Book of the Month (Master)
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea Our April 2018 Book of the Month Many reviews of Luis Alberto Urrea’s latest novel use the word messy in relation to the multiple narratives of a large Mexican-American family briefly gathered together for a mash up of...
Memento Park by Mark Sarvas Our March 2018 Book of the Month The eponymous park in Mark Sarvas’s latest novel Memento Park is an open-air museum in Budapest that two of his characters visit in a pivotal scene in the book. They wander among the massive statues,...
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee Our February 2018 Book of the Month ABOUT THE BOOK In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she...
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott Our January 2018 Book of the Month ABOUT THE BOOK A magnificent new novel from one of America’s finest writers ― a powerfully affecting story spanning the twentieth century of a widow and her daughter and the nuns who serve their...
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Our June 2017 Book of the Month
After 20 years of readers anticipating a new book, Arundhati Roy has proven that she is that rare writer well worth the wait. Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize for her debut novel The God of Small Things in 1997. The book was an international bestseller yet she chose to spend the last 20 years writing essays and non-fiction. Like Grace Paley did for many years in America, Roy became a passionate activist for the many injustices in her native land. She has tirelessly fought for what she believes in and was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
In The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Roy returns to the landscape of fiction. She has written an epic sweep through Indian history, made deeply personal, through her unique characters and the intimate relationships they forge. She ultimately tells a grand story brought down to the small scale of individual lives. The book brings the reader through pain and suffering while shining a light on the joys, loves and experiences that bring meaning to life.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent—from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war. It is an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a story told in a whisper, in a shout, through unsentimental tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Each of its characters is indelibly, tenderly rendered. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love—and by hope. The tale begins with Anjum—who used to be Aftab—unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her—including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover; their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo’s landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then we meet the two Miss Jebeens: the first a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi. As this ravishing, deeply humane novel braids these lives together, it reinvents what a novel can do and can be. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Arundhati Roy is the author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things. Her nonfiction writings include The Algebra of Infinite Justice, Listening to Grasshoppers, Broken Republic, and Capitalism: A Ghost Story, and most recently, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, coauthored with John Cusack.
BOOK OF THE MONTH: MAY 2017
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
This past year the Annenberg Space for Photography had a powerful exhibit entitled REFUGEE. According to the Annenberg, the show explored the lives of refugees from a host of diverse populations dispersed and displaced throughout the world. The images were compelling and the five photographers works combined to tell a story that was at once specific and universal.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid accomplishes a similar effect creating images with language instead of a camera. Young lovers Nadia and Saeed live in a country that is never named and yet we know it. They live in a world of fear as their city is under siege and their lives and liberties are stripped away.
What sets this refugee story apart is that Hamid avoids telling the story in the same way that has been promulgated by the media and many recent essays and novels. He took the reality, made it surreal, and told a deeper truth. While a very accessible and fast read, Exit West, through magical realism, tells the complex and intertwined experiences of migrants and nativists stripped down to their essence. The use of doors to transport people avoids the narrative of the rigorous and physically dangerous journey giving us the purely emotional and psychological odyssey that never truly ends. Hamid writes, “It was said in those days that the passage was both like dying and like being born, and indeed Nadia experienced a kind of extinguishing as she entered the blackness and a gasping as she fought to exit it.”
Our May Book of the Month is relevant to the current global issues related to refugees and to the impact it will have on the future of nations and individuals.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through… Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mohsin Hamid is the internationally bestselling author of Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Discontent and its Civilizations, and Exit West. His award-winning novels have been adapted for the cinema, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and translated into more than thirty languages. His essays and short stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker, among many other publications. Hamid now resides in Lahore, his birthplace, after living for a number of years in New York and London.
