Monday, November 11, 2013

Two Wrenching Reads

Apologies at having been away for a week. I've been working on a book for Library Journal which, as it happened, wasn't one of my favorites this year. Naturally I obsessed over the review but have just hit "send."

And speaking of Library Journal, I was so proud and surprised to see my name mentioned in one of fiction editor, Barbara Hoffert's articles in the online version of the magazine last month. It was titled, "The Possibilities of Africa: A Talk with Author/Journalist J. M. Ledgard."

 In the run up to the Q and A with the author, she mentioned me by name as her "smart go-to reviewer for African-themed literature." Whew! That's pretty heady stuff. I walked around just a tad full of myself for a couple of days.

Now that both of the reviews Barbara was referring to have been printed I wanted to share them with you and tell you that they will probably top my 2013 list of bests. Either one will tear your heart out with the beauty of the writing and the palpable sense that you are drawn into the very souls of these characters. I haven't read any American writers this year whose work can compete with these two incredible novels. (maybe because I'm still on hold for Goldfinch and The Signature of All Things)

First up is Dust by Yvonne Owuor:

The other one is the first novel by child soldier memoirist Ishmael Beah:

Its title is The Radiance of Tomorrow, an apt title for a radiant man. My friend Maryellen and I were privileged to hear Mr. Beah speak at Book Expo back in May and I don't know that I've ever met a man who radiates joy the way he does. It's almost incomprehensible when one reads of his life and its horrific beginnings. He is a living testament to the power of the human spirit.

Library Journal
★ 11/15/2013
For Mama Kadie, returning to her village, Imperi, after the seven-year civil war in Sierra Leone, home is the dirt sifting between her toes and the scent of coffee flowers. For Pa Moiwa, it is burying the bones of those who did not escape the destruction. Slowly, others return, hoping to mend the fabric of lives sundered by war. First Bockarie and later Benjamin, former teachers in the village, arrive with their families. Then Sila and his children, missing arms and hands, find acceptance there. Even Colonel, leading a band of former child soldiers seeking to reclaim their humanity, is embraced by the elders. But hardship persists. Bockarie and Benjamin work months without a paycheck while the school principal cooks the books. A mining company rapes their land yet entices villagers with big salaries while downplaying horrific working conditions. Still, each physically and psychically damaged person in Imperi will learn to trust again. VERDICT Beah, who broke our hearts with the haunting memoir of his life as a boy soldier (Long Way Gone), will render readers speechless with the radiance of his storytelling in this novel of grace, forgiveness, and a vision of a tomorrow without conflict. [See Prepub Alert, 7/8/13.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

I've learned how rewarding it is to read outside of my comfort zone. Becoming acquainted with new authors is one of the greatest pleasures of my reviewing for Library Journal. Over the past several years I have found myself in Somalia, Liberia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Nigeria without leaving the comfort of my lanai. Thank you readers for taking these excursions with me.


Jessica said...

We were blown away by Ishmael Beah at the BEA breakfast. We really tried to get him for the festival. Maybe we should start dropping your name during our recruitment efforts!

Sallyb said...

Wasn't he amazing? Such a joyous person.