Posts Tagged ‘culture’

The 19th Wife – Book Review

May 23, 2008

19th Wife cover LT BirdThe 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Release date: August 5, 2008

David Ebershoff’s “The 19th Wife” appears at first to be a daunting novel, weighing in at close to 600 pages, including the author’s note in the beginning.  I admit to cringing when I saw the size, sure that it would be awhile before I would get to any of my other books.

How happy I was to find out I was mistaken!  This book was so enjoyable that I read it in little more than 48 hours, sneaking a page here or there whenever possible.

“The 19th Wife” is a multi-time period story dealing with the legacy of polygamy in Mormonism and Morman fundamentalism.  The main characters are Jordan Scott – a young man kicked out at 14 years old of a polygamous community in Utah calling itself “First Latter Day Saints” for holding his stepsister’s hand – and Eliza Ann Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young turned moral crusader against polygamy.  Like Eliza Ann, Jordan’s mother is also a 19th wife.  Jordan is drawn back to Utah and back in contact with “The Firsts” when his mother is accused of murdering his father.

I have never read a book quite like this, historical fiction mixed with a present-day murder mystery.  I imagine that in a lot of cases, such an attempt would fail miserably.  With “The 19th Wife,” however, pulls it off brilliantly.  Mixed in with the two stories, Ebershoff included “documents” such as Wikipedia articles and requests for permission to research in LDS Church archives, as well as letters or memoirs of other historical figures and a thesis paper.  Instead of breaking up the action, this seems a clever way to impart to the reader information that neither first person narrator should have.

Although I was slightly disappointed at the way the murder mystery wrapped up in the present-day story thread, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I loved the concept, I was ecstatic that the author saw fit to include a “what’s true, what’s not true” note at the end of his book – why don’t more authors of historical fiction do this, by the way? – and I enjoyed both the story and the writing.  I will be on the lookout for this Ebershoff’s previous and future works.

Buy this book on Amazon

The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur – Book Review

March 12, 2008

The Translator coverI was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari from someone who received it as an Early Reviewer and passed it along to me:

This was a very poignant memoir of a very important issue. Daoud is a Zaghawa tribesman from Darfur. After being educated, he leaves the country to find work and make money to send home to his family. Daoud returns home to Darfur in the midst of the genocide to check on his family. Shortly after he arrives, their village is attacked and everyone who survives is forced to flee for the border with Chad. It is in the refugee camps in Chad that Daoud finds his role in fighting the genocide: as a speaker of Zaghawa, Arabic, and English, Daoud is able to act as a translator first for UN and aid workers serving the refugees and later for reporters going into Sudan to report on the genocide first hand. While describing his experiences, Daoud is quite good about explaining the history of the conflict and of the region as a whole in a very understandable way.

Daoud Hari’s voice is supremely evident in this memoir. As I was reading I felt that I was sitting in front of him, listening to him tell me about what he had seen and experienced. I was actually glad only to be reading the account, not hearing it personally; there was so much pain and hardship in the words that I know I could never bear to hear those words with an emotional voice behind them. The story comes out both with a freshing straight-forwardness as well as with elegant use of foreshadowing and building the narrative, it is really beautifully told. This book should be purchased and then passed on to as many people as you can get to read it so that more people can actually feel what is happening in Darfur, instead of just hearing about it in a detached manner.

Buy this book on Amazon: The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur

Reading Around the World

February 26, 2008

Inspired by another LibraryThing user, I have added another tool to this blog to help me be a more well-balanced reader.  On my “Reading Around the World” page I have one of those fun little maps of the world where you can show people all of the interesting places you have been.  Instead of showing you when I’ve been physically, my map is designed to show you where books have taken me.  This is going to be something that is waaay simplified, because I’m not going to have any way to separate ancient Persia from modern-day Iran, etc.  I just finished reading a selection about Emperor Constantine of Rome, and I have to decide exactly how the heck I want to show that on the map (I’m thinking I may decide to omit it).

The rules:

  1. I am starting with the book I am reading RIGHT NOW, and only adding books I read in the future.  Even though I’ve read Kite Runner and Bookseller of Kabul, I’m not yet adding Afghanistan (although I can when I re-read those books), the fact that at least 40% of what I’ve read in the past 2 years has been around the Tudors doesn’t mean that I’m adding England (until I get to my next Jean Plaidy book I have waiting).
  2. To add a country, the book must be set in some significant way in the country.  For instance, I mentioned Kite Runner above.  The protagonist spends some amount of time in Pakistan, but the majority of the action and cultural feeling comes from Afghanistan and the US, so I could only add those two countries.  Conversely, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova has characters moving through the US, England, France, Turkey, and Eastern Europe.  The US, England, and to some extent France portions of the book are more generic “I was at Oxford and this was happening in my academic life,” etc.  When the characters are in Turkey and Eastern Europe, they are interacting with the culture and history of the countries, so I would consider those countries ones that should be added, even if they were technically the setting for a smaller percentage of the book.

Note: I am contemplating adding a corollary to this, which would be listing the books under the countries in which they occur.  Thoughts?