Monday, April 23, 2012

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detectives (Mystery Novel)

Buildings. Bricks. Bullies. Brothers. Orphans. Cars. Idols. Nails.

I confess, occasionally when I face a sticky interpersonal situation I ask myself, “What would Mma Ramotswe do?” Mma Ramotswe and the rest of the gang are back in The Limpopo Academy of Private Detectives, the thirteenth book in Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series. As usual, my complaint is that the book ended too soon.

Briefly, Mma Ramotswe meets her idol, Clovis Andersen, whose book is responsible for her becoming a private detective and helping hundreds of people. He even helps her solve a case that affects the orphanage. Fanwell, who was the unnamed mechanic in the earlier novels, is falsely accused of a crime. Mma Makutsi and her husband build their first home, but something suspicious is going on.

Alexander McCall Smith’s writing has a lot of heart. The novels offer us islands of compassion and caring in a world that is too often impersonal and sometimes downright nasty. As a fan, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detectives lived up to all my expectations.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Immortal (SF Novel)

Immortality. Blood. Medicine. Power. The Price of Longevity. Doctors vs. Healers.

The Immortals by James Gunn is composed of a series of short stories. Versions of some of the stories were published in the mid 1950’s. Many of the stories have since been revised and new stories have been added. The final book was published in 2004. With the recent attention to healthcare, the story continues to be relevant.

The overarching plot spans over 150 years. In the first story, a man named Cartwright donates blood in order to earn some extra money. The person who receives the blood miraculously has his symptoms reversed and appears decades younger. But the effects only last a little over 30 days. Throughout the rest of the overarching story, various people attempt to find Cartwright and his children in order to use their blood for immortality. People also attempt to create an elixir that simulates the effects of the blood. As the story progresses, medicine takes on a larger and more grandiose position in society. Towards the end of the story, society has become a dystopia, where people spend over 52% of their income on medicine and defaulters are used as spare parts to keep the rich alive. One of the major characters in the stories is Doctor Pearce, who first realizes the properties of Cartwright’s blood.

This is the first book that I remember reading by Gunn. I am impressed by his writing and the way he describes scenes. The short story format helps give the plot a lively pace. Pearce gives us someone to feel sympathy toward. The last short story does a nice job of wrapping up the plot.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Store (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Unsettling. That is my reaction to reading The Store by T.S. Stribling. The novel is set in the South around 1884, the time of President Cleveland’s election. The story won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel in 1932. I am now reading it in 2012, a time in which stories about Trayvon Martin being shot fill the news. I am seeing the novel through the lenses of race relations. I wonder whether the readers in 1932 had the same reaction.

The Store is one of the less popular Pulitzer winning novels. I found it hard to get into. In all fairness, it is the second book in a trilogy and I did not read the first book. For me the book was interesting enough, but I was not particularly emotionally invested. Colonel Miltiades Vaiden, the main character, is flawed but has some admirable qualities. When he works at the store, he treats the blacks fairly. When a young woman—the daughter of a fallen comrade from the Civil War— hero-worships him, he has some degree of self-awareness. Yet, in the beginning of the book he is hell-bent on seeking revenge on the man who cheated his family out of the profits from five bales of cotton twenty-five years ago. My favorite characters is Gracie, a former slave of the Vaiden family and mistress of the Colonel’s nemesis. I felt for Gracie’s attempts to make a better life for herself and for her son at a time that blacks had few rights. Her son Toussaint, “a white negro,” is one of the tragic characters of the novel. There is a thin ribbon of Occult/Spirituality woven through the story. The postmaster is known to chat with the dead. The Colonel’s nephew spends more time studying the Occult than his college courses. For me the topic was given too much weight at the end and not enough in the rest of the book.

The book is worthwhile, but it is not high on the list of books that I would recommend. Right now, I think that it would be a good book for a discussion about race.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Half Finished Heaven (Poetry)

Two truths approach each other. One comes from inside, the other from outside, And where they meet we have a chance to catch sight of ourselves.
Tomas Tranströmer was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. Since then, I have spent over half a year on our library system’s waiting list for The Half-Finished Heaven, translated by Robert Bly. I am glad I waited. Tranströmer has a magical way of combining images and using metaphor. I read each poem at least twice, allowing it to slowly appear in my mind’s eye. Some were merely pleasant. Others wowed me. Most made me think.