The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin As I began to read the first of two letters in this brief book written in 1963, I was struck by the message which seemed to contain elements of hopeless resignation and self-loathing. It was a letter that outlined injustice and placed blame on many shoulders. It openly acknowledged that there were members of the police department who were racist and that there were elements of documented police brutality. It acknowledged that there were fewer opportunities for black people and that most doors were closed to them. It acknowledged that there was an overarching distrust and fear of authority and the police department, most often, with good reason. There was little opportunity to succeed, since most men were reduced to idleness due to a lack of job opportunities for them, even when well trained. Their color locked them out of the system. The women were employed doing menial labor, but they became the breadwinners, for the most part. The men gathered in groups, drank, did drugs and were led into a lifetime of crime when no other opportunity presented itself. This was not the life that Baldwin wanted for himself or his nephew. In the second letter, a broader view of his perspective became evident as he reviewed aspects of his own life. His ideas were colored by his background in the ministry. He realized that his community had no power and he knew that the lack of that power was preventing them from gaining respect. He achieved success by not getting sucked into a system that was designed to betray him. He wrote about The Nation of Islam and its effect on the world view of the “Negro”. The Nation of Islam had suddenly gained prominence and had positively influenced many in his community to live a cleaner life, stay out of prison, refrain from drinking and doing drugs; at the same time, it also preached hate for the “white devil”, demanding that the white world accept the superiority of the blacks in society. This goal to gain power was to be accomplished by any means available to them. When Baldwin wrote about The Nation of Islam, there was definitely a respect for what they had accomplished in inspiring so many to follow a different path, to have hope and to respect themselves, as they should. However, they believed that to accomplish that goal for one group, it must be at the expense of the other. The Nation of Islam believed in violence and in black supremacy. It did not seek equality, but superiority. Baldwin did not subscribe to all of their demands or dreams of a separate nation with land and reparations. He did not wish to disengage from the white culture and live separately. Baldwin hoped for more opportunity and justice in his world, but he did not consider all white people devils, as they did. He did not agree with all of their principles. He did support their goals to empower the “Negro” and their movement to create a hopeful future, instead of a life of despair. He did agree that “Negroes” had not been afforded the opportunity to succeed, had been subjected to a horrific life of slavery, and that a path to a different future for them must be found. The manner and method is what he seemed to differ with, and he did not join their movement. There was, and still is, a great deal of simmering anger that is passed on from generation to generation. There is so much frustration and suffering that continues even today, decades later. Baldwin’s message was prescient since he predicted the election of a black president in the future, and only half a century from the time of his writing, it became a reality. However, although the book was written in the mid sixties, it might just as well have been written yesterday. The anger and the injustice still exist in many arenas. There is still police brutality. There are still advocates of a violent movement to gain power. There are still demands being made that may or may not be realistic. These demands, however, are not yet being met. There are still families that are passing on a legacy of hate, fear and insecurity in the “white devil” community and the “black lives matter” movement. There is still racism, on both sides, but only one side is suffering from the ramifications of such unnecessary, unjustified and unwarranted prejudice.
Surrender, New York, Caleb Carr, author; Tom Taylorson, narrator
Two forensic scientists, Dr. Trajan Jones and Dr. Michael Li, were essentially ousted from their jobs in New York City because of their methods of investigation, and because they exposed the corruption and incompetence existing within law enforcement.
They resettled and set up shop in upstate New York in a town called Surrender on the property of Trajan’s eccentric Aunt Clarissa. She was not known to have a great love for the people in law enforcement, so she welcomed them and prepared a space for them to live and work. Trajan rescued a cheetah, Marcianna, from death when it was diagnosed with Feline Leukemia, his aunt gave him a piece of property to set up and use as her den. She is well-loved, perhaps excessively, and well cared for by Trajan. Both Jones and Li worked out of a converted vintage airplane which they fitted out with whatever equipment they needed. From that plane, they taught an online, college course in criminology. They are an unusual pair of partners who banter back and forth, sometimes with ridiculously immature comments. In addition, the language is often unnecessarily coarse. They seem quite immature for adults who are educated professionals.
When the two were quietly asked to clandestinely participate in an investigation of a stream of suicides, they accepted, but encountered resistance from the state police force since their reputation preceded their arrival in Surrender. Police officers resented them for their past work history. Their participation, though, turned out to be critical and a major contribution to the solving of the mysterious number of suicides of young high school age students, students who were abandoned by their families.
When a young high school student, Lucas trespassed on their property with his friend Derrick, the doctors discovered that Lucas held many clues to the suicide investigation. He actually knew them, or of them. The scientists, perhaps against their better judgment, enlisted his help in their investigation; both boys, Lucas and Derrick, were wards of Lucas’s 20 year-old, blind sister, Amber. Both had been abandoned by their parents. Lucas, who was already studying forensic science at school jumped at the opportunity to help, Derrick opted out. He was often referred to as developmentally challenged. During the ensuing days of the investigation, they created a team of investigators, also enlisting the help of Aunt Clarissa, Amber and a group of their students, to provide them with alternate insights into the mystery of these throw away children who are doing away with themselves.
As the story progressed it twisted and turned, planting different suspicions in the mind of the reader and creating ancillary themes which seemed to distract and unnecessarily complicate the story. Often extraneous details were introduced that added nothing but length. When a romance blossomed between Lucas’s sister and Trajan, although he was almost twice her age, I found I had to skip over the scenes, they were so inappropriate.
There are many distractions. There is a cheetah that takes on the role of an important character, a one legged investigator who doesn’t seem to have as much trouble getting around as he should considering the amount of pain he often experiences from a disease which might be advancing, a retarded child who has occasional moments of lucidity beyond his scope, a precocious child who wants to be treated as an adult and often acts like one, a guardian who acts like a harlot, a sniper who is hidden in the woods shooting at unsuspecting characters; there are missed obvious opportunities to discover clues, some events that seem overly contrived, as when Mike’s girlfriend, a New York detective is run off the road under suspicious circumstances and doesn’t turn up for so long that one wonders why she was introduced in the first place, or when Trajan and Amber are smooching in a closet while law enforcement and media surround the house because Derrick has disappeared. It was totally out of the realm of reality. The author took every opportunity to mock the system of law enforcement and inserted social themes like immigration, parental neglect, environmental protection, media corruption, racism, economic disparity and even homosexuality, seemingly just for the purpose of inclusion.
This is not Caleb Carr’s finest hour. The dialogue is hackneyed, infantile, crude, and often feels condescending to the reader. The characters seem like children in adult’s clothing, and the children occasionally seemed more mature than the adults, and were capable of making more common sense assumptions and judgments.
