Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto
by
Ann Patchett

Here’s a perfect example of a book that is great to re-read. I remember loving Bel Canto the first time I read it so on a recent trip to the beach and with the need to grab something quick, I chose Bel Canto from my shelf. Published in 2001, it begins with a lavish birthday party held at the home of the vice president of an unnamed South American country. Japanese businessman Katsumi Hosokawa, chairman of the largest electronics firm in Japan, is the guest of honor and the hosts hope to convince him to build a plant in their country.

Mr. Hosokawa is a passionate opera lover and the only reason he’s there is because Roxanne Coss, the beautiful and most talented opera singer in the world, has agreed to perform.

Everything goes wrong just after she performs. Terrorists invade the home in order to kidnap the country’s president. When they discover the president is not there, the three generals and fifteen young soldiers have to decide what to do about the nearly two hundred guests who are now hostages.

After the initial release of all the staff, women and children, except Roxanne Coss, the group of hostages has been reduced to forty. In a fascinating stand-off between the terrorists and the country’s government, days become weeks and then extend to months, during which the generals, their soldiers and the hostages undergo remarkable transformations. Days revolve around the hostages’ infatuation with Miss Coss, her music, and her daily practice sessions. Another central figure is Mr. Hosokawa’s personal translator, Gen Watanabe, who takes on the all-consuming task of interpreting negotiations and helping the international guests communicate with each other. Other important characters include Joachim Messner a negotiator from the International Red Cross, whose patience is tried as talks drag on, Vice President Ruben Iglesias, who assumes a completely different role in his own home, and of course, Mr. Hosakowa, who didn’t want to attend the party, but may have found happiness as a hostage. There are many other great characters, including the generals and their soldiers and Patchett shows their personalities and human sides to give the reader an understanding of their lives and their cause. These and other surprises are best for the reader to discover first-hand.

The group settles into a new and comfortable routine. Life is pretty good at the vice president’s home and many are in no hurry for the conflict to be resolved. In addition, hostages and their captors begin to form tentative friendships, blurring the lines between them. They may be in denial, but Messner and the reader know that this can’t go on forever.

I enjoyed Bel Canto just as much the second time around and recommend it to readers who enjoy stories about how people change under constrained and dangerous circumstances. Heroes emerge and others look deep inside themselves. And many discover (ironically) the freedom to redefine themselves during their captivity.

Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors. You can check out my reviews of some of her other books here:

The Dutch House
Commonwealth
State of Wonder

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Book Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature
by
Jane Harper

Force of Nature is the corporate teambuilding retreat you never want to go on. When five women from BaileyTennants accounting firm begin a four-day excursion in the Australian Bushland and only four return, police and rescue workers begin an urgent search. Mirror Falls is a dangerous place, with dense growth, confusing trails and no cell signal.

The four women who emerge from the forest are hungry, dehydrated and bruised and none of them can explain what happened to their colleague Alice Russell.

To make matters worse, Alice is lost in the same area where a young woman went missing twenty-five years earlier. Sarah Sondenberg was never found, but three other women were killed around the same time and a man named Martin Kovac went to jail for the murders. Does Martin’s son, Samuel have anything to do with Alice’s disappearance?

Federal Agent Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper are especially interested in finding Alice. She’s their inside contact at BaileyTennants, under suspicion for money laundering. Falk and Carmen are trying to acquire documents to implicate Chairwoman Jill Bailey (one of the women) and her CEO brother, Daniel Bailey who was in a different group on the same trip.

Alternating chapters describe the events during the hike and the search. Jill is in her fiftes and out of her element, but remains the boss of the group.  Alice is an aggressive corporate climber in her forties, selfish and cruel, especially to Lauren Shaw who was her classmate in school. Lauren is more tentative and self-conscious and often the perfect prey for Alice. Bree and Bethany are twenty-something twins, though very different in appearance and attitude. Their twin relationship has been fractured and this dynamic plays nicely into the plot. I especially enjoyed seeing how the five women interact when things go bad and they have to make decisions and ration food and water.

There are several subplots that figure in well with the story. Falk is still coming to terms with his father’s death, though it’s been seven years, and the search at Mirror Falls brings back memories of the hikes he refused to go on with his dad. We see into Jill’s conscience and learn of her reluctance to get into the family business. Alice and Lauren’s history involves some cruel hazing and now their daughters are vulnerable teenagers. In addition, tension between Bree and Bethany affects several events on the excursion. Will the sisters reunite or turn against each other instead?

