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Between Literary and Chicky
By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar


I didn’t control my Muse. Not in a specific way to generate particular ideas. Sure, I sit down several times a week and force myself to produce as much as I can in the few hours I have between kids’ birthday parties and swim lessons. I go away once a year, for a week, (or longer, if I can find a place to stash the kids) to write, mingle with other writerly types, and figure out how I can get better at storytelling.

The ideas for my previous books often began with a central question. One that rolls around and around on deck, waiting for her turn at the keyboard. How a modern person with traditional values finds love is at the center of my first paperback Love Comes Later. The answer is the story.

In The Dohmestics, I explore how well we know those closest to us or ourselves. The ensemble cast in the novel is a composite of people I’ve known while living in the Middle East country of Qatar. Their tangled lives represent the ways in which expats and their domestic help support and infuriate each other.

Perhaps because my books ponder issues, rather than focus on a sequence of events, I resist categorization as a genre writer. My novels can’t really find a home like others, where stories cluster, based on common devices or types.

Yet, for the last year or so, I have been trying to get a handle on myself as a writer and channel ideas instead of letting them lead me into genre-defying projects. N

Not as easy as it sounds.

Crime is what I hoped to get into one year ago: July 2014. Not in real life, as it were, but for my writing. If you can get a believable, likable, empathetic detective type, you are golden. The books seem to write themselves.

Scandinavian writers like Steig Larrson and Henning Mankel had inspired me for years. They took the genre as a venue for social critique and pointed out the failure of Nordic utopia. I’ve seen other places struggle with the burden of wealth and a small citizenry.

I set down a nascent story during National Novel Writing Month in 2015. The premise was simple: a main character living in a labor camp in the Arabian Gulf, one of the kind present in monthly sports news about the 2022 World Cup.

The Migrant Report was my first attempt to research, outline, plan, write, and revise a novel from start to finish. The first manuscript was 50,000 word. The published version, now available at online retailers, is almost double the original word count.

I’m nervous, I’m elated. One second I worry I’ve gotten it all wrong; the next I’m telling everyone this is the best material I’ve ever written. If you’d like to review The Migrant Report and tell me your thoughts, drop me a comment below. What type of stories do you like to read or write?

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had two sons, and became a writer. She has since published eight e-books, including a memoir for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me; a guide for aspiring writers, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies; a short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories; and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving Peace. Her coming of age novel, An Unlikely Goddess, won the SheWrites New Novelist competition in 2011. Her recent books have focused on various aspects of life in Qatar. From Dunes to Dior, named as a Best Indie book in 2013, is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. Love Comes Later was the winner of the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013 and is a literary romance set in Qatar and London. The Dohmestics is an inside look into compound life, the day-to-day dynamics between housemaids and their employers. After she joined the e-book revolution, Mohana dreams in plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website at www.mohadoha.com or follow her latest on Twitter: @moha_doha.


This past week the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Traveling Wall came to Gloucester's Fuller School. Thousands came to pay respect to the 58,300 who were lost during the conflict. I also included images from the New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium. Those from Cape Ann lost in the war.  Display trailer.  Large US flag flies over The Wall.
Continuing with my Reading-the-World challenge--a challenge I have set for myself based on Ann Morgan's A Year of Reading The World web site, here are three more books. 

Haiti:
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Claire is a seven year old girl whose mother died in childbirth and whose father is raising her alone. On her seventh birthday he decides that she deserves more than he can give her and makes a painful decision—but then Claire disappears. This story, set in the town of Ville Rose Haiti, is one of Danticat's most beautiful and poignant. It reads like a series of stories about various citizens of the village but in the end they all come together. Nozias, Claire's father, is a good, loving man but he fears his daughter would be better off in a home where she had more advantages. Still he cannot bear the thought of giving her up. Claire is a good, obedient, sweet child who only wants to make everyone happy. The narrative is lyrical and imbued with an almost magical beauty.

