Despite living a few months of the year without sunlight, Sweden regularly appears highly on the Happiness Index. Almost everything, from their friendly, welcoming communities (which take in more refugees than any other country) to eco-friendly construction to their trademark interior decorating can be traced back to the Swedish philosophy of lagom. Roughly translating to “not too little, not too much,” lagom is all about taking life in moderation. In Lagom, Niki Brantmark explains Swedish culture through the eyes of an adopter, discussing how to balance life in a large number of ways. You don’t need to deny yourself pleasures, nor do you need to ignore responsibilities—you just have to find the right amount of each. With tips on crafts, holidays, decoration, health, relationships, diet, and more, Lagom is the perfect whole-life introduction to living like a Swede, wherever you are.
I knew little about the Japanese internment camps of WWII before reading this Bluestem-nominated novel (for grades 3-5). But while based in a significant historical time period, the story itself revolves primarily around the relationship between the main character (Mitzi) and her beloved dog, Dash, as well as friends and classmates as they process the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Dash by Kirby Larson is a short listen or read for dog-lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts.
Told in alternating first person narratives, The Book of Unknown Americans details the experiences of multiple Latin American immigrants living in a Delaware apartment complex. Cristina Henriquez’ moving, compelling tale showcases families, communities, triumphs, and tragedies. I loved this book – the endearing characters, the enthralling story, and the lyrical writing grabbed me, prompting me to keep frantically turning the pages, only to be disappointed when there were no more pages to turn. For other immigrant experiences, check out our bibliography here.
This book is arranged in two parts: first about Cow Tom, born a slave and sold to a Creek Indian chief before he was 10 and then about his granddaughter, Rose who was born free. Tom gained his name while tending the tribe’s cows under the direction of his mentor, Old Turtle. Tom wanted more than living on someone else’s land, doing another’s bidding; he wanted marriage, a son, and most of all freedom. Both Old Turtle and Chief Yargee recognize Tom’s special skills with language and the Chief allows Tom to apply part of his earnings as a translator towards his and his family’s freedom. Rose dearly loved her grandfather and desperately wanted to find her place as a respected member of the family, the tribe, and break the family curse of only girl babies. These stories show family and tribal commitment from black slaves and freedmen at a time of conflict and removal of tribes from the southeast into Oklahoma Indian Territory. In Lalita Tademy’s Citizens Creek, the reader can easily become involved with the characters from their loyalty to one another and their conversations about their problems and struggle to reach their goals.
A very rich man (Seth) kills himself by hanging and leaves much of his estate to his black caregiver by a holographic will. Of course, Seth’s family challenges the will; a jury must determine whether Seth’s handwritten will is valid. John Grisham’s masterful storytelling leads the reader through the trial, the families’ histories and a look at justice and redemption. This is one of Grisham’s best novels set in Clanton, Mississippi, with a street lawyer (Jake) from A Time to Kill as the principal character. Grisham teases the reader to find out why a deceased man would abandon his children and grandchildren in such a manner; how he accumulated such a fortune; and what became of his brother who is mentioned in the handwritten will. Amazing characters, afflicted with greed, stupidity, racism and drink color the story in Sycamore Row and entertain the reader as he navigates through this engaging tale. For more information, read this review in the New York Times.
In this seventh of the Inspector Shan series, we have culture, politics, and a compelling mystery to keep one reading another page when it is time to turn off the light and go to sleep. In Mandarin Gate, neither the reader nor Inspector Shan (now demoted to irrigation ditch inspector) can see a reason for the terrible triple murder but can only speculate as to a possible cause. Beijing wants the crime solved without international ripples and Inspector Shan is very concerned that the recent suicide of his friend, an unregistered Tibetan monk, may have implications in the case. Readers concerned about China’s dismantlement of Tibet’s culture and religion will find much to think about while reading Eliot Pattison’s compelling novel.
Like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Round House is narrated by a young person, 13-year-old Joe, of the Ojibwe tribe, whose mother has been brutally attacked and whose father, a tribal Judge, tries to find justice. As the story unfolds, Joe, with the help of his three friends, sees it as his responsibility to bring protection and vindication to his family. The story is interwoven with colorful characters engaging Joe and his friends along their way. There is the ex-Marine priest who refuses to include target practice on gophers as part of Joe’s confirmation, the centenarian grandfather who tells stories of the tribe in his sleep and still enjoys worldly pleasures when he can get Sonia the ex-stripper to visit, and uncle Whitey, Sonia’s significant other who becomes jealous when she directs too much motherly attention to Joe. All of these play poignant and sometimes humorous scenes in the story. The Round House is more than just a hunt for the attacker; it is the extended Native American family showing concern and helping one another, the tension and humor of dealing with the Anglo community, and young boys struggling to grow up. The story ends with hard happenings, but like Mockingbird, brings closure to the injustice. Louise Erdrich's novel also won the 2012 National Book Award.
Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin (2009) A beautifully written novel set in Rwanda, Baking Cakes in Kigali eloquently demonstrates that life isn’t always black and white. Angel is a baker with a booming cake business; she is a wife; and she is a mother to her five orphaned grandchildren. The family moves from Tanzania to Rwanda for better opportunities. They settle in a community of people from all walks of life – aid workers from the West, refugees trying to rebuild, and so many affected by AIDS. Check out this debut author’s thought-provoking and enjoyable story set in a foreign land. If you enjoy Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, I think you’ll like this book.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009) I absolutely loved this book! I thought it was enlightening, thought-provoking, and truly engaging. It is beautifully written, with richly-drawn sympathetic characters, and a storyline that spans five decades and several continents. I enjoyed learning about Ethiopia through the author’s vivid descriptions of the people, the land, the history, and the political turmoil. From the first page, I was drawn into the absorbing life story of Marion and Shiva Stone, twins born to a nun in Ethiopia in 1954. I was so captivated by the lives of all of the characters that I didn’t want this story to end. I anxiously await another novel by this author, and plan to read his first two non-fiction books: My Own Country and The Tennis Partner
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (2010) I haven’t read such fun book for a long time, the kind you hate to see end. Major Pettigrew is a “one of kind character,” warm, human, complex yet naïve. The author artfully tells the story from Pettigrew’s perspective. What a story it is. A lovely Muslim storekeeper is the Juliette of this September romance and they make a delicious pair as they tread their way through prejudice of a small English town, their families, and their own personal hang ups. One of the strong points of the book is the pacing. It is a work of art the way the plots moves quickly along to a photo finish. The morality of change, good and bad, presents a fascinating dilemma but never in a boorish or boring way. Go for it. Drop in the library for a book discussion on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:00.