Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Nevermore: Balkans, Bosnia, Obama, Sally Ride, Gorky Park, and More

Reported by Jeanne

Two books from previous meetings were brought up again but by new readers.  Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail by Jonathan Chait was called “marvelous” by our member who said that Chait made a good case that Obama’s presidency will be viewed as a success by historians. 

The second book, Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan was also praised by a new reader.  Kaplan divides the book by country, visiting Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece.  While there is some personal perspective—Kaplan worked there as a journalist in the 1980s—most of the book is devoted to the history and culture of the region, giving the origins of some of the modern conflicts whose roots extend back for centuries .  Although the book came out originally in 1993, our reader found it timely and informative.  

The Bosnia List by Kenan Trebincevic is a personal memoir of the Balkans.  At age eleven, Kenan’s life was suddenly turned upside down when the ethnic cleansing began.  His father and brother were sent to a concentration camp, former friends turned on them, and the family was forced to flee the country simply for being Muslim. Some twenty years later, he reluctantly returns toYugoslavia at the behest of his aging father who wants to see his homeland once again.  Kenan wants to reconnect with some people, but he also wants to confront those who turned against his family.  Our reader found it to be a difficult but ultimately hopeful book about the resilience of the human spirit.

Next up was Sally Ride by Lynn Sherr.  This biography of the first American woman astronaut was deemed quite good by our reader, but she wished that there had been a timeline included.  She also felt that the author didn’t do a good job of explaining Ride’s love of physics, but did show how Ride compartmentalized her life.  She kept much of her life private, even as she worked tirelessly to encourage opportunities for girls and women in science. 

A second biography concerned a lesser known individual but is a book our reviewer felt everyone should read.  The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is the story of a brilliant young black man who went from living in a New Jersey ghetto to studying molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale.  His hardworking mother had struggled to secure a better life for her son, enrolling him in private school while his drug-dealer father was incarcerated for murder. Robert was a top student who worked in the dining hall but who supplemented his income by dealing drugs which led to his untimely death at age 30.  The book was written by Jeff Hobbs, Peace’s college roommate who sought to reconcile the two worlds that his friend inhabited. Our reader felt this was a powerful book and deserving of the many awards it earned.

Two novels were up next, championed by different readers.  The first was a new title, A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline, author of the best-selling Orphan Train.  Kline imagines the life of Christina Olson, a handicapped woman who inspired Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christine’s World. Olson suffered from a genetic disease which made mobility difficult. Although she often had to crawl, she was able to run the family farm. The story begins in the 1940s, when Olson views the painting, then moves back and forth in time to tell her story.  The book is emotionally moving and evocative, causing our reader to recommended it highly.

1981’s Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith is set in Moscow during the Soviet era, when detective Arkady Renko finds several corpses in Gorky Park.  The bodies have been disfigured to make identification difficult, but Renko is determined to see justice done. Our reader said it wasn’t profound but it was quite the page turner.

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