‘Renia’s Diary: A Holocaust Journal’

renia's-diary-spiegelAs we near a world where survivors of the Holocaust are soon to be figures of the past, the stories, memories, and mementos of those who are still among us start to hold an even greater weight than they already did. Elizabeth Bellak is one such survivor who decided, after decades of hiding away her sister’s diary, to share it with the world.

Renia Spiegel was a young Jewish girl living in Poland when Hitler came to power. Her diary chronicles the time before Hitler and the war all the way to her experiences living and hiding in a ghetto before being killed by the Nazis. Renia’s Diaryis exactly what its title betrays: a diary. Renia shares with us her feelings about school, her friends, boys, her complicated relationship with her mother who is not with her, as well as poetry to encapsulate it all.

The historical importance of a document like this makes readers wonder what historians will glean from the text through close and continued reading over the years.

Full of interesting details and facts about the time, as well as melodramatic, teenage angst, Renia’s Diaryis a diary in every way, sharing the inner most thoughts and feelings of a young girl living through the hardest time of her life.

Slated for publication by St. Martin’s Press in September 2019, you can preorder a copy of Renia’s Diaryfrom your local independent bookstore.

Read more non-fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Out of Darkness, Shining Light’ by Petina Gappah

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Racism, misogyny and the ironies that arise from situations in which we “do right” are just a few of the topics taken on in Petina Gappah’s new novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light.

A historical novel that fictionalizes the actual removal of a missionary and doctor’s body out of Africa in the late 1800s, Out of Darkness, Shining Lightis told from two unexpected perspectives. One is Halima, Doctor David Livingston’s cook, and the other is Jacob Wainwright, a freed slave and a Christian. Through these two narrators, we are afforded a glimpse into the harrowing journey of the group of people that literally carried Livingstone to the edge of the Earth.

While the frame of the novel centers around Livingstone’s removal from Africa, the core of the book gets at much deeper themes. Halima is a slave who is maybe not a slave, who is treated like the woman she is: not as worthy, intelligent, or capable as her male counterparts. She is chastised for having feelings for a man when her partner is abusive, and their union is forced. She is made fun of for loving a child that isn’t hers. She’s told she can never own a house even if she is free one day, simply because she’s a woman. And yet, it’s Halima who provides for the group. Halima who in the end is shown to be the strongest of all.

Jacob Wainwright on the other hand, the pious Christian that he is, denounces the savagery of his countrymen and aims to convert all of Africa to the one true religion: Christianity. He parallels his savage counterparts in his treatment and view of women as inherently evil, in his blasé reflections on punishment and death, and in his othering of all who are not what he sees as the ideal. And yet, he in many ways is a victim of his circumstances: stolen as a child, shipped across the sea, and taught the white man’s view of white vs. wrong.

A cutting, funny, and most often horrifying novel, Petina Gappah’s Out of Darkness, Shining Lightis a beautiful and soulful book that tells a story that desperately needs to be told.

Slated for release by Scribner Books on September 10, 2019, you can preorder a copy of Out of Darkness, Shining Lightby Petina Gappah at your local independent bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘This Tender Land’ by William Kent Krueger

this-tender-land-kruegerWilliam Kent Krueger’s latest novel, This Tender Land, takes on the task of emulating the American Classic in a number of ways. A group of outcast youngsters, down on their luck, living in an abusive, historical setting escape their captors to adventure down the Mississippi. Harkening back to landmark works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finand Great Expectations, Krueger’s novel awakens a sort of nostalgia for the American Classic in the reader.

While the cast of characters is interesting and the adventures manifold, the novel falls short in its ambling structure and stride. The action is spread thin across the pages, making it challenging for the reader to keep pace. Krueger has moments where the action is clear and the prose beautiful, but overall, the novel takes heft of patience and perseverance to sift through.

Slated for release by Atria Books on September 3, 2019, you can preorder a copy of This Tender Landby William Kent Krueger at your local independent bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

 

 

‘We Will Tell You Otherwise’ by Beth Mayer

WeWillTellYouOtherwise-MayerWe Will Tell You Otherwiseis the short story collection from debut author Beth Mayer.

Already winner of the Hudson Prize from Black Lawrence Press, We Will Tell You Otherwiseis an eclectic and sometimes harrowing set of stories. Mayer takes ordinary people and puts them extraordinary situations that are simply life. For example, the opening story tells the tale of a young boy’s first encounter with death: both a cadaver and a knife fight in the same night. In this story, “Don’t Tell Your Mother,” Mayer explores the coming of age narrative in a very different way.

Characters in Mayer’s collection often have a blunt or almost nonchalant way of talking about hard material. There’s the father whose son has cancer, who tells the reader plainly at the beginning of “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” that the cancer is “likely going to kill him eventually.” There’s the sister whose eight-year-old brother wants to be committed to an insane asylum who tells us “[t]he real problem with [her brother] is that he is eight and has yet to find his true calling.” We hear these stark, almost outlandish statements from people trying to order the chaos of their lives into something manageable.

