Tag Archives: carole reedy

It Was A Very Good Year: Best Reads of 2022

By Carole Reedy

The incomparable Maria Callas said once of an opera, “An opera … becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I have left the opera house.”

I would use the same words to describe the way I feel about the books I read this year – each is unique in style, structure, and content. All of them enrapture and engage, while giving us food for thought long after we’ve finished reading. They are lush and contain all we hope for in a reading experience.

To Paradise, by Hanya Yanagihara
After turning the last page of this book in March, I knew it would be my top read of 2022. As with her earlier masterpiece, A Little Life (2015), Yanagihara dissects and analyzes while elaborating on the world she creates for the reader.

Yanagihara’s newest story is divided into three parts set a century apart. The first part starts in 19th century New York City, but not the New York we think we know. Yanagihara has designed a new entity out of the territories of the US following the Civil War. As a result, life is very different.

A century later, we are taken to Hawaii, and then a century after that to a new dimension. Although this is a lengthy book, you won’t need a list of characters or a family tree before you begin. As the flow and tension of the writing consumes you, the characters become evident in their placement in history.

Great Circle: A Novel, by Maggie Shipstead
I heard about this book through my book grapevine, which includes readers of all ages and backgrounds. Published in 2021, here’s a book that is widely admired and loved. And little wonder. The two stories at the center, one present day and the other 50 years earlier, are centered around strong women characters.

The current-day heroine is an actress, the counter heroine an airplane pilot. Their lives parallel in many ways, and the juxtaposition makes for a compelling, enjoyable, and even educational read.

The Marriage Portrait: A Novel, by Maggie O’Farrell
This historical novel arrives with great anticipation on the coattails of O’Farrell’s beautifully rendered Hamnet (2020) and it is a worthy successor. In The Marriage Portrait we live and empathize with the 16-year-old Lucrezia de Medici who lives her life in the lush Italian Renaissance world with all its conventions and excesses.

O’Farrell’s novel is said to have been inspired by the Robert Browning poem “My Last Duchess,” just as the author’s previous novel was based on the life of Shakespeare and his play Hamlet. O’Farrell relies on poetic justice to weave the intricacies of this story and period with a flair and sensitivity rarely found in historical novels.

Lessons: A Novel, by Ian McEwan
For me, this is McEwen’s magnum opus. In his lifetime’s worth of novels he has blessed us with a constellation of style, length, and personages. This surprisingly lengthy (449 pages) novel simply follows the story of a man across all the upheavals of time and history.

Through the characters we experience decades of disruption and tragedies brought about by war and man’s flaws. It is beautifully rendered and said to be quasi-autobiographic.

Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart
Shuggie Bain, the young boy in the novel of the same name (2020), was the creation of Douglas Stuart based on his own life. There are few writers who can so adeptly transport us to an alien world and also break our hearts. In this book, Stuart generates an empathy rarely experienced by readers. I felt it a privilege to be taken into Shuggie’s sphere and life in 20th century Scotland.

This second novel is equally worthy. Here the teenage Mungo suffers the trials of poverty and being different in a society struggling with religious conflict. Once again, Stuart’s lyricism captures the essence of this world and brings it clearly into our hearts and minds.

Hell of a Book, by Jason Mott
While awaiting the world to return to normal as the calendar changed from 2021 to 2022, I read this novel by an author I didn’t know, but I knew immediately it would be on this list at the end of the year.

We book enthusiasts love to read about books, publishing, and even the whirlwind author tours. While telling this story, the author takes us on a double journey, with the writer/protagonist performing the tasks expected of his publisher, but also tackling the ghosts of his past.

Watt deservingly won the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction for this most engaging novel.

Babysitter: A Novel, by Joyce Carol Oates
This is the Joyce Carol Oates I love, a novel reminiscent of her 70s masterpieces. It is frightening in its spot-on depiction of a rich suburban housewife and her emotionally charged, rash decisions. Every fiber in your body wants to shout “Don’t do that!”

A supporting sub story tells of another suburban nightmare: the threat of a serial killer in the midst of a closed, pristine community. As always, Oates tightly knits the daily chaos of our modern world into a compelling story, a talent she’s mastered over the years.

Oates has been writing for more than 50 years and has produced more than 100 written works, from short stories and essays to many of our favorite novels. Her early novels – Them (1969), A Garden of Earthly Delights (1967), Expensive People (1968) – and a couple of decades later, We Were the Mulvaneys (1996) and Blonde (2000) have assured her a prominent place in the history of American literature.

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Alan Hochschild
Published in 1998, this is the sole nonfiction book to make my list. To me, it reads like a novel in its detailed plot and character development.

The story is told through main characters who are involved in the corruption and dismantling of the Congo by imperialist Europeans in the late 19th century. It is probably one of the most disturbing books I have read, depicting the greed and divisiveness of white men in their attempts to protect the status quo and their white empires. King Leopold II of Belgium desired exceedingly to head an empire, and the jealousy he feels toward his counterparts and cousins in other European countries who had their own empires leads him to take over the Congo, depleting the area of its valued ivory and rubber, making the rich even richer and the poor dead.

Alan Hochschild also has described the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War in his recent well-regarded book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2017). He depicts the Americans who traveled to Spain to participate as freedom fighters against the dictator Franco. Both books are fine examples of how fact and history can entertain as well as educate.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh
This author’s name seemed to come out of nowhere, and now you see it everywhere. Justifiably, the waitlist is lengthy at the Chicago Public Library to obtain any of her novels, including her book of short stories, Homesick for Another World (2017). Moshfegh’s attraction is her style, which I would describe as “patient.” In My Year of Rest and Relaxation, published in 2018, as in her novels Death in Her Hands (2020) and Eileen: A Novel (2015), the protagonist’s dilemma is resolved only after a careful and thorough rendering of the situation.

This book isn’t quite as easy-going as the title suggests, and the approach is even more complicated. What appears simple is complex, as the writer takes us slowly through each step of the protagonist’s recovery.

Ottessa Moshfegh is a name to remember. She’s an American of Croatian and Persian descent. I am sure we will see more of her work in the future.

Trust, by Hernan Diaz
As I wrote this entry, I coincidentally received the news that Trust had won the Kirkus Prize for Fiction for 2022 (Kirkus is a commercial book review service that covers an enormous range and number of books).

Trust comprises four manuscripts, in varying states of completion, that explore the capacity of money “to bend and align reality.” There is a novel-within-a-novel about a Wall Street tycoon who benefited from the 1929 stock market crash and his wife, who ended up mentally ill in a Swiss sanitarium; the partial memoir of a second Wall Street tycoon; scraps of some diaries by the wife of this second tycoon; and a long memoir by the ostensible ghost writer of the second tycoon’s memoir. Kirkus recognition is often heavy on plot, short on praise, and never gushes. Here’s what they say about Trust:

“The novel overall feels complex but never convoluted, focused throughout on the dissatisfactions of wealth and the suppression of information for the sake of keeping up appearances. No one document tells the whole story, but the collection of palimpsests makes for a thrilling experience and a testament to the power and danger of the truth—or a version of it—when it’s set down in print. A clever and affecting high-concept novel of high finance.”

The four-part novel is clever but not manipulative. And it is thoroughly enjoyable.

Now, on to another year and the anticipation of new books. What joy!

