Hiding out from the headlines? These non-fiction selections may not transport you above the gloom emanating from the news media, but they may illuminate contemporary themes in a deeply satisfying way.
Freezing Order: A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder, and Surviving Vladimir Putin’s Wrath by Bill Browder picks up from his previous book Red Notice and is equally spellbinding. A real-life political thriller, Freezing Order couldn’t be more timely given Russia’s Ukraine invasion. Browder is the American-born U.K. citizen whose hedge fund invested heavily in Russia when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. He and his lawyer, Sergei Magnitzky, uncovered theft, money laundering, torture and murders carried out by Putin’s mafia, and his exposure of the criminal enterprise put targets on their backs. Browder left Russia. Magnitzky did not, and he was arrested, tortured and beaten to death in prison. Since then, Browder has dedicated his life to getting some 34 countries (starting with the United States) to pass so-called Magnitzky laws authorizing sanctions on nations guilty of egregious human rights violations. These have been activated in response to Russian atrocities in Ukraine. Putin fabricated charges that Browder and Magnitzky stole $230 million from Russia and convicted them in absentia. This was the exact amount they had documented Putin and his cronies had stolen and transferred out of the country. The jeopardy in which Browder found himself after our 2016 election worsened thanks to Trump’s cozy relationship with Putin. Browder names the villains, poisoners and thugs, politicians and bankers, journalists and ordinary citizens, and documents the wrong-doing. You will surely be moved as heroes stand up to corrupt and barbaric power even at the cost of their lives.
Left on Tenth: A Second Chance On Life, by Delia Ephron, was released April 12th. This memoir takes us on Delia’s journey when she lost her beloved husband, Jerry, to prostate cancer in 2015. Three years earlier, she had lost her adored sister, Nora (one of four daughters in the Ephron family, a household of abuse and addiction), from a particularly lethal form of leukemia. In 2017, Delia was diagnosed with the same disease, and the memoir takes us along in her horrifying life-threatening battle. Her survival (this is not a spoiler; after all, she wrote the book) was a result of cutting-edge bone marrow transplant technology and the loving support of Peter, who became her second husband. It was Nora who had introduced the couple many years before, though Delia did not remember dating him. She was also blessed with a tight circle of devoted friends. Their robust belief in her survival was reinforced by plenty of hands-on assistance. At her lowest point, given the agonies of her treatment, Delia wanted to die and begged for help in ending it all. There are emotional highs as well, plenty of humor, honesty, and warmth. That she could survive the disease diagnosed at age 72 and find the second love of her life well beyond the age for AARP membership offers a ray of optimism for anyone who might otherwise submit to a seemingly dire fate.
Susan, Linda, Nina and Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR by Lisa Napoli is a wonderful dive into the founding women of National Public Radio. Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer, Nina Tottenberg and Cokie Roberts came to broadcast journalism around the same time as I did, though their careers evolved at the national level. Two of them (Wertheimer and Roberts) attended my alma mater, Wellesley College. The themes of the book will resonate with any woman who fought to gain a toehold in the late sixties and 1970’s. They worked harder than their male counterparts and were paid less. Their section of the NPR office was ridiculed as the Fallopian Jungle, but their friendship buttressed them as they chased news stories, built their networks, honed their craft and struggled for work-life balance, a term that did not exist back then. It is hard to imagine NPR would have achieved the prominence it has today but for the hard work and skills of these trailblazing women. Then again, their committing to NPR when it was a fledgling network was the opportunity of a lifetime, and good for them, they seized that opportunity and ran with it.
You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War by Elizabeth Becker follows the work of three intrepid correspondents covering the war in Southeast Asia. The author herself covered the war in Cambodia and pays homage to the three pioneers, French photographer Catherine Leroy, Australian correspondent Kate Webb, who was captured by North Vietnamese in Cambodia, and Frances FitzGerald, who brought the Vietnamese perspective to her readers as no one had before. FitzGerald was all the more remarkable because her father, Desmond FitzGerald, was deputy director of the CIA. As Becker notes, war is “the most intense subject any journalist ever faces,” and none of the men involved, civilian or military, thought these women should be in the middle of combat. They brought remarkable insights to the coverage and surely had an impact on the American public’s view of the Vietnam War ( in Vietnam, called the American War.) A terrific read for anyone with an interest in women, in journalism, or in our history. The three are particularly admirable to those of us women journalists, often the first females in our field, who may have covered the political wars but never the horrors of being in the line of fire in war zones. I cannot imagine having the courage to be in their shoes, turning in the trenchant, mind-bending work they did.