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Bostonia: The Alumni Magazine of Boston University

Winter 2009 Table of Contents

Book Reviews

Book reviews for Winter 2009

Cracks in the Foundation
By Erica Ferencik (GRS’89)Fiction (Waking Dream Press)

If you think today’s real estate market is tough, meet Ginger Kanadoo. She’s trying, with a realtor’s relentless good cheer, to score her first closing in a year with her only listing: an outhouse with a potential view. By the inevitable happy ending, Ginger has consorted with Wiccans, stolen two crates of rotten bananas, and done jail time with a cell mate who weighs 300 pounds and likes her looks. –Natalie Jacobson McCracken

The Fiddle Case
By Christine Palamidessi Moore (GRS’91) Fiction (IAP Press)

In this buddy road novel set in 1972, the nineteen-year-old narrator and her more worldly (at least sexually) best friend hitchhike west, triumphing over threats to their independence, safety, and friendship — among them a wonderfully seventies cult trying to smother them in love, a would-be ra­p­ist who otherwise perso­nifies the Age of Aquarius, and an attrac­tive young man who courts them both.–NJM

Songs for the Missing
By Stewart O’Nan (ENG’83) Fiction (Frog Books)

O’Nan is a master of portraying everyday people (the title of an earlier novel) in unhappy situations. Here, an eighteen-year-old goes missing, and we follow the varying responses of her friends and family through their internal monologues, another long-standing O’Nan skill. (In another earlier novel, the family dog narrates his own chapter.) First comes the police suggestion that she’s run away, the right of adults, then the massive volunteer searches, bracelets bearing her name, yellow ribbons, media attention at once dreaded and welcome, posters, rallies. Over two years, as life goes on, comes the gradual move from hope for her return to hope that her body and murderer be discovered. It’s become a familiar real-life story (are there more nuts out there now or is there more international media cov­erage?), but some reviewers haven’t noticed the drama belongs to those left behind: Songs has been criticized for not making the missing girl vivid, which of course is not O’Nan’s point. –NJM

Coping with Adversity: Judaism’s Response to Illness and Other Life Struggles
By Joel A. Roffman (CAS’72, MED’75) and Rabbi Gordon A. Fuller Nonfiction (Brown Books)

As Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, they were distraught to see Egyptian troops marching after them. And God said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to move forward.” Prayer is important in Judaism, but action is more important, say Roffman, a cardiologist, and his coauthor. Their advice for readers of any or no religion: be thankful for your blessings, but in times of adversity be responsible for your own life — take good care of yourself, physically and emotionally; honor the beloved dead with good deeds; make amends for what makes you feel guilty; and, for your own sake and others’, be as cheerful as conditions allow. –NJM

Egg & Nest
By Rosamond Purcell (CAS’64), Linnea S. Haul, and Rene CoradoNonfiction (Harvard University Press )

Master photographer Purcell often focuses on objects too damaged by nature to serve their intended purpose: termite-eaten books, decayed dice. This gorgeous coffee table book, principally photographs of specimens at the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in California, would seem an exception. Although a few dead birds are pictured, neutralized perhaps by being labeled “study skins,” the emphasis is on the wonders, beauty, and startling variety of nests and eggs worldwide. Essays and captions by Purcell and foundation executives Haul and Corado discuss biology, ecology, conservation, and the time-honored attraction and scientific value of nest and egg collecting. Still, the photographs, like much of Purcell’s previous work, carry an intriguing whiff of death: mirror images of manufactured objects made useless by nature, these nests and eggs are objects denied their natural use by human hands. –NJM

A History of Catholic Antisemitism: The Dark Side of the Church
By Robert Michael (CAS’58) Nonfiction (Palgrave Macmillan)

