Author du Jour: Fabrice Jaumont

Book-Cover-ENGLISH-smallThe Bilingual Revolution,” by Fabrice Jaumont

(TBR Books, pp 210, $19.99)

This book is about education and the teaching of foreign language in the American school system . . . And this book is about community and the use of other languages within a specific social framework . . . This book is also about cultures, ancestries, foreign roots, identities, and above all how they manifest through other languages. You could leave a blank space and fill it with your own input, and chances is that it would be coherent. Because, at heart, this book is a love-letter to the preservation of linguistic diversity.

Its arrival could not be more timely. A disruptive force in this age of nativist revivalism, where pluralistic criteria are perceived as threats to uniformity and stability of a nation. Jaumont, a specialist in these linguistic issues, has crafted a remarkable history of bilingual and dual education, which runs counter to this ideology.  This is what he calls the bilingual revolution. He seeks to debunk the monolingual myth.

But the book’s true revolutionary spirit, which he clearly captures, reveals that like all revolutions, this one started as grassroots movements, scattered around the nation, with little connections with each other. Far from being led by radical and heated spirits, these groups were led by mothers and fathers, with no legal and educational expertise, but with simply the eagerness to transmit their native tongue to their children. The revolution is that over the last 5-7 years, these groups have mushroomed all over big cities and are transforming education in a global way. Jaumont shows how these groups succeeded in establishing dual language programs in their community. He covers a wide range of languages: Chinese, Russian, French, Japanese, Polish, and so on, to show how these parents did it. The real nugget of this book lies precisely on this latest remark. For anyone wishing to give their children a bilingual education, this book is a must-read. It is above all a roadmap to navigate your way through the educational school mazes and their treacherous administrative hurdles. His message is loud and clear, whether you speak Chinese or Serbian, you too can implement new programs, and he has the merit to tell you how to do it. Merci mille fois!

Author du Jour: Kathleen Hill

She-Read-to-Us-cover-smallShe Read to Us in the Late Afternoons: A Life in Novels,” by Kathleen Hill

(Delphinium Books, pp 224, $24.00)

Here is a book that could easily be missed out. So delicate in tone and style that it reads like a minuet. It is precisely the finely chiseled and graceful sentences that make this sonorous book all the more moving. Its topic, on the other hand, reads more like a symphony. A multi-layered memoir, which deals with the life of books and their influence on our lives, but without ever becoming cacophonous. Its impact, however, could not be louder, so much the ideas tackled are gigantic. You would have to be tone-deaf to miss the point Hill is driving home.

She Read to Us in the Late Afternoons” is about the rendition of a courageous young American idealist taking a teaching job in Nigeria in 1963, and who thinks she is going to remake the world. If her memoir could be a grain of sand, each chapter describes a unique universe of self-questioning, which echoes with so much truism that you will catch yourself nodding as her journey progresses, with universal truth. Big frictions are raised. The validity of a western education, which displace traditional values and cultures, in the name of economic development. It is not just the horror of the ivory trade, as in “Heart of Darkness,” or the indoctrination of charmed African workers laboring merrily in coffee plantations as in “Out of Africa,” but also the disruptive voice of “When Things Fall Apart” which departs from the accepted discourse of obvious legacy of the white man’s burden.  And Hill does not fall in the trap of explaining all the whys.

What makes this memoir so captivating is that the journey is undertaken through fiction novels. Hill excels at navigating through the labyrinth of her trajectory back to the source of the long river of colonialism, starting back at Badagry. What is it like to read “Portrait of a Lady” thousand miles away from home, in the darkest jungle? Can books really teach us anything if they taint our reality with fiction from other worlds? Of course, there is a chapter on “Madame Bovary,” who epitomizes de facto the issue of self-deception. Chances are we have all been infected with Bovarism somewhere in our life. Though a work of non-fiction, “She Read to Us in the Late Afternoons” come in a world increasingly globalized to make us ponder over our decisions and lives. Is anyone immune at all? Are you living your life or the one expected from you? “She Read to Us in the Late Afternoons” will keep you pondering.

Author du Jour: Teresa Messineo

Fire-By-Night-small-HCThe Fire by Night,” by Teresa Messineo

(William Morrow, pp 302, $ 26.99)

Though all wars results in the same atrocious outcome, they are hardly similar in their origins. They often start with an incident, a provocation, appearing to be insignificant, but releasing long-repressed emotions, a process which makes take years to burn out. We celebrate May 8th, officially marking the end of WWII, and though the conflict has been over for more than 70 years, it still continues to consume us on the intellectual and spiritual levels. We still try to comprehend how the magnitude of atrocities was made possible. We remember the main perpetrators, their names synonymous with locations, whereas all the forgotten heroes and sacrificed populations are collectively remember as the casualties. Even in memory wars and history are unjust.

