Despite the temporary closure at the Walla Walla Public Library, there are many online digital services, such as eBooks and Audiobooks, online access to newspapers and research databases. See this week’s Washington Anytime Library selection at anytime.overdrive.com.
“No One Ever Asked: A Novel,” by Katie Ganshert
Ganshert (“Life After”) probes questions of class, race, and faith in this riveting novel of a forced school merger. The small, affluent Missouri school district of Crystal Ridge has been ordered by the state to accept students from a poor neighboring district that lost its accreditation. The merging of these racially, economically and socially different schools brings together three women representative of the communities: Camille, PTA member and involved mother, who organizes the annual 5K run; struggling adoptive mom Jen who would rather go back to being a full-time nurse; and Anaya, the young first-time teacher at the school trying to bridge the divide between the old and new students. Each woman faces personal and professional shocks as the rocky school year begins and the two separate student bodies fail to get along. Faith plays a subtle but vital role in how the characters react to events and engage with one another during the tumultuous school year that culminates in dramatic fashion. After a shocking moment of violence at the 5K run, each woman is forced to look at herself honestly and search for the power to heal and forgive. Ganshert’s smart use of flashback creates tension from the beginning. Her nuanced exploration of racial issues, generational bigotry and sexual harassment bring to life complex characters who challenge each other and the reader to open their minds and consider the value of truth and grace.
“Song of a Captive Bird,” by Jasmin Darznik
In this sumptuous debut novel, Darznik (“The Good Daughter,” a memoir) retells the fleeting life of a real-life Iranian feminist, poet, and director. In this imagining — told with the vulnerability and confidence of a memoir — Forugh Farrokhzad grows up in a Tehran where women and girls see little of the world beyond their own garden walls, but the glimpses are formative. Poetry is the thread that weaves through Forugh’s journey: the familial and romantic relationships that uplift and crush her; the darkest hours of isolation where she is made to forget her own work; the possibilities and promise, always just out of her reach. Excerpts of her verses, translated by Darznik, light the path from Forugh’s tragic first love to the birth of her son, a passionate affair, her first publication and her determination to remain independent in a world so focused on control. Forugh’s crucibles are not so dissimilar from those of her country, balancing a rich history and faith with a desire to secure a place in modern spheres of influence. As Forugh finds her stride, so does Darznik’s telling; the direct but descriptive voice soars as its subject makes a life for herself. Darznik’s marvelous homage to Forugh captures the frustration and determination she must have felt to overcome the strictures of her environment, beautifully recreating her difficult path to fame.
“Tasting the Past: The Science of Flavor and the Search for the Origins of Wine,” by Kevin Begos
Oenophiles will raise a glass to Begos’s excellent exploration of the science and history of wine, now a $300 billion global market. Begos, a former Associated Press correspondent, found an unusual red wine in a Jordanian hotel’s mini-bar while on assignment. The wine was produced in Bethlehem—a place not generally known for its wine—and this piqued his curiosity about the origins of wine. Begos visited vineyards around the globe, beginning with the Caucasus Mountains, where grape vines were first cultivated, and making stops in Israel, Greece, Italy, France, and the U.S. Along the way, he consulted with experts such as Shivi Drori, an Israeli scientist studying indigenous grapes; University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Patrick McGovern, whom Begos calls “the Indiana Jones of wine and beer” for his work in biomolecular archaeology; and Swiss scientist Jose Vouillamoz, a “John James Audubon for endangered grapes.” Begos discusses the many variables that can affect a wine’s taste, including soil, the material of the barrels in which the beverage is aged, and pesticides. He helpfully finishes many chapters with lists of recommend wines. This mix of memoir and wine education guide is all-around satisfying.
“When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon,” by Joshua D. Mezrich
Mezrich, a University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health surgery professor, delivers an attention-grabbing and candid look at human organ transplantation. Often pulse-quickening, sometimes stomach-churning and always immersive, Mezrich’s descriptions of the complicated, time-sensitive process of transferring livers, kidneys and other healthy organs from deceased donors to recipients use examples from his own work as a transplant surgeon. Numerous, well-integrated asides on the evolving trial-and-error of organ transplant, from the early days in the late 19th century through advances made during World War II and after, complement his personal stories. In addition to being up-front about the fear of making a mistake during surgery — “It needs to be perfect. Otherwise the patient will pay a huge price, the donor won’t have given the gift of life, and you will be woken in the middle of the night by a shrill pager” — Mezrich describes the emotional attachment that can form between donor families and donor recipients. He notes how one patient, having received a heart from a young woman killed in a car accident, celebrates her donor’s birthday each year, “almost as if it were her own.” Success through perseverance is this book’s main theme and Mezrich does a commendable job sharing his death-to-life experiences in a vital field.
“On a Pale Horse,” by Piers Anthony (fiction)
“The Broken Girls,” by Simone St. James (fiction)
“Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession,” by Craig Childs (nonfiction)
“12 Years a Slave,” by Solomon Northup (nonfiction)