Archives

Walking Home by Eric Walters

This middle grade novel, published in Canada and set in Kenya, has wonderful themes about forgiveness and responsibility and family loyalty and trust and the power of imagination. I don’t know how popular stories set in foreign countries are among the target audience, but this one is a great read.

Thirteen year old Muchoki and his younger sister, Jata, can hardly believe what has become of their lives. Only weeks ago, they lived in a bustling Kenyan village, going to school, playing soccer with friends, and helping at their parents’ store. But sudden political violence has killed their father and destroyed their home. Now Muchoki, Jata and their malaria-stricken mother live in a refugee camp. Will Muchoki be able to care for Jata when tragedy strikes the little family yet again?

The book tells a “journey story”. Muchoki and Jata walk across Kenya, through the great city of Nairobi, and to their grandparents’ home in Kambaland. But the book is about much more than cross-country hiking. As they travel, Muchoki in particular, who has seen and experienced terrible things when the family was forced out of their village, learns to trust people again, even people from the tribes that were his enemies and who killed his father and burned the family’s village. This trust, and even the beginning embers of forgiveness, do not come easily. Muchoki is often torn between his responsibility to protect his sister Jata, and his desire, even need, to ask for help and depend on adults around him to assist him in reaching his grandfather’s home. Muchoki is right to be careful and right to trust, and the book does an excellent job of showing how this young man, wise beyond his years, manages to balance the two. The book even hints at Muchoki’s loss of faith in the God who allowed such terrible things to happen to him and to others and his steps toward forgiveness and reconciliation.

In light of the terrible events in Kenya this past week and the other atrocities that keep filling our news feeds, this story is a good one to help children and adults begin their own journey of processing, trusting, caring, and forgiving.

Exploring the World in Books

I am taking a blog break for Lent, but I thought I’d share some of my old posts from years gone by. I’ve been blogging at Semicolon since October, 2003, more than eleven years. This post is copied and edited from February 28, 2005:

Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.
–Coleridge

I read Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya and thought it gave a beautiful, but very sad, picture of life in India for many people. It’s the story of a poor family, a fourth daughter who, because she has no dowry, cannot marry well but must settle for marriage to a landless tenant farmer who brings her home to a mud hut he built himself. Fortunately for the girl, Rukmani, her husband Nathan is “poor in everything but in love and care for me, his wife, whom he took at the age of twelve.”
Rukmani narrates the story in first person, telling of the birth of her daughter, the long wait during which the couple think they will have no more children, and then the birth of her five sons. The village where the family lives is on the edge of poverty and starvation; a bad year with too much rain or too little rain will push Rukmani’s family over the edge. Change and new economic oportunities come to the village; however, these new ideas and possibilities are full of danger too, for peasants who have nothing in reserve and are unable or unwilling to move with the times.
I wrote about a month ago about some of my favorite fantasy worlds. These fantasy worlds were first encountered on the pages of books. Then, there are historical and sociological worlds that I visit mostly in books, too. Finally, there is the actual world. I’ve never been to India or China or South America, but I have a picture of what life in those lands is (or was) like–again, from books. I think that Nectar in a Sieve, first published in 1954, will become a large part of my picture of India, along with missionary stories, the young man I met a few years ago at Baptist World Alliance Youth Conference, and other sources, such as the women I see at the grocery store here in Clear Lake dressed in saris.
Warning: The book has a bittersweet ending, but it’s realistic without being hopeless and depressing. Excellent.
These are some of my favorite books that have given me vivid pictures of the world. Most of them are fiction.
Around the world in books:
South Africa: Cry, the Beloved Country and Too Late the Phalarope both by Alan Paton
India: Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, The Christ of the Indian Road by E. Stanley Jones, Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth.
China: Imperial Woman by Pearl S.Buck, The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang, Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin, other books by Pearl Buck
Antarctica: Troubling a Star by Madeleine L’Engle,
The Netherlands: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
England (Yorkshire): All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot and all the many, many books I’ve read that take place in England.
Russia: The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig (And, of course, Tolstoy and Dostoyevski, although they’re more historical)
Israel: Exodus by Leon Uris
Hawaii: Hawaii by James Michener

Can you suggest any books that capture the culture and living conditions of a country in either fiction or biography? I do prefer and learn more from stories.

