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Exotic Global Settings
The Caribbean, Tasmania, Afghanistan… Sense of place and culture dominate today’s books, two novels and one collection of poetry.
Tiphanie Yanique is a native of St. Thomas who now divides her time between the Virgin Islands and Brooklyn. I enjoyed learning (from the author’s website) that both her mother and grandmother were librarians in the Virgin Islands. Her first novel, Land of Love and Drowning, is as much about the Virgin Islands as it is about three generations of the family on which it focuses. This sprawling book incorporates elements of magical realism, and effectively incorporates war, racism and civil rights as it weaves its way through the 20th century.
Past the Shallows takes the reader to the coast of Tasmania and another family, this one a trio of brothers dealing with a difficult father. This is also Favel Parrett’s first novel, and it has won acclaim in her native Australia for its spare writing, family dynamics, dramatic fishing scenes, and vivid ocean setting.
I am the Beggar of the World is a collection of poems from Afghanistan. More specifically, landays–two-line, 22-syllable folk poems by Afghani women, mostly anonymous. Translator Eliza Griswold interprets the poems for the reader, and the black & white photography that accompanies them only heightens the book’s power and physical beauty. For anyone studying Afghanistan, this collection offers unusual insight. For more about the book, The Christian Science Monitor and Slate both offer glimpses into its genesis, and Griswold’s introduction is available on Poetry Daily.
YANIQUE, Tiphanie. Land of Love and Drowning. 368p. bibliog. maps. Riverhead. Jul. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781594488337. LC 2013044381.
The Virgin Islands is the main character in this debut novel. Place and time are central to the novel’s chapters focusing on the lives of Captain Owen Bradshaw and his family. Saint Thomas, like its inhabitants, comes of age after it transfers from Danish to American rule in the early 1900s. Multiple narrators, each with his or her own distinct voice, tell the story of wealthy Captain Owen Bradshaw and his beautiful but “wild” wife, Antoinette; his daughters, Eeona and Anette; and his son Jacob by his mistress, the magical Rebecca. When Bradshaw’s ship sinks, taking the lives of his islander crew with him, the island and his family are changed forever. Each child searches for the love that seems just out of their reach. Eeona longs to escape the islands, Anette craves the security of a committed relationship, and Jacob falls in love with the wrong woman. History is reflected in their lives and times: when World War II breaks out, Jacob and his friends head to the mainland as soldiers only to face a racism that did not exist on the island; the changing world reaches the islands with the introduction of TV; the rise of civil rights on the mainland fuels a growing rebellion on St. Thomas for recognition of islander rights to their own land. Mature themes weave throughout these stories, including sexuality and incest. Recommend to teens who enjoy strong characters, a tumultuous historical time period, and a setting that embraces music, madness, and Caribbean magic.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA
PARRETT, Favel. Past the Shallows. 238p. Washington Square Pr. Apr. 2014. pap. $15. ISBN 9781476754871.
Three brothers deal in their own way with secrets, tragedy, and death in this coming-of-age novel. As the eldest and therefore the only one to have moved out, Joe is the most removed, while Miles feels the full responsibility of caring for his younger brother Harry, who is more concerned with candy than in putting food on the table. Each brother has a complex relationship with their father, who is bitter and resentful toward them. These authentic relationships will resonate with teens regardless of the sibling with whom they most identify. Although the novel starts off slowly, it builds gradually until the subtle tension explodes, much like a crashing wave. Those who enjoy a strong sense of place will delve into the unpredictable Tasmanian coast and the small town that lives off of it. The ocean scent practically radiates off the page with the images of surfing waves and fighting off sharks portrayed through lyrical language. For a family that has been pushed to the edge, fishing is a way of life and it often pushes the boundaries of what is considered ethical behavior and what is necessary for survival. This is recommended for fans of tense, evocative writing that sweeps readers to a foreign place.—Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ
I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan. tr. by Eliza Griswold. photos by Seamus Murphy. 150p. Farrar. Apr. 2014. Tr $24. ISBN 9780374191870. LC 2013035179.
When Griswold, a poet and journalist, learned about an Afghan girl who burned herself after being forbidden to compose poetry, she and photographer Murphy traveled to Afghanistan to discover more. She found that the women know many traditional short poems by heart and create new ones to share. The verses, or landays, are part of an ancient tradition practiced in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two-line poems cover any topic from love and marriage to drone strikes and violence, and are adapted to changes in the women’s lives. Some pieces are sad, such as one in which a young woman says, “You sold me to an old man, father./May God destroy your home; I was your daughter.” Some are racy: “Come, let’s lie here thigh to thigh./ If you climb on, I won’t cry.” Some quite modern: “I lost you on Facebook yesterday./I’ll find you on Google today.” The competent translations and the brief explanations add to readers’ appreciation. The landays are presented in three sections: Love, Grief, and War. The last section includes many upsetting photographs of dead soldiers. “May God destroy your tank and your drone,/you who’ve destroyed my village, my home.” Songs blame America for the destruction, although women realize that their lives are easier without the Taliban. Most young, urban Afghans have smartphones and play anti-American songs in case they are stopped; the phone might be smashed if a popular western song played. The story is complicated, but Griswold and Murphy have created a fascinating work.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City
Filed under: Contemporary Fiction, Poetry, Weekly Reviews
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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