Archive for the ‘WW Norton & Co.’ 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

Not Made in the Shade   1 comment

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While unsettling, The Overstory by Richard Powers has some redeeming qualities; however, not enough to make it to a list of what best to read during a pandemic.

The novel is divided into four sections: Roots, Trunk, Crown and Seeds. Yes, it’s about trees – all trees and a variety of people who try to save, understand and replicate them in a world that’s generally superficially appreciative.

The best parts are those about the nine main characters and descriptions of specific tree species. The character development is powerful; each person’s story is unique and could stand alone. Yet, it’s predictable that at some point they will intersect – some more intensely than others.

Besides the characters, it is interesting to learn about different trees and their role in our world besides providing shade, bearing fruit or as source material for everyday products. The narrative spans time beginning with immigrants in the Iowa plains to the Redwood forests of the west coast. Relationships form, most of which are unhealthy, and are the source of many of the novel’s disturbing aspects despite being able to see what forests add to their lives.

The result for several is eco-terrorism. A disparate group form to protest logging in the Pacific Northwest. Yes, it’s fascinating to read about efforts to protect an ancient Redwood or how a misunderstood scientist is validated. Yet, there’s too much foreshadowing to know that eventually things won’t end well for anyone.

Ironically, the physical element of this tome is in debt to trees.

The Overstory
Three Bookmarks
W.W. Norton & Co., 2018
502 pages