Book Beginnings: The Attack by Yasmina Khadra

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

I don’t remember hearing an explosion. A hissing sound, maybe, like tearing fabric, but I’m not certain. My attention was distracted by that quasi-divinity and the host of devoted followers surrounding him as his bodyguards tried to clear a passage to his waiting automobile.

Last week I featured Kitty Veldis’s 2018 historical novel Not Our Kind and this week it’s Yasmina Khadra’s 2006 novel The Attack. Yasmina Khadra is the pen name for Algerian writer Mohammed Moulessehoul. While serving as an officer in the Algerian military he originally adopted the feminine pseudonym in the late 1980s to masquerade his true identity from the military and thus prevent his writing from being censored. Currently living in France, even after his true identity was revealed in 2001 he continues to write under the pen name

Let’s allow publisher Nan A. Talese to tell us more:

Dr. Amin Jaafari, an Arab-Israeli citizen, is a surgeon at a hospital in Tel Aviv. Dedicated to his work, respected and admired by his colleagues and community, he represents integration at its most successful. He has learned to live with the violence and chaos that plague his city, and on the night of a deadly bombing in a local restaurant, he works tirelessly to help the shocked and shattered patients brought to the emergency room. But this night of turmoil and death takes a horrifyingly personal turn. His wife’s body is found among the dead, with massive injuries, the police coldly announce, typical of those found on the bodies of fundamentalist suicide bombers. As evidence mounts that his wife, Sihem, was responsible for the catastrophic bombing, Dr. Jaafari is torn between cherished memories of their years together and the inescapable realization that the beautiful, intelligent, thoroughly modern woman he loved had a life far removed from the comfortable, assimilated existence they shared.

20 Books of Summer: Not Our Kind by Kitty Veldis

There wasn’t one major reason that made me wanna read Kitty Veldis’s 2018 historical novel Not Our Kind when I spotted an available copy on Overdrive. Instead, there were several minor ones. One, Amazon described it as having “echoes of Rules of Civility and The Boston Girl.” A copy of Rules of Civility has sat on my shelf for years and I’ve yet to touch it but know I should. Two, while I haven’t read Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl, I enjoyed her earlier novel Day After Night and essay collection  Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship and Other Leaps of Faith. (I’m embarrassed to say I’ve owned a copy of her mega-bestseller The Red Rent for years but never read it.) Three, seeing it’s set in New York City a couple of years after the conclusion of World War II and features a recent college grad who happens to be Jewish looked like a good lead in to Moses Rischin’s 1977 book The Promised City: New York’s Jews, 1870–1914 from my 20 Books of Summer. But reasons aside, I’m glad I took a chance Not Our Kind because I enjoyed it.

One New York City morning in 1947 recent Vassar grad Eleanor Moskowitz is taking a cab ride to a job interview when another cab rear-ends her. Shaken up and now sporting a bloody lip, she scrambles to find a payphone to cancel the interview. Upon returning to the scene of the accident the passenger in the other cab, Patricia Bellamy, takes pity on Eleanor and invites her back to her elegant Park Avenue apartment to wash up. Over lunch served by the Bellamy family’s Polish cook she hits it off with Margaux, a usually troublesome 13 year old polio survivor. Impressed by Eleanor’s demeanor, intelligence and recent experience as a teacher at an esteemed girls’ school Patricia offers to hire Eleanor as Margaux’s private tutor. Taken aback at first, she’s soon won over by both Margaux’s enthusiasm and the position’s generous rate of pay.

Such an arrangement looks like a win-win, but in 1947 it’s fraught with risk. Eleanor is Jewish, and an undeniable undercurrent of antisemitism permeates America, including its largest and most cosmopolitan city. Either subtly or not so subtly it’s always there, jaundicing relations between Gentile and Jew. Each morning Eleanor must give her last name as “Moss” to the incredulous doorman in order to enter the Bellamy’s “restricted” apartment to teach Margaux Latin, Shakespeare and mathematics. Worst of all, she must contend with Patricia’s husband Wynn and his antisemitic prejudices. But despite these challenges Margaux blossoms under Eleanor’s gentle and talented tutelage.

