Diaz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), presents in his first collection a thematically-linked series of short stories dealing with the life of a character named Yunior. Yunior serves as an authorial stand-in in many ways, as the stories themselves are explicitly based upon Diaz’s own experiences growing up in poverty in the Dominican Republic and later, in New Jersey. Loud-mouthed, wild, but sensitive in his own way, Yunior is a compelling character surrounded on all sides by hardship and struggle. The stories have a raw and compelling tone and the language alternates between an unaffected simplicity and a soaring lyricism that complements the subject matter well.
Middle-aged Talmadge is a solitary type. He’s been alone on his sprawling orchard in the Pacific Northwest since he was a teenager and his younger sister vanished…run off or kidnapped, it was never clear. Every once in a while, a band of Nez Perce horse traders camps on his land and helps with the fruit picking, and he spends some time with the local midwife, Caroline Middey. But otherwise, Talmadge is alone. When two pregnant teenagers steal some of his fruit from a stand in town, he doesn’t give chase. When the same two girls show up on his land, living in his orchard, he begins cooking extra food and putting it out on the front porch for them. He is beginning to win them over; the girls, feral as cats, are beginning to trust him as they’ve never trusted a man before. But when the man from whom the girls were running shows up to find them, a shocking act of violence will change all of their lives forever.
Set in the early years of the 20th century, there is nevertheless a timeless quality to this novel. Talmadge’s orcharded valley is a haven for him and for the girls alike. Rich, lush descriptions of the natural world and Talmadge’s simple life draw the reader into his world, but Coplin does not sentimentalize. Talmadge’s world is also a hard one, and the girls’ lives have not been easy, nor do they get any easier. Captivating and eloquent.
Urrea here tells the mesmerizing story of the life of his ancestor, Saint Teresa Urrea. Born into poverty on the rancho of her father Tomas Urrea in the 1870s, Teresa was raised in among the workers until first the rancho’s wise woman Huila and then Tomas himself recognized that Teresa was an illegitimate Urrea and took her in. Huila trained the girl in herbcraft, healing, and the other lore that was her heritage, and Tomas attempted to domesticate her, giving her shoes and teaching her manners. But Teresa was destined to be a troublemaker. A shocking act of violence turned the wild girl into the Saint, returning from near-death with healing powers in her hands and revolution in her heart. This brought down upon the Urrea rancho first swarms of pilgrims and later, the wrath of the Mexican government.
Sweeping in scope and style, infused with magical realism and delicious descriptions of the many smells and tastes and colors of the rancho, The Hummingbird’s Daughter is beautiful and, at times, funny and wise. Highly recommended for fans of Latino or historical fiction.
Mark your calendars: the Chicago Humanites Festival begins in October and runs through November 11th. The Readers' Advisors are excited about several programs, such as the one featuring Richard Ford!
Take a look:
Daytripper is a dreamy and surreal graphic novel that follows the life of one man, Brás de Olivias Dominguez. Each chapter features an important period in Brás’ life in Brazil, and each story ends the same way: with his death. A story about all the possibilities realized and lost in one person’s life, Daytripper is a philosophical story about choices, destiny, and chance. The artwork is gorgeous.
When Blame was published several years ago, it was on many “Best Book of the Year” lists. After reading it, I understand why. Michelle Huneven is a talented writer, up there with the likes of Ann Patchett…but unfortunately less well known. Blame is a riveting, though-provoking novel with wonderful characters. The main character is a twenty-eight-year-old history professor who wakes up in jail after another alcoholic blackout. This time, however, she ends up being charged with a crime and is sent to prison. The novel follows her life in prison and after. Blame is a story about rebuilding a life from the bottom up. It is a story about friendship, love, guilt, and forgiveness. I guarantee that you will want to stay up late reading it.
In The Power of Habit, Duhigg explains, through fascinating stories and scientific studies, why habits exist and how they can be changed.
This is a book about business--there are many illustrations of businesses transforming companies through the introduction of new habits. This is also a book about science--with numerous examples of studies showing us how our brains work. And finally, this is a book about motivating ourselves to find new habits in order to become better people.
While I grew tired of the writing style midway through the book (the back and forth of stories), I enjoyed the book immensely and got a lot out of reading it. Some of the tales were truly inspirational, such as the story of the man who grew up with heroin addicted parents and transformed his life through the habits taught to him at Starbucks. And perhaps, from reading the book, I learned how to develop a good new habit myself!
This deeply affecting novel, written by an Iraq war veteran (and recent M.F.A. graduate in poetry), is the distressing story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive, and one of the soldiers returning home only to find that the war continues in his head.
The Yellow Birds is an insightful, personal, and moving novel. It helped me understand, on an emotional level, the traumatic experiences that face the young men and women who have gone to war.
A 2012 National Book Awards finalist, this novel is an important read--beautifully written and heart wrenching.
After returning from the frontlines of World War I, Tom Sherbourne looks forward to his new career as a lighthouse keeper on the isolated western shores of Australia: isolated, regimented and alone. But when he meets the beautiful Isabel and is surprised how she is able to draw him out of his hard shell, Tom begins to imagine a fuller life for himself. While at first the couple enjoys having their own personal piece of paradise out on Janus Rock, Isabel becomes more and more depressed after she is unable to have children. Hours after burying her latest stillborn baby, a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying baby girl, perfectly healthy. Isabel quickly latches on to the idea of raising her as their own, as a replacement for the son they had just lost. In order to satisfy his wife’s wild need, Tom agrees, despite his strong doubts and occupational duty.
Three years pass and as Lucy grows, Tom begins to allow the little girl into his heart and his family is content living their simple life at the lighthouse. However, on a visit to the mainland, the couple learns a disturbing story, one of a sad young widow who lost her husband and baby girl at sea over three years ago. Both Tom and Isabel instantly know that the baby is their own Lucy. What follows is an engrossing and gripping tale of a couple torn between doing the right thing and holding on to their desperate dream of a family. Stedman explores the delicate emotions of his characters against the backdrop of a harsh physical environment, creating a truly beautiful novel. A unique story not to be missed.
Science and travel writer Holmes turns her attention to her own backyard in this exploration of the ecosystems all around us everyday. She spends a year investigating every aspect of her own personal suburban ecosystem, from turning over stones to spot the ants all the way to naming and half-way taming a chipmunk. Along the way, she brings in soil scientists, entomologists, and other experts to join her in examining the life under her feet. Her scientific musings often shade into more philosophical ones as she examines humanity’s place in the ecosystem and the many ways our presence changes—or does not change—the existence of the species living among us. She also examines the historical and cultural history of the lawn as a feature of the modern landscape and launches some well-aimed environmental-activism volleys. In the end, readers will be left with a whole new appreciation of the great depth and richness of the life that surrounds us every day, but of which most people are barely aware.