ELENA AND LEONORA:
Two Mexican Writers with European Roots

By Carole Reedy

Both Elena Poniatowska and Leonora Carrington planted roots in Mexico in 1942, Elena as young girl of ten and Leonora as a well-traveled and rebellious woman of 25. Despite the differences in their ages, both emigrated for reasons sparked by World War II in Europe. In addition, both became Mexican citizens and, ultimately, two of the most influential, powerful, and famous women of Mexico.

Their lives
Young Elena arrived in Mexico from France with her sister and her Mexican mother, whose porfiriana family fled Mexico during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Elena’s father, of Polish royalty descent, remained in France to fight in the war before joining them.

Being well educated and bien educado led Elena to a career in journalism, writing, and involvement with politics. Her writing often tackles Mexico’s difficult moments in history, such as the 1968 slaughter of protesting students in Tlatelolco and the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. In both cases, she interviewed extensively the people and victims who lived through these tragedies. Biographical sketches, novels, and short story collections are also found among her vast trove of publications.

Poniatowska is one of the founding writers of La Jornada (The Work Day), a major Mexico City newspaper since 1984. Despite not explicitly espousing feminist beliefs, in 1976 she co-founded Fem, the first feminist magazine in Latin America; she was a founding member of Siglo XXI, a prestigious Mexican publishing house, and Mexico’s Cineteca Nacional, the national film archive.

In contrast, Leonora Carrington’s childhood leading to her emigration to Mexico was adventurous, troublesome, and daring. Before she reached the age of 20, she had escaped her prestigious English aristocratic home and her domineering father to be with artist Max Ernst. She and Ernst lived in various parts of France in the early 1940s, but Ernst, being a Jew, was soon detained by the authorities.
Leonora left France for Spain, where she escaped from a mental hospital (an internment that had been orchestrated by her distant father) and fled to Portugal. As an exile, she eventually met and married Renato Leduc, a Mexican poet and writer. The couple, like many others wanting to escape the war, traveled to New York and then Mexico, where Leonora lived for the next 70 years, until her death at 94 in 2011.

The surrealist paintings of Leonora Carrington are found in museums and art exhibits around the world. When she moved to Mexico, knowing no one and not speaking Spanish, she was fortunate to make friends with photographer Kati Horna and painter Remedios Varo, originally from Hungary and Spain respectively. At last, with fellow women artists at her side, she was able to pursue the talent she had demonstrated since a young girl in Great Britain. She rubbed elbows with the likes of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Joan Miró, and Peggy Guggenheim.

Many people are unaware that Carrington was also an accomplished writer. Like those surreal masterpieces hanging in the world’s museums, her books take on the surreal panache of the author. Drawings, stories, and fantasies all inhabit the long-lived career and life of Leonora Carrington.

Both women led full lives, which they shared with husbands and children.

Their books
The first novel I read cover-to-cover in Spanish was Poniatowska’s Leonora, the fictionalized biography of the famous artist/writer (2011). It’s very accessible, even for those for whom Spanish is a second language, and it is of course a compelling story.

In another fictionalized biography, Tinisima (2006), she tells the story of the short (just 46 years), fascinating, and daring life of Tina Modotti, the famed photographer who kept company with the likes of Edward Weston and Diego Rivera and traveled the world studying spiritual and sexual liberation, militant communism, rigid Stalinism, workers’ revolution in Germany, and the Spanish Civil War, among other causes. A story and life, a book not to be missed.
Poniatowska’s first book, written in 1954, is a collection of short stories called Lilus Kikus. It marks the beginning of her illustrious career.

One of Poniatowska’s most-read and poignant books, La Noche de Tlatelolco: Testiomonios de historia oral (1971), was born out of the police slaughter of university students on October 2, 1968. For this book, she interviewed dozens of observers, parents, and others to give the world an accurate and objective report of the events that left Mexico and the world in shock.

If you’re curious about the details of the 1985 earthquake and its effects on the population, be sure to pick up Nada, nadie: Las voces del temblor (1988) to read first-hand accounts of the tragedy. You will understand the fear earthquakes generate here in the city, especially for those who experienced this tragic event.

Poniatowska’s writing is clear, precise, accurate, and full of poignant imagery. Read one of her books and you will be hooked!

Leonora Carrington’s books will not surprise lovers of her surrealist paintings, as they fall right in step with the style of her art. The Hearing Trumpet (1974) is her most famous work. Read and translated worldwide, it has been called a companion to the beloved Alice in Wonderland.

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington issued in 2017 to mark the centennial of Carrington’s birth, is a compilation of her surreal short stories and is filled with magic!

Joanna Moorhead, a cousin of Carrington, recently wrote a very personal biography of the famous artist/writer: The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington (2017). Having befriended Carrington as an adult, she visited her in Mexico, coming from England several times before Leonora’s death. It’s a good read that admirers of Carrington will enjoy.

Down Below is Leonora’s personal memoir, written in 1988, of her descent into madness as a young woman. A short book, not to be missed – republished in 2017 in the Classics series of the New York Review of Books.

Both Leonora Carrington and Elena Poniatowska, each in her own way, have had a tremendous influence on the cultural and political life in Mexico. Tell your sons and daughters about them, read their books, celebrate their lives!

Storytelling: From Fairy Tales to Magical Realism

By Carole Reedy

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.
— Albert Einstein

STORIES
“Man is the storytelling animal,” says the master storyteller himself, Sir Salman Rushdie. During a prestigious, nearly half-century career, he has published 12 novels, among which the most famous are Midnight’s Children (1981) and The Satanic Verses (1988). Two children’s books and 13 nonfiction and essay collections complete his writing career thus far. His next innovative storytelling will be Victory City: A Novel, to be published February 9, 2023. It is described as an Indian novel styled as a translation of an ancient epic.

The oral history of storytelling most likely goes back to the Bronze Age, but written stories are the focus of modern man. Writing down stories allows them to become static so that they can be read again and again, and thus relegated to history.

Stories help us to remember, imagine, and solve problems. In addition, they evoke empathy and provide us with many hours of thoughtful enjoyment. All these advantages apply to fairy tales as well as to fine literature.

FAIRY TALES AND MAGICAL REALISM
Fairy tales derive from the folklore of a culture, the first iteration of an oral tradition in the form of a short story. As populations became more literate, however, fairy tales appeared in written form intended for an adult audience. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the enjoyment of fairy tales extended to children.

The first formally published fairy tales were those of Charles Perrault, written in 1697, for an aristocratic French adult readership. Among Perrault’s most famous are “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” Perrault is often recognized as the creator of the modern fairy tale.

Fairy tales throughout the world vary. Those from Europe have become staples in literature in most countries, especially for children. Besides those of Perrault, you will find the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, from what is now Germany, and the stories set down by Danish author Hans Christian Anderson.

MEXICAN FAIRY TALES
Mexico’s culture is filled with folklore that translates into colorful fairy tales for children and adults. Here are a few recent ones that will engage children of all ages.

Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales (2018): A New York Times bestseller, also named a Best Book by Kirkus Reviews, this richly illustrated and relevant story is based on Yuyi’s own experience of bringing her son and the gifts of their culture to a new place.

The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes, by Duncan Tonatiuh (2016): Tonatiuh is an award-winning author and illustrator. Here he reinvents one of Mexico’s most cherished tales, that of the two majestic volcanos overlooking Mexico City and Puebla, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The love between the princess Izta and the warrior Popoca creates the setting for this famous retold legend.

