Last week the Booker Prize 2013 longlist came out. I feel there are two camps around the Booker – those who like the books they chose and those that refuse to read anything on their list. How about you?
I tend to fall in the “seek out” camp. This year three debut novels made it on to the list. Two of them have yet to publish in the US.
Eve Harris was listed for The Marrying of Chani Kaufman. It’s a story about a young orthodox Jewish woman in London, her arranged marriage and how she learns to be a Jewish wife. This book comes out in the US in September.
Donal Ryan was listed for The Spinning Heart, a story of a struggling Irish town after the Irish economy collapsed. Ryan is one of three Irish authors on the list (joined by Colm Toibin and Colum McCann). This book is particularly noteworthy as Ryan was rejected by 47 publishers before he found a home for his book. That is tenacity! As far as I can tell, it’s not coming out in the US until next year.
I noted that Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home made it onto the NYT Trade Paperback best-seller list this week. I reviewed this book back in January and am happy to see it doing well in paperback.
And here at Proto Libro, in August I will reviewing two debut novels: Courtney Angela Brkic’s The First Rule of Swimming and Susan Nussbaum’s Good Kings, Bad Kings.
In this memoir, a year after college, and after studying Arabic on her own, Pamela Olson travels to the Middle East with a friend. Unsure of her exact itinerary, she begins in Egypt and ends up in Jayyous, Palestine, where she is taken in by expats and Palestinians. She is so moved by her time in Jayyous that six months after her backpacking trip, she returns to Palestine, this time to live in Ramallah and volunteer for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi’s presidential campaign. From there, she gets a job with a Palestinian newspaper. Olson’s Arabic develops over time and she gracefully integrates herself into the Palestinian culture, sharing both its beauty and sorrow. She writes about the fun stuff: friendships formed, long chats over tea, and olive picking expeditions, and the hard stuff: check points with long waits, random interrogations, police raids and senseless violence.
I was quickly drawn into this book because Olson is such an open and thoughtful narrator. When she sets off to the Middle East she has little knowledge of the region and frankly shares her ignorance with the reader. Once in Palestine, she connects with the people in Jayyous and becomes mystified by, and drawn into, the injustices she sees in their lives. Olson is a witness and with this book becomes a voice for the voiceless. There are sections of this story that are sad and hard to read, but Olson’s frankness, and sense of humor, kept me engaged. Her story begins as a travel narrative and evolves into an exploration of day-to-day Palestinian life.
Olson lives in New York now and has a blog where you can read more about the book, excluding excerpts that didn’t make it into the published edition.
I received a PDF version of this book from the publisher.
Last Monday, I attended a reading at Franklin Park, a bar in Brooklyn, where I heard a few debut authors read from their works. The theme was travels and journeys.
Elliott Holt read from her debut novel, You Are One of Them. This book has been getting a lot of good press. It’s about the friendship of two American girls, Sarah and Jennifer, who grow up together in DC. Jennifer’s family moves to Moscow in the 80s, when she is a teen, and the family dies in a plane crash. Ten years later, Sarah travels to Moscow on a tip that her friend might not be dead.
Sarah Bruni read from her debut novel, The Night Gwen Stacy Died. Riffing off the Spider-Man comics series, Sheila, a teenage girl from Iowa, who is saving up her money to travel to France, meets a man who calls himself Peter Parker and entices her to set off on an adventure. The chapter she read from was based in Iowa City – my hometown. Gotta support a novel set in Iowa!
And finally, Emily Raboteau, who has published fiction, read from her first memoir, Searching for Zion. The book chronicles her journey to Africa, Jamaica and the American South to learn more about Black Zionists. She read a chapter from her visit to Jamaica where she learned about Rastafarianism.
All three authors were great readers and made me interested in their books. I hope to review at least one of them in more depth later this year.
Sonia Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx in the 1950s and 60s, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents, Celina and Juan Luis Sotomayor. This memoir is a coming-of-age story, chronicling her childhood and early adult life, until she became District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York in 1992. She tells the story of her family, education, work history, marriage and the history of Puerto Rico.
Sotomayor is a wise and empathetic woman who, at a young age, learned to listen to others and find commonalities between people that transcend race, class and education. She is also a tireless worker who found mentors at key stages in her professional development and was willing to put herself in challenging situations where she was able to grow professionally. I found her story inspirational. She grew up in such a difficult era for New York, but does not carry grudges about her background. Plus she is an open and honest narrator who delves into what it felt like to blaze the many trails in her life. I don’t want to give away too many details of the book, as I loved how her story unfolded, but some of my favorite moments were her navigating the Ivy League college application process and working as a prosecutor in NYC right after law school. Her mother’s life story is also pretty amazing. And I learned a lot about Puerto Rican history, a topic absent from any US history classes I took.
I picked up this book because although it had been widely reviewed, I didn’t know anyone who had read it. I assume that most of you know who Sotomayor is. This book is a real gem.
I downloaded an e-book version of this book on my Kindle.