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Category Archive for 'United States'

Sonia Purnell’s biography of Virginia Hall honors an American woman whose war-time exploits from 1940 – 1945 were so well planned, so well executed, and so successful in saving lives that she was honored by three countries for her efforts. Born into an upper middle-class family in Baltimore, Virginia Hall graduated from private schools, a highly popular student there for her unconventional attitudes and her leadership capabilities. Always independent, she attended both Radcliffe and Barnard Colleges, then continued her education in Europe, where she also worked in several consulates. She was fluent in five languages. With the German takeover of France and the establishment of the Vichy government, she connected with the newly established British Special Operations Executive there, and in April 1941, she started preparing for her first secret mission in France in an attempt to overthrow the Vichy government and the Nazis. Insistent on maintaining absolute secrecy and taking no other agent for granted, she was able to slip through the traps that often nabbed other SOE agents less meticulous in their behavior. Highly successful, she performed heroically, eventually working for the American OSS. Almost unknown by the American public during her lifetime, she is celebrated here in a meticulously researched book by Sonia Purnell which is both momentous and inspiring to the reader – a true story of heroism for the ages.

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Sebastian Barry’s previous novel, Days Without End, provides the historical background for A Thousand Moons, which features the same characters in a new, later time period (though it is not necessary to have read that book before reading this). In that book, two young, Irish boys, Thomas McNulty and John Cole, stowaways escaping an Irish famine, arrive in the U.S. in the late 1840s and join an Irish regiment in the US Army, where they participate for several years in the Indian Wars throughout the West. While there, they “adopted” Winona Cole, a six-year-old Lakota Indian child following the death of her mother during those wars. Moving to Tennessee just before the Civil War, they live briefly as a family, and during the Civil War, fight on the front against “the Rebs.” A THOUSAND MOONS starts at the conclusion of the Civil War, which does not bring the peace this young family group deserves. Early in this novel, Winona is attacked, beaten, and raped, and she has no memory of who her attacker was. The death of Jas Jonski, a man who had proposed marriage to Win also shows the violence by those in power against anyone who is different, as they try to remake post-war Tennessee in their own image. A former slave who is beaten and robbed of his much loved rifle, and the arrival of another Native American woman, who becomes a friend of Winona, add more drama to this atmospheric saga and its stunning characters. Sebastian Barry creates real people involved in real problems, and he draws in the reader to share in those problems and their triumphs. The climax is unforgettable – a true homage to Barry, his characters, and his thematic messages.

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Micah Mortimer, the main character of Anne Tyler’s latest novel, her twenty-third, could not be more ordinary, at least on the surface, yet Anne Tyler makes his story one that will keep even jaded readers intrigued and involved in his unexciting life. Already forty-three, he has had his share of girlfriends, and now, “women friends,” since he refuses to refer to women over thirty as “girls.” None of his relationships have evolved into anything permanent, however, nor has he expected them to. “He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.” Finding Brink Bartell Adams, a first semester freshman in college, sitting on his doorstep one morning after Micah finishes his run, comes as a total surprise. Brink, the son of Lorna Bartell, a girlfriend from his distant past, is a freshman in college. He has found Micah’s photo in a shoebox in his family’s house, and is totally convinced that Micah must be his father. At the same time, Micah’s relationship with Cass, his woman friend of the past three years, begins to have trouble. As she has said, “I’m just saying that the you that you are might not be the right you for me.” Anne Tyler’s develops the story of a boring, unimaginative stick-in-the-mud and turned it into a charming and enlightening story of a man who just may have a chance at real life after all. If it is not too late.

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In this magnificent collection of short stories, Edwidge Danticat always goes straight to the point, but she does so with grace and an honesty that leads each reader to come to new recognitions about life and death, hope and despair, and love and marriage. As individuals and families face their lives both separately and together, Danticat’s stories cast an almost hypnotic power over her readers as the characters share their lives while they make decisions about who they are, how much responsibility they have for their own difficulties, and what kind of future they may be creating for themselves and others. There is no easy sentimentality here: Danticat’s tough characters have learned from their experiences that life is hard, and that any sweet memories they have must be treasured for what they are – partly the result of their own behavior and commitments, and partly the result of fate – inescapable, changeable, and often cruel. Set in New York, Miami’s Little Haiti, and the island of Haiti, the author creates a vibrant picture of the issues faced by first and second generation immigrants and their long-lasting connections to their heritage.

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In this a minimalist adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, contemporary author Lily Tuck modernizes Bronte’s characters and relocates them to the horse country of Albemarle County, Virginia. Here Bronte’s anti-hero Heathcliff becomes, instead, “Cliff,” no longer the wild and passionate man so driven by emotions that he is often described as “demonic,” or an evil spirit. In the novella Heathcliff Redux, Tuck’s anti-hero is a far more realistically portrayed young man of limited education and even more limited self-awareness, a bit tamer than Heathcliff, but just as conniving. Like his Heathcliff predecessor, Cliff is still trying to “find himself” and begin the life and career he believes he is destined for, and also like his predecessor, he falls in love with the wife of someone with whom he has much contact, a woman who is also passionately drawn to him through their shared connections and their love of horses. Set in the early 1960s, Heathcliff Redux reflects the comfortable and self-involved lives of upper middle-class Americans who have little understanding of how privileged they really are – people who obey their impulses because they can. Four short stories, “Labyrinth Two,” “The Dead Swan,” “Carl Schurtz Park,” and “A Natural State” follow the novella.

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