Saturday, June 18, 2016

Small Great Things (Jodi Picoult)

Because she's one of my favorite authors, receiving a new Jodi Picoult book is like Christmas, Halloween, and my birthday all wrapped up into one.  I devour each and every one, and Small Great Things was no exception.  This time, Picoult taps into the always-prevalent issue of racism, one that writers seldom do except in the area of historical fiction.  Reading her reasons for delving into the issue, along with how she accomplished her research, is just as interesting as the actual book.

Ruth is a highly respected delivery nurse in a hospital when one day, she finds herself assisting Davis, the newly born son of white supremacists.  They want nothing to do with Ruth and promptly ask her supervisor not to let any African Americans touch their son.  One night, every other nurse is in some type of emergency, and Ruth is the only one available to watch over Davis after a routine procedure.  When he codes, she's left with the choice of whether to follow her orders or help the infant. 

As in every Picoult book, Small Great Things is told with multiple narrators -- Ruth, Turk (Davis's father), and Kennedy (Ruth's lawyer).  The trial is emotional and really makes readers think about how they act with people who are different from them.  While the ending is slightly unrealistic and wrapped up in too neatly of a bow, that doesn't deter from the profound lessons the book teaches.


Friday, June 3, 2016

India's War (Srinath Raghavan)

Srinath Raghavan's comprehensive work India's War delves deeply into the role that India played in World War II. India in the 1930's and 1940's was still under British rule, and its geographic position in South Asia put it on the edge of two theatres of battle - Japan in Southeast and East Asia and the African battles that raged as close as Ethiopia.

Raghavan's book is well-researched and detailed, talking about the recruitment of India's armed forces and the "rogue" army that was raised and sought out Japanese and German support.  All of this amid the specter of political drama that was playing out as the leading factions in India's dueling nationalist movements quarrelled with the British colonial government as the nationalists sought further self-control and power.

The author focuses significant time on World War II, but very little deals with the consequences of war with regard to the political turmoil that overtook India and Pakistan in the late 1940's and continues to this day. While the seeds for division and partition were being sewn during World War II, and the author does talk about this, it feels like the immediate aftermath of the war and how India's military shaped some of the civil strife during the India-Pakistan partition was only given brief consideration. More information on this would have been beneficial.

This is a solid but unspectacular work that misses the mark in a few areas but properly mentions the contributions of India's armies to the British war effort.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Long Weekend (Adrian Tinniswood)

Adrian Tinniswood’s The Long Weekend is a brilliantly paced read on the golden era of the English country house between the two world wars.  Tinniswood’s historical work touches on all facets of life in the 1920’s and 1930’s for Britain’s political class, nobility, and socialites -- from the architectural look of the country house to the lifestyle of those who resided in it. Details about the lives of the Astors, Windsors, and Churchills and their estates are given proper coverage…and of course, Edward VIII’s many, many ladies.

The era and lifestyle of many of those who resided in these homes would closely resemble that of the popular British show Downton Abbey, and Tinniswood’s well-researched work closely overlaps the time of the show, extending beyond its ending to cover the golden era’s decline and the fate that many of these homes faced in later years.  Unlike the Granthams of Downton fame, however, many of the residents of these country homes were not there full time, living primarily in London or in some cases even the United States, utilizing these properties for weekend or holiday use.

The author crafts together a fast-paced but intellectual read (290 pages can be trotted through with ease), full of detail of both sophistication of the elite and the sophistry of affairs, double lives, and of lifestyles that were frowned upon in an earlier time.  It’s arguably one of the finer books on the subject of English 20th Century life and certainly well worth your time to read over a long weekend…or a short vacation!