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yourotherleft has commented on (2) products.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Snow Falling on Cedars

yourotherleft, January 17, 2009

Snow Falling on Cedars, set on a scenic island off Washington state known for its fishing and its strawberries, begins and ends with the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto who is charged with the murder of fellow islander and fisherman Carl Heine. As the testimony in the trial proceeds, we meet and become intimately acquainted with many members of the community of islanders which is divided between its white citizens and its significant population of Japanese-Americans. Taking place just after World War II, the novel deals with lingering prejudices from wartime when the island's Japanese Americans were "resettled" in California for the duration of the fighting and when even those white islanders who might have once been favorably disposed to their Japanese counterparts struggle to reconcile their post-war relationships with their Japanese neighbors after fighting the Japanese during the war.

Guterson takes on so much with this novel and does it beautifully. Starting at the center with the trial, Guterson works out throught the entire community exploring a forbidden affair, intense prejudice, war wounds of both the physical and emotional sort, hopes, dreams, struggles, and finally healing for a community that is coming to terms with itself. Guterson's narrative flows seamlessly between past and present between trial testimony and deeply personal memories. His prose is vivid and makes it totally possible to see, smell, and even taste the unique surroundings of San Piedro Island. The greatness of this book lies in the community that Guterson creates and his immense talent for perfectly capturing moments we might have some sense of but could never describe so deliciously.
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Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur
Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur

yourotherleft, November 3, 2008

When Halima Bashir leaves her small, isolated Zaghawa village for school in a neighboring larger town, it doesn't take her long to figure out what she wants to do with her education. Bashir dreams of being a medical doctor who can return to her village and help her people. Despite growing tensions and racial discrimination between the majority black Africans and minority Arabs of Sudan, Bashir's intelligence and hard work combined with her father's love and support enable her to follow her dream to university in Khartoum. After attaining her degree, she returns to her village and to the town where she originally attended school where she serves as a trainee doctor, but life as she knew it is already changing.

Rumors are afoot of deadly groups of Arabs fighting a "Holy War" against black African "infidels," and as Halima helps to treat everyone regardless of color or creed who arrives at the accident and emergency ward of the hospital, the growing danger and atrocity become all too apparent. When she dares to speak out to a newspaper reporter about the things that she sees even in the most vague terms, beating and interrogation soon follow. But it is not until she is assigned to head a clinic in another remote village that the truly dire circumstances of the violence the Arabs are unleashing in Darfur really begin to reveal themselves.

I can't say enough about Tears of the Desert. After the first chapter, I was entirely taken in, basking in Bashir's rich early memories of her family, her village, and her childhood. Each of her relatives and friends is so well described and her love for them so obvious that it almost feels like knowing them personally. Bashir's tales of growing up paint her as an outspoken smart and strong girl who won't accept anything less than her due who reaches adulthood as a smart, strong, and stunningly courageous woman determined to help her people and her homeland despite great personal risk.

One could hardly expect a book about such a difficult topic to be so compulsively readable, but this one is. Make no mistake, parts of this book are gut-wrenchingly difficult to read, but Bashir's honesty and unflinching attention to detail is entirely necessary. Bashir's is a powerful and an important tale and is fully equipped to be a significant part of showing people what is going on in Sudan and motivating people around the world to do their part to stop it.
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