All of the secondary characters are vividly described and memorable. The people of Ville Rose have a saying in their Creole French, fòk nou voye je youn sou lòt - we must all look after one another, and that seems to be the moral of this story. Just a beautiful book.  

Morocco:
The Sand Child and A Palace in the Old Village by Tahar Ben Jelloun

Both of these novels were fairly short and they seemed to have a similar theme—how disillusionment and disappointment can drive someone to actions that, though well-intended, just make matters worse.

In The Sand Child a man, who is the father of seven daughters, is disappointed and distraught to the point that when his wife becomes pregnant for the eighth time, he decides that whatever happens, he is going to have a son. Of course a daughter is born but he arranges everything in such a secretive manner that the child's sex is concealed and only he, the mother, and the elderly midwife know the truth. The baby is named Ahmed and the celebrations begin. A girl raised to be a boy is a familiar theme throughout many cultures—especially those in which sexism is strong. Arab folklore about other such man/women is retold in the story, but even among Christians, the story of Pope Joan persists throughout history. By the time Ahmed is a man, her father has died and she is a bewildered, alienated despot who rules her older sisters and mother while having nothing to do with them. Eventually she leaves her home, changes her name to Zahara and begins her torturous quest for identity.

In A Palace in the Old Village, Mohammed, the main character, left Morocco for France to find a job. He worked in an auto plant and raised his children in a Paris suburb but now he has to retire and he longs for home. His children, who are grown and some out on their own, are thoroughly modern children who love France and have no desire to leave. His only comfort is his beloved nephew with Downs Syndrom, who he has raised and who is a constant joy to him. Mohammed gets the idea to return to his village in Morocco and build a beautiful home—so lovely that all of his children with their spouses and babies will want to live there with him. Naturally, this does not go well.

One of the things I am continually struck by in reading these books set in North Africa and the Middle East is the luscious, poetic, almost magical aesthetic of the people from the wealthiest to the most humble. They all seem to share a deep, heart-felt longing for the beauty of the poetry, music, food, and other sensory delights of their culture. It is something I see very little of in Western literature. Both of these stories were sad but well-worth the read in my opinion.

United Arab Emirates:
The Wink of the Mona Lisa and Other Stories from the Gulf (Memoirs of Arabia) by Mohammad al Murr

I found this to be an extremely charming collection of stories. Some were sad (a man on a long flight to Dubai strikes up a conversation with the matron sitting next to him and returns from the restroom to find she has died), some are very funny (a man takes his little girl to the circus and is unprepared for the deluge of questions she asks), and some reflect the trials and tribulations of modern life (a professional young woman in Dubai wants her lover to marry her but keeps forgetting to tell him that.) The title story is hilarious about a man who has never met the right woman until he attends a relative's wedding and notices an alluring woman winking at him.

Of all the stories from Gulf countries I've read, this collection of stories was the most varied and the most reflective of contemporary life.


Thanks for reading and I am on to Iceland!
Continuing with my Reading-the-World challenge--a challenge I have set for myself based on Ann Morgan's A Year of Reading The World web site, here are three more books.

Algeria: 
The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris by Leila Marouane
The narrator of this strange and fairly erotic tale is a 40-something Algerian man living with his mother and brother in a suburb of Paris. He has a good job and aspires to an even better one in a Paris bank. Living at home he is under his mother's control and she is trying to marry him off to an acceptable Muslim girl but he has other ideas. He has straightened his hair, lightened his skin, and changed his name with the intention of embarking on wild sexual adventures. The book starts out quite funny. Everything Mohammed/Basile does--from selecting an apartment to buying furniture--is designed to impress his future lovers. He imagines dazzling a lover by fixing her coffee in his elegant coffeemaker the morning after. He obsesses over lamps, tables, his clothing all the while making excuses to his mother and trying desperately to persuade this woman or that to relieve him of his virginity with little luck.

