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There’s no understating the dangers of life in Africa: malaria, spitting cobras, poisonous spiders, intestinal parasites and worms, landmines, terrorists, corrupt government officials, and its many wars. In Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood Alexandra Fuller - nicknamed Bobo - chronicles her childhood in Rhodesia during the tulmultuous Rhodesian Civil War, which culminated in the end of white rule. It was not an easy, carefree childhood. Three of Bobo’s siblings died in infancy or early childhood, and Bobo herself had a few close scrapes with death. She learned at an early age to load guns and not to startle her parents during the night for fear that they may accidentally shoot her.
Bobo’s parents are the most profound characters in this memoir, especially her mother. Mum could drink all night, sitting “yoga-cross-legged,” and still be awake in the morning to greet the dawn with “stupefied wonder.” She can round up cattle all day like the toughest ranch hand, and yet she can also minister to the farm workers’ ailments with mercy. She could spend the day quietly reading books with Bobo on the bed and listening to radio programs, and the night singing at the “club” with a bottle in her hand. With the death of each child Mum goes into a steeper downward spiral.
"Beneath heaven is hell. Beneath hell is furnace." That is the description by 14-year-old Alex of Furnace, a prison one mile below the surface of the earth. When you are sentenced to Furnace you are sentenced for life. This gripping tale is Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith. In this story we meet Alex, who is arrested after he and a friend are caught during a burglary. However, the police are not your typical law-enforcement officers, as they are clothed all in black. Without any of the requisite procedures, during the arrest they shoot Alex's friend dead in front of him. Alex is taken to court and found guilty of murder. Despite his and his parents' pleas for an appeal he is sentenced to life in prison with no parole. Not just any prison but Furnace, where there are no visitors and no chance of ever getting out.
Alex arrives to find a tough world where survival is a daily concern. He quickly learns that friendships are not part of the Furnace world, and it is every man for himself. Gangs abound, the food is disgusting, and guard dogs tear the inmates apart. Alex quickly learns from his street-smart roommate to keep a low profile and not to draw attention to himself. This is especially the case when, during the night, evil guards manuever through the prison and randomly select the next victim. The victims are taken away and return as killing machines. Alex decides he wants out. So he and his roommate devise a clever escape plan. But it is very risky.
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If you liked "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, you might enjoy these other titles that also offer lots of plot twists and turns and a sprinkling of history:
Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
This book is set in the Sri Lankan Civil War of the 1980s and 1990s. Anil Tissera is a native Sri Lankan who left her home at 18 and returned 15 years later as a forensic anthropologist working with an international human rights fact-finding mission. Although she had done similar work digging up victims of the killing squads in the Guatemalan Civil War, Anil finds that the work is quite different when it is in her own country.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Set in 1935 England at the dysfunctional country estate of the Tallis family, it is the story of love, loss, and lies. Thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis lets her formidable imagination and creative talent wander in the wrong direction and must later live with her guilt and attempt to atone for her sins. Plenty of World War II history. Also excellent on audio book.
Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly, written by Carolyn Parkhust and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, is a culinary blast of imagination as two siblings present a cooking show. Henry is your host, and two-year-old Eleanor (Elliebelly is definitely a snappier stage name) helps out…sort of. They’ve got spatulas, they’ve got a theme song, and they know what they are cooking today. Henry instructs his viewers with a cool professional expertise that you just don’t always see on the Food Network: “There are two ways you can make barbecued banana bacon: you can start with bacon and add bananas, or you can start with bananas and add bacon. It’s really up to you.”
If you enjoy character-driven novels, you will like Ruth Rendell’s Portobello. Fifty-year-old bachelor Eugene Wren finds an envelope with a large amount of cash in it in London’s Notting Hill area. Instead of keeping it or turning it over to the police, he decides to find the owner himself. This decision puts Wren and his long-time girl friend, Ella Cotswold, on a collision course with a cast of characters each with their own problems and obsessions.
“This I Believe offers a simple, if difficult invitation: write a few hundred words expressing the core principles that guide your life - your personal credo. We issue that invitation to politicians, nurses, artists, construction workers, athletes, parents, students, the famous, and the unknown, everyone. All the essayists in this book accepted invitations.” –Jay Allison
From 1951-1955, The CBS Radio Network aired This I Believe, a five-minute program in which people from all walks of life, the famous and not-so-famous, read their responses to the question “What do you believe?”. From 2005-2009, NPR revived the idea with a similar broadcast, and subsequently published two volumes of "This I Believe" essays. In August of this year, my professor for English 307: The Writing Process gave us an assignment to write a This I Believe essay. We were given copies of the book’s Appendix B: “How to write your own This I Believe essay” and sample essays to read and give us an idea of the format, tone and length. It was a mind-opening assignment, let me tell you.