Before long Eleanor finds herself swept up into the Bellamy’s orbit. Like a non-native species introduced into a fragile ecosystem her presence begins to upset the family’s uneasy balance, exposing dark secrets while  also helping create enriching possibilities. All of this unfolds against the backdrop of a New York City that, in the years following the end of World War II is emerging from Europe’s shadow to become to the new global capital in art, culture and business.

Not Our Kind is great follow-up reading to Dan Fesperman’s novel The Letter Writer (also set in NYC and just a few years earlier), Chaim Potok’s classic American novel The Chosen, and Stephen Birmingham’s excellent “The Rest of Us”: The Rise of America’s Eastern European JewsWith rich attention paid to the era’s fashion, music and sexual mores Not Our Kind beautifully captures the zeitgeist of mid-century big-city America. So far in 2022 I’ve encountered a number of surprisingly good novels. Not Our Kind yet another one.

Sunday Salon

Last week, for the just the second time I took part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. This week I’m back with another post. 

 Monday morning I finished up Helen Rappaport’s 2017 Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge. I can easily say Caught in the Revolution will make my year-end list of Favorite Nonfiction. I took a chance on Kitty Veldis’s 2018 historical novel Not Our Kind and it paid off wonderfully.  If it doesn’t make my Favorite Fiction list in December it’s a shoe-in for a future honorable mention. This week I also started Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius by A.C. Grayling. So far I’ve read around 30 pages so it’s too earlier to tell if I’ll like it. Well, it only took me a few days to deviate from my hastily put together list for this year’s 20 Books of Summer. I dropped by the library just to return a book and walked out a few minutes later with a copy of Scott Stambach’s The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko.  But really I had no choice. How often do you come across a novel set in Belarus? 

Listening. Last week I mentioned former conservative talk show host turned Never Trumper Charlie Sykes’s podcast The Bulwark and his recent interview with Peter Wehner “Christianity’s Generational Catastrophe” on the current state of American evangelical Christianity,  specifically the fallout surrounding the Southern Baptist Convention sex abuse scandal. The recently released independent report of the scandal is a gut-punch detailing decades of horrific abuse, cover-ups and public shaming of victims. Sykes’s follow-up interview “Russell Moore: The Southern Baptist Apocalypse” with the noted evangelical theologian and writer is also a must listen. Last week on the Fresh Air episode “Uncovering Abuse In The Southern Baptist Convention” Terry Gross interviewed Robert Downen, a reporter following the case. Lastly, Hemant and Jessica of The Friendly Atheist podcast recently discussed the findings of the report, as well as a host of other topics. 

Watching. Last week I hardly watched anything other than a few episodes of Mr. Robot Excellent writing combined with a sizable cast of up and coming young talent makes this pleasantly subversive series a winner. Hopefully this week I can resume watching the Canadian sitcom Letterkenny. 

Everything else. On Friday I snuck out early and joined my buddy the semi-retired sociology professor and a few of his cronies for beers at one of the campus watering holes. After having nice weather throughout the week yesterday was a parade of heavy showers. I spent most the day sitting on my porch reading with a large black cat either on my lap or at my feet. 

Book Beginnings: Not Our Kind by Kitty Veldis

One of my favorite book bloggers, Gilion, in addition to hosting the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 reading challenges also hosts on her Rose City Reader blog Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

The yellow-and-black Checker cab nosed its way down Second Avenue in the rain. A newsboy in a sodden cap wove in and out through the slow-moving cars, hawking copies of the New York Sun; a man in a Plymouth exchanged coins for a newspaper as the drivers behind him honked.

Last week I featured Helen Rappaport’s Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge and this week it’s a little fiction with Kitty Veldis’s 2018 historical novel Not Our KindIn my recent Sunday Salon post I guessed I’d either love this novel or hate it. With about two thirds of it under my belt I’m enjoying it. (Although my cat Orion looks like he could care less about what I’m reading and prefers I go back to giving him scritches.)

One New York City morning in 1947 recent Vassar grad Eleanor Moskowitz is in a cab en route to a job interview when another cab rear-ends her. Shaken up and now sporting a bloody lip, she scrambles to find a payphone to cancel the interview. After calling the passenger in the other cab, Patricia Bellamy, takes pity on Eleanor and invites her back to her elegant Park Avenue apartment to wash up. Over lunch served by the Bellamy family’s Polish cook she hits it off with Margaux, a usually troublesome 13 year old polio survivor. Impressed by Eleanor’s demeanor, intelligence and recent experience as a teacher at an esteemed girls’ school Patricia offers to hire Eleanor as Margaux’s private tutor. Taken aback at first, she’s soon won over by both Margaux’s enthusiasm and the position’s rate of pay.

