Winter and Spring 2019: Eclectic Reads
Our Books In A Bar Book Group is currently in winter hibernation. We will resume our monthly discussion in February 2019.
For the Winter and Spring of 2019, we will continue our reading of eclectic reads!
February 11, 2019
In British-occupied Egypt, on the eve of the 1952 revolution, respected landowner Abd el-Aziz Gaafar has fallen on hard times. Bankrupt, he moves his family to Cairo and takes a menial job at the Automobile Club, a luxurious lodge for its European members, where Egyptians appear only as fearful servants. When Abd el-Aziz’s pride gets the better of him and he stands up for himself, he is subjected to a corporal punishment that ultimately kills him—leaving two of his sons obliged to work in the Club.
As the nation teeters on the brink of change, both servants and masters are subsumed by social upheaval, and the Egyptians of the Automobile Club face a choice: to live safely but without dignity as servants, or to risk everything and fight for their rights. Exuberant and powerfully moving, The Automobile Club of Egypt is an essential work of social criticism from one of the Arab world’s greatest literary voices.
March 11, 2019
Annie Hogsett lives in Cleveland and has been invited to join the discussion!
Set in Cleveland, Ohio, Hogsett’s amusing sequel to 2017’s Too Lucky to Live finds part-time librarian Allie Harper, who does narrative duty, and her companion, Thomas Bennington III, a professor who won a $550 million lottery jackpot in the previous book, ensconced in a rented 9,000 sq. ft. mansion overlooking Lake Erie. What are a newly and wildly rich couple to do? Why not start the T&A Detective Agency? They are handed their first case when Loretta Coates, a librarian friend of Allie’s, asks Allie to find her boyfriend, Lloyd Bunker, who has vanished without a trace, as has his classic 1967 GTO. As Allie and Tom investigate, they discover that Lloyd’s disappearance is connected to a web of other misdeeds that could spell trouble for themselves. A clever explanation for the crimes helps compensate for some lame sleuthing: many of the clues are discovered solely due to happenstance or are laid in place by Cleveland cop Tony Valerio, an unofficial T&A member. Readers who don’t mind slapdash detecting will look forward to spending more time in Allie’s likable company.
April 8, 2019
Finalist for the 2018 Kirkus Prize
In her perceptive, memorable debut, Coster reveals the personal toll that gentrification takes on one damaged Bed-Stuy family. Twenty-something art school dropout Penelope Grand has been living in Pittsburgh for several years and has no plans to return to her native Brooklyn. But after her ailing father, Ralph, takes a fall, she returns to help care for him. Ralph’s record store was once the crown jewel of the neighborhood’s black-owned businesses, with all the status that conferred; after business dwindled and he sold out to a trendy organic grocer, he has steadily declined, along with—in his estimation—the neighborhood itself. “It’s all just stuff to them,” he tells Penelope. “Stuff they think they deserve because they can afford it.” Penelope’s homecoming dredges up uncomfortable memories; as she negotiates the still-familiar streets, she attempts to define her place within her family, neighborhood, and artistic community, all of which comes to a head when her estranged mother invites her to the Dominican Republic. Penelope’s status as both an insider and an outsider in her childhood home affords Coster an acute perspective from which to consider the repercussions of gentrification, as well as a family’s legacy of self-destruction.
May 13, 2019
A 2017 Indie Next pick!
A musical mystery set against the backdrop of a nation shattered by war and loss.
How many piano sonatas did Ludwig van Beethoven write? A music student might be quick to say 32—but that disallows the possibility that there’s one hidden somewhere or one by Mozart or Haydn that no one has ever seen before. That’s the conceit that Morrow (The Forgers, 2014, etc.) spins with this sonically rich novel, in which a Czech woman, Otylie Bartošová, only steps ahead of the German invaders in 1939, divides her inheritance among family and friends—namely, an anonymous Classical-era score given to her by her father and now split up into three, rendering it essentially without value to the avaricious Nazis. On immigrating to America, Otylie loses sight and hope of the treasure—part of which resurfaces years later in contemporary New York, beguiling a musicologist named Meta Taverner, who “knew it was impossible she had stumbled on another Beethoven Werk ohne Opuszahl in deepest, darkest Queens” but presses on, having now found a new source of meaning in a life burdened with quiet tragedies. She goes to Prague, seeking clues. Morrow delights in local color, in the “home of the Golem and crazy Rudolf’s equally crazy alchemists, not to mention Kafka’s bug,” though he works in an intriguing counterintuition: who’s to say that the manuscript isn’t in Prague, Texas, or Prague, Nebraska? The story, which runs a touch too long, takes a conventional whodunit twist with the introduction of a competing musicologist who wants the glory (and money) for himself even as Meta hits walls that induce a crisis of confidence in her abilities—and therein lies something of a leitmotiv. Yet, with the help of a dogged journalist and other allies, Meta works her way toward a hard-won resolution. As she says, “Sometimes in life what’s broken can’t be put back together,” to which Otylie replies, “Or maybe it was never truly broken at all.”
An elegant foray into music and memory.
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