Nonfiction November: Week 2 Lists!

Lu/Leslie at Regular Rumination asks us to Be/Become/Ask the Expert:

Share a list of titles that you have read on a particular topic, create a wish list of titles that you’d like to read about a particular topic, or ask your fellow Nonfiction November participants for suggestions on a particular topic.

Well, I have two three ongoing projects, and I’d love to have suggestions for either.

My U.S. Presidents Project is stalled at the moment, but I’d like to take it back up in January. I have a copy of David McCullough’s Truman waiting for me to get around to it. And here I have a list of presidential biographies I’d like to read. What books should I add to my list? Leave me a comment about any biographies of U.S. presidents that you’ve read and enjoyed, and please leave a link to your review, if you wrote one.

My Africa reading project is also ongoing. I was trying to focus on one are of Africa each year, but that idea fell by the wayside when I would find a book set in another part of Africa that I wanted to read. So any nonfiction about Africa or African countries?

I almost forgot about this list of 50 Nonfiction Books for 50 States. Do you have any suggestions to add to this list?

I am going to enjoy exploring other bloggers’ nonfiction reading lists and projects. I may have to restrain myself from taking on another reading project as a result of reading others’ lists.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The subject of Africa and Africans and the relationship of Africans to Americans is one of my fascinations. I read Ms. Adichie’s novel, Americanah, with that fascination firmly in place. But the book was just ironic, sarcastic, and insightful enough to make me a little uncomfortable. I don’t think I’d enjoy meeting the author, and I don’t think she would like me very much. (According to one character in the novel who may or may not speak for the author, “American conservatives come from an entirely different planet,” obviously not a good one.) I feel as if Ms. Adichie, assuming her characters speak for her in some respects, would have something sardonic and probably also uncomfortably perceptive to say about me and my interest in Africa and my WASP background and my conservative Christian worldview.

Through her main characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, especially Ifemelu, the novelist has a lot to say about Nigerians and “Non-American Blacks” (NAB’s) and American Blacks (AB’s) and American Non-Blacks and Brits and other Europeans and poor people and rich people and bourgeois middle class people and everyone else whose weaknesses and foibles Ifemelu manages to expose and ridicule and deflate. Thought provoking, yes. But Ifemelu is also self-absorbed, sometimes pitiable, and irresponsible and unreliable. In short, she’s a real person with a sin problem, although she wouldn’t use that term.

Ifemelu is a Nigerian immigrant to the United States. She leaves Nigeria partly to escape from the lack of choices there and from her dysfunctional family and partly to study in the U.S., the land of opportunity. She finds that when she comes to America, she suddenly becomes “black”, a category she never considered one way or another back in Nigeria. She is subject to the racism, overt and subtle, that American Blacks encounter and deal with all of the time in this country. And she also becomes “African” in the eyes of many Americans, black and white, who tell her about their charitable contributions to an orphanage in Zimbabwe or their trip to Kenya or their love for Mother Africa, as if Africa were one big country, and of course, she would identify with people and entities half a continent away from her own nation and culture.

Ifemelu, however, is an honest and incisive thinker, and she forges her own identity in the U.S. She eventually becomes a blogger with a widely read and profitable blog called Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. She writes about race in America, about black women and hair, about subtle and not-so subtle racism, about Michelle and Barack Obama, about her own experiences as an immigrant to the U.S., and about the people and interactions she observes. Her blog posts about race in particular prick the consciences and destroy the pretensions of many of her readers. (The unrealistic part, of course, is that she makes quite a bit of money as a result of the popularity of her blog. How many rich bloggers are there?)

Americanah is a smart, penetrating, rather dramatic look at the immigrant experience and at the emigrant experience and at the experience of returning home. But it made me feel the way I feel when I’m in the company of intellectual people who spend their time mocking and pointing out the defects of those who are “beneath” them, outside their little clique. Americanah is an opinionated book, and it’s not a kind book. The characters in the book are honest, possibly right about many of their opinions and insights, but not very compassionate or forgiving.