Such an arrangement looks like a win-win, but in 1947 it’s fraught with risk. Eleanor is Jewish, and an undeniable undercurrent of antisemitism permeates America, including its largest and most cosmopolitan city. Either subtly or not so subtly it’s always there, jaundicing relations between Gentile and Jew. Each morning Eleanor must give her last name as “Moss” to the incredulous doorman in order to enter the Bellamy’s “restricted” apartment to teach Margaux Latin, Shakespeare and mathematics. Worst of all, she must contend with Patricia’s husband Wynn and his antisemitic prejudices. But despite these challenges under Eleanor’s gentle and talented tutelage Margaux blossoms. Before long Eleanor finds herself swept up into the Bellamy family’s orbit, leading to both unexpected pleasures and dangers.

About Time I Read It: Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport

I’ve always been interested in Russian history, specifically the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. But lately, I’ve become fascinated with the last hundred years or so leading up to the overthrow of the Romanovs. Why this sudden interest is a mystery to me. Maybe it’s the speculation Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in hopes of recasting himself as one of the great expansionist-minded Tsars of the past. Or maybe it’s just a recent manifestation of my fascination with the 19th century. (It’s been over 20 years since I read Norman Davies, in his tour de force Europe: A History boldly make the claim the 19th century had a greater impact on our modern world than even the 20th.) Or maybe it’s something as simple as seeing the trailers and teasers for the Netflix series Shadow and Bone, with its pre-Revolutionary Russia-inspired Kingdom of Ravka.

But whatever those origins might be, it inspired me enough to borrow a copy of Helen Rappaport’s Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the EdgeOver the years Claire of the blog The Captive Reader has featured several of Rappaport’s books, speaking highly of the British historian’s work. I spent a good chunk of the Veterans Day weekend reading Caught in the Revolution and was duly impressed. Rappaport’s 2017 book is based heavily on first-hand accounts of Americans, Brits and other foreign nationals residing in Petrograd during the final years of World War I. Highly detailed yet readable, Caught in the Revolution is like an astute outsider’s inside look at the earth-shattering political upheaval occurring between the February Revolution and the subsequent Bolshevik coup nine months later.

By the winter of 1917 Russia was ripe for revolution, and those foreigners residing in Petrograd had a front row seat. The War was going poorly for Russia. Suffering defeat after defeat and its armies pushed back across Russian territory, casualties mounted and support for the war, especially among the impoverished peasantry and urban working class was evaporating. Residents of Petrograd faced, in what would be called in today’s terminology, serious supply chain issues. With the empire’s railway network barely functioning under the immense stress of Europe’s First World War combined with millions of young Russian men under arms and thus unavailable for industrial or agricultural work foodstuffs rotted in the fields leaving the cities hungry.

Had he been in the capital Petrograd, perhaps the Tsar could have seen firsthand how bad things were and authorize even a modest relief plan. But instead he was hundreds of miles away, trying to lead his troops to victory and failing miserably.  Ruling in his absence was a series of royal ministers, each one more reactionary and unpopular than the last. Cold, hungry and tired of seeing their sons, husbands and brothers sent to die in a lost war the women of Petrograd had had enough. Taking to the streets to protest, their movement quickly grew in both numbers and intensity until those forces tasked with making them to disband refused to follow orders. By then it was only a matter of time before the Romanov dynasty was overthrown, unleashing a political whirlwind Russia, and the world had never seen.

Those in Petrograd witnessing firsthand these seismic events, most if not all assumed the upheaval was unique just to Russia. But across Eurasia, the great land-based empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman realms also were unable to withstand the onslaught of World War I. Financially exhausted and bled white by four years of unprecedented slaughter the once eager belligerents collapsed under the weight of unresolved political tensions, material deprivation and long-simmering ethnic yearnings. Even a victor like Italy would feel inadequately compensated territorially for the bloody sacrifices it suffered on the battlefield. In the years immediately following World War I a bitter, divided nation descend into political chaos only to have a Fascist strongman step into the political vacuum.

Tragically, within 20 years Italy, Russia, and so many other former kingdoms and their subject realms would be ruled by authoritarian regimes far more excessive and deadlier than the monarchies that preceded them.

