Book of the Day Roundup
A Season of Cooking and Cancer
Achingly sad and incredibly beautiful, Karen Babine’s All the Wild Hungers is a welcoming invitation to dinner, family, and laughter, evoking a warm, full kitchen and good company.
The essays follow Babine through the discovery and subsequent treatment of her mother’s unique cancer, showing how spending time in the kitchen became a way for Babine to show her love. Cooking is a form of meditation, and sometimes a distraction, as Babine powers through this new obstacle.
The book is replete with style. The chemistry of cooking and the science of cancer are examined in comforting comparisons. Brief chapters read like poetry, with symbolism and metaphors peppered throughout.
As Babine cooks, she ties everything together. Family history is explained through cultural and hereditary influences, and it bleeds into each recipe, ingredient, and technique. Seasonality effects ingredients and recipes, holiday cooking and family gatherings dictate menu selections, and as the weather chills, these changes parallel her mother’s chemotherapy treatments.
As inanimate objects take on new life, Babine’s mother’s illness and body become opposingly inanimate, closer to computer hardware than familiar flesh and bones. Chemistry is the unknown; cancer is the unknowable. Learning to cook is learning to cope with the unknown—with the things she cannot see, cannot help with, and cannot understand about her mother’s illness.
Every detail in All the Wild Hungers has meaning and weight or a connection to a memory, and Babine takes the scenic route to get there—speaking softly but with force on issues including money-hungry polluters, choosing to remain childless, and modern medicine. Snippets from intellectuals like Soren Kierkegaard and culinary touchstone Julia Childs are an entertaining addition.
With emotion and details, colors, seasons, smells, traditions, history, love, and family are made to intertwine in All the Wild Hungers, whose pages impart pangs of sorrow and of hunger.
KATIE ASHER (December 27, 2018)
New Tales of Baba Yaga
Jill Marie Ross
Rebecca A. Coates
Jessamy Corob Cook
Kate Wolford, editor
World Weaver Press
Softcover $13.95 (194pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon
Skull and Pestle, edited by Kate Wolford, gathers seven short stories that revive Baba Yaga’s legend, alternately retelling her original tale or transporting her through time and space to unexpected places.
Women find Baba Yaga in nexus moments, the points where natural transitions and extreme need cross. An enigmatic figure, she’s a “crone who ruthlessly uses the needy and greedy for her own devices,” and each tale finds its own way to explore her complex, contradictory, but always fair nature.
Several stories delve into Baba Yaga’s yearning for the girls she helps. Although the subtextual homoeroticism is palpable, it’s resolved via platonic or filial relationships, with one notable exception: Charlotte Honigman’s World War II revenge tale, where the heroine is helped by her lady love.
The memorable stories always transform some element of the legend. Lissa Sloan’s “A Tale Soon Told” establishes a pedigree for Baba Yaga in a beautiful kinship story about women claiming each other on the journey to become themselves. Szmeralda Shanel’s “The Swamp Hag’s Apprentice” re-envisions the legend as black American folklore. But the collection’s crowning achievement is Jessamy Corob Cook’s “Teeth,” which turns the tradition inward to explore Baba Yaga’s relationship with her own sister. Its haunting conclusion highlights the fact that there’s no punishment worse than the psychic pain a person lavishes on herself.
These are women’s stories in that they’re about the bargains women make and the cost of the knowledge and salvation that women buy for themselves as they make their way through the world. Although Baba Yaga functions as a mentor, her guidance is brutally realistic: You’ll be asked to do the impossible in order to survive, and there will always be a cost.
LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (December 27, 2018)
Yewande Omotoso’s novel Bom Boy is a multigenerational tale set in Cape Town that explores how social and familial pressures shape an individual’s life. It beautifully captures struggles with loneliness, loss, poverty, and discrimination.
Leke never met his birth parents, and as an adult he finds himself alone. His adoptive mother, Jane, died when he was ten, and his adoptive father, Marcus, has never understood him.