“What are you reading?” Kelsey turned to Ifemelu.
Ifemelu showed her the cover of the novel. She did not want to start a conversation. Especially not with Kelsey. She recognized in Kelsey the nationalism of liberal Americans who copiously criticized America but did not like you to do so; they expected you to be silent and grateful, and always reminded you of how much better than wherever you had come from America was.
“Is it good?”
“Yes.”
“It’s a novel, right? What’s it about?”
Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing. Ifemelu disliked the question; She would have disliked it even if she did not feel, in addition to her depressed uncertainty, the beginning of a headache.

At the risk of being relegated to the realm of all the Kelseys of this country, despite my lack of “liberal” credentials, I will say that Americanah is about the Nigerian immigrant experience, both in the U.S. and Britain. It’s also about the issues and stresses of being a black woman in America, specifically in the Northeastern part of the U.S. And it’s a novel about romantic love, and lost love and recovered love. The ending, like the detail of the money-making blog, struck me as unrealistic and unlikely. But I did learn a lot along the way.

Warning: Self-absorption and sexual license abound in the novel, just as they do in the real lives of many, both Africans and Americans. That part of the novel is almost too realistic.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith

There are a few authors I could read all day, all week, and never get tired of their books, their characters, and their writing style. Whereas some authors I read and enjoy but then need a break—Dickens or John Grisham or even Tolkien. Others are so delightful and amusing and light-hearted that I could take a steady diet and not feel too over-filled or burdened. P.G. Wodehouse, Jan Karon, Agatha Christie (well, maybe not “light-hearted”), and Alexander McCall Smith fall into the latter category.

Mr. McCall Smith has written several series of novels set in various locales, and I’ve enjoyed at least a few of the books in each series:

Corduroy Mansions in London
44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh, Scotland,
The Isabel Dalhousie novels, also in Scotland,
Professor Dr. von Igelfeld novels in Germany and other settings,
and of course, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency set in Botswana, Africa.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon is the latest, and perhaps greatest, of this best-selling detective series. I enjoyed the contrasting of modern ways and the old conservative ways of traditional Botswanan culture—and the compromises between the two. I enjoyed the two mysteries and their cozy solutions. I enjoyed the continued unfolding of the friendship between Precious Ramotswe and her assistant Grace Makutsi. And Mma Ramotswe’s husband Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni continued to work in this book as in others at loving and caring for his traditionally built and professionally astute helpmeet. The supporting cast in this series also make an appearance and add to the story, each in his own way: Mma Potokwane, Phuti Radiphuti, and the apprentices, Charlie and Fanwell.

A couple of quotes, just to brighten your day and give you something to think about:

On forgiveness:
“She had forgiven him, yes, but she still did not like to remember. And perhaps a deliberate act of forgetting went along with forgiveness. You forgave, and then you said to yourself: Now I shall forget. Because if you did not forget, then your forgiveness would be tested, perhaps many times and in ways that you could not resist, and you might go back to anger, and to hating.”

On beauty:
“You could be very glamorous and beautiful on the outside, but if inside you were filled with human faults—jealousy, spite, and the like—then no amount of exterior beauty could make up for that. Perhaps there was some sort of lemon juice for inside beauty . . . And even as she thought of it, she realized what it was love and kindness. Love was the lemon juice that cleansed and kindness was the aloe that healed.”

The 15th Gift of Christmas in South Africa, 1969-?

From Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela:

“What Sundays were to the rest of the week, Christmas was to the rest of the year. It was the one day when the authorities showed any goodwill toward men. We did not have to go to the quarry on Christmas Day, and we were permitted to purchase a small quantity of sweets. We did not have a traditional Christmas meal, but we were given an extra mug of coffee for supper.
The authorities permitted us to organize a concert, hold competitions, and put on a play. The concert was the centerpiece. . . . The concert took place on Christmas morning in the courtyard. We would mix in traditional English Christmas songs with African ones, and include a few protest songs—the authorities did not seem to mind or perhaps know the difference. The warders were our audience, and they enjoyed our singing much as we did.”

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song: Soweto Gospel Choir sings Amen.