There was a lot of misdirection and the ending was a surprise of sorts, but the route from beginning to end was too convoluted and too long; the plot slowly became less credible. However, there were so many interesting asides that introduced many little known facts, that I believe, absent the crude language, foolish sex scenes, excessive details and the circuitous route to the conclusion of this diabolical plan to rid the area of throw-away children, that the book might have been much more satisfying as the pair exposed the corruption at the very top, unmasked the villains, and solved the case.
This is a quick read. Horowitz paints a devastating, but accurate picture of the progressive agenda and the ultimate goal of the Democrats who are now led by extreme leftists who disavow capitalism, like Obama, Sanders, Warren and Clinton, by race baiters like Waters and Cummings, and I believe by corrupt talking heads like Maddow, Sharpton, and Brzezinski. He details the destructive results of their policies and condemns the tools that they use to acquire their power, in any way they can.
He presents not only the agenda he has designed for the Republicans during the Trump Administration, to take back America and return it to its rightful place of respect in the world, but he lays out the corrupt agenda of the liberals, including their corrupt behavior. He clearly defines the criminality of Hillary Clinton, so long ignored by the Justice Department and what has become a corrupt media that is inspired by their own opinions rather than by what is news and, obviously, the truth. He alludes to the existence of collusion between the Executive branch of Obama, and the Departments of Justice and the IRS. Horowitz has very accurately identified all of the current problems facing the newly elected President who has been called many heinous names, even as he is accused of being the name caller.
He places a great deal of blame for the Democrats’ move to the extreme left on the policies and philosophy of Saul Alinsky, a community organizer like Barack Obama, who wrote a book called “Rules for Radicals”, and George Soros, a wealthy civil activist who has sought, for years, to influence American politics to move to the extreme left using non-profit organizations like his moveon.org. Former President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton view those men as their mentors. Alinsky’s polices encourage the demonizing of anyone that disagrees with their agenda, and it seems to be working for the progressives as evidenced by their angry protests and rallies against the President and his followers.
He accurately identifies the problems of the Republican Party and their lack of a common purpose, a common stand on issues which is the lifeline and lifeblood of the Democrats. They are unified, right or wrong because they believe that the ends justify any means, while the Republicans do not. They will follow their platform like lemmings and not break ranks. Hillary Clinton said that when “they go low, we go high”, but that is an oxymoron in her playbook and in the policies of her followers who march in lockstep with her.
Even when the GOP controls all of the branches of government they cannot seem to come together, as the donkeys can, and remain loyal to their party, they cannot, even though they know that the Progressives want to place the power in their own hands so they can rule and will do anything they can to disrupt the current government and are able to disrupt it in their weakness because they remain united as the Republicans divide into disparate groups fighting each other instead of promoting the policies they ran on and promoting the ultimate goal of greater justice and freedom for all Americans as they make America great again. They are, once again, snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory and helping the Progressives accomplish their goal of regaining power and continuing to bring America to its knees, in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Is there any way to defeat the far left that lies while they are actually lying themselves, cheats while they cheat openly, name call while accusing others of name calling, calling others sexist while covering up sexual deviants within their own ranks, screaming racism as they only give lip service to the needs of those less fortunate, as they feather their own nests, as they deny the history of their own party which was and still is, steeped in racism and sexism?
Horowitz suggests that the “deplorable right” examine and concentrate on, the big picture and go fearlessly into the fray to combat the goals of the hypocritical left, but he has not presented any viable way for them to do it. History has proven that they will seek their own level, and that level has not been a very high bar in the past. They are too conciliatory and afraid of ramifications, afraid of losing their jobs, and so they fail in the performance of their duties. Let’s hope that they will suddenly decide not to go “gently into that good night”, to coin a phrase, for it will surely be the death knell of the party.
The Good Death: An Explanation of Death and Dying in America, by Ann Neumann
From the first page, I was emotionally attached and almost wept, having been reminded of my mother's and twin brother's recent deaths. The hospice experience is different in almost all cases. In my case, my mother’s hospice experience was reprehensible. My brother’s was laudable. The book explained the difference between my brother's care in a facility that had control over him, my mother-in-law’s in an assisted living facility where she had control over her own wishes, and my mother’s whose care was in my hands. I believe that I was deceived by hospice workers, and that she was led to a swift death. The book could not corroborate that, but some of the experiences I read about confirmed my beliefs.
Since death is never the desired outcome for any of us, I hoped the book would shed some new light on how to make it easier to deal with, regardless of whether or not it was someone else’s diagnosis that was being faced, or eventually, my own. For myself, I have made the decision to have palliative care, rather than extreme measures to keep me alive in pain and with no quality of life; however, I wanted to explore my options and hoped this book would provide a more nuanced approach to the subject.
The author’s research and experience with this subject is obvious as she lays out the concerns of those in the medical services industry, those occupied by religious issues, and the legal options that are available in different situations. She presents the thoughts of patients, at the end of their lives, and bureaucracies that have to carry out their wishes. She describes her feelings as a hospice worker, explaining that she preferred some patients to others. I found her inability to show compassion for a prisoner, while she was only too happy to not only show compassion, but to develop a long term relationship with a wealthy patient, a bit disconcerting, disingenuous, and off-putting. I believe that when it comes to dying, the needs of all should be considered equal. It made me doubt her sincerity and purpose in writing the book. I began to feel that it was to assuage her own guilt and grief, rather than to truly seek a method that would provide “The Good Death”. Also, I would have preferred more recent references. Hers were at least 3 years old and many were older, at the time of publication.
I did learn a lot, however, since I had not realized that there was such a marked difference in the approach to dying among the many disparate groups lobbying for and against the right to die. I had not realized that, in some cases, choosing not to have life saving efforts could be ignored by the hospital, the prison or the government. I had not realized that a hospitalist, with no relationship to you, no idea of your former vitality, strength of character or fortitude, would be the one to instruct you on your future, its darkest possibilities as well as its brightest. Making such a momentous decision, to have or refuse care, at a time when you were suffering and trying to recover, might not be the optimal moment. Who decides if you will have a quality of life? Do they know what you consider a quality of life. My mother said she would not mind living in a wheelchair if she could still do the simple things she enjoyed, like family, friends, reading, and watching TV.
