Exit West, Mohsin Hamid

This is not just another refugee story, I promise. The story is so sad at times but the writing is elegant and powerful, the reader can’t stop. With the father’s understanding of the necessity of letting his son go, even making him leave, it is as if a child is drowning, but if the father doesn't let him go, his child will drown. The young people in their twenties, reluctantly leaving their home, feel, “We murder from our lives those we leave behind.” At the center of the novel are Nadia and Saeed, on their journey escaping from the chaos and violence of an unnamed country. They are unmarried, but present themselves as a couple. It is the details of their travels, how they live, manage food, cellphones, buying water, set up camp on Mykonos, that fascinated me. I think of Mykonos as a resort spot, a beautiful picture on a travel poster. We see just washing one's clothes becomes a powerful act of affirming one's humanity. They leave home to live but bitterness and guilt creep into their lives almost immediately. We are dealing with itinerant people who think, ”Anything would be better than where they had been.” They go through “doors,” and magical realism takes over this elegant novel, moving the plot forward.

 

My grandson Josh and my daughter Ronit recommend:
Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother Beverly, setting in motion the destruction and re-creation of two families. Spanning five decades, Commonwealth is a story about six children, four parents, their affection and disdain for each other and their strange love for their parents. In her twenties, Franny begins an affair with a well-known author and tells him about her family. Little did she realize that he would use her story to write what becomes a wildly successful book, ultimately forcing Franny and her siblings to come to terms with their mistakes, their guilt, and explore their loyalty to each other. Commonwealth is about about love and responsibility. The story is creative, with some twists and turns, and even the unexpected. With interesting language and colour to their relationships, the characters in the novel come alive on the page. A wonderful read on the beach or curled up on the couch on a lazy day.

 

My daughter Ronit recommends:
Kaddish: Women’s Voices, edited by Michal Smart and Barbara Ashkenas

Kaddish is the mourners' prayer said for a close relative. Kaddish: Women’s Voices is a beautifully written collection of stories of mourning. Far from being sad, the book is an inspiration. For centuries, mostly men have recited this prayer. More recently, women have begun to recite it in the synagogue, three times a day. The book is a compilation of viewpoints from more than 50 women who explore what it means to heal from loss and to honour the memory of a loved one. The women come from diverse backgrounds and from around the world, but all are reflecting on their relationship with family members, their thoughts on Jewish tradition, and the challenge of saying kaddish - or choosing not to say it. Each woman’s story is personal and touched me deeply. Whether you have lost a loved one, never recited the kaddish prayer, or recited it for 11 months, you will be encouraged by each woman’s story and what they learned about themselves, their families, and their relationships.

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