Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Where is the Mango Princess? by Cathy Crimmins

No one is immune to brain injury, and that is just one reason this memoir is well worth reading. Crimmins skillfully weaves perfect proportions of pain, grief, fear, humor, and facts and statistics to tell her story, and secondarily, her husband’s. Her recountings of post-injury Alan are contrasted with descriptions of pre-accident Alan, a successful trusts and estates officer, and thus, Crimmins offers us a complete picture of what exactly she has lost. You also won't find her ranting about American health care and HMO’s, though she's given reasons galore, and it would be easy for her to drown the narrative with a woe-is-me attitude, but instead, she has obviously taken much care to make sure that this story resists self-pity or sappiness. She includes painful, intimate stories—because they are necessary to completely tell this story—without being crass or trying to create a buffer for her or her husband's roles. And in no way does Crimmins try to protect, nor to unnecessarily horrify, the reader.

Brain injury stories are not easy to read. You will experience, to lesser degrees, what Crimmins experienced, and more remarkably, you will want to keep reading, even when it hurts—especially when it hurts.

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

I found this book at Grounds for ThoughtLink, my favorite used bookstore/coffeeshop. Though it's a decade old, written several years before 9/11, I thought that it would provide a good platform for beginning to understand the life of Muslim women in Middle Eastern cultures. It seemed straightforward, and since Brooks is a journalist, the book seemed even more promising. I hoped that meant that she would be likely to produce a more unbiased interpretation of events as she experienced them.

Full of stories from nearly every country in the Middle East, Nine Parts of Desire did prove to be enlightening. Brooks seems to have befriended many people in her time as a foreign correspondent, and to have gleaned an appreciation for the beautiful parts of the cultures, and horror for those customs she (with her Australian upbringing) finds ridiculous. She shows how Muslim practices vary from country to country, and even within a country. Early on, she explains the roles of Muhammad's wives and daughters, particularly the two that Brooks claims is responsible for the splitting of Islam into two groups: Sunnis and Shiites.

Brooks's stories are interesting, sometimes beautiful and sometimes abhorrent, and while she cannot completely hide her disdain for many customs, especially the coverings women are forced to wear in some cultures, she does an admirable job of trying to respectfully present a Middle Eastern world to those of us who know little or nothing about it. I'm sure that many readers will find plenty to argue with, but since I know next to nothing about the subject matter at this point, and am only using this as a springboard to learn more, I found it adequately educational, and certainly intend to continue learning more.