Londoners by Craig Taylor
“When a man is tired of London he is tired of life” (Samuel Johnson).
The Author of “Londoners”, Craig Taylor grew up in western Canada but then moved to London on a visa. He was fascinated by what he saw there, the people, the Culture. “I regularly felt lonely, duped, underprepared, faceless, friendless, but mostly a mixture of those.” Eventually his time was up and his visa expired. He returned to Canada, but he kept asking himself how he felt about London. “I contorted with each answer. It was a mix of love, ambivalence and loathing”. He decided to write a book about “Londoners” “What is a “Londoner?” When does one become a “Londoner?” He interviewed more than 200 people all over London. The people are arranged in categories like “Earning one’s Keep” featuring a plumber and a manicurist. “Feeding the City” featuring a chef and a fellow who runs one of the biggest markets in London. He interviews artists and social workers, sheriffs and protestors. Each of these people has their own take on London.
For tourists, London is ideal (If you’ve got lots of money), but to actually live there is another story. London “of old” has been transformed or transmogrified into a world financial center. In recent years, like almost all major cities all over the world, London has been inundated with immigrants. Housing is tight, rents expensive, and there are constant clashes between the haves and the have nots.
Reading the interviews of these disparate people was fascinating. Naturally I have my favorites like “the Dominatrix”, the Protestor”, and Farzad Pashazadeh, an illegal immigrant who is mistreated.
I think this next paragraph can pretty much sum up what a lot of the people in this book felt about London. It’s a quote from one of the interviews:
“The image of London that you get around the world is far different from the reality. Like, okay you see the image of London in films and in television and you figure, it must be so beautiful and everyone is so mannerly. Right, this is the paradox of London. It’s like Japan, there’s a code of manners, etiquette and protocol, and everybody is mannered. But also everyone is violent and everybody is rude and everybody is willing to f*** kill everybody for the smallest thing. I couldn’t work out this contradiction in my head, right, for the longest time. And then I figured it out. I thought, there’s a public face and a private face, right, and the public face is always opposite, it’s the demiurge. And the reason that people are so preoccupied with manners and etiquette in London is because if you do now show the right etiquette it might—possibly– get you killed. And this works on all levels of society.
All evil originates here. Well it does, really. I mean…industrialization, capitalism, imperialism, the whole idea of enslaving people for their resources and turning everyone into zombies and robots and, you know, raping the earth and raping the world’s population and …they all start here. I got to get out of this f*** city.”
I can’t wait to go.
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
Aminata Diallo lives with her parents in Bayo, a village in what will become Mali. Her father is a jeweler and owns the only book in the village, a Qur’an. Her mother is a midwife and takes Aminata with her to deliveries in nearby villages and teaches her to assist. One day, when Aminata is 11, they are abducted, and Aminata finds herself forced to walk for three months to the sea. Few children in the 1750s survive the Middle Passage to the American colonies and slavery, but Aminata, now Meena, does, and lives on an indigo plantation near the coast of South Carolina. Smart and good with languages, she learns to read English and delivers babies. Meena also falls in love with Chekura, a boy she met on the journey in Africa. They are often separated, but start a family. Incredibly, Meena ends up in New York, Nova Scotia, the new colony of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and eventually in London, where she speaks to abolitionists about the the truth of slavery. Despite tragedy and malaria, Meena carries on, always a resilient survivor, and finds happiness in the end. We discussed this book at the library recently, and everyone thought the book well worth reading and discussing. Some of us wanted more resolution for Aminata, but found her story, while incredible, quite memorable. The author was inspired by the Book of Negroes, a record of 3,000 black Loyalists who were promised land in Nova Scotia by the British.
The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch
Nell is one of only two survivors of a plane crash. She remembers nothing of her life, but learns that she runs an art gallery with her sister, and is married to (but separated from) Peter, and is the daughter of a famous reclusive painter who abandoned the family years ago. She is surprised to find that she’s a control freak who only wears neutral colors, and that she and her sister weren’t speaking before the accident. She used to like music, and her sister makes a recording of music to help prompt her memory. It seems that no one is telling her the whole truth, and she turns to fellow survivor, actor Anderson, to help her find out who she really is. I was really interested in Nell’s story, but found the lies her family and friends told somewhat unbelievable, more so than the amnesia itself. A real page-turner.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Alice hits her head during spin class one morning, and loses a decade of her life. She thinks she’s pregnant with her first child, and is stunned to find out that she and Nick have three kids, and are separated. Her sister Elizabeth is married but seems distant, and her mother has remarried, to the most surprising person ever, and enjoys salsa dancing. Alice only gradually remembers flashes of the last decade, and frankly doesn’t like the older Alice. She’s a super mom, very involved at the kids’ school, but they don’t seem that happy. Why is everyone asking her about plans to break the world record for lemon meringue pie? And is she really dating Dominick, the school principal? I really liked the early Alice, and was rooting for her to remain true to herself as she regained her memories. Besides the lemon meringue pie scene, some of my favorite funny parts were how she handles a child’s getting kicked out of school, and salsa dancing.