A few red herrings point the reader the other way while the plot continues to develop. They all lead to a big scene full of raw feelings and shocking reactions.

I enjoyed reading Force of Nature. It’s a fast read with interesting characters. Harper uses one of my favorite story-telling elements by including nature’s power to drive the characters and plot. I also like how she draws parallels between seemingly different characters and their situations. And the whole story revolves around parent/child relationships over two generations, always a relevant theme and one I like to read about.

I recommend Force of Nature to readers who like mysteries and suspense set in dangerous and intimidating surroundings. Force of Nature is the second book the Aaron Falk series, after The Dry (read my review here), but it can be read as a standalone.

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Short reviews from 2013: Twisted, The Shoemaker’s Wife and Steve Jobs

In celebration of my 7-year blogging anniversary, here are three short reviews of books I read in 2013.


Twisted
by
Laurie Halse Anderson

This book is a little bit like a modern Catcher in the Rye and I liked it for that reason. Twisted was on our school district’s summer reading list for rising ninth graders a couple years ago. There is some mature language and content, but I think it is realistic. I think kids want to read something contemporary that has an edge to it and Anderson understands how to incorporate this element into quality writing.

In Twisted, Tyler returns to his senior year of high school, after being punished during the summer for vandalizing the school. He struggles with a poor self-image and how others, most importantly his father, perceive him. Tyler navigates through adolescence and important relationships and, like many coming-of-age stories, learns the true meaning of family and friendship.

Final scenes with his family are raw and emotional and show Anderson at her best.


The Shoemaker’s Wife
by
Adriana Trigiani

I liked this family saga of immigration, near-misses in love and brushes with greatness, with the appropriate doses of disappointment and sadness. It is a light and entertaining read. I enjoyed reading about Italy at the turn of the century and life in the Italian Alps. The author does a nice job bringing the main characters to life.

I think the author’s strengths lie in the story’s initial setting and characters. Her early descriptions of Ciro, Eduardo and their mother are moving. In addition, Trigiani’s descriptions of the Ravanelli family show warmth and devotion. It is the foundation of a really great story.

Ciro’s success as a shoemaker and his assimilation into New York life move at a believable pace. I enjoyed this part of the story much more. Despite the unlikely nature of meeting Enza on her wedding day, we all know it is coming and accept the feel-good moment.

Some other parts I like include Ciro’s relationship with Sister Teresa at the San Nicola Convent. I also like how Ciro is accepted for who he is at the convent, and how the nuns do not force him to be a believer.

An entertaining read and a great way to escape to another time and place!


Steve Jobs
by
Walter Isaacson

This biography gives us the full picture of Steve Jobs, good and bad. It is a detailed history of Jobs, his life and his creations at Apple, NeXT, Pixar and Apple again. And it’s a look at the impatient frustrations of a perfectionist who, with the genius of vision and presentation, liked to distort reality, had poor people skills and thought no rules applied to him.

I don’t know what to think of Steve Jobs. He derived his happiness from creating and was driven to do so. Isaacson shows a man who manipulated people, berated them, and often ignored his wife and children. He regularly took credit for ideas that came from his creative team and rearranged facts to benefit his point, all with no regrets. But time and again he enabled people to achieve the impossible by refusing to believe that something could not be done.  The combination of persistence and genius made him a remarkable man.

AND…Steve Jobs gave us the Mac, fonts, graphics and desktop publishing. Then he gave us the iPhone, the iPod, iTunes and music. He allowed us to re-experience the feelings we used to have in record stores as we excitedly flipped through albums and heard new music on the store speakers. Then he gave us the iPad, movies and books all with a touchscreen. He knew what we wanted, just as he said, before we knew what we wanted.

This was a very interesting read. My only negative comment is that it was sometimes repetitive, particularly on the subjects of distorted reality and Jobs’ belief in closed-end product design. I also thought the author often portrayed Jobs as too much of a beloved hero in the second half of the book, once Jobs returned to Apple. But then again, that’s when we got all these great products. And I don’t think I could live without them.