A birthday: Ann Nolan Clark, b.1896, author of Secret of the Andes, a story about a South American Incan boy which won the 1953 Newbery Medal.
Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk

51zSfrFm2DL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_I have a thing about books set in other countries, especially African countries. Africa fascinates me for some reason. A Girl Called Problem is set in Tanzania in the early 1970’s when President Julius Nyerere encouraged Tanzanians to participate in his program of ujamaa, a socialist strategy emphasizing family and collective farming, to improve the economy and the living conditions of Tanzania’s poor and rural tribal peoples.

Wikipedia is not complimentary about the implementation and results of ujamaa:

“Collectivization was accelerated in 1971. Because the population resisted collectivisation, Nyerere used his police and military forces to forcibly transfer much of the population into collective farms. Houses were set on fire or demolished, sometimes with the family’s pre-Ujamaa property inside. The regime denied food to those who resisted. A substantial amount of the country’s wealth in the form of built structures and improved land (fields, fruit trees, fences) was destroyed or forcibly abandoned. Livestock was stolen, lost, fell ill, or died.
In 1975, the Tanzanian government issued the “ujamaa program” to send the Sonjo in northern Tanzania from compact sites with less water to flatter lands with more fertility and water; new villages were created to reap crops and raise livestock easier.”

In A Girl Called Problem the picture of ujamaa is much rosier. In the book the people of the fictional village Litongo move to a new place to participate in President Nyerere’s utopian project. Thirteen year old Shida (whose name means “problem”) believes that she and her mother have been cursed because her father died when Shida was born, but she knows that in the new village she will have a chance to go to school and to learn from the district nurse the thing she wants most to learn, how to be a healer.

Shida’s grandfather, Babu the village elder, tells the people that they should move to the new village, Nija Panda, for the sake of all Tanzania, and most of them do, although some are reluctant and fearful of the ancestors’ curse. This book is largely about reconciling the old ways with the new, what to keep and what to throw out. and about the sources of fear and strategies for confronting that fear. Shida listens to her elders, especially her mother and Babu, but she also respects and wants to learn from her schoolteacher and from the village nurse.

The book tells a good story about a girl coming of age in a time of change and stress, but two things bothered me about the context and setting. First of all, the author strategically ends her story before the failure of the ujamaa villages, a failure which was stark and catastrophic: “Tanzania, which had been the largest exporter of food in Africa, and also had always been able to feed its people, became the largest importer of food in Africa. Many sectors of the economy collapsed. There was a virtual breakdown in transportation. . . . Nyerere left Tanzania as one of the poorest, least developed, and most foreign aid-dependent countries in the world.”

In addition to glossing over the political situation, the author indicates that Shida’s mother is suffering from what appears to be mental illness, and again, as in two other middle grade fiction books that I read within the last month, the mother makes a quick and sudden recovery as a result of no intervention or therapy or anything. She simply decides not to be depressed anymore? If it were that easy, then no one would ever suffer from what we call clinical depression. Maybe Shida’s mom was just being a stubborn, self-centered old lady when she spent two weeks in the darkness, lying on her cot and refusing to move to Nija Panda. However, whatever the issue, sin or mental illness or both, she certainly makes a brilliant turnaround when the story comes to its climax and Mother Shida (women are called by the name of their oldest child) is needed to tie the loose ends together and make the story turn out well.

I enjoyed reading A Girl Called Problem myself, but I wouldn’t recommend it for impressionable middle grade readers who might get the wrong idea about the glorious efficacy of socialism and about the cure and treatment for mental illness and fear and selfishness. Julius Nyerere, who retired from government in 1985 and died in 1999, is still quite popular and even idolized in Tanzania, by the way, and in 2005 a Catholic diocese in Tanzania recommended the beatification of Nyerere, who was said to be a devout Catholic.

Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan

“Burning in the daylight and hunted in the shadows, having albinism is often a death sentence in East Africa. In Tanzania, one out of every 1,400 people has albinism, a genetic condition characterized by a lack of pigment in the body. That compares to a global average of one in 20,000 people.” Huffington Post, June 15, 2013.

