Book Reviews

(For more of my book reviews, see Goodreads.com)

A LONG WAY GONE: MEMOIRS OF A BOY SOLDIER

by Ismael Beah

This is a story of Ismael Beah who at age twelve had to leave his home in a village in Sierra Leone to escape a rebel army who killed his family and destroyed not only his village, but many others as well. Beah and his friends search for a safe haven only to have to leave because of the rebels. Many times he barely escapes with his life. The atrocities he experiences leaves an indelible image in his mind. One that I believe can never be erased. Eventually he becomes one of the boy soldiers, fighting with the army against the rebels some of whom are boys as young as he. Beah proves that war can destroy a person’s humanity;  and that trying to recover a lost childhood is extremely difficult.

Beah’s story is compelling. His writing style is exquisite and easily accessible.

LEFT TO TELL, Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

by  Immaculie Ilibagiza

Immaculie Ilibagiza tells the horrendous story of spending three months in a bathroom with five other women hiding from the Hutus during the Rwanda Holocaust. She begins by telling about her family, her father who was a well-respected man in their town, the one who everyone came to in order to resolve their problems; her mother who was a school teacher, her three brothers, and herself, the only girl in the family. As a young girl she didn’t know she was a Tutsi until her teacher, who was a Hutu, made everyone in her class stand up and say what tribe they belonged to. Her family didn’t stress tribal differences. For generations Hutus and Tutsi lived side by side, and intermarried with no thought as to their differences until they were ruled by the Belgiums. It is a fast read because of the nature of the story. A well-written narrative, it shows the power of having faith and the power of forgiveness.

ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED

by Walter Mosley

I loved this book. I particularly love Mosley’s protagonist Socrates Fortlow. Socrates Fortlow’s world encompasses the old and young men and women who live on the edge of society. Soco is a 58 year-old, an ex con with killing hands; A man who has nothing to lose, but a man with a heart. An introspective man, he cares for his friends and stands up for what he thinks is right in a changing society. Mosley paints complex characters in vividly drawn situations set in Los Angeles. A mixture of humor and pathos make this a satisfying read.

ONLY TWICE I’VE WISHED FOR HEAVEN

BY Dawn Turner Trice

NY: :Crown Publishers, Inc. 1996 304 pages

Main Characters: Tempest Rosa Saville (Child) 11 years old, Miss Jonetta Goode, Valerie Nicholae 12 years old, Thomas and Felicia Saville – Tempest’s parents,Alfred Mayes

The novel is told from two points of view – Tempest and Miss Jonetta. The Saville family move into an exclusive community called Lakeland where middle class Blacks live. It borders a lake , is guarded by security, and is surrounded by a fence set off from Thirty-fifth Street where poor Blacks live. Mr. Saville who worked as a cab driver while he attended school has accepted a teaching position, sells their house, on the far side of Chicago, and moves his family into an apartment in Lakeland. Both mother and daughter are reluctant to leave their old neighborhood for this upscale environment.

Tempest is enrolled in the elementary school where her father teaches. From the start, she feels out of place among the children of the Lakeland community who are arrogant and look down their noses at everyone. The one person she meets shortly after coming to the school is Valerie, the janitor’s daughter. Valerie is down-to-earth, doesn’t care what others think of her, yet she is bright even though her attendance at school is irregular. Tempest is drawn to her. Meanwhile, Tempest is also drawn to 35th  street which is a few blocks away.  35th street has a reputation of being filled with prostitutes, pimps, hustlers, thieves, all the bad people Lakeland abhors. It also has an assortment of street preachers and New Saved whose goal is to reform those living in the neighborhood.

The novel is wonderful, moving and satisfying. All Trice’s characters, even the minor ones, are carefully drawn, making them sympathetic to the reader.

THE LONG FALL The First Leonid McGill Mystery

by Walter Mosley

Leonid McGill is a new character created by Walter Mosley. He’s a private detective who in his prior life did some terrible things for his criminal clients such as set up innocent men. “In the years before, I had no problem bringing people down, even framing them with false evidence if that’s what the client paid for. I didn’t mind sending an innocent man, or woman, to prison because I didn’t believe in innocence – virtue didn’t pay the bills.” But he has decided to turn over a new leaf. Unfortunately, it’s harder than it seems. He finds himself embroiled in several murders. To clear himself, he must find the real killer. Being an ex fighter in his fifties, he’s very capable of handling himself. He uses the tools he learned from his prior life to find whatever information he needs to resolve the cases. Leonid is presented as a likeable character, the story is told in first person from Leonid’s perspective. All ends well in this complex novel of revenge and redemption. I look forward to reading the next chapter in Leonid McGill’s adventures. A captivating read.

