Monthly Archives: July 2016

‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Mestarstarstarstar“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

Winner of several awards and endorsed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” this important book is about racial history in America. It is in the form of a visceral letter from father to son. Coates laments that the current racial climate is still one of fear, anger, and injustice. As a writer his response to the situation is to pick up the only weapon he knows how to use–a pen–and uses it eloquently and passionately. Many of us have heard that black mothers have to have “the talk” with their teenage sons…”in order to stay alive when you are young and black, you need to be ‘twice as good’ as anyone else.”

Coates writes about the hazards and hopes of black male life and in the letter to his son, tries to make him aware of the reality and the reasons for the current climate. His explanations are simple yet sobering. His conclusion is that nothing has yet changed since the days of slavery because black civilization as it was before their bodies were “transfigured into sugar, cotton, tobacco, and gold” has been destroyed. White civilization secured then by savage means, is still the heritage and history that blacks must live with despite their freedom. White domination and exclusion are still so sadly prevalent. In the climate of “us-them” prevalent around the world, in fresh clashes between white police and young blacks (violence is not new, it’s the cameras that are new), in terrorist attacks, in immigration issues, in a Republican hopeful building walls, and in Britain’s Brexit, this book is a poignant reminder that there is still much work to do in our world.

This is Part 1 of an interview with the author. There is a Part 2 and 3 as well.

‘Chance Developments: Unexpected Love Stories’ by Alexander McCall Smith

Chance DevelopmentsstarstarstarstarIn this unique collection, Alexander McCall Smith takes several anonymous old black-and-white photographs, and imagines the stories behind them. Who were these people and what was interesting about them? Why is that man sitting on that woman’s lap? Why is the little boy scowling on his tricycle? Who is changing the tire on that old car for the woman in the posh white coat? One reviewer aptly described it as ‘people watching’ in book form!

PhotographPhotoSmith’s talented imagination produces poignant tales of love and friendship in a variety of settings including an estate in Scotland, a travelling circus in Canada, an Australian gold-mining town, and a village in Ireland. The key to the entertainment of this simple prose is Smith’s beguiling story-telling and the immediate curiosity that the pictures evoke. These are marvellous little inventive pieces, quick to get into and inevitably ending way too soon.

This beautiful little volume makes a lovely gift because it is also an attractive book as object–a red hardcover, complete with glossy photographs, old-fashioned photo album corners, and a silk red ribbon bookmark. Since this is a stand alone novel, not part of any of his series, it would be a great introduction to Smith’s writing style for those who do not know him and a tasty treat for those who do.

‘Secrets of a Charmed Life’ by Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Lifestarstarstarstar“Current day, Oxford, England. Young American scholar Kendra Van Zant, eager to pursue her vision of a perfect life, interviews Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets about the war that she has kept for decades…beginning with who she really is. What Kendra receives from Isabel is both a gift and a burden–one that will test her convictions and her heart.”

Wartime PosterCompulsively readable, I loved this story of two sisters caught in the chaos of the London Blitz during the second World War. It was heartbreaking how children were evacuated and sent out of the city to safety, in this case to the quiet and beautiful Cotswolds. Meissner explores all aspects of this time period while the compelling story unfolds with plenty of twists and turns.  Historical fiction is powerful when it concentrates on the lives of people who were part of a difficult time period and the choices they had to make just to survive.  Their stories matter and help us to understand history as well as our own lives better. Highly recommended for summer reading or for book clubs. This is not one to miss and I will definitely seek out other books by this author.