they all happened in less than a year’s time. The fire that killed their parents, the escape from Count Olaf’s house, the escape from Uncle Monty’s house, the escape from Aunt Josephine’s cliff side mansion, the time in the Finite Forest, or at 667 Dark Avenue. Books 1-7 take place in less than 365 days.

Author fact: So far I have told you Lemony was a pen name, his birth month is February, and that I was born in the same month. My last author fact is that Lemony is married to illustrator Lisa Brown.

Book trivia: Vile Village is the seventh book in the series and the last one I am reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series “wonderful.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Just for Kids: Fantasies for Grown-ups” (p 174).


Blue River

Canin, Ethan. Blue River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.

Reason read: Iowa became a state in December. Ethan Canin is a member of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Author fact: Canin is also the author of best selling novel, Emperor of the Sun, which is not on my challenge list. I did, however, finish Palace Thief ten years ago to the day.

Edward and Lawrence are brothers born six years apart. Edward is the younger, smarter, and more successful brother who married the very beautiful Elizabeth and together, they have a smart son. The Edward and his family live in a huge house in a great neighborhood. They have the perfect life thanks to Edward’s successful career as an ophthalmologist. Lawrence, on the other hand, was always the tough trouble maker; always mysterious, violent, and angry. While the entire story is told from the perspective of Edward, his narrative changes a third of the way through. He talks about his older brother until Lawrence comes to visit. Dressed in rags and looking like a homeless man, Lawrence’s arrival after ten years of silence is so completely unexpected and out of the blue Edward doesn’t recognize him. The brothers have been estranged to the point of strangling the relationship. This short reunion rattles loose memories for Edward. He spends the rest of the book talking to Lawrence, going back in time to relive their tumultuous childhood. The reader is left wondering, who is the traitor, who has the bigger sense of guilt?

Book trivia: the title comes from where the book takes place (in memories) – Blue River, Wisconsin. Current day is Santa Rosa, California.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Blue River; just that Canin is worth reading (as a distinguished MFA alum from the University of Iowa).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh Brother” (p 180).


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).


Seven Pillars

Lawrence, T.E. Seven Pillars: a Triumph. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1935.

Reason read: Lawrence of Arabia was born in December. Read in his honor.

The title of Seven Pillars comes from the Bible, in the Book of Proverbs. This is Lawrence’s personal narrative about the Arab revolt during World War I. A caveat: with all personal narratives come author perceptions that aren’t necessarily aligned with reality. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars is no different. He used unreliable sources in the form of diaries, journals, field notes, and most unreliable of all personal narratives, his memories. Yet, Lawrence goes to great pains to explain the process of his writing. In the spirit of artistic creation this is much appreciated.
I would be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to the full page portraits and illustrations that are beyond fantastic executed in plaster, oils, charcoal, pencil, and photograph . Lawrence makes special mention of the artist, Kennington, who worked for five years on the majority of the illustrations.
As an aside, Revolt in the Desert is an abridgement of Seven Pillars.

Quotes to quote, “All men dream, but not equally” (p 24), and “Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances” (p 29).

Author fact: All Souls College gave Lawrence “leisure” in 1919 – 1920 to write about the Arab Revolt during World War I.

Book trivia: Bernard Shaw critiqued Seven Pillars.

Nancy said: From Book Lust To Go Pearl said, “It goes without saying that any trip to Arabia should include reacquainting yourself with him” (p 23).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Arabia Deserta” (p 25).