Tag Archives: carole reedy

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.”

Fall Finds: Ten New Books By Old Friends

By Carole Reedy

“In stories we exist.”
Niall Williams, History of the Rain

In October we transition from summer to winter, lush green leaves turning bright bright orange, yellow, and red before falling, a portent of winter’s snow and dark days to come. The season itself anticipates the arrival of major Western holidays. But for me, October marks the publication of the most significant books of the year.

Why is the fall book so eagerly anticipated? Readers are tired of beach books, shoppers are making holiday purchases for bookworm friends, and serious book lovers are planning their winter reads to enjoy in front of the fireplace. In addition, like movie premieres, books published at year’s end remain fresh in the mind, augmenting the possibility of winning next year’s awards.

Whatever the reason, for avid readers this is a most marvelous time of the year, and Fall 2021 promises a brilliant selection from the most prominent and distinguished writers of our time. Here are ten books from ten of my favorite authors to savor over the next few months. Just reviewing them assuages feelings of anxiety that pandemic isolation has brought to our lives.

Crossroads, by Jonathan Franzen
For me, this is the most awaited book of the year. Franzen’s depiction of family life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been a theme in his novels, including Freedom (2010), Purity (2015), and, best of them all, The Corrections (2001).

Crossroads should be a blockbuster, and, fortunately for readers, it is the first in a promised trilogy “A Key to All Mythologies.” Once again, Franzen explores the motivations, habits, and impulses of a Midwest family, this time the Hildebrants, over a three-month period that includes those two major holidays, Christmas and Easter.

Franzen writes on other topics, but his family sagas of social realism contain his most compelling and insightful work.

Oh William! A Novel, by Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge fans, rejoice. Another masterpiece by Elizabeth Strout awaits you. No one will ever forget Olive Kitteridge, the personage or the book (2008) in which Strout magnificently yet simply sneaks a peak at the daily life of a curmudgeon with whom we all fall in love. The HBO miniseries (2015), starring the daring actor Frances McDormand, doesn’t quite capture the complexity of the character that the book so precisely portrays.

Oh William! stands on its own as a novel about a relationship, but if you’ve read My Name is Lucy Barton (2016) and Anything Is Possible (2017), your reading experience will be enhanced.

“Elizabeth Strout is one of my very favorite writers, so the fact that Oh William! may well be my favorite of her books is a mathematical equation for joy. The depth, complexity, and love contained in these pages is a miraculous achievement.”—Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House: A Novel (Patchett’s latest book reviewed below).

The Magician: A Novel, by Colm Tóibiín
We know Colm Tóibín for the variety of novels he’s written over the past few years, the most popular being Brooklyn (2009), which was made into a heartwarming movie. With The Magician, Tóibín returns to his exploration of a famous writer, Thomas Mann. I fondly remember The Master (2004), his novel that takes us into four short years in the life of writer Henry James.

The Magician, on the surface, appears to be of the same style, but instead of four years, Tóibín analyzes 80 years of Thomas Mann, the famous novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. As Mann does, so goes Tóibín, with astute insight into the psychology of the intellectual.

It is quite a tome, covering seven decades and two World Wars. The entire family participates in the tale, including Mann’s parents, siblings, wife, and six children.

The Every, by Dave Eggers
It wasn’t an easy task, but Dave Eggers figured out how to circumvent the Amazon monopoly. “I don’t like bullies,” Eggers has written. “Amazon has been kicking sand in the face of independent bookstores for decades now.”

The hardback edition of The Every, his newest novel and a follow-up to the successful The Circle (2013), will arrive only in independent bookstores in October. Six weeks later, the paperback and e-book versions will be available in other stores and venues. The hardcover version will always be available only in independent bookstores and from McSweeney publishers, founded by Eggers.

“One of the themes of the book is the power of monopolies to dictate our choices, so it seemed a good opportunity to push back a bit against the monopoly, Amazon, that currently rules the book world,” he said. “So we started looking into how feasible it would be to make the hardcover available only through independent bookstores. Turns out it is very, very hard.”

Eggers is truly a Renaissance man. Not only the author of novels, Eggers was trained as a painter and his artwork has been exhibited in many galleries. He has won the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Education and the TED Prize, and has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2018, Eggers co-founded The International Congress of Youth Voices, an annual gathering of 100 extraordinary young writers.
Eggers is an admirable example for young people as well as being an insightful and entertaining writer. While the subject matter varies among his books, each is given the attention and feeling we’ve come to expect from this man of diverse talents.

Trust: A Novel, by Domenico Starnone
Starnone’s name may not be familiar in many countries, but in Italy he is currently the country’s most popular writer, possibly excepting Elena Ferrante. In fact, in the frenzied search to identify the real Ferrante (a penname), gossip mongers have speculated Starnone is the real Ferrante, or perhaps her husband.

Gossip aside, Starnone enjoys international fame with his short psychological novels such as Ties (2017) and Trick (2018). Distinguished for his tight, compact writing, not wasting a word with anything inessential to convey the meaning and emotion of the moment, Starnone dazzles us in subtle ways.

Trust, his fourth novel to be translated into English, by none other than Jhumpa Lahiri, explores the age-old tradition of secret keeping. A loving couple reveals their darkest secrets to each other, but the novel is about more than the trust between two people. It’s also an exploration into what we look for and thus create for ourselves in the other person.

