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Beyond the Book Articles Archive

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Nature Writers Who Also Write Fiction (04/21)
Before she wrote Where the Crawdads Sing, Idaho-based Delia Owens co-authored three nature books (with her former husband, Mark Owens) based on wildlife research in Africa: Cry of the Kalahari (1984), which won the John Burroughs Medal for natural history writing, The Eye of the Elephant (1992), and Secrets of the Savanna (2006). She's ...
The Oud (04/21)
In previous 'beyond the book' articles we've looked at different aspects of contemporary Syria - such as its culture and the refugee crisis. Now, we take a look at its music through a close up look at one of the Muslim world's most popular instruments.

Aeham Ahmad, author of The Pianist from Syria, owned a music store with his father ...
The Effects of Teenage Pregnancy (04/21)
In With the Fire on High, protagonist Emoni has a baby at the end of her freshman year of high school and makes some life-changing choices. Her strong support system, which not every teen mother has, gives Emoni an excellent chance at keeping both her life and the life of her daughter on a positive track.

With her mother dead and her ...
Books Set Across Centuries (04/21)
Katy Simpson Smith's novel The Everlasting is set entirely in Rome, but it takes place across multiple centuries, introducing us to separate storylines in 2015, 1559, 896, and 165. Here are some other noteworthy books that are set in one location spanning multiple centuries.

The Kingsbridge Series by Ken Follett
Originally published...

The Flying African in the Americas (04/21)
The story of the flying African is as old as the history of Africans in the Americas. Thus, it is no surprise that this trope finds its way into Afia Atakora's debut novel, Conjure Women.

The basic notion behind the folktale lies in a secret power, a secret magic known to a select few. This power allows a person to grow wings, or in ...
DNA Testing and Law Enforcement (04/21)
In The Lost Family, Libby Copeland examines some of the complex issues surrounding commercial DNA testing, including concerns about privacy and consent. To what extent should we be comfortable entrusting our DNA to powerful corporations that can take our most intimate information—our genetic data—and put it to uses we aren't ...
Holocaust Refugees and the British White Papers (04/21)
'To fight or flee?' This is a question the Polish resistance fighters must ask themselves in Judy Batalion's The Light of Days. As the German army advanced across Europe and persecution of the Jews intensified, those who chose to flee had to decide where to go. As their own countries were invaded, some European Jews emigrated to ...
The Black Dahlia Murder (04/21)
In Windhall, the murder of Hollywood starlet Eleanor Hayes is the unsolved crime of the century. Eleanor's friend and movie director Theodore Langley was initially accused of the crime, but he was never charged, and speculation abounds as to what exactly happened on that unfortunate night. Although Eleanor Hayes and her murder are ...
Impact of the Blizzard of 1978 on the Northeastern U.S. (04/21)
Jack Livings' debut novel The Blizzard Party revolves around an incident that occurs during the historic 'Blizzard of '78,' a massive storm that hit the northeastern United States February 5-7, 1978, burying New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the New York metropolitan area under feet of snow. (This was a particularly harsh winter, ...
The Woman's Peace Party (04/21)
In The Women of Chateau Lafayette, New York socialite and war supporter Beatrice Ashley Chanler is often at odds with the Woman's Peace Party (WPP), an organization that opposed war in general and the United States' entry into World War I in particular.

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, sparking a conflict that ...
Gilmore Girls, Lane Kim and Asian Americans on Television (04/21)
In Mary H.K. Choi's Yolk, June is particularly fond of the Warner Brothers (WB) Network television series Gilmore Girls. At first glance, the show seems like a somewhat anachronistic and unlikely pop culture presence in the novel. Set in Connecticut, it first aired in 2000; Choi's characters June and Jayne, Korean American sisters living ...
Wildlife Trafficking in Latin America (04/21)
In Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer, the main character is left a taxidermied hummingbird as a clue. Early on in the book, it is revealed that this hummingbird belongs to a now-extinct species; wildlife trafficking and environmental degradation both become themes of the novel.

