The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway 2008 (235 pgs)
During the siege of Sarajevo, a man watches from his window as 22 of his friends and neighbors are killed by a single shell while waiting in line for bread. He quietly puts on his tux, picks up his cello, and plays in the wreckage for 22 days. From there, the narrative shifts between three other survivors in the war zone, one of them a sniper charged with keeping the cellist alive during his “concerts.” A moving novel without veering towards maudlin or sappy. It’s a haunting look at how hope sustains people during war and how sometimes survival means creating your own hope.
The Hour I First Believedby Wally Lamb 2008 (740 pgs)
A heartbreaking book of broad scope, The Hour I First Believed takes a look at the reverberations of tragedy. While Caelem’s back East planning his aunt’s funeral, his wife Maureen becomes a close witness to the Columbine shootings. While not physically injured, the psychic damage spins her off into a years long bout with PTSD, depression, and addiction. Unable to recover from the shootings and searching for some measure of peace, they head off to the family farm in Connecticut. Once there Caelem also stumbles upon secrets from his family’s past that begin to affect him just as strongly as his wife’s ordeal.
Lamb writes tragedy beautifully, his characters real and realistically fallible. Fans of his previous book I Know This Much Is True will not be disappointed.
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson 2008 (266 pgs)
When Jenna wakes up, she can quote the entire text of Walden Pond, but she can’t remember her best friend’s name. Or even if she has a best friend. The parents she doesn’t remember tell her she’s been in a coma following an accident. As Jenna comes to terms with the disturbing holes in her memory, she finds that there’s more to her past than her family wants to tell her.
Good balance- enjoyable to read, while also tackling larger issues of medical ethics and the nature of identity. Made for a fun afternoon read.
Obedience by Will Lavender 2008 (287 pgs)
Students in a Logic and Reasoning class are asked to solve a hypothetical kidnapping before it becomes murder. The plot begins simply, but soon builds to a puzzle of cunning intricacy. Supposedly fictional characters start intruding on real life, and there are hints of a decade-old real murder nearby that bears striking similarity to the fictional case. Soon, three of the students (along with the reader) start to question what is real and whether there will soon be another murder. A great puzzle book that left kept me in a state of brain-buzz on a par with a good sudoku or crossword puzzle.
The Host by Stephenie Meyer 2008 (619 pgs)
When the world’s population gets body-snatched by invading aliens, a few rebel humans are forced into hiding, struggling to remain whole. A newly installed alien named Wanderer finds herself in a body whose former owner hasn’t quite vacated. What should be an effortless takeover instead becomes a battle of wills as Melanie refuses to disappear. At first biding her time, waiting for Melanie to surrender, Wanderer instead finds herself coming to an understanding and eventual affection for the human trapped in her mind. As they share memories and experiences, Wanderer even comes to love those who Melanie loves. Together they break away from the alien occupied civilization to track down Melanie’s loved ones.
I was pleasantly impressed with Meyer’s much more refined and challenging writing. This in no Twilight novel; it surpasses that series in character realism and evolution, its exploration of humankind’s capacity for cruelty and kindness, and the nature of selfhood and emotion. Billed as “the first love triangle involving only two bodies,” what could easily have become a cheesy sci-fi or sappy romance is instead a surprisingly deft exploration of identity and humanity.
Twenty Jataka Tales retold by Noor Inayat Khan, illustrations by H. Willebeek Le Mair, orig pub 1939 (152 pgs)
A collection of short Aesop-esque legends of the former incarnations of the Buddha that relates tales of wisdom and kindness. Here he’s a lion, kindly correcting a panicking hare who thinks the world is ending. There he’s an stag convincing the king through his willingness to sacrifice himself for any of his fellow creature that all animals are worthy of respect. The tales are simple and fun & the morals subtle enough to compliment and not overpower the sweet nature of the book.
The Brides of March: A Memoir of Same-Sex Marriage by Beren DeMotier (149 pgs) 2007
I followed the news avidly four years ago when Multnomah County announced that they would begin offering marriage licenses for same-sex couples. I felt proud that I lived in a community that was making such a strong statement about equal rights.
This slim narrative tells the experience of one family’s personal travels through the same-sex marriage rollercoaster. DeMotier and her partner shared a house, three kids, and 17 years of commitment when the announcement came that they could be legally married. They were among the first of the 3000 couples who rushed to the Multnomah County Courthouse for licenses that month. Surrounded by their children, friends, and their friends’ children in one raucous group they joyously claimed their license and that same afternoon married and witnessed their friends’ marriages.
They were thrilled by the outpouring of support from their community as friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, and even strangers shared in their happiness. Their excitement and feeling of validation is all the more heartbreaking in the circumstances that followed. Multnomah County eventually rescinded the licenses, declaring all same-sex marriages void at the time of issue, even returning the checks for the license fees. Along with many states, the Oregon State Legislature also later enacted legislature declaring marriage “between one man and one woman.” The Oregon domestic partnership bill that eventually passed in 2007/08 doesn’t make up for the fact that gays are still treated as second-class citizens by our government. But at least it’s a step in a more equal direction, with hopefully more to come.