If you’d like to read more novels about people starting over after a memory loss, try these recent books:
Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson
The Last Letter from Your Lover, by Jojo Moyes
The Shadow of Your Smile, by Susan May Warren
Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
The Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig
Rusty and his dad Tom Harry live in Gros Ventre, Montana, near The Medicine Lodge, where Tom is “the best bartender who ever lived”. Raised by his aunt In Phoenix until he was 6, Rusty was happy to escape his older cousins to hang out in the bar’s back room, taking inventory and helping clean the bar on Saturdays. Rusty knows his dad loves him, even if he won’t talk about the past, or Rusty’s mother, who is long gone. The guys have soup for breakfast and dinner at a local café. Tom and Rusty occasionally go fishing, though Rusty’s not a fan. In 1960, when Rusty is 12, new owners buy the café, and Rusty makes friends with their daughter Zoe. The pair hang out in the back room, surrounded by stuff customers have bartered for beer, making model airplanes near an air vent, listening to Tom and his customers. When The Medicine Lodge gets an award from a Montana brewery, Tom, Rusty and Zoe travel to a nearby city for a brewery tour, a minor-league baseball game, and a banquet, where Zoe pretends to be Tom’s daughter. Then Delano comes to town, ready to record Missing Voices for the Library of Congress and he wants Tom to introduce him to the mudjacks who built the dam at Fort Peck. At the mudjacks’ reunion, we meet Proxy, who wants her daughter Francine to learn bartending from Tom. Tom is asked to organize the annual fishing derby at the reservoir, the highlight of Gros Ventre’s summer, and a dramatic mudslide ends the day. It’s quite a summer for Rusty and Zoe, and the reader is happy to go along for a glimpse of life in 1960 Montana. Another old-fashioned reading pleasure from the author of The Whistling Season and Work Song.
1222 by Anne Holt
For American readers, this is an exciting place to jump into the Norwegian mystery series featuring police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen; at 1222 meters, or 4000 feet above sea level, in a snowstorm. Hanne and 267 other passengers are on a train from Oslo to Bergen when it derails near a tunnel entrance. Only the driver is killed, and the passengers are evacuated to a nearby hotel. We quickly learn that Hanne is in a wheelchair, having been shot in the spin 4 years earlier. For a cranky, reclusive woman, Hanne is pretty good company. Injured in the crash, she is treated by Magnus Streng, a charming dwarf physician. Hanne takes angry teen Adrian under her wing, and the various groups from the train settle into the different wings of the hotel until they can be rescued. A death in the night brings Hanne to work with a small group of leaders to make plans and keep the passengers from panicking, especially as the weather worsens, and another death is discovered. Young teen athletes, older youth headed to a concert, a church group, doctors on their way to a conference, and the unknown passengers aboard the train’s extra carriage variously blend, clash, eat, and get impatient. While I would have preferred Hanne to spend less time observing that different passengers could use a shower or clean clothes, I did find this to be a fast-paced and intriguing mystery. As in most Scandinavian mysteries and crime thrillers, it is dark, cold, the detective has personal issues, and much coffee is drunk, Holt makes her own mark on the field with a book that has much in common with traditional English country house mysteries. For readers who prefer to start at the beginning of a series, the first two Hanne Wilhelmsen mysteries have recently been translated into English.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
The story of Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker will be an unheard one for many readers. The story of Elizabeth, a freed black slave who takes pains to buy her and her son’s freedom, and then becomes a world-class seamstress, seems like a typical American rags-to-riches story. But if anyone knows the story of the Lincolns, it soon turns tragic, and Elizabeth’s fate is soon entwined for the worse (and better!) with Mrs. Lincoln. As some other reviewers have pointed out, this is one of the few novels that portrays Lincoln’s First Lady in a sympathetic and courageous light. However, there were sections a little heavy handed on the barrage of historical facts, so I would only recommend it for historical fiction fans and Lincoln buffs, of which there are many, I have no doubt.
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle
Sometimes I just want a light, fun book to read. That description perfectly fits Peter Mayle’s books. How about a luxurious working vacation in the south of France? American sleuth Sam Levitt and his girlfriend Elena are off to Marseille so that Sam can help wealthy Francis Reboul win a waterfront development contract. Readers of The Vintage Caper may remember that Reboul was Levitt’s quarry in a wine theft case, but he isn’t the type to hold a grudge. British rival Lord Wapping will stop at nothing to win the contest, while the other developer is Parisian, and not likely to win many votes in Marseille. Much sightseeing, fine wines, and gourmet dining are enjoyed by Sam and Elena until Lord Wapping’s thugs resort to kidnapping. This is a very breezy and relaxed caper, and enjoyable to read.