The Painter

9780385352093When we first read The Dog Stars in 2012, we were fired up for Heller’s unique style–sparse prose, wide landscapes, and characters that seem more comfortable in the natural world then they do in company. Here was a book for all of us itching to just get away for awhile.

Well, Peter Heller is BACK. And not only has he written another lovely novel, he’s coming back to Lemuria (and  as our FEC pick for May) June 10th at 5 PM.

We love first novels; it’s a chance for us to meet someone new, to go to a place nobody has written us into yet. Second novels are a bit trickier to pull off. Peter Heller has done a bang up job; The Painter is a bit of Dostoyevsky and a bit of Hemingway.

“I never imagined I would shoot a man. Or be a father. Or live so far from the sea.

As a child, you imagine your life sometimes, how it will be.”

And so we are off with a gunshot. Jim Stegner, the novel’s protagonist splits his time between Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. He is a painter, but he is also a fly-fisherman. This division is Stegner’s strength and flaw–he paints in a fury as untamable as his temper and fishes with the patience of a monk.

We never do see the artwork Jim Stegner paints. Each chapter is headed with a placard of the work that makes an appearance in each chapter:


I’m pleased that we don’t see the paintings. Something would be stolen from us. Peter Heller works well with the negative space of the story–sometimes what isn’t shown is just as important as what is. Like Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, Jim Stegner can’t help but give himself away when his inner turmoil works its way onto the canvas.

John Ashbery wrote a poem titled “The Painter.” I happened to read it while I was reading Peter Heller’s The Painter. The two share a similar spirit–the artist at odds with the world around him (and inside him):

Sitting between the sea and the buildings
He enjoyed painting the sea’s portrait.
But just as children imagine a prayer
Is merely silence, he expected his subject
To rush up the sand, and, seizing a brush,
Plaster its own portrait on the canvas.
So there was never any paint on his canvas.
Until the people who lived in the buildings
Put him to work: “Try using the brush
As a means to an end. Select, for a portrait,
Something less angry and large, and more subject
To a painter’s moods, or, perhaps, to a prayer.”

How could he explain to them his prayer
That nature, not art, might usurp the canvas?
He chose his wife for a new subject,
Making her vast, like ruined buildings,
As if, forgetting itself, the portrait
Had expressed itself without a brush.

Slightly encouraged, he dipped his brush
In the sea, murmuring a heartfelt prayer:
“My soul, when I paint this next portrait
Let it be you who wrecks the canvas.”
The news spread like wildfire through the buildings:
He had gone back to the sea for his subject.

Imagine a painter crucified by his subject!
Too exhausted even to lift his brush,
He provoked some artists leaning from the buildings
To malicious mirth: “We haven’t a prayer
Now, of putting ourselves on canvas,
Or getting the sea to sit for a portrait!”

Others declared it a self-portrait.
Finally all indications of a subject
Began to fade, leaving the canvas
Perfectly white. He put down the brush.
At once a howl, that was also a prayer,
Arose from the overcrowded buildings

They tossed him, the portrait, from the tallest of the buildings;
And the sea devoured the canvas and the brush
As though his subject had decided to remain a prayer.


Written by Adie

Speaking to a Smarter Audience

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I recently finished The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton and it was, in a word, underwhelming.  I started this book with high expectations and maybe that’s where I went wrong, but for a book aiming to be a guide to how we should consume our news moving forward, the author stumbled with most of his assumptions providing anecdotal evidence that I can only describe as “writing from the hip.”  Obviously, I realize that a great deal of time and research was put into this book but I finished the book realizing that the intended audience are probably people that probably don’t question the relevance of how news is presented anyway.

Before I get into that, let me tell you what I liked about the book because I’m not trying to come across as cynical or dissatisfied.  In actuality, I quite enjoyed the first half of The News.  The book is broken up into sections of different types of news.  Politics and Celebrity are my favorites.  They are extremely fleshed out, and he provides historical intricacies that resonated with me.  For example, he uses the ancient city of Athens as an example of how celebrity worship can be accomplished in constructive and even self preserving ways.  Admiration can teach us all things about ourselves and eventually highlight the subtle tendencies and talents that would otherwise be left dormant or neglected because of the daily grind of life.  The book’s section on Photography is absolutely stunning and worth reading alone.  As a proponent of visual arts and media (what does that even mean?) photojournalism has lost a certain luster in traditional news media and Alain de Botton expresses that loss beautifully with the use of photographs.  The proof is, how you say, in the desert?


