Monday, July 16, 2018

Three more recent reads

The Boy on the Beach: My Family's Escape from Syria and Our Hope of a New Home by Time Kurdi

A photograph of a young boy, Alan Kurdi, dead on the beach in Turkey after the small craft his family was on in a desperate attempt to escape to Europe capsized, galvanized the world around the ever growing Syrian refugee crisis, at least temporarily.  But for Canadian, Tima Kurdi, this photograph was far more personal.  Alan was her young nephew - in fact she had purchased the clothes he was wearing in the photo the only time she saw him on a visit to Turkey.  Even more devastating, Alan's mother and brother also drowned and Alan's father, Tima's brother was devastated and broken by the loss.

In an effort to keep the refugee crisis at the forefront of global discussion, Kurdi wrote this book to tell the personal story of her family, though it obviously parallels the plight of thousands of other Syrian families.  She starts with their happy upbringing in Syria, then tells how various branches of the family were forced to flee as the civil war started then worsened.  Kurdi herself had married and left for Canada before the war began though she returned for visits as often as she could.

What is striking about this story is how ordinary Kurdi's family was before tragedy struck.  It really left you feeling this could happen to anyone.  It was also another illustration of the bureaucracy behind Canada's refugee approach (similar to other books I have read recently).  And while things seemed to improve temporarily after Alan's picture went viral, it is questionable whether the enthusiasm has carried over the years.

While this was not necessarily the best written book, I found the story compelling nonetheless.

Bachelor Girl by Kim van Alkemade

This was a really interesting novel based loosely on historical characters.  Jacob Ruppert was the actual owner of the New York Yankees in the early twentieth century.  When he died in 1939 he left a large bequest to an unknown actress, Helen Winthrope.  This fact inspired the author to imagine the events that led to the bequest.  Though she used Winthrope and Ruppert in her story, her acknowledgements clearly state that the rest of the narrative and characters (other than obvious ones like Babe Ruth) are pure fiction.

The story alternates perspectives between Helen, a young actress living with her widowed mother and brother, who is out of work due to health reasons which are eventually revealed, and Albert, Ruppert's handsome and unwed personal secretary.  Early on we learn he is gay, which at the time was something kept very secret.  Helen is offered a job managing a theatre that Ruppert buys and she and Albert develop a close friendship.  The story follows this friendship as well as Ruppert's  business dealings and his relationship with Helen and Albert, over the course of several years leading up to Ruppert's death.  It is only upon his death that the reason for his interest in Helen is revealed.

Precious Cargo:  My year Driving the Kids on School Buss 3077 by Craig Davidson

I wouldn't really recommend this book though if you are interested it was short and therefore wasn't a big time commitment.  The author was a bit of a loser as he hit his early 30s.  He had one successful book of short stories prior to that and hoped to make his living as a writer but the next novel he tried bombed.  He was unable to get any job other than driving a school bus of special needs students.  The book describes his year on the job and the relationships he built with the kids - the positive outcome is that it gave him some perspective on his own life.  The negative is I was left with the feeling he only took the job so he would have something to write a book about.  It seemed a bit exploitative though maybe that was just my cynical interpretation.  the factual account is interspersed with bits of an unpublished novel based on the kids on the bus.  After a while I just skipped these bits - they weren't terribly interesting.  The only other positive was that some of the kids were very funny and Davidson's recounting of some of their lines was entertaining.

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