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Audiobook Review: The River by Peter Heller

The River
by
Peter Heller

Rating:

Wynn and Jack have been best friends ever since they met during freshman orientation at Dartmouth. They’re from different parts of the country: Wynn from Vermont and Jack from a Colorado ranch. But they bonded over their mutual love and deep respect for the outdoors and have taken many trips together. Now, with time off from college, they embark on a wildnerness canoe trip up the Maskwa River in northern Canada. Months in the planning, they are fit and able, and totally prepared, maybe.

A wildfire in the distance has them worried. Still, they keep paddling through the lakes leading to the river, hoping for the best. Once they enter the river, there will be no turning back. When they hear a man and a woman arguing on a nearby island, they decide to warn the couple about the fire. Strangely, when they land, the couple is nowhere to be found.

Later, a man appears, alone, injured and dazed. Is this the man they heard? Where is the woman? Something isn’t right and their careful plans are no good. The only sure thing now is the approaching fire and the swift river current.

I enjoyed listening to this descriptive and atmospheric thriller, read by Mark Deakins. Deakins has a deep voice that enhances the drama and tension of the story. Heller includes the friends’ important backstories which play well into the plot. Wynn, an art major, has an optimistic and trusting nature. Jack is more suspicious and more quick-tempered. But the two have always complemented each other and assume different roles. Neither is ready for what’s ahead, however, and an interesting dynamic develops between them as the tension builds.

I love stories where nature is a dominant force and The River is a good example of this. Heller’s descriptions make it easy to picture the lakes and river and are at times poetic. That makes sense because Heller is also an award-winning nature writer and author of literary nonfiction. (Read more about Heller here.) That said, I thought that the abundance of description bogged down the story a bit. There’s a lot of discussion of gear and different brands, fly fishing lures, and repeated references to filtered squeeze bottles, gathering berries, and wishing they had thought to bring salt. I enjoyed that part at first, but felt it got in the way later.

I always naively think rivers run south but the river they’re on runs north. That got me wanting to picture their route. A little research led me to this link which explains that the Maskwa River of the novel is actually the Winisk River and that Heller based the Cree village of Wapahk on the village of Peawanuck. You can learn more about this here at knopfdoubleday.com.

The River is a fast listen, at just seven hours. I listened to it during my walks and was totally engrossed.

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Book Club Mom’s April, May and June recap

It’s no coincidence that I haven’t posted a monthly recap since this pandemic started. I haven’t felt like there was much to say or report. But now that three months have passed, I thought I’d better get the recaps back on schedule.

I’m sure we are all doing many of the same things. The empty shelves were really frightening to me in the beginning, but now the grocery store seems to be much better stocked. I missed out on the mad paper products run back in March, but we made it through without running out just the same.

I’ve been cooking and baking a lot. Have you?

I’ve mentioned our bird feeder in other posts. It has been a major form of entertainment for us and the subject of many conversations. Here a woodpecker is pretending no one will notice that he’s way too big to be on the feeder. He doesn’t care and jams his beak in there to get whatever he can get.

Last week we had a summer rain right before dinner and soon we had a pretty rainbow. Rainbows never get old, do they?

So, on to the blog. Here are links to my posts in April, May and June, in case you missed them.

Book Reviews

A Mother for His Twins by Jill Weatherholt
Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes
The Tenant by Katrine Engberg
A Hero of France by Alan Furst
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Woman on the Edge by Samantha M. Bailey
Yellow Door by C. Faherty Brown
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
Outsider by Linda Castillo

Marian Longenecker Beaman
Jason R. Koivu
Matthew Arnold Stern
Eileen Stephenson
Christy Cooper-Burnett
Cendrine Marrouat
Alice Benson
Lillian McCloy
John W. Howell
Darlene Foster
Dorothy A. Winsor
C. Faherty Brown
Graeme Cumming

Miscellaneous book and blog talk

Short reviews from 2013: The Cay, The Giver and Orphan Train
Blog views and other obsessions – coping with the coronavirus part 2
On animals, nature, books and live feeds
On YouTube today – books coming up and what I’ve been doing
Pretty, colorful and unique book covers
On audiobooks and coloring
Blog views and other obsessions – switching to new WordPress Block Editor on June 1
On virtual book hauling
Book talk – epistolary novels
Celebrating 7 years of blogging!

How are you doing? Did you settle in to this new way of life? Are you now adjusting to re-openings? Leave a comment and tell me how it’s been.