Ken Murphy and Lemuria accomplish something very similar with Jackson Photographs by Ken Murphy, due out this July.  The book captures the spirit and culture of Jackson as it is.  It speaks to the reader/observer through images that resonate the quiet beauty of a city that people have intentionally failed to notice.  Ken Murphy guides the eyes of the reader to the majesty of our city unlike any photographer has been able to achieve in quite some time.


Anyway, somewhere towards the second part of the book the sections get more and more pithy.  The pieces on Disaster and Consumption are as brief as the news articles he criticizes.  It’s at this point that the book feels like someone started playing the “wrap it up music” behind de Botton’s head as he furiously tried to type out a few more sections to finish the book.

My biggest problem  comes from the section Personalization.  He offers that when users are afforded the ability the personalize their own news (i.e., news channels like Google News and Reddit) a danger lies in shutting out news that could be missed or filtered by the user’s own personal standards.  He goes on to offer that the only way to be sure that this doesn’t happen is for the user to approach these channels with a firm understanding of their own self and direction.  This is laughably obvious to…umm…well me.

And that’s when I realized…maybe this book isn’t for me.  Everything he wrote seems to be intended for proponents of the old system of news.  Buying a newspaper, or watching the evening news followed by your local equivalent, ya know, that sort of thing.  I grew up with access to the internet.  I grew up with the ability to instantly search a subject and call someone out on the supposed truths they were spouting.  I grew up with the sneaky suspicion that everyone was lying to me all the time.  (Not really, I got a little carried away there.)  I grew up in the generation of fact checkers.  If I read an article that sounds sensationalized or off, all I have to do is scroll down and check the comments to see how factual or relevant the story really is.  I grew up communicating with the stories, instead of consuming them.  My opinions about subjects are constantly warping with new information and new texts, and the more and more I talk to people from around the world, the more I realize I have no idea what is ever really going on.  The real key is finding out how a story of a starving Malaysian boy’s journey to starting PayPal (totally a real story but don’t fact check me) can impact my life in a meaningful way.

This book is a guide, but it is also question.   How should we consume our stories?  Some of us have a pretty good idea.  I believe in participation and this books serves to invite you to figure out what you believe.

I’m giving this book a 7.5/10.

:Closing Thoughts:

Excerpts from this book should really be used as text material for 9th and 10th graders.  I think it would benefit younger readers to have a better understanding of what news media is capable of, and the healthy ways to consume said media.  So, if you’re a high school English/economics teacher, give it a read.

Written by Andre

Which Cage Are We Talking About?

The first thing I read when I started working here was a copy of Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. I think I had the same initial reaction as most bibliophiles would: “wait, we get free books?!” After that excitement wore off, I realized that I was already a hundred pages into the book and felt completely hooked.  It’s the first new installment in the Penn Cage series in five years, and over the next two years we will be treated with two more continuations from author Greg Iles.


No, not THAT Penn Cage.

Penn Cage, the novel’s focal character, is the mayor of Natchez (and boy do mayors seem to have a lot of free time these days) who learns that his moral compass may by trained to follow the wrong person.  Imagine what Nicholas Cage’s character must have been thinking during the movie Face/Off: the struggle between trying to save his family and trying to follow that grey mist of a concept some people call ethics. How far can you bend before you break your own rules? What happens when the person who gave you those rules has bent them pretty far himself?


