The weeks before Christmas at my daughter’s house follow this pattern: Daughter and husband on Zoom calls all day; kids in school. My mornings: wrapping presents and making cookies! By the dozens! My afternoons: Reading!! Just because your progeny is sitting Right There tapping on a laptop does NOT mean s/he’s available for maternal interruptions, however well-meaning. Respecting their “workspace” has the corollary benefit of suggesting respect for your “reading space.” To prove I put those afternoons leading up to Christmas to good use, here’s what I read.
Moghul Buffet by Cheryl Benard – What’s life like for women in Peshawar, Pakistan? This book will fill you in. In describing the investigation into a disappeared—possibly murdered–American, Benard provides abundant cultural insights. Alas, not enough has changed since she wrote this novel two decades ago. Benard is the wife of a former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq and knows wherof she speaks. Smooth writing, marvelously funny moments.
The Beggar King by Oliver Potzsch – It’s 1637 in Germany and a village executioner visits Regensburg to help his ailing sister. The visit is a set-up, and he finds himself in a city dungeon accused of her murder. Can his daughter and her fiancé save him? On a ten-point scale, I’d give this a 6.5; interesting plot, but too much anachronistic language.
Home Reading Service by Fabio Morábito – For some minor offense, Eduardo has been sentenced to a year of community service, reading to the elderly and disabled. Other than this activity, his life has little purpose, but his outlandish clients manage to involve him in some crazy shenanigans. The story takes place in Cuernavaca, Mexico (translated by Curtis Bauer). Why the clunky cover?
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles – It’s 1954, and Emmett is going home, having finished his year-long sentence for manslaughter. His father has died, but his eight-year-old brother (the charming Billy) awaits. Two fellow inmates soon find him and you know they’ll lead him into mischief. Towles writes from a place of compassion, so that I cared about these characters and their fates, despite the book’s daunting near-600-page length. A soothing read.
The Italian by Shukri Mabkhout (translated from the Arabic by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza) – Set in Tunisia in the late 1980s, this novel won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2015. In an era of significant upheaval, lovers Zeina and once-idealistic journalist Abdel Nasser are caught in a tussle between reactionary Islamism, a corrupt political system, and traditional family expectations. Full of narrative tension but too much political theory for me.
All these books have good points. While tastes vary, my favorite was Moghul Buffet, followed by The Lincoln Highway. Read on!