I had not realized that the disabled, as a group, were against a patient’s right to die because they believe that they will be induced to remove themselves from life support by a member of the medical staff, like a hospitalist, who believes they are irredeemable because of what they perceive as their poor quality of life, but what is, to that disabled person, a life they are accustomed to and enjoy, a life they wish to continue. I had not realized that in a Catholic hospital, a patient’s wish to die could be ignored. I found it strange that the “church” would think that being attached to tubes was perhaps G-d’s will, in some way and not actually external human intervention that interferes with G-d’s will. I had not realized that in prison, a patient cannot choose to end his life and refuse treatment, because society cannot be robbed of the opportunity to punish the prisoner, even if that prisoner has been sentenced to death. Society, apparently, only has the right to pull that plug. Each group views the right to die, or to prevent the right to die, from its own lens. Many simply refuse to hear any other side of the argument, but their own. I was not completely sure which view the author preferred, even at the end of the book. The only thing I did conclude, like the author, is that there is no good death. No one prefers to die, unless under extreme duress, and at that time, they might not be fully capable of making such a decision. Still, I myself prefer to make the judgment and decide how I want to be treated at the end of my life, while I am in my right mind and healthy enough to choose my own path.
The laws are not uniform from place to place, hospital, home, prison, religious hospital, catholic doctor, lay doctor, or lay hospital, and guidance is lacking for the caregiver and guardian. It is imperative that the patient or guardian understand his/her rights when in such a dire situation.
Medical personnel often opt out of treatments that they know will not guarantee them a cure, but will surely guarantee that their final days are filled with discomfort. Often, those that opt out, live longer because they are not being fed poison and deal with a different kind of stress. If one is able to afford help and medications to alleviate pain, it seems that the conditions at home make for a happier recovery as the patient can lead a normal life for as long as possible.
There are definite drawbacks to our health care system. Nurses aides who care for the ill and infirm are often paid less to care for an adult, than they are paid to care for a child, which is a far more pleasant experience when bodily functions fail. Doctors are often poorly trained when it comes to explaining the options we have at the end of our lives. Bureaucracies often unfairly dictate our options to us. Each patient really needs to be evaluated separately, so that the doctor/custodian/protector/warden/priest/rabbi approaches the conversation in a tailor made way for that person and is not giving a one-size fits all canned speech which could be so demoralizing that the patient loses all hope, even to enjoy some peace at the end of his days .
I won this book from librarything.com in exchange for an honest review.
Exit West, Mohsin Hamid, author; read by Mohsin Hamid
This brief novel is read in a clinical, almost dead-pan voice, that merely states the facts while offering precise descriptions with simple, incredibly descriptive and detailed prose. In spare words, the author paints a picture of a love story, an immigrant story, a survival story, a story about racial issues, a story of hope, as he exposes the raw version of life for the people of varied cultures, backgrounds, religions, and ethnic groups as they try to find peace, freedom and happiness in a place without revolution, repression and violence.
One of the things that makes the novel stand out is its use of a narrative that employs no wasted words. Yet, the story is eloquent, interesting and informative. It takes place in a world, undefined exactly, that is going through the throes of revolution and is coming slowly under the rule of extremists. There are beheadings and bombings that are graphically described, although the detached voice of the author makes them largely lack the ugliness, and simply become a part of the recitation of an event, from which we are distanced.
This book is the love story of Saeed and Nadia. At first, when we meet them, Nadia wears a long flowing robe as a protective garment (burka), to prevent the advances of men, but she does not pray. Saeed prays only about once a day. He is attached to his family. She is estranged from hers after leaving home against their wishes. They share their dreams of travel and their love blossoms in a time and place that is unknown, but it is a place that is becoming more and more radicalized with resultant beheadings and bombings. Although the term Muslim is not used, it appears to hint that they are of that faith. The violent behavior of the radicalized is spreading, causing fear and desperation for many. As the obstacles they face increase, they search for an escape, and as the times become more dangerous, they flee together through a magical doorway that leads them to freedom. Their religious beliefs seem almost happenstance, but these beliefs adjust as time passes, to the changing attitudes and rules of the times and varied places in which they arrive through the many doors they enter.
The author employs a bit of magical realism into the main body of the story, when at unexpected places in the narrative, he inserts the random experiences of previously unknown characters, as they escape through random doors and arrive in random places around the globe, each with a different migrant experience. These characters appear almost suddenly when they, and the main characters, are offered exit routes through doors that originate in one geographic locale, and inexplicably end in another. Upon crossing the threshold, they hope to find themselves in another place, one that is hopefully safer, welcoming, and offers greater opportunity.
The doors seem to be a symbol of the migrant experience, regardless of where his/her journey leads. Wherever he/she winds up, they struggle and the adjustment is difficult. The doors open and close, into different regions of the globe; they found themselves on a Greek Island, in England, Austria, Australia, Japan, Brazil Amsterdam, and the United States where they encountered other refugees who were not unlike themselves and refugees who were far different, in all ways. In some places, they were more readily accepted, in some more readily rejected. Each place seemed to have a different attitude toward them. In some, they were allowed to assimilate and participate in society, with some restrictions. In others they were ostracized. Still, even though many doors that were once open were soon barred to them, others always became available; they could not be stopped because new doors continued to appear.
As the story progresses, the plight of those escaping and the plight of those forced to receive them was graphically depicted as the results of these massive movements of people caused disruption, resentment and, even, once again, violence. As the fear, each had of the other, bubbled to the surface and as the rotten apples of the bunch gained notoriety, conflicts often occurred. The effects of the stress, on all involved, was grievous. Some relationships could not withstand the pressure, although some did thrive. To prevent the influx of the feared refugees, many methods were tried. The refugees were attacked, starved, cut off from power and water, and were largely unprotected. Still, those who were stalwart and law-abiding formed their own communities, began to share what they had with each other regardless of their different backgrounds, and soon, by example, were accepted, or at least, they were not defeated. Eventually, a sort of relationship evolved between the communities of the migrants and the residents, and they learned to live with each other and the migrants became productive members of the society. Water and power returned to their districts, and life became tolerable again.
Carefully, with subtlety and innuendo, he painted a clear picture of the immigrant experience and analyzed the reasons for its success and/or failure. Some immigrants were desperate, some were rough; some were simply exhausted from their constant effort to escape from their poverty, hopelessness and the heavy hand of their government. The reception they received from strangers who were forced to integrate them into their society was often unwelcoming. They had to be strong, or they would be beaten by those who were stronger, in all avenues of life. Often, they even preyed upon each other.
The characters were caught between the past and the future, and their present was very difficult. Still they managed to create little democratic neighborhoods so they could survive, if not thrive. As the book moved on, the reader is placed a half a century later. The world had changed and the two characters, who had separated years before, reunited and once again, spoke of their former dreams and future possibilities, rekindling their affection for each other, if not their passion.
