Archive for the ‘photography’ Tag

Women at War   Leave a comment

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Although beautifully written, Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King was initially frustrating. I was anxious to meet the title character. He isn’t introduced until more than halfway through the novel at which point it becomes difficult to put down.

A shadow king, it’s explained, is essentially a double, someone who can pass as the real thing. In this case, it’s a peasant who looks like the exiled emperor in war-torn Ethiopia. Yet, the narrative highlights the role of two women: Aster and her servant, Hirut, in the battle against the Italians.

Before the invasion, before the emperor vacates his country, Hirut arrives at the home of Aster and her husband, Kidane an officer in the emperor’s army. Newly orphaned, Hirut must learn to accept her role as a maid to Aster who is jealous of the younger woman.  

In 1935, Mussolini’s army is ruthless in its assault leaving many dead and homeless in its wake. Kidane assembles a small band of soldiers, with the women serving as cooks and nurses, forced to hide in the hills to avoid capture or worse.

Among the Italians are a ruthless, sadistic officer and his assistant, Ettore, a photographer tasked with documenting the war to put Italy in the best possible light. He has a conscience; his superior does not.

Hirut and Aster want to do more than be supporting players. Their efforts reflect the power and strength of women in even the most dire circumstances, along, unfortunately, with the easy dismissal of their accomplishments.

The Shadow King

Four Bookmarks

W.W. Norton & Co., 2019

428 pages

A Daughter of the Kitchen   1 comment

Always Home: A Daughter's Recipes & Stories by Fanny Singer

Always Home by Fanny Singer is a beautifully-written homage to her childhood as the daughter of renowned chef and food activist, Alice Waters. The inspired black and white photos and recipes are a bonus.

Singer was born after Chez Panisse opened its doors. The Berkeley restaurant, at the forefront of using locally-grown, organic ingredients, is where California cuisine and Waters garnered international attention. The book reveals as much about Waters as the author; it creates a sense of envy at their lifestyle. Not only because of the food prepared and eaten, but their travel experiences. Summers in the south of France, vacations in Italy and Mexico are vividly rendered through descriptions of the landscapes, along with meals and those with whom they were shared.

Yes, Singer is close to her mother but Waters isn’t the only influence on this accomplished writer. A host of honorary aunts, uncles, grandparents and those with direct connections to the restaurant, considered “La Famille Panisse,” fill the pages in much the same way they contribute to Singer’s life.

Each chapter is filled with humor – some self-deprecating. While this might be considered a memoir, it flows more organically, as if Singer is having a conversation with the reader. Her memories are recounted in no specific, chronological order as vignettes: a Christmas here or school trip there. The result is an engaging and fun read.

Brigitte Lacombe’s photographs enhance the pages. Consequently, a coffee table seems a better place than a bookshelf for showing off this work.

Always Home
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2020
317 pages

Art and Conscience   Leave a comment

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Disturbing and lyrical are the best words to describe Lida Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children. Graphic and violent could also be added to the list.

Set initially in an unnamed Eastern European village, the narrative involves characters known by single-word descriptions: photographer, writer, playwright, filmmaker, poet, performance artist, widow and girl. Everything centers on the girl.

It is her image as she flees the bombing of her home that is captured by the photographer. The girl has already been victimized by soldiers long before she loses her parents and brother in the explosion. Yuknavitch’s writing is as vivid as the photo that eventually earns the photographer critical acclaim.

The girl runs into the forest and finds her way to the widow’s home where she learns about art and more about survival. Theirs is a quiet, comfortable relationship. Their pasts are always near, but their focus is on the moment.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world the artists believe they must bring the girl to the United States. The hitch is they don’t know who she is or where to find her. As often happens, money solves most problems and here it comes to the rescue in a round-about way. Even with resources the task isn’t easy.

The realistic descriptions of physical and sexual violence make this a difficult book to read. Fortunately, this is overshadowed by demonstrations of humanity and the author’s powerful writing. At its core, it questions the extremes endured to appease consciences.

The Small Backs of Children
Lidia Yuknavitch
Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins 2015
222 pages