Also by Sr. Tonatiuh is a migrant’s tale, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (2013). This illustrated story tells of Pancho, a rabbit who travels with a coyote in search of his father who has crossed the border for work up north. It is an excellent way of increasing children’s understanding of the struggles and hardships of the people who need to cross borders.

Worth mentioning here as an aside is the marvelous children’s book, Danza, also by Duncan Tonatiuh (2017), which relates the story of Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet and its incomparable founder Amalia Hernández.

The Secret Footprints by Julia Alvarez (2000): I must mention this tale even though its origin is Dominican, not Mexican, because Alvarez is a well-known novelist of adult books, most notably How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (2010). In the Time of the Butterflies: A Novel (1994) is a fictionalized account of the four Mirabal sisters (the butterflies), who sought to overthrow El Jefe, the repressive dictator General Rafael Leónidas Trujillo.

The children’s book, The Secret Footprints, is a reinvented legend from Dominican folklore of the ciguapas, creatures who live in the sea with feet that are on backwards so humans cannot follow them. It tells of an encounter between one ciguapa named Guapa and a human boy.

Present Day Fairy Tales
Fairy tales continue to be written for adults today. Edited by Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (2010) includes work by some of our most distinguished and beloved authors: Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Joy Fowler, Michael Cunningham, and Neil Gaiman, among others. I keep it available on my Kindle to entertain while on trains, planes, and automobiles!

MAGICAL REALISM
Magical realism reminds us of fairy tales with its mixture of dreams, imagination, and perceived reality. Here are some notable authors writing in this style:

Gabriel García Márquez has mastered the art, most notably in his best-selling One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, English 1970), in which the ghosts and spirits of Colombia’s history abound.

Yann Martel in The Life of Pi (2003) gives us a book about inner strength and creativity seen through animals on a raft in the ocean with the protagonist.

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Present Day Fairy Tales
Fairy tales continue to be written for adults today. Edited by Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (2010) includes work by some of our most distinguished and beloved authors: Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Joy Fowler, Michael Cunningham, and Neil Gaiman, among others. I keep it available on my Kindle to entertain while on trains, planes, and automobiles!

MAGICAL REALISM
Magical realism reminds us of fairy tales with its mixture of dreams, imagination, and perceived reality. Here are some notable authors writing in this style:

Gabriel García Márquez has mastered the art, most notably in his best-selling One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, English 1970), in which the ghosts and spirits of Colombia’s history abound.

Yann Martel in The Life of Pi (2003) gives us a book about inner strength and creativity seen through animals on a raft in the ocean with the protagonist.

In his Kafka on the Shore (2002), famed Japanese author Haruki Murakami combines dreams and pop culture.

Chilean Isabel Allende has become one of the most famous Latin American writers. Her most popular work is The House of the Spirits (1986), which follows three generations of a family in which Chilean political history and dictatorship play important roles.

To end – as this article began – with a quote from Sir Salman Rushdie from Midnight’s Children, a novel filled with magically realistic moments:

Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems – but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible.

Better Than Ever: Mexico City Restaurant Revival in Full Swing

By Carole Reedy

Mexico City restaurants are ready for your visit! As everywhere, the economy suffered terribly during the pandemic, but tourism recovery is looking up. Our huge advantage, of course, is the weather, which is ideal year-round. Sure, there are some hot spring days and cooler temps in December and January, but outdoor dining is a possibility here in any season.

The government has supported restaurants by allowing owners to block off one street lane next to the curbs for tables, as well as giving permission to use considerably more sidewalk for tables. Attractive wood and glass structures protect customers from traffic and wind, giving customers the feel of dining in a European café.

The city is sparkling!

First thing on my agenda post-pandemic was to re-discover my favorite eateries to see how they survived. Here, a variety of my favorite places to enjoy good food in the Roma, Condesa, and Cuauhtémoc neighborhoods. All provide outdoor and indoor dining, but the outdoor dining provides the safest and most pleasurable social experience.

MEZZO MEZZO, Cuauhtémoc, Río Neva 30
To me, Mezzo Mezzo is synonymous with “Gypsy Pizza.” At first the combination of flavors did not attract me, but a friend convinced me to try it. Now I’m a fan and never order anything else at this cozy bistro. The pizza has a subtle, or rather not so subtle, melange of figs and Brie on a crisp light pizza crust. Give it a try!

The locale is a small venue with tables on the street. The wine selection has improved, and the service is as attentive as ever. Busy hours are between 2 and 4 pm. Happily, the restaurant is open from 1 pm to midnight every day of the week, as are most of the restaurants on this list, an important feature for visitors to the city.

EL AUTÉNTICO MANILA PATO, Locations in Polanco (Virgilio 25), Condesa (Culiacan 91), and Roma Norte (Colima 159)
This highly popular eatery specializes in Pekín duck tacos, served with corn or flour tortillas or as a torta, with won tons and spring rolls as side dishes. And that is the entire menu!

Healer, historian, and taco-maker Edgardo Ganada Kim and Adrian Segura founded the venue in 2014. They combined the Mexican taco and Chinese side dishes to create textures and flavors to which you’ll return frequently. Plum and oyster sauces enhance the flavors of both the rolls and tacos. None of my visitors has ever been disappointed, and those of us who live nearby are on regular repeat.

Beer, water and soft drinks are the only beverages served.
Hours are daily noon until 10 pm.

SAN GIORGIO, Roma Sur, Anahuac 38
Italian natives give this pizzería five stars as the most authentic Italian Napolitana pizza in the city. The ingredients are fresh, and the variety of pizza choices ample. The tomato sauce has that special flavor that only the Italians deliver, and the mozzarella cheese is created for the venue. There are also big, fresh salads, as well as traditional lasagna al ragú. Spinach and ricotta cannelloni completes the pasta menu. Chicken, pork, and salmon entrees are also available.

The street corner ambiance on Anahuac and Tehuantepec in Roma Sur is exhilarating. The waitstaff especially gives warm Italian greetings and service.

The restaurant provides takeout and delivery, their life-saver during the two years of lockdown. Now, they are open every day 1 pm to 11 pm, except Sundays, when they open at 2 pm.

MALLORCA, Paseo de Reforma 365, at the corner of Río Guadalquivir
This Spanish restaurant will satisfy your need for flavors from the Iberian peninsula. Serrano ham in abundance, as well as Spanish omelets and tapas-type breads adorn the breakfast menu. The chocolate croissant is a must! Comida selections include paella, risotto, salads, and meats and cheeses. There is a large wine selection.

The real emphasis here, however, is on the pastries. Inside there’s a separate pastelería with enough chocolate and cream-filled treats to satisfy any sweet-lover. Cakes, tarts, and candies of the highest quality fill the space.

Hours vary day to day, but basically, they are open 8 am to 9 pm.

LARDO, Condesa, Agustín Melgar 6
This is a favorite breakfast place, very busy from 9:30 am till 11 am. Once I take my guests there, they have a tendency to return for all their breakfasts!

Each dish has a special presentation. The combination of flavors, spices, and ingredients used for standard dishes is unique. The entire menu is also eclectic. For your comida, try the octopus with red curry or the squid, black rice, and ginger. There are fish items, such as huachinango (red snapper) and couscous, as well as lamb kabobs and risotto croquettes.

An outdoor area has been added to two sides of the restaurant, enlarging by half the number of clients the restaurant can accommodate. It is a spacious area that is as charming as any Parisian street.

Open daily 8 am to 10 pm.