The author seemed to be making a political statement of sorts about how immigrants are received and how their treatment affects relationships and communities. I did not feel that he presented both sides of the issue equally, because he did not highlight the dangers they brought with them, to innocent victims, from their frustration, different cultural attitudes and their ideas about what constituted acceptable behavior, as well as their assumption of the civil rights they expected to be granted to them. He seemed to favor the immigrant point of view and to believe and only truly present, the idea that If they were welcomed, they would often become productive members of the community, contributing in all sorts of positive ways as they worked hard and prospered. If rejected, and forced to live in substandard conditions, they were then forced to do what was necessary to survive and sometimes, that was not always lawful or positive behavior. I was not sure if he accepted these transgressions. In the future, he seemed to present the view that disparate groups, disparate cultures, disparate languages, disparate heritages, ethnicities and sexual proclivities would all be accepted more kindly. As they learned to understand each other, immigrant neighborhoods would grow up and became part of society.
I believe that the book would be better in print, as I had to listen to various parts over and over because of the monotony of the presentation, which seemed necessary for the way the story was told, but it was difficult to remain constantly engaged. This novel will lead to the reader’s thoughtful examination of the immigrant issue, a current problem in today’s society.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Jennifer Ryan, author; Gabrielle Glaister, Laura Kirman, Imogen Wilde, Adjoa Andoh, Tom Clegg, Mike Grady, narrators
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir tells the story of a typical small community in England during the early days of WWII. Entirely through the journals, diaries and letters of the characters, over a period of about six months, from mid March to early September, 1940, the author highlighted their perceptions of the war and how long it would last. She coupled that with their slow realization that the war was indeed real and the battles would soon come to their little hamlet, with the harshness of the loss of their loved ones and the brutality and violence of the bombings, forcing them to deal with the consequences, the death and destruction. In the process, the author showed the fortitude and courage of some and contrasted it with the abominable behavior of some scoundrels who were only too willing to take advantage of the weakness of others, looting and conniving, forgetting morality and loyalty. When disaster struck, the women who were left behind to carry on when the men went to war, rose to the occasion and faced their responsibilities with determination and courage.
Some of the characters were more affable and likeable than others. I particularly liked Primrose Trent. Prim was the music teacher, newly arrived from London, who came with flowing cloaks and a large, colorful personality that exuded positivity and gaiety. She was the inspiration for the Chilbury Ladies Choir which came about because there were no longer many men remaining in their village. They had all gone away to aid in the war effort. While some of the women were more timid and fearful of starting an all female choir, she inspired them and encouraged them to soldier on and even arranged for them to participate in choir competitions. She taught the children in school, and in general, brought a lightness and calmer spirit to the village. Although some held more gruff opinions about the choir and the peculiarities of Prim, most appreciated her company and presence, in the end.
Even in a time of war, romance flourished, and the young and old found time to fall in love. The times did put a strain on some relationships, but as they all interacted with each other, for a common goal, they discovered a new understanding about themselves and those around them. It was through the writings and the revelations about these interactions that the struggles and strengths of the townspeople were revealed.
One of the characters, Silvie, was a young child who had been sent to Chilbury to live with the Winthrop family, for her own safety, hopefully to protect her from the Nazis. She was a Jewish child and her parents’ fate remained unknown. The Brigadier Winthrop was a mean, authoritarian man with a tendency to make threats and behave with brutal violence. Mrs. Winthrop, Lavinia, was a weak, but kind, little meek bird. She had just suffered the loss of her only son, Edmund, to the war, and while she was bereft, her husband was livid because his fortune was in jeopardy; it had to be passed to a surviving male relative. The Brigadier made an unscrupulous arrangement with the less than honorable town midwife, Edwina Paltry, to arrange for his pregnant wife to have a son. He had two surviving daughters, Venetia and Kitty. Kitty was in love with Henry Brampton-Boyd, heir to a family fortune, who was in love with her sister Venetia. Venetia was in love with an artist “Alistair Slater”, whose background was largely unknown and his occasional odd behavior was a source of confusion for her. Was he honorable or corrupt, a criminal or a traitor? Mrs. Tilling was a nurse. She was a bit standoffish, kind of overly proper, but she was kind to everyone except the man who was billeted with her, Colonel Mallard. She resented him because her son had only just gone off to war, and she wanted no one to occupy his room. There were several other interesting characters who came to life with the narrators excellent portrayal.
The story was told with a gentle wit and a light touch even when tragedy was depicted. The descriptions of the brutality of the war were authentic and truly imparted the emotions that the characters felt with the ominous drums of war beating daily. The bombings and the destruction were realistic. The loss and subsequent suffering was shattering. The ability to find joy and love in the face of the wartime despair showed the remarkable resilience of the community and its residents.
The war changed everyone in both good and bad ways. Heroes and scoundrels were made. Class distinctions were slowly losing their grip on society. The aristocracy was losing favor. Hitler was marching across Europe; he was leaving carnage in his wake, capturing and imprisoning innocent people because of their religion, sexual proclivity or lack of mental acuity.
I found the ending a little bit soft. It seemed a bit like a fairytale with everything falling into place neatly. I alternately read and listened to the book. Both mediums were great, but it was a special joy to listen to the audio which made the characters real for me as they were each presented with their own individual voice and personality. I felt like I got to know most of them fairly well, and their behavior represented the time period well. The sacrifice war necessitates was exemplified by the mothers who sent their children away for safety’s sake, the mothers and wives who lost their loved ones to the war and bore their loss heroically, all the women did whatever they could to help, sometimes risking their own lives in the process.
I won this book from librarything.com.
Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue, author; Prentice Onayemi, narrator
To Jende Jonga, from Cameroon, America was truly the land of opportunity. In Limbe, where he was born, it was beautiful and the people were always smiling and friendly. However, there, it was impossible to improve one’s circumstances. If you were poor, you and your descendants were trapped in an endless circle of poverty.
After acquiring a temporary visa to come to America, through somewhat nefarious means, Jende sought out the help of an immigration lawyer to obtain permanent status and was advised to seek asylum to accomplish his goal. Soon, after many menial jobs, his cousin Winston, also a lawyer, helped him to get a job with the wealthy Edwards family, as a chauffeur.
Jende worked hard and saved his money. He soon sent for his wife, Neni, and his small son, Liomi, to join him in America. Although, they lived in an apartment with roaches and it was a multi-floor walk-up, it seemed like nirvana to them because this was a country that offered opportunity for all, but especially for their children. Neni enrolled in school and was studying to become a pharmacist. Soon she was expecting another child and a daughter was born. They often sent money home to their family, as well. Things were looking up. As a chauffeur, Jende got to know Mr. Edwards and his son Vince very well, as well as their youngest child, Mighty. Neni, too, sometimes worked for the Edwards family as a nanny and also as a server at parties. She got to know Cindy Edwards and her son Mighty very well. Both Jende and Neni, unwittingly, became confidants of their employers, and soon, they would find themselves in compromised situations that questioning their loyalties to either their spouses or their employer, forcing them to choose one over the other..
