Monthly Archives: May 2016

** Don’t Let Him Know by Sandip Roy

Don’t Let Him Know is the melancholic story of an Indian-American family that started with a bad match between a gay man and his unsuspecting bride, who herself has a secret. So they shuffle along, making the best of their lives together without ever revealing the secrets. The story is told by their son and bounces between India, Illinois, and Northern California, with tender moments and funny ones, too. It’s not as depressing as the premise may indicate.

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** An Affair With My Mother by Catriona Palmer

In An Affair with My Mother: A Story of Adoption, Secrecy and Love, the author recalls her search for her biological mother, who was pressured to give her up for adoption in the Ireland of the 1970s, at a time and place where unwed motherhood was shameful, so much so that there mother’s father stopped speaking to her after she got pregnant.

She does find her mother, and her mother is delighted to meet her, but having had to hide her past for so long, she insists on clandestine meetings, which is very painful for her daughter. I found the story to be strongest and most interesting when it describes how adoptions were managed in Catholic Ireland at the time of the author’s birth, and how shame and secrecy were heaped both on the birth mothers and, more surprisingly, the adoptive parents. Indeed, the author was lucky that her parents told her early and matter-of-factly that she was adopted.

On the other hand, the story occasionally rambles and, although it’s understandable that the author is distressed by her mother’s refusal to acknowledge their relationship publicly, at least at first, it’s puzzling that she cannot see that opening up to her husband and children upend her carefully reconstructed life.

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** The Only Street In Paris by Elaine Sciolino

Written by the New York Times bureau chief in Paris, The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs is a well-informed ode to the street where she lives, and beyond that to Paris, although not, refreshingly, the well-worn Paris of tourists. To my taste, there is a little too much swooning over obscure crafts and the loveliness of small shops when, as a journalist, the author could also recount the labyrinthine zoning and labor laws of France that protect the shops at the expense of consumers. But, as the book progresses, the stories get less superficially charming and more about the individuals who, like the author, love the street and make it an urban village, much more human than one would expect in a large city.

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*** My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name Is Lucy Barton finds the eponymous heroine in a hospital bed, stuck there for weeks as mysterious infections prevent her discharge, sick enough to be in the hospital but not sick enough to think solely of her bodily worries. In walks her estranged mother, summoned by her overwhelmed husband who can barely cope with his job and two small children. She will stay for weeks. It’s an awkward dance between mother and daughter, with memories of a harsh childhood bubbling up, two very different lives, but still much love, or at least affection between them. It’s sad and lovely.

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** Ghetto by Mitchell Duneier

Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea is not a story of ghettoes per se, but rather an exploration of how social scientists studied and wrote about the American “ghetto”. I would have preferred a more direct approach but found enough direct glimpses of the history, starting with the segregation of Jews in Rome, thanks to Paul IV (before Venice gave its name to the word ghetto), all the way to  Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem’s Children Zone.

Sadly, the scientists who studied (American) ghettos don’t seem to  have contributed many solutions to the phenomenon, perhaps because they were guided more by ideology than observation, let along first-hand knowledge.

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*** Pandemic by Sonia Shah

Wash your hands and avoid crowds. Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond will make you squirm at the dangers of cholera, Ebola, flu, and other MRSA infections. The author, following on her earlier book, The Fever, which tackled malaria, shows how urbanization, environmental changes, war, and especially poverty and corruption all conspire to make epidemics more common and more explosive. There is not a lot of good news in the book, and perhaps the most important lesson is that, in a connected world, the rich countries cannot ignore the poor ones, for they, too, will suffer, albeit less, as well-known and new virus and bacteria spread faster and wider.

 

 

 

 

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* Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

Innocents and Others follows two filmmaker who started out as best friends but find themselves on different tracks.  I expect that movie buffs and would-be filmmakers will like the story, which is told, overly preciously to my taste, partly in the form of scripts and blog posts for a film class. There are some lovely observations here and there: the mother who automatically accepts any scheme that stars a favored friend of her daughter’s, the woman who hopes her husband won’t get into a writing program that would require a long separation — but overall I felt the story was plodding, even aimless, although well-written and carefully unfolded.

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