Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for August, 2014

Two by Zouroudi

Posted by nliakos on August 23, 2014

The third and fourth installments of the Seven Deadly Sins mysteries by Anne Zouroudi arrived together at my local Montgomery County, Maryland public library, one from Harford County, and the other from Washington County. What would I do without inter-library loans?

You can find my reviews of the first and second books in earlier posts on this blog.

The third installment, The Doctor of Thessaly (2009), is set in the poor coastal village of Morfi, home to a collection of sour, unfriendly people. The investigating god, Hermes, arrives in the town to fix his car and finds an apparently jilted middle-aged bride and a groom cruelly blinded by an attacker he did not see in the churchyard of St. Paraskevi.  There are two doctors: a Greek one, who has retired, and a French one, who took over the practice; this is the blinded suitor. But who would want to blind the town’s doctor? Was it the bride’s older unmarried sister whose jealousy of her sister’s changing fortunes drove her to do this evil deed? Or was someone taking revenge on the good doctor? And if so, for what? I will only say that the crime committed here was one I had never even heard of before. And in the end, of course, the wrong-doers and the victims alike get their just desserts.

The Lady of Sorrows (2010) takes place on the island of Kalki, home of the famous shipwrecked icon of the title. Here, the fat man (Hermes) draws on the expertise of his friend Kara Athaniti, an art historian, to help unravel a mystery behind the icon. Again, we meet some of the townspeople; all are damaged in some way, except possibly young Sammy, grandson of the old icon painter, who dies suddenly while fishing with Sammy, apparently poisoned. But as usual, the explanation requires some expert sleuthing as well as intuition and understanding of human nature on the part of the fat man, who discovers that the dark secrets of a dysfunctional family have resulted in the untimely death.

I always enjoy the passages which highlight the fat man’s connection to the ancient religion, as in the following from The Doctor of Thessaly. Speaking to the simpleminded Adonis Anapodos (great nickname! It means “Adonis Upside-Down”) in the church dedicated to the Orthodox saint Paraskevi, he explains:

“Do you see this inscription? That lady on the walls is an interloper, an intruder. She and her servants have no more than squatters’ rights. This place belongs to someone else; there’s a much older claim than theirs.”

Fascinated, Adonis crouched beside the fat man to read the ancient lettering. When he spoke again, his stammer was forgotten.

“What does it say?” he asked. “Whose building is it really?”

“Hard to say, for certain,” said the fat man. There’s an A there. Apollo, Asclepius, Aphrodite. Someone, anyway, with better credentials than your Johnny-come-lately nun.”

Such passages may not make Zouroudi’s books very popular with many Greeks, to whom “Greek” and “Orthodox Christian” have merged into a single concept. They cannot imagine a Greek who is not Orthodox. But Hermes Diaktoros, with the perfectly enunciated Greek of a newscaster, may be the quintessential Greek. Like Mma Ramotswe of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, he looks to the old ways and traditions as he goes about the business of righting wrongs and meting out justice.

I am looking forward to reading the remaining three mysteries in the series!

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In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom

Posted by nliakos on August 17, 2014

by Qanta A. Ahmed (Sourcebooks 2008)

This is one of my favorite genres: a memoir of a cross-cultural experience. Qanta Ahmed is an American-trained Pakistani-British doctor who took a job at the King Fahad National Guard Hospital in Riyadh for two years. The book details her experiences: her culture shock, her relationships with Saudi and non-Saudi colleagues and friends, the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), her crush on one of the hospital administrators, dealing with the Mutawaeen (religious “police”), the Saudi reactions to the events of 9/11, and her eventual departure from the Kingdom.

The fact that Ahmed was raised as a Muslim distinguishes this book from others I have read about the Saudi Kingdom, such as At the Drop of a Veil by Marianne Alireza, an American woman who married a Saudi student and traveled to Saudi Arabia during the 1950s, and On Saudi Arabia: It’s People, Past, Religion, Faultlines, and Future by Karen Elliott House. Ahmed is a Muslim, but she was not well acquainted with the finer points of the religion, like many of us growing up in the secular “West.”  Her Saudi experience brought her closer to her religious roots, as she writes in an 11-chapter sequence in the middle of the book  describing the pilgrimage that she made to Mecca. (This reminded me of another Westernized Muslim making the Hajj in Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, by Asra Q. Nomani.) She writes movingly about the pure joy that she felt during the Hajj. Clearly, this experience was a pivotal one in her life. But her deepening religious feelings do nothing to change her outrage at some of the customs she must abide by, at the intolerance of the religious police, and at the blatant prejudice of some of her friends, disturbingly uncovered in the wake of 9/11. And she is never reconciled to the discomfort of wearing the dreaded abbayah, which all women are required to wear in public within the kingdom (even in the hospital setting).