“In fact, the number of albino murders are decreasing in Tanzania because of all the publicity and the government’s stern warnings that they must stop. But African albinos still grow up in a world of prejudice and misunderstanding.” NPR, All Things Considered, November 30, 2012

“People with albinism in East Africa face profound social stigma and isolation, due to the negative myths that surround the condition. In addition, most children with albinism have early signs of skin cancer by their teen years, and only 2% of people with albinism live to reach their 40th birthday.” Asante Miraimu website.

Golden Boy, Ms. Sullivan’s debut novel, is the kind of book that impels the reader (at least this reader) to go to the internet and start looking up facts about the problem that is portrayed, in this case the persecution of individuals with albinism. But even without all the fact-finding follow-up, Golden Boy is a good story that highlights the difficulties and sheer pain of growing up and living in a place where you are humiliated and ridiculed and maybe even physically assaulted (or killed) as a result of physical differences. Even those of us who have never been persecuted or made to fear for our lives can identify to some extent with Habo, the albino protagonist of this novel, and his search for significance, his desire to see himself as more than just a zero-zero, the Tanzanian term for albinos.

Who hasn’t been made to feel like a zero at sometime by someone? But for for Habo, life is much more dangerous than it is for most people with low self-esteem, and the stakes are much higher than they are in the typical neighborhood bullying incident. People actually do kill albinos in the place where Habo’s family comes to live. And Habo must run away and hide himself, unable to trust anyone. Even the blind sculptor he meets, who doesn’t know about his secret, may become a threat if and when he finds out that Habo is an albino.

Yes, this story has a moral, but it is far from moralistic. Habo feels and acts like a real person, even as he becomes a fictional symbol for all of the children who suffer from the twin afflictions of abuse and physical impairment as a result of their albinism.

Other reviews of Golden Boy:
My Head Is Full of Books: “Golden Boy has just catapulted itself onto my list of top YA books of the year. The topic, living in Africa with albinism, is certainly a unique one. Yes, it is a story about prejudice and the effects of poor education, but it is also a story of acceptance and of bravery.”
Megan Cox Gurdon in WSJ: “This harrowing but ultimately redemptive story benefits from Ms. Sullivan’s deft use of simile: She writes that panic crawls up Habo’s throat ‘like a hairy spider.'”
Abby the Librarian: “an accessible novel with a compelling plot that will interest kids and may inspire them to learn more about the plight of albinos in Tanzania and what they can do to help.”

There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene

In case you hadn’t noticed ther is a LOT of controversy going on these days about international adoption, especially adoptions by U.S. parent of Ethiopian, Liberian, and other African children. Lots of agencies and groups involved in these adoptions are being accused of child-trafficking, stealing children from their parents and extended families to feed an American “obsession” with adoption. In fact, journalist Kathryn Joyce has recently published a book called The Child Catchers which seems to imply, or maybe state outright, that all international adoptions are suspect and akin to child abuse and kidnapping, especially those where the children are adopted into evangelical Christian families.

Melissa Fay Greene’s book, published in 2006, tells the story of one Ethiopian woman, Haregewoin Teferra, and the ups and downs of her “odyssey to rescue Africa’s children.” Ms. Greene also writes about the AIDs crisis in Ethiopia and in Africa, the political situation in Ethiopia, the ethics and difficulties and joys of Ethiopian adoption, and the difficulties of running an impromptu, under-funded, and unregulated orphanage. The book feels balanced and honest.

The best thing about this book is that Ms. Greene, although she obviously admires Haregewoin Teferra, does not idolize her. This journalistic trek through the back alleys of Addis Ababa and the orphanages and adoption agencies of Ethiopia is no hagiographic tribute to Haregewoin, even though she is the central character. It is instead a realistic picture of one woman who tries to help the orphans who are brought to her door, who sometimes makes mistakes, and who ends up helping some and being unable to help others.