“Richly nuanced while also understated, Starnone’s latest appearance in English is a novel to be savored,” Kirkus Reviews.

Fight Night: A Novel, by Miriam Toews
The women in Toews’s novels demonstrate a combination of strength, competence, and compassion. And while the subject matter is often controversial and difficult, the ease with which she opens up the world of the protagonists and weaves a tale has established her as a formidable writer of the 21st century.
A notable example is All My Puny Sorrows (2019), which depicts the struggle of a family and its concert pianist member who can’t control her urge to commit suicide.
Women Talking: A Novel (2020) is the tale of Mennonite women who suffer abuse from men in the community and the resulting decisions they must make (based on true incidents).
This latest is the story of three generations of women, with a grandmother and nine-year-old girl named Swiv at the center of the story; Publishers Weekly called this newest novel “a knockout!”

These Precious Days: Essays, by Anne Patchett
Respected author Patchett takes a sharp turn from her usual path in her newest book. Many of us have been enchanted by her novels, which sparkle with excellent plots and engaging characterizations.
In Patchett’s latest, we’re confronted with a compilation of very personal essays that reveal the author’s feelings on home, family, and friendships.

Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead
Harlem Shuffle, a combination of historical fiction, crime, and family saga, takes a different turn from Whitehead’s previous successes. Whitehead calls it his “love letter to Harlem.”
Whitehead has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice for his novels The Underground Railroad (2016) and Nickel Boys (2019). He has also received the MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships. With ten published books, Whitehead has established himself as a dynamic force in American prose.

State of Terror, by Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton
Who could resist a new novel by Louise Penny, guided by the insight of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Obviously, it’s a tale of political intrigue and mystery that should appeal to Penny’s worldwide fan base for her Three Pines mysteries.
Penny says this about working with Clinton: “When it was suggested my friend Hillary and I write a political thriller together, I could not say yes fast enough. What an incredible experience, to get inside the State Department. Inside the White House. Inside the mind of the Secretary of State as high stake crises explode. Before we started, we talked about her time as Secretary of State. What was her worst nightmare? State of Terror is the answer.” Thus, the book was created.

Bewilderment: A Novel, by Richard Powers
Readers and nature lovers are eagerly anticipating Powers’ latest, which arrives on the coattails of his Pulitzer-Prize winning The Overstory: A Novel (2018). Bewilderment already is long-listed for the Booker Prize and is one of the most anticipated books of the year.

The protagonist, a professor of astrobiology, deals with explaining our endangered planet to his nine-year-old son, whom he’s raising alone after the death of his wife. Dig into this marvelous story of experimental neurotherapy and speculation on alien life.

Here’s to a fall and winter of reading, contemplation, and joy.

On the Beaten Path in CDMX: Small Eateries with Big Flavors

By Carole Reedy

In a city of 20 million, not all restaurants receive the recognition they deserve, especially smaller venues without the funds for publicity. Reviewers try their best to visit the countless eating establishments in Mexico City, but they do have their limits.

Here I present small (sometimes tiny) eateries, a few of which may be short on ambience but big on flavor. I discovered them while flaneuring through the city or from friends who introduced me to them by enthusiastically declaring “You MUST try … ”

El Auténtico Pato Manila

This might be the best-kept secret in Mexico City. My downstairs, restaurant-going neighbor recommended this tiny venue on the spur of the moment one day as I climbed to my third-floor apartment in Roma Sur. Upon hearing my footsteps he opened his door and said, “Shall we pop out for a bite to eat? Feel like duck tacos?”

That was the start of many visits to Manila Tacos. What a find! The owner has created a small, eclectic menu, with just five items offered:
· Tacos Manila: four duck tacos on corn tortillas
· Tacos Kim: two duck tacos on flour tortillas
· A torta filled with duck (carnitas style) and avocado
· Won ton
· Spring rolls, filled with duck or without

Enjoy these delicacies while sitting at the counter in the wee locale. Take-out and delivery are available too. Each item is made to order and served piping hot with several sauces. A variety of beers is also available, as well as soft drinks. And that’s it! Perhaps you, as I have, will make this a staple in your diet.

Location: I frequent the Manila in Condesa at Culiacán 91. There is also a Manila in Roma Norte on Álvaro Obregón, close to Casa Lamm.

La Selva (move over Starbucks)

Hooked on Starbucks? Mexico offers many high-quality alternatives at much cheaper prices. One of these is La Selva in Condesa, located conveniently a short block from Parque México. Here you will find organic coffee from the Lacandona jungle in Chiapas.

I buy a half-kilo of organic dark roast coffee for about $7 US. There are small eating areas both inside and outside. on the tree-lined street at Iztaccihuatl 36. Unlike Starbucks, La Selva serves full breakfasts and lunches instead of sweetened pastries and expensive sandwiches.

People watching is a satisfying pastime at this location any day, but especially on Sundays when the park is most active.

Location: Iztaccihuatl 36, a short tree-lined street that runs between Parque México and Av. Insurgentes Sur.

Pastelería Alcazar

Good bakeries are a satisfying alternative to restaurants for breakfast or a snack. Alcazar is one of my favorites as they serve marvelous croissants and an English biscuit, a type of scone that my guests request during every visit.

