1. Flaubert’s Parrot – Julian Barnes
“I am only a literary lizard basking the day away beneath the great sun of Beauty. That’s all.” – Gustave Flaubert.
Julian Barnes’s bio-novel is a charming reflection of the eccentricities and whimsy of the famed novelist Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary, Salammbo). I enjoyed reading this one much because Flaubert reminded me a lot of myself! Not the genius literary master stuff, just the disposition, humor, and goofiness. Flaubert had a big bear-skin rug in his study upon which he would stretch out and daydream. How great is that?
I read this one while I was on my birthday-vacation in Alabama on my grandfather’s farm. My memories of this book will be tied to my memories of that trip.
2. Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff
Fates and Furies is the sweeping tale of the marriage of Lotto, playwright and golden-child, and Mathilde, muse and mystery. Between the two of them are passion, ambition, and secrets that propel this story by raising questions like:
“What is going on beneath the surface of a marriage?”
“Can I be known fully, even by those closest to me?”
Groff magnified the intrigue and drama by dividing the book into two parts; the first is focused on Lotto and the second on Mathilde. So just when I was beginning to get a handle on how this story would end everything was turned upside down! A thrilling read that I thought about long after the last page.
3. The Refugees – Viet Thanh Nguyen
This collection of short stories follows various refugees of the Vietnam War, exploring the ways displaced people may attempt to survive, adapt, and find a new home. In “Someone Else Besides You” a young man attempts to reunite with his estranged wife with the help of his reticent, stern father. In “The War Years” a young boy watches his mother navigate the complexities of the Vietnamese community in San Jose during the years following their flight from Vietnam.
These characters do not delve into grim or horrific details of their past. Instead, each is focused on the day at hand, asking: “how can I survive in this new reality?”
In the headlines, the plight of so many refugees may feel astounding and yet distant. For me, this book was a helpful key to empathy for those who are currently fleeing their homes and communities in Syria and elsewhere.