TAAK-CAL, Roma Sur, Anahuac 36
This new-to-the-neighborhood “kitchen bar,” as it is called, opened right at the beginning of the pandemic. They managed to hang on and now are in full swing. From land to sea, the menu varies from tacos and salmon filet to shrimp, fish, soups, and vegetarian choices. My favorites are the arrachera (marinated skirt steak) tacos and the salmon pistache.

It’s a charming setting, often with a guitarist or other music, and its ambiance certainly brightens the street, with San Giorgio right next door.
Open daily 1 pm to 11pm.

Wherever you dine you’ll see smiles on the faces around you, elated to return to this most desirable existence.

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Carole Reedy

Carole, one of the founding writers of The Eye, may be best known for her many Eye articles providing reviews of books. Born, raised and educated through high school in the south side of Chicago, Carole attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo for two years, majoring in English Literature and Education with a minor in Music. She completed her B.A. degree and certification for teaching at DePaul University in Chicago and then taught high school for three years in Maywood, Illinois. She realized that her true career path was in publications and first became a proof-reader of teaching manuals at the Bell and Howell manufacturing company, then a copy editor at the American Medical Association where she ultimately became the Senior Editor of an AMA publication focused on health for consumers.

While still teaching, Carole met her first long-term partner. They made the mutual decision to move to the Phoenix area of Arizona, where Carole developed a love of the desert, met her husband-to-be and switched careers to the travel industry. She first worked for a friend’s travel agency and then for many years for American Express advising platinum cardholders on their travel plans. Since Carole is passionate about travel and has visited every continent except Antarctica by herself or with small groups of friends, the new career was a perfect match – until she and her husband decided that they wanted to adopt a completely different, less complicated, life style and in 1997, moved to San Miguel Allende and in 1999, to San Augustinillo, a small village on the Oaxaca coast. Unfortunately, her husband died the following year, but Carole remained in the village for nine years and, even after having moved to Mexico City about 15 years ago, still has close friends there and is esteemed by many for having established the San Agustinillo Library.

Living in Mexico City allows Carole to indulge her deep interest in opera and bull-fighting. She also enjoys playing social bridge and, recently, mahjong. She maintains close connections with her three step-children, seven grandkids, and many friends in Mexico and the U.S. But although she encourages visits to see her in Mexico, she is now a Mexican citizen and has no interest in returning to the U.S.

Carole met Jane Bauer many years ago while still living in San Augustinillo. Since Jane knew about Carole’s background, when she decided to publish the Eye, Jane called Carole and asked for her participation. More than ten years later she is still writing. Her favorite Eye contributions are her end-of-the-year book reviews.

Anticipation: Fall 2022 Fiction

By Carole Reedy

Tis the season for anticipation, which according to Balzac is the most reliable form of pleasure. The creative efforts of our favorite writers will fill bookstore shelves and Kindle apps starting this September – here they are!

Shrines of Gaiety: A Novel, by Kate Atkinson (September 27)
Devoted readers of Atkinson have followed the adventures of Jackson Brody with each selection in this series, but Atkinson has given us so much more. Her best-selling and highly acclaimed novel of 2013, Life After Life, followed the various alternate lives of protagonist Ursula Todd throughout the 20th century. A God in Ruins came in 2016 as a kind of sequel that brings to life Todd’s deceased brother.

This time the year is 1926, the place London and its Soho jazz clubs. We’re taken into both the world of the glitterati and the contrasting underworld of the era. This book is unlike anything Atkinson has done before, which is what keeps us coming back.

I Walk Between the Raindrops, by TC Boyle (September 13)
Short stories are TC Boyle’s niche, although over the past 25 years I’ve found his novels to be among the best I have read. In fact, The Tortilla Curtain (1995) remains among my top 10 novels.

I Walk Between the Raindrops is the name of a short story as well as the title of this new collection. You can get a sneak preview of his writing by reading the story version, which appears in The New Yorker magazine July 30, 2018, fiction issue.

Each one of the engaging stories in this collection is filled with Boyle’s usual satire and wit.

Lucy by the Sea: A Novel, by Elizabeth Strout (September 20)
Strout set a high bar for herself and her readers with her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Olive Kitteridge (actually 13 short stories, 2008) about the life of a retired schoolteacher. Olive Kitteridge (the protagonist) hails from the fictional, apparently nowhere, town of Crosby, Maine, and her ruthless honesty permeates each chapter. The book captivated readers worldwide.

A miniseries starring the versatile Frances McDormand received mixed reviews, with accusations that the character was portrayed as one-dimensional, though I thought it quite satisfying.

Strout also has been lauded, although with less enthusiasm, for her series of books based on her other protagonist, Lucy Barton. Strout’s latest takes place during the recent pandemic lockdown, Lucy quarantined with her ex-husband in a small house by the sea. It has been described as “poignant and pitch-perfect,” with human connection at the heart of the story.

Best of Friends: A Novel, by Kamila Shamsie (September 27)
Shamsie’s newest novel examines the different worlds and friendship of two women raised in Karachi in the first years of Benazir Bhutto’s reign and continues over three decades, when they both live in London. Loyalty and principle are guideposts woven into their lives, causing conflict and reconciliation.

Best of Friends is probably Shamsie’s most intriguing novel to date, even though Burnt Shadows (2009) and Home Fire (2017) are major achievements. In Best of Friends, we travel with her characters across the globe and live through significant world events. These provide vehicles for the actions of her complex characters. You’ll find it hard to put down.

Bad Angel Brothers, by Paul Theroux (September 6)
Over the years we’ve been the fortunate recipients of Theroux’s adventure tales via his fiction and nonfiction writing, all based on the many miles he’s traversed on our planet. From The Old Patagonian Express, The Mosquito Coast, and The Great Railway Bazaar of the 1970s to his recent Mother Land (2017) and On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey (2019), Theroux has dedicated his life to observing, experiencing, and writing.

Now in his 81st year, he brings us yet another psychological thriller involving two brothers at odds and the prospecting of gold and precious metals in the mines of Mexico, Alaska, Africa, and Colombia. Another feather in Theroux’s cap. Although his early books are my favorites, I’m eager to read his latest.

The Marriage Portrait, by Maggie O’Farrell (September 6)
After transporting us to Shakespeare’s world in her previous novel, Hamnet (the story of The Bard’s young son, 2020), versatile wordsmith O’Farrell now takes us to the 1550s and the royalty of Renaissance Italy, exploring the life of a young woman forced into an unwanted royal marriage. Loyal followers of O’Farrell are accustomed to her ability to envelop us in different worlds and centuries. This is my most anticipated book of the season, along with the Barbara Kingsolver novel next on the list.

One reason the novels of O’Farrell are favorites among avid readers is her versatility. The places, themes, and characters vary book to book, as does her style and tempo. My personal favorite is This Must Be the Place (2016).

Demon Copperhead: A Novel, by Barbara Kingsolver (October 18)
Move over Charles Dickens! Popular 21st century author Kingsolver has created a modern David Copperfield, called Damon Fields, whose life parallels our favorite Victorian boy. He is mockingly called Demon and Copperhead for the golden locks inherited from his father.

When I first saw the title of Kingsolver’s new novel, I thought she had returned to the theme of biodiversity so popular in some of her previous works. But I was pleasantly surprised to see it’s actually a retelling of perhaps the most loved work in English literature. Yes, it’s a tome, 560 pages to match Charles Dickens’ creation, whose first edition counted out at 624 pages. Some of our favorite delightful Dickens’ characters are also reimagined for a savory touch.