In 2008, the country was hit with an economic downturn and Mr. Edwards, a partner in Lehman Bros. was suddenly out of a job when the firm collapsed and was not rescued by the government. Although he soon got another job with Barclays, his wife began to suspect that he was unfaithful. She placed Jende in an untenable situation, demanding that he reveal where he took Mr. Edwards everyday. Because of his background, he assumed that the man in the family was in charge and made all the decisions. He chose to trust Mr. Edwards and remained loyal to him. He kept his secrets from Cindy and Neni. At this same time, Cindy Edwards was abusing drugs and alcohol, and Neni chose to remain loyal to her husband who demanded that she remain neutral and not get involved with the family; she said nothing about it to Mr. Edwards.
When Jende suddenly found himself unemployed, he realized that America was not all it wais cracked up to be, and he didn’t know if he had the strength to continue to fight to remain in the country. Many questions arose. Immigration had turned down his asylum petition, and he had to appeal and appear before a judge. He knew he might be turned down again. Neni didn’t want to leave school. One child was now an American citizen having been born in New York. How they solved their problems and reacted to their difficulties is really what the book seems to be about. The clash of the American culture with the Cameroon culture and the clash of the rights of women in America and the rights of women in a Muslim country became front and center. As Neni became more independent and sure of herself, Jende seemed to grow more and more threatened and insecure. As she began to love America more and more, he became more and more homesick for Cameroon and their happier, more easygoing way of life. He became more and more disillusioned with the social climbing culture of America as Neni became more and more enamored with the materialism of America.
I was left thinking about many questions which would be great to discuss in a book group. What was the effect of the secrets they kept, on each of their lives? What was the effect of their different dreams, hopes and views about their future on their lives? Who was ultimately in charge in America, the male or female, husband or wife? Who was ultimately in charge in Cameroon? How did the inability to deal with reality effectively, affect each of the characters? Both the immigrant family and the American family had problems. How did each attempt to solve them? Which was more successful? How would you describe Vince’s attitude about life? Who had the right idea about how to live and what was important? Whose values were least important? Whose values were to be most admired? Were the wounds of these characters self-inflicted? Which character achieved his/her dream? Each of the characters was caught between competing lifestyles and loyalties. Could the situation have worked out differently if different choices were made or was the end inevitable?
The problems of American families that have everything and the immigrant families who have nothing were well contrasted and both fell short of achieving the happiness each was seeking. The rights of women in both cultures were examined. The behavior of men in both cultures was scrutinized. The inability of both cultures to fully comprehend the problems of the other was documented. Their prejudices were highlighted. It was interesting to see which of the sexes in each culture had the most power, in certain instances, and in what ways they asserted that power. In both cultures, it would seem that circumstances decided whether or not the capacity to do good or evil resided within them. The problems of immigrants in America was very well discussed and exposed.
Mark Greaney, a surrogate who writes Tom Clancy novels, writes a really good mystery, but it would be even better if he didn’t get bogged down so much in mundane details and emphasized instead, only the thriller’s action packed moments. All of the books in the Jack Ryan series have several competing themes working concurrently. In this, one theme is the ISIS terrorist goal of creating havoc and bringing death to America, which would be a great recruiting tool, as well. The other is to force the United States to enter into a ground war with ISIS in the Middle East, where oil is a major source of income.
An ex-con, Alexandru Dalca, harbors a grudge against the United States for its part in placing him behind bars in Romania, for swindling Americans out of thousands of dollars. He now works for ARTD, a Romanian company run by Dragomir Vasilescu. The company is working for a Chinese client, the Seychelles Group. They engaged ARTD to obtain the files of American spies from software they provided. The software was obtained from a company in India. On his own, Alexandru (Alex), an expert in technology, discovered a back door into that program which allowed him to obtain information on every applicant to the United States government since 1984, and with the help of social media, he was able to figure out where an operative was at a particular time and was able to arrange to take them down. No one else even knew about the virus that had infected the software program which allowed his hacking to take place. He wanted revenge and this information allowed him to not only satisfy his hatred, but to grow rich in the process. He packaged the information and sold it to the enemies of America. Alex felt no remorse about the death and destruction he was arranging.
On dark web sites, Alex engaged with a Saudi who wanted to instigate a war between ISIS and the United States in order to raise the price of oil. Sami bin-Rashid purchased information from Dalca and passed it on to a Yemeni, Musa al-Matari, who was an ISIS operative. Musa al-Matari did not fully understand the motives behind the Saudi’s efforts, but he had his own goals in mind. He was fighting for the establishment of the Caliphate. He recruited and trained the assassins; he believed these terrorists would not be traced because they had no prior record or flags against them. He then began to carry out random attacks in the United States.
At first, the experts were confounded. They had no idea where the leaks were coming from that were compromising the personnel, causing death and destruction in seeming unrelated places. They had no idea why particular individuals were even being targeted. They had difficulty connecting the dots, but then, Jack Ryan and the Campus become involved and the mystery unraveled step by step.
First they had to discover where the leaks were coming from. Then they had to find out how they were being dispersed. Then they had to find those behind these heinous efforts: the hacker with the information, the Saudi providing it to the terrorist, and the ISIS thug who was recruiting and training the assassins.
The book was exciting, if not always believable. There was no place in the book for a naïve reading. Terrorism is alive and well in the world today; the subject is current and the effort and methods used to find the culprits seemed authentic which was evidenced by the apparent research and knowledge of the author on such matters as the workings of government, the existence of innovative new technology and weaponry, and the depths to which a terrorist would go to accomplish his goal. The narrator was wonderful as he created just the right amount of tension and interest to keep the reader involved without himself becoming a character.
