Yes, I’m still out here! My darling granddaughter has presented me with more challenges than I expected. I have had to confront such things as arthritic bones that I don’t remember being quite so stiff, the effects of not having had to be on the floor a lot, and the impending horror of a mobile infant in my overstuffed abode. Ah, well, these things will work out, I’m sure, especially because I am totally entranced by the child.
One thing I can do is read. A lot. After all, a cranky baby can sleep in my arms and still allow me to turn pages. As a result, I have a couple of books to recommend to you.
The Wandering Gene and The Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA
by Jeff Wheelwright
Mr. Wheelwright explores the path of a gene for breast cancer most often found in Jewish women to a small group of Hispano women in southern Colorado. He traces this bit of DNA through the wanderings of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews up through the Spanish Inquisition and the forced conversions, attributing the gene’s emergence in the San Luis Valley to known or unknown Jewish ancestry.
The scope of the book is breathtaking. Wheelwright explores vast amounts of history, documents the history of genetic science and some current arguments among the scientists, and follows the personal tragedy of a family, all in the same book. Although the sheer volume of information is occasionally overwhelming, the story he weaves kept me reading. By including the story of Shonnie Medina and her family, he made the urgency of genetic research personal and immediate. Reconstructing her personality from her family’s recollections, he paints a picture of a woman the reader would have liked to meet, doomed by her DNA and, possibly, her religious beliefs. Much of the book is, by necessity, given over to broad overviews of history, religions, and past racial beliefs. The Medinas’ story brings all of it down to a pinpoint focus. Wheelwright makes a subject that I would not ordinarily care about, genetic research, interesting by placing it in a human context. I recommend this book, even though you may not care about the purported subject matter. It’s about so much more than just genetics.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
It’s 1946, in post-war London. Author Juliet Ashton, having had a wildly successful book, is casting about for a subject for her next book while living immersed in the dismal ruins of a bombed city. She receives a letter from a man she has never met, asking for information about Charles Lamb. Thus begins a correspondence leading her to discover the saga of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France, which was cut off from England and occupied by the Nazis. She ends up traveling to Guernsey to discover the stories of the people there and tell them to the world. What she finds changes everything for her.
This delightful book is written in the form of letters and telegrams between Juliet and others, including her publisher Sidney, her best friend Sophie, and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The Society was created on the spur of the moment to save some people out after the Nazi-imposed curfew. As the book progresses, Juliet and the reader find themselves immersed in the society of Guernsey as the people begin rebuilding their world after the War. I had never known about the fate of the Channel Islands. The English, barely able to muster a defense for the mainland, let them fall to the Nazis without any resistance. The people on the island were expected to provide for the soldiers, feeding themselves on what was left over. By the end of the war, both they and the Nazis were starving. The letters in this book describe the conditions the people in Guernsey experienced in the language of recovery and returning to normal. Juliet herself, depressed by the rubble of London, finds healing and calm in Guernsey. If ever you wanted to read a story of the triumph of the human spirit, this is one of the nicest I have ever read.
So there you have it. Eventually, I’ll have to review something I don’t like. I usually don’t waste too much time on lousy books, though. There are too many good ones out there to bother with sludge.
Have a wonderful, miraculous Monday! And go find something yummy to read!