With these selections, not only does a reader receive the gift of good story telling, they also have the opportunity to experience a unique sense of place or person. All of these well-written books have strong characterization and deal with moral and ethical issues which make them good discussion choices for book groups.
Country of Red Azaleas by Dominica Rudulescu (Twelve: Hatchette Book Group, 2016). Lara and Marija are dear friends who grow up happily together in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. When war breaks out in Marija’s home town of Sarajevo, she returns as a journalist to cover the story as Lara marries and moves to the United States. The women’s divergent lives are brought back together when they deal with the tragic repercussions of war on Marija and the unfurling of Lara’s marriage. Hard Red Spring by Kelly Kerney (Viking, 2016). This is a historical fiction about the last 100 years of the history of Guatemala. The author sets stories in 1902, 1954, 1983 and 1999. Each tale is connected to the one before and in a well-written narrative style, shows the impact on people of a corrupt government that is supported by United States business interests. The author includes a historical timeline. This isn’t an easy read, but is a worthwhile introduction to a place most readers know little about.
Even in Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez (Akashic Books, 2016). A young man growing up in Trinidad meets a spirited girl who will come back into his life later with a great impact. This King Lear story is set in Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica with a fascinating cast of characters. It’s well written, completely engrossing and deals skillfully with issues of class and race. Elizabeth Nunez, the author, will be coming to the Westbury Library on July 7 at 7 p.m. to discuss her book, with a dessert reception and book sale and signing to follow.
Not All Bastards are from Vienna by Andrea Molesini (Grove Press, 2015). This book is translated from Italian and was the winner of the Campiello Prize for Literature. In 1917, Refrontolo, a town near Venice, Italy, is occupied by Austrian soldiers. The officers and some of the troops move into the estate of the Spadas, a refined and civic minded family. While the enemy is living in their home, the grandparents, teenaged grandson Paolo, Aunt Maria and the servants manage to quietly undermine and resist the enemy. A poignant, touching and memorable story of the effects of war on a family and small community.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (Random House, 2016). This is a moving autobiography of a young, gifted neurosurgeon who discovers he has cancer. Dr. Kalanithi writes beautifully of the process of having the tables turned from being a doctor to being a patient. He must cope spiritually and emotionally with his illness and make peace with the fact that he will not have the time to achieve what he hoped. It’s a beautiful book that takes the reader into the mind of a thoughtful and compassionate doctor and the world he will have to leave behind.
Cathleen Towey Merenda is the Director of the Westbury Memorial Public Library and served on the Carnegie Medal Committee for the American Library Association in 2014.