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BETWEEN TWO WORLDS :
Novels about the Experience of Immigration
Immigration debates are flooding news sources right now, but the realities experienced by those who flee their homes in search of new opportunities — even political asylum — oftentimes end up shoved to the margins. Though mostly fiction, the following literary works offer up a valuable, varied glimpse into what life is like in America for immigrants and their families.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri – Through nine thematically connected stories, this Pulitzer Prize winner juxtaposes life in India, live in America and the experiences of Indian immigrants to America.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi – A powerful, tender story of race and identity spanning Nigerian villages, post 9/11 America and London. Written by the author of Half the Sky, this book won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.
The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – The first novel by one of the most celebrated and original authors writing today tells the story of a sweet, but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd, Oscar Wao. Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss.
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos – This haunting Pulitzer winner looks back on the highs and lows of two Cuban immigrants, Cesar and Nestor Castillo, as they push towards success as mambo musicians.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon – Michael Chabon also earned a Pulitzer for this amazing tale of two cousins — one a Jewish-Czech refugee and the other nestled in his native Brooklyn — who play an integral role in establishing the Golden Age of comics.
What is the What by Dave Eggers – Based on the true story of Valentino Achak Deng of the Lost Boys of Sudan program, What is the What chronicles the separation from his family during the Second Sudanese Civil War, the harrowing trek to Ethiopia’s refugee camps, the troubles once he makes it, the sudden run to Kenya and — eventually — his immigration to the United States.
My Antonia by Willa Cather – This classic novel is Cather’s elegy to American pioneers. It takes place on the plains of Nebraska but beautifully recounts the life of Antonia Shimerda, the daughter of a Bohemian immigrant and a strong and willful woman trying to overcome not only her modest birth but her gender in this new strange country.
I am always amazed and somewhat disbelieving that the American colonists found the courage — the intrepidness — to take on the mighty British Empire. To win that war, against all odds, both showed what America was and what it still is today. Two hundred and forty years later, we are still fascinated by our beginnings — and historians are still writing compelling books about it.
Some recent titles include:
American spring : Lexington, Concord, and the road to revolution by Walter R. Borneman – Looking at the few tumultuous months between December 1774 and July 1775, Borneman examines the people and events that lead Britain and the American colonies over the precipice and into war. Both Americans, such as John Hancock and Samuel Adams, and the British, like Thomas Gage and William Howe, are scrutinized to give depth and understanding to this crucial time period.
Revolutionary summer : the birth of American independence by Joseph J. Ellis – Pulitzer-winning American historian Joseph J. Ellis brings to life the dramatic beginnings of America in the summer of 1776. As the thirteen colonies agree to secede, the British are answering with the military and naval might of the Empire. Ellis reveals both the political, military, and personal aspects of the times.
John Adams by David McCullough – Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for 2002, David McCullough has produced a masterpiece for one of the biggest figures of the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States. A lawyer from Braintree, Massachusetts, Adams’ brilliant mind shown a light on the path to independence. From persuading reluctant delegates of the Continental Congress, to negotiating a peace treaty with England, to obtaining vital government loans from Amsterdam bankers, to serving as Vice-President with George Washington, and then becoming our second President, Adams was an essential component to the success of the American Revolution.
Bunker Hill : a city, a siege, a revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick – Starting with the Boston Tea Party, Boston and the surrounding communities were the hot flame of discontent and resistance to British empirical rule. Philbrick highlights the march toward war that King George or the British ministry didn’t think that the American colonists were willing to fight. From the bloody scrimmages through Lexington and Concord, to the absolute warfare of the Battle of Bunker Hill, leaders on both sides made decisions that changed the world forever.
Glory, passion, and principle : the story of eight remarkable women at the core of the American Revolution by Melissa Lukeman Bohrer – “Remember the ladies,” is the famous words of one of the most well-known women of Revolutionary times, Abigail Adams. She and several others, including Mercy Otis Warren, Phillis Wheatley, and Molly Pitcher, are highlighted. Each chapter dramatized the actions and words of these women, giving the book a feeling of a novel, yet also containing enough facts to provide a good historical representation.
Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.