BOOK OF THE MONTH: APRIL 2017
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
If you have been living in a perpetual state of anxiety checking the news constantly on television and on your cell-phone then I have the relief you are looking for. Lisa See’s new novel, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, is a great book that took me to another world for a few hours. If you are a lover of See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Shanghai Girls or any of her plethora of historical fiction you will not be disappointed. Kirkus Reviews called it a, “riveting exercise in fictional anthropology.” Lisa See’s meticulous research into China’s Akha minority’s cultural history and tea production illuminate a story that encompasses the mother-daughter bond, the changing roles of women, the rural and globalized societies in modern China, and transracial adoption. See has a gift of telling stories about little known regions or histories, but what holds us spellbound is her powerful female characters that the reader can’t help but empathize with and root for throughout the novel.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
High in the mountains of Yunnan province, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. They are members of the Akha ethnic minority, and life is lived as it has been for generations. When a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of them has ever seen, he brings with him the modern world, which changes everything. Li-yan falls in love with a boy her parents don’t like, has a baby out of wedlock, and then abandons the infant, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a nearby city. As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins, while across the ocean Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. As the Booklist reviewer wrote, “See’s focus on the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters, by birth and by circumstance, becomes an extraordinary homage to unconditional love.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, China Dolls, and Dreams of Joy, which debuted at #1. Ms. See is also the author of On Gold Mountain, which tells the story of her Chinese American family’s settlement in Los Angeles. Ms. See was honored as National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women in 2001 and was the recipient of the Chinese American Museum’s History Makers Award in fall 2003.
February: “Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations” by John Avlon
BOOK OF THE MONTH: FEBRUARY 2017
Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations by John Avlon
Washington’s Farewell Address — written to “Friends and Fellow Citizens” in 1796 — was an open letter to the American people that has been more widely read than the Declaration of Independence. While it is mostly forgotten, it has often inspired, been referred to, and quoted by other presidents inclusive of Lincoln, Wilson, Eisenhower, and Obama. As Avlon’s subtitle states it is The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations and it could not be more relevant if it had been written this year in reaction to our fractured and regressing nation.
Washington’s Address has been read in the Senate, on his birthday, every year since 1896. At the conclusion of each reading, the appointed senator inscribes his or her name and brief remarks in a black, leather-bound book maintained by the Secretary of the Senate. Considering the hypocrisy, partisanship and fear mongering going on in our country, I thought readers would find it interesting to see some of these remarks, which I have transcribed from their hand-written entries, at the end of this review.
I urge every citizen to read this book and take it to heart, after all it was to us that it was addressed and we need to heed the call to action. The fate of our nation has always been in our hands as it was placed by our Founding Fathers. Our Senators need to care about the ideals, the warnings, and the solutions set forth by Washington and his famous ghost- writers Madison and Hamilton. They need to act with ethics and morality every hour of every day that they have the honor of representing the people of this nation. It is not enough to spend one hour a year reading aloud to each other and writing their hollow comments for posterity.
1997: “Indeed, for a few moments half way through the address, it was as if “these counsels of an old and affectionate friend” had come alive!! Restraint, balance, justice, self-imposed term limits, “honesty is the best policy” — the spirit and thoughts and words are timeless.”
2009: “…our first president’s farewell speech, and address that conveys timeless wisdom. I am uplifted by his call to always rise above difference of opinion to defend and protect our union because, as he wrote, it is essential to our strength and happiness.”
2010: “This Senate tradition represents an opportunity for all of us to reflect upon the things that all Americans hold dear- liberty, equality, justice and patriotism.
Too often, we let partisan differences overshadow our common interests and cloud our collective judgement. So as we pause today to observe this tradition, I feel we should see President Washington’s words as both a warning and a source of strength. Washington’s concerns remain as real as ever before, and we must be vigilant in protecting our national unity. But we should not forget that America has weathered many storms in the past. If we stay true to the principles this country has always held dear, I share Washington’s steadfast belief that we can rise to meet every challenge that lies ahead.”
ABOUT THE BOOK
George Washington’s Farewell Address was a prophetic letter from a “parting friend” to his fellow citizens about the forces he feared could destroy our democracy: hyper-partisanship, excessive debt, and foreign wars.
Once celebrated as civic scripture, more widely reprinted than the Declaration of Independence, the Farewell Address is now almost forgotten. Its message remains starkly relevant. In Washington’s Farewell, John Avlon offers a stunning portrait of our first president and his battle to save America from self-destruction.
At the end of his second term, Washington surprised Americans by publishing his Farewell message in a newspaper. The President called for unity among “citizens by birth or choice,” advocated moderation, defended religious pluralism, proposed a foreign policy of independence (not isolation), and proposed that education is essential to democracy. He established the precedent for the peaceful transfer of power.