Although poaching and wildlife trafficking in ...
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (04/21)
In the short story 'With the Beatles' from his collection First Person Singular, Haruki Murakami refers to the writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Akutagawa was born in 1892 in Tokyo's Kyōbashi district. His mother was mentally ill, and his father was unable to take care of him, so he was sent to live with an uncle. Often sickly as a ...
The Lost (and Found) Community of Weeksville (04/21)
Greenidge's character Dr. Cathy Sampson in Libertie is based on the real-life story of Dr. Susan McKinney Steward, the first Black woman to become a medical doctor in New York State. The novel's setting, meanwhile, is based on the historical settlement of Weeksville, which was located in what is now the Crown Heights neighborhood in the ...
Grieving Places (03/21)
In The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, author Laura Imai Messina crafts a fictional story around a real-life place of public mourning, a phone booth, in the Japanese town of Otsuchi, located about three hours inland in northeastern Japan. A man named Itaru Sasaki built the glass booth with a rotary phone inside after the death of a ...
Q&A with Jackie Polzin (03/21)
Jackie Polzin talks about her debut novel, Brood, and how her own experience caring for chickens contributed to it.

First of all, why chickens?

When I was 30, my partner and I got chickens. They were my first pets since childhood. I compensated by giving them a lot of attention, and that attention inspired the book. I knew I could ...
The Founding of Home Depot (03/21)

As he passes the lumber and rounds into a lane full of bagged cement, the logic behind the division of inventory dawns on him. The contractors' half of the store holds all the fundamental elements for building a home, all of which later get concealed by the ornaments for sale on the other side, all the paints, light fixtures, moldings, ...

The Muisca (03/21)
In Patricia Engel's novel Infinite Country, several of the main characters draw inspiration from their Muisca ancestors and legends. The Muisca, also known as the Chibcha, are an indigenous civilization that thrived in present-day Colombia before Europeans colonized the area. Bogotá, Colombia's capital city, is situated on an ancient...
Cult Psychology (03/21)
Cults are often difficult to identify from the outside, given that a common characteristic is members' denial that any dysfunctional elements are at play within their community. Many countries, including the U.S., do not have a legal definition, but prefer to use a series of criteria. However, a sort of colloquial understanding is more ...
Talking About Race Matters (03/21)
Years ago, comedian Chris Rock told a joke: 'All my black friends have a bunch of white friends and all my white friends have one black friend.' It is one of those bits of humor where the laughter leaves you reflecting on a sadder truth. Particularly, that racial segregation is still normalized in white communities. To have more than one ...
A Brief History of Cloning (03/21)
One of author Sarah Gailey's greatest skills on display in The Echo Wife is that of making the science depicted look and feel real. The cloning in the novel seems plausible. But how far have humans actually come in the field of cloning? Where did it begin and where are we now?

