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JANUARY Dotters Picks

In 2019, I’d like to do our Dotters Picks a little differently. Instead of featuring one book a month, I’ll highlight a few of my favorite book discoveries. This will give me a chance to shine a spotlight on more great books, because there are just so many. So, without further adieu, here are some of my favorite books from my January reading adventures.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad has received no shortage of praise - and prizes: the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award to name just a few - since its release in 2016. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I strongly urge you to do so (perhaps in February for Black History Month). This is an incredible book. Cora’s journey on the Underground Railroad, imagined in Whitehead's narrative as an actual train, with stations and conductors, from captivity in Georgia to relative freedom in Ohio is unforgettable. Even after I finished this book, I could not stop thinking about it. Whitehead’s telling of the daily life of enslaved people, whether on the plantation, or running toward freedom with hope and fear, is a harrowing reminder of the foundation for racial inequalities that still exist today. Haunting, captivating, and beautifully written, this book is deserving of all of its accolades.

All the Wild Hungers by Karen Babine

In All the Wild Hungers, Karen Babine, a cook, Minnesota native, and devoted daughter shares a year of her life through a series of short essays - vignettes, really. When her mother is diagnosed with cancer, Babine and her sisters rally around their parents, supporting each other in every way they knew how. Cooking becomes a metaphor for care and coping, as does searching thrift stores for vintage cast iron pans. She explores our society’s relationships with both food and illness, especially in reference to women. Her impatience with a health system that infantilizes and distrusts women in their reporting of pain is mirrored in her frustration with society’s belief that a single woman of a certain age without children couldn’t possibly be both happy and fulfilled in those choices. Her writing is eloquent and powerful and the love that she and her family share is felt in every word. It was a privilege to read this book.

North of Dawn by Nuruddin Farah

I was so excited to read North of Dawn, and it did not disappoint. A Somali couple living in Norway is devastated when news of their adult son’s death disrupts their relatively peaceful life. Gacalo and Mugdi experience this devastation in very different ways. Their son, Dhaqaneh, killed himself in a suicide attack on an airport. Mugdi long ago disowned his son for his radical and violent Islamic beliefs. Gacalo, despite her own abhorrence for his actions, maintained a relationship with her son until his death. She promises that they will care for Dhaqaneh’s widow and his two step children as they emigrate to Oslo after his death. As their daughter-in-law becomes more embroiled in radical Islam in Norway, their grandchildren eagerly assimilate to the culture, creating a very complicated relationship between grandparents, mother, and children. While this book does get bogged down in a few too many characters and makes a few confusing narrative jumps, the story still captivated me. Nuruddin Farah’s book is ambitious in its scope and eloquent in its parallels between Norwegian settlement in America and Somali settlement in Norway. He captures the complex situations that confront immigrants all over the world, all while examining the limits of love and forgiveness.