Kingsolver has taken on the challenge of showing us how little progress has been made in addressing socioeconomic poverty over the past 172 years (the autobiographical David Copperfield was published in book form in 1850, a year after the magazine serialization).

Kingsolver’s version also explores the dark world of poverty, this time in rural Appalachia where Damon grows up in an atmosphere of abuse, addiction, child labor, and foster care, though eventually he finds the kinder side of humanity.

A sense of humor and a talent for artistic expression, with the mandatory bit o’ luck, seem to save both David and Damon. True heroes both, as also could be said of their creators.

Nights of Plague, by Orhan Pamuk (October 5)
The Nobel Prize winner of 2006 is publishing his latest novel this October after controversy in Turkey upon its publication there in 2021. Pamuk was accused of “insulting Turkishness.” But, he says, “In Nights of Plague, which I worked on for five years, there is no disrespect for the heroic founders of the nation states founded from the ashes of empires or for Atatürk. On the contrary, the novel was written with respect and admiration for these libertarian and heroic leaders.”

According to The Guardian, PEN America has reported that at least 25 writers were jailed last year by the Turkish government, the third-highest number globally.

The story takes place on the imaginary island of Mingheria (between Crete and Cyprus), the 29th state of the Ottoman Empire, where Muslims and Orthodox Greeks struggle to live together. Conflict, plague, and murder merge to make this century-old story too close for comfort.

The Passenger (October 25); Stella María (November), by Cormac McCarthy (Boxed set of the two novels available December 6)
I admit to not being a fan of McCarthy, but feel it’s my duty to list his new books due to his extreme popularity. He has been named one of the best American writers by reliable critics, in the company of Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchon. McCarthy, however, has stated he prefers the company of scientists to writers.

The books tell the story of siblings Bobby and Alicia Western. Their stories are told eight years apart, first Bobby’s and then Alicia’s.

The publisher says “These extraordinary novels are unlike anything Cormac McCarthy has written before, and while both should be read and experienced separately, they represent two sides of the same narrative coin. We are extremely proud to be publishing the remarkable, inimitable work of Cormac McCarthy.”

Said to be the publishing event of the year – perhaps I will give McCarthy another chance.

Reading: Reminders and Recommendations

By Carole Reedy

Before you look for my list of yet-to-come 2022 books, don’t forget those still on your “to read” list from beginning of the year.

If you’ve not already read these two recently published novels, they stand among the finest literature of the 21st century:

YOUNG MUNGO by Douglas Stuart
I’ve read every review I could find and listened to interviews with Stuart because I am in awe of this 45-year-old Glaswegian, now living in New York City. He brings to us the realism of the 19th century novelists in the style of the master, Charles Dickens, but without the uplifting endings.

If you haven’t read Stuart’s Booker Prize winning novel, Shuggie Bain (2020), stop now and run to your nearest library or bookstore and get it.

These are not happy or cozy books. Rather, they’re the stories of people from the poverty-stricken East End of Glasgow. Shuggie Bain, the protagonist of the first novel, is a young boy growing up with his beloved alcoholic mother. The protagonist of Stuart’s second book, Young Mungo (named after Glasgow’s Saint) is a teenage boy discovering his sexuality and identity among the gangs and joblessness inflicted by the previous Margaret Thatcher administration. Both novels will stir every emotion you have ever had.

Stuart writes stunningly descriptive prose against the backdrop of harsh reality. Mungo’s male role models are severely limited. Tender moments and whispers of caring contrast with poverty and violence. It’s all written in the lilt of the vernacular, making this novel a classic piece of literature.

Los Angeles Times reviewer Hillary Kelly (whose writing is as expressive as the books she reviews) concludes: “Misery is just a necessary ingredient in his novels of sentimental education, the hit of salt that makes the sugar sing.”

TO PARADISE by Hanya Yanagihara
Misery is expressed in a constellation of ways in Yanagihara’s novels. In To Paradise we’re taken to a diverse range of locales, from a townhouse on New York’s Washington Square to the undeveloped shores of Hawaii, over three centuries.

The complex structure and the writing that carries the reader through this novel re-envisions history and tells a past and future created entirely by Yanagihara’s brilliant mind. This is a story you will never forget. Every word resonates, each character is finely drawn, and emotions are stirred to exhaustion.

Now onto the new books to accompany you on your reading trails.

ELIZABETH FINCH by Julian Barnes
Avid fans of this well-established British novelist and Francophile won’t need convincing to read another of Barnes’ 14 novels. This newest work is longer on philosophy and shorter on plot, as is much of his writing.

Elizabeth Finch is a professor of culture and civilization, and her story is told by one of her students, Neal, the narrator. The book is divided into three sections, the second section an essay written by Neal about Julian the Apostate, a pagan. What would the world of ours look like now if Christianity hadn’t caught on? No small consideration.

This exceptional and daring novel should be already on the shelves of your local library and bookstores.

THE LOCKED ROOM by Elly Griffiths
You have until June 28 to get yourself up to date on the lives of Ruth, Kate, Cathbad, Judy, and Nelson before you start this 14th novel in the Dr. Ruth Galloway (everyone’s favorite archeologist) series.

Everything takes place once again in Norwich, England, this time during the Covid lockdown. Driving the story are a discovery at an archeological site, a new neighbor for Ruth and Kate, and a mysterious old photo found among Ruth’s recently dead mother’s belongings.

Fans have been panicked. Will there be a 15th book? Yes! The Last Remains is due out in February 2023.

TRUST by Hernan Diaz
This most-anticipated novel of 2022, according to several literary venues, has been described as “a kaleidoscope of capitalism run amok in the early 20th century.” Naturally, success, power, and wealth dominate.

Grounded in history, four story arcs make up this work and, according to previews, are successfully executed.

Díaz was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his novel In the Distance (2017). Trust is due to be published in December 2022.

THE LAST WHITE MAN by Mohsin Hamid
In his latest book, British-Pakistani author Hamid (of the notable migration novel Exit West [2017] and the thought-provoking The Reluctant Fundamentalist [2007]) presents a conundrum. The premise is this: a man wakes up to a darkening of his skin while simultaneously the population as a whole is experiencing changes of many kinds. This leads Hamid to examine the disruption of the established order that occurs as a result.
A portent of things to come?

The book provides much to ponder and could even be a vehicle for metamorphosis and transcendence that only a writer the likes of Hamid can achieve. Look for the novel in August.

ROGUES: TRUE STORIES OF GRIFTERS, KILLERS, REBELS AND CROOKS by Patrick Radden Keefe
These twelve stories of skullduggery will once again bring Radden Keefe’s name to the forefront this June. You’ll remember his investigative reporting and subsequent tomes about the Troubles in Ireland (Say Nothing, 2020) and the unconscionable role of the Sackler family in the opioid addiction crisis (Empire of Pain, 2021).

Whatever topic Keefe explores is intricately examined, the details written in a style as un-put-downable as a Sherlock Holmes mystery. He does for investigative reporting what Ben McIntyre does for spy tales.

Look for a June 28 publication date.

LESS IS LOST by Andrew Sean Greer
If you were a fan, as I was, of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Less, you will count the days until the September publication of the follow-up, Less Is Lost.

Once again Arthur Less is at sixes and sevens, handling the problems and disruptions of his life as many of us have considered doing: he runs away. Less’s distraction from the day-to-day drudgery is again found in traveling to literary gigs, but this time in the US. You’ll recall he did the same through Europe in his first novel.

