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This week, we bring you news of the BookBrowse Book Club discussion of The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste. A shortlist selection for the Booker Prize, this historical novel takes place in Ethiopia during the Italian invasion in the 1930s. The novel is notable for its focus on women at war and for its insight into a conflict many readers will be unfamiliar with.

In Editor's Choice, we look at Yaa Gyasi's brilliant new novel Transcendent Kingdom, about a young, Ghanaian American neuroscientist struggling to find closure and peace while processing her brother's death from addiction and her mother's mental health crisis. This review's Beyond the Book article explores the life and work of 19th century English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Also, check out BookBrowse's interview with founder of the Zoom Black Girls' Book Club, Vicki Moore, and a new Wordplay!

Very best,
The BookBrowse Book Club
Discussions are open to all to view and participate, so please join the discussion if you've read this book. Or, if you have not yet read this book, click "About the Book" to find out more about the book.
The Shadow King
by Maaza Mengiste

From the Book Jacket

Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, and named a best book of the year by the New York Times, NPRElleTime, and more, The Shadow King is an "unforgettable epic from an immensely talented author who's unafraid to take risks" (Michael Schaub, NPR).

From the Discussion

"This was definitely not an easy historical read. However, I found it to be a very powerful book in terms of theme, and an in-depth look into the compulsions that drive people to do what they do: to love, to hate, to battle, to forgive, to forget, to live and to die. It successfully explores man's obsession with glory and being remembered. A novel about love for the motherland and the lengths her children will go to in order to secure her favor." - bookfabulous

"I struggled with the book early on - mostly, I think, due to my own lack of background knowledge. However, once Hirut noticed the similarities between Minim and Selassie, I was completely sucked into the story and could not stop reading. I celebrated the power, courage and perseverance of Ethiopia's women. I found the description of war, particularly the way the Italians fought, to be horrific. However, I think it is important that we are aware that decorated generals and soldiers become that way most often by inflicting unspeakable horrors upon others." - acstrine

"I enjoyed the book's focus on the inner consciousness of characters who in a different kind of novel might be portrayed as either pure victims or villains. War experiences in popular English-language entertainment and a lot of books are presented in terms of the horrors of war, or a simplistic kind of heroism, but this one gives attention to immediate sensory experiences and interesting moral questions about not just war but its aftermath." - elisabethc
W.W. Norton & Company. Historical Fiction. 448 pages. Published Sep 1, 2020
Editor's Choice
Transcendent Kingdom
by Yaa Gyasi
Yaa Gyasi's (pronounced "yah jessie") Transcendent Kingdom is, among other things, a meditation on science and religion. However, this cursory description doesn't do justice to the full contents of the novel any more than the scientific method encompasses the human quest for knowledge, or than the practice of prayer explains the human impulse to seek guidance from a higher power.

As first-person narrator, Gifty takes the methodical approach one might expect of a scientist to understanding the raw material of her life. The author takes a similar approach to dissecting and arranging events in a logical (if not always chronological) order. A tendency towards systematic, evidence-based thinking is also visible in younger Gifty, whose journal entries, in which she writes to God, read as experiments in defining and communicating with the unknown. That the result of all of this is an emotionally evocative text may appear paradoxical, but this seems to be the point; the main character's strong spiritual experiences and her scientific outlook on life are not in conflict but firmly intertwined...
Beyond the Book: Gerard Manley Hopkin
In Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom, Gifty, a PhD student of neuroscience, recalls a college course she took to fulfill a humanities requirement that focused on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. While Gifty didn't care for Hopkins' poetry, she felt a "strange sense of kinship" with the man himself when she reflected on the struggles he had in squaring his religious devotion with his sexual desires. Hopkins, a now-famous Victorian-era poet who converted to Roman Catholicism and became a priest, failed to achieve recognition during his lifetime, partly due to his unusual poetic style...
Knopf. Novel. 288 pages. Published Sep 1, 2020
BookBrowse Rating: 5/5, Critics' Consensus: 5/5
Review and article by Elisabeth Cook
More Recent Articles in Books and Authors
The Zoom Black Girls' Book Club
Vicki Moore, founder of the Zoom Black Girls' Book Club tells us why she felt the pandemic was the perfect time to form her new book club.

How did your group get started? 

Our book club began in May 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Actually, the pandemic was the motivating factor. All of our members live in major urban areas that experienced significant shutdowns beginning in March. Initially everyone was in a state of shock, reeling from the sudden shift from 100 to 0 miles per hour we all experienced in our lives... After the initial shock wore off and we realized we would be in this state of limbo for quite some time, we began to feel a desire to use the time in "lockdown" to do certain things we had not found time to do when we were "free." This included the desire to get back to reading books, a once cherished activity which had fallen by the wayside as our lives became increasingly hectic...
Solve our Wordplay puzzle to reveal a well-known expression, and be entered to win the book of your choice or a 6-month membership to BookBrowse!

"L N Take I C"
The answer to the last Wordplay: A R T Lifts A B

"A rising tide lifts all boats"

A phrase used mainly by politicians and economists that refers to the macro-economic theory that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in that economy.

It was popularized by John F. Kennedy and is often attributed to him. However, as Kennedy's speechwriter Ted Sorensen, reveals in his memoir, he came across the phrase during his first year working for Kennedy, when JFK was a senator. While researching New England's economic problems, Sorensen observed that "the regional chamber of commerce, the New England Council, had a thoughtful slogan: 'A rising tide lifts all the boats.'"

Kennedy used the phrase frequently from then on. In recent years it has tended to be used to defend policies that benefit high income earners.
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