Books We Loved, Feb. 2018
Nadia Hashimi, A House without Windows (William Morrow, 2016)
This is an exquisite tale of a despicable crime and the women who committed it. But such bitter irony! To read about the clash in Afghanistan between traditional justice built on rumor, blame, sorcery, opinion, and bribery, forever stacked against women, as it meets a rewritten justice system based on law, reason, fairness, objectivity, facts, and information—while in America, traditional justice and the rules of law are being shaken, if not toppled, by fake news, rumor, blame, sorcery, opinion, ignorance, and whimsy. It made my head spin.
Zeba is an ordinary housewife and mother of four accused of killing her husband with a hatchet. Yusef, taken to America as a child, returns to his old homeland to solve her case. He belongs to two realities, just like Zeba. Zeba’s two realities are her history as the daughter of a dazzling sorceress and a curer of the insane, her grandfather a diviner of the future, and what she knows empirically: the facts. The facts cannot be divulged in a culture that runs on lies. Hashimi takes up complex subjects in subtle ways: the impossibility of mono-causation, the meaning of consequence, and the hard and soft weapons women have for living in a society stacked against them.
This is Hashimi’s third novel to closely read the inner lives of women and the myriad ways of overcoming one’s value as only half a person. She is a nuanced thinker about the conflicts unique to us and our innermost values and loyalties. She believes that woman’s capacity for love, imperfect or intact, is what will save humanity.
I did not put this book down from the minute I picked it up. It drove me forward into a world that is both strangely foreign and intimately known. It is a must-read in our world today. We are Afghanistan.—AA
Gwen C. Katz, Among the Red Stars (Harper Teen, 2017)
The last decade or so has witnessed a prolonged argument about the role of women in combat. It will probably come as a surprise to many westerners that more than seventy years ago the Soviet Union deployed its first all-female flying units against the Nazi invaders. Like the Tuskegee Airmen in the United States, the “Night Witches,” as they became known to their targets, started out fighting assumptions about what they could and could not do in war and ended up in high demand because they proved so successful against the odds.
Valka Koroleva and her cousin want nothing more than to fly in defense of their Soviet motherland. So when they learn that their heroine, the flying ace Marina Raskova, has convinced Stalin to set up military units for female pilots, they can’t wait to get to Moscow and apply—even though their government has arrested Valka’s aunt and uncle on charges of “wrecking” the state.
Competition proves tougher than the girls anticipate, but they do eventually make it into the least prestigious of the three units, the night bombers. Meanwhile, Valka’s best friend, a gifted radio operator who “sees” sounds, has been conscripted into a ground regiment. Through his letters to Valka and hers to him, we gain a new appreciation of the Red Army’s massive achievement in defeating Hitler’s forces as well as the obstacles placed in the troops’ way by their own leadership and its paranoid fear of betrayal. Although this compelling book is officially aimed at teens, it addresses timeless questions of love, honor, sacrifice, friendship, and heroism that will appeal to anyone over the age of fifteen.—CPL
Michael J. Sullivan, Age of Myth (Del Rey, 2016)
Michael J. Sullivan begins a new series, Legends of the First Empire, with Age of Myth. The opening scene recalls David and Goliath, as Raithe and his brutal, ignorant father are driven by poverty and need into forbidden lands and encounter a Fhrey, a member of a godlike race. When Raithe lashes out to avenge his father’s humiliation and death, he finds, much to his surprise, that while the Fhrey have many powers, they are not immortal. Raithe, who has been taught no aspirations other than escaping his father’s and brothers’ bouts of violent behavior, does not consider the implications of what he’s done. At least not until Persephone, the wise widow of a local chief, helps him assume a hero’s role and teaches him what caring and comradeship are about.—GM
Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner, 2017)
Reminiscent of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing has at its heart a long harrowing road trip through rural Mississippi, described from multiple points of views in language so colorful it is sometimes electrifying. The travelers here are Leonie, her children JoJo and Kayla, and her drug buddy Misty. Left at home are Leonie’s parents, Mam and Pop, and the spirit of her deceased brother, Given, whom Leonie can see when she is high. The purpose of their excursion is to pick up Michael, Leonie’s boyfriend and father to the children, from the prison from which he has just been released. Unbeknownst to all but JoJo, they also pick up Richie, a second ghost and one who has business with Pop back at the house. Ward dissolves the lines between life and death, and between the natural and the supernatural, to shine a bright light on familial abuse, racial discord, and the power of fearless love. This is storytelling at its richest.—JS