For me, the most inspiring part of the book was Ahmed’s descriptions of some of the smart, savvy Saudi women she worked with and got to know during her stay, such as Fatima, the divorcée; Zubaidah, the beautiful nutritionist; Reem, the aspiring vascular surgeon; Ghadah, the working mother; and Maha, the pediatriac infectious disease specialist. (They remind me of the wonderful Saudi women I teach, who are now at the beginning of their professional careers in nutrition, special education, chemistry, etc. In fact, I have had students named Reem and Maha!) These women are in the forefront of the struggle for women’s civil rights in the Kingdom.  Although highly educated (usually in Western countries) and skilled, they have essentially no rights as we know them. They are forbidden to drive, to show their hair in public, or to attend a conference or a working or social dinner with men. If they marry (and everyone is expected to marry in the Kingdom), they are expected to attend their husbands like servants; if they divorce, their children will be lost to them. But Ahmed reminds the reader that their male counterparts, too, are powerless in the face of the Mutawaeen. The country is filled with emasculated men and powerless women. It is difficult to imagine that this situation can continue.

One complaint I have (in my English teacher persona) is an overabundance of dangling modifiers, such as “Shipping containers packed, a small army of Filipino men arrived to take my things away” and “Later, waiting to descend, an elevator door opened”. Competent editing should have corrected this before publication.

Furthermore, the copy of the book that I read was put together wrong: page 266 was followed by pages 273-274, 271-272, 269-270, 267-268, 281-282, 279, 277-278, 275-276, 289, 287-288, 285-286, 283-284, 297-298, 295-296, 293-294, 291-292, and 299-300 (in that order) before proceeding in the normal order. It was not easy to keep reading! The fact that I persevered shows how much I was enjoying the book.


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No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement

Posted by nliakos on August 9, 2014

by Joseph P. Shapiro (Random House/Times Books 1993)

No Pity tells the story of the disability rights movement. It introduces the reader to the heroes of this movement, such as Ed Roberts, who refused to accept no for an answer at the University of California Berkeley; Judy Heumann, who became a disability activist when she was denied a teaching job for which she was well-qualified; T. J. Monroe, who organized fellow people with mental retardation to stand up for their rights as members of People First; and Jim (no last name given), perhaps the original inspiration for the author’s interest in and passion for the fight for equal opportunities, whose slowness of speech belied his talent for all things mechanical, so he lived most of his life in an institution; and many more. Shapiro includes post-polio quadriplegics and paraplegics and disabled veterans; people with developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and ALS; people who require a respirator to breathe; people who are deaf or blind. . . . in short, people with all kinds of disabilities, major and minor. He tells the story of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). He reveals the surprising statistic that one in seven Americans has a disability; they and their relatives and friends constitute a population that includes poor people and rich people; people in power (including presidents, legislators. . .) and people without any power at all; people of all races, religions, and ages; people who were born disabled and people who became disabled later in life due to disease, accidental injury, or war-related injury. This book shows how many smaller rights movements merged to create the disability rights movement.

Shapiro took events that I remember, like the battle for a deaf president of Gallaudet University in 1988, and put them into a larger context. My daughter, born very premature in 1992 and considered to be on the autism spectrum, has benefited in many ways from the advances described by Shapiro in this book; yet I did not realize how recent some of them were. My perspective as the parent of a person with disabilities led me to question some of the ideas in the book, such as the idea that “even children with the most severe disabilities learn better in integrated settings” (p. 168). But I don’t want to quibble, because this is an important book, one we should all read, because it reminds us all of our shared humanity.

Posted in Education, History, Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »

The Taint of Midas

Posted by nliakos on August 1, 2014

by Anne Zouroudi (Bloomsbury 2008)

I enjoyed this second installment in The Seven Deadly Sins mystery series as much as the first one. Set in Arkadia, in the Peloponnese, the novel explores the sin of greed and its awful repercussions.  There is a dastardly would-be developer with his two henchmen/sons, a gentle barber who really prefers to spend his day fishing, an amoral reporter, two honest policemen, a priest with a skin disease who is in love with un unhappily married woman, and our hero/sleuth Hermes Diaktoros, whose dear friend Gabrilis has been killed in a car “accident” just before Hermes’ arrival. Like Mma Ramotswe in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Hermes makes sure that justice is done. There’s an element of magic to it, but when a god is involved, there must be some magic, right?

I enjoy Zouroudi’s descriptions of Arkadia and the people who live there. The character of Hermes is delightful–just a little overweight (she usually refers to him as the fat man) but extremely dapper and agile, with a magical holdall that reminds me of Hermione Granger’s beaded bag in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), meticulously polished old-fashioned white sneakers instead of winged sandals, beautiful curly hair that does not seem to get any shorter when it is trimmed, and an unfailingly courteous demeanor, no matter how despicable his interlocutor (reminding me of Albus Dumbledore).

I can’t understand why these books are so hard to find.  I got this through UMD’s Inter-Library Loan; it came all the way from the University of Michigan! I’ve just put a hold on the next one, The Doctor of Thessaly, through the state of Maryland’s Marina inter-library loan system. There is a fourth as well: The Lady of Sorrows. I just put out a request for that one as well (hoping the third one arrives before the fourth–although it might not really make any difference). You can’t give up too easily.

Posted in Fiction, Mystery | 1 Comment »