This quietly devastating novel would be almost too painful to read if it wasn’t also so beautiful. Loss figures prominently, but Miri’s rhythmic prose vividly evokes the textures of ordinary life, touching on subjects including weather, work, marriage, parenting, birth, economics, and more. Narrated by Kazu from beyond the grave, the book recounts the story of a man “who never had any luck”; poverty meant he labored far from his family and missed seeing his children grow up. Then his son died at age 21 and his wife soon after. Deeply guilt-ridden, Kazu lived out his years on the streets, and his memories are embedded in a rich tapestry of Tokyo’s sights, sounds, and voices. As the novel culminates in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Miri’s exquisitely sensitive protagonist bears testament to both the limits and the resilience of the human capacity to absorb whatever life tosses our way.
The Donbas is both a battle ground and a region where ordinary people try to live their lives. Starting with her title—when is something as traumatic as a break “lucky”?-- Belorusets’s powerful collection of photos and brief stories (they range from two sentences to three pages) focuses on such dualities, even as the surrealism of Ukraine splinters into yet more ambiguities, which people try to control through various strategies of magical thinking. In this “land of residual phenomena,” words provide “form rather than meaning” and nothing is definitive: the situation is neither peace nor war, but “something else.” Exactly what else is conveyed in a series of scenes and, especially, voices. Though many of these scraps are cast as interviews or reference an ”interlocutor,” most become monologues, a move that highlights the difficulty of maintaining connections but also the power of the individual voice and the irrepressible drive to tell one’s story. Like the women who navigate new dangers each day, we never know where any of these fragments will take us: a tale that starts “once upon a time,” ends in a character with “a needle near her heart.” And when happiness occurs it “falls out of thin air”—much as a bomb might.
Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1894-1992) was born into the Swedish aristocracy, joined the Red Cross in WWI, married a White Russian soldier in 1918, then, a widow, moved to rural Canada in 1927 where she was, first, a nurse (heading the team that cared for the Dionne quintuplets), then a science writer and naturalist. Making it her mission and her passion to “understand…how birds are,” and to present as closely as possible a sense of the world from their point of view rather than that of the human observer, she spent nearly 60 years compiling meticulous, daily reports on the avian life around her woodland Ontario home. These records—detailing appearance, behavior, and each species’ interactions with all facets of their environment—fed a steady stream of journal articles, both scholarly and popular, and award-winning books ranging from illustrated children’s stories to memoir, biography, and groundbreaking studies of individual bird species. Simonds, herself a versatile writer and devoted birder, has adopted her subject’s thorough and enthusiastic approach. Her beautifully written book is steeped in all of Lawrence’s writings—published and unpublished—as well as a deep familiarity with her beloved Loghouse woods.