Sunday Salon

Last week, for the first time I took part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. This week I’m back with another post. 

After a rough start I finally made decent progress with Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School However, since my library loan expired and there’s several people ahead of me wanting to read it I’ll be putting the book on pause for a while. Siobhan Fallon’s debut novel The Confusion of Languages was a surprisingly good read. Inspired by Claire’s recent Library Loot posting I started Helen Rappaport’s 2017 Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge. With two thirds of the way into it I can easily say Caught in the Revolution will make my year-end list of Favorite Nonfiction. Lastly, I’m going to take a chance on Kitty Veldis’s 2018 historical novel Not Our Kind. The year is 1947 and the place is New York City. A chance meeting between a young Jewish woman and a WASPy Park Avenue matron sets in motion a process that will profoundly change both their lives. With this book I have a feeling I will either love it or hate it.

 

Listening. Last week I talked about three podcasts I’d been listening to and this time around I’m going to spotlight three more. The good people at Canada’s CBC produce some top-notch stuff. The recent episode, “The Rise and Fall and Rise of Richard Wright” on the podcast Ideas is must listening for anyone interested in modern American literature. Also from the CBC, I can’t get enough of the series Recall: How to Start a Revolution. When someone says the word terrorism, we automatically think of Islamic fundamentalism or hard-right white nationalism. But in the 60s and 70s Canada was plagued by an almost endless series of bombings and kidnappings as part of the FLQ’s struggle to carve out an independent Quebec nation. Lastly, former conservative talk show host turned Never Trumper Charlie Sykes’s podcast The Bulwark never ceases to amaze me. His recent interview with Peter Wehner “Christianity’s Generational Catastrophe” on the current state of American evangelical Christianity is a MUST listen. 

Watching. Last week I mentioned I live on a farm nestled in small valley in the middle of nowhere. Therefore, I get zero TV reception. But fortunately, I’m able to stream online services like Netflix and Tubi. In addition I’m also able to supplement my viewing fare with DVDs borrowed from my area’s public libraries. Recently through my library I was able to sign up with the free, commercial-less streaming streaming service Kanopy. With a deep catalog at my disposal last night I watched the 1990 political thriller Hidden Agenda. Set mostly in Belfast, after an American human rights lawyer is assassinated the quest to find his killers points to a larger, more dangerous conspiracy involving elite elements of British society. Last week I watched the first episode of Mr. Robot and after watching two additional  episodes I remain 100 per cent hooked. I’m also watching the incredibly funny and twisted Canadian sitcom Letterkenny. Set in rural Canada, the characters are quirky as hell and the hilarious dialog is lightening fast. 

Everything else. Yesterday, I once again spent a little time relaxing in one of my favorite area taphouse drinking beer and reading. But earlier in the day I slapped together my reading list for the  20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy on her blog 746 BooksWe’ll see if I even come close to reading all these books. Oh, in case you’re wondering the noisy birds under the eaves of cabin have finally quieted down. 

20 Books of Summer

Summer is around the corner and that means Cathy of 746 Books will once again be hosting 20 Books of Summer. With surprisingly little thought involved I slapped together a list of 20 books plus five alternates this morning I’d like to pursue over the next three months. 

  1. Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz (2002)
  2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2008)
  3. A World Without Islam by Graham E. Fuller (2010)
  4. Introduction to Contemporary History by Geoffrey Barraclough (1967)
  5. Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants: The Economic Collapse of the Arab World by Stephen Glain (2004)
  6. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff (2014)
  7. God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Levering Lewis (2008)
  8. Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius by A.C. Grayling (2005)
  9. The Attack by Yasmina Khadra (2006)
  10. Early Modern Europe: From About 1450 to About 1720 by Sir George Clark (1962)
  11. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett (2006)
  12. 5 Ideas That Changed the World by Barbara Ward (1959)
  13. The Evolution of God by Robert Wright (2009)
  14. The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century by Willam Rosen (2014)
  15. The Promised City: New York’s Jews, 1870–1914 by Moses Rischin (1977) 
  16. Growing Up Jewish edited by Jay David (1969)
  17. The Goodly Fellowship of the Prophets; Studies, Historical, Religious, and Expository of the Hebrew Prophets by John Paterson (1948)
  18. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor by David S. Landes (1999)
  19. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (2012) – Kindle
  20. Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis (2018) – Kindle 