There’s also a selection of small cookies and rich, flavorful cakes, unlike the cardboard, elaborately decorated sugary cakes that adorn many party tables in Mexico. The chocolate truffle cake from Alcazar is especially decadent, with several types of chocolate precisely layered. There are pies too, from lemon-lime to the sweeter fruit pies with whipped cream. Candles and other adornments needed for your celebration are also available.

For lunch, Alcazar offers sandwiches, both vegetarian and meaty, as well as a few salads. In my neighborhood of Roma Sur, all the medical personnel from the hospitals stop at Alcazar for a coffee or lunch, which in my book is a great recommendation.

Need a quick gift? Pop in and buy a packet of chocolate-covered almonds or coffee beans. Coffee sold by the kilo and a variety of teas also make for thoughtful gifts. There’s even a fun selection of coffee cups for sale.

Location: Pastelería Alcazar has many locations around the city … fortunately for us!

Cafebrería El Péndulo

You may think yours truly is confusing her regular book column with this month’s food article. Actually, not only is El Péndulo the most attractive and original bookstore in the city, its cafés offer surprisingly good food. There are seven locations throughout the city, and all have the same cozy ambience of rooms lined with books in Spanish, English, and other languages.

The coffee shops serve not just java but also light meals. The breakfasts are especially tasty. I was happily impressed that a simple goat cheese and spinach omelet could radiate such distinct flavors.

Location: The Polanco location is at Alejandro Dumas 81; in Condesa, it’s at Nuevo León 115; in the Zona Rosa, it’s at Hamburgo 126; and in Roma, Álvaro Obregón 86.

Mallorca

Believe it or not, this little-known restaurant, named for the large island off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea, is smack dab in the middle of Avenida Reforma, near the Ángel de la Independencia. It is indoor/outdoor, no better ambience for people watching.

Spanish and Mexican cuisine easily blend to give diners a variety of excellent choices and flavors. You’ll find the traditional Spanish serrano ham, as well as our beloved Mexican chilaquiles. Entrees such as salmon a la plancha, risotto, and the traditional cream soup from Córdoba, Salmorejo, star on this appetizing menu.

There’s also a magnificent pastry shop attached to the restaurant that’s filled with scrumptious treats such as brownies, chocolates, scones, chocolatíns, croissants, marmalades, and fine breads.

The hours shift daily, but most days the restaurant is open from 7-8 am until 9-11 pm.

Location: Avenida Paseo de la Reforma 365; there’s another one in Lomas de Chapultepec, at Avenida Explanada 710.

Little Tokyo

Foreign influences abound in Mexico City. Most tourists understand the French and Spanish architectural and culinary fingerprints left all over the city, but there is a considerable Asian influence here as well, including that of the Japanese.

Many of you are aware that Mexico’s landmark tree, the jacaranda, native to South America, was installed in Mexico City by Japanese imperial gardener Tatsugoro Matsumoto in the late 1800s. Ever since, these stately trees with purple blooms have adorned the avenues of the city, most notably in Coyoacán, Avenida Reforma in Cuauhtémoc, and colonia Roma, among many locales. If you visit from February through April you’ll relish the blooms followed by the carpets of purple they drop on the streets. (For the tale of Matsumoto and the jacaranda, see “How the Jacaranda and Blue Hanami Came to Mexico – and the Japanese Paisajista Who Made It Happen,” The Eye, July 2020.)

After World War II, with the many Japanese immigrants arriving on Mexican shores, the area around the Japanese embassy in the neighborhood known as Cuauhtémoc became a popular spot to gather. Here you’ll see the beginning – and subsequent growth and success – of Little Tokyo, in the area north of Reforma around the Ángel of Independencia.

Of course, it began with small informal restaurants but has grown into a formidable Japanese cultural area. This includes the finest of Japanese cuisine and even a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, if you choose to spend a night or two in the area. The inn Ryo Kan boasts a blend of Japanese and Mexican culture, with four tubs on the roof of the inn for your viewing and relaxing pleasure.

Most of the restaurants, the Toki Doki Market with Japanese gourmet goods, and shops line the street of Rio Pánuco. There is a Japanese contemporary art bookstore called EXIT La Librería at number 138. And at number 170 the popular Daikoku Restaurant serves all your favorite Japanese specialties.

A day exploring Avenida Reforma with a stop at Little Tokyo is a perfect way to ease yourself out of the isolation of the pandemic.

Wherever you roam, Buen Provecho!

Novels That Inform And Entertain

By Carole Reedy

The environment, migration, and conservation are not new topics for novelists. For many of us, our first book on change and migration due to a deteriorating earth was required reading. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, is the landmark 1939 novel in which the Joad family is forced to leave their homestead in Oklahoma, ravaged by the Dust Bowl, for the promised land of California.

Hindsight is foresight. In 1962 Rachel Carson was accused of exaggeration by the government and big business when she challenged the use of chemical pesticides in her groundbreaking book Silent Spring.

For this column, I’ve chosen several books from numerous recent novels exploring these increasingly urgent themes.

