Muhsin Al-Ramli. Dates on My Fingers. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2009 (English translation 2014).
Too bad the (insensitive) TPL sticker went right over the author's name on the cover. Al-Ramli is an Iraqi emigré, a leading figure in modern Arabic literature. Dates is the poignant story of Saleem, a young man who left repressive times in his home country to live in Madrid. There, years later, he discovers his father Noah alive and flourishing. To Saleem's stunned surprise, Noah has become the opposite of the quiet, dutiful, family man he once was. In fact, Noah is successfully running a nightclub and waiting for an opportunity to avenge the family honour, a promise sworn to his father Mutlaq. Because years ago Noah had brutally escalated a street brawl, the family had been shamed and isolated. Saleem recalls past memories as he struggles with this new version of his father.
Mutlaq's anti-government hatred was the basis for creating a new village; his extended family followed his fundamentalist teachings. Ironically, his leadership became mini-dictatorial. His son Noah seemed in complete thrall but grandson Saleem began to question arbitrary power. Here is a glimpse into rural Muslim life that has but one chair in the entire village but also contains every human emotion, including the tenderness of young love. Narrator Saleem circles around further dreadful events exacerbated by the old man's stubborn tyranny, all this against the regime change in Iraq. The father-son reunion in Madrid looks for resolution between the old ways and modern thinking. Thoughtful, sad, sometimes funny: riveting for anyone interested in understanding other cultures.
One-liner: There, after we had splashed cold water on his face and sliced an onion under his nostrils, he revived a little and ordered the men huddled in a circle around him not to bury the corpses this time until they had been avenged. (111)
Mutlaq proclaimed: "O people of Mutlaq, be united as one! Show each other compassion, care for each other, and tend to your woman and your flocks. Watch out for the hypocrites in the government: do not believe them, do not make friends with them, and do not allow any marriage ties with them. Build your world here according to what God wants and what you want. Do not ask the government for any documents or alms or property. As for the fuel and the medicine you need, barter for it with the people of Subh, but do not engage them in conversation, and do not ask them about anything at all.
"Never forget your vengeance!" (He looked at my father as he said this.) (12-13)
His former image was firmly established within my inner world: my memory, the apartment, these black-and-white pictures, and blood relations. But now I see that he does not belong to it. At the same time, I can't exactly consider him part of my outside world.
His friends here were not like my friends. His work was not like mine, nor his behavior. Indeed, he did not resemble himself. His women did not resemble my women. Or at least, they did not resemble those I had met, since I didn't have women for the most part―or at all. (41)
Our most joyous moment was the Friday prayers, when we would all gather together, young and old, the males forming the front rows with the women in rows behind them. We would wear our best clothes and put on perfume. In the spring, we would spread our prayer mats on the pebbles and sand outside the mosque, and Grandfather would stand in front of us, using the external stairs as an elevated platform to preach to us. We felt our complete unity, our brotherhood, the purity of our spirits, and our closeness both to the sky and to God. (107-108)
A brief trip:
Barcelona also has a spirituality, inspiring its visitors with the extent of its varied, uninterrupted history. It takes you in and recognizes you as family in some way, by the strength of its life, its greatness, its sweetness, and its festivity. I wonder what my father likes in Barcelona. (157)
Perri O'Shaughnessy. Dreams of the Dead. New York: Gale/Thorndike Press (large print), 2011.
Another old friend, lawyer Nina Riley in South Lake Tahoe: it's been too long! Nina always has interesting clients and her assistant Sandy keeps the office lively. A local ski resort owner brings her a civil case with a strange twist; whether he and his family can expect proceeds from the sale of the resort depends on whether his son is dead. Two years earlier the son had killed Nina's husband and committed other offences, then disappeared. Now it seems he is in Brazil (no extradition) demanding his share of the proposed sale. The legalities become more and more complicated; there are plenty of suspects for whomever could be manipulating the resort sale and for the two murders that occur.
No idle moments as the plot moves briskly even while Nina tries to reconcile her dwindling relationship with the father of her son Bob. Naturally, Nina's former lover Paul Van Waggoner gets involved up to his neck. What I didn't like were the infrequent inserts, indicated by change in font, where different voices are represented or at times, apparently, the novel Sandy is writing. The lack of continuity among them makes for confusion ― the device just doesn't work. Otherwise, please carry on, O'Shaughnessy girls!
