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Two Stimulating Novels for Your Summer Reading List

 
If you’re looking for some stimulating summer reading, I have two novels to recommend. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult combines two stories. It begins with Sage Singer, a twenty-five year old woman from a small New Hampshire town, who meets Josef Weber at a grief group meeting where she is seeking support following the death of her mother. Josef is a retired high school German teacher and basketball coach. They become good friends.

This friendship is severely tested when Josef tells her a dark secret about his past. He was a Nazi officer at a concentration camp during World War 11. His guilt about his past life prompts him to ask Sage for help committing suicide.

This set of circumstances leads to a second story involving Sage’s grandmother Minka who grew up in a small Polish town and was imprisoned at Auschwitz as a teenager. Picoult weaves together Sage’s dilemma with Minka’s heroic struggle for survival with impressive skill. The novel is both fascinating and a page turner with a surprising resolution at the end.

Kristen Hannah’s novel, The Great Alone, is another page turner. The story is about a family who flees to a remote village in Alaska in 1974. Ernt Albright is a Vietnam veteran who returns from the war with a severe case of PTSD. He is a changed and scary man. Cora, his wife, loves him deeply and agrees to the Alaska move in a desperate attempt to save their marriage. Leni, the thirteen year old daughter at the time of the move, is caught in the middle of this stormy and deeply dysfunctional relationship.

The story takes you to a remote corner of Alaska populated by a group of fiercely independent people who have created a community of deeply caring people. Cora and Leni will need this community as they fight for survival against the brutal Alaska winters and the deterioration of Ernt’s fragile mental state. The female characters are strong, resilient, and courageous. The story is about the wildness of both humans and nature as well as the beauty that comes from a caring community and the power of love.

In an important way, both books make a powerful statement about spirituality. As a society, we face social problems in a largely impersonal way. Racism is about groups of minorities who are treated unfairly by the political system and society. The Holocaust is about six million Jews who died as a result of genocidal Nazi policies. Domestic violence is about sick men who take out their anger against the women closest to them. I support policies to deal with problems such as these, but my involvement often lacks a passionate commitment that comes from knowing real people.

Fiction solves that problem. It deals with real people. You experience Minka’s fear as a little girl of Nazi thugs storming into her home to arrest her family. Women are no longer statistics in that small Alaska cabin where Cora struggles against an out-of-control husband. Your heart fills as you witness their struggles. Compassion, a love that reaches out to others in pain, floods your awareness. You come to see these social problems in a new way. Your commitment to the causes of social justice takes on new meaning.

 

Dr. Rick Herrick (PhD, Tulane University), a former tenured university professor and magazine editor, is the author of four published novels and two works of nonfiction. His most recent books: A Christian Foreign PolicyA Man Called Jesus and Jeff’s Journey.

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