Apr 242012

An elegy for the Japanese women who arrived in California in the early part of the twentieth century as mail-order brides to join lonely Japanese laborers.  Agreeing to marry an unknown man in a far-off land can only be undertaken by women whose prospects at home must be even worse.  Otsuka chooses no individual character to follow, instead providing a wash of experiences as she tracks in single poetic lines the lives of all women subject to extraordinary dislocation.  At first, a bit dissatisfying to read, this spare account in the end encompasses the experience of everywoman with precision and compassion.

Apr 172012

Girl meets boy.  Girl loses boy.  Girl and boy are reunited, but with issues.  That part seems straightforward enough, but this telling of the simultaneously heartrending and heart warming version of a traditional tale is unlike any other.  The structure of the relationship of Dodola and Zam is constructed on legends from the Holy Quran.  Their tribulations unfold in a graphic novel bursting with images of Middle Eastern cultures, both historic and contemporary, Islamic designs, and Arabic lettering.  The more you know about Islam before entering the text, the more you will gain, but even with limited knowledge, Craig Thompson’s retelling of Old Testament stories (also part of the Quran) are fascinating.  His drawings are warm and thoughtful, his main characters respectable and real, and the plot is part 1,001 Arabian Nights and part Quran lesson.  As a package the book flies by.

Apr 012012

Mr. March, in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, heads south to fight the Confederacy at the opening of Alcott’s novel and returns on Christmas a year later.  This is Brooks’ imaginings of what March would have encountered as an idealistic preacher from Concord heading into the heart of a Civil War.  Not surprisingly, he learns war is hell, slavery is worse, racism is painfully ugly and not the sole purview of southerners, and that his personal attempts at action and intervention are pitifully ineffective.  Look, if you are going to read a book about slavery, by all means begin with Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, the recounting of slave life and uprisings in Jamaica.  Levy’s characters are real people.  Brooks’ has an interesting idea — she won a Pulitzer Prize for this book — but like most of her books the characters in March are uni-dimensional, interesting in a TV sort of way, but utterly forgettable as soon as the book is completed.

Apr 012012

Sir Edmund Carstairs requests the aid of Sherlock Holmes when a member of the Flat Cap gang, an Irish thug from Boston, arrives in London to extort him or worse.  Holmes uses some London street urchins as his eyes and ears only to have one young boy turn up murdered.  Then things turn really dicey for the famous detective.  Horowitz does a surprisingly competent job of recapturing Arthur Conan Doyle’s style and characterizations, though Dr. Watson comes off as a little more doltish than necessary.  It isn’t great literature, but it is a satisfying read, nonetheless, if you are in the mood for a Holmse-ian mystery.  If you can listen to the audio book version read by Derek Jacoby.