But, (thankfully) this book cannot simply be summed up in one sloppy Nicholas Cage movie metaphor— It will take quite a few.  Con Air for example, now that is a Cage we can all hope to fulfill this role.  He fights for those who cannot defend themselves.  He gets in bed with a ruthless killer because it is the only way to save someone. Oh, and let’s not forget that silky, smooth, southern drawl that, I must admit, I imagined while reading a few lines in the book. But no, our Penn Cage is not so much a brawler as he is a schemer.   How about National Treasure Cage then? He is definitely well-educated— a thinking man’s hero who is more able to use his trivia knowledge and clever friends to save the day before he would win a fist fight on top of a fire truck.  He quickly uses what little information he has to decide on a plan of attack, trying to always hit where no one would think to look.  Always trying his hardest to follow the law, but unable to do so.  No, it’s close, but P. Cage doesn’t seem so bookish.


Gone in Sixty Seconds has the action, the tempo, and the reassurance of a man in control in spite of living his worst nightmare.  Only at the very edge do we see the nerves start to fray and the mind lose the sharpness that got him into that seat as mayor or legendary car thief.  But of course the bleak, lawless history of Memphis Raines (are you still with me after all these movie references?) disqualifies him.


Who then? It’s got to be The Rock where the two Cages finally overlap.  The world is turned upside down for our heroes and everyone else is a lot slower to catch on.  Stanley Goodspeed is extremely good at what he does and, despite dealing with some very dangerous elements (chemical weapons for N. Cage and criminal law for P. Cage), he is relatively protected from danger.  Soon, however, you immediately feel the loss of confidence as both characters are thrown out of their element and into the deep end of the pool.  Both Cages quickly realize their situations must be handled in a vacuum.  Survival first, reelection is still a few years away—they can play the old solving-a-hate-crime card later to win back votes.  Stanley, like Penn, finally realizes the only way to survive is to get down into the mud with the enemy and hope he still has a shred of morality left after they hose off the blood and the dirt.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even more than writing an entire post about Nicholas Cage movie characters.  If that doesn’t sell you on it then I don’t know what would.

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Written by Daniel

First Editions Feature: Spandau Phoenix

spandau phoenix ffeSpandau Phoenix by Greg Iles. Dutton: New York, 1993.

With Mississippi’s literary tradition long established with William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Richard Wright, John Grisham was Mississippi’s first commercially successful writer. Following on the heels of Grisham’s The Firm in 1991, Greg Iles made his debut with Spandau Phoenix. The first of two novels set in Nazi Germany, Spandau Phoenix quickly landed on the best seller list. Black Cross was released in 1995 and is so far the last of his WWII novels. Iles moved on to other themes in subsequent novels, broadening his skill as a thriller writer. As Iles’ fan base grew, Spandau Phoenix and Black Cross became more collectible and distinguished from his other work.

This piece was featured in the Clarion Ledger on March 2, 2014. Watch for The Mississippi Book Page every Sunday in the Clarion Ledger.

Greg Iles’ new book Natchez Burning is available for purchase now! We have signed first editions for you to add to that amazing collection.

Written by Lisa

April 29 is Greg Iles Day

Get ready people! Greg Iles will be here THIS Tuesday at 1:00! Greg will be signing his new book Natchez Burning from 1:00 to 7:00 so that everyone will have plenty of time to meet him and get a book signed before they go home to devour the new adventure.

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Oh, and one more thing. Do you like Greg Iles AND Broad Street? If you go down to Broad Street after you get your book signed and show them our social media flyer (you get one with every book you purchase!) you’ll get 10% off! Go Broad Street! Go Greg Iles! Happy Tuesday to all!

(Pssst, we made t-shirts for this signing, so make sure to pick one up before they are all out!)

Written by Hannah

Interview with Michael Garriga

We had the pleasure of getting to know Michael Garriga when he came by Lemuria last month to sign his new collection of stories, The Book of Duels. Jana Hoops, a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger, managed to snag Michael for an interview.

This interview was conducted for publication in The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, as part of an ongoing series about Mississippi authors. A portion of this interview appeared in The Clarion-Ledger March 23, 2014. No portion of this article may be used without permission.

Mississippi native Michael Garriga – and most of his 100-plus first cousins – grew up on the state’s eclectic and temperamental Gulf Coast. An enormous, raucous bunch, the family is still making its mark along the state’s southern tip. Today he and his family live near Cleveland, Ohio, where he teaches creative writing in the English department at Baldwin Wallace University near Cleveland, Ohio.