Greer is first of all a storyteller. His novels are full of comic moments, he is witty yet wise, and he is a serious thinker.

Christopher Buckley of the New York Times praises Greer’s first novel: “Less is the funniest, smartest and most humane novel I’ve read since Tom Bachman’s 2010 debut, The Imperfectionists … Greer writes sentences of arresting lyricism and beauty. His metaphors come at you like fireflies.”

Many months of fine reading ahead!

The Mystery Novel: Not At All Elementary

By Carole Reedy

Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation, Detective Sherlock Holmes, never actually used the oft-quoted phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson,” although he often responded to remarks by his sidekick Dr. Watson with the simple deduction “Elementary.” As we mystery readers know, however, things are never as simple as they seem.

Today, mystery novels are among the most-read genre among adults, second only to romance novels. It all started with Edgar Allen Poe’s publication in 1841 of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” But even as far back as the 16th century, leaflets that reported details of the latest gruesome crimes were written and distributed, and stories with elements of crime have been around since ancient Greece.

As youngsters, many of us obsessed over the adventures of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I well remember arranging all of my Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton (recommended by my mother) novels in numerical order on the bookshelves in my bedroom, and I loved perusing the colorful covers.

What’s the attraction to the genre that has endured for 150 years? What are the elements of a successful mystery? I talked to many readers and, after conducting a bit of research, came to a few conclusions. Included at the end of this article are recommendations – theirs and mine – for hours of delightfully mysterious reading.

Tell me a story

For centuries people have gathered to share stories. The craft of storytelling requires believable, distinctive characters, a setting filled with atmosphere, and a plot that stimulates emotion and challenges the reader’s mind. Avid reader Larry Boyer from Denver likes the “puzzle” element of the mystery. And indeed, who doesn’t love a puzzle? Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology, backs up this thought: “A puzzle is a challenge to the brain, and figuring it out provides closure.”

Although mystery novels inevitably involve a crime and a police presence, including a detective, not all are gruesome like Poe’s tales and neither are they all graphic in their description of murder. Solving the crime is the purpose, but the enjoyment comes from multi-dimensional characters – villains, detectives, and police alike. Mysteries have answers, and that is reassuring to readers, especially in our ever-changing world.

In Psychology Today magazine (April 12, 2019), David Evans deduces that mystery novels “are redemptive, they give us hope, and help us move from fear to reassurance.” Many mystery novels are pure psychology.

Patricia Highsmith reigns as queen of psychological murder stories. Strangers on a Train (1950) is her most recognized work, perhaps because a popular movie was created from it, but Highsmith has crafted dozens of stories and novels that surprise and shock, all written in her distinctive style reflecting an existential philosophy. She is never dull.

Two of her other novels have been made into suspense-filled films: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955; film starring Matt Damon, 1999) and The Price of Salt (1952, under the nom de plume Claire Morgan; republished as Carol under her own name, 1990; film titled Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, 2015)

Character development

Of all the factors that make up successful mysteries, character development appears among the top factors for a writer’s publishing success. This may be the reason that series are so popular. Readers like to become involved in the characters’ lives over time to the point that they sometimes discuss them as if they were personal friends.

Boise reader Camille Oldenberg expresses a shared sentiment: “Long after I finish a series, I don’t recall the details of the mysteries but I do recall the ongoing characters and the setting. I think character development is what most appeals to me in all fiction.” Both Camille and other readers mentioned that a glimpse into other cultures is also a factor contributing to their enjoyment of mysteries. Many different countries and cultures are listed in our recommendations.

In another interesting take on characters in mystery novels, Booker Prize Winner Marlon James, whose mother is a detective in Jamaica, has created a six-part TV series for HBO and the UK’s Channel 4, Get Millie Black, in which a Jamaican detective is forced to quit Scotland Yard and returns to Jamaica in search of a missing person.

“She’s not based on my mum, whatever my mum might think,” says James, though he does like to believe some of the detective work has rubbed off on him. “I am my mother’s child,” he says. “I look at writing as a mystery that I have to solve. I start with a character and follow them.”

Some of our favorite literary novelists contain an element of mystery in their best-selling works. Take two of the most lauded authors of the 20th and 21st centuries: Paul Auster from the USA and Javier Marías of Spain.

Auster and Marías capture the essence of humanity with engaging stories written in unique styles that explore identity and reality. Paul Auster became famous after The New York Trilogy hit the market in 1985. City of Glass, the first book of the trilogy, features an author of detective fiction who becomes a private investigator and descends into madness.

Marías, whose Nobel Prize for Literature award announcement should occur one of these years, also searches for identities. Several of his novels are centered around a crime committed. A Heart So White (1992) starts out with a suicide, The Infatuations (2011) with a murder, and one of the main characters in Berta Isla (2017) is a spy. Marías is a master of digression. Both Auster and Marias deliver food for thought and hours of amazement as the complexity of the characters dominates the action.

Mexico City reader of many genres Mimi Escalante sums up the allure of the genre simply, echoing Marguerite Duras’ sentiment: “They are glamorous and eccentric. The suspense keeps us going…and, after all, crime attracts us.”

Recommending a few mystery writers and their works is onerous. Here’s my attempt to provide you with a variety of choices.

Let’s start with the 19th century
The Woman in White (1859), by Wilkie Collins
The Collected Sherlock Holmes Stories (1887-1927), by Arthur Conan Doyle (four novels, 56 short stories)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), by Edgar Allen Poe
The Experiences of Loveday Brooke (1893-84), a collection of stories by Catherine Louisa Pirkis, the first woman author to create a woman detective
Bleak House (1852-53), by Charles Dickens

Early 20th Century: the Queens of Crime
During the Golden Age of the 1920s and 30s, four British women dominated the scene with their dark detective novels.

Ngaio Marsh of New Zealand wrote 33 novels with London’s Chief Inspector Alleyn as her protagonist. An award, named in her honor, is given out each year in New Zealand for the best mystery or crime book.

Agatha Christie is known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. You may recognize her main detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.

Dorothy Sayers is best known for her detective Lord Peter Wimsey. Quite a diverse woman, she published 16 novels, eight short story collections, seven poems, and 24 nonfiction works, among them translations and plays.

Margery Allingham is “my favorite of the four queens of crime” according to J. K. Rowling, author of the famed Harry Potter series. Allingham is yet another of the four queens who published prolifically, with 18 novels and more than 20 short stories centered around her main detective, Albert Campion.

The late 20th and 21st Century Series
Inspector Lynley series: 21 novels by Elizabeth George. The setting is England.
Ruth Galloway series: 13 novels with number 14 due out this summer by Elly Griffiths. Setting is Norfolk, England.
Three Pines Inspector Gamache series: 17 books by Louise Penny set in Quebec.
Maisie Dobbs series: 18 books by Jacqueline Winspear, set in London.
Kurt Wallander series: 12 books by Henning Mankell. Swedish setting.
Inspector Salvo Montalbano series: 28 novels by Andrea Camillieri. Set in Sicily.
Dublin Murder Squad series: Six books by Tana French. Set in Dublin Ireland.
Vish Puri series: Five books by Tarquín Hall, set in India.
The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series: 23 books by Alexander McCall Smith, taking place in Botswana.
Adam Dalgliesh series: 14 books by P.D. James. Set in London.
The Thursday Murder Club series: Two books so far by Richard Osman. Kent, England.
The Warehouse Winery series: Two books to date by Kathy Kaye, set in Washington State and France. Kathy personally wrote me her concerns as a mystery writer:

As a wine mystery writer (Death at 21 Brix, A Death in France and, next year, Death Among the Vines) I ask myself these questions as I begin: Can I really pull this off? Is the story believable? Are the characters interesting? Is the wine information correct? Are the police following police procedural?

