Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

The bells in the historic stave church in the village of Butangen, Norway, have legendary powers: They ring when danger lies ahead. What will happen when the church, as part of a preservation project, is dismantled and moved to Dresden, Germany? The descriptions of rural Norway in the nineteenth century, as well as the stave church, are spellbinding. Less riveting is the narrative around the humans: the dashing pastor Kai Schweigaard, Gerhard Schönauer, the German architect tasked with the disassembly of the church and Astrid Hekne, the strong-minded young woman from the village. Enchanting Norwegian folklore makes this a winner.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

This is One Way to Dance by Sejal Shah


Sejal Shah’s various identities — as a woman of color, a feminist, a teacher, a daughter — swirl together in this touching collection of essays, where she is unafraid to be deeply vulnerable and authentic. My favorite captures Shah’s visit to the Burning Man festival. Newly unemployed and rudderless, Shah aims for a personal catharsis of a sort in the middle of the desert. “All my life, I have been biking with brakes on. I wanted to just go,” she says of the experience. It deeply illuminates how the weight of every carefully calibrated decision can sometimes smother a spirit.

The Lowering Days by Gregory Brown


The raven is considered a symbol of death -- and of healing. Early on in The Lowering Days, you know David Almerin Ames’s life has been cleaved apart by tragedy. As he narrates the story of his childhood, growing up along the Penobscot in Maine, he touches on the threads that link his family with the neighbors, the Creels. Deep-rooted resentments tinge their complicated history. The natural beauty of Maine is a vital presence, highlighted by the Penobscot native who’s had enough of the paper mill that has decimated the land. The novel also emerges as a measured look at masculinity.