January 22, 2012

Book review: “Memory Mambo” by Achy Obejas

I thoroughly enjoyed “Memory Mambo” when I read it in early 1997, shortly after it was published. Fifteen years later, I savored it even more. Achy Obejas is a friend, and we were co-workers at the Chicago Tribune when she published this book, her first novel. That personal connection added something to the pleasure of the book, but there’s no question: Even if I hadn’t known Obejas, I still would have relished reading and re-reading such a funny, dramatic, insightful story. “Memory Mambo” works on a great many levels simultaneously. The book gives a glimpse into the Cuban-American culture — its intersection with and friction with other Hispanic heritages, its grappling with the reality of exile, its wrestling with racial identity, its tasty cuisine, its insularity and strong family ties. The 24-year-old narrator, Juani Casas, is the second of her parents’ three children, but one of a host of sibling-like cousins whose lives intertwine in complex ways, particularly around the family-run laundromat on Milwaukee Avenue in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. The Cubans and other Hispanics are relatively new arrivals in the neighborhood, taking the place of Poles, many of whom — but not all — have moved out […]
January 16, 2012

Book review: “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the RISE and FALL of the COMANCHES, the Most POWERFUL INDIAN Tribe in American History” by S. C. Gwynne

Let’s talk about book titles, and book covers, and book marketing. For all intents and purposes, S.C. Gwynne’s 2010 book “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the RISE and FALL of the COMANCHES, the Most POWERFUL INDIAN Tribe in American History,” appears to be a biography of Quanah Parker. For one thing, an image of Parker takes up more than half of the book cover, the part not covered by the title and the subtitle. That subtitle, by the way, is strange, with its odd mix of some, but not all, words in boldface and some, but not all, of those boldface words in all capital letters. “Quanah Parker” is the only boldface word that is not all caps, but, in a way, that gives more emphasis to the name. And, of course, it’s further emphasized by being the start of the subtitle. (By the way, here’s another odd thing about the title itself: Nowhere in the book does Gwynne or anyone he quotes refer to the Comanche dominance on the Plains as the Empire of the Summer Moon. And, from what I can tell, it’s not a term that’s ever been used anywhere else to refer to […]
January 4, 2012

My first byline

January 3, 2012

Book review: “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest” by Stieg Larsson

Lisbeth Salander is fascinating. Thin, short and socially stunted, she is a victim of abuse, domestic and institutional. Yet, she is even more a survivor — one with extraordinary skills as a hacker, a fluid, computer-like intelligence and a steel will. Often, she is in control. She is the reason to read Stieg Larsson’s crime trilogy: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.” Alas, in the third book, “Hornets’ Nest” — an overfed 743 pages — she rarely appears. For literally hundreds of pages, people meet, people fight, people argue, people search, people scheme, people pontificate, people have sex, people have meals, people go for a run, people murder, people nab bad guys. But Lisbeth isn’t one of them. She’s stuck in a hospital bed, and then in a prison, and the nervous, exhilarating energy she has as she moves through the world is totally missing from the book. Even so, when she’s on the page, even when she can’t move a muscle without great pain, she captivates the reader. Of course, the reason Lisbeth is immobilized is that, as the book opens, she’s recuperating from a […]