The Overstory by Richard Powers
The individual stories and plots of the nine US environmental activists who populate the novel play second string to Powers’ intensely detailed descriptions of the symbiotic relationship between trees and forests and their unique role in the survival of our planet.

Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2018, this seminal work is referred to regularly in any discussion of the environment and its degradation.

Three Novels by T. C. Boyle (Thomas Coraghessan Boyle)
I’ve written about the novels of T. C. Boyle multiple times over the past eleven years, and with good reason. The Tortilla Curtain remains among my top ten reads of all time and has been lauded as one of the most insightful on migration in Southern California.

Boyle, without fail, entertains while illuminating our grasp on issues that concern him and our planet, and he does it in an amusing style that can prompt readers to chuckle, despair, or contemplate simultaneously.

A Friend of the Earth
This piece of eco-fiction takes place in 2025, which seemed a long way off in 2000 when Boyle wrote it. It was interesting for me to revisit this book in 2021 after reading it 21 years ago. That which seemed far-fetched in 2000 is more realistic now. Many of his premises ring true: the degradation of ecosystems, deforestation, change in climate, the building frenzy, shortened life expectancy, and overpopulation.

The story is told through the eyes of the main character, Tyrone O’Shaughnessy Tierwater (Boyle’s character names are as intriguing as his own), a 75-year old disheveled man looking back on his life as an environmental activist. Tierwater’s future seems as hopeless as the state of the earth. Boyle does not politicize, but rather tells a compelling story that keeps your mind spinning. Spoiler alert: it ends on a bittersweet but satisfyingly positive note.

When the Killing’s Done
A compelling premise for this 2011 novel: An animal rights activist takes on the National Park Service, which is removing invasive species (rats and pigs) from the Channel Islands National Park in California. Based on historical fact, here Boyle relates actual occurrences by shrouding them in a family story. Other actual events from the islands make their way into the always engaging story that Boyle tells.

The Terranauts
As I review T. C. Boyle’s novels I’ve come to appreciate them more with each passing year, and this one especially. His books ring true in so many ways, especially during these days of Jeff Bezos and his space exploration schemes.

In this 2016 novel set in 1994, a group of eight prepare for possible colonization on Mars by spending months in a biosphere facility called Ecosphere. As always, Boyle’s insight and exploration of human reactions, relationships, shortcomings, and strengths are the focus throughout the characters’ isolation together.

By the way, T. C. Boyle’s favorite novelist is Gabriel García Márquez.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
Latin America’s favorite son and a Nobel-prize winner from Colombia, García Márquez focuses on his country and its larger setting in the vast collection of novels and short stories he left us. The magical realism woven throughout his novels carries the reader through time and the lush ambience of the country he loves.

There is no better time to read this 1984 novel, which takes place over six decades, during which an intermittent cholera epidemic affects not only South America, but also the world. In addition, the arrival of the 20th century brings with it severe environmental damage from deforestation. For many of my friends who are avid readers and fans of Marquez, this is their favorite.

The Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet
For me, the outstanding characteristic of this novel is the intelligence and perceptiveness of the twelve children compared to the naïveté of their clueless parents. After being forced into a supposedly grand family getaway in a remote mansion, the children rebel when they perceive environmental dangers that the party-loving parents ignore. The children escape to a safer location, leaving their parents to their debauchery.

Millet has earned well-deserved attention from the New York Times, BBC, and Washington Post. This book was a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction.

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
Attention bird lovers: the focus here is on the main character’s quest to follow the Arctic terns on what she believes, due to extreme climate changes, to be their final journey from Greenland to Antarctica. The book transports the reader along with its main character, Franny, on a boat from Greenland to the Southern Ocean. While the novel explores her search and the adventure of following the terns, it also delves into her innermost secrets, shortcomings, and personal issues in need of resolution. Franny’s outer search echoes her inner one. Formerly the author of young adult fiction, here McConaghy debuts as an adult novelist.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Considered by some to be the ultimate in environmental disaster stories, The Road has been made into a film. Don’t be tempted – read the book. The book has a power all its own, with multiple elements including the centerpiece father-son relationship. Praised for its ability to portray the earth’s destruction and yet criticized for its minimal plot and characterization, this book is hailed by many as the masterpiece of our climate emergency. The unusual writing style and use (specifically, the nonuse) of punctuation irritates many readers, me among them, though I understand the source and reasoning behind the author’s choice. This short, intense book will transport you.

How fortunate to live in a world filled with brilliant minds who can raise our consciousness, stir our emotions, inform, teach and at the same time even entertain us.

¡Salud! A Toast to The Vineyards of Mexico

By Carole Reedy

Twenty years ago on our tranquil Oaxaca coast, wine imbibers had two choices: a liter box (the same container in which one finds milk) of red Don Simon for 17 pesos ($1.70 USD at the time) or an hourglass liter of red or white Padre Kino. To this day, I still keep one of those empty bottles to use for water or flowers.

Times have changed. Mexico has long been known for its beer and tequila, preferred beverages of locals and tourists alike. But now wines imported from Chile, Argentina, Spain, France, Australia, and the US are available in most places, even outside the big cities of Mexico, Monterrey, and Guadalajara.

