The first Saturday of the month seems to come around very quickly! We are usually given a starting book by Kate, who hosts the Six Degrees of Separation meme on her blog Books Are My Favourite and Best. But this time, she instructed us to start from the last book on last month’s chain, which for me, was Marie Munkara’s Every Secret Thing.
So, thinking of ‘secrets’, there’s Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture, set in Ireland, where during the process of deinstitutionalization, a woman is discovered who has been incarcerated in an asylum for 60 years. The book explores how, and by whom, she came to be placed in the asylum- but I didn’t like the ending at all (and after 12 years, I have no memory at all of what the ending even was!)
But I do remember the ending of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, which is a book about secrets too. Roth’s books are often swaggering, male and very American, and this is no exception, telling the story of Coleman Silk, a successful, white Jewish professor who is accused of using a racist term in his classes. Narrated by Nathan Zuckerberg, who appears in several of Roth’s novels, it’s infuriatingly conservative but also incisive about sex, race, and Americanism.
Speaking of stains, there’s some really gruesome stains in Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner, the biography of Sandra Pankhurst, who runs an agency that does cleanups after a crime scene, a death or where hoarding has become perilous. Sandra Pankhurst, born Peter, has her own story of abuse and emotional deprivation before her gender reassignment surgery. It’s a fantastic book.
David Ebershoff’s The Danish Girl explores the marriage of two artists, Einar Wegerer and his American wife Greta Waud in the 1920s and 30s. It was at Greta’s suggestion that Einar first cross-dressed within their marriage, and his increasing excursions as ‘Lily Elba’ culminated in the world’s first sex-change surgery.
Also set in Denmark is Johanna Adorjan’s An Exclusive Love, the story of the author’s Jewish grandparents who had emigrated from Hungary to Denmark after their terrible experiences during WWII. We learn in the opening sentences that they decided to commit suicide together in 1991, and in this book their granddaughter reconstructs the lives that they rarely spoke about later.
Thinking of grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and great-aunts brings to mind The Eighth Life (For Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili. This was one of the big fat books I read during COVID lockdown and it was wonderful: a family saga, set in Georgia (near Russia, not in America) during the 20th century with various branches of the family tree sprouting off in all directions, but with such well-defined characters that you didn’t need a genealogical chart.
So look at that- all fiction this month!- and set in Australia, Ireland, America, Denmark and Georgia. Who said we couldn’t travel during these coronavirus days?