The opening scene of Age of Vice takes place in New Delhi. A speeding Mercedes is involved in an accident that kills five homeless people who are sleeping on the sidewalk. Minutes after the accident, the drunk driver is led away from the damaged car and a servant replaces him. The loyal servant is sent to prison. And thus begins Kapoor’s can’t put down novel about India’s wealthy gangsters and the people who work for them. There is Sunny, son of one of the richest, meanest, most influential gangster in India, Neda, an investigative reporter who falls in love with Sunny, Ajay the devoted servant, as well many more intriguing, brutal characters.
Age of Vice is not high literature, but I read it every chance I got. It took me to a lavish, dangerous world I knew nothing about. However, like many page turners, Age of Vice’s ending was not as satisfying as the rest of the novel.
Jim O’Connell seems like a person who is too good to be true, but he’s for real. After his medical residency he was talked into spending a year treating the homeless in Boston. For Jim, a year became a lifetime. With the help of other very compassionate individuals, he set up medical clinics for the homeless as well as apartments, shelters and a van that reaches out to those who will not or cannot come get any and all kinds of help. The work is exhausting, often ungratifying, but Jim and his team are so inspiring. The title of Kidder’s book is a term people in the know use to describe those homeless people who live out of doors.
Tracy Kidder also spends part of Rough Sleepers describing in detail a handful of homeless people. The reader sees rough sleepers as individuals with a history, not just a lump under a blanket. Like his excellent work of nonfiction, Mountains Beyond Mountains, Kidder proves that one person can make a difference.
Winner of The Man Booker Prize this year, Karunatilaka’s second novel takes place in Sri Lanka. Maali Almeida is a photojournalist, a gay man, and dead. His ghost is told that he must pass through seven moons before he can reach The Light. On his journey, we meet many characters, most either dead or corrupt, learn that he has taken photos that could lead to the downfall of some guilty officials, and come to understand how and why Maali was killed.
Kaunatilaka’s innovative novel is part historical fiction, part murder mystery and part fantasy. It describes Sri Lanka’s civil war vividly and violently. I’m usually put off by works that have ghosts in them, and in The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, there are ghosts galore.
Selected by The New York Times as one of the five best works of nonfiction in 2022, Strangers to Ourselves presents six case studies of individuals suffering from mental illness. One of the examples is the author herself, who was hospitalized for anorexia when she was six years old. These studies present people of different genders, races and socio-economic status, all with different severe forms of mental illness.
If you are interested in the subject matter, and I am, Strangers to Ourselves is an interesting, sometimes fascinating other times perplexing read.
Part history, part memoir, Fintan O’Toole describes his story and that of Ireland’s from the year he was born, 1958, to the present. He depicts the country over the last 60 years politically, economically, spiritually, sociologically and morally. O’Toole’s life as an altar boy, a good student in a Catholic school, and an investigative reporter for the Irish Times help shed light on Ireland then and now.
If you are very pro Irish, you might want to be warned that We Don’t Know Ourselves describes a country, its political and religious leaders as well as its everyday citizens with all of their many blemishes. However, for anyone who has some interest in modern day Ireland We Don’t Know Ourselves is a work of nonfiction that should be read.
Elizabeth Zott has a Master’s degree in chemistry from UCLA and is working at a research institute in Commons, California. It is the early 60’s when women scientists were not just an oddity they were second class citizens. After leaving that job where she was underappreciated and treated poorly, she lands a job in television. Her show Suppers at Six is a cooking show where Elizabeth combines her knowledge of chemistry with her devotion to healthy meals.
Bonnie Gramus’s debut novel is an entertaining read that I think most women will enjoy. Elizabeth Zott is at least ten years ahead of the women’s movement which makes her a worthy protagonist. However, for me, she and her situation are too good to be true.
*These are books I read in 2022. Not all of them were published this year.
The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin
Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet
Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott
The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Lessons by Ian McEwan
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks by Patrick Radden Keefe
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy
Watergate by Garrett M. Graff
This debut novel and National Book Award Winner for fiction in 2022 tells the story of several tenants in a run down apartment building know as the rabbit hutch in Vacca Vale, Indiana. The main character, Blandine, is an eighteen year old who believes in mystics, was a foster child, and lives with three young men who are also products of Vacca Vale’s foster care system. Tess Gunty also introduces her readers to a dead child star, her wacko son, a young mother who is unable to look into the eyes of her very young child and a lonely spinster who edits letters of condolence that follow a newspaper’s obituaries.
Gunty’s novel is intriguing and quirky. She has taken an old plot- what happens to people who live in close proximity to one another-and put her own twist on it. The Rabbit Hutch is book that would make for great discussions in a book group. Like it or hate it, there’s lots to talk about.
Greta Fernsby is a 91 year old widow who lives in a lovely apartment in London. She was born in Germany an but moved to Poland when she was twelve when her father became the commander at Auschwitz. Since the end of World War II, she has tried to ignore her past and the part she played in it. When a family with a nine year old boy moves into the apartment beneath her, Greta is forced to look at her childhood and what she was responsible for.
John Boyne’s most recent novel is a page turner and an easy read with well drawn characters. Mark my words: All the Broken Places will be a best seller.
The young, unnamed female character of Keegan’s novella is sent to spend the summer with her childless aunt and uncle. Her home is filled with children, and her mother is pregnant. Her father is a cold, selfish man who is probably an alcoholic. The summer she spends with her aunt and uncle on their farm in southeast Ireland is paradise compared to her life at home.
This is a lovely short novella. Using few words, Keegan conveys the heart and soul of the young narrator and her family. I also admire how she took a typical tale of foster care and turned it upside down. Yet, is it worth $20 for an hour of pleasurable reading. I think not.