I haven’t been great about keeping track of reading, or maybe I just need to reconcile myself to a method unlike my old one. Here goes some quick takes:
I’ve read a lot of memoir, and I’ve read a lot of border stories. And I’m still certain that I’ve never read anything like Javier Zamora’s Solito. I’ve taught excerpts from Unaccompanied, Zamora’s debut poetry collection, which focuses in parts on his journey north to join his parents already living & working in the United States. Solito, however, is a painstaking recreation of that journey, complete with near-crossings, re-crossings, various groups & safe houses & coyotes along the way. Short of walking the terrain oneself or experiencing Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s immersive artwork Carne y Arena, nothing will quite capture what you thought you knew of a border crossing quite like Solito will. Most importantly, how (despite the title) this is a shared experience, with collaborators & family members, with migrants & guides, all burdened with the same hope & fear, exhilaration & despair, fatigue & worry. Zamora animates & ennobles his memoir with the true account of three fellow travelers who became a kind of surrogate family. Truly unforgettable.
I am late to Louise Erdrich, and I began with Future Home of the Living God, a patient and engrossing novel (though not one as widely lauded as some of her others). It tells a story of unexplained social disintegration & the kind of grassroots fascism that grows most quickly & takes deep root during social unrest. The novel is narrated by Cedar Hawk Songmaker, the adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, and Erdrich stick to Cedar’s very limited first-person POV. We don’t know what exactly has happened to chickens & ducks, why archaeopteryx have returned, why Black & brown people are disappearing, why exactly pregnant women are feared, rounded up, & euthanized / punished / killed–but we do know that Cedar, pregnant with her first child, is being hidden & hunted. Erdrich makes believable to quick shift from neighbor to willing executioner, from life as normal to life or death. It’s a novel that satisfies more on the emotional (& at times spiritual) than social commentary level.
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh is a harrowing & haunting novel. Set in contemporary Syria, it blends stark realism with trauma-induced dreamworlds, the political horrors of war with the bodily sufferings of its victims, the rubble & unrest of Syria with the heart & hope of its people. Katouh focuses on Salama Kassab, a pharmacy student who has–through necessity–becoming something of a nurse, a doctor, a counselor … whatever is needed at the hospital at the time. While treating a young girl, she reconnects with the patient’s older brother, an activist via YouTube video and her near-match for an arranged marriage before the war undoes everything. It is a long look at a war still raging, one that slipped the attention of many Americans, due to events in Ukraine. In any time, it would be a necessary look at maintaining one’s humanity (not one’s moral perfection) in the worst of times.
I audiobook-read & loved Angeline Boulley’s YA thriller The Firekeeper’s Daughter. And I’d highly recommend the audiobook here, due to Isabella Star LaBlanc’s authentic & tasteful narration. Around the same time, I read an advance copy of Jas Hemond’s YA romance / suspense story We Deserve Monuments. It’s the rare novel that gets the messiness of family right and the messiness of young love right and the liminal spaces of American identity & ethnic / racial identity and the richness & sanctity of ceremony right. These two novels get all of it right in ways that any reader would love, including those skeptical of YA (like I used to be).