It is 1979 in Iran, the year of the solar eclipse and the Iranian Revolution. In a city in northern Iran a retired judge and his wife are hosting the spring luncheon for their family. The family consists of a number of characters including a supposedly devout mullah, a nagging wife, an opium addicted nephew and his idealistic brother. As the year unfolds, each of the family members will encounter a crisis which for some will lead to self-awareness, for others power and glory and for others destruction.
Although the plot is somewhat predictable, Ghaffari, who grew up in Tehran until she was ten years old, tells a good story with insight into what happened to the average Iranian at the beginning of the revolution.
Vijay’s debut novel is the tale of Shalini, a young woman living in Bangalore, India. After her mother’s death, she is dissatisfied with her privileged, stagnant life, so she travels to Kashmir, a dangerous and primitive land, in search of a salesman who often visited her home when she was a child. Shalini believes that if she finds him, questions she has about her mother will be answered. What she encounters during her search is a world she never knew existed, a world and people who help her to understand herself.
The Far Field took me to a place I never knew anything about. Kashmir has been and unstable and militia dominated land since 1947, fought over by Hindus and Muslims. Madhuri Vijay’s excellent novel gave me insight into a young woman’s journey, the characters she lived with along the way, and the plight of those living in Kashmir.
Nigerian born author, Obioma, has written a novel about love and loss. His second work of fiction is the story of Chinonso, also known as Solomon. He is a poultry farmer in Nigeria who is quite content living on his farm, but is willing to sacrifice it for the woman he loves. Ndali, the woman, is from a wealthy family that values a good education. Without much thought, Chinonso sells his farm and applies to a college in Cyprus. What ensues is tragic, but Chinonso continues to love Ndali despite everything.
The narrator of An Orchestra of Minorities is a “chi,” which in Nigerian lore is a guardian spirit. The narrator is Solomon’s chi, who seems powerless to prevent all that happens to his host. This chi is also extremely wordy and tends to digress often, which I think will frustrate many readers.
A friend suggested I list my favorite works of fiction and nonfiction for this past year, and I thought it was a good idea. Here goes.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason
Educated by Tara Westover
Becoming by Michelle Obama
The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Canto
Calypso by David Sedaris
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
Happy New Year!!
If you’re a fan, you’ll want to read it. if you’re not, you won’t. Becoming covers Michelle Obama’s life from before she was born to when she and Barack left The White House. It is not a quick read. It is packed with personal details of her life, her opinions about everything from politics to motherhood and her hopes for her country and her family. By the time I got about a third of the way through her memoir, I felt I truly knew Michelle Robinson Obama. Even if one doesn’t agree with her views, her journey from a one bedroom apartment on Chicago’s South Side to Harvard Law School and then to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is an incredible trip!
The main character, Maurice Swift, dreams of being a famous writer and will do anything to achieve it. He steals other writer’s ideas, rough drafts and friendships, and the cost to the people he steals from is lethal. Swift is a handsome, glib psychopath who feels practically nothing for other human beings. In A Ladder to the Sky, words can prove deadly. Although Boyne’s prose is humorous and ironic, some of the issues he raises are serious and thought-provoking.
A Ladder to the Sky is the kind of novel where the reader knows what is going to happen, but still has a strong desire to continue reading. John Boyne has written a good novel about fame at any cost; however, I didn’t find it as fine a work as his last one, The Heart’s Invisible Furies.
Small Fry is one of the five notable works of nonfiction selected by The New York Times for 2018. The author’s parents were never married, conceived her when they were very young, and in many ways she paid the price for their irresponsible, naive life style. Lisa’s mom is Chrisann Brennan, an artist with an artistic temperament. Her father was Steve Jobs who denied his paternity for several years and whose presence in her life was sporadic and unpredictable. Her mother lived hand-to-mouth for most of Lisa’s childhood even though the father of her only child was a multi-millionaire. Jobs was not generous to his eldest daughter either, even refusing to pay for her senior year at Harvard.
Lisa Brennan-Jobs writes a poignant, fascinating memoir about growing up in northern California with two parents who were selfish and quick to anger but creative and clever.