All of the characters are rich and unforgettable in Mayer’s collection. They all come to the page with their own unique set of problems and often leave with those same problems. And the reader is offered only a glimpse of what it all means. There’s a sense that the world is disorder, sadness, and sometimes joy. Sad characters laugh, miserable characters dream, and some of the most unfortunate of them all get away from what’s haunting them somehow.

A moving and unique set of stories, Beth Mayer’s We Will Tell You Otherwiseis forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press on August 20, 2019. You can order a copy from Black Lawrence Press today.

‘At the Narrow Waist of the World’ by Marlena Maduro Baraf

at-the-narrow-waist-Baraf.jpgAt the Narrow Waistof the World by Marlena Maduro Baraf is a narrative that investigates mental illness, issues of belonging, and the influence of family and generational past.

Told as a memoir that focuses on Baraf’s own mother, At the Narrow Waist of the Worldcenters most of its conversation on mental health and how sanity is a complicated aspect of the human condition. Throughout Baraf’s life, her mother suffered from a number of psychotic breakdowns and spent years in psychiatric facilities. Through her memoir, Baraf attempts to both capture the memory of her mother and form a greater understanding of her mother’s influence in her own life.

In tandem with Baraf’s struggle with her mother and their nuanced relationship is Baraf’s internal battle with the notion of belonging. Growing up Jewish in Panama while attending a Catholic school, Baraf was at a constant loss as to how she fit in to the world around her.

At the Narrow Waist of the Worldtells one woman’s story of navigating the struggles of her adolescent and young adult life and how she both overcame and still lives with those struggles. While none of Baraf’s burning questions are necessarily answered, she does seem to come to peace with and embrace some of the more difficult aspects of her life.

Mixing English and Spanish, text and photographs, letters and remembered dialogue, At the Narrow Waist of the World is an eclectic and quick read.

Published by She Writes Press in August 2019, At the Narrow Waist of the World is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more non-fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Porpoise’ by Mark Haddon

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The Porpoiseby Mark Haddon is a masterfully rendered retelling of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre.Haddon takes all of the elements of Shakespeare’s work, and layers on it a multitude of intricacies that elevate the story to an entirely different emotional plane.

Haddon sets his reader up in contemporary France where a plane has just crashed: a wife is dead, a daughter survives. Angelica, the daughter, is raised by her father Phillipe who develops a muddled and monstrous relationship with his daughter as she grows. Just as Shakespeare’s Pericles’ own adventure starts with the unveiling of a scandal between father and daughter, so does Haddon’s Pericles. This Pericles though is at first a con artist named Darius who comes to visit Phillipe and uncovers the untold lies surrounding Phillipe and Angelica. After being chased away by one of Phillipe’s henchmen, Darius, now Pericles, finds himself upon a ship, The Porpoise, with a new name, a new history, and a new destiny to fulfill.

Haddon follows not only Pericles, but also a host of other characters which have only minor or momentary parts in Shakespeare’s original. Haddon, instead of simply following Pericles’ narrative as it stands, weaves together characters and elements in unique and magical ways. In doing so, the reader is intimately tied to all of the characters whether she despises them or holds her breath for them. Through elements perhaps of magical realism, of mental instability, or musings on the veil between life and death, characters, times, and places start to blend together as themes and narrative threads are woven into a brilliant and moving tapestry that is Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise.

While there are points in the novel where Haddon’s musings seem to run away and leave the reader wondering at the thread of his thoughts, overall the piece is a beautifully set puzzle with some odd curves, but a marvelous finish.

A masterful and poetic work, The Porpoiseby Mark Haddon is slated for release by Doubleday on June 18, 2019. You can preorder a copy of the book at your local independent bookstore today.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Naturally Tan’ by Tan France

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Television personality and fashionista Tan France of Netflix’s Queer Eye has written his first book, Naturally Tan.

France covers hot topics such as race, sexuality, and depression while also getting in-depth on some of lighter topics like (unsurprisingly) fashion, dating, and shoes. What makes the book so unique and inspiring is France himself. His tone of voice, his compassion, and his blunt attitude make the reader feel like she’s a friend or at least an interviewee.

France, an Englishman with a heritage in Pakistan, is one of the first openly gay Muslim men on television right now. Throughout Naturally Tan, he talks about his struggles with being himself in a society that looks down on a lot of what makes him who he is. Above and beyond his heritage and sexuality, though, France makes the book more about providing the inspiration to be who you are than it is about glorifying himself for being who he is.

The book, like its title and author, is full of smart and witty phrases, anecdotes, and advice (both fashion and life) from France. While it can often read like a stream of consciousness, or even a one-way conversation, Naturally Tanhas the intrigue and momentum to keep you reading.

France is a voice we don’t often hear from, even in our more modern (and we hope) progressive age, but it’s one we need to hear more of.

Slated for release from St. Martin’s Press on May 14, 2019, you can preorder a copy of Naturally Tan by Tan France at your local bookstore.

Read more non-fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.