Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie–1948…Nori was 8 years old when her mother left her at the imposing estate of her grandparents in Kyoto, Japan. That was the last time she ever saw her mother. She was an unwanted child…of everyone it seems, kept in the attic, hidden from all because of her dark skin and curly hair. Subject to chemical baths and beatings, she never complained, waiting patiently for the return of her mother. Her life would have gone on like that, if her half-brother Akira hadn’t appeared, the only one to care about her, the only one to love her. We follow Nori’s tumultuous existence through the 1960’s as she fights to live her own life and begins to understand her worth. This debut novel explores a biracial girl in a “uni-racial” country and the power of having someone who believes in you.
The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid–Mohsin Hamid likes to look at global themes from a personal perspective in a science fiction format. In his last novel Exit West he examines immigration, but with a twist. There are secret doors that lead to other countries. In The Last White Man, we explore racial identity. Anders wakes up one morning and discovers he has turned black. He is the same person but looks totally different…however, he is not the first or the last. Oona, his sometime girlfriend, accepts him totally. Her mother…not so much. What happens when everyone turns dark? In an unnamed city and unnamed country (I can’t believe it’s in the US though), we watch as life as we know it takes a turn. Hamid’s writing is often stream of consciousness without regard for sentences. And I love it. The book is 180 pages. It moves quickly and it would be a great book club book. Lots of questions to ponder. If you have already read it, please let’s talk.
Virgil Wander by Leif Enger—Virgil is lucky. He survived a deadly accident with only a slight brain trauma and gets a second chance at life. What will he do with his new life? But it isn’t only Virgil who gets a second chance. Greenstone, his small northern Minnesota community that has been slowly dying for 20 years gets another life, at least that’s what this quirky band of locals are striving for. Rune, a kite flying visitor from Sweden discovers that he has a son from Greenstone who had vanished in a plane years before and he comes to town to meet his son’s family. Nadine, the wife of the lost flier and her son the skateboarder have an unspecified relationship with Virgil. There is also Adam Leer, the very strange rich man who lives at the top of the hill. What kind of power does he have over the town? These characters and many, many, more make up the fraying fabric of Greenstone. Part character study, part magic, Enger has crafted a beautiful novel.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus—Elizabeth Zott is a chemist, and that is all she wants to be. But it is 1951 and women chemists are not easily tolerated. Although her work is far superior to her male colleagues, she is constantly rejected, and her work is often co-opted. And then she meets Calvin Evans, Nobel nominated chemist and it is love at first sight at least for Calvin. He sees in her what no one else sees. Their relationship is exactly what both need until his unexpected death and unexpected pregnancy. She is fired from her job. but life hands her another opportunity. She becomes the new television cooking sensation with “Supper at Six” as she not only gives her overwhelmingly women’s audience new recipes but a dollop of empowerment as well. The characters in this debut novel are fascinating, especially her daughter, Mad and her very protective and understanding dog Six Thirty.
The Language of Birds by Anita Barrow–Gracie and Janine, two sisters bearing the suicidal death of their mother grow up in the San Francisco area with their father and his well-meaning girlfriend, Kate. But Gracie, a budding teen is having none of it and her younger sister Janine, autistic, is ensconced in her birds. Gracie refuses to engage with anyone and instead, reads constantly. Her father focuses totally on Janine and assumes that Gracie is fine. It is only in her poetry class in school that she meets Gina, a poet, does she start to open up. This coming-of-age novel was written by a therapist but strangely enough, there is no therapy in the story. There is only Gracie as she battles her demons and begins to engage with others and think beyond her own needs. Although I knew nothing about this author or her poetry, I enjoyed the complexities of a young girl as she fights her way out of the cage of her own making.