And five alternates

  1. Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius Kovály (2015) – Kindle
  2. The Son and Heir by Alexander Münninghoff (2020) – Kindle
  3. Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin (2013) – Kindle 
  4. Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris (2019)
  5. World Prehistory: A New Outline by Grahame Clark (1969)

In past years I began each summer with high hopes of making it through all my books only to come up short. On top of that, I constantly deviated from my original list of books, usually just reading whatever the heck I wanted to. Fortunately, Cathy is a kind and flexible host. To her, all we need to do is read as many books as we’d like and substitute freely along the way.

I’m hoping to use this as an opportunity to also tackle a chunk of my to be read pile (TBR) while at the same time also participating in other reading challenges like the TBR 22 in ’22 Challenge, What’s in a Name Challenge, Mount TBR Reading Challenge, and Books in Translation Reading Challenge. With a number of these books published prior to 1980 this is also a great chance to spotlight my Old Books Reading Project.

Book Beginnings: Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport

One of my favorite book bloggers, Gilion, in addition to hosting the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 reading challenges also hosts on her Rose City Reader blog Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently did I decide to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. After skipping last week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

Petrograd was a brooding, beleaguered city that last desperate winter before the revolution broke; a snowbound city of ice-locked canals and looming squares. Its fine wide streets and elegant palaces of pink granite and coloured stucco fronted by rows of airy columns and arches no longer exuded a sense of imperial grandeur but, rather, a sense of decay.

Helen Rappaport’s Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge is one of four books I grabbed from the library earlier this week. Claire from The Captive Reader is a big fan of Rappaport and has featured several of her books on her blog. Hankering for some Russian history I’m guessing this is a great place to start.

Library Loot

After returning a small stack of books to the public library I was ready for more. In recent Library Loots I’ve been featuring a lot of fiction, much of it by authors from outside the US. This week I’ve returned to my old ways with a nice selection of nonfiction. But much like before, two of these authors are from outside the US. Helen Rappaport is from the United Kingdom while Gianni Guadalupi hails from Italy. With the exception of Rappaport’s Caught in the Revolution these books were published over 10 years ago. 

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading to encourage bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write-up your post, steal the Library Loot icon and link your post using the Mr. Linky on Sharlene’s blog.  

About Time I Read It: Dancing Fish and Ammonites by Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively’s 2014 memoir Dancing Fish and Ammonites is another of those books like Souad Mekhennet’s I Was Told to Come Alone, Rana Mitter’s Forgotten Ally or Krista Bremer’s My Accidental Jihad I once borrowed from the library only to returned unread. Only later did I try again and was successfully in reading them. Twice before the book’s cover art caught me eye, seducing me into borrowing it. But alas, on each occasion I eventually returned it completely unread. But last week I was in the mood to read something representing the United Kingdom for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge and after spotting Dancing Fish and Ammonites in the autobiographies, biographies and memoirs section of the public  I decided to give it another shot. This time around however I whipped through Lively’s memoir in only a few days.

Dancing Fish and Ammonites isn’t a memoir in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s more a reflection upon growing old, books and writing. Chances are if a talented writer lives to the age of 80, not only will that writer have lots to say, chances are he or she will say it well. In this regard Lively is no exception. Dancing Fish and Ammonites is a testimony of her long and accomplished life. And told well.

I enjoyed reading about her childhood. Though English through and through, Lively was born in Cairo in 1933 to equally English parents. She remembers the Egyptian capital feeling Arab, yet at the same time European, just as Lucette Lagnado did with her family memoirs The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit and The Arrogant Years. During World War II with Rommel’s army bearing down, her father stayed behind and she and her mother were evacuated to British Palestine. Sadly, a few years after the War ended her parents divorced. Young Penelope, no longer a child but nevertheless on the cusp of womanhood moved with her mother to England. Eventually, after graduating from Oxford she would go on to be one of England’s most celebrated and prolific Post-War writers.

Lively comes across as highly erudite, intelligent and charming. I found Dancing Fish and Ammonites a thoroughly British book, both in style and content. (I was pleased to see Melvyn Bragg, host of one of my favorite BBC podcasts In Our Time in a brief cameo.) Perfect reading for any decent Anglophile.