With annotations that make it especially useful for educational purposes and young readers, a welcome and human glimpse into...

FIGS AND FATE

STORIES ABOUT GROWING UP IN THE ARAB WORLD TODAY

American author Marston (Women of the Middle East: Tradition and Change, 2003, etc.) offers five intimate tales about life in Middle East countries from the perspective of the young.

The characters here are drawn from different classes of an Arab society mired in stasis, conservatism, and patriarchy. In “In Line,” set in Egypt, the privileged new girl in town, Rania, from a family of government workers who hold themselves above the peasants, longs to befriend Fayza, the smartest student in school but from a lower class. Allowed once to lunch at Fayza’s farm, Rania is enchanted by the farm chores and by the meal eaten on the floor, yet her parents are horrified by the mud on her clothes and Rania’s infraction of skating in public with Fayza’s older brother. In “The Hand of Fatima,” a Syrian maid working in Lebanon arranges for her father to join her, then faces an arranged marriage only slightly sweetened by the gold charm her father is able to buy her as bribe or dowry. “Faces” describes an adolescent Damascan boy’s awkward but well-meaning attempt to make dinner for his beleaguered mother, dumped by his father for another woman, while “Santa Claus in Baghdad” follows the impoverishing effects of the Gulf War on a family who can no longer afford even the basic necessities—such as the bounty of drugstore items Uncle Omar brings from America. “The Plan” is a sweet story from a Palestinian refugee camp about a young boy’s attempt to hook up his unemployed peddler brother with his lovely new art teacher. After each vignette, Marston presents an Author’s Note detailing social and political factors that may have been touched on—like the fact that after divorces in Islamic countries, the father traditionally takes the children, or that gold jewelry for women is a form of insurance when marriage fails.

With annotations that make it especially useful for educational purposes and young readers, a welcome and human glimpse into an often misunderstood culture.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8076-1551-X

Page Count: 146

Publisher: Braziller

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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