favorites, poetry and prose

Electric Arches

Electric ArchesElectric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I think that maybe if we can guard ourselves and each other, if we can keep from losing our minds alone in quiet rooms and can at least lose them side by side, we may live through the year.” (fr Thursday Morning, Newbury Street)

This is a stunning book of poetry and pose by sociologist Eve Ewing. It is a contemporary American powerhouse illustrating the streets of Chicago from the perspective of a black girl and woman. It’s an homage to Erykah Bakdu and Prince and Koko Taylor. As she writes in her introduction, “Every story in it is absolutely true. Some of the stories are from the past and some are from the future. In the future, every child in Chicago has food and a safe place to sleep, and mothers laugh all day and eat Popsicles.”

Ewing expertly combines gritty realism with supernatural fantasy. I feel her power as a prose and poet were most evident in the “re-tellings”, where she would share a true story of overt racism and discrimination, and then add an alternate, supernatural ending. In four boys on Ellis, for example, the author describes four (very) young boys who were being questioned by the police with no adult or advocate present. The officers yell at the author to leave; in the alternate ending, she sits in her car willing the boys were safe at home, and magically they begin to fly.

The book ends with an affirmation to youth living in prison, and is truly unforgettable.

“I believe the sun shines,
if not here, then somewhere.
Somewhere it rains,
and things will grow green and wonderful.”

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favorites, Fiction

Of Human Bondage

Of Human BondageOf Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has been on my TBR shelf for a long time (as in years), and I’m glad I finally read it, although it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. If you had asked me halfway through the book how I would rate it, I would have given it a solid two stars, mainly because I could not stand the protagonist, Philip Carey. He seemed aimless and selfish, making one poor decision after another. Despite doing incredibly well in school, he left mere months before graduation, giving up an all but guaranteed scholarship because of adolescent stubbornness. After that, he floats from passion to passion, including a stint in Paris as an art student, until settling on medicine.

A large part of the novel involves Philip’s misguided attempts to find and understand love. He uses women, and then allows himself to be debased by women, in return. What I found so frustrating was the lows to which he was willing to sink in order to gain affection from the childish, manipulative Mildred. He knew she would never love him–he just wanted her attention any way he could get it. Similarly, he could be callous to those who loved him and yet he could not love in return.

As the book progressed, though, I realized that Philip was merely a product of his circumstances. Born with a club foot, both of his parents died at a young age, and he spent his formidable years with guardians who meant well but didn’t know how to relate to or raise Philip–they never served as mentors and never provided the unconditional love he so needed. Yes, he was aimless, but he also had a good heart, and would (and did) spend his last penny to help a friend in need (or, more often, a woman.) Although Mildred continued to have an inexplicable hold on him, Philip eventually realizes that the feelings he has for her aren’t love, and is able to keep some sort of distance despite continually rushing to her rescue.

It is a surprisingly accurate, if painful, portrait of man’s search for meaning when shackled not only by the expectations of society, but more aggressively by the torrents of one’s own, poorly understood emotions.

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favorites, Fiction

From Sand and Ash

From Sand and AshFrom Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“It was a long way to Rome for a crippled man with a broken heart.”

A must read for anyone who enjoyed “The Book Thief.” WWII novels can be heart wrenching, and this one definitely is, but it also highlights the pockets of good hidden under a cloak of evil. Eva and Angelo were raised together, although Eva is an Italian Jew and Angelo is bred for the Catholic church. Despite these differences, the two build a fast bond at a young age that blossoms into love as they grow older. Torn between Eva and the priesthood, Angelo chooses to become a priest.

When the sharp talons of WWII reach Italy, Eva turns to Angelo, and together the two face unspeakable horrors as they struggle to harbor Jews in convents and monasteries. At the same time, they are forced to reconcile their faith in God with the evil surrounding them, and Angelo finds himself torn once again between Eva and his vocation.

In a word, this book was stunning. Easily the best book I’ve read all year, and one I look forward to re-reading.

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