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Birchbark Blog

What Happened?

Louise Erdrich - Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sometimes spring flows by one blossoming tree after the next and then May 18 arrives and my book pile is still here, beside the computer, waiting to be written about before shelved. Hiding in Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah begins with the loss of an intimately drawn character, and the complex family interactions that proceed quietly in the aftermath.  Although composed of small occurrences, intricate adjustments, the book is riveting in its fidelity to each character's subtle renovation. Euphoria by Lily King is splendidly told. A brilliant, talented, magnetic female anthropologist is coveted by two men, one profane and without conscience, the other possessing too much conscience to be effective.  I read it all in one happily exhausted night. 

The Evil Hours by David J. Morris, a Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is both elegant and profoundly urgent. Morris, a former Marine and war correspondent in Iraq, writes of his own experience, "I came to think of myself as devoted to a sort of Kabbalah, a cult of one whose mission it was to discover what the others had missed, the pattern hidden in the loom, the hand of God . . . "  In the wake of trauma, Morris goes on to observe, this need to make sense of things becomes an obsession. This book does exactly that only in a moving, human, self-revealing way that grounds the reader in the writer's experience, and the dramatically drawn experiences of historical heroes and victims. It taught me something new, and defined for me much that is mysterious about the ever changing labyrinth of traumatic memory.

 

Comments
Angela Jones commented on 23-May-2015 04:20 PM
Why, oh why, did I trip on this blog? My reading list is already longer than I can manage! (That's a good thing, I'm sure.) Looks like there will be some re-ordering to add Hiding in Plain Sight near the top. It may pair well with Ng's Bone.... Thanks for passing these titles along.
Nicola commented on 01-Jun-2015 05:54 PM
Oh yes, Euphoria is fantastic. Loved the opening on the boat on Christmas Eve with the ladies dressed for a party. I thought All My Puny Sorrows was my favourite novel published in 2014 but Euphoria is so good.
Antonio Moreno commented on 01-Jul-2015 04:37 AM
One year ago I had the opportunity to know Birchbark Books, in place. I had discovered "The round house" in Barcelona, Spain, and it was a great experience to be there and to know new authors, books and feelings.
Thank you for your Blog.
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Immersive Reading

Louise Erdrich - Thursday, February 05, 2015

During the first twenty or so pages of Marlon James's A Brief History of Seven Killings I knew that I was reading an extraordinary novel, the kind that makes me page back and forth, set the book down, think about the language, then start again. I had to start the book over because I'd read quickly. The book flows because language is both brutally visceral and mesmerizing. There are offhand killings, botched killings, killings cunningly plotted and awkwardly executed. Although this book is centered on the miraculously failed attempt on Bob Marley's life and the swirl of murderous gang rivalry, cold war paranoia, and the infamous suffering of ghetto drug user/dealers, it is not a history book. It is what history feels like. I couldn't get out of this book. Sometimes I couldn't find my way inside of it, but I couldn't stop reading it either. Marlon James writes great characters, from the hit man desperate to please a scornful boyfriend, to a woman on the lam whose survival story is raucous, suspenseful, and absurd. This intelligent, intense, profane, and beautifully fluent novel is shortlisted for and richly deserves the National Book Critic's Circle Award for fiction this year -- best of luck, Marlon James.

Comments
Carol Montgomery commented on 09-Feb-2015 11:36 AM
I delight in your words and what comes from your rich inner world, into this material world as books. Aztec Ruins in New Mexico and it was possible to talk with you about it. THE BROKEN CIRCLE:A TRUE STORY OF MURDER AND MAGIC IN INDIAN COUNTRY by Rodney Barker is the book. There are so many questions, so much to startle me that I wish for a guide through it.
Gigi Burke commented on 09-Feb-2015 12:20 PM
Your review of this book brings to mind a work that had similar effect, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo. Set in the slums of Mumbai with unforgettable characters and lives. Won the Pulitzer.
thanks
Claudia Wold commented on 12-Jan-2016 02:18 AM
Hello Louise Erdrich. It has been too long since I have read you. I am glad there are new ones to read. I hope you still have the bookstore and post soon.
Anonymous commented on 18-Jan-2016 03:17 PM
Dear Louise Erdrich,
Hi! my name is Gursimrat and I'm 11 years old,I go to Afton Lakeland Elementry, I'm in 6th grade and that is actually the reason I wrote. My classmates and I are reading the book The Birchbark House and I had an assignment to write to you.One thing I love about your book is that every character's life seems to be spun together in some sort intricate web, one little thing that someone does affects the whole village. Another thing I loved was that you put everything into this book; love,affection,tragedy and so many more emotions in one big swirl. Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to go and read this.