In the early chapters of the story it reminded me a bit of A Confederacy of Dunces, Algerian style, set in Paris instead of New Orleans. But as the book progresses things are not making sense, something is off-kilter and it was at first hard to tell if it was deliberate or if something was missing in translation. In the final section, we realize that Mohammed/Basile is not what he imagines himself to be. Not at all.

I certainly appreciated the author's skill at building a character so filled with both desire and self-delusion. This is not a book for everyone but I found it a very worthwhile read.
Chile: 
One of the things I love most about Allende's writing is the rich mixture of characters and cultures she brings to her stories. In Maya's Notebook she introduces us to Maya Vidal, a teenager who was abandoned by her parents in the custody of her amazing grandparents, Nini and Popo, an African-American astronomer. When Popo dies, Maya descends into a life of self-destructive behavior--drugs, violence, and petty crime.  When her grandmother discovers how endangered Maya's life has become, she ships her off to Chiloé, an island off Chile’s southern coast, to live with Manuel Aria, an old friend of Nini's. She gives Maya a notebook and tells her to record her life and, thus, begins Maya's chronicle.

All the characters in this story are remarkable and equally remarkable is the very island of Chiloé which I found to be a character all its own with a hypnotic presence. This is definitely among Allende's best stories and one I'd love to read again.
Palestine: 
This is a wonderful story of three generations of Christian Palestinian women but with some excellent male characters as well. The first two thirds of the book are filled with history, culture, and food described with familiarity and exquisite detail. The last part, when the story moves to America, wasn't as rich in culture, but by then I was so hooked on what was going to happen to the characters that I stayed fascinated. There are secrets in this family--many secrets--and I was fairly breathless hoping that some would be revealed and some would be kept forever.

One of the things I most loved is that a few of the male characters were just wonderful--something I cherish in books because it seems rare to me. Nadeem, the husband of Miriam, and Samir, the husband of Nadia, were such dashing, fascinating men in their youths, who grew into the kinds of husbands and fathers we all dream of. The history, especially of Samir's early life among the Bedouins, is unforgettable. I thoroughly enjoyed this look into a culture I knew little about and I recommend it highly. 

Thanks for reading, and more to come!


The biggest crowds I could ever remember surrounded Gloucester Harbor to watch an awesome fireworks display and dance to the music being played on Stacy Boulevard. Since I had to go to my midnight shift job I had to devise a plan that could get me in and out quick. I parked behind the high school near the boat ramp, that part was easy. But leaving Emerson Ave. was not, bumper to bumper. I
With the Sunday events rained out it was championship Monday for an extended St. Peter's Fiesta. A large crowd showed up on Pavilion Beach to watch a great seine boat race with "Lock and Load" hitting the beach just before defending champ "Wharf Rats". Here I included Saturday's Greasy Pole but a low flying drone cut into my field of view locking out my focus just as Joe DeSilva grabbed the
This years St. Peter';s Fiesta started out with great weather but the first time in my memory all Sunday activities were washed out due to the weather. The Sunday Seine boat races and Greasy Pole will now be on Monday at 6:00 pm. Here I have the Friday Greasy Pole, some of the seine boat races and a collection of night shots from Saturday night. My next post will include the Saturday Greasy
In honor of Fiesta I am posting a selection from my novel Depraved Heart. Art curator Tempest Hobbs has been hired by convicted killer and former NFL star Syd Jupiter to catalog the art collection his daughter has inherited from her great-grandfather. Tempest knows about Syd's past but is still mesmerized by him. During Gloucester's annual Fiesta they are watching the Greasy Pole competition when things heat up between them.


He slowed the boat as we passed the point of land known in Gloucester as The Fort, where stacks of wire lobster traps were piled like a wall of green and yellow building blocks above the sea wall. As we passed a big white building with the words Cape Pond Ice painted on it, I could see the top of an illuminated Ferris wheel rotating slowly in the summer sunlight. Red, green and gold tinsel decorations strung between telephone poles glittered and the air was filled with singing and loud male voices chanting the Fiesta mantra.

