by Julie HaleOctober 2007
Paperback picks for reading groups
WHAT IS THE WHAT
Valentino Achak Deng, a native of Sudan, narrates this memoir-novel hybrid. During the 1980s and '90s, the civil war and related religious conflict in Valentino's home country displaced him and thousands of other young men, earning them the name the Lost Boys. In this straightforward and simply told narrative, Valentino recounts the destruction of his village, the disappearance of his parents and his years in a hellish refugee camp in Ethiopia. In 2001, he leaves Africa for the United States, arriving in Atlanta. But the city is far from welcoming. Jobs are scarce, and dangerous gangs roam the streets. Valentino's day-to-day life in Atlanta he is robbed and beaten in his own home proves to be all too similar to his existence in Africa. A fascinating mix of politics, international history and Valentino's personal narrative, What Is the What is a remarkable book that sheds valuable light on the refugee experience. Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, has produced another original, memorable narrative. This is a richly rewarding book an unforgettable story about one man's attempt to live with loss, adjust to a new culture, and find a way to move forward into the future. A reading group guide is available in print and online at www.readinggroupcenter.com.
THE SEA CAPTAIN'S WIFE
This beautifully rendered biography tells the fascinating story of Eunice Richardson Stone Connolly, a mill worker in New Hampshire during the mid-1800s. In hopes of improving their fortunes, Eunice and her husband relocate to the South, but when the Civil War erupts, he fights for the Confederacy, and Eunice desperately homesick goes back to New Hampshire. Although she is dirt poor, Eunice is nevertheless respected in society because she is white. Once she learns that her husband is dead, however, Eunice bravely defies convention and marries a wealthy black sea captain from Grand Cayman Island, returning with him to his home in the Caribbean. Hodes draws on a collection of Connolly's letters to construct a wonderfully detailed portrait of her fearless young heroine and of America during a critical time in its evolution. Exploring the conflict between the North and the South, and the implications of mixed marriages in an era when such unions were unthinkable, Hodes, who is a historian at New York University, writes with authority. She brings a wealth of knowledge to this compelling and authentic recreation of Connolly's life. A reading group guide is available at www.wwnorton.com/guides.
THE LIGHT OF EVENING
One of Ireland's most beloved writers and an internationally best-selling author, O'Brien delivers her 20th book of fiction with The Light of Evening. A lovely and poignant novel that explores the meaning of family and home, the story is told from the perspective of 78-year-old Dilly, who is bedridden in a small hospital in rural Ireland. Awaiting the arrival of Eleanora, her oldest daughter, Dilly recalls the past in free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness passages filled with vivid imagery and marked by O'Brien's luminous prose. As a young woman, Dilly left Ireland and her family in hopes of finding a better life in America. Her years in Brooklyn during the 1920s were marred by an unsuccessful romance and the death of her brother, Michael. Drawn back to Ireland after these events, she marries a wealthy man named Cornelius and joins him at his family estate, where they raise two children. The novel shifts to the third person to tell the story of Eleanora, whose marriage to a novelist some years her senior and life as a writer are recounted in detail. Eleanora's split from her husband and subsequent affairs with a series of married men lead to a fierce and lingering conflict with Dilly. O'Brien uses shifting points of view and an impressionistic narrative style to build a complex portrait of Dilly's life. Perfect for fans of literary fiction, this is a wise, worthwhile and skilfully constructed book. A reading group guide is available at www.marinerreadersguides.com.