Multicultural

The Book of Unknown Americans

ISBN: 
9780385350846

With immigration a hot button issue both politically and in the news, it was interesting to read Cristina Henriquez’s second novel The Book of Unknown Americans. It tells the stories of various immigrants (from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries) who have all landed in Delaware.

The book opens with a family’s arrival at night from the border. A paid driver has brought Arturo, Alma, and their daughter Maribel to this immigrant enclave outside of Dover.  They are legal immigrants given papers to work on a mushroom farm.  Or at least Arturo will work there. They have come primarily to get special schooling for 15 year old Maribel who fell off a ladder at her father’s construction site in Mexico and has brain damage.

The story of this family is the heartwood of the novel. But woven in are life stories of other immigrants including a boxer, who came to the states to win matches but became instead a landlord, and an actress who worked hard to make it in New York City, but came to Delaware and formed her own theatre. 

This beautiful books gives you a feel of how hard it is to start life over in a new place, not understanding the language or culture.  It also explores issues of guilt and secrecy, and how they affect even the strongest of marriages. Read more »

Touching Strangers

ISBN: 
9781597112499

Anyone with the ability to get a stranger to pose for a camera while touching two or three other strangers in New York City must have both courage and amazing diplomatic skills. Enter photographer Richard Renaldi. Since 2007 Renaldi has been hauling his big, 8 by 10 inch view camera not just around New York, but around other cities and towns across America.  This cool involving book presents some of the amazing portraits he’s created.

The juxtapositions are captivating: ages, races, classes, sexes, outfits, jewelry, tattoos, and indoor and outdoor settings all present a panoply of portraits of 21st century Americans. In “Jesse and Michael,” a bearded middle-aged man in an orange sweatshirt and woolen cap clutches the hands of a very old woman wearing a wig, with her cane draped over her purse.  Atlantic Ocean waves break behind them.

“Pedro and Neal” touch in some kind of shop or factory.  Pedro sits, his body exuding confidence and authority, a radio attached to his shirt.  Neal in a blue cap has claimed a perch on Pedro’s desk and Neal places one hand on Pedro’s shoulder, another around his wrist.

“Michael and Sarah” look like they could be engaged. Sarah leans into Michael’s shoulder on the NYC subway during winter—both wear coats and hats; their opposite hands are clasped on Sarah’s left wrist. Read more »

Three Day Road

Three Day RoadI read a review of Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden's first novel of World War I, which mentions that this isn't necessarily an anti-war novel.   I had to read the sentence in that review several times to make sure I wasn't misreading or misunderstanding.  Does a war novel have to come out and specifically declare a stance? 

Really, Boyden includes anti-war elements right up to the breathtaking ending: senseless killings, madness, morphine addiction, shortsighted military leadership, dehumanization, and the day to day terror.  The characters in this book do seemingly impossible and horrible things in the name of combat.  Is that not stance enough?  Is it even important?

It is true that this book is about more than the descent into the hell of trench warfare.  It is a really poetic story of Xavier Bird and Elijah Whiskeyjack, Cree Indians who have grown up in Canada near Hudson Bay.  They have spent their childhood patiently hunting, skills which serve them well as snipers in some of the worst battles of World War I, including around Vimy Ridge and the Somme.  Maybe it needs to be said, but being good at killing moose to survive the winter is different than being good at killing Germans. Xavier and Elijah react differently, but equally destructively, to war. Read more »

High Seas Adventure (and so much more)!

ISBN: 
Heart of a samurai : based on the true story of Manjiro Nakahama

HeartSamurai"An action packed historical novel set on the high seas!" claims the book jacket for Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus.  Normally these aren't quite the descriptors I am looking for in a good book, but this Young Adult novel has amazing visual appeal and lying underneath the "high seas adventure" is a true heart of gold. 

Preus tells a fictional account of a true story: Manjiro, a young man from a small fishing village, becomes the first Japanese person to set foot in America.  Japan at the time had closed borders and a deep distrust for anything foreign.  When Manjiro is rescued with his friends after being shipwrecked on an island by an American whaling ship, his life is changed forever.  Captain Whitfield sees that Manjiro is a quick study, both in language and sailing and takes him under his wing.  The more Manjiro sees outside Japan, the more he wants to learn and explore eventually ending up attending school in New Bedford, Massachusetts living with the Whitfields. Read more »

The Wandering Falcon

Wandering FalconAfghanistan and Pakistan are areas that are in the news...a lot. The Middle East has its problems, but what about its culture and traditions? In Jamil Ahmad's book, The Wandering Falcon, the reader gets a short glimpse into the Tribal areas of the border lands between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Through a weaving train of stories, the reader gets to know the culture of wandering tribal families and individuals. The story starts after WWII, by my calculations, with the birth of Tor Baz and the tragic story that accompanies his earliest years. From this point the story wanders along with different individuals who work for the government in these lands and people looking out for their family, themselves, and their tribes. It's about outcasts and people trying to make it through life in the mountains and plains, finding happiness in those around them or disappointment in the lot life hands them. Ahmad loosely ties these stories together through a "Where's Waldo" with the character Tor Baz. He shows up in almost every story playing minimal roles or just sticking his head in.  Read more »

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