My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira
Mary Sutter is a young, headstrong midwife from Albany, NY who dreams of becoming a surgeon in 19th-century America. Unable to obtain a higher education and determined to overcome the prejudices against women becoming doctors, Mary leaves home and travels to Washington, D.C., to pursue her medical career by caring for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Every step of the way she faces unimaginable odds, but she rises to each challenge and overcomes great obstacles. The novel is factually accurate in both the historical descriptions of the Civil War, and medical practices from that era, and has strong characters throughout the book.
June 2010 Archives
My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira
Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill
Originally published in Canada as The Book of Negroes, Someone Knows My Name is historical fiction at its very best. Lawrence Hill has based his wonderfully written book on an actual document from American history that listed blacks living during the American Revolutionary War era who were rewarded for being loyal to the British by being transported to Canada. Those who had been slaves were supposedly emancipated from slavery and could begin life anew in Canada. Aminata Diallo, his main character, goes from a wonderfully secure and idyllic childhood in her West African village of Bayo to the horrors of being captured by slavers and then shipped to South Carolina and sold to an owner of an indigo plantation. Her life becomes a nightmare of slavery - abusive owners, horrible living conditions and heartbreaking personal traumas. However, Aminata is strong and somehow she proves herself to be a survivor. She eventually finds her way to New York City, Canada and lands in London in the final days of her life. Hill's writing is filled with historical detail of the terror and dreadfulness of slavery as a part of American history. Most interesting is his having Aminata being one of the writers of actual Book of Negroes. This gives the reader a direct accounting of the creation of that remarkable document. By the way, there is a copy of it at The New York Public Library. In all, Someone Knows My Name is a remarkably powerful and moving story that illuminates a disturbing chapter in United States history. This book is highly recommended.
Daring Young Men, by Richard Reeves
The Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949, saved West Berlin from Soviet control by flying in food and supplies enough to prevent starvation. Experiences (many hair-raising) of individual pilots are interwoven with the political moves of both sides and the lives of the Germans whose future was at stake. The airlift survived because President Truman rejected the recommendations of all his advisors to give it up, and the amazing organizational abilities of the man ultimately put in charge, plus the courage and determination of the mechanics who kept the old cargo planes going, and of course the pilots. A fascinating presentation of a complex and dangerous situation.
Call for the Dead, by John Le Carre
Would a man about to commit suicide leave a request to be called at 8:30 the next morning? Or fix himself a cup of cocoa and not drink it? In the first of Le Carre's books, George Smiley is introduced. Asked to explain why the man he had interviewed that day, because of an anonymous tip that he was a spy, was so distraught as to kill himself afterwards. It's a puzzle because the interview was very friendly. Smiley liked the man and was sure he was innocent; they had parted on the best of terms. So Smiley sets out to prove it was not suicide and finds himself involved, of course, in international intrigue.
Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Greg Mortenson
Greg Mortenson's latest book, Stones into Schools, continues the story of Mortenson's campaign to extend education to thousands of children living in the remote, mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan by building schools that he so compellingly wrote of in his first book, Three Cups of Tea. Clearly, he is deserving of his widely-admired humanitarianism and dedication to his belief that, through education, the young people in these areas will be able to shed notions of violence as a part of their lives and become productive and positive members of their communities. Yet, the reader can gain so much more from Stones into Schools. Mortenson's descriptions of the varied tribal groups as well the mountainous geography he traveled in these areas provide first-hand information that serves as a valuable education for all on the complexities of these parts of the world. This book is strongly recommended.
My Name is Memory, by Ann Brashares
Daniel's soul is reborn into many lives over the centuries, and he remembers every one of them. During Daniel's time as a soldier in 541 AD, he first encounters a young woman in North Africa. Their meeting has a life altering impact on him which continues in his future lives. Over hundreds of years and many, many lives, their souls meet again and again as different people in different countries. She is Sophia during the year 776 in Cappadocia, she is Constance in England in WWI, she is now Lucy in modern day Virginia...and he is always Daniel. Daniel and a few other souls (not all of them good souls) remember their past lives, but Lucy does not remember. She struggles with her attraction to this mysterious Daniel, while he struggles over whether they were never meant to be together. A welcome summer read by the author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Fans of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Travelers Wife will be clamoring to read this planned trilogy by Brashares, and it will be a hit with adult and teen readers.
Quartetti Italiani, by Quartetto di Venezia
This 10 disc boxed set is a survey of string quartet music from Italy. The works of seven composers are represented, the earliest of whom is Boccherini (b. 1743) and the most recent, Gian Francesco Malipiero (b.1882). It is on the works of the latter that I would like to focus. My appetite for Malipiero was whetted when I encountered his 1st Symphony via the Naxos Music Library streaming audio service (Click here). This invaluable resource is made available for free to Greenwich Library cardholders. Having very much enjoyed my initial exposure to the composer's work, I borrowed Quartetti Italiani from the Library's collection. Malipiero's entire output for this configuration of players, comprising eight quartets in all, is present on discs 9 and 10 of this set. A harmonically adventurous spirit is evident on all these works, which, in conjunction with rhythmic vitality, creates a distinctive sense of forward narrative motion. Formal development is not emphasized, which may disappoint devotees of the Classical verities, yet these works cohere well, exhibiting a Faure-like logic as they unfold. I must admit, the Quartetto di Venezia does not exhibit the last degree of refinement and polish in their performances, but their playing projects enough excitement and commitment to put these pieces across and prompted repeated listenings on my part to all eight quartets; although I still haven't warmed up too much to #8. Predominantly tonal, these works, while frequently challenging, will reward those at ease with 20th Century idioms and iconoclastic compositional voices.
Iron Thunder, by Avi
13 year old Tom Carrol takes a job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to help support his family during the Civil War. Tom is assigned to be the assistant of Captain Ericsson, who is currently at work on the first ironclad ship for the Union--The Monitor. Many wonder if Ericsson's "folly" will even float, and confederate spies are willing to pay gold for any secrets Tom can share about the ship. Tom is caught between helping his family and helping his country in this first battle of the Ironclad ships.