My staff picks this month are in response to Ezekiel Emanuel’s article Why I Hope to Die at 75 in the October 2014 Atlantic magazine. Emanuel believes anyone who lives beyond the age of 75 is no longer a productive member of society. I have chosen 6 titles that show just a few examples of how people over the age of 75 enrich our lives. Wisdom, humor, perseverance and character are just some of the qualities I hope to acquire if I am lucky enough to live beyond 75.
The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson ; translated from the Swedish by Rod Bradbury Alan lives in a nursing home and on his 100th birthday, he decides to escape. What happens next is only half the story. As his adventure unfolds, you learn the impact he made on world history throughout his life.
Character is Destiny by John McCain and Mark Salter This is a collection of true stories of men and women who have lived truthfully, many of whom have done their best after the age of 75. This book will prepare us for the hard work of choosing our destiny.
Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman Curmudgeon Buck Schatz is a retired Memphis cop who solves a murder and gets his revenge on an old WWII POW internee at the age of 87, in spite of memory loss and a host of physical ailments.
Have A Little Faith: A True Story by Mitch Albom Mitch Albom talks about two remarkable elderly men who change his life forever. One is a beloved rabbi on his deathbed, the other a pastor who cares for the homeless.
Notes From the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick Alex has to perform community service at a nursing home where he meets Sol, who starts out crotchety but turns out to be much wiser. Both realize how much they have in common with each other and Alex realizes that elderly doesn’t mean worthless.
A Walk on the Beach: Tales of Wisdom From an Unconventional Woman by Joan Anderson The author describes her relationship with friend and confidante Joan Erikson, whose struggles with widowhood and her own impending death, inspired Anderson to accept life changes. Despite her grim prospects and advancing age, Erikson is full of life and energy. Joan Anderson was lucky enough to find an incredible mentor to show the way, demonstrating how “elderly” friends are essential to our growth.
Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.
At this time of year, many of us are looking for a gift idea or just some fun reading to release some of the stress of the season. Books with interesting concepts, lots of pictures to browse, or that off-centered topic can fit the bill.
Here are a few favorites:
Other People’s Rejection Letters edited by Bill Shapiro
A collection of notes, letters, emails and texts from the sweet (a little girl’s note saying she’s running away – and glad of it!) to the bitter (a woman informing her mother that she’s expecting a baby but doesn’t want contact with her.) It is like a car wreck — you know you shouldn’t look, but just can’t stop rubbernecking. The only question is how Shapiro unearthed all of these gems!
Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow
From the Baby Boom generation onward, Little Golden Books have been a part of children’s literary lives. Muldrow, a longtime editorial director at Golden Books, has written an engaging guide to life using the illustrations from many of the Little Golden Books produced over the years. You will find yourself reminiscing about the original stories, as well as marveling over the endearing illustrations that the books are so well-known for. A very charming book for young and old!
Records of Our National Life : American History at the National Archives
Established in the early 1930s, the National Archives has preserved the rich heritage of America with the retention of documents, maps, letters, photographs, diagrams, telegrams, and all sorts of items that tell our incredible history with humanity and grace. Covering the time period from 1762 to 2009 the items pictured in this book give glimpses into the past – from the Oaths of Allegiance signed by George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, to the images of confederate money, to the first federal income tax form, to World War II posters, to the moving transcript of Lady Bird Johnson’s audio diary on the day Kennedy was assassinated – that inform our present.
What Makes a Masterpiece : Artists, Writers and Curators on the World’s Greatest Works of Art
This survey of art highlights the greatest artistic achievements from all cultures throughout human history. From the cave paintings in France to Vilhelm Hammertoe’s Dust Motes Dancing in Sunbeams painted in 1900, great works are examined by knowledgeable contributors. Beautiful color illustrations, including enlarged sections, allow you to do a world art sightseeing tour with your fingertips. This book will increase your ability to view any art piece with fuller understanding and appreciation.
Someday, Someday Maybe : a novel by Lauren Graham
Graham, of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood fame, has written a witty and funny novel of an actress in 1990’s New York, trying her best to beat the odds. Struggling to keep her head about water, while coming close to her self-imposed three year deadline to become a “serious” actress, Franny Banks is in turns pessimistic and hopeful, and always amusing. As she tries try to give her best performance for an upcoming showcase, as well as not make a fool over herself with a fellow actor in her class, keep her waitressing job and her agent, and be supportive of her roommates, we get a rollercoaster ride of a read.
