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No Refuge for Women: The Tragic Fate of Syrian Refugees

Maria von Welser. Greystone (PGW, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $18.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-77164-307-8

German journalist Von Welser brings the voices of asylum-seeking women to the forefront in this uneven call to relieve the humanitarian crisis of Syrians escaping dictatorship and war. Firsthand reporting from overcrowded refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey—as well as disembarkation points such as Lesbos and Lampedusa, where refugees frequently land following harrowing Mediterranean crossings in dangerous rafts—helps individualize the terror that marks millions of desperate journeys. The descriptions of the unique dangers that women face, including the constant risk of sexual assault by male smugglers, the female slave trade run by ISIS, and the economic burdens borne by women with children whose fathers have gone ahead to Europe, are stomach-turning and enraging. Unfortunately, von Welser’s choppy text often suffers from inexplicable changes in tense, superfluous melodramatic statements (“How inhuman!” “But what a price!”), and an incongruous fixation with describing women as beautiful or pretty. Her photos are also too small and poorly reproduced to do justice to their subjects. Von Welser ends the book on a on a brighter note, pointing to individual examples of German citizens rejecting discrimination and welcoming newcomers, a model she hopes will be replicated across Europe. This timely cri de coeur is an important reminder of the global responsibility to the world’s most vulnerable population. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Love and Laughter in the Time of Chemotherapy

Manjusha Pawagi. Second Story (UTP, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-77260-045-2

Pawagi shares a painfully honest and surprisingly funny account of her cancer treatments and the search for a stem cell donor who could save her life. After Pawagi—a judge, author (The Girl Who Hated Books), wife, and mother of two—was diagnosed with advanced and aggressive leukemia, she suddenly had to adjust to not being in control. Of her mutinying chromosomes, she writes, “I picture a kind of morbid square dance where partners peel off and join other partners they’re not supposed to join, while the fiddler, my body’s immune system, looks the other way and fiddles on obliviously.” Even pedestrian matters became permission-seeking nightmares, as when she had to get approval from two medical departments just to eat an ice pop: “My hematology team says it is up to the surgical team. The surgical team says ask the hematology team. It’s like having divorced parents and not knowing yet who is the soft touch.” Such wit runs through the book, but she also shares her moments of despair and fears of not living to dance at her kids’ weddings. Pawagi expertly walks the tightrope between humor and heartbreak. Readers will celebrate her return to health and take heart from it. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race

Naben Ruthnum. Coach House (Consortium, U.S. dist.; PGC, Canadian dist.), $13.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-55245-351-3

Ruthnum, whose short fiction has won the Journey Prize, makes a ponderous contribution to Coach House’s Exploded Views series of cultural critiques, using curry as a focus for his ruminations about place, belonging, and multiculturalism in Canada. Ruthnum uses the elusive definition of curry (“Curry isn’t real. Its range of definitions, edible and otherwise, rob it of a stable existence”) as a jumping-off point to discuss what he calls “curry books,” books that he argues are defined by being written by South East Asian authors living in diaspora, such as Salman Rushdie, Shilpa Somaya Gowda, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Like the dish, Ruthnum argues that these books defy categorization. Ruthnum’s explorations of both food and literature include insightful forays into nostalgia, authenticity, belonging, and the sense of in-between worlds in which the children of immigrants live. He argues that “there’s typically also a generational divide, a bridge littered with pakoras and Reese’s Pieces that cannot be crossed except with soulful looks and tangential arguments.” Ultimately deciding that audience expectations engendered by past literary (and culinary) success are a heavy burden on present authors (and chefs), this essay seeks to push industry and audience alike to make space for the lost narratives, the ones that “go unread because of the dominance of the story we’ve heard before.” This work serves as a rallying cry for emerging writers (including the author) to write those new, different stories. Agent: Samantha Haywood, Transatlantic. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis. Twelve, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6358-6