A Separation-A Novel, Katie Kitamura, author; Katherine Waterston, narrator This novel is about a marriage that has failed. Our main character has separated from her husband and is keeping the separation secret as per his wishes. She is not close to her mother-in-law, Isabella, who is a bit of snob and who views her as a foreigner. Her husband, Christopher is British and she is not. For some reason, she seems to be totally disinterested in discovering why he does not wish anyone to know about their problems, even though she now wants to file for divorce because she has been having an affair and hopes to remarry. Out of the blue, she gets a phone call from her mother-in-law, who is in the dark about their marital woes, demanding to know where her son is. Apparently he is no longer answering her phone calls. She advises her daughter-in-law that Christopher is in Greece, something she had not known because she had not recently been in touch with him. Her rather forceful and arrogant mother-in-law then demanded that she go and find him. She had already purchased her airline ticket and arranged for her to get to the hotel her son was visiting. When she arrived at the hotel, she was told he was not in his room. Soon it became apparent that although he was scheduled to check out of the hotel, he was no where to be seen. He was in Greece, supposedly, researching grief and the customs surrounding it, for a book he was writing. However, it was soon revealed that he was completely disloyal to his marriage vows and was a bit of a philanderer. As the rather uninspiring search for Christopher commences, the book soon descends into somewhat of an analysis of grief rather than an evolving mystery, although there is another woman in the background who has a jealous boyfriend. The effort of the author simply did not connect with me. It was easy to read, but the plot was thin, and the dialogue was often a bit monotonous. I would not recommend it because it really went no place. There was no great reveal, no surprising revelation of a secret, nor was there a resolution of anything. At the end, it was as it was in the beginning. There were unresolved issues and they remained unresolved. The narrator was consistent in her presentation which was pretty matter of fact with little alteration of expression or tone. I thought she sounded bored, as I often was, with the dialogue that went absolutely nowhere.
I won’t pretend that I understood the whole book. Every sentence demanded reflection, as every sentence was ambiguous, filled with double entendres and puns, some of which I did not quite comprehend immediately, and some I never quite understood. Still, written with wit and charm, eloquence and fluidity, it is nothing, if not brilliant. Once there was a fictional community called Dickens which had slowly devolved into nothing but a few streets with no identity. Our main character and narrator, nicknamed The Sellout, was raised (if you can believe it), on an urban farm in a ghetto in Los Angeles, by his now deceased Social Scientist father (buried illegally on the farm), who bombarded him with humiliating, social experiments during his formative years, to expose the various hypocrisies of life. His father was also a “black whisperer” often called upon in moments of crisis to restore calm and order. The Sellout took over his job, but was not as effective since his personality was not as large as his father’s. He also works the farm growing vegetables and fruits, raising and nurturing animals, and sharing the results of his efforts with the residents, particularly his Satsumas, a mandarin orange breed renowned for their juice and loved by all. The Sellout conceived of the idea to revive Dickens, now referred to as a “locale”, with no name on any map. He wanted to bring Dickens back to its “former glory”, and with Dickens, he wanted to also bring back segregation. He encountered both support and opposition. When this novel opens, our narrator has been arrested and accused of violating constitutionally protected civil rights. The case has risen to the upper levels of the court system and is now at the very pinnacle, The Supreme Court. From there it works backwards to explain the reason for the criminal charge and the trial. In the course of his efforts to resurrect the town and segregation, he was aided by his “slave”, Hominy, who was a former Little Rascal of television fame. Among other things, they had drawn lines around the community to define its boundaries, and had displayed racist signs demanding space for whites only in various places. The Sellout had created a posh private school for whites, in the heart of Dickens, simply by putting up a sign for it. The idea of it had caught on, and it was spurring the residents to be more responsible, work harder and to be greater achievers. His very violations of the laws of the land seemed to have actually promoted civil rights by creating an environment where everyone seemed to know what was expected of them and had given them a desire to conform and succeed. So the court had a conundrum on its hands. His violations had accomplished what the amendments had never done. For me, it wasn’t until the last few pages that the book became whole, with a clear message. It was writ large by the author in a sentence in a paragraph near the end: “he plucked out your subconscious and beat you silly with it, not until you were unrecognizable, but until you were recognizable.” Subtly and overtly, humorously and seriously, he highlights everything that is wrong with society, and he does it by blindsiding the reader with allusions. Although he maligns almost everyone and every accepted more, in some way, he also rarely directly names those he mocks or praise, rather he alludes to them, like his reference to the black dude in the White House. He exposes the false promises made by those in power, the unjust justice department; he ridicules the titles and subject matter of books as in “The Adventures of Tom Soarer”, the shortcomings of ghetto life and the ghetto mentality, drugs, infidelity and crime, and the broken system of education, among other things too numerous to mention. Black privilege is exploited and white privilege is mocked. There will often be a smile on your lips and even an occasional laugh out loud moment, but then the reader will be brought back to earth by the double meanings and the reality that they represent. In short, he turns all accepted mores inside out and although I didn’t understand all of it, I was never bored, and even when overwhelmed by the sometimes convoluted messages and ideations, I was always drawn back to it. In The Sellout and in Dickens, we see the failures and successes of society as the author pokes fun at and recasts all of life’s events with often bizarre examples which force the reader to confront the very issue he is lampooning with sincere and serious thoughtfulness. Racism is totally exposed on all fronts. Beatty exposes society’s ills, the behavior of the guilty and the innocent, and in so doing, he reopens the wounds of society with deliberateness and then seems to also offer a pathway to, or the possibility of, its healing.
The Fire by Night, Teresa Messineo, author; Kirsten Potter, narrator
This novel explored the experiences of nurses during WWII on the various fronts of the war. It detailed the disrespect often shown to women who were considered inferior to their male counterparts, although they often faced the same danger; it illuminated the effects on them, as well as their patients; it exposed the homophobia that was rampant at that time. It also described the brutality of all the players, the Allied Powers and the Axis Powers, who often carried out unthinkable acts of sadism. Scarred physically and mentally, both the soldiers and the medical personnel, male and female, suffered equally from the effects of the horrors of the war, from the aggressive cruelty of their enemies who neither respected nor upheld the Geneva Conventions. The lucky ones who survived were often assaulted by their memories and the effects of their nightmarish war experiences had lasting effects on their lives, long after the war was over.
Highlighting the loss and the danger, the author described the experiences of two friends, Kay and Jo, who were stationed in different theaters of the war, who dealt with different enemies, all of whom, however, were equally brutal and diabolical in their methods. Dedicated to their profession, even in the face of extreme peril, without supplies, proper medicines or medical supplies, faced with extreme shortages of food, they still stayed and performed their duties to the best of their ability, often only able to offer the comfort of their presence. They demonstrated their great courage and did not abandon their posts, their patients or their hospitals.
The novel described the desperate love stories that developed during the frantic fog of wartime. Regarding the history and the recording of the battles and their aftermath, the story felt authentic, but when it came to the romantic episodes, it often seemed contrived. Also in the same way as the minds of the weakened nurses seemed to wander, so did the story line, occasionally getting a bit confusing as it moved from place to place and time to time, revealing different aspects of both Kay and Jo’s lives and experiences. Occasionally, it trended to the melodramatic.
The narrator performed this heartbreaking story of love and loss, courage and fear, with just the right amount of emotion and expression to hold my interest and to set the stage for each scene appropriately. She accurately portrayed the degradation the women experienced and carefully illuminated their heroism in the face of their fear and the burdens the war and their duty placed upon them, with the tone and emotional expression of her voice.
