Jul 142010

I once read that we read mysteries to learn about another place or time or culture as much as for the mystery itself. Devil’s Corner is vintage Scottolini: a young, Italian, feisty, female investigator goes after bad guys, this time in the crack cocaine trade. That’s what I learned about — the economic structuring of street trafficking. There’s also something fascinating about women writer’s of the murder mystery trade. The investigator’s in Scottolini’s books worry about their hair and whether their purses match their shoes and how many calories are in dessert rather than the male writer’s cop who worries about booze and babes. So I learned about women, too. This book is similar to her others. It clips along, there’s danger and real humor, it snows in Philadelphia where the plots always occur, and everyone important is Italian. Barbara Rosenblatt read the audio book I listened to and she’s the very best. September 2007.

Jun 212010

This is the story of how Ida Tarbell, one of the first women to attend Allegheny College, probably the first woman to be a paid staff writer for a magazine, and surely the first investigative journalist in the world took on John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil of Ohio and the richest man of his time. The history is compelling, but Weinberg in his efforts to emulate Tarbell’s impartiality delivers a lot more facts than drama. The conflict between the two, and the story of how a woman from a small town in northwestern PA could bring so low one of the world’s most powerful men passes without much tension. June 2009.

Jun 182010

Nafiisi believes democracy can only succeed in conjunction with a fundamental human right to imagination. She demonstrates its value by documenting the deteriorating lives of eight young women she discusses fiction with under the tyrannical regime of Ayatollah Khomeni’s Iran. Western classics are banned and so is the option for young women to imagine a life of joy. “Fiction,” Nafisi says, “is not a panacea, but it did offer us a critical way of appraising and grasping the world — not just our world but that other world that had become the object of our desires.” Like the novels Nafisi uses to develop her memoir, this book grows in power and was worth sticking to. It is the most nuanced and complex view of women under fundamentalist Shia rule of the three that I’ve read. See also Persepolis 1, Persepolis 2, and Guests of the Sheik. May 2006.

Jun 172010

In the late 1950’s Elizabeth Farnea’s new husband traveled to a small rural village in southern Iraq to do graduate research on an irrigation project. Farnea was relegated to life with the women and thankfully recorded her observations of how women completely veiled by clothing, secluded behind walls, and hidden inside houses lived with one another and their multitude of children. It must be one of the first books to think women’s stories are worth telling. Moreover, I suspect that for many rural, Muslim women life has not changed dramatically in the intervening fifty years. The strength of the book lies in its cracking open the stereotypes and Farnea’s revelations of the individual personalities behind those veils. The fact the book has been reprinted and is still available is testament to its insight. March 2006.

May 152010

The characters in this book – racist, southern white women in the early sixties and the black maids that work for them – are so believable, I rooted for my favorites, hissed beneath my breath at villains, celebrated triumphs, and felt gloomy for days when things went awry.  Stockett captures personalities and gives each person a voice so full of accent and southern charm that the entrapment of race relations in Mississippi at the very dawn of civil rights is played out in the language itself.  If you have any chance at all of listening to the Audio book, do so.  It won the 2009 award for best audio book and with good reason.  The actors will put you in a theater.

Apr 302010

A bottomless well of hopelessness, despair and background warfare in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion of the 80s through the American invasion post 9/11. Seen through the eyes of two women who lose nearly everything they can imagine either blown to bits around them or whose common husband senselessly beats them. And yet. Hosseini’s crystaline writing and, in my case, Atossi Leoni’s heart wrenching reading simultaneously suffocated and repelled me. I wanted to stop the pain, but could not turn away; instead I lay awake for nights praying for salvation for Leilo and Miryam, two women who endured. December 2007