Books Read August 2009

A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Solider
by Ishmael Beah
Ishmael Beah came to the United States when he was seventeen and graduated from Oberlin College in 2004. He’s a member of Human Rights Watch Children’s Division Advisory Committee and has spoken before the United Nations. He now lives in New York City, but years ago…in1993 to be exact, when he was just twelve, rebel forces attacked his town, Sierra Leone. He was separated from his parents and for months, he wandered through the countryside. Eventually he’s hijacked by the government army and taught to shoot an AK-47 and slaughter the enemy – while being fed a balanced diet of amphetamines. The enemy, more often than not, were boys his own age. Beah’s memoir follows the heart-breaking journey from a good hearted child, into a hardened soldier who “felt no pity for anyone.” Although it’s a sad tale, things turn out well for Ishmael and the take-away is just how resilient children are given the opportunity and the right circumstance. ♥♥

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Stalin's Soviet Union is supposed to be a paradise -- its citizens live free from the fear of crime and their basic needs are taken care of. But millions know the truth: suspicion of owning a book from the decadent West, or the wrong word at the wrong time can mean execution. Enter MGB officer Leo Demidov -- war hero, supporter of the system, beautiful wife, and nice apartment. Then a different kind of criminal is on the loose. The only problem is Leo is the only one who wants to track him down. Soon he’s demoted and denounced, and exiled from his home. This may be the spoiled brat approach, but I didn’t want to read this book. After all, I’d never heard of it, didn’t like crime thrillers, and it wasn’t even a trade paperback. It was a little tiny paperback with little tiny print -- but it was the only thing I had at my fingertips. And gee, it was pretty good. Not really-really-knock-your-socks-off-good, but a solid read.

Farm City, the Education of an Urban Farmer
by Novella Carpenter
You know I love authors from the Northwest and particularly Idaho, so it will come as no surprise that I grabbed this book soon after it was published. Novella Carpenter grew up in Idaho and Washington State. In her memoir, she gets in touch with her inner farm girl and turns a vacant lot in downtown Oakland into a thriving farm. (I’ve been in downtown Oakland, and believe me this would be no small feat.) Carpenter starts with a few chickens, adds some bees, until she’s got a full-blown farm complete with goats, ducks, veggies and pigs. Carpenter really scores a coup—not only does she revitalize a neglected lot, but she feeds herself, a few neighbors and in the process gently reminds us that even people who live in cars are worthy of friendship. Not bad for a girl from rural Idaho.♥♥

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
How cool is this? Suite Francaise was discovered 62 years after the author's tragic death at Auschwitz in 1942. Her daughter Denise put the manuscript into a suitcase as she and her sister fled Issy l’Eveque. That the manuscript survived years of moving between hiding places, and was later entrusted to an organization dedicated to documenting memories of the war, is extraordinary. Beginning with "A Storm in June," Nemirovsky gives us a glimpse of the chaos and mayhem of the massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion. Part two, "Dolce," chronicles the town of Bussy during the first influx of German soldiers. Simply elegant writing, especially considering the subject matter.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Liesel Meminger, is a girl living outside of Munich and this is her story. I’m not going to tell you much because you’ve really got to read this one. Okay….here’s a snippet: Death is the narrator (who does a good job BTW) telling this rather ordinary tale about a girl, some words painted on a basement wall, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans who like to burn books, a Jewish boy on the doorstep, and quite a lot of thievery. With the help of her foster father, Liesel learns to read, but unfortunately they have no money for books and well, the best ones are banned anyway. That’s where the thievery comes in. This book is perfect for “ages 12 and up,” but to tell you the truth it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year – or any year for that matter. And I’m not 12. ♥♥♥