Painfully recovering from seven broken ribs wasn’t all bad. It enabled a ton of reading. The following represents a few of the books with which I busied myself. More will be posted soon.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar is a powerful first novel about three individuals in contemporary India trying to claw their way into the middle class. Jivan, a poor young trans Muslim woman is accused of terrorism, based on circumstantial evidence. Facing a death sentence, she becomes a scapegoat for all the problems facing a corrupt, poverty-ridden society. Her fate depends on testimony provided by Lovely, a struggling actress and a girls school phys ed coach, PT Sir. All three are outliers, shaped by their economic and social struggles. Who wins and who loses is a moral struggle as well. It’s a tumultuous story, well executed, about the day-to-day struggles of people living on the edge. An excellent read.
This Other Eden by Paul Harding is based on Malaga Island off the coast of Portland,Maine. In reality, in the late 18th century, Malaga was home to a small group of mixed race, inter-married people who lived off the land in extreme poverty, ill health and ignorance. Harding calls his fictional place Apple Island. Frequent incest led to generations of dysfunctional, often developmentally disabled individuals. As in real life, mainland elites determined that, for the good of the community, the remaining 40+ islanders must be forcibly removed from Apple Island and sent to poorhouses or “schools” for the “feeble-minded.” Harding compares this powerful and intensely poetic rendering to the ejection from the Garden of Eden. In his deep probe of the inhabitants, Harding uncovers a level of humanity that is profound and moving. A final note: a century after the state’s eviction, Maine Governor John Baldacci apologized for its role in the real tragedy.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a quirky, frequently funny, often poignant story told in the first person by a 30-year-old survivor of unspeakable abuse. A mystery unravels as to why she has a disfiguring facial scar. Eleanor insulates herself by a rigid work routine at a graphic arts company (where she is often the butt of cruel jokes) and, on the weekends, drowning herself in vodka. She has never treated herself to a manicure or a concert. She offers a biting commentary on everyone and everything. After an improbable crush on a pop singer, she reaches a level of self-awareness and starts to make changes in her life, leading to more realistic relationships and enabling her to confront her past. This compelling story surprisingly turns into a celebration of life.