When I was in Denver for the AALL Annual Meeting, I visited the Tattered Cover bookstore in downtown Denver. Although the selection was not what I had hoped to see in a major independent bookstore, I nonetheless managed to purchase five books. I have already read one, am in the middle of two, and am eager to start the last two as soon as I finish the other two.
The one that I already read and could not put down was The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget, the retelling of the pursuit by a son for justice for the murder of his father during Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda, written by Andrew Rice. I could not put it down. Not only was it a captivating story that weaved together the history of colonial and post-colonial Uganda, but it also is an excellent musing on the question of justice for victims of homicidal regimes. Even before law school, I was obsessed with the success of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa at the conclusion of the apartheid era. It seems as though since that time, no other country has been able to replicate its success. Perhaps it takes combination of especially charismatic, inspirational leaders, like the combination of a Mandela and Tutu that makes it nearly impossible to duplicate. I don’t know, but I know that Uganda has not succeeded in adequately balancing justice and forgiveness for its history of human rights violations. The story is also an interesting tale of when “the rule of law”, that which we prize so boldly in our own nation, isn’t enough to respond to deeply inflicted wounds of prior eras. As Duncan Laki, the son who lost his father says, “It’s sad for me to look at these three murders and they just walk away like that, but that’s the rule of law. We have to accept the rule of law. It hurts but…what can we do?”
Right now I am on page 164 of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. That statement provides an ubiquitous bumper sticker in places like Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which leads me to question whether or not the women who sport those stickers would still do so if they knew that Thatcher Ulrich was a Mormon. I met her once through my friend Katie on a trip I took to Boston. I love the way she weaves together the stories of ordinary and not so ordinary women to create a historical tale through the stories of individual women. It also has reminded me that I still need to pick up a copy of Camille Fronk’s book on the women of the Old Testament, because of the way Thatcher Ulrich brings to new life the Old Testament stories of Judith and Susanna and how she sums them up, “For ordinary women, the lessons these stories taught were powerful, but contradictory. A woman should be both chaste and alluring, both innocent and bold.”
I am also currently reading, The Parisians, by Graham Robb. Although it is subtitled “An Adventure History of Paris”, it is also like Thatcher Ulrich’s work in that it really illuminates history through biographical vignettes of the ordinary and not so ordinary people of Paris. OF course, it also serves to make me want to go back and see Paris in an entirely new and different way.
I haven’t yet begun the last two books – The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by French author Muriel Barbery (I am reading it in translation, because I don’t think my French skills are presently good enough to read a book like this in the original French), and Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder. I have moved through the other two books at such a rate though, that I am sure that I will begin both of these books before the month of July is through.
Good books are always the best cure for whatever ails me.