Me chi samiou duté muté?

Viva San Pietro!

You and Dad should come to the carnival. Have you ever been to Fiesta?” Anjelica asked.

Lots of times years ago,” I told her. “When I was a little kid my parents always took me to the carnival, and when I was in high school my friends came every year. But I’ve never watched the Greasy Pole walk before. It’s kind of famous now.”

Syd was guiding the boat up to a float at St. Peter’s Marina. Two girls stood at the top of the ramp, and when they saw Anjelica, they began waving.

Do you need money?” Syd asked as Anjelica’s friends came running down the ramp.

No, I have enough left from yesterday.”

Okay, call me when you want me to come and I’ll meet you right here,” Syd said putting his arms around her.

I will. Love you, Dad,” she said and gave him an enthusiastic hug. He lifted her over the side onto the float. “Have fun,” she yelled to me.

I will.”

Wow.” I heard one of her friends say as they ran back up the ramp. “Your Dad is really big.”

He used to play professional football,” Anjelica said. With no small amount of pride, I thought.

Okay,” Syd said steering the boat back out into the harbor. “Let’s find a place for us.”

He guided the boat into a space close enough to see the fun but far enough away to be comfortable. We unpacked bottles of water and some of the still-warm hush puppies and settled down in the sunlight to watch.

Two hundred yards from the shore a wooden platform rose twenty-five feet in the air. What looked like a telephone pole was mounted at the top sticking straight parallel to the water. At the end of it was a vertical stick festooned with an American flag fluttering above three triangular flags in red, white and green, the colors of the Italian flag. The forty foot pole between the flags and the men crowding the platform was covered half a foot deep in a slimy, slippery concoction.

A police boat hovered below the end of the pole to keep the hundreds of boaters around the area at a safe distance. The entire harbor was packed with everything from large whale watching vessels to solitary sailors in brightly colored kayaks. All of them honking horns, screaming and cheering as each contestant waited for his turn to traverse the distance from the platform to the flag through greasy muck that fell off in clumps as the men ran, walked, slid or slithered along the pole. Most of them were dressed in flamboyant costumes from hula skirts to diapers, which was made all the more hilarious by the fact that the participants tended to be burly men with hairy chests and beards. The object of the walk through the slime was to capture the flags at the end of the pole but, despite an endless variety of techniques, they all ended up in the water, often bouncing off the pole to a chorus of “ouch!” from the crowd.

I’m trying to figure out if it would be better to go fast or slow,” Syd said as he unscrewed the lid on a water bottle and handed it to me. “I’ve seen guys try both methods but it’s hard to say which is better.”

Would you ever do that?”

He laughed. “Not a chance.”

Not even when you were younger?”

I don’t think so. My center of gravity is too high, I think being built low to the ground would be an advantage in that sport.” He leaned back in his seat and stretched his legs. He wore a pair of battered leather moccasins and his legs were well-tanned and muscular. I caught my breath.

Did you always want to play football? I mean when you were a little kid.”

Oh, sure, of course I did. What kid doesn’t? I also wanted to be a priest.”

I couldn’t help laughing. “Really? A priest?”

Well, I was an altar boy at the time at St. Louis Cathedral, and I was so in love with that church I wanted any excuse to be there all the time. Plus...” He looked sideways at me. “...I thought it would be a lot of fun to hear Confessions. I kept imagining all the terrible things I’d hear.”

I giggled. “That’s very funny.”

Yeah, well, I was a little kid. Then for a long time I wanted to be a fisherman like my Dad. He was a good athlete when he was young. He played baseball on a minor league team but never made the majors. I think that was tough on him. He got to see me play football at A&M but he died before I was drafted into the NFL. I’ve always been sorry about that.”

