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I’ll admit, Sandra Cisneros has always been on my list of favorites for fiction and poetry, but never before an author on my non-fiction radar. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t heard of her; her novel, A House of My Own, is inspirational and hers is a life you would want to read about. Cisneros describes her rented house in Greece, on an island called Hydra, where she finished her first novel, and it made me nostalgic for her home—the little jasmine flowers, the views of the sea, the whitewashed walls that reflected moonlight. In the introduction, she says, “I have no children to tell the following stories, and even if I did, they wouldn’t want to hear them. And so I offer them to you, my readers.” I interpret that line to mean, that just for a few hours, each reader gets the chance to have an intimacy with the author—and that’s pretty amazing.
This book is structured as a mix-tape, and each story a song. The entire novel is set in both Russia and Chechnya over the past century. Marra introduces characters who reflect and question the political and social landscape of their time. Though it is a collection of stories, every tale pieces together and forms an atypical, a-chronological, and stunning novel. In each story, a character believes they can erase a person, a transgression, a guilt, or themselves—all to no avail and no relief. The final story, appropriately titled, “The End,” has a young soldier named Kolya experiencing his own death. And you realize, that although many people in the novel die alone, they are not without the comfort and companionship of memory, whether it be spun from desire or their last known truth. The Tsar of Love and Techno not only made me mourn for the characters, but for the discrepancies in written history and the holes that will never be filled.
The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson. Naomi Jackson seamlessly marries love and loss in her new novel The Star Side of Bird Hill. Jackson tells a generational story: two sisters, Dionne and Phaedra, find themselves shoved away from their New York apartment and into their grandmother, Hyacinth's, home in Barbados. It's a woman's world where the sisters find strange tradition in the heat of the Caribbean, and experience the healing powers of the witching hour. Jackson makes conveying accents through writing look easy, and you can hear the many voices make their way through Bird Hill, searching for respite in family. Jackson plays with the concept of home, where it lies and how it forms. The Star Side of Bird Hill speaks to both guardians and their children through the complex and joyful pain of life.