First, we should establish what cloning is. As Dr. Helen ...
The League of German Girls (03/21)
The socio-political climate of Christina Dalcher's Master Class mirrors, to an extent, that of Germany during its early years under the influence of the Nazi Party. Dalcher draws overt comparisons between the educational proclivities of the Nazis and those of the book's fictional state, which seeks to establish intellectual, political and...
Feminist Movements in South Korea (03/21)
South Korean society has long been profoundly patriarchal, with traditional expectations that designate men as breadwinners and women as homemakers remaining intact even as more women have entered the workforce. According to a 2017 report, Korea has the highest gender pay gap among all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and ...
Cassandra Austen (1773-1845) (03/21)
Gill Hornby's novel Miss Austen explores Jane Austen's life through the point of view of her beloved older sister, Cassandra. Cassandra is thought to have been Jane's closest companion and confidante. The two were inseparable to the extent that their mother reportedly once commented, 'If Cassandra's head had been going to be cut off, Jane...
Land Reforms in North Vietnam (1953-1956) (03/21)
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế is set against the backdrop of several decades in Northern Vietnam, including the period from 1945 to 1976 when it was an independent state known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). This was a time of extraordinary hardship brought about by factors related to shifts in political ...
Whitewashing Black Leaders (03/21)
In Morgan Parker's debut YA novel Who Put This Song On?, the narrator (named after and loosely based on Parker herself) has a political awakening as she learns about famous figures from the history of the Black struggle for liberation and civil rights. Doing her own research, Morgan is surprised to discover that the stories and legacies ...
Tree Law in the United States (03/21)
In Therese Anne Fowler's A Good Neighborhood, a lawsuit over a tree precipitates a series of tragic events. It is not uncommon for a tree to be the basis of a dispute between neighbors. Fallen trees or branches often affect neighbors, but remain the responsibility of the person whose property contains the tree's trunk. If the trunk is on ...
Changes to Female Education Pioneered by Women in 19th Century America (03/21)
The plot of The Illness Lesson revolves around the establishment of a Massachusetts school for girls in 1871 by a man with ideas about female education that are progressive and experimental for this era. The protagonist's father Samuel Hood believes that his teenage students should be offered the same curriculum as their male peers, ...
Ponzi Schemes (03/21)
In Emily St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel, the protagonist finds herself ensnared in the Ponzi scheme of a Wall Street investor. The 'Ponzi scheme' takes its name from Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant and businessman who lived in Boston in the early 20th century. Ponzi schemes are fraudulent investments in which a business will ...
Family Separation During the Holocaust (03/21)
In Jennifer Rosner's The Yellow Bird Sings, which takes place in Poland during WWII, Róza and her daughter Shira are forced to hide from the Nazis. After already losing other family members, Róza must decide whether or not to send Shira into hiding on her own in order to protect her. While members of Jewish families were often ...
Remembering the Victims of the Vardø Witch Trials (03/21)
For such a small and remote community, Vardø has endured more than its share of tragedy. In 1617, the small fishing town found at the easternmost point of Norway was hit by a violent storm. Its arrival was so sudden and devastating, it all but wiped out the male population, leaving behind a community of shell shocked women and ...
The Crusader States of Outremer (1087-1272) (03/21)
Sharon Kay Penman's novel The Land Beyond the Sea is set in the Middle Ages in a region known as Outremer (pronounced OO-tray-mare). This collection of European-held city-states was formed during the First Crusade and comprised of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Edessa, the County of Tripoli and the Principality of Antioch.

...
Boarding School Syndrome (03/21)
In Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, which explores psychological wounds and mental illness, Martha's husband Patrick was sent to boarding school at a young age. The image of boarding schools is deeply embedded in the British psyche. Writers from Enid Blyton to James Joyce have found these strange micro-societies to be rich earth. In fiction...
Mudlarking (03/21)
In Sarah Penner's The Lost Apothecary, a historical mystery is set in motion when a character discovers a small blue vial while mudlarking. 'Mudlarking' refers to the practice of scavenging for objects — generally manufactured or otherwise manmade ones that have been lost or thrown away — usually on the shore of a body of ...
Young Adult Novels That Address Gentrification (03/21)
In Like Home by Louisa Onomé, Nelo fights the forces of gentrification and change in the neighborhood that she loves so dearly. Gentrification has become an increasingly popular topic in recent young adult novels, and there are now a variety of titles offering different points of view on the subject.

