Title: Into the Beautiful North
Author: Luis Alberto Urrea
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, May 2009
Summary: This book was deliciously lyrical and why would you expect anything less than this from the author of the widely acclaimed novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter and 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction for The Devil’s Highway. Mr. Urrea has outdone himself this time writing about Nayeli, the wonderful heroine who sets out on a monumental quest from her small southern Mexican town to America. Humor is woven from start to finish into a rather harrowing and realistic journey through the rugged and dangerous countryside of Mexico to Tijuana, Mexico from where illegal passage into the U.S. is planned. I was reminded of Don Quixote and longed for the success of the adventure of Nayeli and her unique companions.
Once they reach Tijuana, the author’s deep knowledge and love for Tijuana comes through vibrantly. One of the most fascinating depictions is life in the Tijuana dump. The squalor of living conditions is truly harrowing but is balanced by the beauty of human resilience and joy for life of the dump inhabitants. This is not the story of a group of people seeking and finding the holy grail in America. It is rather the poignant story of a person’s quest to do something for the greater good of her beloved community and coming to America temporarily to achieve that and return to her beloved country.
Recommended by: Karen, Deputy Town Librarian
Title: Water Ghosts
Author: Shawna Yang Ryan
Publisher: Penguin Press, April 2009
Summary: According to Chinese superstition, those who die by drowning will seek the living to take their place.
It’s 1928 and the residents of Locke, California and the surrounding towns are getting ready for the Dragon Boat Festival. All is going smoothly until an unknown boat drifts to shore. The boat is carrying three bedraggled Chinese women and seems to have come out of nowhere. One of the women is Ming Wai, the wife that Richard Fong left behind in China several years ago. Richard is now the manager of a successful gambling parlor in Locke and was never able to return to China for his wife. While Ming Wai was languishing in China, Richard was living comfortably as a bachelor in California, complete with his own prostitute.Most of the townspeople are confused about the arrival of the three women but Poppy See, the brothel madam is suspicious. Poppy is a seer and had a premonition of bodies washing ashore before the women arrived. Now strange things are happening to the town and the people living there.
Water Ghosts is a wonderfully written tale of love, loss, and the consequences of betrayal.
Who will like this book? Fans of historical fiction and mystery.
Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator
Title: Little Bee
Author: Chris Cleave
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, February 2009
Summary: Chris Cleave’s second novel is quite an accomplishment. There are some beautiful moments, and some horrific moments throughout this complex story, told to us by two very different women who have been bound together by a violent event. The publishers of Little Bee are asking readers not to “spoil” the story by revealing too much of the plot. While I don’t agree that this is altogether necessary (there’s no big secret revelation, really, a la The Double Bindby Chris Bohjalian), I’ll honor their wishes.
What I can tell you is that I found the voice of Little Bee and her story to be excellently portrayed and very moving. When we first meet her she’s being released from a British immigration detention center after two years. We learn that she’s originally from a war-torn village in Africa, and has escaped almost certain death by stowing away on a ship to England. She reaches out to Sarah and Andrew O’Rourke, a couple from London that Little Bee and her sister met one fateful day on a beach in Nigeria. Sarah, our other narrator, takes Little Bee in even though her own life is in pieces after the suicide of her husband. As the two women together try to imagine how they can possibly create new lives for themselves, we learn more about the awful truth that connects them and brings the story to its inevitable, heart-wrenching conclusion.
Recommended by: Mary, Branch Reference
Title: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author: Junot Diaz
Publisher: Riverhead, September 2007
Summary: Beware the fuku. This ridiculously good novel is part immigrant family saga, part ghetto epic and entirely unforgettable. The narrative traces the history of the de Leon family, from a doctor living under the brutal dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic to the titular character – an obese, insular, brilliant aspiring sci-fi writer. Peppered with references to fantasy masterworks such as Dune and Lord of the Rings, and narrated in a vibrant, gritty street Spanglish, this Pulitzer Prize winner tells of the fuku – a devastating family curse akin to the evil eye – that has haunted Oscar’s family through the generations, causing misery at every turn.
Can the fuku be thwarted? Oscar’s quest is reminiscent of those made by his fantasy heroes – equal parts bravery and tragedy. This book is as hilarious as it is haunting, describing the horrors of living under Trujillo and the mortification of being Oscar. Junot Diaz is a true original, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Who will like this book?: Readers who are willing to stretch their boundaries. People interested in stories of the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. Fans of immigrant family dramas.
If you like this, try this: Drown, a collection of stories by Diaz. For more on the Dominican Republic under Trujillo, try In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.
Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian
Title: Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love
Author: Lara Vapnyar
Summary: A fabulous and creative collection of short stories that revolve around food in the lives of a New York City Russian community. The stories are well written, humorous and witty. Some of the humor is very black, but that bit of gloominess makes the stories more poignant and human. The Russian flavor, vivid descriptions and wonderful prose makes this author and unique and entertaining story teller.
Recommended by: Laurie, Circulation
Title: Stealing Buddha’s Dinner
Author: Bich Minn Nguyen
Summary:This book is unique, entertaining and interesting in it’s perspective on the immigrant (Vietnamese) experience. The setting takes us back to the 1980′s in Michigan. Much of the assimilation experience is relayed through foods such as ice cream, Pringles, and Happy Meals.
Who will like this book?: This memoir is a must for foodie bookworms!
If you like this, try this: Bento Box in the Heartland by Linda Furiya and Fortune Cookies Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee
Recommended by: Laurie, Circulation.
Title: The Air We Breathe
Author: Andrea Barrett
Summary: While World War I looms in the future, the patients at Tamarack State Sanatorium are fighting their own battle with tuberculosis and the emotional issues that come from being confined to a strict regimen of rest and little social interaction. Their insular world begins to expand, however, with the arrival of a somewhat mysterious young chemist from Odessa named Leo Marburg, and the pompous and wealthy Miles Fairchild, who is sure the less fortunate patients will benefit greatly from the wisdom he imparts through his weekly discussion groups. The lives of the patients become more entangled, and life at Tamarack gets complex and messy, bringing about the major disruption that the patients have both longed for and dreaded. A final and unexpected tragedy will draw the group even closer together, although not to everyone’s benefit.
I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, and that’s mostly because of books like this. Author Andrea Barrett has done a great job of describing a world we will never know, gently weaving in interesting lessons in both science and history. She is the author of the National Book Award winner “Ship Fever,” Pulitzer Prize finalist “Servants of the Map,” as well as the fabulous “Voyage of the Narwhal.”
Recommended by: Mary, Reference Librarian