Saturday, February 9, 2008

Reading Update 2/9/08

Louise Murphy -- The True Story of Hansel and Gretel
Lovely and heartbreaking. This book was suggested by a woman in my book group for us to read. It got outvoted by the group, but I decided to read it anyway. It's set in Poland during WWII, and the Hansel and Gretel of this story are a young Jewish brother and sister who are abandoned in the woods by their father and stepmother. They wander through the woods, leaving the futile trail of bread crumbs, and are taken in by Magda, an old Polish healer called "witch" by the townspeople. The witch here is not evil, though. Instead, she sacrifices her own peaceful life to protect Hansel and Gretel. I'm always interested in books that tell an old story in a new way, and this doesn't disappoint. Murphy gently weaves the threads of the fairytale into her Holocaust story, and finds a way to make both the familiar fairy tale and the familiar, dark story of the Holocaust new again.

Alicia Erian -- Towelhead
Still thinking about this one. It's the story of Jasira, a 13-year-old girl sent to live with her extremely conservative and sometimes abusive Lebanese father in Texas during the first Gulf War. The book explores both Jasira's relationship with her father, and her relationship with the often racist folks around her, including an Army Reservist neighbor who alternately makes her feel good and absolutely awful. The book was really disturbing in a lot of ways, but I think that's a sign of how well-written it is. Erian really probes the places we don't normally go as a society, and makes you cringe, not in a gratuitous way, but because she forces you to look at things you'd rather not see. I tore through the book, in fact, despite the disturbing subject matter. Not sure how I feel about the ending. It felt, maybe, a bit too simple. This was Erian's first book. I'll be really curious to see what she does in the future.

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