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Book Review: Outsider by Linda Castillo

Outsider
by
Linda Castillo

Rating:

Gina Colorosa is a cop on the run. She’s mixed up in something bad at the Columbus Division of Police and now there’s no turning back. With nowhere else to go, she points her car to Painters Mill, Ohio, hoping her former friend, Kate Burkholder, now the Chief of Police, will forget the past. Gina gets close, but her car crashes in a blizzard and in the morning, she’s discovered by Adam Lengacher, an Amish widower with three young children.

Gina is injured and bears a weapon, but Adam doesn’t question taking her in. “You don’t leave anyone, including an outsider, to the elements, especially if they’re hurt,” he explains.

Now Kate must confront a close friendship that went bad and ended abruptly. Once best friends and roommates, Gina and Kate attended the police academy together. And Kate can’t forget that Gina took her in when she had nowhere to go, after “leaving the fold” of her Amish family and community.

Gina stays at the Lengacher’s home, under Kate’s supervision, until the weather breaks and Kate and her boyfriend, John Tomasetti, who is with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, decide what to do. Kate tries to get a read on her wild, tough-talking and elusive friend while Tomasetti makes some calls to Columbus. It seems safe at the cozy Lengacher home, where Gina learns about the Amish way of life, but everyone knows it’s just a matter of time until Gina’s dangerous pursuers find her, putting Adam and his kids at great risk. Kate senses that Gina isn’t giving her the whole story and events from their past suggest Gina has broken many police rules.

Outsider is the twelfth book in Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series and is told in both Kate’s voice and a third-person narrative of the events in Columbus and the women’s backstories. The author gives readers a look into the Amish way of life and how the Amish and “English” outsiders interact as their lives inevitably overlap. Kate is a bridge between both lives, understanding her childhood friend Adam as well as the outside world. Several moral questions come up and are resolved in interesting ways.

I enjoyed Outsider, although I haven’t read the other Kate Burkholder books. References to her Amish family make me want to go back and catch up on these relationships. I thought the author did a nice job portraying Amish life and includes many Pennsylvania Dutch phrases that enhance the story. There is a big contrast between these Amish chapters and Gina’s life as a cop in Columbus and at times the transition seems jarring. But the story moves at a good pace with a few twists and a satisfying conclusion.

I was attracted to Outsider because of the title and cover. I had an idea of who the woman on the cover represented, but was disappointed that it never became obvious and in fact, I was definitely wrong about my idea. Is this Kate from years ago contemplating her life outside the community? Has she already been shut out? I couldn’t figure it out and felt a little misled.

All-in-all, I enjoyed the book and think readers who like police detective stories and enjoy learning about the Amish would like the series. The author explains plenty from previous books so Outsider also works as a standalone.

Outsider will be released on July 7, 2020. I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward
by
Ann Napolitano

Rating:

Eddie Adler is twelve years old when his family boards a plane to move across the country. He’s grown up in Manhattan where his father has homeschooled Eddie and his fifteen-year-old brother, Jordan. Now the Adlers are headed to Los Angeles where his mom is set to start a new job as a screen writer. There are 192 passengers on the Airbus and when it crashes in the flatlands of northern Colorado. Eddie is the only survivor.

Badly injured and stunned by his new circumstances, Eddie moves in with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey. It’s going to take a long time for Eddie, now Edward, to adjust. He makes friends with Shay, a girl across the street and together they try to make sense of their place in the world. As they grow, their friendship becomes an anchor they both need. At the house, Edward’s aunt and uncle are trying hard, but they have their own personal struggles and marital issues, something Edward becomes more tuned into.

In addition, the Internet is exploding with stories about Edward and the crash and his aunt and uncle do their best to protect him. But is that the right thing to do? What’s the best way to heal and move on? A chance discovery points to a solution but it means confronting the events and memories of his family and the other passengers.

People say Edward is lucky to have survived. He wonders how that could be true.

The story alternates between the day of the crash and Edward’s new life with his aunt and uncle and leads up to what happened that made the plane crash. In the pre-crash chapters, readers learn about the sometimes-tense dynamics in Adler family as well as the backstories about other passengers on the plane. These include a business magnate with several ex-wives and children who hate him, an injured soldier who is trying to come to terms with a recent encounter, a young woman hoping to make a new life, a free-spirited woman who believes in reincarnation, and a cut-throat young executive with a drug problem.