What people (teachers, other writers, etc.) or experiences influenced you to become a writer?

When I attended Ole Miss, I had the fortune of living next door to Barry Hannah, a tall-teller like my own folks. I didn’t know who he was. He was sober at the time and I just thought he was a regular old maniac. Then I took his class and everything changed. He was crazy but also kind and considerate and empathetic and sweet. I was starving and he’d feed me apples from his back yard and tell me wild stories of his youth. He told me don’t strive to be adequate or normal, be humble but not a bootlicker. He gave me inspiration and the drive and courage to sit in front of that blank screen, non-cowardly, look it head on, and talk to it. When I heard he died, I wept like a widow for a week. He was my second dad. In fact, when my dad met him, my dad called him “professor” and Barry, without a flinch, called him “doctor”—my dad who didn’t finish junior high—and so a relationship of respect was formed and sustained. Barry told me to not be scared, the same things my dad said to me. To work hard like Satan was on my back. To do things, any things: do, do, do. He taught me the word mattered and that to write was worth a grown man’s time.

I also adored Larry Brown, with whom I had many drinks. I’ve worked with Richard Bausch, Paul Griner, Mark Winegardner, Robert Olen Butler, Julianna Baggott, and many, many others.

Tell me about your life, professional and otherwise, now.

I have two beautiful baby boys, better than any two baby boys in America today, I guarantee, because my wife, Megan, is a gorgeous Kentucky woman. She teaches literacy to the college kids here in Berea, Ohio, and so too to our boys. They are strong and handsome. And she is too. I teach in Ohio at a really wonderful university—Baldwin Wallace University. My colleagues are sharp and sweet, my students able and kind, and the weather’s horrible. It’s a great private school, and I love it here. However, it’s way different than the South. I love teaching Southern Lit, because the students and I get into great debates about stereotypes, what they think of us, what we think of them, and what’s the truth. It ain’t easy, but it’s fun.

What is “The Book of Duels” all about? It’s a unique topic for a book!

“The Book of Duels” has 33 short stories, each comprised of three separate dramatic monologues given in the final seconds before an ultimate confrontation. Taken together they create a multi-perspective narrative. There are three perspectives because I learned in researching this book that, for a duel to be legal, you had to have a witness; hence, the third, different, point of view character was born. Plus, I love the idea of the triptych, the holy three. Examples of the duels in the book are a cockfight, Cain and Able, and then a joust, Don Quixote and the Windmill, and a bullfight – we were living in Spain at the time.

The book is described as “flash fiction.” Please explain what that means.

 I often use the term “flash fiction” to describe these works because of the layers of association: firing a pistol (as in most of the stories); a flash in the pan (referring to when a pistol misfires and also to those people quickly forgotten); flash forward and flash backward (two narrative strategies that engage the reader at the emotional level); the speed and brevity of these monologues; and the flash of an epiphany or a moment of yearning in the characters, like a flashbulb going off. That is, Flash Fiction, to me, connotes a moment when characters’ desire for self-knowledge and self-awareness dovetails with their epiphany of who they are. In one intense moment, who they are, at the deepest level, is revealed or made apparent to themselves or to the readers. I also use the word “flash” because these stories don’t fit nicely into any one genre. Are they dramatic monologues or short short stories? Are they poetry or fiction? They’ve been published as both. And they are truly hybrids.

How did you research “The Book of Duels?”

For each story I tried to embed myself in the historical situation, reading not only history books, but also books written at the time of the event to better gather the language. . . and to learn about the zeitgeist of the time and the slang—the foods, the politics, and the terrain of the place and time. . . . For a small moment in time, I was truly engaged with these people—their obsessions became mine. And, and I guess, in turn, I put mine on them.

Are there other writers whose influences we could find in this book?

