‘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.

‘The Book of Jeremiah’ by Julie Zuckerman

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The Book of Jeremiah by Julie Zuckerman mirrors its original counterpart, only in so much as it’s a book of prophecy in a lot of ways.

Jeremiah is the central character in Zuckerman’s book, but he’s not the only narrator. Spanning both time and mind, The Book of Jeremiah is told from a multitude of perspectives all connecting to one another through Jeremiah. His wife, his daughter, his brother: every major character who plays a part in Jeremiah’s life has a voice in the novel.

Over the span of the novel, we see Jeremiah grow from a mischievous child who just wants to have fun, to a pedantic professor who can’t remember what fun is. We see Jeremiah take on the role of punishing his children for behavior not dissimilar to his own as a child, though we could’ve never have imagined him doing so in the story just before. And we often see it all through the eyes of another character, giving us different perspectives on each characters’ action and thoughts.

By the time we get to the end, we see that Zuckerman has carefully crafted a novel out of her stories, and one that repeats an echo throughout. It reads almost like a prophecy: something happens in the past and we know it will affect the future, we just don’t know how. Again and again, themes and objects and people reappear in different stories and each time, we see them in a different light. Love and loss, courage and fear, religion and passion all take on new meaning as we move through the novel. Similarly, we vacillate between both sympathizing with and rooting against Jeremiah as we come to know him more truly. We love him and we hate him. We feel for him and we are annoyed by him. As Zuckerman tastefully compiles her stories to give just the right effect.

An artfully crafted novel that pulls you in and keeps you reading, The Book of Jeremiahby Julie Zuckerman is slated for release by Press 53 on May 9, 2019. You can preorder a copy of the book 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.

‘Lights All Night Long’ by Lydia Fitzpatrick

lights-all-night-long-fitzpatrickBrilliant and beautiful beyond comprehension, Lydia Fitzpatrick’s Lights All Night Longis a novel that pulls the reader in starting on page one.

Fitzpatrick tells the story of a Russian exchange student, Ilya, and his mission to save his brother, Vladimir, from punishment for a series of murders Ilya knows, or at least thinks he knows, Vladimir did not commit. Ilya is in Louisiana though and doesn’t quite know how to help his brother except by sending him lengthy emails detailing his life in America and his insistence that Vladimir is innocent. While in America, with the help of both fate and some new friends, Ilya begins to unravel bits of the truth about his brother’s life and his confession of the murders.

Told through a blend of past a present, the reader slowly starts to piece together Ilya’s history and the life he’s lived in Russia. We start to understand Ilya and Vladmir’s relationship as well as Ilya’s relationship with is hometown, his dead father, and what’s left of his family. A story of drugs and murder, of family and companionship, of honesty and dishonesty, of honor and love, Lights All Night Longis impossible to simply sum up in a few paragraphs. It’s a novel that has to be read and by being read almost lived.

Fitzpatrick is a dazzling and poetic writer who creates characters that are difficult to forget. Since the book is told from the close third perspective of a teenage boy, we hear a lot about his sexual fantasies and desires, and while this at times can detract from the flow of the book, the reader just has to remember the age of the main character, and it’s easy to move through some of these more staccato descriptions.

Overall, Lights All Night Longis a captivating book that will pull readers into an entirely new world.

Slated for released on April 2, 2019 by Penguin Press, you can preorder a copy of Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick 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.

‘What You Have Heard is True’ by Carolyn Forche

what-you-have-forcheWhat You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistanceis a moving piece of non-fiction that gets at the heart of what it means to be human and what it means to be a human who acts. Written by poet Carolyn Forché, the memoir is an account of her time in and relationship with El Salvador and the man who helps her form that relationship: Leonel. Told through a mixed media lens, the book includes narrative, poetry, and photographs to help build the image, scene, and emotion of El Salvador at the time of Forché’s visits there.

Forché is twenty-seven when she gets a mysterious knock on her door and a request from someone named Leonel (the uncle of a friend) to enlighten her about the plight of El Salvador. It’s the late 1970s, and Forché is teaching poetry at a university, she is recently unmarried, living with a roommate, and trying to figure out what to do with a fellowship she’s unexpectedly earned. When Leonel shows up at her door with his two daughters, he wastes no time in sharing the history of oppression in El Salvador and its roots in European invasion. Leonel insists that Forché has a part to play and convinces her to come to El Salvador to see for herself the injustices running rampant through the country.

Forché finds herself agreeing though she doesn’t know why, and this agreement sends her into a reeling and unpredictable journey through a country she will come to love. She sees unsanitary hospitals, dead bodies hacked to pieces, she is chased by death squads, meets priests and nuns who are willing to give their lives for justice, she meets friends and enemies, and all the while she’s still trying to figure out what she’s doing in El Salvador and what her role is in bringing justice.

What You Have Heard is Trueis the product of Forché’s experiences, and ultimately (in addition to an earlier book of poetry she published about the topic) her way of contributing to the narrative, of sharing the story of El Salvador, Leonel, and the friends who lost their lives for freedom. A beautifully written and entirely engaging narrative, What You Have Heard is Truewill make you think differently about your own life and the privilege of having a working toilet, the right to speak your mind, and to live a life without fear of losing it on the side of a road to a machete.

Slated for release by Penguin Random House on March 19, 2019, you can preorder a copy of What You Have Heard is Trueby Carolyn Forché at 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.

‘Bowlaway’ by Elizabeth McCracken

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Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken is the acclaimed author’s latest release. This multigenerational novel explores themes of love, connection, and imperfection all within the setting of a bowling alley.

McCracken starts the novel off with the finding of a body in a cemetery. The body though is alive, and its keeper, Bertha Truitt comes to wholly change the town of Salford, Massachusetts. Against all odds and all societal norms, Bertha, a white woman, marries an African American doctor when segregation is still very much alive and opens a candlepin bowling alley where women of the town come to bowl and show their worth as more than just housewives.

Over the span of the novel, characters die, leave, and keep coming back. Through a series of mysteries and missed connections, the bowling alley sees a number of new owners with new agendas as Bertha’s family, both blood and not, try to unravel their inherited mysteries and find their own place in the world.

While the story is intriguing, I often found myself unable to be fully pulled into Bowlaway. Much of the novel is told as summary as we are whisked through time to new places and new periods where the characters are often unfamiliar and unknowable because of the constant shifting. Further, while the plot of the novel has unbounding potential for interest, the stakes for the characters in many of the scenes feel distant or not wholly there.

A quick read with an element of humor and remorse, Bolwawayis slated to be released by HarperCollins on February 5, 2019. You can preorder a copy of Bowlawayby Elizabeth McCracken at your local 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.