Leke is troubled. His job is unfulfilling, and he has no meaningful human connections. His visits doctors unnecessarily, stalks women, and steals small items from strangers. Marcus has given him a packet of letters from his birth father, Oscar, that were written from prison. They introduce him to his family and tell him about a family curse. Interspersed among these stories is the tale of how Leke’s mother, Elaine, came to give him up for adoption.
Short sections move back and forth in time and from character to character to build a full picture of Leke’s childhood, adult circumstances, and family heritage. Elaine’s solitary fight to feed herself and care for her infant is especially moving, as are Oscar’s struggles to adapt to campus life as a Nigerian man experiencing racism in his predominantly white university environment.
Leke is a troubling figure who inflicts harm on others while also inspiring sympathy. His bumbling, desperate search for understanding is moving. Oscar’s story of the family curse brings a magical element into the tale that stands in sharp contrast to the mundane details of Leke’s working life. The novel moves between these two registers, incorporating traditional Nigerian views of family and fate into a modern-day understanding of psychology.
Bom Boy is an intricately structured literary novel that powerfully evokes family as a source of loss and struggle, but also of hope.
REBECCA HUSSEY (December 27, 2018)
On a remote island off the coast of Scotland, two young girls navigate the judgement of their peers and the adults in their lives. Angela Readman’s Something like Breathing pairs nuanced observations with an atmospheric setting to tell an evocative story of growing up with a secret.
Social Lorrie befriends tortuously shy Sylvie when her family moves to her grandfather’s distillery after he is injured in an accident. Dejected by this sudden change of pace, Lorrie nevertheless takes advantage of her circumstances where she can, falling in with the popular crowd and keeping a positive outlook. However, mysterious Sylvie keeps her perpetually intrigued––especially after Lorrie believes she sees Sylvie biting the bloody neck of a bird.
Lorrie’s careful understandings of the people around her—depicted through evaluations of their “nose,” “palate,” and “finish,” as if they were the whiskey her grandfather produces—is tested by the betrayals that people commit. Syvlie, too, is more precocious than she lets on, keeping a diary that reveals the utter depth of her intense feelings, especially in regards to her relationship with her borderline abusive mother.
The inhabitants of this small Scottish island come into focus through the eyes of these two girls as they grow and learn about the world and themselves. Secret love affairs, deep-seated regrets and yearnings for comfort, fears that shape the course of relationships: these are all made painfully plain to the reader, while astute Lorrie misses them even as she describes the world around her in her own words.
This painstakingly rendered, gorgeous novel is pervaded by a sense of tense mystery while maintaining a close narrative distance. Something like Breathing is a skilled and beautiful portrait of a wonderful gift masked as darkness.
AIMEE JODOIN (December 27, 2018)
Deepening Our Identity and Growing Our Influence
In Hermanas, Natalia Kohn, Noemi Vega Quiñones, and Kristy Garza Robinson construct a lighthouse with love, built on the examples of biblical women as well as each author’s personal experiences, to draw their Christian Latina sisters out from the margins and into greater prominence within the church.
Unafraid to confront the obstacles that Latinas face within a majority white culture, this collection of essays offers encouragement to women called to spiritual leadership. The authors explore the stories of twelve biblical women and relate them to the Latina experience. Some (Deborah, Esther, Mary of Bethany, and Mary, mother of Jesus) are expected, while others (the Shulamite woman in Song of Solomon and the bleeding woman healed by Jesus) are intriguing inclusions in the list of biblical women leaders.
Although some of the topics discussed are heavy, including the US’s political climate, the reality of sex trafficking, and domestic abuse within the Latina context, the authors never plunge into cynicism. Rather, their approach is gentle and focused on building up Christian Latinas. They remind women to seek the source of their true identity, Jesus, instead of relying on the messages and labels received from the world.
The work’s biblical exegesis is often creative, though at times it can seem more eisegetical. One of the strongest essays examines Lydia and her working relationship with Paul. Here, Natalia Kohn calls for healing between men and women, urging them to partner together in the work of the church rather than succumbing to power struggles. Like Lydia, women are capable and have vibrant, knowledgeable voices that should be heeded.
The admiration-inspiring essays of Hermanas address Latinas with a Christian community-building spirit.
MEAGAN LOGSDON (December 27, 2018)