There There by Tommy Orange

 

36692478.jpg

My Review:

So much sorrow as the characters in There There seek connection and struggle with identity…an honest and important debut!

Author Tommy Orange gives us a window into Native American Indian suffering and challenges with skill.  We follow more than a dozen characters, hearing their stories as they prepare to attend a major Pow Wow, a coming together of Natives from all over.  As we know, their land was taken away from them, but most have never lived the traditional Indian life on a reservation.  They are interested in their own culture and history yet they know so very little about where they truly came from, the people, the places, and the rituals and traditions.  Not knowing their past contributes to unsettled feelings, and a sense of belonging is challenging and often laced with despair.

Tony Loneman was born to an alcoholic and has some mental deficits.  He deals drugs.  He plans to go to the Pow Wow to steal money.

Dene Oxendene smokes weed.  He takes over his uncle’s movie making project about Indians and their stories.  He plans to go to the Pow Wow to interview Natives.

Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield lived on Alcatraz in protest when she was a child, with her mom, who died of cancer and her sister.  She plans to go to the Pow Wow to see her grandson dance.

Edwin Black searches online and finds his long lost father.  He plans to meet him at the Pow Wow.

Everyone is searching for their history, a means to an end and connection while battling despair, addiction, weight issues and social challenges.  I found this book, a collection of integrated personal stories, compelling and tragic. Not knowing who you are can be devastating and hearing the words of a character who is half Native and half white, the struggle is evident as Orange writes, “You’re from a people who took and took and took and took. And from a people taken. You were both and neither. ”

With clarity and honesty, There There is a story of the urban Native Americans, an inherently beautiful people with a painful past and a deep sense of spirituality.  I highly recommend this book.

Goodreads Summary

2156371.jpeg

Photo: © Elena Seibert

About the Author:

Tommy Orange is a recent graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts.  He is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow.  He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.  He was born and raised in Oakland, California, and currently lives in Angels Camp, California.

 

Advertisements

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

35526420.jpg

My Review:

WOW! What a great book! I feel like I have a deep understanding of this beautiful, struggling family having experienced their lives from different perspectives through Fatima Farheen Mirza’s heartfelt and elegantly written debut. She is gifted in making you feel the characters’ emotions from their own viewpoint and from other perspectives, gradually revealing different aspects without retelling the story.

A Place For Us begins at Hadia’s wedding in California.  The family gathers to celebrate a marriage based on love, not an arranged marriage as you might expect, and Amar, Hadia’s younger brother who ran away three years earlier, has returned for the celebration.  We don’t know why he was gone and thus the story is told from the beginning.

With secrets of clandestine meetings with the opposite sex, drug use and lack of strong religious beliefs, to nontraditional marriages, family responsibilities and commitments, and educational options for women, Mirza tells a rich and engaging story of today.  We see how an Indian Muslim family might feel conflicted with the parent’s family traditions of faith from prior generations, and the current American culture they are accustomed to where their children have grown up and are a part of.

This wonderful Indian, Muslim American family in many ways is like any other family, lots of love, sibling rivalry and parental discipline, yet they follow strict religious rules and traditions which at times complicate their relationships with each other and others. Due to traditional expectations, each family member feels personal conflict as they strive for social acceptance, grapple with religious beliefs and search for individual happiness.  Trying to find their place in the family is compounded with trying to find their place in the outside world, and like any family that has their own rules and strong belief systems, there are challenges.  This incredibly moving story feels authentic and relevant in today’s society where it continues to be a difficult to look, act and dress differently and still fit in amongst a crowd. This family has so much love for each other but love doesn’t always come without pain and disappointment.  The family members often act and react toward each other based on assumptions, always wanting the best, but not always with the best results. I adored the characters as they go on their journeys to develop their identities, enjoyed the format with different points of view, and was absorbed by the compelling story of family and culture; so beautifully written and emotionally powerful…my favorite book of the year so far!

Note:  A Place For Us is the first book published by Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint SJP for Hogarth.  To read about my conversation with SJP click here.

Goodreads Summary

16984671.jpg

About the Author:

Fatima Farheen Mirza was born in 1991 and raised in California. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship.

A Marriage in Dog Years by Nancy Balbirer

34903901.jpg

My Review: 

AVAILABLE IN JUNE! PRE-ORDER NOW! Author Nancy Balbirer takes us with her on the rocky journey of life as we see her joy filled marriage filled with hopes and dreams blossom then fizzle, at the same time her beloved, terminally ill beagle, Ira struggles to defy the odds and live another day.  From LA to NYC, single to married with a child, from puppy to old dog, and dreams of second chances, so much of life’s ups and downs happen and Nancy keeps you laughing through your tears.

A Marriage in Dog Years is a touching true story is told with honesty and humor, stirring up so many different feelings including love, anger, forgiveness and hope, well written in the author’s unique voice. Balbirer’s story is reminiscent to Sarah Jessica Parker’s hit show, Divorce on HBO – the good, the bad and the ugly truth about the slow death of a marriage, a complex relationship crumbling with regrets and infused with hope for peace and a bright future, with the added bonus of actual puppy love – unconditional and unwavering mutual support and devotion in man’s/woman’s best friend. If you love love, and if you love your pet, this emotional ride is for you!

