Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Nevermore: Dan Rather, Kitchen Front, Underground Railroad, Orphan's Tale, Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune

Reported by Garry

Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News by Dan Rather was the first book reviewed this week.  Published in 2012, Rather Outspoken is the first memoir by the famed news anchor, and our reader said that this is a fascinating book.  She commented that Rather is an excellent writer who is very candid and truthful about his coworkers – the owners of Viacom (CBS’s parent company) didn’t like him because he was too honest.  One of the observations that our reader particularly picked up on was Rather’s advice that when embedded in an armed forces unit, always go to the sergeants and the colonels for information – they are the most truthful.   Our reader also highlighted his sections on Vietnam and Jerusalem, and was overall very impressed with this memoir from one of the most storied news anchors in the industry.


Next up was The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan.  This historical novel is set in England during World War II.  Due to the effects of the German war on Britain, the UK is undergoing food shortages.  In order to encourage and enable the people of the UK to make as much as possible with as little as possible, the BBC launches a cooking show called “The Kitchen Front.”  Four very different women compete for the top prize – the chance to be the first-ever female co-host of the radio show – by using rationed food to make fancy meals.  Our reader enjoyed this book and found the characters to be well drawn and engaging.   


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. The story follows Cora, a slave girl in Georgia who escapes from the cotton plantation via the Underground Railroad – a literal railroad running under the soil of the Southern states to deliver escaped slaves to safety in the North.  Our reader pointed out that this book is more fantasy than historical fiction, but recommends it and found it a very interesting read.


The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff is a historical novel set during WWII.  Noa is a 16 year old Dutch girl who was raped and impregnated by a German soldier. She was thrown out of her home and had to give up her baby.  Noa sees a train car of Jewish infants on their way to a concentration camp and steals one off the train to save it.  In doing so, she jeopardizes her life. Joining a circus in order to create a new life, she strikes up a contentious relationship with the lead aerialist, Astrid, and learns how to be a trapeze artist in order to blend in to the circus community.  Tensions arise as secrets come out and the Germans close in.  Our reader enjoyed this book, and recommends it for its writing and intriguing story line as well as the in-depth look at circus training and culture.  


Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim was next up.  This modern day novel has magical components woven into the story of intergenerational and intercultural change.  Natalie Tan grows up in Chinatown in San Francisco with a disapproving, agoraphobic mother and leaves to pursue her dreams of becoming a chef – a decision which upsets her mother to the point that the two women haven’t spoken for seven years.    After her mother’s death, Natalie returns home to find the neighborhood is in decline, and that she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.  Once a thriving cornerstone of the community, the restaurant has started to fall apart, like Chinatown itself.  The neighborhood seer predicts that if Natalie cooks three of her grandmothers’ special (read: magical) dishes to help the neighborhood, that the restaurant will flourish again.  Our reader really enjoyed this magical homecoming book for not only its great recipes but for its heartfelt look at community and what it means to belong. 


Books also mentioned:

Caste:  The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

China by Edward Rutherfurd 

Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese-Amerian Heroes in WWII by Daniel James Brown

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Maisie Dobbs Mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

This Land is Their Land:  The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving by David J. Silverman

Maus II by Art Spiegelman

The Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux

Bottle of Lies:  The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom by Jennifer Eban

Homegrown Humus by Anna Hess

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

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