perhaps i should really just start a book review blog, but until that happens you (my ten or so readers) will have to endure my book reviews and recommendations here.
the first book that i insist you must all run out and purchase (or borrow from la biblioteca) is People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (she of Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden Lives of Muslim Women fame, a great piece of non fiction, if you're in the mood).
People of the Book is fantastic. a brief synoposis: an ancient jewish haggadah is found in sarajevo after the balkan war and the story returns to tell parts of the holy book's history based on the bits of gunk that are found within its pages by a book conservator. i love a historical novel and i now love books that teach you about the conservation of books.
above all, i was mesmerised by Brooks' ability to tell a story with such detail, historical facts, and unique voices. i spent two days on the beach buried in the words depicting vienna, spain, venice, sarajevo, and sydney. and when i came to the end of the book i wished there was more, highlighting the fact that we can never know all the details of history, but that our imaginations can continue to fill in the gaps.
the second book i am recommending is What is the What by Dave Eggers. it is the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a sudanese man who survived civil war, the long walk of the lost boys, refugee camps in ethiopia and kenya, and resettlement to the us.
my old office is mentioned at the end of the book and it was neat to read about the 'transit centre,' the place where refugees stay before their resettlement abroad and where i used to visit beneficiaries of my project. but more than anything, the story told by Eggers manages to capture Deng's experience of growing up without an immediate family, in fear of lion attacks, coping with hunger, avoiding recruitment into a civil war from which he fled, adolescence in dusty camps, and an insider look at the experience of an unaccompanied minor who goes through the unhcr system and finds himself trying to make a new life in a new world.
the best part of the book is that Eggers captures a voice that is not apologetic nor pathetic while allowing you the opportunity to understand what Deng's experience must have been like. it is not right nor wrong, it just is.
the book had me thinking long after i finished it and i am curious to know more about where Deng is now and how his foundation is faring in their work building schools in southern Sudan. not only a great book, but a great opportunity to learn more about a crisis of monumental scale that exists in our lifetimes.