One-Liner: For the millionth time, Nina wondered why every single damn legal problem had to be complicated by some sort of insane deadline. (47)
Ronnie's eyes turned inward. "I'm alone and I can't believe it. Where is she? It's fresh agony every single morning, you know? I'm dreaming of her and wondering if she's dreaming of me."Paul nodded.
"You can't describe that kind of emptiness with words, you can only experience it. It's black and invisible, like a poison settling over the room. I realize she's gone. She is gone, not beside me. It's me and my cold feet and bleedin' heart."
"I'm sorry for your loss." Paul didn't make the statement automatically. He made it feeling the clenching of his own heart. How tremendous and cataclysmic it would be, permanently losing the woman you loved. (258-9)
Nina wondered why she could never quite get her footing, never have peace in her life. In her balancing act she was constantly shifting weight, never standing still. Perhaps there was no such thing as balance in these terms, not even moments of balance. Maybe humans were all in a log-rolling game on a dangerous river. (340)
Brinkman drank his beer, watching Paul reflectively. Finally he said, "For what it's worth, I know why you're here. You want me to promise to lay off her."
"You got that right, buddy." Paul finished the last bit of crust and drank down the liquor in a gulp.
Eric chuckled, running a hand through a haircut Paul found revoltingly fashionable.
"So you find me humorous," Paul said.
"I find you a belligerent fool, that's what I find."
"You're the one going to an anonymous bar to get drunk after she walks out on us."
"I happen to be friends with Bev." Eric indicated the manager ― who had taken over from the frizzy-haired girl at the bar ― a short woman in a tight T-shirt that showed off her amplitude, wearing high heels that forced her to lurch from table to table. (486-7)
Stephen J. Cannell. White Sister. USA: Center Point Large Print/St. Martin's Press, 2006.
Cannell's hero, detective Shane Scully, seems to be the (DeMille's) John Corey of the LAPD ― wisecracking his way through the impoverished and ugly underbelly of Los Angeles. It's good you know what LAPD means because the author (like Connelly) employs LA cop-talk acronyms: PAB, FOI, UC, SHU, MCJ, RTO, FTR, and the like. On his way home one evening, Scully slightly injures a homeless man with his car; John Bodine, or Long Gone John as he's known, keeps reappearing to provide entertainment. But Scully is wholly focused on the police search for, and then hospitalization, of his wife Alexa who heads the detective division.
The hip hop music industry is in a secret war worth millions to some ruthless characters, but motivation and appropriate villains for some murders are difficult to pin down. Lots of gangsta rap to grow your slang language skills. We also get details of brain surgery and the bail bond system. Lively and fast-paced, just the thing for mental therapy in between rounds of packing and moving.
Homeless men in tattered coats swung bloodshot eyes in our direction, tracking us like government radar. (5)
"I hate that guy worse than country music." (317)
LAPD Chief's POV:
"She's not dying," I said, my voice rising in anger.
"I think she is, and if she's gone, then what they're saying about her on TV can't hurt her. I'm betting in the end this won't stick to you."
"I thought you cared about her. You're just like the other guy."
"I do care about her," Tony said softly. "In fact, I love Alexa like a daughter. But there are things you don't know about, and they demand this course of action." (219-220)
Long Gone John's complaint:
He looked at me and shook his head. Then he started right in. "In California, ain't no originals. Out here, everybody so busy bein' original, they all be 'zackly the same."
I grabbed his wheelchair and pushed him out of the ER. Once we were outside, I stood him up.
"Don't be yank-slammin' me around. Lookit this what you done." He pulled up the sweatshirt to reveal a pound of tape and gauze wrapped around his chest, stomach, and abdomen. "This here tape an' shit's all that's holding my dick on. So don't be pushin' and shovin'."
I got him out to Chooch's jeep.
"Where you gonna dump me now?" he said.
"I'll make you a deal," I said. "If you shut up, you can sleep in the back. I'll sleep in the front." (220-1)