Friday, April 04, 2014

Townie by Andre Dubus III

The memoir "Townie" takes place in the Haverhill/Newburyport area primarily in the 1970's to 1990. Andre Dubus III is the son of Andre Dubus, a Bradford College professor and short story writer. Due to divorce however, Andre III grew up mainly with his mother and 3 siblings in a low rent section of Haverhill. This book has a heavy emphasis on Andre's teens through young adult years during which he attempted to become a man through street fights and bravado. Though the repeated fighting gets a little repetitive, Andre III eventually came to realize that he couldn't keep living that way if he wanted to survive and make something of himself. After high school and some forays into the world beyond Haverhill, he started experimenting with writing, which for some reason never occurred to him as a profession (though his father was a writer and knew many writers as well). It turned out that writing was his salvation. Besides the colorful characters and stories in the book, the most interesting aspect to "Townie" is how Andre III  learns to make peace with his anger: by understanding others with compassion and writing about them.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mister Owita's guide to gardening by Carol Wall

It was snowing this morning when I got up - it is still winter!,    This book is a delight, not so much on the gardening side of the book, it's the relationship between Mr. Owita and the author.  He is a man from Kenya, working as a gardener,  a grocery bagger, and whatever other jobs he can find to support his family. She is living in Virginia with her husband , caring for her elderly parents, and a decidedly scruffy yard. .Through gardening both of these people become friends in the most amazing way, and support each other in many ways they never foresaw.  There are health issues, dignity issues, deep respect for each other and their families.   This is a very touching book.                                                                                                        

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Slave by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis

This is a true story of a girl who was sold into slavery when she was twelve.  It all began one night in 1993, when the Arab raiders rode into her village in the remote Nuba mountains of Sudan, murdering the adults and capturing children.  Mende was one of them.  She then was sold to an Arab woman in Khartoum. For seven years she was kept as a domestic slave. After that she was sent to work for another master, a diplomat working in United Kingdom. She finally managed to escape to freedom in year 2000. Slave is a story beyond belief, a shocking insight of the modern day slavery.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout

The first half of this memoir is about Amanda's childhood in Canada and her travels as a young adult. The second half deals with her horrifyingly intense kidnapping as a freelance journalist in Somalia.
Amanda's mother struggled to raise her and her two brothers on a limited income. To cope, Amanda bought National Geographics at a thrift store and dreamed about the places she'd someday visit. After high school, Amanda moves to a larger city in Alberta where her waitressing income enables her to travel. Each journey gets more exotic and far flung. Eventually she meets an Aussie named Nigel who introduces her to the world of photojournalism. On the fateful trip to Somalia, Amanda invites Nigel to come along. Together, they are held captive by young Somali fighters for 15 months.
The story is harrowing and told in detail, but it's not overly moralistic or condemning. Amanda comes to understand how her captors have become so desperate and ruthless.
I don't fully agree with Amanda's decision to go to Somalia in the first place; it's a bit naive and foolhardy. However,  her bravery and skill in surviving the kidnapping left a deep impression on me.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Having read David Sedaris' other books, I can say that this one is a little more mellow and poignant.  This book has a softer edge to it; as though he's looking back and reconsidering things with more compassion. There are definitely humorous parts: fun sentences like, "If owls were the professors of the avian kingdom, then kookaburras, I thought, might well be the gym teachers." Or, "Does there come a day in every man's life when he looks around and says to himself, 'I've got to weed out some of these owls?' I can't be alone in this, can I?" There's still passages which are pure Sedaris: conversations overheard at the airport, a visit to the taxidermist, awkward shopping with his brother-in-law, and his obsession with picking up "rubbish" in his adopted country of England.
Between the memoir-based essays are ones written from the viewpoint of fictional characters. Though interesting, these don't work as well for me (maybe because the "real" essays have that nuance of compassion). Overall, it was worthwhile: a quick and fun journey with Mr. Sedaris.