This Side of Home by Ren&#...
How Drug Cartels Became a Potent Force in Mexico (03/21)
One of the main areas of focus in Blood Gun Money is the role of drug cartels in criminal activity in Mexico. In particular, two organizations are cited multiple times: Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel. Both are known for the number of enemies they've dispatched and their brutal methods of doing so. As stated in the book, guns, many of ...
The Women of ISIS (03/21)
Known for its brutal track record of executions and torture of hostages and civilians (including women and children), some may find it surprising that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group attracts a fair number of female recruits. While there are mitigating factors that vary for each woman, for many the appeal seems ...
Gene Editing (03/21)
One of the central mysteries in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Klara and the Sun surrounds the question of how some children are 'lifted' and others are not. Seemingly benefiting from a class-based or other means-based differentiation, those who are lifted have access to higher-quality education and additional advantages. Precisely how some ...
The Rajneesh Movement (03/21)
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, was born on December 11, 1931 in Kuchwada, India as Chandra Mohan Jain. He was given the name Rajneesh, meaning 'god of night,' at six months. He took an interest in religion from a young age and eventually found work as a philosophy instructor, but in 1966 resigned from his position at the ...
The Vietnamese French (03/21)
In The Committed, Vo Danh immigrates to Paris in order to escape danger. As the illegitimate child born from sexual abuse between a French priest and a Vietnamese woman, Vo Danh is a metaphor for the rape of Vietnam perpetrated by French colonialism. He goes back to his fatherland to confront the post-Vietnam War legacy and how it ...
Leeches in Medicine (03/21)
The Doctors Blackwell, Janice P. Nimura's biography of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, explores the tools 19th-century physicians used to address their patients' needs. Many common ailments were believed to be caused by an excess of blood, and consequently removing some of a person's blood was thought to be efficacious; often doctors ...
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (03/21)
In Hidden Valley Road, Robert Kolker writes about the Galvin family's experience with schizophrenia and discusses early research into the disorder performed under the auspices of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

The NIMH's website states it's the 'lead federal agency for research on mental disorders,' with a mission '...
Indian Casinos: Who Profits? (02/21)
When most people hear the word 'casino,' they think of slot machines trilling and the tinny crashing of coins. But there is a deeper significance to gambling, especially as it pertains to casinos located on federal Indian reservations. While a fun pastime for many, casinos are the lifeblood for the Native American tribes across the ...
Ghost Girls (Radium Girls) (02/21)
In Laird Hunt's book Zorrie, the title character takes a job painting watch dials with illuminating radium in Ottawa, Illinois. The women employed by the company think it's great fun to glow all night after their shifts, and even smuggle extra vials of glow-in-the-dark paint home to create designs on themselves.

During World War I, ...
Olympic Equestrian Eventing (02/21)
Eventing, sometimes described as an equestrian triathlon, became an Olympic summer sport at the Stockholm Games in 1912, but before that, it had its roots in the military as a series of exercises developed to test and prepare cavalry horses. Equestrian sports date back much further, in some cases all the way back to the ancient Olympics, ...
The Laogai Research Foundation (02/21)
In her debut book, Made in China, Amelia Pang cites the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) as a source for much of the information she presents about China's Laogai system (pronounced like loud-guy but without the 'd'). The organization's website explains:

'The Laogai system is the Chinese network of prisons, factories, and farms ...

Overcoming Arkoudaphobia: The Rarity of Bear Attacks in North America (02/21)
Bears terrify a lot of people. So much so that 'arkoudaphobia' — the fear of bears — is a common phenomenon.

However, the danger bears pose to people in North America is massively embellished in the public's collective psyche. Fantastical representations of bears in literature, television and film have exacerbated ...
Proteus Syndrome (02/21)
Midway through Patricia Lockwood's novel No One Is Talking About This, the unnamed protagonist learns that her sister's baby has been diagnosed with Proteus syndrome. You might recognize this as the condition believed to have affected Joseph Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man, whose late-19th-century life has been dramatized in a 1979 ...
Operation Condor (02/21)
The action in Daniel Loedel's debut novel, Hades, Argentina, is propelled by a clandestine South American military campaign known as Operation Condor.

Operation Condor's roots can be traced back to the mid-1960s, when Che Guevara left Cuba to spread socialist doctrine throughout South America, advocating the violent overthrow of the ...
The Truth Behind Helen of Troy and the Trojan War (02/21)
The story of the Trojan War, fought between the Greeks and the people of Troy, has been told and retold for thousands of years. This is in large part thanks to the efforts of Homer, the ancient Greek poet who penned the Iliad and Odyssey, recordings of epic stories set during and after the war. Legendary figure Helen of Troy plays a ...

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Miss Austen
by Gill Hornby
A witty, poignant novel about Cassandra Austen and her famous sister, Jane.
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