I have read an awful lot of Faulkner. I don’t know if my work speaks to his except for my long-winded tendencies. The duels often contain a lot of playfulness and dark humor, which comes mainly through the poets I read: Jennifer L. Knox, Doug Cox, David Kirby, Maurice Manning, and Frank Giampietro, who edited many of these duels. I see the King James Bible in several of these stories, as well as Robert Olen Butler’s books of flash fiction. Barry Hannah’s work also had a profound influence on me: the illogical leaps, the playfulness, the drugs, the sex, and the general madness. The Drive-by Truckers created the book’s “soundtrack.” They’re among my favorite storytellers; they actively court the other Point of View. Their language skills are mind-blowing, the best puns ever. I use several of their lines as epigraphs.

Tell me about the illustration of the book.

These illustrations, which I love, came about because of an early editor, Ben Barnhardt. He solicited the book after having read a couple of published duels. He said he had a pal in Minneapolis—Tynan Kerr—who would be perfect for the book. TK liked the stories and started working on them. Man, he was fast: he had vision…and he has skill. His work is amazing. I saw the first four or five drawings, and Milkweed Editions began asking about the cover of my book, and I said, “Whatever Tynan sees.” And I was right. That cover is, to me, sexy. I love it. I thank Tynan…his vision and his skill and insight.

Jacket (11)What are some other interests that you enjoy pursuing when you aren’t writing, helping your students learn to write, or reading what someone else has already written?

Seriously, keeping up with Megan and raising two boys—while teaching a full load and writing—is enough. That said, I like shooting skeet and drinking with men way older than me at VFW or DAV clubs, where men have things to share and not be scared to do so; it is more interesting than almost anything Shakespeare, who I love, could aspire to. I also enjoy cooking.

What will your next book project tackle – anything in mind at this point?

Yes, I’ve written a manuscript entitled “Loosh.” It’s a Southern Noir, concerning the Biloxi beach wade-ins of 1959 (staged to integrate the Mississippi Gulf Coast beaches). I’ve imagined the forces behind it on both sides and it should be ready for an agent in the next month.

Since you are a creative writing instructor, what are some suggestions you’d give would-be writers to embrace and/or avoid?

Seriously, don’t condescend to your readers: Treat them as if they are 10 years older than you, at least as well educated if not better, better read than you, and not nearly as much of a prude. Don’t talk down. Talk up. They expect as much out of art, and you should demand it, too.

By Jana Hoops

Written by Lemuria

All the Walls Are Brown

As a resident awesome person at Lemuria, you may have noticed my absence. Or maybe (probably) you haven’t. Whatever the case may be, I have not been fired or expelled from this earth. I have been at ARMY, specifically, Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport Louisiana. For the past six weeks, I have been working my way through days and days of classroom and flight line learning in pursuit of becoming more versed and comfortable in my job. I have learned one thing above all else: All the walls are brown.
A military installation is a void of creativity. All the streets are clean. All the people smile. All the cars stop for pedestrians. All the grocery carts are returned, and seriously all the walls are brown.


It (t)was the summer of 2007 and I was waist deep in mud, and self-delusion. I was going to be an American Airman, and I was going to save lives. Two weeks into basic training, after the uniform, mess hall, and haircut became intertwined with my being, I noticed something off about everything. I was being yelled at like I’m sure you’ve seen in the movies, but everyone was dialing it in. It was their job to yell at me and tell me I was worthless, etc. There was something behind all that repetition and monotony and I knew they felt what I felt. Boredom.


There I was again bored, but it was different from basic training. I was bored because I was choosing to be bored. I was reading about hyper realistic self-aware characters that were just as bored as I was. Ask yourself how many bad decisions have you made to end up wherever it is you are. I was in Shreveport Louisiana surrounded by buildings that made everything look like someone placed the Early Bird Instagram filter over my eyes. I needed something strange and daring: something not afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings. I needed something weird. (see what I did there?)

