*Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder (2009). This is the story of Deogratias, a Burundi refugee to the United States. Geography is not one of my strong suits, and I began reading this book not even knowing what continent Burundi was on. Rawanda and Burundi were both part of the Belgian Congo and have had similar … what? Struggles doesn’t even begin to describe the horror of the genocide.
Deo arrived at JFK with $200 and no contacts and no support system in 1994. He didn’t even speak English. A few years later he had graduated from Columbia University and enrolled in medical school at Dartmouth. By 2008, his lifelong dream of a medical clinic in his African village was realized.
Kidder won a Pulitzer Prize for Strength in What Remains, and deservedly so. It was hard to put down, but that’s exactly what I should’ve done hours before bedtime, because I couldn’t get to sleep until 4:00 a.m. Descriptions of the violence are graphic. If this sort of thing bothers you (it does me), you can skip over those passages when you see them coming.
Even so, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it.
Fiction – Mystery
*Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie (1936). Vastly superior to the film version with David Suchet, this is the story of a crime committed in the presence of 3 other people, but who saw nothing. Or did they?
*Death of a Scriptwriter by M.C. Beaton (1998). Narcissism in television personalities, supporting staff and mystery writers are featured in this Hamish MacBeth volume. Miss Beaton writes with clarity and humorous insight about people who think a lot of themselves.
Fiction – Juvenile
*When the Sirens Wailed by Noel Streatfeild (1974). While this book shares a common theme with the Shoe books (children who are separated from their parents), it’s a bit harder hitting and tells the story of World War II from a child’s viewpoint, i.e. the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside, the Blitz and the blackout. One of the things that surprises me about this book is it’s classification as juvenile fiction. It sits on the library shelf with lighter tomes such as the American Girl series. The American Girl series are lovely, interesting books, but geared to a younger audience. Many adult books are not as well-written as When the Sirens Wailed.
*Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1944). Also published as Party Frock. Streatfeild’s love of theater comes through in this story of a large family of children and their cousin during World War II. The cousin has been sent a party dress and shoes by an American godmother but under the bleak social conditions caused by the war, she won’t have an opportunity to wear it. So they brainstorm a suitable event and plan a historical festival with each child focusing on a different era. It reminds me of the Andy Hardy idea of “let’s put on a show!” and just reading it made me want to put one on, too. The problems of production are very true-to-life, including the director’s arrogance, prima donas, costuming, blocking and lots more. If you love theater, this is a fun book, even for adults.
*Clues in the Shadows: a Molly Mystery by Kathleen Ernst (2009). War weariness on the homefront during World War II is the focus in this later edition in the American Girl series. Molly and her friends participate in a scrap drive and learn about combat fatigue and how the absence of fathers caused reduced circumstances in many of families. Some tough issues are focused on and give an opportunity to discuss what our military families experience, even now.
Go here for historical background information and some good photos.