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.
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach 2008 (319 pgs)
Roach writes the best kind of science- compulsively compelling and delightfully accessible. In her third book, she delves into the history and current state of sex research. With short sections ranging from artificial insemination of farm animals to the study of rats in polyester pants (really!). Extremely informative, occasionally shocking, often hilarious, and always entertaining, Roach knows how to present science in a way that keeps you coming back for more.
The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare 1993- English ed. (205 pgs/read 58)
A low-level clerk in a overly bureaucratic nation sorts and analyses the citizens’ dreams. Interesting premise, but a bit too overly-veiled and metaphorical for me.
Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey 2008 (183 pgs/read 41)
A ruler’s personal chef, barber, and portrait painter are imprisoned during a political coup. It never really took off.
The Swimmer by Zsuzsu Bank 2005-English ed. (278 pgs/read 94)
A spacious, introspective novel set in 1950s Hungary. Kata and her younger brother Isti find their lives unalterably changed when their mother abandons the family with no notice. Their father promptly sells the family home and leads them into a rootless existence, traveling from distant relative to distant relative. This is one of those books I’d love to return to. But after chipping away at it for six months, I had to let it go.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer 1961 (255 pgs/read 55)
I thought I’d read this as a child, but it didn’t seem in the least familiar. And worse, it wasn’t anywhere as compelling as the childhood books I did love.
The River Wife by Jonis Agee 2007 (393 pgs/read 142)
A young pregnant bride, whose husband is often absent on mysterious business, fills her empty nights reading the journals of her husband’s Missouri ancestors. Fairly interesting at first, especially the woman’s survival after an earthquake leaves her trapped in the family cabin as the river rises nearby. But I lost interest about the point where her baby gets eaten by wild dogs & she suddenly starts up an affair with John James Audubon.
The Outlander by Gil Adamson 2008 (389 pgs/read 20)
On the run, a woman tries to elude her in-laws who blame her for her husband’s murder. Failed to grab me.
Jaran by Kate Elliott (The Jaran#1) 1992 (494 pgs)
Tess is full of doubts and intent on evading the heavy expectations that result from her position as sister and heir to the only human duke in an alien empire. When she heads for a vacation on a backwater planet in her brother’s domain, she instead stumbles upon a group of aliens violating territorial agreements by setting out on an expedition across the forbidden zone. On instinct she follows them, determined to aid her brother and his planned human rebellion.
She finds herself alone among the Jaran, a warlike equestrian nomadic society that rules the plains. There she works to earn the acceptance and respect of the tribe while trying to discover the aliens’ true purpose.
Great fantasy series I like to re-read every once in a while. The world is richly developed with fascinating characters and plot.
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.