“I would watch Haregewoin’s reputation rise and fall like sunrise and sunset. As she blended her life with the lives of people ruined by the pandemic, she became a nobody, like them. Then, she began to be seen as a saint. Then some cried, ‘hey! This is no saint!’ and accused her of corruption. Or maybe she started out as a saint, became a tyrant, then became a saint again. Or was it the reverse? THe story line hanged. But in ever account, no middle ground was allotted to Haregewoin: either she was all good, or she had gone bad. Those who watched, judged her.
Zewedu, her old friend, saw who Haregewoin was: an average person, muddling through a bad time, with a little more heart than most for the people around her who were suffering and half an eye cocked toward her own preservation. But most observers failed to reach this matter-of-fact point of view, and Ato Zewedu probably would not live much longer.
But then I heard, to my delight, that some people say even Mother Teresa herself was no Mother Teresa.”

This. Yes. We are all complicated, sinful, sometimes grace-filled, selfish, well-meaning, compassionate, but also unobservant, people. Some of us manage, by God’s grace, to do something kind and loving for someone else, even for many others, like the orphans Haregewoin helped. Somehow we muddle through and maybe do more good than harm. And God uses our poorest efforts and our mixed motives to serve Him and to serve others and to bring about His will.

If you are considering an international adoption, if you know someone who has adopted children from another country, if you just want to understand the complexities of adoption from the point of view of an adoptive mother and a journalist, read this book. Then read the articles I’ve linked to below for all kind of opinions and stories about international adoption. Some are horror stories; others are stories that inspire hope and sympathy. It’s complicated, but the complications shouldn’t paralyze us.

If God brings an orphan to your door, what can you do but open your home and your heart and let him in somehow?

Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession in Mother Jones magazine.

Evangelicals and Foreign Adoption by Maralee Bradley at Mere Orthodoxy.

Ethiopian Adoption: An Informal Guide by Melissa Fay Greene.

The Common Room and Adoption Advice.

International Adoptions Struggle for Hollywood Endings

Child Sponsorship instead of Adoption.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This novel from a Nigerian/American author is classified as young adult fiction in my library, probably because the narrator is fifteen years old, but I think it will resonate with adults of all ages, and with readers around the world because the themes–abusive relationships, religious legalism, freedom, and the source of joy–are all universal themes.

Fifteen year old Kambili and her older brother Jaja live with their mother and father in a wealthy or at least upper middle class Catholic home in Enugu, Nigeria. Their father’s strict, legalistic Catholicism pervades the family’s life, from twenty minute prayers before meals to reciting the rosary on car trips to fasting before mass every Sunday. Not only is the family required to be strictly Catholic by Kambili’s papa but they are also held to a stringent schedule made up of course by the father. Kambili has conflicting feelings about Papa: she is pleased, even thrilled, when he approves of her words or actions, but of course when harsh punishment comes her way, Kambili is crushed.

Then, the catalyst for change enters the life of this silent, repressed family: Kambili’s Aunty Ifeoma invites the children to visit her home in Nsukka. Aunty Ifeoma is a widow, a teacher, much poorer than her brother, but the joy in Aunty’s home is overflowing and overwhelming for her love-starved niece and nephew. Kambili and Jaja learn another way of life, without rigid schedules and authoritarian rule-keeping, and most of all without fear. Kambili, who comes across as much younger than fifteen throughout most of the story probably because of her repressed childhood, doesn’t know what to think or do with all the freedom that she is given in Aunty Ifeoma’s home, so she mostly does nothing and remains very, very quiet, even silent. Jaja sees the possibilities of freedom and becomes rebellious. However, it is the children’s meek, long-suffering mother, who has also suffered abuse at the hands of her husband, who takes the most surprising action of all.

The story is terribly sad. The depth of the dysfunction and abuse in the family is revealed slowly, a little at a time, until it becomes overpowering. Papa is not a wholly evil man; he publishes the truth about the government in his newspaper and he is generous to the poor, to family, and to many others. But of course, this generosity and honesty displayed to outside world makes the secret, petty evil that Papa perpetrates inside his home even worse.

I hope I haven’t spoiled the narrative arc of this novel by telling what it is generally about. I don’t think so. Ms. Adichie is quite skilled in the way she spins her story, and she enlists our sympathy as readers for all the characters in the novel, even Papa to some extent. One senses that he is caught in a web of legalism himself, and he cannot see a way out. That emotional captivity certainly doesn’t justify the abuse, but it explains to some extent why the children and their mother take so long to escape and why their feelings about Papa are so contradictory and confused.

Recommended.