One of Edward’s biggest challenges is to shake survivor’s guilt, especially the feeling that his brother should have survived instead. To Edward, Jordan was on the brink of thinking for himself and doing something great. Pain washes over Edward when he reaches his own fifteenth birthday, and later passes his brother’s age. He understands it’s because he both misses his brother and what his brother has lost.

Although Edward’s experiences are tragic, they lead to a touching coming-of-age story in which Edward strikes a balance between past and present. I enjoyed Dear Edward very much. It’s very readable and I felt like I understood how Edward was feeling throughout it all. I recommend it to readers who enjoy stories about love and overcoming grief.

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Book Review: Members Only by Sameer Pandya

Members Only
by
Sameer Pandya

Rating:

Professor Raj Bhatt is having a terrible week. He’s made an offensive comment to a prospective member of his tennis club, students from his Anthropology class are protesting remarks he made in class, and his son is in trouble at school. Raj has all the credentials to be accepted in elite circles: an Ivy League doctorate, a professorship, and a white wife. He’s also a member of an exclusive tennis club, a place where his wife grew up and a place he and his kids already love. But Raj didn’t grow up with the elite. His grandparents did well in Bombay, but when Raj’s mother and father moved the family to the United States, they had to start over. As an immigrant, he’s aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle slights towards him and other minorities in professional and social circles.

So to be accused of reverse racism on several fronts shakes Raj to the point of collapse. How can he make people see he’s been misunderstood?

It starts with the offensive comment. Raj was merely excited that people of color were being considered for membership and blurts out the worst possible thing. The membership committee is outraged and embarrassed and the prospective black couple, a prominent cardiologist and trauma surgeon, rush out before Raj can apologize.

What’s at the core of this scene and others in Pandya’s debut novel is the bundle of complex issues of racial and religious discrimination, class distinction, feeling inadequate and being an outsider. It’s ironic for Raj because, as an anthropologist, he chose his profession to understand human societies and cultures.

I had done it because I loved the idea of talking to people and trying to understand them, to see how different they were. And perhaps, if I dug far enough into their lives and histories, I could discover how similar they were too,” he says.

I enjoyed this fast-moving and very readable story. Raj’s character is well developed and wonderfully human, a reflection of how complicated prejudices and misconceptions can be. Pandya places these problems in the middle of a contemporary marriage, where pressures to have it all and maintain an image can distort what it means to be happy.

Members Only tackles difficult and modern problems, ones that its characters seem unlikely to entirely resolve. But the story is also full of compassion, forgiveness, hope and several touching scenes. I recommend this book to readers who like stories with realistic characters who make mistakes, but who are good people underneath.


Members Only will be released on July 7, 2020. I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


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Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
by
Agatha Christie

Rating:

I’d known about Agatha Christie’s books, but I’d never read one until I picked up The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Published in 1920, it is Christie’s debut detective novel and is set in England, outside London. Christie introduces her now well-known character, Hercule Poirot, a Belgian refugee and “one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police.” Poirot became a long-running character in Christie’s writings and appeared in thirty-three novels, two plays and more than fifty short stories.

In this story, Poirot investigates the poisoning death of Mrs. Emily Inglethorp at the family estate, Styles Court in Essex. Emily’s two stepsons and others at Styles are convinced that Alfred Inglethorp, their mother’s new and much younger husband, is the killer. And he has a  motive, they believe: Emily’s fortune. As a favor to his friend Hastings, also a guest at Styles and narrator of this story, Poirot investigates Emily’s death. Hastings is recovering from war wounds thanks to John’s hospitality and has always wanted to be a detective. He happily becomes Poirot’s eager assistant.

In a thorough and sometimes indirect and mysterious style, Poirot interviews family members and guests including stepsons John and Lawrence Cavendish; John’s wife, Mary; Emily’s loyal friend, Evie Howard; and Emily’s protégé, Cynthia Murdoch. Maids and gardeners also share important clues and Christie includes helpful floorplans to explain the layout of the house, crucial to understanding the events of Emily’s death.

One of the major issues is Emily’s will. There have been many versions and a last-minute revision. No one is sure what changes have been made and a lot is at stake. John and Lawrence, country squires, have no real source of income and they also fall under suspicion. Another fact to sort out is the strychnine that killed Emily. How was she poisoned and who acquired the strychnine? There are several possibilities. A curious side character is Dr. Bauerstein, who happens to be a poison expert. He’s staying in the village while recovering from a nervous breakdown.

