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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, June 18, 2000

Vacations Are a Good Time for Reading

Like many Americans, I have spent much of the past two weeks on the road barreling down interstates and eating in fast food restaurants in the middle of nowhere. My first trip was to the Book Expo in Chicago with my wife Pam, the branch manager at Red Bank Library. While I drove, she read, so most of these recommendations are hers. Summer vacations are a great time for reading. All you need are a pair of sunglasses, a cap, and a library card.

Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje (Knopf, 2000).

Pam says she had to read this novel twice to really appreciate it-once before she heard the author of The English Patient read at the Book Expo and once afterward.

The book is set in the early 1990s in the author's birthplace of Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India. The government, the southern insurgents, and the northern separatists are embroiled in campaigns of torture and execution. Anil Tissera, a forensic anthropologist educated in England and America, returns to her native country on behalf of an international human rights group. There she confronts a moral dilemma-is it worth it to take a stand even if the ground is constantly shifting and the outcomes are uncertain and perhaps meaningless? This is a powerful novel.

Half a Heart by Rosellan Brown (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000).

Brown chronicles the story of a white Jewish upper-middle-class mother of three who establishes contact with the daughter she had left behind 17 years ago. Miriam Vener, a Houston native educated in Ann Arbor, had gone to Mississippi during the 1960s to teach at an all-black college. There she met and fell in love with a brilliant black musician and professor named Eljay. Though unmarried, they have a daughter Ronnee, and when Eljay claims her as his own, Miriam makes the difficult decision to move away. A friend's child's high school graduation ceremony prompts her to reach out to Ronnee at the same time her daughter has begun attempts to find her. Their reunion ripples in the lives of the family and friends around them. This is Rosellen's first novel since Before and After.

The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison (Random House, 2000).

In previous works, the author has explored drug addiction, incest, the Spanish Inquisition, and divorce. Her latest deals with the astonishing practice of foot binding in 19th century China, but the novel weaves in and out of the lives of several generations of women and takes us from rural China to Shanghai to England and back.

Pam says she will never forget the excruciating scene where the young girl May has her feet bound by her grandmother, her mother not having the stomach to do it. Another memorable scene occurs when the hobbled May is arrested in a London department store for being carried on a walnut desk chair strapped on top of a ladder by her two Chinese servants, her traditional sedan chair left behind in Shanghai. Be prepared for a strange ride and a good read.

The Runner by Christopher Reich (Delacorte, 2000).

The runner is Erich Seyss, called the White Lion, Hitler's champion sprinter who was defeated by Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. His mission is to run one last figurative race for the fatherland. If he is successful, Germany could rise from the ashes of its defeat and become at once an equal partner of the world's great powers.

His hunter is Devlin Judge. It is 1945, and Judge is a lawyer for the International Military Tribunal that is trying Nazi war criminals. Seyss had killed his captured brother Frances, a priest, in cold blood during the war, and when Seyss escapes from prison, Judge drops everything to track him down. In the process, he stumbles into a vast conspiracy, and the hunter becomes the hunted. At the heart of this terrific thriller is the moral predicament of whether to obey one's conscience or one's superiors. You will find no cardboard characters here, and the pace is relentless.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.