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Author: Jyotsna Sreenivasan

Illuminations, by Mary Sharratt

Illuminations, by Mary Sharratt

Illuminations illuminates the life of Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century nun who founded her own abbey and composed beautiful works of sacred choral music. Hildegard’s journey to becoming a nun began against her will, when her mother “tithed” her to the church at the age of eight (she was her family’s 10th child). Hildegard became a companion to Jutta, who chose to become an “anchorite” nun, bricked into two rooms in the church. In compensation for Hildegard’s companionship, Jutta’s…

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Tumbling, by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

Tumbling, by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

Diane McKinney-Whetstone is the acclaimed author of six novels, the first of which is Tumbling, first published in 1996. The story, which takes place in Philadelphia in the 1940s and 1950s, focuses on Noon, her husband Herbie, and their two adopted children. But their lives are so intertwined with other community members that the novel is really about the entire neighborhood of African-Americans. There are so many things I like about this novel, from the engaging story lines to the…

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See

With Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See has allowed us a window into the secluded world of women’s rooms in rural China in the 1800s. The central characters of this heart-felt and ultimately heart-wrenching tale are Lily, the daughter of a farmer; and her laotong (lifelong emotional partner), Snow Flower. The two communicate using special writing unique to women, called nu shu. Their friendship deepens throughout their childhood and adolescence, but before Snow Flower’s marriage, Lily discovers something…

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Circling the Sun and West With the Night

Circling the Sun and West With the Night

After I read Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, a historical novel based on the life of aviator Beryl Markham, I was curious about how it compared with Markham’s memoir, West with the Night, which Ernest Hemingway called “a bloody wonderful book.” West with the Night was first published in 1942, six years after Markham made her historic solo flight from east to west across the Atlantic. It is told in 24 essays which are not always in chronological order,…

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The Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant

The Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant

Told as a series of anecdotes from a Jewish grandmother, Addie Baum, to her granddaughter Ava, The Boston Girl is a coming-of-age story set in the early 1900s. Addie’s parents have fled an unnamed country in Europe, and Addie is the first child born in the United States. Her father and sister work in a sweatshop, and the family lives in a tenement. Addie’s parents expect her to leave school after 8th grade and start working. Central to the story…

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The Court Dancer, by Kyung-Sook Shin

The Court Dancer, by Kyung-Sook Shin

On the surface, The Court Dancer is a beautiful novel about a young woman, Jin, and her relationship with a Frenchman. Yet it is also so much more. It is about how the West views non-western peoples, and vice versa. It is about how a woman in a very traditional country transcends her circumscribed role. It is about the contrast between fascination with the exotic, and true love. It is about loyalty and self-determination. The novel takes place in the…

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Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier

Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier

Girl with a Pearl Earring was inspired by the famous 17th century Vermeer painting of the same name. The novel takes place in the Dutch town of Delft. According to Tracy Chevalier’s web site, one day as she looked at the poster of the painting that hung in her bedroom, she thought to herself, “I wonder what Vermeer did to her to make her look like that. Now there’s a story worth writing.” From that thought, Chevalier created the character…

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The Widows, by Jess Montgomery

The Widows, by Jess Montgomery

I was looking forward to reading The Widows because it takes place in Ohio (my home state) and it involves Appalachian culture (which I’m interested in). And once I started to read it, I couldn’t put it down. One of the main characters in The Widows, Lily Ross, was inspired by the first female sheriff in Ohio (Maude Collins, pictured above, from the Vinton County web site). When Lily’s husband, the sheriff, is murdered in chapter 1, she is asked…

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The Sleeping Dictionary, by Sujata Massey

The Sleeping Dictionary, by Sujata Massey

The Sleeping Dictionary is the engrossing story of a poor young orphan in India who, through her own intelligence and bravery, fights her way through tragedy and discrimination to earn a good living for herself and to help with India’s struggle for freedom from British rule. The title refers to Indian women who acted as translators for their British lovers. Sujata Massey is a journalist and mystery writer who makes use of her research skills and her personal connection (through…

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Sapphira and the Slave Girl, by Willa Cather

Sapphira and the Slave Girl, by Willa Cather

Sapphira and the Slave Girl is Willa Cather’s last novel, published in 1940. It takes place in 1856 in Back Creek, Virginia. Cather was born in Back Creek in 1873 and lived there for nine years, before moving with her family to Nebraska (the setting of some of her more famous books, such as My Antonia). Sapphira and the Slave Girl was inspired by stories that Cather heard in her childhood. When Sapphira Colbert married and moved from Winchester to…

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