Washington’s urgent message was adopted by Jefferson after years of opposition and quoted by Lincoln in defense of the Union. Woodrow Wilson invoked it for nation-building; Eisenhower for Cold War; Reagan for religion. Now the Farewell Address may inspire a new generation to re-center our politics and reunite our nation through the lessons rooted in Washington’s experience.
As John Avlon describes the perilous state of the new nation that Washington was preparing to leave as its leader, with enduring wisdom, he reveals him to be the indispensable Founding Father.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Avlon is the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Beast and a CNN political analyst. He is the author of Independent Nation and Wingnuts as well as an editor of the anthology Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns. He was chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ award for Best Online Column in 2012. He lives with his wife Margaret Hoover and their two children in New York City.
BOOK OF THE MONTH: JANUARY 2017
Moonglow by Michael Chabon
The Michael Chabon I knew and loved is back! Moonglow is a tour de force: a brilliant reflection on the universal experience of how the oral tradition of family storytelling regardless of truth, photographs or outright invention shapes us. Chabon’s brilliantly layered narrative shines a spotlight on how stories filtered through individual perceptions and time define our families and ourselves. Chabon may have had his own reasons for referring to characters not with names but as we normally do, Grandfather, Grandmother and Mother but the effect is to add a third remove that allows us as readers to hear echoes of our own family stories.
As a reader it has been disappointing reading his recent novels. While they may have been replete with beautiful sentences and his signature plays on genre and structure they all lacked depth of emotion. I did not feel the writer’s connection to the raw material as in his earlier books, particularly The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which remains one of my favorite book club books.
Moonglow is, in my opinion, his greatest novel to date. One can perceive in this novel how he has matured as a writer and perhaps has finally laid all of his cards on the table. In Moonglow he delivers up all of his talents in a story that is specific to the vivid and highly individual details of the “Chabon” family while simultaneously recognizable as any family. For this reader it was also the realistic portrayals of individual lives intersecting with history and of an unromanticized love story that is a long- term marriage that made this book so compelling. This novel reminds us that the burden and blessing of family is at the heart of every human story.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and marriage and desire, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at midcentury, and, above all, of the destructive impact—and the creative power—of keeping secrets and telling lies. It is a portrait of the difficult but passionate love between the narrator’s grandfather and his grandmother, an enigmatic woman broken by her experience growing up in war-torn France. It is also a tour de force of speculative autobiography in which Chabon devises and reveals a secret history of his own imagination.
From the Jewish slums of prewar South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of the “American Century,” the novel revisits an entire era through a single life and collapses a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most moving and inventive.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, A Model World, Wonder Boys, Werewolves in Their Youth, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Final Solution, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Maps and Legends, Gentlemen of the Road, and the middle grade book Summerland. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children.
The brilliance of The Wonder is that it becomes literary fiction by being more than just a thriller or a plot driven tale. This book is a meditation on faith vs. science, fundamentalism, the power of the church, feminism and the birth of modern nursing.
I have selected Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi as the September Book of the Month, as it is the first novel that matured and deepened the emotions sparked by Roots during my adolescence.
can’t remember the last time a book by a debut writer received this much attention and media without being nominated for an award.
This accomplished writer needs to be acknowledged for using fiction and metaphor to present the most honest and raw representation on the page of a mind under siege. Within a novel he has given a far more vivid portrayal of depression than William Styron did by skimming the surface in his memoir Darkness Visible.
Innocents and Others shows how a writer in their own medium of art, like a documentary, can use language to shape characters and delve into their human complexity.
I have been on a quest to find a great epic novel to sink my teeth into for some time and the March Book of the Month Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan is the holy literary grail for which I have been searching.
In my quest for book club selections I do read two or three books a week. It is a rare book these days that stops me in my tracks, and as I will tell anyone that will listen to me, “My Name is Lucy Barton” is THAT BOOK.
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton Our January 2016 Book of the Month When asked the meaning of her title, A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, Jackie Copleton responded, “I wanted the title to encapsulate the drive for understanding explored in...