More significant is our access to fine wines directly from the local vineyards that dot the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Querétaro, Baja California, and Coahuila. Fewer restrictions than some other countries, good climate, and the variety of grapes, styles, and blends make Mexico a grape-growing paradise. Most of Mexico’s grapes are of Spanish and French origin: Syrah, Cabernet, Malbec, and Chardonnay.

It’s important to note that wine production is not new to Mexico. Hernán Cortés and the Spaniards started growing and harvesting grapes in the 1500s. In fact, Cortés ordered the colonists to plant a minimum of 1000 grapevines per year. Mexican wines became so popular that in 1699, the Spanish Crown, threatened by the success and competition from France and Mexico, stopped production here. Only the Jesuits and other religious orders were allowed to continue making wine for sacramental purposes during this hiatus. The industry was finally revived and refined after the Mexican War of Independence (1810-21), and since has earned respectable status among the world’s finest wines.

In addition to our access to local wines, we can tour vineyards and enjoy a tasting, often accompanied by those tempting tapas. Here are a few of the best of the vineyards that are easy to locate for travelers and residents alike. Each has a variety of wine tours and tastings. It’s best to view your options on the individual websites; most require reservations.

BAJA CALIFORNIA

The 1000-mile long peninsula of Baja California is known predominately for its southern region (Baja Sur) that houses the beach resorts of Cabo San Lucas and Todos Santos. But the region of the North, the larger area of the two, provides a variety of entertainment for visitors and residents alike. Not only are there the beaches of Ensenada, there is also the vibrant city of Tijuana that always seems to get a bad rap.

I have fond memories of Tijuana weekends filled with Sunday afternoon corridas de toros, Saturday night jai alai games, and fish tacos. Just to the south of Ensenada, you’ll find the home of the finest wines of Mexico.

The Valle de Guadalupe has been called the Napa Valley of Mexico due to its commercial success throughout the world. Ninety percent of Mexican wine and half the country’s wineries are from these areas west of the Sierra Mountains that divide the Baja Península. The Pacific Ocean provides the cool breeze for the warm peninsula and its grapes.

Monte Xanic vineyard derives its name from the indigenous word xanic, which means “flower that sprouts after the rain.” The vineyard is located 15 kilometers from the Pacific Coast and 400 meters above sea level, the ideal Mediterranean climate for growing grapes.

In the three decades that elapsed between 1987 and 2017, Monte Xanic managed to position itself as a prestigious brand, especially for easy-consumption young wines, the demand for which is growing.

The vineyard uses computerized irrigation, with sensors located among the roots of the vines to measure humidity levels and the need for water.

The vineyard uses computerized irrigation, with sensors located among the roots of the vines to measure humidity levels and the need for water.

The water used by Monte Xanic comes from several wells in the region. First, water from each well is tested for salinity and then conducted separately to an artificial lake, where further quality control occurs, again focused especially on salt concentrations, ensuring optimum quality water for the vineyards.

Harvesting both whites and reds, Monte Xanic wines range in price from 300 pesos per bottle and up. The reasonably priced Calixa Syrah complements Mexican food, such as tacos arrachera, cecina, and sopes.

L.A. Cetto vineyard, a nearby neighbor, was founded in 1928 by Angelo Cetto, who used the methods he learned in his native Trentino, Italy. Three generations of the family have continued the tradition.

There are several valleys where these vineyards are located: Valle de Guadalupe, Valle Redondo, San Vincente, San Antonio de la Minas, and Tecate. L.A. Cetto is a popular wine in Mexico, very reasonably priced and readily available in restaurants and retail stores alike (probably including your local grocery store!).

Both of these viñedos provide visitors with tours and tastings. If you have never experienced a tasting or tour and you’re a wine drinker, you will discover many interesting aspects and fact about wines. And the tours in Mexico provide that extra warmth that only Mexicans bring to a gathering.

PARRAS, COAHUILA

Casa Madero, dating from 1597, boasts the oldest vineyard in Mexico and is home to one of the most-awarded wines in Mexico. They produce my personal favorite red, Casa Madero 3V (three grape varieties: Cabernet, Merlot, and Tempranillo). For white wine lovers, the Chardonnay is a crisp delight.

The city of Parras, Coahuila, is located in the northeast corner of Mexico, 150 km from both Saltillo and Torreón. It’s considered one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos due to its gastronomy, artesanias (handcrafts), and cultural contributions to the country. It is also a part of the country that, while close to the US border, is not swarming with tourists and thus is a welcome respite for adventurers.

The area and winery have fascinating histories. It seems that even during prohibition they continued with wine production, probably in cooperation with the religious entities.

The vineyards, restaurant, and the accompanying Hacienda San Lorenzo are accessible by advance reservation only, and it appears the beautiful hacienda is available to groups only.

GUANAJUATO

The charming colonial town of San Miguel de Allende has so much to offer tourists, not only within the cobblestone city, but also just minutes outside it.

Close by, on the road from San Miguel de Allende to Dolores Hidalgo (km 73), you’ll find the popular Tres Raíces (Three Roots) Vinatería. Friends of mine recently spent a day enjoying the hospitality of the owner and staff, returning with rave reviews of the tour, wines, and excellent tapas.

The viñedo also houses a charming boutique hotel and a restaurant in case you want the full getaway experience into the world of wines.

