February 2009


Route 66
Photo by Swiv used under a Creative Commons license.

Dan Morgan, Rising in the West (Knopf, 1992).
Subtitled “The True History of an ‘Okie’ Family from the Great Depression Through the Reagan Years,” this is a history of the family of Oca Tatham and his family, who fled Oklahoma in August, 1934, in search of a better future in California.   The Tathams are Pentecostal Christians, a faith that ties together the Oklahoma of the 193os and the California of the Reagan Revolution.

Morgan was a reporter for the Washington Post for four decades or so. Here’s a page at washingtonpost.com that will link to recent work there by Morgan; it also has a brief bio. Here’s another short bio. R. Stephen Warner (Christian Century) says it’s rich in social and religious history. This piece by William M. Hagen for the Oklahoma Historical Society recommends the book. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz doesn’t like Morgan’s style, but appreciates his departure from some of the myths about Okies. Tom Snyder recommends it to travelers on Route 66. The book introduced Jane M. Smith to homeschooling.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

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Bridge in Kars
Photo of Kars by S@mbo used under a Creative Commons license.

Orhan Pamuk, Snow (Knopf, 2004).
Ka, a poet living as an emigre in Frankfurt, returns to Istanbul for his mother’s funeral, and decides to take a side trip to the provincial town of Kars, in far northeastern Turkey, in the hopes of wooing a beautiful former classmate, Ipek.  After he arrives, a snowstorm isolates the town, stranding Ka in a hothouse of intrigues for the next four days.  Perhaps Kars is a miniature of Turkey; in any event, the snowstorm ushers in a new phase of an ongoing cultural and political struggle between the military and Islamists, in which Ka becomes embroiled, and this only scratches the surface of the conflict.

Wikipedia’s page on Pamuk is extensive. Here is his autobiography at the Nobel Prize’s site (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006). Here is an unofficial Pamuk site. Google BookSearch has a preview and other stuff. NPR has an excerpt. Nicholas Wroe profiled Pamuk for The Guardian. Mark Feeney interviewed him for The Boston Globe. The Complete Review says the elements of the book are creative and clever, but Pamuk cannot quite sustain it. They also post a wealth of links. John Updike (The New Yorker) says it abounds with modernist tracer genes. Spengler (Asia Times) says Pamuk portrays a Turkey whose center cannot hold because it has rotted away. Laurence Wieder (Christianity Today) says Pamuk portrays the tragic and comic as the same thing. Cornucopia’s review is by the translator, Maureen Freely. James Buchan (The Guardian) sees a debt to Dostoevsky. Kara Kellar Bell says it reveals the conflict between the Western and Islamic worlds. Richard Eder (The New York Times) sees Pamuk’s vision of a Turkey unable to know itself. Margaret Atwood (The New York Times) calls it an engrossing feat of tale-spinning and essential reading for our time. Sarah Emily Miano (Observer) says Pamuk gives voice to everyone involved. Laurel Maury (San Francisco Chronicle) says Pamuk pricks every conscience possible. John Freeman (Village Voice) says it is both a political novel and a work of art. Ruth Franklin (Washington Post) says Pamuk has a gift for the evocative image. Danny Yee says Pamuk perhaps tries to do too much. Dorothy W. says bridging cultures is a complicated process. Amitava Kumar appreciates Pamuk’s deep empathy for all antagonists. Yahya Birt says it’s elevated by pitiless observation. Id It Is was drawn in by the Anatolian setting. Alane Salierno Mason (Words Without Borders) sees a brain-teaser about authenticity. Jai Arjun Singh calls it Kafkaesque. Steph got bored halfway through. Laila Lalami did not find it satisfying. Jessica Schneider was left cold. Kevin Hartnett says Pamuk’s final concern is happiness. Grace Andreacchi says it’s the kind of book you bury yourself in. Maldoror finds many themes to choose from. Christine Fischer Guy and Adam Sol discussed Snow at Bookninja. Amardeep Singh writes about torture and art in the book at The Valve. Dan Green thinks Pamuk’s works fall short. Listen to Steve Inskeep’s interview with Pamuk on NPR, or Diane Rehm’s long interview on WAMU, or Dick Gordon’s show on WBUR. Or listen to a dramatic version of Snow on BBC.

Buy it at Amazon.com.