Books for late spring, pt. 4- fiction, the last tranche for now by Marjorie Arons Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons Barron’s own blog.

As my followers can tell, I do love reading, which served me well during my recovery. But this finishes my current reviews. Happily, I have returned to normal life, seeing friends, going to restaurants, trying to outwit the oversexed rabbits in my garden, salving wounds inflicted by the Bruins and Celtics, keeping hopes alive with this year’s plucky Red Sox.

The Man-Eater of Malgudi by R. K Narayan is a first-person tale by Nataraj, a modest man in a fictional town in South India.  He lives with his wife and son in a comfortable home behind his printing business, which produces everything from business cards to books of poetry. Nataraj’s life is reasonably placid until the arrival of Vasu. Self-effacing Nataraj offers Vasu the attic above his printing shop, at no rent and with no lease. Vasu turns out to be a taxidermist by trade and an outrageous bully by temperament, both of which pose problems for Nataraj and fellow villagers. Nataraj’s life spirals out of control. The story involves demons and death, a battle between good and evil. Its descriptions are sometimes discursive, but the colorfully executed allegory aptly conveys the author’s vivid sense of Indian village lives and mores.

The Bee Keeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri tells the story of bee-keeper Nuri Ibrahim and his wife, Afra, an artist, whose comfortable lives in Aleppo are torn apart by the Syrian Civil War. Forced to flee, they embark on a perilous journey first to Turkey, then Athens and ultimately England. They are driven by the hope to be reunited with Nuri’s cousin Moustafa, with whom Nuri shares a bee-keeping business.  The author was herself the child of refugees who fled from Cyprus to the U.K., and the novel is grounded in her work in a refugee camp in Athens. This riveting love story puts a face on the refugees we meet only occasionally on CNN, PBS or the BBC. It’s a wrenching tale and just one among some hundred million souls forcibly displaced around the world, facing ghastly challenges every day.

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel is the story of a Colombian family torn asunder by immigration restrictions. The family flees Colombian violence for safety and economic promise in the United States. Elena and Mauro land in Houston with daughter Karina, on tourist visas, but they get jobs enabling them to send money to Elena’s mother back in Bogota. (Son Nando and second daughter Talia, born in the United States, automatically become citizens.) When their visas are up, they decide to stay on, condemned to a life of meager earnings, terrible living conditions and constant moves to evade authorities. The father gets deported, and the younger daughter, despite citizenship, is sent back to be raised by family so that the mother can continue to work. Where is home? Is it in Bogota, or is it in New Jersey? Engel sees their challenges as transcending the arbitrary boundaries of nation states and brings to life the trials that typify immigrant lives. Threaded throughout the hard-scrabble narrative are the family’s legacy of memories and decades-long hopes for reunification throughout the diaspora.

Maame by Jennifer George is a deeply moving book, rich on so many levels and so well executed that I didn’t want it to end. In this debut coming-of-age novel, teenaged Maame (a Ghanean transplant) is left at home in London by a disinterested brother and absentee mother to care for an aging father in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease.  She works as a low-level admin for an all-white company, which ends up abruptly firing her. “Maame” means mother and connotes responsibility. Maame has no social life or friends, no job and no hope. Most of her conversations are responses to questions she poses to Google, and her interior dialogue on her phone is funny and poignant. She finally is able to move to a flat with two other women, who introduce her to a world of pub crawls, makeup, dating, and friendship. Her maturation, including combating deep depression, is often painful, but leavened with moments of humor, perhaps recognizing the awkwardness of our own teenage and young adult years. File under “warm and wonderful.”