QUERÉTARO

The areas surrounding the cities of Querétaro and Tequisquiapan are known as La Ruta de Queso y Vino as you will find several notable vineyards here. There are many organized tours out of each of these cities, Querétaro being the larger and more famous of the two, with Tequisquiapan the small charming pueblo, chock full of artesanias. Whichever place you decide to make your base, you will find it easy to explore both the wines and cheeses made in the area. There are different types of organized tours ranging from horseback, tranvía (trolley), walking, and the like, or you can rent a car to explore on your own.

Not only is this area the route of wine and cheese, historically the Bajío – the lowland plain of west central Mexico, is the cradle of the Mexican struggle for freedom that culminated in the War of Independence, making it a treasure trove of history that can be studied in the museums and tours of the cities of Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, and Dolores Hidalgo.

Finca Sala Vivé by Freixnet México: Are you a sparkling wine fan? This is the place to experience a tour and tasting of that special “bubbly” that adds spark to all occasions. Finca Sala Vivé is the major producer of sparkling wines in Mexico, which it accomplishes through traditional methods. As with all the vineyards, you can buy the wines you taste by the bottle to take home to share with friends.

La Redonda is one of the most frequented vineyards, but don’t let that put you off. It is popular for a reason, and there are never crowds. You will experience the personal attention that characterizes all the tours and wineries in this region.

One plus of La Redonda is the value of their wines. Their prices fall into a very reasonable range for those of us who imbibe daily, and I find their wines to be readily available in many locations in the country, not just in this region.

These vineyards and wines offer a good idea of the state of wine in Mexico. Prices can vary dramatically, and people often are surprised that the Mexican wines can be even pricier than some French wines. Wine prices, like everything else these days, are only rising, in some part due to peso devaluation. I find that when I dine in a restaurant, my glass of wine is often more expensive than my friend’s margarita. But,“Así es la vida! Disfrútala!”

Personal Stories of Migration and the Transition Experience

By Carole Reedy

Home is where you are …
David Byrne

By definition, migration is moving from one place to another, while transition is the process of changing or developing once you arrive. The books listed here tell the stories of both, spanning the globe from Mexico and India to Russia. Accounts of this type have been written since humans put pen to paper. These, I feel, are particularly significant for readers of The Eye.

Homeland Elegies: A Novel, by Ayad Akhtar (2020)

Although pegged as a novel, the immigration story that weaves through these pages is based on the author’s own experiences and family. Akhtar is an American, and he is also a Muslim. In a very personal manner he tells the story of his family in the US, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India: the journeys back and forth and the reactions, attitudes, and beliefs of his family, especially his father.

This modern story of Muslims here and abroad contains a most up-to-date analysis of the US in relation to the rest of the world. Most important to me was the flowing narrative, which appears effortless and addresses a variety of emotions, attitudes, and doubts about modern American society, what it was, and what it has become.

Salman Rushdie calls it “passionate, disturbing, and unputdownable.” It is.

On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel, by Tony Cohan (2001)

Of the many novels written about the US transition to life in Mexico, Cohan’s description of building a home in San Miguel de Allende (SMA) resonates perhaps most clearly to those interested in modern migration and transition.

As background: Two of the original pioneers from north of the border wandered to San Miguel over 80 years ago from Chicago. Stirling Dickinson and Heath Bowman together wrote books about their Mexican and South American travel experiences. Eventually they built a house in San Miguel. Bowman left, but Dickinson stayed in SMA until his death in 1988 at age 89. He contributed to the art and culture of the area, living a simple life from his arrival until his death

Tony Cohan and his wife, after visiting central Mexico in 1985, returned home to Los Angeles, sold their home, and journeyed to SMA, where they bought and refurbished at 250-year-old property. On Mexican Time is the story of the joy, tribulations, adjustment, and drama of their migration and transition to life in Mexico relating specifically to the construction experience.

Cohan’s writing is poignant, fluid, and funny. Most important, though, he finds the perfect phrasing and words to gift readers with a description of the qualities needed to integrate into a culture not their own. On Mexican Time has become a travel classic.

After the success of his first book about Mexico, Cohan went on to expand his writing geography to other parts of this diverse country. Mexican Days: Journeys into the Heart of Mexico (2007) explores the old and new Mexico of coastal and mountainous Veracruz, the sights and smells of Oaxaca, the modern and ancient culture of sprawling Mexico City, the Mayan ruins of the Yucatán, and the indigenous culture of Chiapas.

Burnt Shadows: A Novel, by Kamila Shamsie (2009)

The complete and compelling history of this novel’s families spans countries from Japan in 1945 to Delhi and then to the newly created Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is a time of major world-changing and life-changing events, from the bomb in Nagasaki to the partition of India, the creation of Pakistan, and the jihadist movement in Afghanistan.

An ambitious project, to say the least, but Shamsie creates a cast of believable, sympathetic characters whose lives are shaped by tragic world events. Kirkus Reviews praises Shamsie for her “rare combination of skill and sensitively.”

Lost Children Archive: A Novel (2019) and Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions (2017), by Valeria Luiselli

Valeria Luiselli is one of the most visible, influential, and credible writers about migration and transition to grace bookstores in the past few years. She has personally lived the migratory life and experienced its many transitions. She was born in Mexico City, but just two years later Luiselli’s family moved to Madison, Wisconsin. From there her father’s work took them to Costa Rica, South Korea, and South Africa. At age 16 she moved back to Mexico City. She has also lived in Spain and France.