A Reader by Heart
Gursimrat
Carey commented on 05-Feb-2016 01:02 PM
A Brief History of 7 Killings is really good, urgent and unusual. Even better by Marlon James (I think) is The Book of Night Women - the story of a clandestine group of slave women in Jamaica in 1785 who plan an island-wide revolt. I have never read any fiction or non-fiction about the particularity of female slaves in the Caribbean in this period, nor did I know that revolts were as frequent as they were. In drama and tragedy Marlon James gives an understanding of why, even being as heavily outnumbered as they were plantation owners and the state managed to hold on to slavery for the time that they did. The book has the same sense of immediacy and urgency as A Brief History of 7 Killings, and I thought Marlon James's sensitivity to the reality of women and girl slaves was special.
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Things I Didn't Know

Louise Erdrich - Friday, December 12, 2014

Last August we were sorting through the advanced readers copies that had collected on the bookstore shelves. My daughter Pallas picked up The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg. I thought I'd seen the last of that book, but Pallas came back for Christmas and put that reading copy in my hands. She told me to read it, I did, and now I have to say to you. READ THIS. The Underground Girls of Kabul is subtitled: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. This book. If you read it, you will never forget Azita, Mehran, Zahra, Shukria, or Shahed -- all women who have been raised as boys in Afghanistan -- and then forced to return to being women. Nordberg explores a cultural practice that astonished me. It makes sense -- to "make" a girl at birth into a boy, for at least part of her life, is to give her a taste of what it is to be human. To have a will. Often, it is a magical practice that will supposedly prompt a woman's body to produce a male. Most hauntingly, one of these women became a "brother" to a real brother in order to protect him from possible poisoning by a previous wife in a polygamous marriage. She ate everything and drank everything before her brother. You will not stop reading this book until you find out what happens to these women -- what is happening to them now.

Karima Bennoune, a professor of international law at UC-Davis, grew up in Algeria. Her impassioned and superbly intelligent book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, begins with this sentence: "Could I defend my father from the Armed Islamic Group with a paring knife?"  Bennoune's father, Mahfoud Bennoune, taught Darwinism and was a fearless critic of armed fundamentalists like the Islamic Salvation Front, who sponsored assassinations of of Bennoune's fellow professors. Her experience impelled Karima Bennoune to travel the world, at great personal risk, in order to interview moderate Muslim people, often women, who cogently and steadfastly insist on human rights in violently fundamentalist settings. She has described herself (I was lucky enough to meet her) as "the woman who makes people cry" because these stories about people who strive to maintain humanity, who die for the right to dissent, to speak freely, become educated, dance, write, paint, sing, bare their faces to the wind, their hair to the sky, and who insist that the memory of those killed in this struggle not be erased, these stories include unbearable loss. Yet the stubborn will to resist is mesmerizing -- I could not stop reading this book until page 195 (the hardcover). In the middle of this page, I had to set the book down in order to cry, too, along with the people whose existence gave me a sense of human grandeur. 

Comments
Barbara Zeller commented on 18-Dec-2014 08:24 AM
I was in Birchbark Books this past weekend, and believe it may have been Pallas who also put a book in my hands, albeit figuratively: Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life,’ by Hermione Lee. I had put it in my stack on the counter, but then put it back on the shelf at checkout on a trade for something else I wanted to purchase. Just a word from Pallas - well, you should pick that up later because it is a fantistic book - had me grabbing up the book again and adding it back to the stack. I am anxious to begin it.

I have enjoyed many books recommended by the staff at Birchbark Books. An especially powerful book that I am currently reading, and that has reached me on so many levels, is "Sacred Wilderness" by Susan Power. Finding that I need to read it slowly to understand and savor all that is there.
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