To Kill a Mockingbird

There is a reason that To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the most recognizable titles and characters in modern literary culture. I read this when I was in high school and I didn’t remember much about it other than Boo Radley as the neighborhood ghost story. I think that I might have been too young or inexperienced with the world to understand the innate racism that pervades our country and how well Harper Lee captures it. Generation after generation were raised, especially in the south, to think of the black man as somehow separate from humanity. They were treated like chattel and it takes more than a law to change how someone feels and what they believe to be true.

Harper Lee’s choice to have the main protagonist as a young girl allowed her to explore the role of race as well as gender in a changing world. Scout’s tomboyishness is a reflection of the value she witnessed in the sexes. Its not until the end that Scout is exposed to how powerful and smart women are in their private world, so of course she would mimic the gender of the powerful.

While Scout’s struggles in her small world dominate the book, all of the characters’ struggle to understand human equality versus the racism they are witnessing are spelled out. Jem, on the verge of manhood, almost cannot bear to learn what the trial of Tom Robinson does to his small townsfolk. Atticus reached his children through his patience and his honesty. I don’t know if there will ever be a more honorable man than Atticus Finch and without his thorough teachings, I don’t think any of the children would be able to understand the significance of the events surrounding them.

Its not just Harper Lee’s grasp of the societal norms of a small southern town that makes this a great novel, its all the characters. Harper Lee created such memorable characters and her use of the southern vernacular brings the reader into this tiny world where there’s a reclusive hero down the street and a drunk stealing sips of coca cola from a bottle in a paper bag.

Beautiful, powerful story told by a great story teller. Most highly recommend this for everyone to read.

Read May 2014

A Murder in Tuscany

I’m a little backlogged documenting books, so I’m not going to spend much time rethinking about this one. A Murder in Tuscany by Christobel Kent was ok. It wasn’t very compelling to read, and I came across more than a couple of typos. Maybe theres a difference between British English and America English, who knows? Its been over a month since I read this so I can’t pinpoint any specifics.

The story was ok, nothing exciting. It had the typical old, worn out detective. In this case, he was dismissed from the police and now worked as a private detective. There was a very young, socially questionable, female assistant with a moped and computer skills. (Sound familiar?) The setting in the Tuscan countryside, one of my favorites, was not enough to pull this book together for me.

Again, I read this over a month ago and I still cannot think of anything good. It was an ok book. Not recommended.

Read May 2014.

The Assignment

Per Wahloo’s The Assignment should be required reading for anyone trying to expand their company to another. In The Assignment, Manuel Ortega, a government official, takes over as Provincial Resident of some unknown South American country after his predecessor is openly assassinated. In trying to discover this new land filled with government officials and wealth, he is surrounded by unknown, indigenous workers who can barely live. The warfare between the haves and the have-nots has been an on going battle to get what little resources out of the ground while they can. The new Provincial Resident’s role is not very clear and his new office is empty of paperwork or any instructions on what to do.

His new assistant and part-time lover, Danica Rodriguez, begins to open Manuel’s eyes to the tortuous conditions that exist for the original occupants of this unknown land. When a reservoir is emptied due to insurgency, water, a precious resource in this hot climate, is trucked in, from who knows where, and somehow priority is given to the lawns of the wealthily versus the mouths of the poor.

When Manuel finds a Proclamation from his predecessor, he finds the strength to stand up for humanity. One line reads, “there has arisen a new concept of the citizen as an individual (human being). This point of view has not been applied in our province.” And I think so many times when capitalism escapes our first world boundaries, corporations, and even the individual, seems to forget that the people working in a far off land, making a measly salary, are indeed human beings. Worthy of thoughts and rights, just as we are. To think this was written in the 1960’s, well after what I consider to be a colonial period of time, and yet 50 years later we hear about factories collapsing and killing hundreds of workers. Or the work schedule of someone who built my computer causing such extreme stress that suicide is a common occurrence in the dorm like structures that house the workers for the convenience of the company and the inconvenience of family.

This was a fantastic politically charged novel. I wasn’t expecting something so intense from the co-author of the Martin Beck series, which I love. The Martin Beck series dives into social difficulties in Sweden and closer to home, while in The Assignment breaks through a specific society and drives home the evils of colonialism. Great read!

Read May 2014

The Lowland

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is full of beautiful, elegant language that wisked me to Calcutta, India and then to the harsh Atlantic coast. Two brothers, born 15 months apart, grow up united in all things. But the emotional bond between the two seems to unravel as they age and move apart. Subhash, the older brother, complied with his parents wishes and ended up moving far away for schooling. With the physical distance came an emotional distance that kept the brothers apart. Udayan, always the more political, stayed home but married a woman against his parents wishes, Gauri.

The events leading to one brothers death showed the political culture of India in the 60’s and the political inequality and government overreach that infused Udayan’s world. Protected by distance and a less confrontational personality, Subhash ends up picking up the broken pieces of his brother’s life but never ends up putting the pieces together. Life is filled with bad choices where no one ends up winning and Lahiri’s telling of this emotionally bare story is so heart achingly beautiful.

Gauri, who ends up married to both brothers, never recovers from a betrayal that Lahiri taunts the reader with until the end of the novel. Bela, the daughter of Gauri and Udayan who’s primarily raised by Subhash, grows up without much family and the emotional stability that may have given her. The story tells what happens when you don’t live the life your parents prescribed for you, very deviant of the Indian culture of family first. Lahiri doesn’t judge the characters or their decisions but we see the empty house that Subhash and Udayan’s parents had built in anticipation of their sons and their wives returning home. The house is as empty as some of the characters feel.

This was an amazingly wonderful book to read. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to read about the complexities of familial expectations and disappointments.

Read May 2014