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The Weirdness by Jeremy Bushnell is pretty weird. I know that sounds redundant and just plain unhelpful but honestly that’s the best way I can describe the book. Yes, it is smart and funny and expertly paced but it is weird. The book follows an aspiring writer and actual sandwich maker, Billy Ridgeway. He’s your typical Brooklyn, NY artistic dweller chalked full of potential (he thinks) waiting on his chance to prove everyone (actually everyone) wrong. After one of his worst days in recent memory, he wakes up to a very well dressed, well-spoken gentlemen in his living room. What this man offers him is a chance. Now, if any of you haven’t seen the EXCELLENT Ghost Rider starring Nicholas Cage go and do that now, because this book is basically the sequel. Go do that now and come back.

nicolas cage se parte de risa en ghost rider

Okay so you know not to make deals with the devil now right? Well ole Billy boy didn’t. What follows is a story written for people like me. People that are just bored with the “To be expected.” Billy is a character that surprises, not because he’s a hero or a fiction staple, but because he is legitimately his own person. A person that exists in a world rather than a character used as a device to further a plot or an **cough cough** agenda. This book is the classic pick me up. Jeremy Bushnell has woven together a great urban fantasy that kept me until the last page. This is an excellent first novel that deserves some eyes and attention.

The Weirdness by Jeremy Bushnell is available now



Written by Andre

You Were Allowed to See the Holy

When Kevin Powers’ debut novel, Yellow Birds, arrived on our shelves, Austen wouldn’t stop ranting and raving about it. I read it to shut him up, but truth be told, the book shut me up too. (You can read his blog here)

A Michener fellow, Kevin Powers studied poetry and fiction, and it shows in his work—stunning prose and poetry with a good story. It’s the best of both worlds.

 I had reservations about Powers’ poetry (What if it was horrible? What if he should have just stuck with fiction?) because, lets be honest here: poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea, and even if it is, poetry readers are a pretty picky bunch.

But Powers does something on the page that is rare; he makes us experience the speaker’s emotions. They aren’t just real, they are us (and not just the speaker— we’re the young republicans with popped collars, the boy in the dusty velour suite, the pretty girl at the Fourth of July celebration).

Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting

Letters Composed During a Lull in the Fighting follow an unnamed speaker through his return from Iraq and reintegration into society. We learn about his childhood, his mother’s pond, his fear and anxiety and regret.


Sometimes, when the wind blows so certainly

you feel that it is spring, regardless of the season,

there is no cause to comment on it. It goes,

and if it passes over a child

in a carriage at the end of the sidewalk,

you would be forgiven for not noticing

the one moment in our life

you were allowed to see the holy.


The poems accuse the reader. He is not trying to shock us with accounts of the terror on the front—as was the case with WWI poets—nor honoring the bravery of his comrades like 19th century poets. He is not cursing the “establishment/government/man.” The war in Power’s poems is not the result of a tyrannical dictator nor about war crimes. Rather, we are all standing accused. We are accused not of violence or arm-chair criticism. Rather we are accused of being human. Of having fear and shame and responsibility. We are guilty of not being dead.

The poems are not so much about war, but about our own insignificance. In war and peace, overseas and here, we don’t’ matter except to ourselves.


Written by Adie


I must confess, I am a sucker for a good book jacket and when I really think about it, I would bet that about 75% of the time that is what lures me into picking up a book.

Susan Minot Thirty GirlsWith this being said, I was perusing Lemuria’s newest books two weeks ago and the cover of Susan Minot’s newest novel, Thirty Girls, enticed my eyes.  I began to thumb through it because I was familiar with Minot’s previous works, such as Evening.  Soon I discovered that I must have this book for a variety of reasons.  Honestly, Thirty Girls hit a personal chord with me as soon as I read the inside jacket synopsis:

“Esther is a precocious Ugandan teenager who is abducted from her Catholic boarding school by Joseph Kony’s rebels and, along with twenty-nine of her classmates, forced to witness and commit unspeakable atrocities in the Lord’s Resistance Army.”

Now, let me just start with the name that hit me first:  Joseph Kony.  Joseph Kony and I go way back.  Actually, I have known Kony since 2003.  I first heard of his ruthless, power hungry, havoc-filled, and sadistic behavior when I was a freshman in college.