Amazon Prime members can download A Marriage in Dog Years for FREE on May 1st and Book Nation by Jen will be hosting a GIVEAWAY for a copy hot off the press COMING SOON!

As Seen on Goodreads:

When Nancy Balbirer learns her beloved eleven-year-old beagle has kidney failure, she’s devastated. She and her husband had gotten Ira as a puppy—a wedding gift to each other, and their first foray into “parenthood.” Now, her dog is terminal, her marriage is on life support, and Nancy is desperate to save them both (whether they want it or not). In a single year, she loses her two best friends, but Nancy’s life is about to take yet another unexpected turn.

With humor and heart, Nancy Balbirer shares her story of relationships, loss, and canine friendship in this illuminating memoir about the lengths people will go to keep love alive…and the power of finally letting go.

2860937.jpg

About the Author:

Nancy Balbirer is a writer and performer of stage and screen. She is the author of “Take Your Shirt Off and Cry.” She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

 

30288282.jpg

My Review:

Four children from a Jewish family on the lower east side of Manhattan visit a psychic in the summer of 1969 and are told the date they will die.  Does this information, this prediction, change the way they choose to live?  That question is left unanswered in The Immortalists, as we follow each of the siblings’ lives.   Author Chloe Benjamin provides us with a mesmerizing story of these rich characters, and their choices about how to live.  Simon, the youngest brother, moves to California to live his truth and gets caught up in the reckless ’80s sexual revolution.  His journey out west begins with his sister Klara, who is irresponsible in many ways and chooses to become a magician.  Daniel, the oldest brother is conflicted at work; he is a doctor in the army and must give clearance to young men, less fortunate than he. to serve in the military.  And Vanya is involved in anti-aging research, as she reduces caloric intake of primates to extend their lives.  We witness the strengthening and deterioration of relationships and we hope things will turn out ok, but do they?  Throughout the book I couldn’t help but question if the characters’ choices were made because of the knowledge they received regarding their death.

Another question to think about is:  quality or quantity…do you want to live a long time or live well during the time you have?  Would you want to know the date of your own death?

Some of what Chloe Benjamin writes about is based on her own knowledge and experiences; she grew up in California in the 80s, with a gay parent, a Jewish parent, and immigrant grandparents.  She was a ballet dancer and her mother was an actor…all of which influenced the setting and characters.  She also did massive research to learn about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military, primate research, magicians and magic.  The narrative was rich with information and I really enjoyed the format, each section written about a different character.

The Immortalists, for me, was a lesson about embracing life and trying not to worry about the unknown.  It is a balance, like science and religion, to navigate our lives by making choices based on what we know to be true and what we believe is true.  I highly recommend this book!

As seen on Goodreads:

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

15968276.jpg

About the Author:

Chloe Benjamin is the author of THE IMMORTALISTS, a New York Times Bestseller, #1 Indie Next Pick for January 2018, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, #1 Library Reads pick, and Amazon Best Book of the Month.

Her first novel, THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS (Atria, 2014), received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize.

Her novels have been translated into over twenty-three languages. A graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin, Chloe lives with her husband in Madison, WI.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

33916024.jpg

My Review:

Sourdough by Robin Sloan is perfect blend of culinary secrets and technological experiments.  Lois is a programmer who spends her endless days writing code and programming a robot arm.  She resorts to drinking a Slurry (an unappealing nutritional concoction) for lunch during the day, and ordering delivery of spicy soup with delicious bread from a neighborhood hole in the wall at night.  She falls into this comfortable routine and when the delivery guy tells her he and his brother, the chef, have to leave the country, she is distraught. Because she had become to them the “Number One Eater”, they are leaving her with a valuable secret…the special starter for the sourdough bread she adores, and they asked her to keep it alive.  Now burdened with the task of baking the perfect loaf, Lois builds an oven and teaches herself to bake.  The secret recipe they left her with is amazing and she begins selling the beautiful and tasty loaves to her company’s caterer, who encourages Lois to sell at the farmer’s market.  Working at the robotics company by day and baking at night, she has little sleep, but is energized.

The popular farmer’s market does not accept her but she is welcome at the mysterious underground market where food is being improved with technology, and unique and unusual products are being developed and sold.  Lois uses her engineering prowess to take on the job of programming the robotic arm to crack eggs, a challenging task, per the request of the market’s sinister leader, so the arm can assist her in the baking process.  Her love of baking and feeding people who enjoy her sourdough bread is overwhelmingly fulfilling and she leaves her programming job to bake full time.

This book was charming and fun, with several chapters devoted to The Lois Club, a club Lois was a member of where she attending meetings with other Lois’s in her neighborhood.  Working long hours and baking bread at night, Lois didn’t have much time to develop friendships so this group of women were her support.  Loved Robin Sloan’s quirky characters, the story of Lois and the inherited sourdough recipe and enjoyed the fast pace and charm!

I’m probably not going to start baking bread any time soon, although a loaf of warm sourdough with salted butter would be delicious…but having so many friends already with my same name, I am tempted to start a Jennifer Club!

 

As seen on Goodreads:

Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread.
Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive.  Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show.
When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?

2960227.jpg

About the Author:

Robin Sloan is the author of the novels Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Sourdough. He grew up near Detroit and now splits his time between the Bay Area and the internet.