She also notes that her readers have asked her to write less about wine making and more about what her characters are drinking!

On that note,
Cheers!

Intrepid Women Writers of the 21st Century

By Carole Reedy

“Some things work far better in imagination than in reality.”
Lauren Willig, author of historical fiction

The word “intrepid” is often used to describe explorers and travelers, but anyone who breaks out and moves beyond the norm to discover the mystery of humanity also deserves this classification. The women in this article do just that. They have committed to dedicating their lives to the written word and our amorphous world.

These books are big and bold and unsettling. When I finished reading the masterpieces written by the women below, I sat and stared into space for a moment, absorbing the beauty and fierceness of their creative abilities, of how they weave a narrative with flair and conviction about who we are and who we may become.

Olga Tokarczuk
I first saw an interview with this Nobel Prize winner in 2020 at the prestigious Hay Festival (streamed rather than live due to the pandemic). I had read several of her novels, including the philosophic Flights (2007), and thus was expecting a staid, serious woman. Instead I saw, seated with her translator Jennifer Croft, a woman who looked 40 rather than her actual 60, bouncing in her chair, animated, often smiling and joking, and with a funky hairstyle.

Here’s a woman who writes historically about life, literature, and philosophy, books like Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (2009) and Flights. Her novels, written in a distinct narrative style, tackle the most onerous of philosophical subjects with determination and hope.

From the Booker Prize-winning Flights, a taste of this philosophy:

Standing there on the embankment, staring into the current, I realized that—in spite of all the risks involved—a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence; that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity.

Fresh off the press is her thousand-page The Books of Jacob (first published in 2014 in her native Polish, in English in 2021). It begins in 1752 in what is now western Ukraine and ends in the middle of the 20th century in eastern Poland, where a family of Jews is hiding during the Holocaust. The story is that of historical figure Jacob Frank, leader of an heretical Jewish sect and whose unusual practices were controversial.

The translation of Tokarczuk’s text to English is a daunting task. Consider that in Slavic the word order varies significantly, and is more complicated than English. Tokarczuk’s translator, Jennifer Croft, won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Flights. Croft says that “The words of the text are the embodiment of its past, and its sentences, on the other hand, lead the way to the future.”

In its review of this much-awaited novel, the Wall Street Journal recognized the diversity and command of Tokarczuk’s writing: “Ms. Tokarczuk is as comfortable rendering the world of Jewish peasantry as that of the Polish royal court.”

Hanya Yanagihara
After turning the final page of Yanagihara’s newest, 600-page-plus novel, On Paradise (2022), I felt as I did 40 years ago as I closed the cover of the final installation of Marcel Proust’s million-word tour de force Remembrance of Things Past (7 volumes, 1913-27), wondering “What could I possibly read now that I have read the final, definitive word on humanity?” This too is Hanya Yanagihara.

Her unusual structure, deeply creative approach to history and society, and the emotional prices paid by her finely wrought characters contribute to this literary success.

The novel takes place over three centuries (1893, 1993, and 2093) in a North America unrecognizable to us. We’re surprised and fascinated by the enormous shifts in society’s norms, the principal players developing in the most unexpected situations as we follow the families and individuals across the centuries.

Perhaps most important, though, is Yanagihara’s descriptive flowing style, which allows the reader to traverse a seamless constellation of emotions.

Elizabeth George
Multitudes have thrilled to the travails of Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers over the past 20 years. George’s sharply drawn characters and her ability to create an atmosphere of order and resolution among the chaos of murder cases in London’s criminal justice system is why we yearn for more. Her skill in depicting the shifting mores of the various populations that make up Great Britain keeps faithful readers awaiting each new book in the series.

George’s latest novel, Something To Hide, just published in January 2022, involves investigation into a shocking and extremely sensitive issue: FGM, or female genital mutilation. The contrast of the painfully serious practice of FGM and the effect on some women in predominantly Nigerian and Somalian communities of London is a fresh approach for George, although she’s always been a keen analyzer of Britain’s class system.

Fans of Lynley and Havers will be reassured to know they skillfully navigate the horrors of this disfiguring practice and those whose lives are forever destroyed by it.

Although George is an American, she has been lauded for her insight and accuracy in setting her novels in the British Isles.

Jennifer Clement
We who live in Mexico have great respect and affection for fellow Mexican-American Jennifer Clement, president of PEN Mexico from 2009 to 2012, followed in 2015 by a term as the first woman president of PEN International. During her tenure she brought attention to the safety of journalists in Mexico and spearheaded a change in the law, making the killing of a journalist a federal crime.

Clement, along with her sister Barbara Sibley, is founder of Poetry Week in San Miguel de Allende.

Prayers for the Stolen (2014) was praised by prestigious publications and readers on both sides of the border. Recently, it was made into a film, Noche de Fuego, which has been nominated for best foreign language film for this year’s Academy Awards.

The movie itself depicts only the first third of the book, which takes place in a mountain village in the state of Guerrero where narcos dominate the lives of the inhabitants. The book goes on to examine life in Acapulco, ending up in Mexico City.

Don’t look for happy endings in Clement’s books, but rather the reality that surrounds the disenfranchised. One of my favorite books of hers is Widow Basquiat: A Memoir (2000), a portrayal of Clement’s friend Suzanne Mallouk, MD, the painter and psychoanalyst who was muse and lover of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the brilliant artist who died at 27 from a heroin overdose. Basquiat was part of the graffiti movement in New York and well known by his alter ego, SAMO. Today his paintings sell for millions of dollars.

Bernardine Evaristo
She is a dynamo. There’s simply no other way to describe her. Although only recently in the limelight for her Booker-prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other in 2019, Evaristo has been on the scene for years, fighting sexism and racism going back 40 years to when she and her drama school friends heckled London theater performances.

Evaristo is the first Black woman to win the Booker Prize, and her Girl, Woman, Other was named by Barack Obama as one of his favorite books of the year. Of note: when the novel was nominated for the Booker prize, it had not yet found a US publisher. The book itself is a remarkable tour de force, following the lives of 11 Black British women, as well as a non-binary woman, centering around a theatrical production and the playwright who reflects on her relationships with these women.

Evaristo’s latest book Manifesto, published in February 2022, is a memoir about her years of struggle to be recognized in the sacred halls of literature. Her story is one we can all applaud.

Year Two of Covid:Literary Favorites of 2021

By Carole Reedy

This second year of the pandemic has given us another opportunity for many hours to ponder our fates and read new literary selections. When asked what makes a good book and, of the good ones, what makes a book great, Salman Rushdie, the thought-inspiring and entertaining writer, replied:
“What I look for in a book is a voice that sounds fresh, a relationship with language that feels exciting, and a vision of the world that enlightens or challenges me, or, just occasionally, changes the way I see the world in some degree. When I find at least one of those things, then that’s what I’d probably call a good book. When I find all of them, then the adjective ‘great’ may come to mind.”

Keeping in mind Rushdie’s analysis, I’ve chosen ten books I feel meet those criteria. Coincidentally, they’re also among the most entertaining reads of the year. The first two books I would place in Rushdie’s “Great Literature” category, the rest just slightly less than great.