I received an uncorrected bound proof and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It requires a slow and thoughtful reading as the author expertly inserts her random thoughts into your stream of consciousness as she looks back and examines her own life, providing examples of the positive and the negative, the joy and the sadness, the happiness and the disappointments and their eventual influence on her future. The memories move back and forth in time, detailing, with only a few well placed words, the ups and downs and in and outs of the moments that most stand out in her mind as she contemplates her past. It runs the gamut of emotion which the readers will feel immersed in with her, because many of her memories and feelings are universal and could well be theirs. The losses and gains in life add up, but not always arithmetically. Their values change depending on the circumstance. She has woven a poignant look at her experiences and special events, both good and bad, and made them our own, as well. I found the writing style interesting since her thoughts were random in almost the same way as she describes the development of the tragedy of a battle lost to dementia. Yet her approach is not rambling or confusing, but rather enlightening. Although her memories are random, they are, fortunately, returning to her, whereas to one suffering from Alzheimers, they are lost forever. The book is very concise, but it contains all the pertinent elements necessary to engage and enlighten the reader. One caveat is that I think it would be best if the reader was a little educated about the author’s life before tackling it.
A Great Reckoning, Louise Penny, author; Robert Bathurst, narrator This is book 12 in the detective series with Chief Inspector Gamache. I love the quiet wisdom and strength with which the author has imbued Commander Armand Gamache. His authority and power come from his dignified bearing not an attitude of cruelty or bullying or of reminding everyone of his importance. He is always perfectly in control of himself in a way which leads one to respect him, and the author has painted him perfectly for the role. I love his sense of humor and the way he banters with his wife. I admire their relationship which seems to be one of pure love and respect, a state few achieve. Many of the characters are charming and also quirky. Although some have achieved some success in their lives, they desire to remain unseen in the world and have chosen a remote and serene way of life. One of my favorite characters is Ruth who carries her duck Rosa with her. Quite truthfully, she has a colorful, expressive tongue that is most often like that of an angry truck driver rather than a lady! After a recuperative hiatus because of a grave injury, Commander Gamache has returned to work, but he is no longer the Chief Inspector, rather he now heads up the Sûreté Academy. He is cleaning house, cleaning up the atmosphere of corruption at the Academy and trying to soften the atmosphere of brutality some of the cadets seem to have adopted. In this regard, he has fired a good deal of the staff, and the replacements have been carefully chosen by him for the specific purpose of recreating a healthy, professional atmosphere. He has, also, thoughtfully chosen the new recruits based on what he hopes is their ability to succeed in their future careers, giving one particular student, Amelia Choquet, a lifeline, a lifeline for which no one understands his true motivation. Has he made the right choices to accomplish his goals or will he fail because his ultimate path and purpose is too dangerous? When a seemingly innocent, but odd-looking map is discovered, Gamache assigns four of his cadets to discover its meaning. This simple assignment sets the wheels in motion and opens up a Pandora’s Box which eventually becomes the catalyst for a murder, and also for the beginning of the cure for what had ailed the Sûreté Academy. The mystery and the corruption had risen to the highest levels of the law enforcement organizations, in the Academy, the Sûreté du Quebec and in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This is not a thriller holding you at the edge of your seat; this is a thoughtful police investigation, revealed layer by layer, step by step, by the incredible Commander Gamache with his patient thoughtfulness and careful reasoning. Once you begin, you will not want to stop reading until you find out all of the secrets and lies so you can solve the multiple mysteries revealed as the story plays out. The interactions between all of the characters are at times serious and at times infused with a cheerful good humor. Most, in spite of all their shortcomings, and/or strengths, are highly likeable, although there are some who are far from admirable, as in the swindlers, the betrayers and the sadists. Each of the characters, warts and all, is developed so that he/she comes to life on the page. Each seems all too real, even in their oddness. The reader is fantastic; he is a narrator extraordinaire. He has captured the personality of each and every character in their own distinctive way so that none bleed on to the other and each stands out as a separate and recognizable entity. Each of the Gamache novels can also stand alone, and each new one is as enjoyable as the last. The characters are developed and the inspector and his wife are warm and inviting. They bring you into the tale with their charm. The Inspector Gamache stories are exciting, entertaining and appealing. The novel does not rush to its conclusion, in which every “t” is actually crossed and every “i” is dotted, but rather it gently meanders there, creating intrigue, misdirection and interest, drawing in the reader and holding him fast until the conclusion. The journey from beginning to end is a pleasure. What does the map represent? Who is the student to whom he throws a lifeline? Why does he do it? Your suspicions will constantly be aroused, but I doubt anyone will guess any of the answers to questions that arise, until the novel ends and reveals its secrets to you.
The Lost City of the Monkey God-A True Story, Douglas Preston, author; Bill Mumy, narrator.
This book was billed as an Indiana Jones lookalike, a book filled with adventure and discovery. Sadly, for me, it fell short of that and became a travelogue of sorts, albeit in unexplored areas of Honduras, rather than an archaeological expedition to find the legendary cursed City of the Monkey God. Sponsored by private money with the cooperation of National Geographic employees, the group assembled faced danger and hardship, but the expedition seemed all too brief and the discoveries of the team seemed miniscule compared to what I was expecting from the hype on the book. The most outstanding idea that I remember most was the use of a technological discovery called the Lidar, a kind of x-ray machine to me, which enabled them to find traces of lost civilizations from above, as they looked directly into the forested areas without actually venturing there.
When they did travel to the area, they encountered dense forests and dangerous reptiles and insects. Unfortunately, they did not deal with the dangers as seriously as they should have, some of which they could not have known, however, and several of the group became ill, after returning home, with a parasitic disease having very serious consequences, called Leishmaniasis. There is no existing reliable treatment, and some are still battling it. Some will continue to do battle with it for the rest of their lives as the biological infection remains within the body even after, and if, the symptoms disappear. It is a disease, like the Zika Virus, which was once absent in America, that is also now suddenly appearing in America, causing great concern for the National Institutes of Health.
The author accompanied the investigators into Honduras and also succumbed to the illness after his return. The research into the illness and the history of the region, including the history of previous civilizations, was thorough, but the book did not fulfill the promise of an Indiana Jones-like adventure story. Even noted scientists eventually objected to the publication of the group’s findings since their original exploration was conducted under the auspices of a filming project, and the finding and cataloguing of lost valuable artifacts seemed secondary. Further, since previous expeditions had been fraudulent, they believed that no evidence of past civilizations had existed in the area. Also, they did not appear to be using strict scientific guidelines and could have contaminated and even destroyed valuable evidence of any discoveries of previous life there. Some of the objections seemed ludicrous, however, when they called the use of terms like Lost City and Monkey God racist expressions.