Hastings may be Poirot’s helper, but Poirot likes to keep his ideas close to the vest, leaving Hastings, and the reader, in the dark for periods of time. He gets it all right, of course, in genius style because he quietly notices details and considers possibilities others have discarded. Poirot’s methods are amusing to witness because they show how people become frustrated when they don’t get immediate answers.

I enjoyed reading this mystery, which is not solved until the final pages, but which Poirot fully explains to his naïve assistant.

I must mention, however, several racist characterizations in the book, something Christie has been criticized for and which are completely unnecessary to the storyline. Although I’m unsure of when this happened, the Anti-Defamation League complained about Christie and American publishers were allowed to remove offensive descriptions from some of her books. There are several articles about Christie’s depictions.

ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, May 14, 2018: “The erasure of race in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None by Blake Allmendinger”

The New Yorker, August 16, 2010: “Queen of Crime – How Agatha Christie created the modern murder mystery” by Joan Acocella

Canadian Jewish News, January 23, 2020: “Was Agatha Christie an Anti-Semite?” by Michael Taube

So although The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a clever story and marks the introduction of Poirot’s character, these comments took away from my reading experience.

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Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad
by
Colson Whitehead

Rating:

Cora is a young slave on the Randall cotton plantation in antebellum Georgia when Caesar approaches her with a plan to escape. He tells her she will be his good luck charm, but he’s picked her because he knows she can make it. Cora’s strong and determined personality will help them escape the brutal treatment they can no longer endure. And as a young woman, she is now defenseless against Terrance Randall’s abuse. Cora’s mother, Mabel ran for her own freedom when Cora was a girl. Now Cora is an outcast living on the plantation’s “hob,” a place where slaves are banished by other slaves.

Shortly after they run, they are chased by a group of slave catchers and Cora kills a boy who attacks her. Via the Underground Railroad, they find their way to safety in South Carolina. But something isn’t right and Cora is soon on the run again. And she’s being pursued by a slave catcher named Ridgeway whose reputation is at stake. Ridgeway failed to capture Mabel when she ran. Now he’s determined to succeed and restore Terrance’s confidence in him.

In Whitehead’s interpretation, station agents from a real underground railroad system, built by blacks and white supporters of freedom, help Cora move from state to state. The risks are great for Cora and those who help her and some will pay with their lives.

What do I say about a book like this, read at a time like this? Though Whitehead’s depiction of slavery and oppression is from a grim time in American history where slavery in the south was accepted, his characters’ messages continue to ring true. Cora’s story is a reflection of innumerable stories of how poorly blacks have been treated in this country.

What makes this book excellent is how Whitehead’s characters represent complicated and nuanced views of slavery and oppression.

For example, Colson offers a keen insight into Ridgeway’s belief in what his own father taught him about a Great Spirit. He tells Cora, “All these years later, I prefer the American spirit, the one that called us from the Old World to the New to conquer and build and civilize. And destroy that what needs to be destroyed. To lift up the lesser races. If not lift up, subjugate. And if not subjugate, exterminate. Our destiny by divine prescription—the American imperative.” That’s a scary quote, but these are the shameful words that others throughout history and in present day have spoken.

Cora’s fight for her own freedom is the most central to the story because it represents an imperative for basic human rights. The people who help her, blacks and whites, have varied reasons for helping and for me, offer hope as I relate her story to present time. White shop and saloon owners who live above railroad stations, station agents, and citizens offer help. In particular, Martin Wells, a white station manager in North Carolina, risks his family’s life to hide runaways in his attic, despite his wife’s opposition. His wife, though, is terrified and has her own complicated story. Elijah Lander is a biracial and outspoken abolitionist, who grew up in privilege and uses his stature to make speeches and distribute pamphlets.

One complicated and realistic character is Mingo, a former slave who purchased his own freedom and believes blacks should disassociate themselves from weaker blacks. For Mingo, his cause is his own and his view is narrow.

But the character who tugs at my conscience is John Valentine, a light-skinned Ethiopian who marries a black woman and buys her freedom. He starts a farm in Indiana to help runaways. Valentine explains,

I didn’t grow up the way you did. My mother never feared for my safety. No trader was going to snatch me in the night and sell me South. The whites saw the color of my skin, and that sufficed to let me be. I told myself I was doing nothing wrong, but I conducted myself in ignorance all my days.”

Something in the front of my mind.

Thanks for reading.