CROSSROADS: A NOVEL, by Jonathan Franzen (2021)

Franzen’s masterpiece is so compelling it could win all the major literary awards next year. What makes that probable? Exactly what Rushdie’s formula dictates.

We discover Franzen’s 1970s American family, the Hildebrants, as if through a microscope, every movement of their lives together and their individual emotional states and thoughts detailed in this 600-page stunner, the first of a trilogy to come. As we’re drawn into each character’s world, our own reactions and a slight shift in perspective add to the sheer enjoyment of the language and provocative twists with each turn of the page. I seldom need a dictionary when reading a novel, but Franzen’s books are exceptions.

THE MAGICIAN: A NOVEL, by Colm Tóibin (2021)

After reading Tóibin’s story of Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann’s long life, a friend said to me, “The masterpiece written by Tóibin about Thomas Mann’s life is infinitely more compelling and introspective than any of Mann’s well-respected novels.” And I have to agree.

Tóibin took on an enormous responsibility when he sat down to write a novel based on the 80 years that Mann graced our planet. Mann basked in the limelight during his life, which encompassed two wars over two continents. But the outstanding characteristic of this grand tribute lies in the life beneath the exterior, delving into the inner workings of his mind and heart.

Similar yearnings and emotions are reflected in Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer, also appearing below on this list. In both cases, it is heartbreaking to read the pain these men suffer for emotions they feel which, at the time, are in conflict with society’s norms and must therefore remain hidden and nrequited.

SHOULD WE STAY OR SHOULD WE GO: A NOVEL, by Lionel Shriver (2021)

Only a writer as adept as Lionel Shriver can make us chuckle about death and, especially, suicide. When do we say enough is enough? The aging couple in Shriver’s latest novel has devised a plan for leaving this life when body and soul dictate.

Shriver creates several scenarios of the manner in which the end might come about for the couple and the various consequences that might arise. As always, she doesn’t leave a loose thread hanging or a conclusion sloppily rendered.

Shriver in each of her novels explores, dissects, and delights in a modern-day problem/challenge/fad/concern that is unique to the human condition. I’ve never been disappointed in her rendering or treatment of our delicate mentality.

THE GIVER OF STARS: A NOVEL, by Jojo Moyes (2019)
THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK, by Kim Michele Richardson (2019)
These two novels are similar in subject, characters, and history, but vary in their treatment. The overriding topic is books and reading, which would capture the interest of any reader of this column. Both novels are based in fact, taking place during the 1930s depression era in rural Kentucky, where an FDR government initiative is being enacted: books delivered to rural areas on horseback by librarians.

These women are brave, tenacious, and strong (even if they start out a bit weaker) pioneers in the advancement and acceptance of women’s physical strength and determination.

I paused before opening each of these books, as I wasn’t familiar with the writers, the situation, or the geography and sociology of the area. Though I was doubtful, I decided to give them a try. Once immersed, I saw that I’d rushed to judgment and had happily been proved wrong.

The difference between the books is in the storytelling and characters. Moyes concentrates on four women who fight the terrain, customs, and mores of the area in their pursuit of dispensing knowledge. Each is unique in style and the manner in which she handles her job and the resulting dissent. But in the end each triumphs in her own way.

Richardson takes a different approach, with one woman front and center. Also woven into the narrative is the phenomenon of the “blue people.” Here’s a fascinating historical twist to the story – as if these dedicated women needed any more problems!

ARCTIC SUMMER, by Damon Galgut (2014)

What Tóibin accomplishes in his in-depth analysis of Thomas Mann, Galgut parallels in this beautiful portrayal of the admirable yet suffering author E. M. Forster. Instead of 80 years, however, Galgut concentrates on a more specific time and travel period, when Forster lived in India and Egypt.

Forster is a gentle man, even more so when compared to his British comrades, his love deep and yet impossible.

On November 3 of this year, Galgut deservedly won the prestigious 2021 Booker Prize for his novel The Promise: A Novel, also one of my favorite reads of the year.

HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead (2021)

This time around, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Whitehead gives us a whirlwind tour of 1960s New York, specifically to honky-tonk Harlem. We see it all through the eyes of small-time crook Ray Carney, who delights us with his subtle criminal, yet seemingly normal, life in the colorful barrio.

The characters surrounding him in his pursuit for a comfortable life for his family are painted in brilliant color with shades of sepia. They are quirky, frightening at times, occasionally astute, downright funny, and never stereotyped.
It was pure delight to accompany Ray on his “just a bit bent” adventures with friends and family, to whom he demonstrates uncommon loyalty, and to his enemies, with whom he gets even eventually with demonstrated patience.

HOMELAND: A NOVEL, by Fernando Aramburu (2020)

Off to another country across the ocean, to a time in the near past and a culture little-known to most of us. Basque Country is an autonomous region nestled in northeast Spain on the border with France, where long-standing conflicts take place in its struggle for independence. Homeland is a story told over several decades of two opposing families who prove to us the futility of wars and maybe even of principles.

Interesting that the reader comes to understand the motives and reactions to situations that at first seem alien, but in the end prove to be not so distant. The delicacy of human emotions seems constant regardless the culture or era.

The true stars of the novel are the matriarchs, their strength and pain. There isn’t much joy in this novel, but it reflects the deep rage, sadness, commitment, and existential challenge of the family in a remote section of Spain. The plot weaves through past and present to offer a full picture of the struggles of the region. You can watch an excellent, though less satisfying than the book, serial version of the story on HBO, called Patria, also the title of the book in Spanish.

THE IMMORTALISTS: A NOVEL, by Chloe Benjamin (2018)

The premise behind the story is one of our grand metaphysical questions: would you like to know the exact date and time of your death?

In other hands, the telling could have come off as trite and manipulated, but Benjamin guides us through the separate but intertwined lives and deaths of four young siblings who visit a fortune teller to discover the timing of their future demises. The author, perhaps wisely, leaves us with more existential questions at the end of each life than when we’d first joined them many years previously; possibly that was her intent.

THE RUTH GALLOWAY MYSTERY SERIES by Elly Griffiths

Druids, detectives, archaeologists, extramarital affairs, and digging up bones are among the elements that make this one of the finest mystery series published in this century.

Ruth Galloway is our hero, a prominent forensic archaeologist bone expert who teaches at the University of North Norfolk in England. She is sought after by local detectives seeking to solve murders that involve buried treasure … the treasure usually being a body found deep in an archeological dig.

Fourteen books make up a series in which we connect with the emotions, frustrations, and decisions of the main players, who are engaging and beautifully drawn. The ease with which we’re able relate to the characters is what sets this series apart from others.

Griffiths doesn’t go into elaborate contortions to develop or resolve her crimes, as many modern crime writers feel they must do. The plots are challenging and often humorous, without stretching for a clever solution. An additional plus is the pleasure these books bring in learning about the history and geography of the English countryside.

Try the first and see if you’re hooked. I recommend reading the books in order, as the characters are fleshed out over the series and various scenarios. Start with The Crossing Places (2010). I predict the books will bring you great pleasure in the post-pandemic (we can hope!) year ahead.

We’ve been graced with a plethora of fine novels from this and previous years. As always, I look forward to 2022 for more literary gems from old friends and new writers. We close this year encouraged by the always poignant words of the admirable Rushdie:

“The future of fiction is assured. The novel will survive and thrive.”