THE HAND I FAN WITH

by Tina McElroy

The Hand I Fan With is the story of Lena McPherson, a 40 years old successful woman who lives in Mulberry. She seems to have everything except a man. Born with a caul on her face, she is plagued by spirits. She inherited her father’s businesses, a bar and real estate and is well-respected and liked by the townspeople, not only because she has helped many of them out with money whenever they have trouble paying their bills but also because they believe she is lucky. Whatever she touches turns into wealth. Ansa describes Lena’s childhood as being traumatic, no friends because of her unusual nightmares etc. She spends chapters describing Lena’s position in the town, her school days, her parents and the house Lena builds for herself and the land surrounding it. Then she introduces Herman, a spirit Lena and her friend Sister called up. Herman who died 100 years ago at age 35 appears before Lena and is capable of becoming flesh. It is a love story centering around Lena and Herman, going into great detail about their lovemaking. Ansa’s emphasis is on character development. While the novel captures the Black ethos and is filled with black culture, the rendering in the beginning is slow and ponderous. Several times I almost put it down; however, I’m glad I stayed with it. The action picked up and I found myself engaged emotionally. Overall, I enjoyed the story though as I mentioned above, Ansa’s style is a bit cumbersome. It’s a comprehensive story, however; it doesn’t make for quick, easy reading.

ON BEAUTY

by Zadie Smith

An intelligent satire about the Belsey family and their misadventures in a small town in New England. British Howard Belsey is a professor at a local college, his African American wife Kiki, their three children, Jerome, Zora, and Levi. Smith is a brilliant writer. Her prose sparkles, her characters are clearly defined. She is a keen observer of human behavior.

JOSHUA’S BIBLE

by Shelly Leanne

A wonderful story about a young missionary who is sent to South Africa during the 1930’s to do missionary work. He is the first Negro minister sent to preach to the Africans. Unfortunately, he runs into conflict when he confronts his benefactors who want him to confine his work to church-approved sermons and ignore the growing dissatisfaction among the villagers whose land is being confiscated and culture is being discounted. Joshua’s Bible is historical fiction. Shelly Leanne’s characters are compelling and vividly drawn. A well-written novel.

PARADISE

by Toni Morrison  N.Y.: Alfred Knopf. 1998  318 pgs.

Paradise is a masterpiece by Toni Morrison, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.  I first became acquainted with Morrison, a literary giant, when I read her first novel, The Bluest Eye many years ago.  Her novels are difficult to read because of her lyrical prose, her symbolism, use of figurative language and involved plotting. Paradise is no different.  When I first began reading the novel, I found it difficult to follow the story line. It begins with a violent act in the present day and works backward to when the town of Ruby was founded and even before, shortly after the end of the Civil War.

Morrison delves into the lives of inhabitants of the Oklahoma town, located ninety miles from the nearest town.  She interweaves the story of the founders (the old fathers) of the town with that of their descendents, their marriages, births and deaths, the  war, changing attitudes, and the generational conflicts. The author examines the machinations between families and explores the lives of the women (outsiders) who come to the Convent, a place of refuge, each one for different reasons. A large house or mansion, the Convent is a place that the town folk have visited over the years to buy produce. Even the Convent has a past that has changed over the years into a place some of the men of the town view as sinister.

The story opens with nine men from Ruby entering the Convent that is located seventeen miles from Ruby. The men, armed with guns, shoot the first woman they meet. There are other women in the Convent whom they plan to kill. We don’t learn their reasoning until the final part of the novel. The story isn’t linear; rather the plot bounces back and forth from present day to past revealing motives.  As the years past, relationships change, conflicts arise as outside forces insinuate upon the insulated community.  It’s easy to become caught up in the characters’ lives and drawn into the suspense.  Each character is drawn with precision, the themes provocative.  Despite the novel’s complexity and its mythical nature, in the end, the conflicts are resolved, life goes on.  An epic, Paradise needs to be read more than once to understand and appreciate its richness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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