Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for August, 2018


Posted by nliakos on August 31, 2018

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Borzoi/Knopf, 2013)

I bought this e-book to read while we were in Greece last year, but I never got round to reading it until recently. I loved it! In seven parts and 55 chapters, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the stories of Ifemelu and Obinze, soulmates and lovers, in their native Nigeria and in their adopted countries of the United States and the United Kingdom. Ifemelu, the eponymous Americanah, experiences culture shock in the U.S. as she adapts to her life first as an international student and then as an employee, and then re-entry shock when she returns, by choice, to Nigeria, giving up her popular blog on race and the experiences of non-American blacks (excerpts of which often end the chapters, making me wonder if the author had just such a blog). Obinze, in contrast, does not find success in the U.K. and is ultimately deported, to his extreme humiliation. The reader follows the adventures of these two individuals, hoping that they will somehow find each other and reconcile. Life, meanwhile, seems to keep them apart.

Reading about Nigerian (and Nigerian ex-pat) culture was interesting, but it did not make me want to experience it!

Adichie’s prose is exquisite, and the reader really comes to care about the characters, which to my mind is a necessity in fiction. (If I can’t identify with a character, if I have no affinity with at least one character, I don’t like the novel. The best example of this is Gone with the Wind, which I have never liked for precisely this reason.)



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The Fiddler

Posted by nliakos on August 20, 2018

by Beverly Lewis (Bethany House 2012)

I found this, my fourth Beverly Lewis novel, in the little library of my local senior center.  I took a break from Amerikanah, which I am really enjoying, to gobble down this Amish cupcake of a novel. You kind of know how it’s going to turn out, but Lewis keeps you guessing as to how she is going to get there. It is the love story of violinist Amelia Devries and Amishman Michael Hofsteder, set mostly in and around the invented Amish community of Hickory Hollow, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Both Amelia and Michael are at a crossroads in their lives. Amelia has the talent to be a star violinist, and her father and her agent are pressuring her to go that route, but she wants a husband and family, and she wants to play music because she loves it–not for money or fame. Michael doesn’t fit very well in his Amish community. At twenty-five, he has yet to join the church, and he gotten a GED and continued on to higher education despite the disapproval of his father. He wants to leave the Amish life and become English, but he is held back by his love for his family and hometown. He wants to be there, but without the limitations that the Plain life require. So the reader can see where this is going, especially since Amelia and Michael are attracted to each other from the first moment they meet, on a stormy night in a remote cabin where Michael has fled after an argument with his father, and Amelia has wound up after getting lost. A visit to Hickory Hollow follows, and Amelia falls in love with the people she meets and the serenity of the place, so different from the high-stress city life of an up-and-coming musical celebrity.

Everything works out in the end, and the twists and turns of the story kept me engaged for the day or so it took me to read it. Back to Amerikanah!

English language learners will probably not find this difficult, but they will have to deal with the occasional Deitch (Pennsyvania Dutch) words (italicized).

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Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me & Nearly Broke My Heart

Posted by nliakos on August 17, 2018

by William Alexander (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014)

At the age of 56, Bill Alexander decided he was going to learn French. At about the same time, he grappled with some serious cardiac issues. (That’s the heartbreak part.) Predictably, learning French, and particularly at his age, proved to be…difficult. One might even say, not possible, since Alexander’s goal was to become fluent in the language. He didn’t. Along the way, he tried different strategies, including online tutors and conversation partners, CD-ROMs, actual classes, and a two-week immersion at a school in France. None of these provided the miracle he was searching for (as I could have told him). Nevertheless, he persisted (!), and he did make some progress with the language.

Having studied French (at a younger age!) and lived in France for several years, and having taught English as a Second Language for over forty years, I was not surprised by anything Alexander wrote about language acquisition (and failure to acquire), but I enjoyed the story and learned some interesting tidbits about French idioms, the history of the language, and the culture.

French-speaking English language learners would enjoy this book.

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The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

Posted by nliakos on August 2, 2018

by Elizabeth L. Silver (Crown 2013)

Noa is on death row in Pennsylvania for the murder of her father’s young girlfriend, Sarah Dixon. The novel mostly consists of Noa’s memoir, about her childhood and young adulthood, culminating in the night that Sarah died. Noa’s voice sometimes gives way to that of Sarah’s mother Marlene, a hotshot Philadelphia lawyer who attempted to use Noa to force Sarah to leave her lover (Noa’s ne’er-do-well father), and then following Noa’s trial and conviction, turned against the death penalty and is trying to appeal for clemency with the help of a young Welsh lawyer, Oliver Stansted. (Marlene’s point of view comes from the letters she writes to her dead daughter.) Oliver visits Noa many times during the six months prior to her scheduled execution, and he begins to harbor doubts as to her guilt. Noa, for her part, refuses to tell anyone what actually happened. . .  until the final chapters. But her memoir will likely never see the light of day, nor will Oliver ever have the opportunity to read it.

I would have liked the book better had Noa been somewhat more likable, I think. She is not portrayed negatively, but I couldn’t really identify with her or feel emotionally close to her.


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