Tag Archives: The Arts

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

Migration is as natural as breathing, as eating, as sleeping. It is part of life, part of nature. So we have to find a way of establishing a proper kind of scenario for modern migration to exist. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean the world. We need to find ways of making that migration not forced.

Gael Garcia Bernal

I am always taken aback when I hear someone come down on immigration; after all, go back far enough and most of us are a long way from where our ancestors started. Things are always changing and people are always on the move. Whether it is a temporary hiatus for rest and relaxation or seasonal higher wages or a permanent move seeking a different kind of life – perhaps one with more safety or one where our money will get us more. How are we different?

Many would argue that long-term vacationing or owning a second home in a foreign country helps the economy and therefore isn’t the same as when outsiders come into their country looking for asylum and ‘taking’ their jobs. However, I would argue that they aren’t really that different.

While the kind of migration that has its roots firmly planted in ‘expat’ experiences can temporarily help an economy, in the long run it causes prices to rise, initiates gentrification and adds to a class system. I actually cringe when I hear the word ‘expat’ for its colonial connotations and I encourage you to read further on this if you find yourself using it.

On the other hand, the kind of migration that has its roots firmly planted in ‘refugee’ experiences can temporarily put a strain on an economy, in the long run, it is an important part of the economic growth of any country.

We are first and foremost people and it is hubristic to believe that any one of us is more deserving and entitled to movement or humane quality of life. Find your place in the world, make it your own, and let everyone else do the same.

This month our writers explore the waves of migration that have made Mexico the wonderful and diverse country that it is.

Thank you to everyone who submitted essays to our My Mexico Moment contest. I look forward to reading about your favorite places in Mexico for our July issue.

See you in July,

Jane

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Julie Etra has drawn on her professional background in environmental sciences to write many articles about Mexican plants and animals, ever since the second issue of The Eye was published. Julie was born, raised and educated in New Rochelle, New York. When she was still in junior high, the New Rochelle high school building completely burned down, so her high school classes were held in temporary barracks. She then studied in real classrooms at the University of Colorado in Boulder, earning a BA degree in Environmental Biology, followed by completing an MS degree in Soil and Crop Science at the Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Continuing her westward trek, Julie worked for the U.S. Forest Service in South Lake Tahoe, California, for three years and then decided to start her own business, Tahoe Native Plants. One of her USFS projects involved restoration of land at a community college, and it was there in 1985 that she met her future husband who was also working on the project as a general engineering contractor. In 1990, Julie and Larry decided to buy land in Washoe County, Nevada (near Reno), and build their own home. Living in a 14′ travel trailer that was freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer until their construction was completed, they finally moved into their home, where they still live when not in Mexico. Once settled in Nevada, Julie moved her office to Reno and changed the name of her company to Western Botanical Services, Inc. She has continuously provided botanical surveys and soil analysis as a contractor to private engineering and landscape architecture companies and public entities overseeing implementation of erosion control and land restoration projects. Her business was incorporated in 1994.

Julie is avid about music, plays the piano, and listens to “almost everything.” She also enjoys playing tennis, swimming, gardening and, like the other writers for The Eye, constantly reads books, magazines, and newspapers. Julie first visited Mexico in 1977, where in Cozumel she was certified for scuba diving. In 1988, she and Larry began spending 3 months each year in Baja Sur. They visited Huatulco in 2007 and in 2008, decided to spend the winter here and built a home in Conejos. They also are extensive travelers and, with the exception of Antarctica, have visited every continent; Julie’s favorite is (subSaharan) Africa. Julie has two step-kids from Larry’s previous marriage and two grandkids with whom they stay in close contact.

The first articles Julie published in the Eye focused on corn – three articles on corn – until our editor suggested she might explore other topics and something less technical. The Eye article she enjoyed writing most described her travels with Larry and their puppy during COVID – “It was fun!”

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!

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.” — Henry David Thoreau’s journals

I fell in love with the landscape of this place almost instantly. It were as though the earth reached up and took hold of me and said ‘you are mine.’

Love is an invisible thing, a gravitational pull that can’t be explained and defies practicality and reason. My heart soars everyday as I arrive home. The breeze off the river wakes me each morning with sweet caresses and a rippling sound that reminds me that everything is constantly changing. At night the moon hangs over me with her pensive calming demeanor and a reassurance that all is right in the world. In the afternoon the parrots squawk past my house telling me to find the lightness in things. The expanse of night sky, unblemished by light pollution, is to feel the grandness of the universe greater than in any cathedral. Even the earthquakes and storms feel like a conversation between the elements and an intrinsic part of life.

What is the purpose of our lives if not to find balance and harmony with the natural world around us? More than ever we need to evaluate our effect on the world around us. There has never been a time when human beings’ need for stuff has damaged so much of the planet. Our consumerism is destroying ecosystems.