Time for a little history lesson:  in Kony’s attempt to form his own centralized government, a war began that has now spanned over fourteen years in Uganda; and eventually Kony’s men started to flee.  Kony had no other choice but to go to small villages, kill copious amounts of people, and those that remained he would enlist as soldiers.  For example, Kony would line children up.  These children would be as young as four and could be old as fifteen (still impressionable).  Kony would go down the line, one by one, asking each child if he would join his army.  If the child refused, a soldier would shoot him point blank.  The next child in line would witness this, have the same question asked, and would hopelessly join.  The girls who were abducted would become “camp girls” for the older soldiers.  The girls would be defiled and beaten.  When a girl was allowed to leave due to a trade or exchange or escaped, she would try to return home.  Yet, upon returning home she would find that her parents and village did not want anything to do with her due to her being “unclean.”  These girls with nowhere to go would often commit suicide, go back to the army camps, or live their lives in exile.

You and I were going about our ordinary lives as these events were taking place.  Now let us flash-forward to 2003.  A group called Invisible Children was at that time comprised of three people:  Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey, and Laren Poole.  In the spring of 2003 Russell, Bailey, and Poole traveled to Africa to document the War in Darfur.  Instead, they changed their focus to the conflict in northern Uganda, Africa’s second longest-running conflict after the Eritrean War of Independence.  They began to focus on the abduction of children who are used as child soldiers by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and made a documentary.   People all over the world became aware of Kony.  The only things that mattered were saving these children and abolishing Joseph Kony.  (You are probably wondering where in the world I am going with this but I promise I will piece all of it together.)

I want to focus on another name:  Esther Akello. Esther Akello, one of the lives the novel Thirty Girls follows, has experienced and witnessed horrors that no pre-teen girl should ever be forced to endure.  Now, she is striving to adapt in a rehabilitation center.  Esther, like many of the girls, has become unfeeling as her mind struggles to handle what she has been forced to undergo.

“How were our days? We searched for food. We gathered vine leaves and cooked them. We ate cassava leaves, simsim, boiled sorghum. We carried the radio, carried water, and were always thirsty…”

Susan Minot’s description in explicit and direct detail, allows Esther to recount the ritualized rapes and sometimes impregnation, the beatings, the dehumanizing of these previously wholesome girls. The story haunts the reader and helps them become aware of the horrors that only Joseph Kony could enact.

Having known about Invisible Children and attending the numerous events that the organization held for the abducted children, I was immediately reminded of another child like Esther:  Grace.  Grace, like Esther, was abducted when she was only ten years old.  At thirteen she was forced to be a sex slave for a rebel commander 40 years older.  By the time she was sixteen, she managed to escape the bush only to find out that she was pregnant.  I had to read this book and I needed to know what would happen to Esther.  I could not disconnect the story of Grace from Esther’s.

Yet, Esther’s is only one part of the story.  The other interweaving story line focuses on the character Jane Wood, who struggles to know what she wants out of life.  Jane, an American writer, meets Lana while working together in London on a film set.  Lana, a native of Kenya, extended an open invitation to come and visit and Jane, needing something new and exciting, took the offer.  Jane comes to Africa to write about the horrors that are occurring in Uganda. Immediately through Minot’s vivid imagery, the reader is taken to a different part of Africa, even though atrocities are occurring only a few hours away.  Jane meets Harry.  Harry is an incalculably confident twenty-two year old.  Jane is fifteen years older than Harry and falls for him instantaneously and quickly becomes inseparable from his side.

Minot does a brilliant job in developing the characters of Esther and Jane.  I even might go as far to say that they are on the same spectrum.  Esther, who starts the story, is broken and a part of her has been taken away or murdered.  She seems to vastly differ from Jane.  Yet as the story progresses, we see a change:  the roles of Esther and Jane reverse.  Jane becomes the one who has to deal with an incredible tragedy and a piece of her dies along with her hopes and dreams.  Esther, on the other hand, begins to heal and truly understand what it is to live.

We find hope in Minot’s newest novel.  Hope that we, as readers, need to be reminded of every now and then in our busy lives.  We can rebuild from tragedy, and we can arise stronger like Esther Akello.

Written by Laura

To Roast and Toast

Jacket (1)
Available at Lemuria on March 18!

