Sunday, January 10, 2021

2021 Reading List

This year we moved from Addis Ababa to Naples, Italy. We spent our first 65 days upon arrival in Naples living in a two bedroom base apartment while we house hunted out in town. It was a tough transition to say the least and we are only now even starting to get into a rhythm. All that to say I didn't do very well taking notes and doing reviews for each book as I read.

Also, please check out our 202020192018201720162015 and 2014 Reading Lists.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (Zambia) Emily said she appreciated the story's honesty and eye-opening to both the beauty and sorrow of life. The author shared a unique perspective of a white girl living in Africa during the period of political independence.

When We Believed in Mermaids. Emily liked it.

Behold the Dreamers (Cameroon). Excerpt: The novel’s power comes in Imbue’s ability to capture both the strengths and the hollowness of the promise of America. The reader sees the rise and good fortune of Jende as his chauffeur position gives him relative wealth and burgeoning opportunities for his family. As his wife enjoys the fruit of this labor her attitude toward America slowly shifts as does her resolve to stay in the country. My full review is here.

Lion Mountain (Tunisia). My full review is here. Excerpt: In the story, famed Tunisian author Mustapha Tlili paints a secluded village modeled on Feriana, the home of his youth. It’s an ancient place lost amidst the desert steppes but which has persisted through the centuries--sheltered always under the shoulder of Lion Mountain. He describes “a geography more than physical or human: sacred...In this mystical topography, landmarks determining the rights of each and every individual were perfectly clear.”

The Desert and the Drum (Mauritania). My full review is here. Excerpt: “From the moment they arrived, the strangers stole something essential from us, without us feeling we had the right to protest.” This comment by the young Bedouin narrator Rayhana encapsulates the modern-day struggle that Mauritanian author Mbarek Ould Beyrouk seeks to describe in The Desert and the Drum. In Rayana’s case, these “strangers” were a mixture of fellow countrymen and foreign investors looking for minerals. The theft in question is not one of gold or ore but of proximity and privacy.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (South Africa). You may know Trevor Noah as the host of the Daily Show but long before he entered the mainstream he was a derelict kid born to a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father--one who appeared colored* to those around him but who was raised in the Xhosa culture. 
*In South Africa, the term colored is a self-descriptive and does not carry the same pejorative/racist meaning it does in the U.S.
The Dissent Channel (Sudan/South Sudan). During a Famous Rivers Africa Group session, we discussed the memoir with the author Lizzy Shackleton. You can read co-founder Fadji's summary of the excellent book here.

The Promise (South Africa).  My full review is published on "Beyond Achebe: Reading the Continent" hereExcerpt: Of course one isn’t awarded the Booker prize for penning a surface-level story about a white family in South Africa. Rather Galgut has written a soaring multi-decade exposition on the promise of a post-Apartheid South Africa writ large. It’s a story that encompasses South Africa’s promises to its black and coloured people (click here for further background on the use of the word "coloured" in South Africa), the ANC’s promises to its constituency (more on those lapsed promises here), as well as the psychic overstep of whites deigning to keep promises that never should have been had to be made in the first place. In the latter case, the promise (even when well-intentioned) can become more about the giver than the recipient.

Missionaries . DoDReads published my full review here. Excerpt: Reading Marine veteran Phil Klay’s (author of National Book Award-winning short story collection Redeployment) new novel forces readers to step back and consider the “progress” and globalization of American warfare since 9-11. The novel accomplishes this by examining the decades-long Colombian civil war through the converging lives of a weary American war-zone journalist, an American Special Forces Officer, a career Colombian Army officer, and an orphaned Colombian village boy-turned-killer.

Homeland Elegies. DoDReads published my full review here. Excerpt: Pulitzer-winning author Ayad Akhtar charges that America is a “buffer solution” that “keeps things together but always separated” in his unforgettable novel-cum-memoir,

Quiet Cadence. DoDReads published my full review here. Excerpt: The novel’s violence is unrelenting, random, and total. Its first death is a dead body literally flying through the air. Bloodied appendages, spilled guts, burned bodies, sheared limbs—the gore stacks up with each patrol. The reader dreads turning each page knowing it will bring only more pain, more loss. The newly arrived 19-year-old Marine narrator PFC Marty McClure captures the constant terror after one booby-trapped explosion: “Then the panic hit me: Do I have all my parts? Propped on my elbows, I began a terrified inventory, slowly, in no logical order.”

Talking to Strangers. DoDReads published my "backpage notes" here. Excerpt: As a society we are not equipped to talk to strangers so when things don’t go as expected--we blame the stranger as our immediate reflex. Instead we need to recognize our own limits to decipher and truly understand strangers and instead embrace humility and restraint.

American Dirt. My full review is here.  Excerpt: This is a brutal, violent, and necessary novel. Author
Jeanine Cummins holds nothing back as she pulls the reader into the suffering and anguish that propels countless migrants to make the dangerous journey.

Project Hail Mary (Audible). Martian author Andy Weir returns to outer space with a tale that is equal parts nerdy and hokey as he introduces us to Ryland Grace, a failed scientist and reluctant hero. When scientists discover that the sun is slowly being sapped of its power, Grace finds himself in the middle of a race to save earth (and possibly the universe) from extinction. Hail Mary stands as an ode to the STEM community as Weir doesn’t shy away from the complex math and science required to give earth even the smallest chance for survival. That he’s able to package complex technical information amidst a bracing narrative is a testament to the author’s writing prowess.

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Audible): Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. An eye-opening (and heart-opening) look at one woman's experiences growing up and working in "a world make for whiteness." She writes beautifully and with a vulnerability and urgency that asks the reader to wake up and caste aside complacency. “I need a love that is troubled by injustice. A love that is provoked to anger when Black folks, including our children, lie dead in the streets. A love that can no longer be concerned with tone because it is concerned with life. A love that has no tolerance for hate, no excuses for racist decisions, no contentment in the status quo. I need a love that is fierce in its resilience and sacrifice. I need a love that chooses justice.”

Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom (Audible). An incredible tale of friendship, faith and sacrifice.  Charles Spurgeon is, of course, the renowned "prince of preachers."  Authors Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey tell the story of his friendship with African-American missionary Thomas Johnson against the backdrop of Spurgeon's own struggles with depression, anxiety and gout.  

Raising Up a Generation of Third Culture Kids. While this book is targeted towards parents' raising kids overseas, most of it applies to to military families. The author posits that kids growing up as "third culture" (i.e., in a culture that is not the same one as their parents) often end up with enormous amounts of  grief/trauma.  If this isn't productively processed throughout their formative years they will end up with a "grief tower" that grows and grows until it tumbles once they are young adults in their 20's.  We actually went through the author's course/study with friends while living in Addis.  

The Happiness Advantage (Audible). This book was just okay.  Save yourself and watch his Ted Talk here.
His takeaways are good though and focus on positive psychology and how you can boost your happiness through meditation and focus.  
“Even the smallest moments of positivity in the workplace can enhance efficiency, motivation, creativity, and productivity.”

The Anomaly (Audible).  I first heard about this novel in a NYT article that mentioned the now available translation of the book that had enraptured France during the COVID lockdowns.  The premise is that there's some sort of time-continuum split where a flight lands with the same people and same plane that had landed months earlier.  The narrative follows the lives of various passengers (to include an assassin) and the governments' attempts to deal with the fallout.  

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