In spite of the doubts of what could be called jealous colleagues, and against the odds, they did find evidence of unexplored former habitation in their area of exploration. They found a grid of pyramid like structures, relics, stone carvings, dwellings and evidence of various different Indian tribes and civilizations that had lived there before, and in the process, they exposed themselves rather carelessly to the exigencies of the jungle. Dealing with snakes and sand flies was a trial as was getting through dense greenery and continuous rainstorms which made travel impossible and eventually required the evacuation of some participants.
There was simply too much information about the daily life, the technology, equipment and disease rather than the excitement of the exploration, discovery and the trials and errors which led to their success. In some instances, though, I found the details often a bit too graphic and gruesome. No doubt, the group had courage and fortitude, and the author obviously did a great deal of research on the ancient customs and history of South American civilization and the many explorers, like Columbus, Cortez, LaSalle and Joliet, who, in addition to exposing the new lands to the world, brought disease and death to the unsuspecting natives. The detailed research was the reason that I gave the book 3 stars. It was the abundance of the often too technical information that led me to limit it to the 3. Perhaps a more intellectual reader, involved in the sciences, would appreciate it more than I did. Many of the words, references and descriptions went over my head. Perhaps with a written copy, it would have been better and would have lent itself to possible research into some of the unrecognizable terms. Since I also had a print copy, I could avail myself of such efforts. The photos in the book seemed more interesting than the book itself.
I was uncomfortable with the narrator. I felt as if he read with far too much emotion trying to instill excitement where there was none, trying to instill fear which often seemed absent, and to instill the gravity for the research which I never felt.
Instead of the legendary Lost City of the Monkey God, they actually discovered the newly named City of the Jaguar.
The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Michael Connelly, author; Titus Welliver, narrator
Detective Bosch returns in this novel to try and locate a serial rapist before he has an opportunity to stage another attack that will injure and traumatize a new victim. He is working for the police department, pro bono, for the chance to get back into detective work. His past battles with the force have followed him and made him a pariah with some who choose to ignore his previous successes in solving crimes and murder investigations in favor of holding a grudge against him for objecting to his wrongful termination and consequent suing of the police department, a suit in which he ultimately emerged the victor.
At the same time, he has been hired as a private investigator, by a terminally ill man of enormous wealth, to discover if he has an unknown heir to his fortune. Against policy, in his private pursuits, he uses the police computers, databases and resources to glean information not available to the general public. When in the one case, a murder is committed, and in the other, a police officer is kidnapped,, the action begins in earnest.
I don’t think this is the author’s best work because most of it was quite predictable. Still , what surprises there were, especially at the end, held my interest. The author presented the novel with a bit of a liberal point of view with characters voicing opinions on our legal system, illegal immigrants, greed and alternate lifestyles throughout the story, as well as giving a nod to the “right” in scenes which promoted life rather than abortion.
The narrator tended to drone a bit, which often made me lose my train of thought. I think he needed to exert a bit more emotion into his reading. That said, his presentation was ungarbled, staightforward and easy to understand.
The Sleepwalker, Chris Bohjalian, author; narrators, Candy McClain, Grace Experience
The novel is told mostly through the voice of Lianna Ahlberg, but occasionally, another younger voice interjects with questions, concerns or explanations. I disliked several characters and I don’t know if it was the way the narrator portrayed them or if they were simply over developed, making them seem like caricatures rather than actual individuals.
Annalee and Warren Ahlberg lived in Bartlett, Vermont, with their two children, Paige and Lianna. Nine years separated the girls because of their mother’s frequent miscarriages. Paige was twelve and Lianna was twenty-one. She was about to enter her senior year in college.
Warren was a professor at Middlebury College and Annalee was an architect with an office in Middlebury. From outward appearances they were a typical happy family. Annalee was devoted to her children, and the couple seemed devoted to each other, but Annalee had a unique problem. She suffered from parasomnia or somnambulism or what is better known as sleepwalking. Lianna had, on occasion, discovered her mother in this state. One time, she actually found her on a bridge and may have saved her life. Annalee was unaware of what she did when she went for a walk in her sleep. Somnambulists had been known to drive in their sleep. Their eyes would be open, they would appear conscious, but they were in a sleep state and were not aware of the presence of others. They might go out naked, or take off their clothes at some point later on. They might have sex in their sleep. Sometimes, they would go out searching for sex while sleeping. They were unaware and often ashamed of this behavior. There were sleep clinics which attempted to treat this disorder which appeared to be genetic and could, therefore, be passed on to progeny.
Because Annalee only seemed to walk in her sleep when her husband, Warren, was traveling, he had stopped making business trips until he felt she was stable and no longer would be in danger of walking in her sleep and possibly coming to harm. When he felt it was safe, he decided to attend a conference, and on that first night when he was gone and the girls watched over their mother, something went wrong. When Paige woke up in the morning, she discovered her mother was gone. She rushed to tell Lianna. They both searched for her but did not find her. They called 911, but they were rebuffed by a responder who said they should call back because the shift was ending shortly. When they reached their dad, he told them how to proceed and the police eventually arrived. One of the detectives was a man called Gavin Rikert. Coincidentally, he also had a sleep disorder, and he and Annalee had become friends when they were both in the sleep clinic at the same time. Even though Annalee was a good deal older, they bonded because of their mutual problem. When he began to interrogate the family, he was kind and Lianna was attracted to him. It was largely through this relationship that the mystery of Annalee’s disappearance was explored.
Regarding the novel, I didn’t think the vulgar moments were necessary. I also thought that there were a lot of side themes which didn’t seem that relevant to the thread of the story. Lianna was a bit shallow and self-indulgent when it came to snooping into the affairs and private records of others. She seemed immature on the one hand and overly promiscuous on the other. Her rude, often insolent and arrogant behavior made the relationship with a more adult and older Gavin, seem less plausible to me. At 33, he was about a dozen years older. Why would a “grown-up” tolerate the tantrums of an immature young woman, even one who is trying to find out what happened to her mother, a mother who had also been his friend? Paige was a bit over characterized as a sarcastic near-teenager. Warren Ahlberg seemed a bit too distant at times, not involved enough with helping the girls cope with the mystery of their missing mother as a parent normally would, even if they were suffering as well.
While I enjoyed the book, because of the information on somnambulism, and it was obvious that the author did a great deal of research for the book, I found some of the story disjointed. Still, as with all of Bohjalian’s books, there were secrets, lies, twists, misdirection and surprises which held my interest. I never expected the ending, but it left me with unanswered questions that arose from what I thought were holes in the narrative that remained unfilled.