Loud cheering erupted from the crowd. We both looked up but the flags still fluttered at the end of the pole. Whatever happened, we missed it. I turned back to Syd and saw that he was looking at me, not at the festivities on the platform.

Do you mind it if I tell you that I think you’re very pretty?” he said in a low voice.

No.” I looked down at his hands holding the water bottle in his lap. I had admired the size of his hands before but now I noticed how brown and calloused they were. Between Miles’ boat and the gardens around Hathor he had been working hard and his hands showed it.

He kept his eyes on me. “You’re pretty but you also have a lot of warmth. That’s something that I’ve found to be surprisingly rare in young women.”

Well,” I said, “I guess you haven’t been around too many women lately.”

He gave a short laugh. “Good point.”

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound dismissive.”

You didn’t. You sounded like someone who has a hard time accepting compliments.”

I nodded. “That’s... well... yes, that’s true.”

I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

You’re not... well... no more than I ever am.” I looked up at him and wished he wasn’t wearing the sunglasses. I wanted to see his eyes. “I haven’t had very good luck with men in my life.”

Why?”

I shrugged. “It’s this crazy way I am with people. The way I sense what they’re thinking...”

He smiled. “A woman wouldn’t have to be psychic to know what I’m thinking right now.”

No...” Another roar went up from the crowd and I turned in time to see a young man in a
Batman costume crashing into the water clutching his groin.

Ouch,” Syd said. “That had to hurt.”

What happened?”

He fell straight down straddling the pole. It looked really painful.”

Oh.” I glanced down at his hands again and, as though he knew my thoughts, he lifted one and touched a strand of my hair letting it curl around his finger tip. “So, were you surprised when you got drafted by a football team? That’s the word, isn’t it, drafted?”

He nodded, smiling. “Yes and no. Sure I was as surprised as anyone would be, but there was a part of me that sort of knew it was destined to happen. I’d always wanted to be a Steeler.”

His body was almost unbearably close. I found myself straining forward almost against my own will, just wanting to connect. “Not the Saints? You didn’t want to be drafted by the Saints?”

He was watching me and smiling slightly. “No, I wanted to be a Steeler... Actually,” he said. He put his water bottle aside and moved his other hand to pick up one of mine. He held it, caressing the back of it with his thumb. “Actually, what I wanted to be was Franco Harris.”

I looked up at him. Chills were running up and down my back and I was having a hard time staying still. “I don’t know who that is.”

He was their fullback, great big guy. Really, really powerful and really, really fast but so graceful. When he had the ball it was amazing to see how a guy that big could weave in and out without getting knocked down. But the thing I secretly loved most about him was he was mixed race, African-American and Italian.” He was lacing his fingers through mine and I was shivering.

He was mixed race...”

Mm-hmm. Back then there was a lot of racism in this country. I was lucky to grow up in New Orleans where being mixed wasn’t that big a deal, but when I was in Texas with my Dad I was always aware that I was different. So I wanted to be like Franco, a big, tough, good-looking, mixed-race football player.” He grinned. “At least I got to be big, mixed-race, and a football player.”

I think you’re pretty tough. How would you have gotten through everything you have if you weren’t?” I lifted my head and tried to see through his sunglasses. “And I also think you’re good-looking.”

He cupped my chin in his hand. “It doesn’t bother you that I’ve been in prison for fifteen years?”

It bothers me but not in the way you think. It bothers me that you had to go through that.”

Another huge cry arose from the crowd, boat horns began to blow. The cheering was deafening. I turned to look and the flags at the end of the pole were gone.

Somebody won,” I said.

And we missed it.”

He slipped one arm around my waist and lifted me closer to him..... Depraved Heart




It was a perfect day for the races even though some of the races were far from perfect! Wrong turn, a collision and a slipped oar made for interesting viewing. None the less it was a wonderful day for Gloucester and Lunenburg, N.S. to continue their shared tradition, heritage and friendship! Here are the results provided by the official time keeper Damon Cummings: Mixed:  1. Canada Kelly
Continuing with my Reading-the-World challenge--a challenge I have set for myself based on Ann Morgan's A Year of Reading The World web site, here are three more books.