But instead of focusing on changing our habits: recycling more, driving less, eating more sustainably, maybe we should focus on getting out in nature more. Hug more trees, take more walks, look up at the sky and breathe deeply, listen to the birds, love all animals the way we love our pets. Fall in love with the natural world around you and you won’t be able to help but change the way you live.

This month our writers focus on the environment. The beauty of what it has to offer and the wins of the past year, because it isn’t all dire.

Also we are approaching the deadline for our essay contest about your Mexico Moments. Thank you to everyone who has already written in with their uplifting and interesting tales of what it is to love this place. I look forward to reading the essays that are still brewing.

Thank you for reading and being a part of The Eye.

Jane

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Marcia Chaiken has been contributing articles to The Eye, most often co-authored with her husband Jan, since the inception of the publication. Together, the Chaikens have had a broad experience in conducting research in many diverse fields, and their Eye contributions have ranged from results of surveys and interviews conducted in Mexico to descriptions of personal experiences during decades of travel in Mexico.

Marcia was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in New Jersey, first in Rahway, where she met Jan at age six, and then in Hackensack. After earning a B.A. degree in Zoology at Douglass College (Rutgers University), where she wrote for the college newspaper and worked in the bookstore, she went on to receive an M.A. in Health Sciences at UCLA and then taught in the Ph.D. program at New York University Medical School. After marrying Jan in 1963, she worked on the staff in the Biology Department at M.I.T. until she took a break from research to have a son and then a daughter. She resumed her studies at Columbia University, switching fields to social psychology. She completed her Ph.D. at UCLA and began conducting research at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, where she and Jan collaborated in carrying out research and analysis and co-authoring publications in the field of criminal behavior and criminal justice. Marcia also carried out research and evaluations of programs for children and women in underserved areas while she held positions at UCLA, Brandeis University, and Abt Associates in Cambridge, and the research company she founded in 1989, LINC. Her many publications helped develop Federal policy and practice throughout the United States.

After retiring in 2011, Marcia completed a course of study in the Jewish Renewal Movement and was ordained as a maggidah (Jewish story-teller) in 2014; she has told stories in Oregon, California, Israel and Mexico. Marcia also earned certification to teach aqua aerobics and has given classes in Oregon and California.

Marcia first visited Mexico when a graduate student at UCLA. While raising their children in Los Angeles, Marcia and Jan frequently spent school breaks with their family and Sheltie driving down into Baja and other northern Mexico states, hiking in the deserts, dancing at fiestas, and relishing meals in Mexico. During the 1990s both Marcia and Jan were working 70 or more hours a week in Washington DC, so for holidays they would fly to the Yucatán and explore archeological sites, cenotes, and lagoons up and down the coast. Longer vacations were spent exploring every continent except Antartica. In 2001, they stored all their belongings and drove through most of Mexico. Huatulco seemed like paradise and they returned annually, staying about seven years in the condo they bought. In 2019 they moved into a cottage in a retirement community in Saratoga, California, where Marcia is active in many organizations and spends her free time reading, walking and exercising in the indoor pool. But Huatulco still draws Marcia and Jan back for months almost every year.

Her favorite Eye contribution is “Pre-Hispanic Residents of Huatulco” (April 2015), since the research for the article required behind-the-scenes investigation in government anthropology departments in Mexico City, Oaxaca City and, of course, Huatulco.

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!

Amigos de la Musica Guitar Concert

March 18th

By Christina Meyer-Perez

SEEDING
(GUITAR QUARTET “LIDIUM”)

Ten years after its formation, the guitar quartet ¨LIDIUM ¨ is a solid ensemble committed to traditional and concert music. For this quartet, the guitar is more than an instrument of expression; it is, above all, a vital means of communication in our present.

The quartet was created with the intention of promoting art and culture through traditional Oaxacan and concert music by offering a new concept of musical style and character based on the timbre and sonority of four guitars. This idea is conceived by young Oaxacan guitarists, graduates of the School of Fine Arts of the Autonomous University “Benito Juarez” of Oaxaca (UABJO).

The quartet realized with the secretary of arts and cultures of the government of Oaxaca across the program (PACMYC) the recording of his first disc titled ” GUELAGUETZA IN GUITAR PART 1 ” for which it has offered numerous recitals and concerts in different forums, educational spaces and cultural enclosures, also in some regions of the state of Oaxaca; (the Coast, Isthmus, Mixtec, Central Valleys) with the purpose of promoting the essence, importance and transcendence of each piece and musical works that identify them as Oaxacans.

Within these wonderful musical works are integrated into the program of the concert; The Tonaltecas, Flor de piña, sones , syrups mixes, sones de poclutla and the Sones Jarabes zapotecos de Betaza, very outstanding works with own arrangements of the guitarist assembly.

CUARTETO “LIDIUM”
Juan Carlos Bautista Vásquez.
Emmanuel Alejandro Camacho Zárate
Isaías Cruz Bautista
Juan Antonio López Osorio

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.