Upon reading “The Fire by Night,” Messineo’s remarkable and powerful debut novel, I could not help thinking about “Hidden Figures,” and how tenacious women made NASA’s spatial odyssey possible, and also “The English Patient” for the resilient tenderness the nurse displays towards her wounded soldiers, no matter the external circumstances. In “The Fire by Night,” we met a pair of unsung heroes, two nurses working on the front lines, one in Europe, Jo, and one in the South Pacific, Kay. Jo struggles to survive in a makeshift medical camp as German troops advance. Kay is kept captive in Manila at the hands of sadistic Japanese soldiers. Both women where friends in Nursing school and only when they come home do they realize that they now must fight a different kind of enemy, not only their own disillusion, trauma and losses, but also a world forever changed. A world they struggle to adjust to. One of the paradoxes of wars is that one can find endless resilience to fight a well-defined enemy. Life in freedom however may not be as extreme in terms of survival, keeping the enemy thinly veiled. Communities and friendships are paramount to heal wounds. The nurses rely on each other to survive. My reference to films was not random. The world of nurses in wars, their sacrifices and resilience in the face of the utmost atrocities, tending to others while striving for their own survival, have been broadly neglected. The novel deserves to find its way to the big screen. Like Messineo wrote for it.

Author du Jour: Deborah Crombie

GardenOfLamentations-small-HCGarden of Lamentations,” by Deborah Crombie

(William Morrow, pp 400, $15.99)

A new shipment from Texas transplant, Deborah Crombie, to the UK brings another powerful thriller featuring the Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. The most interesting aspect of Crombie’s novels, and this one (her 17th) does not fail to hit the high mark, lies in their characterizations. No two thriller-writers write alike, but two schools stand out. One that accentuates plots and actions, while the other emphasizes characterization and, indirectly, intimacy. We travel through life with the protagonists, outside of the investigation. We meet their families and evolve within their domestic spheres, their marriage, children and personal problems. It goes without say that this latter category makes for a different kind of reading and novel experience. Crombie is neither one nor the other, but a perfect balance between the two that few can achieve without falling into the traps of tediousness and formulas.

Garden of Lamentations,” takes us from the get-go on a double-spiral ride. The Kincaid-James team works separately. First Gemma is involved in the investigation of the murder of a young woman, whose body is discovered in one of Notting Hill’s private gardens. Suspicion does not lag; for this macabre discovery is located in one of London’s most select neighborhoods. When another victim meets the same dark forces, Gemma knows that there is something more at play. Meanwhile, Kincaid, who fears for his life, has moved away from Gemma James, to investigate a case involving members of the forces. Distrust reigns in the ranks, especially after an officer is violently assaulted. As a reader, you anticipate when these two stories are going to cross path. I will not tell you how but partially points you in the direction. While Gemma foresees a potential solution to her crimes, she becomes aware that a child’s life rests in her hands . . . and this makes for a psycho-haunting uninterrupted read, with Kincaid to the rescue.

Author du Jour: Elliot Ackerman

DarkatCrossing-smallDark At the Crossing,” by Elliot Ackerman

(Alfred A. Knopf, pp 256, $ 25.95)

Here is an author whose fiction cannot be separated from his life, or, if you indulge me, whose novels are based on his life. Once a marine, with an impressive five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ackerman is now a journalist based in Istanbul, from where he has been covering the Syrian Civil War since 2013. “Dark at the CrossingAckerman’s sophomore novel, after his much-heralded debut novel, “Green on Blue,” like its predecessor, deals with characters trapped in the middle of a brutal conflict. The conflict here is not just the obvious Syrian debacle, but also the one of a failed marriage. Ackerman comments on the genesis of the novel as an insight he had while meeting a revolutionary friend turned refugee. The man was having a conversation with his wife on the phone, and after he put the phone down he stated: “I was unfaithful and she’s never forgiven me.”

The unfaithfulness here is the revolution, the belief, the inspiration, and hopes it breeds while commanding enormous sacrifices. For Ackerman a revolution is a like a marriage: two souls come together and unite to form a new ideal. When a marriage fails, parties have to reenter or recreate a new reality, often with extreme suffering. This insight lies at the core of “Dark at the Crossing.” It is a novel of fragmentation and dissolution, where sacrifices can only meet grief, insanity for the fight of lost causes. Add the loss of a child to the mix and you get a gut-squirming novel, written with the spare prose of an unforgiving Hemingway. There’s darkness all around, and perhaps a different kind of redemption. But don’t expect Hollywood, with its compulsory tendency to romanticize all situations, where a couple would develop the ultimate love, to rescue you. Wars, no matter how we look at them, are no favorable breeding grounds for love. Life, however, still pulses below, and this is where you will find the best of humanity, that the novel succeeds in capturing.