ezekielsdaughter: (BookShelf)

It’s a perilous thing to write a review so soon after finishing a book, but I shall try.   First -- Why does the book exist?  The writer begins with a humiliating search by security at Israel’s airport by personnel who are confused by her heritage.  She is light-skinned, considers herself black and has what they fear is an Arab middle name.  She’s in search of Zion.

After this intro, we are introduced to her upbringing.  She is the child of an African-american professor and a white mother who is unfortunately almost invisible in this text.  Not feeling at home in America, she envies her Jewish best-friend who had the same feeling and eventually emigrated to Israel.  While in Israel, she discovers the Beta Israel and hears about the Black Hebrews who live in Dimona.  The idea of the book begins here; she will travel the black Diaspora to ask whether any of those myriad places became their Zion and their home.

It’s an interesting trip that that approximately ten years (If I have the dates correct).  While she finds some people satisfied with their lot, she finds many more dissatisfied and eager to explain why “this” place is not Zion.  Zion is somewhere else.  From Israel, the book takes us to Jamaica.  From Jamaica to Ethiopia.  From Ethiopia to Ghana. From Ghana to Bay St. Louis where her father’s father was lynched.  Along the way, she meets many elders that advise her and confuse her.  Instead of major figures, she spends a lot of time with everyday Jamaicans, Ethiopians, and Ghanians.  She comes to her own understanding of home.  And funny enough --which I saw a mile away--she finds out that the “arab” middle name is actually jewish, the result of a liaison between her great-great grandmother and a german jewish merchant.

I enjoyed the book. Occasionally, I was amazed by what she claims not to know of black or world history.  I wonder if this was done for effect so that she could elicit a story from her host’s point of view.  On the other hand, she is very well versed in the story of the African liberation movement.  She moves among the poor and lower middle-class people of each country with no trace of being the ugly American.  (People occasionally told her tales about Americans complaining about the lack of air conditioning in the middle of a poor African country.)  I was envious of her ability with languages.  I appreciated the fact that she had to save up for these trips; it made this search sound realistic.  I only wish that the book included some of the many pictures that she mentions taking.  I found the book a page turner even though it is non-fiction. Each frustrated attempt to find Zion draws us to the next one.  Unlike her, we can make this ten year search in a matter of days.

ezekielsdaughter: (BookShelf)
ezekielsdaughter: (BookShelf)

James Sallis continues to amaze me.  Year after year, the tomes of some authors get larger and larger.  However James Sallis produces these slim novels of fiction that are terse, poetic and defy categorization.  The latest have been shelved on the mystery shelf at my library but they would fit just as neatly on the general fiction shelf.  I hope that mainstream readers are wandering over to the mystery shelves or better yet finding this on the "New" book shelves that have no category.  If you want to buy, you may have to order it.  I have the devil of a time finding his books in the bookstore.  When I see them, I usually buy them right away.

This book, "A Killer is Dying" alternates between three viewpoints, but you would be wise to pay attention.  This waltz occasionally dances 2-3-1 instead of 1-2-3.  The three viewpoint characters never meet even though a movie would show them all in at least one scene from the book.  One viewpoint is the killer of the title who is dying of an unnamed disease.  He is a perfectionist and the novel follows him as he chooses to find out who bungled the job that he was paid to do.  The second character is one of the police detectives investigating the attempted murder.  His wife is dying.  The third character is a young man who has been abandoned by his parents.  Struggling to live on his own, he inexplicably begins to share the dreams and nightmares of the contract killer.  That much, you can learn from the book jacket and I will tell you little more.   If you want a standard mystery, the book may disappoint you.  Sallis is great for observing the rules of a genre and twisting them to his needs.  

On another note, I have already started to see commercials for "Drive", based on an earlier novel.  I am curious what will become of the book when it is transposed to an American movie format.  American commercial movies are not known for subtlety.  I read that the Lew Griffen books are also in development.  I tremble to see what becomes of the main character who is Black, poet and a detective in an American movie.  Do I sound as cynical as I feel about what I am likely to see on the screen?

ezekielsdaughter: (BookShelf)
The Anthologist
by Nicholson Baker

This is another case where I don’t recall why I put this book on my read-this list. It is only 243 pages long but I began faltering early. It is surprisingly engaging when the protagonist is arguing aloud/teaching us about poetry. Poetry may have evolved technical terms, like iambic pentameter for a reason but Paul--our protagonist--feels that those terms do nothing but isolate regular people from poetry and make them feel that it can’t be understood. He also feels that iambic pentameter is not really five beats to a measure so the text is strewn through with poetry written in music form or poetry written with the beats underneath the words. That I found interesting. And when our interlocutor occasionally wandered off to talk about the mouse that runs across the curtain rod, I was initially amused. Indeed, Paul tells us that he is not able to write an introduction to his anthology “On Rhyme” and meanwhile a great deal of the book explains what happened to rhyme in English poetry. I began to wonder if the book represented the missing introduction. Especially since the length of the hard-to-write introduction is the same as the book I held in my hand.

Listen, nothing happens in the book. Even the book flap will tell you that; I am not giving anything away. Yet, it is not like Seinfeld, about “nothing”. When Paul whines about his life, I was ready to drop the book. However, it is only 243 pages and the pages on poetry are beautiful. It is, alas, very Anglo. Paul, our protagonist does acknowledge Black poets or any poets of color. No wait, rap poetry is used at least once to point out that regular people do listen to poetry; it’s just not acknowledged as poetry. He points that out, but Paul, the anthologist never consists adding hip hop to his anthology. Nothing happens. We follow Paul as he tells his invisible readers about poetry, tries to woo our lover back, and as he attends poetry readings and conferences. When he talks about poetry, I am engaged. When he so carefully describes his environment that I know I am listening to a poet, I am engaged. When he whines about his girl friend, I am bored. If form follows function, I would say that Paul is a great poet of everyday life, but he can’t write a love poem.


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March 2017

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