Archive for Thursday, June 30, 2005

The lure of a good summer read

June 30, 2005

With some time now to relax since the Eudora Relay For Life is over, the stack of unread books that has been growing by the side of the sofa beckons. Many a late night finds me transported again to another time and place -- much like the olden days as a child found me outside in my secret place among the lilac bushes.

Thinking that maybe others have time to read now that the lazy days of summer are here, I'm taking this opportunity to share a few of my picks for summer reading.

My most current is the much acclaimed book, "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, a native of Afghanistan who is now a California doctor.

This is an intense read of a privileged young boy, his father and his best friend, who is also his servant. Both father and son escape to the United States before the invasion of the Russian forces, leaving his friend behind. Even in this country, they are both held by the past. The father is a cultured, educated man who earned the homage and respect of many in his home country but now works as a laborer to educate his son. While the son moves on, he too harbors the guilt of the secret betrayal of his friend during their childhood.

Twenty years later as an adult and a successful writer an old friend of his father's who is dying summons the son back to Afghanistan to "do something good" while there is still time.

Once there, he discovers the Taliban has murdered his friend, and hoping for a way to finally absolve himself of his own guilt, he searches for the friend's son amidst the ruins of Afghanistan.

This is not just another war story, although it does relate the devastation of that country by both the Russians and the Taliban. It is also a story of human failing and a chance for redemption.

In the words of the wise old friend, "I believe true redemption is when guilt leads to good," and the hope of another chance.

  • On a lighter note, I also recently read several books about a much-celebrated aristocratic English family (The Mitfords) beginning during the 1920s and continuing into the present day. The first, a biography titled, "The Sisters" by Mary S. Lovell tells the story of the Mitford family of seven children -- six girls and one boy. Each makes a mark in the world, some becoming famous while others become infamous.

The girls -- beauties all, raised as the daughters of a somewhat impoverished nobleman -- are introduced into proper society as debutantes and expected to make proper marriages and raise proper children. Instead two of the girls become enamored by Hitler during his rise to power and another marries a communist and ends up in the United States as a political activist.

Meanwhile, one of the girls (Nancy Mitford) writes two novels, "In the Pursuit of Love" and "Love in a Cold Climate" that are thinly veiled autobiographies of her family complete with quirky parents and the antics of her spirited and outrageous siblings. Both are engaging, gossipy portraits of a family that captured the headlines of England for many years.

  • Another biography that is one of the best books I have ever read is titled, "The Color of Water -- A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother" by James McBride. This is a moving account of a young man, one of 12 children, trying to find his roots and identity by delving into the past of his white, Jewish mother. It is also a coming of age story of his rebellion and anger lived out on the mean streets of Brooklyn's Red Hook projects.

He recounts the remarkable strength of his single mother who, after burying two husbands, continues to believe in the power of education and the church to lift her children into a better life. With the determination and focus of a fanatic, she pushes and pulls the author and his siblings along -- some dragging their feet -- into an education until finally they all graduate and now possess impressive credentials. This is the story of a remarkable mother and son, and one that will amuse and make you want to cheer as well.

  • Finally, for those who may be mystery lovers, I recommend a classic -- Agatha Christie's, "Murder at the Vicarage." If you are familiar with Christie you know there is always a surprising solution to the murder. For those who like gritty, hard-boiled protagonists, I would suggest, "Hope for the Dead" by Charles Willeford, and finally a British whodunit titled "The Marx Sisters" by Barry Maitland. The latter, which is the first for this author, is set in a small Jewish section of London called Jerusalem Lane. The plot features three eccentric Jewish ladies known to be granddaughters of Karl Marx, two of whom turn up murdered.

All of the above come in paperback and for a few dollars each you can slip away into another world or another country on a lazy summer day or a visit to the pool.

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