Monday, April 22, 2013

Staff Picks

What decisions would you make if you spent over a month on an overcrowded lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with a limited supply of food and water?  Do you advocate rescuing the person languishing in the water knowing that each additional person added to the lifeboat may decrease your chances of survival?  Should people be held accountable for decisions made under the stress of being famished, dehydrated, and terrified over their slim odds of ever being rescued? 

Charlotte Rogan’s novel The Lifeboat  examines those questions and more with the story of Grace Winter.  Grace and her newlywed husband Henry are on the their journey home to the United States when their ocean liner mysteriously explodes. Although initially civil with each other and optimistic about their chances of rescue, the castaways eventually begin to battle as supplies and conditions deteriorate.  Choices are made as each castaway begins to realize that some of them will have to perish in order for others to survive.  When a power struggle develops on the lifeboat, Grace is forced to decide on  the lengths that she will take in order to ensure her personal survival. 

Henning Mankell’s newest novel The Shadow Girls is quite the departure from his popular Kurt Wallender mystery series.  It recounts the story of Swedish poet Jesper Humlin who travels to another city to conduct a reading from his most recently published book of poetry.  At the reading, Jesper meets Tea-Bag, a refugee from Nigeria.  Through Tea-Bag, Jesper is introduced to the world of the shadow girls including  Leyla from Iran and Tanya from Russia.  The shadow girls are  refugees in Sweden illegally forced by circumstances to live life “invisibly” in the shadows or edges of society.  Desperate to find a means to communicate their stories and history, the shadow girls ask Jesper to teach them how to write.  Hoping for some respite from the demands and eccentricities of his mother, girlfriend, and editor, Jesper reluctantly agrees.  Through the writing lessons, Jesper finds himself becoming involved in the lives of the refugees and after hearing their stories, compelled to try to help them.  The Shadow Girls is a multi-layered novel.  It is, on the surface, light-hearted, and at times, laugh out loud funny; however, beneath the surface, lies the heart-wrenching stories of the refugees and their desire just to be acknowledged and heard.

Amy Weiler
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