Ethiopia: 

Cutting for Stone 
by Abraham Verghese
A few years ago it seemed everyone I knew was reading Cutting for Stone and telling me that I needed to read it. I bought it but then never got around to it until now. It is a novel well-worth reading. Set, mainly in a small Mission Hospital (called “Missing Hospital” by the locals outside of Addis Ababa, it is the story of twin brothers, Marion and Shiva Stone. Born to a beautiful Indian nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, whose relationship with the brilliant American surgeon, Thomas Stone, has left her pregnant with the twins who are born conjoined. Sister Mary Joseph Praise does not survive the birth and Stone, in terrible grief, disappears. The boys are delivered by another Indian physician, Hema, and raised by her and her husband and fellow doctor, Ghosh.

I have to confess that I skimmed quite a few parts of the book simply because I have a weak stomach for descriptions of medical procedures and the author, who is himself a surgeon, goes into great detail. That doesn't mean others will not appreciate his powers of description. But there are some truly great characters in this story. Shiva, is the polar opposite of his faithful, earnest, devout brother, but fascinating in his quick, impetuous, and, yet, endlessly protective of those he loves. Hema and Ghosh are wonderful characters—strong and loving. And, Genet, the daughter of their Eritrean maid, who was raised as the sister of the two boys becomes both a tragic and a frustrating figure in the story.


The writing is beautiful. The historical details of the Eritrean rebellion and the coup by Haile Selassie's bodyguard General Mebratu are faithfully rendered and intriguing. An extraordinary book.



Lebanon:

The Madman
by Kahlil Gibran
Back when I was in college, Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet was one of the most popular books on campus and everyone I knew read it. I read it and, while I cannot say I understood most of it, over the years I have revisited passages and found inspiration in them that I was not capable of comprehending when I was young. When I saw that Gibran was on Ann Morgan's list for Lebanon, I found a copy of The Madman and read it. Like The Prophet, it is mysterious and yet much of it resonates. There is a quality of mysticism in Gibran's writing that one rarely finds—especially in the west.


This is a collection of short parables—some only a few sentences long. But I found myself stopping as I read to let things sink in. In the first parable, the title story, there is a line that I especially loved. I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a thief in a jail is safe from another thief. Though many of us say we long to be understood, there is all too often an element of freedom that is lost when we are—and that is hard to overcome.



Iraq:

Closing His Eyes: Iraqi Short Stories
by Luay Hamza Abbas
I was not sure how I would react to these seventeen short stories set mostly in Iraq. Because Iraq is a country in which terrorism and violence have been constants over the past decade and a half, I was afraid I was not prepared to be very open minded. These stories changed my mind. Abbas's writing has a dreamy, mystical quality. Most of his characters do not have names. The stories are more like vignettes but they are vignettes of normal people who are just trying to live their lives in a world where violence, fear, disillusionment are everyday occurrences. There is no talk of ideology or of politics, there are just ordinary people trying to do the best they can.
  • A man decides to walk down to the market to pick up some fava beans for his dinner. He loves them fixed with chili peppers and olive oil. When he returns he gets a frantic call from a friend asking about his neighbor. He goes to his neighbor's apartment and finds the door broken down, the furniture damaged, and his neighbor gone. 
  • Another man loves his garden—his whole family lives his garden. He takes pride in it and every day he strolls through it on his way to the bakery just to enjoy its beauties. Until one morning he sees something horrible in his garden—the vestiges of a horror inflicted during the night. His heart is broken. 
  • An ordinary working man rides his bicycle back and forth to work everyday. He tries to do his job well and enjoy what small pleasures he can. One day as he pedals back to work from a lunch break he witnesses three men being dragged out into the street and executed.

