River of Ink
Cooper’s River of Ink is an exquisite offering whose words sing in the blood. This is a tale of ancient Sri Lanka, a tale of conquest, change and forbidden love.
It is the story of Asanka, royal poet to King Parakrama. When an invading army takes over the kingdom, Asanka is commissioned by the new ruler, Kalinga Magha, to translate the epic poem of Shishupal from the Sanskrit into the local Tamil language, so that it might be available to all. In an act of rebellion towards a capricious ruler, Asanka slips allusions into his crafting, hinting at Magha being like Shishupal, another ruthless ruler.
Now, ancient Sri Lanka is not my usual forte for historical fiction, but Cooper does seem to have done an admirable amount of research. The characters are well drawn out. I will admit, there were times when Asanka got on my nerves with his timidity. However, he is a poet, a writer, not a warrior; the type of person whose gentle and empathic nature would be singularly affected by brutality and violence.
River of Ink is Cooper’s debut novel, a marvelous offering from a brilliant young author. I look forward to future works from him.
January 26th 2016
Yetunde: An Ode To My Mother
Yetunde: An Ode to My Mother is the second of Salami’s Yetunde books. This short, beautiful read is told from the perspective of Yetunde, a mere babe, whose own ma has recently lost her mother. Yetunde narrates for us as her ma engages in a Yoruba tradition of praise poetry, reciting one for her own mother.
Yetunde is so sweet and charming. She is a wee one, and her language reflects it. She doesn’t speak in nonsensical baby talk, but she does speak with the short, “oh, shiny” attention of a toddler. She only just learned to walk, after all. Yetunde addresses us, the reader, directly. She says she speaks Ancient Angelic, but the adults call it baby babble. Being Yoruba, Yetunde is learning to understand both English and Yoruba.
As the story progresses, Yetunde’s ma sits with her, speaking of her regrets in not spending as much time as possible with her own ma. She had planned to buy a plot and build her ma a house to have her close so she could be in Yetunde’s life. As she talks with Yetunde, she speaks in English and Yoruba, giving translations. Yetunde’s ma is helping her learn to be bilingual. We are also given other tidbits of Yoruba culture and lore.
Salami’s story is a marvelous one, wrought with love and care. Though primarily in English, it is a beautiful glimpse at a Yoruba cultural tradition. I love the lessons in Yoruba that are woven in. We are taught as Yetunde is taught. I was privileged enough to beta-read this short weeks ago and was tickled to see it show up at SFBC. I still want to read the predecessor, Yetunde: A Yoruba Girl in London.
This book is strongly recommended, especially if you have interests in cultural awareness. A perfect quick read for mas to share with little ones.
Parkinson’s Lite: The Laughable Side
Macioce’s little memoir, Parkinson’s Lite, is a quick and enlightening read. It is the story of one woman’s coming to terms with having a chronic illness and learning to find humor even in the darkest of times. She first goes to the doctor for a cluster of symptoms she was at a loss to explain. Her first doctor gave the diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Unwilling to accept that, she goes on to get several second opinions, ranging from Lyme disease to internal imbalances and back to Parkinson’s.
With wry humor, Macioce bares her psyche to us. It can be very hard for people to talk about their own failings. She is stubborn, refusing to accept the diagnosis. She is a constant worrier, prone to making mountains of mole-hills and quick to assume the worst. Her journey with Parkinson’s showed her that being fretful and pessimistic was emotionally draining. Being more optimistic and learning to laugh at oneself and conditions one cannot change made living with this chronic illness much easier.
As someone suffering from a chronic illness of my own, I can appreciate these lessons. I would highly recommend this book to anyone in similar circumstances as a valuable lesson that it is possible to thrive and be happy.
Murder and the Making of English CSI
Burney & Pemberton’s Murder and the Making of English CSI looks at the birth and development of crime scene investigating through the lens of a single socio-cultural point: England. This field of study, in its broadest sense, has fascinated me for nearly three decades. Were it not for a medical malady stealing my sight, I would have continued pursuing a career in forensic anthropology. Needless to say, I loved the book.
Broken into several chapters, it focuses on the growth of CSI within the confines of that most heinous of crimes, where the skills are most critical: homicide. For simplicity’s sake, the authors note that the initials of “CSI” are used, even at times when it might be anachronistic because there was no cohesive discipline as such at the time. At no point did I find this to be confusing.
The first chapter looks at the origins of scene investigation in general, particularly within Hans Gross’ 1893 Crime Scene Investigation: A Practical Handbook. I found it intriguing that even this far back, Gross recognized and emphasized the utmost value of trace evidence. Also looked at were the contributions of Edmond Locard, he of the transference principle, to this burgeoning discipline. I love that one of his inspirations was Conan Doyle’s immortal Sherlock Holmes!
The second chapter takes a look at what crime scene processing, or the lack thereof, was like in context of England. Discussed are Howard Vincent’s Police Code and Manual of Criminal Law, first published in 1881, and Alfred Swaine Taylor’s Principles and Practices of Medical Jurisprudence, first published in 1865. Early English focus was on body evidence rather than trace evidence. It wasn’t until the early- to mid-20th century that Gross’ handbook was translated and the principles implemented.
