Tears of the Desert

Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir is subtitled “A Memoir of Survival in Darfur” which gives you a pretty good idea of what you are in for. This was another Early Reviewer title, and it took me a few weeks to pick it up after receiving because I wasn’t sure I was up for the subject matter. I’m glad I did though. The book is very accessible and does a good job of personalizing the conflict.

Like many people I’m sure, I knew that “bad things” were happening in Darfur, but I didn’t have a good idea of the specifics of the conflict. Bashir explains it well through the lens of her own life story. She is a black African from the Zaghawa tribe, and she explains that the conflict exists between the Arab minority that rules the country and the black African tribes that make up the majority of Sudan’s population. Bashir is also quite an exceptional woman. Thanks to a supportive father, she leaves her village to attend private schools and is accepted into the university in Khartoum, where she earns her medical degree. Writing about her childhood is especially powerful, because it makes clear just how much has been lost by the conflict – not just lives, homes and bodily integrity, but an entire way of life, her village community and many others just like it.

It is worth noting that Bashir’s memoir was written with a professional writer, Damien Lewis. I think that this is part of why the book is so readable and think it was a good decision to make. I would recommend the book.

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Tears of the Desert

A Quick Post and a Lament

Business first. A week ago I finished The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky. It was good – nothing brilliant, but an enjoyable and quick read. I like Kurlansky, even though this is only the second book of his that I’ve ever read. (The first was A Basque History of the World, which I liked even more). But I like that he writes about specific narrow sections of the world, history through a very specific lens. (Two of his other books are Salt: A World History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World). I like history a lot, but I especially like looking at it in this very limited way. It’s interesting to me. So, if you, like me, like a quirky view of history, give Kurlansky a try.

And now for the lament… The Last Fish Tale was only the 34th book I’ve read this year. At this rate, I haven’t even read a book a week! This is insane and must be fixed. There are only 14 weeks left in the year, and I need to read 18 more books to get up to the one a week level (which would honestly still be low for me). So, more quick, easy reads are in my future, I think. Alright, enough lamenting, back to reading.

A Quick Post and a Lament

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is the first novel by David Wroblewski and it’s a good one. My neighbor read and loved it at the beginning of the summer and then passed it on to me (let’s hear it for neighbors who are BIG readers!) – and then suddenly I was hearing about it everywhere – on NPR in the morning, in an email from my local independent bookstore. One thing that gets mentioned a lot is that The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is inspired by Hamlet, and once I heard that, it actually turned me off the book for a little while. Because I felt like I knew that bad things were coming – and to a character that I cared about. In the end though, I’m glad I finished and I would recommend it to others, but it was definitely a slow read for me.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

A Paragon of Virtue

I’m just going to say it. I hated this book. It worked my last nerve. And if I hadn’t gotten as part of the Early Reviewers program and felt obligated to review it, I would never have finished it. I would have gotten a quarter of the way through and then decided there were better uses of my time.

The book had a lot of potential and I was actually excited when I heard I was going to be getting it. A Paragon of Virtue is the first book by Christian von Ditfurth to be translated into English. It’s a mystery (and I am a fan of mysteries) set in Hamburg and the events of the Nazi era swirl around the crimes being committed now. Now I am willing to give von Ditfurth the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that perhaps the book read better in German and something was lost in translation, but the writing was HORRIBLE. The characters seemed more like caricatures – which especially bothered me having lived in Germany and known many Germans who didn’t fit into the stereotypes that von Ditfurth was advancing.

This is supposed to be the first book in a series featuring the main character, but I will definitely not be reading any more.

A Paragon of Virtue

The Whiskey Rebels

This is my fifth Early Reviewer book (and I have two more waiting for me at home!), and the first by an author I had read before. I read David Liss’s last book The Coffee Trader almost exactly a year ago, and I liked it okay, but it didn’t thrill me. Still, when faced with the option of a free book, I thought I would give him another try – and I’m really glad I did.

The Whiskey Rebels is set in post-Revolutionary War America – and the story is told by two separate, but equally compelling narrators: a disgraced former spy and a strong frontierswoman (as a side note, it was amusing to me to think of the area around Pittsburgh as being the “West” although of course it was in the 1790s). The fictional events of the story swirl around real historical events – the launch of new American banks, the imposition of a whiskey tax – and figures – Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and more.

The novel was well written (even in Advanced Reader format, which still had a few typos) and an enjoyable read. I really like historical fiction and would definitely recommend it to others who do as well. According to the author’s website, he is currently working on another novel set in the same time period in America, and I will be interested to read that when it comes out. In the meantime, he has three other books that I haven’t read and am now curious about. I have lots of books on my To Read list, but I think his first novel will get added to the bottom.

The Whiskey Rebels