WHAT I HAVE BEEN READING LATELY
The Golden Legend, By Nadeem Aslam, Vintage, $23
A room full of books. A metal helmet for a stallion from the times of the Crusades, vertebrae of a whale from Antarctica, the earliest known photograph of a snowflake. And two buildings in the centre of the room – detailed models of the Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
It’s a magical space Helen is growing up in, one that is shattered when shots ring out.
When Helen lost her mother, she knew she would never really recover.
It was as though her pen ran out of ink while writing a letter. She had picked up another containing ink of a different colour and continued; but even if the words and the lines of thought remained the same, something had altered.
Nargis’s life begins to crumble around her when her husband is fatally shot and a powerful military intelligence officer pays a visit to convey a threat.
Nargis wishes the dead were somewhere specific. ...but they were nowhere. They were erased into memory.
The two flee with the help of a stranger, Nargis carrying the secrets from her past with her.
She had succeeded in concealing herself in the false story she had constructed.
In parts, the narrative feels heavy-handed, burdened with the need to cover it all, from misogyny and subjugation of minorities to religious intolerance and army atrocities. But then the thought surfaces, don’t they all germinate from the same seed?
It’s a revelatory, gut-wrenching portrait of societies in turmoil. A brutal narrative that is, at the same time, astonishingly tender.
The Looming Tower, By Lawrence Wright,Vintage, $23
The Looming Tower won Lawrence Wright the Pulitzer in 2007. It is winning him new readers after the releases of the Hulu series based on the book.
In the gripping narrative that spans five decades, he traces the rise of al-Qaeda and reveals the intelligence failures that culminated in 9/11. Stage-by-stage, in one part of the globe, he follows the transformation of bin Laden and Ayman-al-Zawahiri from incompetent and idealistic soldiers in Afghanistan to leaders of one of the most feared terrorist organizations. These are intimate portraits Wright paints, highly-researched and rich in detail, describing worlds that few will get to see.
Human-rights advocates in Cairo argue that torture created an appetite for revenge, first in Sayyid Qutb and later in his acolytes, including Ayman al-Zawahiri.
And thousands of miles away, the rivalry between the CIA’s Michael Scheuer and the FBI’s John O’Neill. Both men wanted bin Laden, but on their terms and in their way and their turf wars derailed the hunt.
There are little nuggets that few are aware of. King Faisal sends his sons to America to be educated. The youngest, Prince Turki, despondent and depressed by Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, skipped classes and then had to make up the work in summer school. One of his classmates, a gregarious young man from Arkansas named Bill Clinton, spent four hours coaching him for an ethics test. It was August 19, Clinton’s twenty-first birthday. Turki got a B in the class.
Those reading The Looming Tower today will find it as riveting as those who read it back when it was first published in spite of knowing how it turned out for Osama bin Laden. And therein lies the power of Wright’s writing.
Fisherman’s Blues, By Anna Badkhen, Riverhead Books, $36
All boundaries – between land and sea, between myth and truth, even between storyteller and story – are permeable, says Anna Badkhen in Fisherman’s Blues.
It’s a tale of a broken sea where the genii have taken the fish elsewhere. At Joal Harbour on Senegal’s Atlantic Coast the fish used to be so plentiful a man could dip his hand into the gray-green ocean and pull one out as big as his thigh, but in a decimated Atlantic the fish are harder and harder to find. It’s overfishing and climate change, fishermen say.
Badkhen’s prose is poetic. A light approaches along the tideline, winks, grows. A fishwife. Her pace is measured, her slack arms swing lightly with her step, her back is very straight... she does not slow down when she reaches the fishers, and she passes them without greeting and walks away until she flickers out into the sweaty black.
Fisherman’s Blues, like Badkhen’s previous books – The World is a Carpet and Walking With Abel – immerses the reader in a community tugged by currents ancient and modern, navigating its rich history.
The Rooster Bar, By John Grisham, Doubleday, $37
Mark, Todd and Zola, three close friends and idealistic young students, came to law school to change the world and make it a better place.
But they realize they have been duped. They are in a third-tier law school, one of a chain owned by a shady New York hedge fund operator who also happens to own a bank specializing in students loans – the same bank they borrowed heavily from. They’ve been caught up in the Great Law School Scam. But maybe there’s a way out.
Llive LLaugh Llove, Illustrated by Alena Tkach, Potter, $17.50
Llamas are all the rage suddenly. Little ones love the Llama Llama Yum Yum Yum books – there’s a tv show based on it, too – and apparently, life lessons to be learned from llamas as well. Such as:
Always be yourself. (Unless you can be a llama – then definitely be a llama).
Zany, wacky and strangely wise ways to stay centred and laugh your way through life.
The House of Hawthorne, By Erika Robuck, New American Library, $30.95
Sophia, a talented artist, inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the greatest American writers. Her journals and paintings kindled a fire in him, but their children’s needs and life’s ups and downs steal her energy and time for her art, fuelling a perennial tug-of-war between fulfilling her domestic duties and pursuing her creative career.
In The House of Hawthorne, Erika Robuck takes readers behind the scenes in a famous marriage of two strong-willed people, each devoted to the other but also driven by the powerful need to explore the far reaches of their creative impulses.
The Golden Glow, By Benjamin Flouw, Tundra, $17.99
A fun book about a fox in search of a “fabulously fascinating flower”. Along the way, he introduces young readers to tree shapes and leaf forms. Here is a fir, and there, an oak.
He also spots familiar flowers, anemones, violets and forget-me-nots... And when he does find the flower he is searching for, he shares a valuable lesson in eco-conservation.
WOUNDED, BY ERIC WALTERS, PENGUIN, $7.99
Marcus, his sister, and his mother are anxiously counting down the days until Marcus’s father returns home from Afghanistan.
The lack of communication from his father has caused some anxiety for the family. When the day of his arrival finally comes, they are overwhelmed with happiness and relief. However, as days go by, Marcus realizes that his father does not seem the same. He is jumpy, aggressive at times and preoccupied with the news of Afghanistan. Marcus knows that a handful of soldiers are affected by posttraumatic stress. However, he finds it hard to believe that his father needs help.
The novel illustrates multiple conflicts. Marcus, the protagonist, struggles to help his girlfriend Courtney move past her own father’s death; Marcus also struggles with himself as he has to be the man of the family during the absence of his father and the situation does not improve on his return. Lastly, the conflict that the entire family has to face as Marcus’s dad is having a hard time adapting back to his normal life.
Marcus is the narrator, since everything happens from his perspective. The voice is effective and I could relate to it because the author did a good job of showing the struggles of a military family. Yet it would have been interesting to know what Marcus’s father, the wounded, was thinking throughout the novel and his thoughts on the events that occurred in Afghanistan. Wounded is intriguing and is another great book by Eric Walters.
Reviewed by Nivetha Nimalanesan, a grade 9 student and a member of Brampton Library’s Teen Library Council.