This is a powerful, gripping collection evoking images it is hard to forget and it certainly made my heart ache for the people who have done nothing to deserve this violence and yet who have no respite from it.
Bunny in the yard!  Fishermen's Wharf  Unloading haddock from the F/V Teresa Marie III.  Vito Giacalone with a big hake!  F/V Hard Merchandise, star of National Geographic's "Wicked Tuna".  Stern view.  Starboard view.  Spotted this 6/13/15 @ 5:36 am looking towards Salem, Ma!  Followed by triple funnels!  Lobster boat and Boston.  From the Rock Neck Marine Railways.
I've written on another blog about my interest in Ann Morgan's Reading-the-World Challenge in which readers are invited to try to read one novel or collection of short stories from each of the 196 countries in the world. I think this is a fascinating and worthwhile endeavor. I know as I am working at my list my view of the world and its people is altering considerably. That is the triumph of great art. I've set up a separate page on this blog to chart my progress and I hope to cross-link any blog posts I make about it.

So, since I started this two weeks ago, I've finished three books (and dipped into four or five more.) Today I am happy to have spent time in Peru, Yemen, and Pakistan. I have a feeling I may be spending a lot of time in Pakistan.

Peru: 
This is a simply beautiful novel that pays homage to that most ancient and, to me, beloved, art formstory-telling. Saul Zurastas is a Peruvian Jew born with a terrible birthmark over his face but he has managed to stay oblivious to that. Saul becomes obsessed with the Machiguengas, a tiny, indigenous tribe dwelling in the Amazon rain forest where they wander in small bands, connected by their ancient tradition of story-telling. Eventually, by living among them and learning their culture, Saul becomes a habladore—a storyteller. It is a story filled with mysteries—from the mythic nature of the Machigungas trying to survive in a modern world, to that of a Jewish outsider who longs to keep their traditions alive. It is beautifully written as all of Llosa's books are and won my heart because story-telling is a sacred art for me.

This is a little bit of a cheat because it is not a novel but non-fiction. I had already purchased it before I began working on this list and, because the author is Yemeni and writes beautifully about her people and her country, I decided to include it. I loved her description of the tiny village in which she grew up, the groves of eucalyptus trees, and the people of the village. At the age of ten she is married, against her will, to a man who is 3 times her age. We learn that her father so feared the “disgrace” that had befallen his older daughters he thought it best to marry off Nujood as quickly as possible. Her husband promises not to have sexual relations with her until a year after she begins menstruating but, of course, as soon as they are married and she has been taken to his village, he betrays that. Eventually, little Nujood makes it to the city of Sana'a where she pleads for a divorce which is granted. This was not an easy story to read but it is well-written and gives insight into a people that, even this world today, seem completely out of time.

I did not know what to expect when I began this book but it grabbed my attention from the first page and didn't let up until the last--and what a last page it was. I can honestly say, NOTHING was what I expected. The main character, Changez, is a young Pakistani from a family that was once affluent but is now in decline. He receives a scholarship to Princeton where he graduates with all A's at the top of his class. He is promptly recruited by a top corporate valuations company, and in no time, is living a life he could not have imagined. He has a great job, a beautiful American girlfriend, and a non-stop social life. He is tall, handsome, well-dressed and well-liked. His boss takes him under his wing and it seems his future will be a brilliant one. And then the World Trade Center is attacked and Changez world view shifts.

I was quite startled by the author's naked openness about his feelings in this story. Changez is in the Philippines on business when the Towers are attacked and his first reaction is one of happiness. He is ashamed of himself for feeling that way and immediately regrets the loss of life but, at the same time, cannot help but approve of the symbolism. Yet, he is well-aware that America has given him so much--why would he feel the way he did?