What if? : Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
Remember being a kid and asking those near impossible questions to your parents — Why is the sky blue? Why can’t people fly? Do fish sleep? This book is the grown up version of those unanswerable questions. Munroe, a former NASA roboticist, takes the most popular questions from his blog and gives thoughtful technical answers. With stick figures, drawings and a wry style, this book will satisfy any armchair scientist.
Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.
Having lived on Cape Ann my entire life, I have been particularly interested in reading about my hometown or areas on the North Shore of Boston. It’s always fun to see local references while in the middle of a great book.
Here are some of my favorites:
The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant
Set on the high ground at the heart of Cape Ann, the village of Dogtown is peopled by widows, orphans, spinsters, scoundrels, whores, free Africans, and “witches.” Among the inhabitants of this hamlet are Black Ruth, who dresses as a man and works as a stonemason; Mrs. Stanley, an imperious madam whose grandson, Sammy, comes of age in her brothel; Oliver Younger, who survives a miserable childhood at the hands of his aunt; and Cornelius Finson, a freed slave. At the center of it all is Judy Rhines, a fiercely independent soul, deeply lonely, who nonetheless builds a life for herself against all imaginable odds.
The Good House by Ann Leary
Hildy Good has reached that dangerous time in a woman’s life – middle-aged and divorced, she is an oddity in her small but privileged town. But Hildy isn’t one for self-pity and instead meets the world with a wry smile, a dark wit and a glass or two of Pinot Noir. When her two earnest grown-up children stage ‘an intervention’ and pack Hildy off to an addiction centre, she thinks all this fuss is ridiculous. After all, why shouldn’t Hildy enjoy a drink now and then?
But as the story progresses, we start to see another side to Hildy Good, and to her life’s greatest passion – the lies and self deceptions needed to support her drinking, and the damage she causes to those she loves. When a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, the reckless behaviour of one threatens to expose the other, with devastating consequences.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger
It was the storm of the century – a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it “the perfect storm.”
When it struck in October, 1991, there was virtually no warning. “She’s comin’ on, boys, and she’s comin’ on strong,” radioed Captain Billy Tyne of the Andrea Gail from off the coast of Nova Scotia. Soon afterward, the boat and its crew of six disappeared without a trace.
The Perfect Storm is a real-life thriller, a stark and compelling journey into the dark heart of nature that leaves listeners with a breathless sense of what it feels like to be caught, helpless, in the grip of a force beyond understanding or control.
The Lone Voyager by Joseph E. Garland
Like countless Gloucester fishermen before and since, Howard Blackburn and Tom Welch were trawling for halibut on the Newfoundland banks in an open dory in 1883 when a sudden blizzard separated them from their mother ship. Alone on the empty North Atlantic, they battled towering waves and frozen spray to stay afloat. Welch soon succumbed to exposure, and Blackburn did the only thing he could: He rowed for shore. He rowed five days without food or water, with his hands frozen to the oars, to reach the coast of Newfoundland. Yet his tests had only begun.
So begins Joe Garland’s extraordinary account of the hero fisherman of Gloucester. Incredibly, though Blackburn lost his fingers to his icy misadventure, he went on to set a record for swiftest solo sailing voyage across the Atlantic that stood for decades. Lone Voyager is a Homeric saga of survival at sea and a thrilling portrait of the world’s most fabled fishing port in the age of sail.
WWII Army Nurse June Houghton Sullivan: A Life Story by Gunilla Caulfield
June Houghton Sullivan grew up during the Great Depression. Despite a semi-chaotic upbringing, she became a registered nurse and set out to serve as a wartime nurse. Serving at the 120th Station Hospital in Britain, June witnessed the horrors of war and the heavy price that many young men paid for their country. After returning from the war, she continued to work as a hospital nurse, as well as serve as outreach librarian at the Rockport Public Library. After over seventy years, she is still a nurse. A touching, dramatic, and inspiring true story, June’s tale of life, love and war will keep readers mesmerized from the very beginning.
Lisa Ryan is the Assistant Children’s Librarian. She has worked at the Sawyer Free Library for twelve years and is currently working on her MLS at Simmons College.