Currently, Luiselli lives in the Bronx. Her work as an intern at the United Nations, interviewing and interpreting for Central American child migrants, led to the two books mentioned here.

Tell Me How it Ends is a simple book that relates her day-to-day work as an interpreter for the children from Central America (not Mexico) who have crossed the US border and have been separated from relatives or have crossed unaccompanied. The title comes from questions her own children asked as she related her daily work to them each evening–they wanted to know “how it ends” for the children. This is a stark rendering of the state of US immigration policy, a short and mostly sad story.

Lost Children’s Archive, Luiselli’s fifth novel, is the story of a family on a road trip from New York to Arizona in which the children learn about their father’s obsession with Geronimo and at the same time are exposed to the grim realities of children crossing the border.

Luiselli is an intelligent and creative woman who writes in a variety of styles. One of her most interesting works is the short book The Story of My Teeth (2015). I won’t say more. Try it. I think you will find it quite amusing … and more.

The Devil’s Highway: A True Story, by Luis Alberto Urrea (2004)

Readers are in love with Luis Alberto Urrea, who is probably the most popular and important of Mexican-American writers, acknowledged on both sides of the border as one of the most accurate descriptors of the border-crossing experience. Many of his books revolve around the economic struggle of Mexicans and their desire to cross over to the life of riches they perceive will be available to them in the US.

Urrea’s most famous book and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, The Devil’s Highway is the true story of 26 Mexican men who, in May of 2001, crossed the Mexico-US border into the most dangerous of deserts, the 130-mile dirt road in the Sonoran desert called The Devil’s Highway. Published in 2004, the subject remains as fresh in our hearts and minds as it did then.

Urrea investigates and shares the motivations of the various people involved, from the men who attempted the crossing, despite warnings of danger, to the border agents in the US and the coyotes who are paid to be “in the know” about all aspects of the crossing and to lead the men across the deadly terrain.

The Devil’s Highway has been called a must-read in age of migration from south to north, but his novels also give us insight into the Mexican way of life via brilliantly depicted characters and situations, some based on his own family. Urrea has also earned well-deserved kudos for The House of Broken Angels (2018), Queen of America: A Novel (2011), Into the Beautiful North: A Novel (2009), and The Hummingbird’s Daughter: A Novel (2005).

A Backpack, A Bear and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir, by Lev Golinkin (2014)
In 1989, the family of the young narrator of this story, which stretches over continents and years, leaves the Soviet Union with three unusual items and little else in tow: a bear, a backpack, and eight crates of vodka.

Told through the eyes of the young son, this memoir begins in Ukraine and ends in the US, with stops in Europe as the family makes its way from repression to freedom. Lev leads a life of confusion, not only about where they’re heading, but of his own identity as a Jew.

The tone at the beginning of this book is amusing and entertaining, but as Lev ages he finds that he needs to address his identity and the people in the past who helped him. His formative years were spent moving and settling, in doubt and even fear. The light touch at the start of the tale becomes heavier as we watch Lev develop into a man.

There are many tales of desperate groups of people seeking refuge and freedom, but Lev’s feelings and his adaptation to a wide variety of circumstances present different challenges. The constellation of emotions evoked in this memoir make it one that will stay with you – it’s also an ideal book for discussion.

The subject of migration and transition has always been with us and will remain a dominant issue for novelists and writers of memoirs for years to come. And, of course, they will provide seductive material for this column.

Women Writers Off the Beaten Path

By Carole Reedy

Not every writer creates a book that achieves best-seller status or wins a literary prize. Glancing over my 2019-2020 list of the books I read, particular authors caught my eye. Not the brilliant and popular Elena Ferrante, Joyce Carol Oates, or Maggie O’Farrell, but equally notable women writing from a variety of places and perspectives. Here are a few of my favorite unique novels, most with woman protagonists off the beaten path.

Magda Szabó: Stunning character development is her trademark

This Hungarian writer died in 2007 at age 90. Although popular in Hungary and parts of Europe, Szabó didn’t gain status in the English-speaking world until the 21st century, when her novel The Door (1987), which centers on a relationship between a prominent writer and her housekeeper, was translated into English by Len Rix (2005). Although The Door was translated for the American market by Stefan Draughon, Rix seems to have a particular talent for translating Szabó. Since that success, his translations of her novels Katalin Street (1969, tr. 2017) and Abigail (1970, tr. 2020) have won several prominent literary awards.

Szabó’s early writing career was interrupted by the repression of the Stalinist era from 1949 to 1956. She was labeled an enemy of the Communist Party because her work did not conform to the social realism it demanded. Her husband, a writer and translator, was also censored.

The four novels translated by Rix are readily available in English now, both in book form and on Kindle. The best known, The Door, was listed in the New York Times Book Review’s Top Ten Books of 2015. Abigail, a story of a young girl who is sent by her father to a girls’ boarding school in Hungary during World War II, is among her more popular books.

