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Neshama's Choices for mid to late September

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A riveting memoir, the ultimate parental challenge, and a novel of old and new Vietnam.

 

   What  to Look For in Winter by Candia McWilliam

This is the kind of memoir I love: a smart, attractive, unorthodox woman with a rocky domestic life faces a challenging, humbling, bizarre malady and brings us along every step of the way. Her eyelids droop to the point where is often in effect blind. She can get in a few hours of painful sight but has to keep her head at a weird angle. She writes by dictation. Her limited mobility gives her hours to reflect on her past, especially the failed marriages (though she presently has very good relationships with both ex husbands and their new families). She comes from literary aristocracy and her descriptions of wild parties reminded me of the Mitfords. She also has such an amazing vocabulary that I had to look up at least 15 unfamiliar words. She's also a recovering alcoholic but doesn't get into much detail which disappointed me a bit. Oh the valuable lessons of disability: new ways of seeing and perceiving.

 

   The Good Father by Noah Hawley

Daniel's a good kid, if somewhat driftless. His dad Paul, a neurologist, thinks of himself as a conscientious father. He always tries to figure things out using the clinical model. The unthinkable happens: Daniel shoots a popular liberal candidate. Chapters alternate between Daniel and Paul's journeys with excursions into other infamous assassins' stories. We finally learn what triggered the shocking act. Paul's dive into grief over his parental shortcomings is heartrending, as are his frantic attempts to exonerate his son. Gripping.


   The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibbs

Old Hung makes pho to die for in modern day Hanoi. He's managed to do this through war, regime shifts, and dreadful privation. He got his start in a cafe where the eponymous optimistic political  movement was born and soon violently expunged. He now lives on the edge of a swampy area where a small poverty stricken community has formed. Maggie, born in Vietnam but repatriated to American, returns to track down information about her father, an artist involved in the movement, who disappeared long ago. Hung provides a fragile link, along with his honorary son, Tu, and a sidekickboth tourist  guides. Lots of frustration along the way but a heartwarming surprise ending. I love books that give me access to another culture and this one does a fine job.

 

Back next Monday (good lord willing and the creek don't rise...)
 


 

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Posted by: Neshama

Neshama works at the Fairfax Library.

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