Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Three Good Books... Actually Six

 I only put it together yesterday that I have recently read three really good books, and all three have a commonality:  they depict the American immigrant experience.  I came to them at different times and for different reasons.   Several years ago I read Waiting, an award winner, and wonderful story of a man's long, patient wait to divorce his wife in order to marry someone else.  The book has a mesmerizing, meditative effect so that the subject of waiting becomes an undertone--abstract and strong--in the realm of music.  I'm currently reading  A Free Life, the 600 page novel of Nan and Pingping, a Chinese couple, immigrants from China at the time of Tienanmen Square, who work hard and long to make it in the U.S.   Ha Jin (pen name for Jin Xuefei) learned English as a college student in China.  He was at Brandeis during the  Tienanmen incident, and subsequently emigrated to the U.S. He writes his novels in English.

  This immediately reminded me of two other books I've enjoyed.  One is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, and the other one is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  I read Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies years ago when our family was living in Peru.  The Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories where her characters share human problems, but in a cross cultural American Indian context.  Her novel, The Namesake, which was promptly made into an excellent film, depicts a Bengali couple, who move to Cambridge, and have two children.The novel focuses on the son, who was named Gogol, after a folly in the hospital.  As he grows up and learns about his father's reasons for choosing that name ("Everyone must come out of Gogol's overcoat") he makes peace with himself, his family and his heritage.

 In Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese writes the story of twin brothers in Ethiopia during a time of great turmoil there.  It will probably be a movie soon.    Dr. Verghese was born of Indian parents,  grew up in Ethiopia, and left during the civil unrest.  He studied medicine in India, and finished up in the U.S.  He, like Lahiri and Jin, writes of the American experience with an immigrant's eyes.  I had become acquainted with Dr. Verghese, now a medical professor at Stanford University, when I read The Tennis Partner, a memoir he wrote about an experience he had when he was teaching in El Paso as a  Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases.  That book is about his friendship with a young resident who became his tennis partner, and who was addicted to drugs.  I loved the way he wrote about tennis.  He recounted the greats from my era--Pancho Segura, Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, among others--and got to the center of what is beautiful about the sport.  Cutting for Stone is a powerful plot driven story that follows the boys on their global and internal journeys.

As our world shrinks, our national literature grows.  These are riveting novels by talented, experienced and insightful writers.  They are Americans now, and teaching in our universities.  They teach us ,enlighten us, and tell good stories.

Components from 4 continents in this American made necklace
  Sooo, to make just a bit of a stretch for the tie-in:  As my beads are collected from all over the world, the jewelry itself is American, made in Maine.

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