Local bibliophiles review their recent reads
This Book Look is the latest installment of a recurring round-up of book reviews by local readers. To contribute to this feature, contact the Kittanning Library. We would love to share your critiques & recommendations with other readers.
American Dirt by Jeanne Cummins
By Daphne Ruffner
As I write this, American Dirt is #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, and I can’t put it down! It’s definitely a page-turner, but frankly, not my usual kind of book. It was recommended by another library volunteer who thought I would enjoy it. And, she was right!
The main characters are Lydia, a bookshop owner, and her son, Luca, who is almost 9 years old. They live a middle-class, happy life in Acapulco. Luca is a bit of a prodigy who can recite from a vast knowledge of world geography and is soon to be a contestant in the World Geography Contest. Lydia’s husband, Sebastian, is an investigative journalist who is going after the illegal drug-smuggling cartels.
Lydia is befriended by a customer, Javier, who visits the bookshop often and brings her presents. Lydia is enchanted by his charisma. Unknown to her, Javier is the leader of the newest drug cartel, and her husband is writing an expose of his illegal activities.
Soon after the article is published, Sebastian and 15 members of his extended family are killed, execution-styl,e at a party while Lydia and Luca narrowly escape by hiding in a bathroom.
So sets the stage for Lydia and Luca to begin their harrowing journey to escape from Mexico and flee to the United States, all amid warnings from Javier that he will kill them if they escape. Despite his terrible plans, Javier is in love with Lydia.
Of course, nothing goes right. They can’t board an airplane because they don’t have the right ID, … so they join the ‘migrant’ train.
It is somewhat reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road - one of my favorite books. Take away The Road’s cannibalism and Jeanne Cummins’ descriptive abilities are equally adept in making you feel hungry, thirsty and tired, … dirty and alternately cold and sweaty.
Two characters stand out: the sisters Soledad and Rebecca. They are young and beautiful and targets in their perilous flight from Nicaragua. They bond with Lydia and Luca and these four travel together. Of the book’s other characters, many show this desperate group acts of kindness with offers of food, shelter and even money.
But you can’t trust anyone. You don’t know who the bad guys are. Meanwhile, Javier sends a book with a message stating Lydia and Luca are to be killed.
There are a great many Spanish words in the book. Some explained, most are not. They seem unnecessary, even annoying, in disrupting one’s flow of reading.
While it isn’t necessarily a political book in the sense that the author does not express her views, it is relevant to issues in our present day political venue: To build the Wall, to deport the undocumented? People have already made up their minds by now on these topics?!!!
All in All, American Dirt is well written and a good read.
Daphne Ruffner is an avid reader and lover of good books. She can be found volunteering at the library and perusing patron donations and book sales for gently-used gems. Daphne plans and coordinates the much-anticipated Kittanning Library Book Sales.
Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
Review by Anita Bowser
Kurt Wallander, of Henning MankelI’s Wallander series, is a perfectly flawed, sometimes haunted, police inspector. He drinks too much, ignores his health and has strained relationships with his family and colleagues.
Like most protagonists of the Nordic noir genre, Wallander can be somewhat morose and jaded. He listens to opera and muses about the social and political changes of his homeland.
He’s also quite cunning and, through more than 10 books, we watch him solve the dark and gritty murders of Ystad, Sweden.
Faceless Killers, the 1991 series debut, follows a middle-aged, recently-separated Inspector Wallander as he investigates the murder of an elderly couple, brutally killed in their remote farmhouse. With her dying breath, the old woman whispers a single word: foreign.
Or, does she? It’s a sketchy clue, and puzzles Wallander as he urgently works to unravel the mystery before the public’s racial mistrust erupts into outright violence against immigrants.
Faceless Killers is a satisfying police procedural set in the bleak backdrop of the frozen north. Written before anyone had even heard of Nordic/Scandinavian noir, Mankell’s novel ticks off all of the boxes of this popular genre. It’s strong and complex protagonist is committed to untangling the twisted layers of a vicious murder, all the while ruminating over changing and unfair social policies, corruption and his own shortcomings.
The novel is a good introduction to the series and its much-loved main character.
Mankell died in 2015 having written the closing chapters of Wallander’s career in The Troubled Man, where the melancholy inspector, now in his 60s, must face his declining health and failing memory. He still works the case and manages to keep the reader guessing, and smiling right up to the end.
As with many fans of the series, I miss Wallander now that he’s gone. But, it’s possible to catch one of the many incarnations of the inspector. The series has been made into movies and TV series in Sweden and the UK. The English language version, starring Kenneth Branagh, ran on the BBC from 2008 to 2016 and features a pre-Loki Tom Hiddleston.
Anita Bowser is a writer and blogger from Butler County. She’s a volunteer at Kittanning Library and has worked as a reporter, copy editor, content writer and a library director. Her favorite past times include reading, writing and avoiding arithmetic. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out more at www.anitabowser.com.