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Books I Read Recently and Recommend

Posted on 28 November 2010 by Barbara Beckwith (2)

Here are the best fiction and non-fiction books I’ve read recently, most during one of our “reading weekends,” when Jon and I went away to read, this time in a sweet little B & B, Acorn’s Hope,Great Barrington (MA).  

 Try to Remember, by Iris Gomez (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group, 2010). This novel “grabbed” me from the very beginning: I read it straight through. The main character is a Columbian immigrant girl whose father loses jobs, obsessively composes demand letters and forces his daughter to type them, has violent and paranoid rages. The girl’s mother, won’t admit the problem or let the kids talk about it outside immediate family, but resorts to giving the father Dramamine, calling it vitamins, to calm him down. Meanwhile, the mother and kids take jobs that they hide from the “proud” father so they won’t lose their home. The author is an immigration lawyer and must be aware of all the family problems that immigrants may hide from agencies that are supposed to help them.

Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Suburb, by David Kushner, (Walker, 2009). This non-fiction book describes how the Levitt brothers built housing “affordable for all” and yet excluded Black families, proclaiming, “I’m not prejudiced: I couldn’t be – I’m Jewish – but I can’t accept blacks because I couldn’t get white customers.” One Jewish (and Communist) family does help the first Black family buy into the whites-only suburban development, and endure the violence and  harassment that followed, fomented by racist neighbors and the KKK. I can would not deign to call myself an “anti-racist activist” after seeing what these two determined, principled and ground-breaking families went through.

Persian Girls by Nahid Rachlin (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006). A memoir by an Iranian woman who as an infant was given to her aunt, who’d had no children because of her husband’s infertility, which couldn’t be acknowledged — she was made to blame. After 9 years, Nahid’s father grabs her to take her back to “real” mother, who had been married at 9, bore 10 kids, two of whom had died, but who didn’t want or like Nahid. As a teen, Nahid read American and European books, many of which could get family arrested; she also resisted marriage, begging her father to let her study in America. He finally relents, and she goes to the U.S., where she attends a St. Louis “finishing school” college, but suffers from knowing little English and making few friends. Her father expects her to return to Iran to marry but she sends him a letter, saying she’s staying to go to graduate school. She supports herself, barely, with odd jobs and a scholarship, manages to become writer, and marries a Jewish man, Back home, her sisters have unhappy marriages and give up their passions for theater, true love, or children. By middle age, Nahid accepts her family, in part because of secrets she discovers about her mother, and herself.

To Awake My Afflicted Brethren: David Walker and the Problem of Antebellum Slave Resistance, by Peter P. Hinks (Pennsylvania State, 1997/2000). A dense history/biography of a fascinating man: a free Black man who galvanized resistance to slavery with a 1829 tract calling on free and enslaved Blacks to demand an immediate end to slavery. He distributed his Appeal in the South via Black seamen, and deeply influenced Douglass, Garrison, and Maria Stewart. But he’s been “disappeared” from history. A Community Change Inc committee of Boston legislators and historians is trying to bring him back into prominence. I’d started reading this book before but had flagged – I soldiered on during my reading weekend and was riveted by the last 2 chapters. I wish Hinks had started with them!

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