01-small-town-big-appetite-grocery-0314-lgnLet’s talk about the B.T.C. old fashioned grocery in Water Valley, MS. When my husband Daniel and I lived in Water Valley right after we got married, the B.T.C. was our go-to place for fresh produce, local meat cuts, and creamy, scrumptious cheese (you delicious dill Havarti, you, I dream of you nightly). In the back of the small building is an eatery ruled over by the grand and mighty chef Dixie Grimes and is populated on any given morning with several very, very old men eating grits. Dixie teamed up with B.T.C. owner Alexe van Beuren and together they decided to chronicle the incredible recipes used daily to feed Water Valley’s hungry townspeople. (You should read about Alexe and the B.T.C. here and here)  I am SO excited about this cookbook. Excited enough that when my coworker Lisa heard that I was a little obsessed with B.T.C. and asked me to write a blog about it I not only said yes! yes! a thousand times yes! I also promised to cook from it and write about that too. This blog had humble beginnings, I promise. As most things do in my life though, it quickly spiraled into a bigger-than-intended project, which is why I now present you with this full-fledged foodie extravaganza.

Picture it in your mind: roasted pork tenderloin, roasted fennel mashed potatoes, baked fresh green beans with mushrooms, and wine, wine, wine. I chose these recipes from the cookbook because first and foremost, they looked the easiest. Look, I’m not a natural when it comes to cooking. My sweet husband started the battle early by hitting the grocery store before I got home from work and then at 7:30 it was show time. I will say that I had way too many irons in the fire, but it all turned out beautifully, despite us not owning a roasting rack. I forgot to take a picture of our poor man’s solution to the lack of roaster but suffice it to say, I will be deep cleaning my oven when I get home from work today.

The recipes were wonderfully easy to follow, which for me is super important, and they used ingredients that I didn’t have to Google to figure out what they were. I mean the Barefoot Contessa is great and all and I want her to adopt me, but usually when I read her recipes I end up thinking, “wait, what is a wheatberry?” Dixie and Alexe have mixed together the perfect combination of finesse and accessibility that can make not-so-great cooks like myself feel like they really accomplished something delicious. Next up on the list: That chicken and asparagus casserole and some of their famous fried pies. Ooh! And that roasted pear and zucchini soup. 

We had a few friends over to help us with the feast, and boy am I glad we invited them. The yield on those recipes should have read “not just you and your husband”. I decided to go all Pioneer Woman and catalog my culinary journey through photographs, so here are too many of them…

Oh wait! Before you look at the pictures, one more thing. The B.T.C. grocery in Water Valley is, in my opinion, the heartbeat of that little town. I want you guys to buy this cookbook because the recipes are amazing and it’s full of stories of Southern revival, but I also want to raise awareness about this amazing business. If you’re ever in the area, stop by, tell them I’m missing them, and pick up a fried pie and a bit of town gossip on your way out the door.

photo 1

Daniel in our matchbox kitchen. It is as small as it looks, and yes, we tripped all over each other and also the dog all night long.



photo 2

So these were the hit of the night. After everyone’s plates were clean, we basically just polished these off straight out of the casserole dish. We are so classy.


photo 3

Get in my belly potatoes! True story, I had never cooked with fennel before. It’s a giant bulb-like thing! Who knew?

photo 3

The boys! You can’t tell in this photo, but David (in the purple) has a giant, regal lynx on his shirt. I’m a big fan of that kind of thing.


photo 4

We ate excessive amounts of cheese. Shameful amounts. No apologies! YOLO!


photo 5

No meat in the history of ever photographs well, but here are the delicious pork tenderloins. Go forth! Roast the loins!


photo 5

Here’s a picture of my cat sitting in my lap like a little old man. I know this picture isn’t pertinent, but who doesn’t love a good silly cat photo?

photo 4

My view of the bounty (cheese). I feel like this picture describes the evening pretty well, because the wine was flowing all night. We even tried our hand at toasts, and by “we”, I mean I was the only one cheesiest enough to do it. I think I used the phrase “sticks closer than a brother” which was probably weird for everyone else.



Written by Hannah