Minutaglio and Davis (Dallas 1963) make use of newly declassified FBI documents and secret White House recordings to chronicle the 28-month global hunt for Dr. Timothy Leary in this rip-roaring slice of American history. Leary, a Harvard psychology professor who became known as “the high priest of LSD,” caught the attention of the Nixon administration in 1970 after he escaped from a California prison, where he was serving time for possession of marijuana. President Nixon was looking for a poster child for his War on Drugs—an identifiable “bad guy” whose apprehension would signal victory—and Leary fit the part. The story follows Leary’s time on the run, which, aided by the radical left-wing organization the Weathermen, extended from Africa to Europe to Asia before his eventual capture by a DEA agent in Afghanistan in 1973. The authors switch among the perspectives of Leary, the agents following him abroad, and Nixon, who grows increasingly preoccupied by the case. The authors use the present tense to describe the events, giving the story line a vivid immediacy. In one scene, supported by a White House recording, Nixon and his cabinet members decide to make Leary public enemy number one and then begin shouting Leary’s name in unison, as if rallying fans before a high school football game. This dramatic account is backed by extensive research, but its primary purpose is entertainment rather than education. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Place for All People: Life, Architecture, and the Fair Society

Richard Rogers, with Richard Brown. Canongate, $34.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-78211-693-6

British architect Rogers, who is known for his exoskeleton designs, offers thoughts on his life and craft with the same admirable transparency that characterizes his buildings. Rogers takes readers behind the scenes of his storied career, from early residential and industrial projects to his large-scale corporate and civic commissions. Combining elements of memoir and monograph, he mixes details from cantilever engineering for the Pompidou Center with personal anecdotes, as when he met the prime minister of France while wearing a denim suit. The story of his collaboration with Renzo Piano on the winning entry in the Pompidou Center competition brings to mind two college students scrambling during finals week: the architects cut and pasted drawings in a late-night post office in Leicester Square, and then smudged the postmark to comply with the competition’s deadline. Rogers is relatable throughout, still raffish despite his title (he was knighted in 1991). For an architect whose works are consistently avant-garde, Rogers’s book is surprisingly down to earth. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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This Is M. Sasek: The Extraordinary Life and Travels of the Beloved Children’s Book Illustrator

Olga Cerná, Pavel Ryška, and Martin Salisbury, trans. from the Czech by Martina and Stuart Nicholson. Universe, $29.95 (120p) ISBN 978-0-7893-3427-5

This illustrated scrapbook pays homage to the work of midcentury illustrator M. Sasek (1916–1980), best known for his This Is... series of travel guides for children. Trained as an illustrator in Czechoslovakia, Sasek was in Paris working on the first in his planned series of city guides for kids when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in 1948 and his Czech publisher was jailed. Unable to make a living as an illustrator in Paris, Sasek moved to Munich, where he began a short but successful career in broadcasting at Radio Free Europe. When This Is Paris was eventually published in London in 1959, its pairing of architectural drawing with affectionate caricatures of city life was an instant success and led to the publication of 17 other guides between 1959 and 1974. The series was widely translated and published across Europe and North America. Only in the Eastern Bloc, which included his native country of Czechoslovakia, was his work suppressed. The irony of this is not lost on Czech children’s book author Cerná, who emphasizes Sasek’s international acclaim in this workmanlike biography. The book is enlivened by a wealth of visual material, including reproductions of Sasek’s early work, many illustrations from the This Is... series, and copies of letters from young fans. As this illustrated book aptly shows, Sasek’s books exemplified an era in which world travel became possible for ordinary citizens, and his smooth, cosmopolitan style still looks fresh today. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Rescuing Retirement: A Plan to Guarantee Retirement Security for All Americans

Teresa Ghilarducci and Tony James. Columbia Univ., $24.95 (184p) ISBN 978-0-231-18564-6