Chapter Three focuses on a hallmark case of English CSI growth, that being the 1924 murder of Emily Kaye. The fourth chapter looks at how this particular case was sensationalized and became fodder for new storytelling, from detective magazine puzzles to news stories to screen portrayal.
Chapter Five covers how the transition of body- to trace-oriented evidence progressed and meshed within English criminalistics and how these first waves of detectives were taught to process for trace. Subsequent chapters look at forensic pathology and at Rillington place, where several bodies were found, making it a good example of synergy between body and trace evidence.
I really enjoyed this book and the history discussed. If you have a more than casual interest in forensics, this is a must-have for your personal library. Why a “more than casual,” you might ask? This book is college-textbook worthy. If one isn’t used to that, it may come across as dense writing. Prospective readers should also be prepared for the graphic crime scene photos scattered throughout. Highly recommended.
The Other Einstein: A Novel
The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict, is a look at lost dreams, failing hopes, and “what ifs.” What if Mileva, the little known first wife of Albert Einstein, had never forsaken her path and graduated with a physics degree as she had planned? What if she had collaborated equally with her husband?
This extraordinary woman had the misfortune to be born into a world reluctant to allow women a university education, especially in the “hard” sciences of mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Mileva had to fight for her chance, with everything working against her. She was a female of Eastern European descent who walked with a pronounced limp and was subject to open and veiled scorn alike.
Mileva met Albert at university in Zurich. He was the first in her small class to be welcoming, and soon enough he managed to sneak under her guard and into her affections. This proved her undoing, in more ways than one. A pregnancy and birth out of wedlock led to Mileva failing her final work toward her physics degree and never going back to finish. Instead, she married Einstein and had two more children by him. Sadly, only the middle child survived, though by that point, Mileva was separated from the renowned physicist.
This work is one of historical fiction, speculating on the relationship between Mileva and Albert, including the notion that she helped him develop the theory of relativity we know him for today. Of course, we cannot know all of the truth today, but it’s a fascinating look behind the scenes of the famed physicist’s life and an even more fascinating look at this sharp-minded woman determined to go against convention. History is as relative as time; it is the story written by the victor of an engagement, especially in absence of strong compelling evidence to the contrary.
Benedict’s book is astounding. I breezed through it in a few quick hours, secluding myself from family so as to better sink into the story world. There is nothing worse than being abruptly torn from a truly engrossing story, leaving one momentarily dazed and confused by the shift, especially for mere trivialities. The writing was beautiful and always engaging, often drawing tears and melancholy. What could Mileva have accomplished had she stayed her own course? As a bonus, the cover art is quite magnificent.
Béla’s Letters, by Jeff Ingber, is a hauntingly beautiful tour through history, leading us through the lives of one family via the precious artifact of letters, one of the historian’s best friends. They are stitched together with narrative from Béla’s point of view, the author’s conjecture for it was written after Béla’s passing. This was a very personal book for the author, for it is his gift honoring family. He is the son of Béla Ingber.
Spanning eight decades, we follow Béla through seemingly carefree times as an youth, through the terrible killing time that was the Holocaust, through the aftermath and an arrival to America, where his fledgling family can finally put down roots again. Decades drift by, separating him from those terrible times. Children turn adult, granting grandchildren in turn. Siblings and close friends succumb to the inevitable march of time.
There is nostalgia for a childhood long gone, for the past of one’s youngest years almost always seems a better time than the present, right? There is profound sadness and unmitigated fear at the horror of one of humanity’s darkest moments, when an entire people felt the twinned weights of hatred and abandonment descend upon them. A time of slaughter, claiming millions of lives. There is hope in the aftermath, and worry as well, as shattered lives and broken families begin the long, slow mending process. Scattered throughout the book are pictures of Béla and other family and friends.
That’s so hard for me to comprehend, the sheer numbers involved. I was reminded of my visits to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, of the pictures magnified to cover entire walls, making truth hard to deny, of the near suffocating weight of fear and sadness still clinging to recovered artifacts, filling the rooms that held them — piles of shoes, piles of clothes, a railcar, most horrific of all, a clear pillar filled with expended zyklon-B cannisters.
Books like Béla’s Letters, like The Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler’s List, Irena’s Children, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, they call to us to never forget. They honor the past with remembrance. They are our collective Othala, the bitter part of our inheritance, the inheritance of us all, for the children of those who suffered, those who fought, those who stood by, those who actively took part. None of us must ever forget.
I have seen reviews of this book in other places that criticize the length, saying it should be cut down. At 500 plus pages, it is a long novel. However, I strongly disagree that it is too long. For a book following decades of a person’s life, which were hardly decades that were boring, a book of this length is warranted. I was never once concerned with ‘how long it was’. No, I found it to be a deeply engrossing read that flowed quick and easy.
Highly recommended. Perfect for those who enjoy historical fiction, especially regarding World War II. I am loathe to say ‘’if you like books about the Holocaust’, because, frankly, I would think something quite wrong with you if you liked them. However, to say ‘if books about the Holocaust fascinate you’ you’ll enjoy this book.