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April 2, 2019, 9:00 - 9:00 at the Library! For more details, check out our Budget Information!
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“At the center of Maaza Mengiste’s stunning second novel is Hirut, an Ethiopian servant girl who rises to become an important warrior in the Ethiopian struggle to expel would-be Italian conquerors under the dictator Benito Mussolini, whose army invaded the country in the 1930s.
One of the thrills of the story is to witness Hirut, who is often harshly mistreated by some of her wealthier countrymen, develop into a determined and powerful person. But that is by no means the only wonder of the novel. Mengiste has said that at first she felt trapped by the need to stay true to historical facts. Luckily, she broke away from that suffocating exactitude and produced a work of fiction that is epic in reach, with brilliant borrowings from the forms of classic tragedy. There is, for example, a chorus that interjects and sometimes disputes the narrative being told. There are descriptions of photographs that render an intimate sense of the horrors and heroics of the war. And there are gripping descriptions of the battles themselves.
Then there are the other characters. The myth in Ethiopia about this war is that through courage and pluck the noble, outgunned Ethiopian peasantry defeated a modern, mechanized European army. It’s partly true. But in the range of her Ethiopian characters portrayed here is something closer to the truth: There are some bad actors on the side of the righteous. Likewise with Italians. The leader of the invaders is thoughtful and brutal; his war crimes are appalling. His photographer, there to document the victories and atrocities, is both soulful and morally compromised.
In The Shadow King, no character is completely pure. And the war is brutal. Mengiste often writes lyrically, but she also writes bone-chilling descriptions of the terror and savagery of the war. The book is impossible to put down or put out of mind.”
“The polar explorations of the 19th and 20th centuries are well-chronicled journeys to both the North and South poles, strewn with well-known names such as Shackleton, Peary, Scott, Nansen and Amundsen. Less well known is the first, albeit reluctant, penguin biologist, a British physician named Gregory Murray Levick who accompanied Robert F. Scott on his doomed attempt to reach the South Pole in 1912. This was a man who knew little about—and had even less interest in—studying penguins, preferring instead to eat them whenever necessary (which was often the case).
Yet according to his modern-day counterpart, fellow penguin biologist and author Lloyd Spencer Davis, the rather odd Levick would inspire Davis’ own career choice decades later. In Davis’ enthralling account, A Polar Affair: Antarctica’s Forgotten Hero and the Secret Love Lives of Penguins, he grows to respect and admire Levick, afflicted though Levick was with the rigid Victorian values that put him uncomfortably at odds with the promiscuous Adélie penguins.
Levick, in fact, was so ambivalent about reporting what he observed in the subcolonies of breeding penguins—the “bawdy behavior of these ‘hooligans’”—that he pasted paper over certain passages in his journal, as if he were embarrassed by what he saw. His assumptions about those “prim and proper, monogamous little creatures that mate for life” were dashed. As for the explorers themselves, Davis quickly adds, “Sexual misdemeanors in the polar regions are not, it would seem, the province of Adélie penguins alone.” The valiant explorers and their many lovers, as Davis writes it, were no strangers to amorous discoveries. Shackleton, for example, “is probably more penguin than he is a man of his word when it comes to marital fidelity.”
With treacherous ice floes entrapping ships, invisible crevasses that became deathtraps, scurvy, frostbite and much, much more, Davis’ Antarctica is a vividly described, unforgiving world of ice and wind—where, by the way, freezing, starving men had to eat their dogs and ponies, and on Sundays gathered for Bible readings and hymns. But not all the dangers were weather-induced. Scott’s wife, Katherine, wrote and exhorted him to die, if necessary, to achieve his goal. Beaten to the pole by Amundsen and doomed by his many mistakes, Scott succumbed to the elements, his frozen body still clutching her letter.
Somehow, Davis serves it all up with wit and a wry, irrepressible sense of humor, while imparting everything there is to know about penguins.”
“Adam Gordon is a senior at Topeka High School, class of ’97. His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist author; his father, Jonathan, is an expert at getting “lost boys” to open up. They both work at a psychiatric clinic that has attracted staff and patients from around the world. Adam is a renowned debater, expected to win a national championship before he heads to college. He is one of the cool kids, ready to fight or, better, freestyle about fighting if it keeps his peers from thinking of him as weak. Adam is also one of the seniors who bring the loner Darren Eberheart―who is, unbeknownst to Adam, his father’s patient―into the social scene, to disastrous effect.”
“Tim Jamieson,takes a job as a “night knocker” with the sheriff’s department in rural Dupray, South Carolina. It’s more than 50 pages later before we meet the novel’s true protagonist, young prodigy Luke Ellis, whose parents are trying to get him into a prestigious school where his unique intellect will be challenged.
But Luke’s world is shattered when he is kidnapped from his Minneapolis home in the middle of the night by a team of highly skilled special operatives. He awakens in a room made to look like his own, though the illusion stops at the door. Once outside his room, Luke finds himself in a strange facility somewhere in Maine. He soon learns he’s not alone, as other kids, ranging in age from 10 to 16, are also being held prisoner. King conveys Luke’s confusion, shock, hopelessness and grief in convincing and heart-wrenching fashion.
The concept of family separation takes on an eerie weight here, with unsettling parallels between the events of the novel and the real-life images we see on the news of kids huddled under silver mylar blankets in cramped cages at the U.S.–Mexico border. In a thinly veiled comparison to callous border patrol agents, Luke’s adult captors lack compassion and are often downright cruel.
But King ramps up the cruelty even further, subjecting Luke to physical and mental abuse that, at times, readers may find hard to sit through. Luke and the other kids get slapped around, are forced to receive mysterious injections that cause convulsions and are nearly drowned in a sensory deprivation tank, all to awaken the kids’ latent telepathic or telekinetic powers. The kids are promised that, if they do as they are told, they’ll have their memories wiped and be returned home to their parents as if nothing ever happened. Good behavior is rewarded with tokens to purchase snacks or even alcohol and cigarettes. Kids can even buy time on a computer, though internet access is restricted.
After gaining the trust and help of one of the Institute’s support staff, Luke makes a break for freedom. His escape brings him to South Carolina, where Tim Jamieson finally reenters the story just in time to aid Luke in a final confrontation with the Institute’s baddies.”
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