Friday, January 27, 2012

Beginning ~ on the water

Flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, 2005

Zeitoun ~ by Dave Eggers, 2009, history (Louisiana), 10/10
On moonless nights the men and boys of Jableh, a dusty fishing town on the coast of Syria, would gather their lanterns and set out in their quietest boats.  Five or six small craft, two or three fishermen in each.  A mile out, they would arrange the boats in a circle on the black sea, drop their nets, and, holding their lanterns over the water, they would approximate the moon.

The fish, sardines, would begin gathering soon after, a slow mass of silver rising from below.  The fish were attracted to plankton, and the plankton were attracted to the light.  They would begin to circle, a chain linked loosely, and over the next hour their numbers would grow.  The black gaps between silver links would close until the fishermen could see, below, a solid mass of silver spinning.
This "book beginning" is going to segue right into a book review because I could not stop reading.  I started late, but read all night.  I needed sleep, but I needed to know what came next even more.  So I kept turning the pages, horrified at what could — and did — happen when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun comes across as a good man, driven to do good things for others, doing good work, caring about his construction workers and the people who hire him to build, repair, and  board up windows.  And yet, I was appalled by what happened to this man.  I can't really tell you what upsets me, because it would be a spoiler.  But I do heartily recommend you read this book.  I rate it 10 of 10, which means I couldn't put it down.

Salvage the Bones ~ by Jesmyn Ward, 2011, fiction (Mississippi), 9/10

I'm making this a double review, since the first book I finished in 2012 was also about Hurricane Katrina.  This one was set in Mississippi in a pocket of rural poverty, and it is also tough to read and horrifying, but in a different way.  Dogs die in both books:  in Zeitoun because they were left behind when owners were forced to evacuate, in Salvage the Bones because men trained them for vicious dog fights.  I was startled when someone's comment on the book's beginning was "sounds like a cute story."  Cute?  No, it was not even close to cute.  It was an intense story that was well-written, but I didn't enjoy it at all.  That does not mean it was not a good story — just that it isn't one I could possibly "enjoy."  It was more gut-wrenching than enjoyable, a brutal story.  These characters in Salvage the Bones were believable, but I don't think I know anyone quite like them.  I rated it 9 of 10.

  If you want to play along, this meme is hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages. Share the first sentence or two of the book you are reading. (Sometimes it takes several sentences to get the full thought.) Then, share your impressions of that beginning.  Click this link to see what others say about the books they are reading this week.


Helen's Book Blog said...

Zeitoun has been on my radar for a while now and you just pushed it closer to the top, thank you!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Something is broken when a man can be imprisoned without due process, after being arrested as a looter, while he is inside his own house. I've just read "The Caging of America" by Adam Gopnik, who said, "The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life."

The brutality in Zeitoun, arrested and imprisoned in the United States, was absolutely chilling. Consider Gopnik's words:

"Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today — perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system — in prison, on probation, or on parole — than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under 'correctional supervision' in America — more than six million — than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height."

Read the whole article here:

Helen's Book Blog said...

Great article, it really is chilling