Best Summer Books of 2019
By Teri Hyrkas
Not long ago I received a request for book recommendations. As the list of books came together, I thought there might an interest among PreachTheStory readers for a book list, as well. So, here is a collection of five books that I enjoyed reading this summer. I hope one or two will appeal to you, also.
1. If you love Greek mythology, Circe (2018, Bloomsbury) by award winning author, Madeline Miller, is incredible. The story of the trouble-maker demi-god, Circe, is told from her own vantage point which gives the well known myth a clever and sophisticated twist. Circe was great to read on the page, but the audiobook rendition was narrated with such flair by Perdita Weeks that the story rose to an even greater level of enjoyment in the audio format. If you want to read my full review of Circe, here is the link: https://preachthestory.com/?s=Circe
2. For an intriguing, somewhat magical mystery that is actually a historical novel in disguise, I would like to suggest Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald ( 2019, Random House). The story is set in New York at the subway hub of Grand Central “Station” — which is actually the train terminal — as I learned in the book. Time After Time is not only a book about those who travel and work on the subway, but it is a time-travel story as well. The central action of Time After Time revolves around Manhattanhenge – a phenomenon so named because of its likeness to the event at Stonehenge in England. As at Stonehenge, where the first rays of the summer sun fall on the heart of the monument, at Manhattanhenge, the first rays of the summer solstice shine directly through the great high arched windows of the Main Concourse of the train Terminal (true!). As to the plot line of the story, after a train accident at the Terminal, a love relationship develops between a mysterious passenger involved in the train catastrophe and a man who is employed at the Terminal. The manner in which all these events and people come together is skillfully, thoughtfully, and intricately woven together by Grunwald. The author has also provided a surprise ending that leaves no doubt that Lisa Grunwald is a master of her craft.
3. We Were the Lucky Ones: A Novel (2017, Penguin Books) by Georgia Hunter.
A World War II story of a Jewish family of Holocaust survivors from Poland, We Were the Lucky Ones is a historical fiction novel written by Georgia Hunter, a granddaughter of one of the survivors, Addie (Adolf) Kurc. After years of hearing bits and pieces of the family story – a cousin who was born in a Siberian gulag, the skillful manufacturing of false identification papers, a desperate mother-daughter escape from a Polish ghetto – Georgia Hunter said that she “couldn’t ignore it anymore and [got] up the courage to write it all down.”
In an interview on October 30, 2018, with host Anne Bogel of the podcast What Should I Read Next?- Episode 157, Hunter explained that she began doing research and kept a journal for the book starting in 2008. After nine years, several continents, dozens of interviews and hours of fact checking, Hunter was ready to write We Were the Lucky Ones.
Because all of the Kurc-family siblings who had survived the Holocaust had died prior to her research efforts, the author was able to speak directly with only one survivor, her great aunt, Felicia, the daughter of Mila (Kurc) and her husband, Selim. Ms. Hunter said that her great aunt, who now lives in Paris, had very clear memories of the Holocaust years and could describe in great detail the terror of hiding and fleeing for her life during the war. The other survival stories of the five siblings were passed down through the family. Many of their stories are horrifying, and yet, said Hunter in the WSIRN interview, “The entire length of World War II, the family…[had] courage, hope, perseverance and love. There are lots of World War II books to choose from,” said Hunter, “This one has hope at its core.”
If you would like to learn more about the author or the book, We Were the Lucky Ones, there is a website at https://georgiahunterauthor.com/
4. Inheritance (2019, Penguin-Random House) by Dani Shapiro.
Although I found Ms. Shapiro’s approach to her narrative to be very self-absorbed and therefore a little off-putting, the greater part of the story is gripping, extraordinary, and certainly worth reading. This book is part real-life mystery and part emotional roller coaster. A stunning discovery which Ms. Shapiro makes while conducting family research could have been the shocking finale of her story. Instead, because of Shapiro’s persistence and courage, the relationship-rocking discovery becomes the first level of an ever widening family entanglement that keeps the reader involved in the story until the end of the book.
Inheritance, which is a memoir, revolves around the highly intimate, emotional subject of infertility, the medical/ethical questions that surround infertility and the complicated situations that arise when family members are not honest with each other about the condition. It is very difficult to describe the unsettling story of Inheritance without including spoilers, so I will conclude my comments with this statement: Upon reading Inheritance, you may develop a greater sensitivity to the complexity of family relationships as well as be amazed at the overarching power of love.
5. The Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms (2019, Knopf Doubleday) by Naoko Abe. This thorough and excellently researched book tells how the most well-known and revered species of cherry tree in Japan, the Prunus serrulata, or sakura, nearly became extinct there. Improbably, it was an English, Victorian-era horticulturist, the wealthy Collingwood Ingram, who realized the cherry tree’s dire situation and out of love for the cherry blossom and respect for the Japanese people, began the long process of restoring the tree to Japan. How the tree almost became the victim of the Japanese commitment to modernize the country after WWII is a troubling narrative about the extensive negative effects of war on a nation.
This jigsaw puzzle of a story was discovered, investigated, compiled and written by Japanese journalist, Naoko Abe. Ms. Abe’s work was published in 2016 in Japan, where it won the Nihon Essayist Club Award. As interest in the story of the Sakura Obsession grew, Abe revised and translated the book for English readership — a time-consuming and arduous project. The English translation of Sakura Obsession, published by Knopf Doubleday, was released in 2019. The book is 400 pages long and, understandably, includes many references to plants, particularly the numerous varieties of cherry trees. But the tale of sakura is much more captivating and far-reaching in scope than one expects. An impressive and absorbing story, you won’t regret reading The Sakura Obsession.