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ZAZU DREAMS

BETWEEN THE SCARAB AND THE DUNG BEETLE

A mystical, magical adventure with a serious message that should spur conversations.

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In this illustrated fantasy, a boy and his imaginary dog travel via whale, learning about science, history, ecology, and more.

Zazu is a young boy with light-brown skin and curly hair; he has Sephardi and Mizrahi ancestry on his mother’s side, and African American (Barbados and India) on his father’s. Every night, Zazu travels back in time, visiting his ancestors whose diaspora took them all over the world, learning “history that we never hear about in school.” An especially wild escapade begins when Zazu and his imaginary malamute husky named Cocomiso travel by humpback whale from the present (2016) back through time to locations like the Rock of Gibraltar; Ouazzane, Morocco; the Caribbean; Kerala, India; the Persian Gulf; Shiraz, Iran; Babylon in ancient Mesopotamia; Salonika, Greece; and more. Along the way, Zazu has several kinds of encounters: learning Sephardic/Mizrahi history (such as that of the Caribbean-based Sephardic pirates who took revenge against the Spanish for the forced diaspora of Jews and Moors); meeting ancestors and cultural heroes (like pirate Capt. Moses Cohen Henriques Eanes and Jacques Cousteau); gleaning something about each stop’s culture and background; and, crucially, discovering facets of the global environmental crisis, including burning forests, mass extinctions, and plastic in the oceans. Just as important, Zazu is educated about remedies based on sustainability and an empathic understanding of how human actions affect the biosphere. To save Earth, people need (for example) “zero-deforestation agriculture and product chains, ethically shared seeds,” and “proper poop-use.” The last becomes an important symbol for how humans deal with waste. Zazu is given three poops: one kind warning of the dystopia to come; another serving as a guide to the present; and the third representing “poop for a hopeful future.” Though on the surface a children’s story, with a boy protagonist and fantastic exploits, this novel pitches much of its content to adult ears, backed up by an introductory guide, hundreds of notes, a chronology, and a list of additional resources for further study. The intent is frankly didactic; Alhadeff (Viscous Expectations, 2014) hopes that both kids and adults will see “the possibility of reconsidering consequences of one’s habitual daily choices.” Nevertheless, the tone is joyful and hopeful, and Zazu’s travels are often charming, surprising, and fun, especially when he gets to sample local pastimes and typical foods. The author is effective in showing the breadth, depth, and appeal of Jewish and Arab history, language, and culture. Amato (Uncanny Congruencies, 2013, etc.) provides attractive painted illustrations that have a naïve style but capture the book’s wide-ranging flavor. Given the tale’s enjoyable plot, delight in language, and timely message, it’s unfortunate that its credibility suffers from several questionable assertions (such as the danger of vaccines and the increase of amber’s “healing properties” due to deforestation) and some notes that contain unattributed quotations from other sources.

A mystical, magical adventure with a serious message that should spur conversations.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63233-118-2

Page Count: 140

Publisher: Eifrig Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2019

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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