Logavina Street is based on Demick's coverage of the war in Sarajevo for a Philadelphia newspaper. Focusing on one street, she introduces the various families, gives some background about Sarajevo, Bosnia and Serbia, and follows the people she has profiled as the war goes on. As Demick says in her introduction, the war in Bosnia has been forgotten to a certain extent, and one of the things that Logavina Street brought back for me, as I read it, is how differently things looked to me at the time. Perhaps I have forgotten some things, or perhaps American tv presented things a different way. The stories that Demick tells are fascinating, shocking and heart-breaking, as is her account of the conditions people lived in during the siege. My only caveat is that, compared to Demick's book about North Korea, Nothing to Envy, the people profiled are not depicted with a great deal of depth. (This may be because the book is based on her newspaper articles.) We hear from them, and learn of their suffering, but I often had trouble remembering who was who. Perhaps the greatest value of the book is as an eyewitness account of a war that is not thought of much anymore. Demick's epilogue reminds the reader that tensions in the area are still going on, and that the issues that started the war are by no means over.
This, the fourth book in the series, is the first one I've read, so I can report that it does stand alone, and, though I don't have the other books to compare it to, it does not seem to me to show any signs of flagging or being played out. On the contrary, it is a well-paced, action-filled book which I think would have some appeal to boys. Particular strengths are the descriptions of London as Holmes and various characters cross it on foot. (Does no one take cabs? Are we never going to hear Holmes say "Paddington Station, man, and there's an extra guinea in it for you if we get there in ten minutes!"?) Compared to some of the adult books written about Holmes, the main character lacks eccentricity and brilliance, that sort of inhuman remoteness which makes Holmes so interesting. There is also a heavy-handed political plot which was fairly obvious. However, fans of the series probably won't be disappointed and it makes for a lively read.
Gilman, who comes from a literary family and was at that time teaching at Yale, wanted a child who would love books and poetry, someone for whom she could re-create the cosy world of her own childhood. But she had the sense that her son Benjamin, in spite of his precocious reading, was somehow "off." In fact, he turned out to have a host of disabilities (hyperlexia, sensory integration) related to autism. Gilman subtitles the book "A Story of Unexpected Joy" and in fact there is great joy, both in the progress Benjamin makes and the things Gilman learns from her son. As I read this book I found myself putting it down from time to time and pacing around, remembering things from my son's childhood. The motor difficulties ("Don't worry -- not all children crawl.") The blank staring at other children ("He's just shy.") The day what you thought was your child's personality is just a list of symptoms on a website. Even if you don't have a child with a developmental disorder, you're bound to be touched by The Anti-Romantic Child and to see such children in a new light (I did, and I thought I knew everything I was supposed to about the way my son's mind works.) It also struck me, as I was reading it, that Gilman's book is kind of the story of a generation. Women my age grew up with three factors affecting child-rearing: 1) less experience with babies because of smaller families, 2) less availability of parents and grandparents, and therefore dependence on books for child-rearing 3) a kind of "free to be you and me" attitude that encouraged us to see children as individuals in which there was no such thing as "wrong" development or behavior. We are also the generation that seems, based on statistical evidence, to face the highest rate of autism in our children. I appreciate Gilman for writing the story of what she and I and a lot of other mothers have gone through.
This book delves into the lives of the poorest of the poor in an emerging India. Squatters in a slum alongside the Mumbai airport, they live mainly by collecting and recycling trash produced by the airport and the hotels. This is also illegal, and the residents must fight for access to the trash from those who have the official right to recycle it. Boo concentrates on 2 families: one of skilled, and somewhat successful Muslims, one of a Hindu woman who is determined to get ahead through political connections. What is really eye-opening about this book is not the poverty, but the incredible level of corruption that dominates everyday life. One comes away with the impression that literally nothing in India functions without graft, and those who are unable to pay it are trapped forever on the bottom. Boo notes often that efforts to improve life in the slums through education and aid from the developing world are futile because middlemen and fixers end up lining their pockets with the money. Just one example of the graft she cites: the authorities plan to raze the slum in order to expand the airport. They announce that slum residents will be moved to new apartment blocks. Immediately non-slum residents throughout Mumbai start buying up the slum housing and falsifying papers stating that they live there so they can get placed in the new apartments and sell them for a profit.Boo does a a good job with the characters and lives she writes about. It's hard not to be outraged, sympathetic and fascinated. Because Boo removes herself from the story, putting you in the characters' heads without writing her impressions, the book seemed a little strange to me at times. (Boo explains in the afterword why she does this.) I thought of both Dickens and Zola while reading this book -- Boo does for the 21st century underclass what those writers did for their times, and like them she's a great storyteller.
My Animal Life is a wide-ranging memoir, covering Maggie Gee's family background, post-war upbringing, and parts of her adult life, including writing, marriage and raising a daughter. Gee has an easy, discursive, highly visual style which makes the book a pleasure to read, and its short length keeps it from being terribly self-indulgent. For the most part, she knows what to say and when to stop. I particularly liked Gee's fair-mindedness: she doesn't want to write "misery mum" memoir, she says, so in recounting her difficult relationship with her father she makes an effort to understand him and ends up presenting a complicated but loving portrait. The chapters on writing and publishing her first novel, and dealing with the rejection of a later novel, are also fascinating for anyone interesting in reading, writing and the book world in general.
Sex and farming. And yet also a very moving book, especially at the end. Chris Guthrie, the heroine, is a tough character, not always easy to identify with, and she faces a lot of obstacles and sees them through in a resolute, non-sentimental way. Scottish rural life is general is portrayed as being about 5 steps away from crazy, but there are beautiful scenes -- harvest and wedding dances -- and a lot of drama. It didn't occur to me until after I'd read it how brave it must have been, in 1928, to have a hero who deserts from the front.
Overall a very good book and I think it has something to say about any religious community of any faith which puts up walls and then designates everyone outside the walls as "evil." There's a lot here about manipulation and about finding your way in a complex world. There's also a lot of love here, for Judaism itself, for her family, for her way of life. This gives the book a great poignancy.
Imperfect Harmony is a mixture: a memoir of life in a choir, along with short chapters about musicians from the past and the music they performed and created. I don't actually know a lot of about choral music but this did not hinder my enjoyment of the book at all. Horn writes well and very appealingly about her life and it is easy for the reader to identify with her. The narrative chapters are gracefully written and to the point. There are some minor flaws in pacing but overall Imperfect Harmony was highly enjoyable.