Book Review

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero

Publisher: One World
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Sometimes, the only way to find yourself is to go back to your roots. In Crux, Jean Guerrero travels back four generations to understand her father, Marco Antonio, who has been absent most of her adolescence. She starts with her mother, Jeannette, and paternal grandmother, Abuelita Carolina, and proceeds to climb further up the family tree.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Marco sees sinister shadows that pursue him around the world when he tries to escape them by leaving his family behind.

Jean is shaped both by her mother’s unwavering dependability and her father’s desertion. She searches for answers in Mexico, her father’s birthplace, a country that holds as much enigma for her as an adult as it terrified her as a child.

Through a series of life-changing experiences, she finds herself at the edge of an age-old chasm and preparing for the crossing: the crossing across country borders, the crossing into lunacy, the crossing between life and death—amalgamated into one flickering fence.

Thoughts

Stretching as far back as the Spanish invasion of Mexico, it is a memoir that reads like a novel owing to the poetic symmetry of the events and characters. Guerrero captures quite a few of her unique experiences in this book along with an element of mysticism—presented with a commendably unbiased view.

Crux is clearly a product of meticulous research and a highly perceptive mind. It uses interviews and historic documents among others as its sources. The compilation of these into a coherent narrative could not have been easy, as first-hand accounts of the family’s lives in or before the early twentieth century were hard to come by. It is a fascinating read and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in human psychology and/or ancient philosophy.


Thanks to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Literary Event—First Draft Book Club: “Nothing to See Here” by Kevin Wilson

What’s better than a bookstore? One with a bar where you can relax with a beer and read, of course.

This Wednesday, join the First Draft Book Club at Changing Hands Phoenix, as they discuss Kevin Wilson’s newest novel, Nothing to See Here.

In this heartwarming comedy, Madison asks her old roommate, Lillian, to help take care of her twin stepchildren—who burst into flames when excited.

Hosted by Barbara VanDenburgh, reporter for Arizona Republic, this book club is a great way to get a fresh perspective on your favorite reads.

For more information, click here.

Location:  First Draft Book Bar inside Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix

Date: Wednesday, December 18

Time:  7 p.m.

Price of the book: $21.59

5 Books that Marked Changing Times

History is a rolling saga of love and war, and we are irrevocably changed by both. Generations of great writers have documented the change of times and the novelties they brought with them, and so I’ve decided to give you a few books that have truly marked the end of an era.


Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind fondly remembers the last golden days of the South antebellum, before the Civil War wrenched families apart and changed the landscape of American society.

Scarlett O’Hara, a blooming southern belle, and Rhett Butler, an outrageous pragmatist, fall in and out of love in this classic as they struggle with the pain of losing loved ones, drastically altered social positions and wartime hardships.


Mother is the most popular work of Maxim Gorky. Based on real-life events that Gorky was personally connected to, this novel is about the spiritual awakening of a young factory worker and his careworn mother in Tsarist Russia.

Pavel Vlasov starts out by taking after his hard-drinking father, but soon meets a group of revolutionaries and begins to get an education in politics and philosophy. He stops drinking and undergoes a quiet transformation into a sharp, receptive young man.

This incites curiosity in Pelageya Nilovna, Pavel’s mother. After a lifetime of abuse and poverty, she overcomes her illiteracy and political ignorance to become a revolutionary. It is because of this display of willpower and strength of character, Nilovna Vlasova, not Pavel, is considered by many to be the true protagonist of the novel.


In one of the greatest love stories to emerge from World War I, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is set against the background of the Italian front, where Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver, falls in love with Catherine Barkley, a British nurse’s aide.

The stark reality of war brings real affection out of the playful simulation of love that the two initially engage in.

Frederic and Catherine are symbolic of the countless men and women who were kept apart by social and geographical boundaries in those uncertain times. This classic is about the illusion of glory in war and the courage to bid it farewell.


One cannot think of World War I without remembering the concurrent movement of the suffragettes, which spanned decades before and after the war.

My Own Story is the autobiography of Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Ghostwritten by Rheta Childe Dorr, it is a detailed memoir of Pankhurst’s work as an activist and the long road to electoral equality between British men and women.


The Diary of a Young Girl is a compilation of the diary entries of a pre-adolescent Jewish girl in Germany, forced into hiding with her family by the onset of the Holocaust.

Anne Frank kept a thorough record of the two years she spent in the Secret Annex, the mortification of growing up among near-strangers with various quirks, the lack of privacy and, of course, the uncertainty of life itself.

This piece of literature is remarkable for its unaffected style of prose and the sheer truthfulness and poignancy of the emotions portrayed on the pages. Anne Frank is a literary icon, immortalized through her work as an unwitting historian.


Literary Event: Hank Early signs “Echoes of the Fall”

Do you nurse a weakness for gripping mystery novels? In the latest of The Earl Marcus Mysteries, follow the titular protagonist of the series down a long, tortuous road of unraveling a mystery revolving around a gruesome murder and a cryptic message.

Join the author, Hank Early, for a signing of Echoes of the Fall at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore this Sunday. For more information, click here.


Location:  The Poisoned Pen, 4014 N. Goldwater Boulevard, Scottsdale

Date: Sunday, November 17

Time:  2–3 p.m.

Price of the book: $26.99

Book Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Publisher: Penguin Classics
Genre: Gothic Drama
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Are we all running from our reflections? Must there always be a great price for being extraordinary? Oscar Wilde paints a painfully clear picture of human nature, its propensity towards sin, and its struggle with conscience in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

A young man in late nineteenth-century London endowed with remarkable beauty sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for eternal youth. In a fit of narcissistic despair, he prays that he may forever remain as beautiful as he has ever been. His portrait—painted by a friend who is infatuated with Gray—bears the marks of his moral deterioration while he stays handsome and appears to be not a day over 21.

Quite the scandal in 1890, The Picture of Dorian Gray tiptoes around themes of homosexuality and substance abuse, the former being considered an unspeakable sin during that time, even worse than the latter. It was revised and republished in 1891 with a few edges softened to better suit the audience of the time.

Thoughts

It is interesting what Wilde classifies as sin in this Gothic novel. Perhaps in an unconscious effort to concur with the ideals of nineteenth century English society (in spite of his rebellious nature and general disagreement with said ideals), Wilde’s protagonist primes himself for sin by indulging himself in sensual art and music, which are invariably pagan or Eastern. Did Wilde really believe the East and “the Orient” to be godless, or was he merely tired of rebelling and, for once, wanted English society to nod along with him?

Either way, our protagonist (also the antagonist) doesn’t disappoint. Dorian Gray warms up with regular debauchery and, over a course of twenty years, spirals into actual crime. His portrait grows horrific while his person remains aesthetically angelic.

A fascinating read for the most part of it, it is a dramatic novel with only a dash of fantasy but an era-appropriate amount of misogyny. The plot unfurls steadily and tapers towards a gripping climax. The reader is caught among the many facets of the marvelous Dorian Gray, even as they converge and bring him to face the reflection of his soul.