Iza’s Ballad (1963, tr. 2016 by George Szirtas) is my personal favorite, the tale of a doctor’s relationship with her mother and the toll that personal and professional obligations take on her life. The primary women characters are not always likeable, but Szabo’s ability to home in on the circumstances and details of their lives makes for a most compelling read. We are given an understanding of the characters from their hidden thoughts as well as their actions, and it’s in this intimacy that Szabó’s talent lies.

Katalin Street also takes place during Hungary’s struggle sunder German occupation in World War II and Stalin’s subsequent Communist regime. It is the story of three families over a period of time in which both the living and the dead tell their tales of happiness and hardship. Again, stunning character development is Szabó’s trademark.

Miriam Toews: Growing up in a Mennonite community

The early years of Toews’ life spent growing up in a Mennonite household provided this author plenty of fuel for writing about women.

Women Talking: A Novel (2018) is based on actual events that took place in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. Nightly attacks by men in the community result in the “women talking” of the title. Simple, while at the same time complex and revealing, this is a short but emotionally charged story.

In an interview with The Guardian, Toews explains her impetus for writing this story: “I felt an obligation, a need, to write about these women. I am related to them. I could easily been one of them.” In fact, Toews, like the Bolivian Mennonites, is descended from the Molotschna colony, a Russian Mennonite settlement in what is now Ukraine.

All My Puny Sorrows (2014) is another novel centered on a Mennonite family, but this time the focus is on one member, a concert pianist, and the people who love her and their attempts to stave off her suicide attempts. Her mother, husband, and dearest of sisters struggle, as does the protagonist, against demons in an attempt to lead normal lives. Toews’ own father and sister both committed suicide within a ten-year period.

Siri Hustvedt: Elaborately structured works

Probably the most diversely accomplished of the women writers mentioned here, Hustvedt received a doctorate from Columbia University in the US, as well as three honorary doctorates from Norway, France, and Germany. Her writing encompasses all the literary arts: essays, short stories, nonfiction, poetry, and six novels. In 2019 she won the prestigious Princess of Asturias Award for Literature.

In addition, Hustvedt’s fascination with psychoanalysis, neurology, and psychiatry has led to a second career as a lecturer on these subjects.

Hustvedt also writes about art, yet another topic on which she’s extremely knowledgeable. The Blazing World (2014) invites us into a world of art in which a woman artist presents her own work not as her own, instead tagging them with the names of men. The novel won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction in and was long-listed for the Booker Prize.
Memories of the Future (2019) is elaborately structured (as are all her books), bringing together a diverse set of themes that permeate our lives: memory, perception, and sensation. I especially warmed to the beginning, which describes the dismally fractured life of a young writer in New York City.

Hustvedt and her author-husband Paul Auster, along with their singer-songwriter daughter Sophie Auster, gathered members of the literary community including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and Russell Banks to form the group Writers Against Trump to oppose “the racist, destructive, incompetent, corrupt, and fascist regime of Donald Trump, and to give our language, thought, and time to his defeat in November.” The group still meets in a continuing effort to protect the country’s democracy.

C.M. Mayo: A fine blend of Mexican and American

Mayo’s Mexican husband smiles when he notes that she was just five miles from being born Mexican. She was indeed born in El Paso, Texas, in the US, just a hop, skip, and jump from the Mexican border. And she’s lived in Mexico City for many years with this same husband.

Mayo has a wealth of writing to share with us. She has written poetry, essays, novels, and has a delightful blog featuring all types of extraneous writing. Her website is a trove of surprises, all warming a reader’s heart and all about Mexico. While the offerings are geared toward English speakers, both Mayo and her writing are a fine blend of Mexican and American.

Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion (2006) is the place to start. This is a compilation of 24 pieces of fiction and prose by Mexican writers, many translated for the first time. Filled with the jewels of Carlos Fuentes, Juan Villoro, and Laura Esquivel, it is organized according to sections of the country. The Los Angeles Times tells it’s a book we should “throw in a suitcase or mochila (backpack) on your way to Mexico or just settling into a favorite patio chair. It will open your eyes, fill you with pleasure and render our perennial vecinos a little less distante.”

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire was named the Library Journal’s Best Book of 2009. Indeed, it’s an exhaustively researched novel based on the fascinating story of a little-known adopted son of Maximilian, the archduke of Austria, during his short reign as Emperor of Mexico in 1864.

In another vein, Mayo gives us Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico (2002). Her exploration of the thousand-mile peninsula is filled with beauty and reflection on this most-separate Mexican entity, about which John Steinbeck said, “The very air here is miraculous.”

Garnett Kilberg Cohen: Characters you wish you had known

Cohen hails from my hometown of Chicago and her work was recommended to me by a friend, to whom I’m grateful. Kilberg Cohen is the recipient of multiple literary awards and is a professor of creative writing at Columbia College, Chicago.

The most popular of her works is a book of short stories called Swarm to Glory (2014). Several of the stories have appeared in publications throughout the US. Kilberg Cohen populates these small gems with characters you wish you had known while simultaneously relating simply and directly an utterly complex idea: the something we are looking for in our lives.

How We Move the Air (2010) is a short novel made up of the recollections of seven friends (each with his/her own chapter) who recall the suicide of a dear friend. It is filled with extreme emotion and insights into what and how we remember.

This may be just the time to try some new books and authors, because really … what else do we have but time?