Ghilarducci (How to Retire with Enough Money), director of the New School for Social Research’s Retirement Equity Lab, and James, CEO of the Blackstone Group financial services firm, argue that 85 million Americans don’t have any retirement savings and millions more have woefully inadequate plans—and offer a possible resolution, the guaranteed retirement account, a portable retirement savings account for every worker. The money is pooled and professionally managed, and, upon retirement, the worker is guaranteed payments for life. The scheme requires no additional taxes or deficit and only a small ongoing contribution from the worker. What makes the book so readable is not just the authors’ well-reasoned proposal, which includes case studies and surveys, but also their explanation of how the U.S. got to this point, which includes the accidental birth of the 401(k). Ghilarducci and James never slip into wonk-speak or jargon, and lay readers will appreciate the way the authors make sense of complex economic issues. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir

Ian Buruma. Penguin Press, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-101-98141-2

New York Review of Books editor Buruma reflects on his immersion in the artistic underworlds of late 1970s Tokyo in this lucid, engrossing memoir. A bored university student from the Netherlands, Buruma was intrigued by the exotic Japan of film and stage and moved to a country caught between dizzying economic growth and the student uprisings that followed. On his way to artistic maturity, Buruma befriended gay expat aesthetes, fashion photographers, Buto dancers, and underground theater troupes, his fluent Japanese providing access to milieus few Westerners ever encountered. Throughout the narrative, readers learn nearly as much about Buruma’s occasional male lovers as they do about a Japanese girlfriend he lived with (and later married). Bisexual and half “Anglo-German-Jewish,” Buruma had always felt remote from his Dutch countrymen, and he felt even more displaced among the Japanese. Of course, it was exactly his difference that made him intriguing to the fiercely tribal artistic enclaves he explored; as Buruma freely admits, having John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) for an uncle proved quite helpful in encounters with luminaries such as film directors Ju¯ro¯ Kara , Akira Kurosawa, and Shu¯ji Terayama. Yet even as this far-from-typical gaijin enjoyed the benefits of his ambiguous status, he came to understand that he would never be fully accepted. Buruma makes the archetypal quest for home in a foreign land both uniquely personal and deeply illuminating. Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Rebounders: A Division I Basketball Journey

Amanda Ottaway. Univ. of Nebraska, $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8032-9684-8

In this charming though uneven memoir, Ottaway recalls her four years as a scholarship player, beginning in 2008, on Davidson College’s women’s basketball team. She shares stories of her emotional and physical toil during the season, dealing with a coaching staff that breeds discord (“I believed that coach Katz loved us in her way. I just didn’t think she knew how to show us... her competitiveness came off as plain old hurtful”), stressing over her meager playing time, and realizing that she and her teammates are simply university “merchandise.” Ottaway relishes details—a strength coach boasts calves as “wide as cereal boxes”—and her description of the financial burden families face when a player gets injured is eye-opening. Throughout, she includes stories of her former teammates alongside those of her own struggles, a technique that works to varying degrees: while it offers glimpses into the broader world of college sports, it distracts from the narrative. Ottaway is certainly an affable and trustworthy guide but readers will be left wanting more. Agent: Laurie Abkemeier, DeFiore and Co. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Raw: My Journey into the Wu-Tang

Lamont “U-God” Hawkins. Picador, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-19116-8

“I don’t consider myself an ex–drug dealer or an ex-criminal,” rapper Hawkins writes in this sage, fast-paced memoir. “I consider myself to be an experienced fucking person who went through a lot of hell to come out right and get where I am today.” Hawkins, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, describes New York during the less glamorous (and more dangerous) 1970s through the early 1990s, when lived with his single mother in a crack-ravaged Staten Island neighborhood; he dealt drugs as a teenager, eventually running a mini-empire. During this time, Hawkins and his friend Method Man honed their rap skills. They joined other determined, songwriters to form the Wu-Tang Clan. Along the way, Hawkins spent a year in prison for drug possession and, sometime after, was admitted to a mental institution after he was found wandering around his neighborhood in a bathrobe (“Maybe one of my girlfriends poisoned me”); he became a father and later dated Janet Jackson, on whom he had had a crush as a kid. Hawkins is a wonderful storyteller who spares no detail (he writes of using plastic wrap as a prophylactic), and his willingness to share his wisdom in nonsaccharine terms yields an inspirational coming-of-age story. Agent: Marc Gerald, United Talent Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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