Slowly Changez slips into decline--a decline that even he does not understand. He is deeply conflicted and divided inside between his gratitude to a country that has given him so much and the land of his birth that he feels loyal to. During a business trip to Chile he begins to fall apart and, while visiting the home of poet Pablo Neruda, he makes a terrible decision.

This was not an easy book to read at times but the deep conflict and confusion Changez experiences is gripping. The author takes no shortcuts and avoids the trite and expected. The end was shattering. I am very glad to have read this book but believe it is not for everyone.

I have now moved on to Ethiopia with Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone but also have books for Syria and the United Arab Emirates that I am dying to get into. I must say I am very much enjoying this journey.


Thanks for reading.
Volleyball in full swing.  A walk on the beach.  Gulls and people!  The kick!  Life guard looks bored!  Kids! Two beach chairs!                             A 1966 Dodge Polara cruises by the beach.  "New Boston"  Bow on.  Starboard view.  Lobster pots. Hoover Dam from 2006, look at the face lower left! I just discovered this after all these years!  Oskar
I've been thinking, and writing, a lot lately about the nature of characters and how powerful they can be in the lives of ordinary humans. In fiction, whether in books or in film, really good characters can not only fascinate and entertain us, but also serve as an impetus for things we decide to create in our lives. For me, and most likely for other writers, this is often other characters—characters of our own. I do not know how artists and musicians, etc., use this sort of inspiration although I suspect that they do, but regular, normal people sometimes find qualities in a character so appealing that it becomes something they find desirable in those around them.

Rudolph Valentino

The actor Rudolph Valentino once said, Women are not in love with me but the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams. For Valentino this became such a burden that he felt he had no control over his own life and that, as he grew older he was becoming a caricature of himself. Years ago, I used to say that I loved the actor Harrison Ford. Then I realized that, though I think he is a fine actor and a handsome man, it was really Indiana Jones that I had a crush on. When I realized that, I realized it is important to understand the difference. As my friend Clare says, “Characters don't leave the seat up.”

These days I hear the term “Book Boyfriend” used frequently. It's a cute term and I certainly understand it. My first Book Boyfriend was Laurie Laurence in Little Women followed closely by Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre. I know a lot of women who have had a life-long love for Sherlock Holmes. In fact Dorothy L. Sayer is alleged to have been so in love with Lord Peter Wimsey that he eclipsed all other relationships for her.
Christian Bale as Laurie Laurence

I know that men must surely have Book Girlfriends but I don't know as much about that. What makes a character so fascinating, so appealing, so alluring that a reader can “paint their dreams” on them? If I had an absolute answer to that, I'd have it made as a writer. But there are a few things that I think contribute to it. Physical strength and presence is part of it, intelligence is another, and the capacity to be both violent and tender—those things draw women in.

Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester
Among the characters that I've found myself being mesmerized by is Henry Winter in Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Judging from what I've read in reader reviews, I am not alone in that. Henry is tall and aloof, utterly brilliant, emotionally distant and yet devoted to his friends, and a cold-blooded killer. I don't know about other readers, but that tender core always gets to me. It's why I fell under the spell, as I've mentioned before, of Sayid Jarrah, the Iraqi interrogator on the television show, Lost. Judging by the number of tribute videos for him posted on YouTube, I am far from alone there either.


Once, when I was younger and thought myself too mature for such foolishness, I resisted my infatuations with characters but these days I love them. I love falling for a character and then letting them grow and develop and transform in my imagination until they take on a life of their own and become someone I can write about. And, having said that, I think I'll go re-read Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist. I love her hero Talmudge and I think I need to spend more time with him. Who knows what might happen?



Thanks for reading.
The weather always can be interesting, you can get the best weather forecast yet you never know what it will look like. Here a rare "Shelf Cloud" swept over Cape Ann then about an hour later I checked out Good Harbor Beach as dusk was taking hold. Also some more "rescued" images and finally the International Space Station! "Rescued" image of Good Harbor Beach in the fog!  Only the top of

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