This history begins where the author believes Catholic anti-Semitism began, in New Testament passages labeling Jews inherently evil, sinners even before the crucifixion, ineligible for salvation although baptized, and certainly unworthy of decent treatment, let alone citizenship. Noting that there have always been individual exceptions, Michael, who is the author or the editor of a dozen previous books on anti-Semitism, gives samples of descriptions of Jews by Catholics from across the millennia (“murderers of the Lord, killers of the prophets . . . advocates of the devil, progeny of poison snakes . . .” — St. Gregory) and discusses the Crusades, expulsions, the diaspora, and pogroms as precursors of, and necessary preparation for, the Holocaust. There have been improvements in the decades since Vatican II, he writes; still, “without memory, there can be no solid foun­dation for a compassionate and productive relationship between Catholics and Jews.” –NJM

The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style
By Kim France and Andrea Linett (CGS’85, COM’87) Nonfiction (Gotham Books/Melcher Media)

The duo at the top of the masthead at guilty-pleasure shopping magazine Lucky team up to help women find the clothes and the style that match their personalities (or their aspirations). France, editor-in-chief, and Linett, creative director, have identified ten iconic looks and the wardrobe pieces, shoes, and accessories that are essen­tial to each. Whether you’re rock and roll, bombshell, Euro chic, or arty slick — or whether you just hope to wear something that matches every day — there’s eye candy galore here. –Bari Walsh

Click here to read an interview with author Andrea Linett.

My Last Supper: Fifty Great Chefs and Their Final Meals
By Melanie Dunea (COM’93) Nonfiction (Bloomsbury)

Answers to that old what-would-you-have-for-your-last-meal question are in some ways very different when they come from celebrity chefs. There are a lot of foie gras and truffles on the menus, more seafood than meat (including “a sweet, Peconic Bay scallop still moving”), and exotic produce (“fruit from the Amazon that I had never tasted before”), along with homey dishes (fried chicken, scrambled eggs, “my mother’s sausage and peppers”). Many of these chefs would prepare the meal themselves and most would choose to eat it at home — and won­derful homes they sound to be — although Lydia Shire would opt for the Men’s Café at Locke-Ober. Dunea’s full-page photographs of the chefs are handsome and imagi­native, and the recipes provided almost all sound perfectly possible, although some of the ingredients may be hard to come by (“one pig’s snout, braised”). –NJM

The Rise of Barack Obama
By Pete Souza (COM’76) Nonfiction (Triumph Books)

Soon after he began photo­graph­ing the very junior senator from Illinois (99th in seniority of the 100) for the Chicago Tribune in 2005, veteran photojournalist Souza “began to believe I was photographing a future president of the United States,” he writes. This striking collection of black-and-white photographs, which was published in July, shows Obama in Ukraine and Kenya, among many countries, speaking before ecstatic large audiences and on the Senate floor, laughing with Ethel Kennedy and napping in Moscow, and most engagingly, alone with his daughters amidst crowds. –NJM

View a slideshow of Pete Souza's photos.

Slave of Allah: Zacarias Moussaoui vs. the USA
By Katherine C. Donahue (GRS’76,’81) Nonfiction (Pluto Press)

Repeatedly identi­fying himself as the “slave of Allah,” Zacarias Moussaoui pled guilty to multiple charges connected to September 11. The French citizen’s extended, multi­million-dollar trial in Virginia provides many lessons to the United States, says the author, about the nature of terrorism and about our legal system and intelligence agencies. –NJM

Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound
By David Rothenberg (GRS’91) Nonfiction (Basic Books)

Deep in the seas, male hump­back whales sing, in long, organized phrases that rhyme – that is, end in similar sounds – and repeat, says Rothenberg, naturalist, musi­cian, philoso­pher, and inveterate au­thor and editor. They sing most often in breeding grounds during breeding season, but if it’s a mating call, it flops. Scientists have never discerned the slightest interest among female humpbacks (perhaps for whales, as for people, music is its own excuse for being). Rothenberg has play­ed clarinet for singing whales via an underwater speaker and thinks they may sometimes have jammed with him. Hearing the enclosed CD while reading his track-by-track notes suggests he may just be right. –NJM


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