Afterlife by Julia Alvarez 256 pages

Antonia Vega, born in the Dominican Republic and living in Vermont, is a retired English teacher recently widowed.  She is full of self pity when two events force her to stop thinking of herself and try to help others.  Mario works for the farmer next door.  He arrived from Mexico illegally and soon his pregnant girlfriend arrives from Mexico, too.  Since Antonia speaks Spanish, she is put in the uncomfortable situation of helping the young couple.  Antonia is one of four sisters.  The oldest, Izzy, is bipolar and has disappeared.  The sisters feel they must find her before something catastrophic occurs.

Afterlife does not show Julia Alvarez at her best.  Read In the Time of the Butterflies if you want to see what she is capable of writing.

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez 256 pages

Book suggestions for the quarantined

Nonfiction

I selected longer books that make what we are going through a piece of cake!

Say Nothing  by Patrick Radden Keefe

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

 

Fiction

I chose novels that were both easy and difficult, long and average length.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Book suggestions for the quarantined

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich 448 pages

Once again Louise Erdrich writes about her Native American heritage, this time focusing on the life of her grandfather.  Thomas Wazhushk is a night watchman, a farmer and an active member of the Chippewa Council in North Dakota.  When the people who live and work on The Turtle Mountain Reservation learn that a Mormon congressman has introduced a bill that will terminate their land and their identity, they know they must fight this bill.  Interwoven into Thomas’s tale, Erdrich tells the story of Patrice Paranteau.  Patrice is also a Chippewa.  She works at the factory where Thomas is a night watchman and is the sole support for her mother and younger brother.  Patrice has an older sister who has disappeared, so she has to take time off work, travel to Minneapolis and search for her.

The Night Watchman is very good.  It illustrates a small slice of American history with well-defined, complex characters.  However, I did feel it ended abruptly, and all the loose ends were tied together too quickly.

 

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich 448 pages

Deacon King Kong by James McBride 384 pages

Deacon King Kong aka Sportcoat is an alcoholic widower in his early 70’s.  He and a number of other characters with colorful nicknames live in The Cause Houses, a housing project in Brooklyn.  One day in 1969, Sportcoat shoots Deems, a young drug dealer who had a promising future in professional baseball.  Although there were a number of witnesses, Sportcoat remains free.  While he eludes the police and the drug dealers who are after him, we meet his friends, enemies, church members as well as his deceased wife Hettie.

I thoroughly enjoyed Deacon King Kong!  Yes, it has a lot of characters with funny names, and yes, there is more than one story line, but James McBride’s use of language and his amusing and heart-warming characters make the work totally worthwhile.

 

Deacon King Kong by James McBride 384 pages

Apeirogon by Colum McCann 453 pages

Like other McCann books, Apeirogon (defined as a shape with a countably infinite number of sides) is a flowing blend of fiction and reality.  Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan are real men.  Bassam is Palestinian and Rami is Israeli.  Both men are sons, fathers and husbands and each has lost a daughter.  Abir, Bassam’s daughter, is murdered on her way to school by an Israeli soldier.  Smadar, Rami’s daughter is murdered by a suicide bomber.  Despite the grief and anger these fathers feel, they join The Parent Circle, an organization that believes peace between Israel and Palestine can only be achieved through connections, empathy and understanding.  Bassam and Rami’s frienship is the framework of this exceptional thought-provoking novel.

Apeirogon is one of those rare works that can change your way of thinking-it did mine.  It is also packed full of interesting anecdotes, little known facts and heartfelt experiences.  A must read for anyone who wants to broaden his/her understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and view it from a personal level.

Apeirogon by Colum McCann 453 pages

The Liar by Ayelet-Gundar Goshen 278 pages

Seventeen year old Nafir leads a boring, unpopular life.  One day while working at her after school job in an ice cream parlor, she waits upon a mean, belittling male customer.  To get away from his nastiness, Nafir runs screaming from the parlor into the adjacent alley.  People hear her, run to help her and assume the man was attempting to rape her.  Nafir has never had so much positive attention.  She enjoys it as well as the sympathy she receives from strangers, so she doesn’t let on that no attempted assault ever occurred.  However, a young man whose bedroom window faces the alley is aware of what really happened.

In many ways The Liarshares characteristics with Gundar-Goshen’s earlier novel, Waking Lions.  Both begin with a wrongdoing and demonstrate how it causes other immoral acts.  The Liar was a good read, but I did not enjoy it as much as Waking Lions.

The Liar by Ayelet-Gundar Goshen 278 pages