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WWII French Winemakers' Resistance
In The Winemaker's Wife, Inés Chauveau's life is turned upside down by the declaration of World War II and the Germans' arrival at her husband's vineyard. Instead of making a profit from their wines, the Chauveaus are expected to give their product to the Germans, and while Inés is prepared to do whatever it takes to get through...
Forest Fire Survival
The River sets college students Jack and Wynn in a race against a forest fire as they canoe down the Maskwa River to the Hudson Bay with little chance of rescue. In recent years there has been an uptick in the number, severity and duration of forest fires, likely due to climate change (See Escalating Wildfires in the Western U.S.), so it ...
Baobab: The Tree of Life
A prominent symbol in Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, the mighty baobab tree sparks the imagination because of its unusual shape and longevity. Traditional Shona myth explains that the tree showed too much pride and was always whining and calling other creatures bad names, so the creator turned it upside-down as punishment, hence it ...
Posthumous Cancer Memoirs
Once or twice each year, I find a superb memoir in which the author comes to terms with mortality after a diagnosis of incurable cancer. Sometimes when I look up more information about the author I'm relieved to learn they're still alive (e.g. Kate Bowler, Clive James and Christian Wiman). But sometimes I see an end date to the life span,...
New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock
Looking at a photograph of Mount Monadnock, it might not appear all that imposing. But if you've seen it in person, you were probably impressed by its size. To capture a place on the page, one has to know it intimately, and it's obvious from Andrew Krivak's deep, poetic descriptions of this mountain and its surrounding environment in The ...
Looking Back On Mississippi Burning (1988)
In December 1988, the controversial crime-thriller movie Mississippi Burning was released. It follows two FBI agents—played by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe—who investigate the disappearance of three civil rights workers. The agents' efforts to solve the case are hindered by a hostile local police force and the Ku Klux Klan.

...
Hidden Dangers: War's Legacy of Unexploded Ordnance
Author Paul Yoon's novel Run Me to Earth describes Laos as a beautiful landscape marked forever with unexploded ordnance (UXO) left in the wake of war from 1964 to 1973. Concealed explosives impact every character in the novel. The legacy of landmines and other unexploded munitions endures in the 21st century, not just in Laos but ...
The Underwater World of Haenyeos
Lisa See's novel, The Island of Sea Women, highlights the lives of haenyeos – women from the South Korean island of Jeju who support their families by free-diving for plants and animals that thrive in the ocean. They're known to be able to hold their breath for two to three minutes at a stretch and can descend to depths of 30 to 45 ...
20 Years of Speak
Released in 1999, Speak was Laurie Halse Anderson's first novel and also her most controversial. Melinda Sordino, the protagonist, is raped the summer before her freshman year of high school at a house party. She calls the police but is unable to verbalize what happened, leaving the scene before they arrive. The police bust the house ...
Chimpanzee Sanctuaries
In Mama's Last Hug, Frans de Waal details the observation of chimpanzees in places like Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands. Chimps there enjoy a relatively peaceful existence with large enclosures mimicking their natural habitat. In the United States, a number of organizations are working to establish a similar quality of life for chimps ...
Myles Standish and the Defense of the Plymouth Colony
Beheld takes place in 1630 at the Plymouth settlement in what would later become Massachusetts and features several characters taken from the real-life history of the colony. One of these is Myles Standish, a decorated soldier who arrived in 1620 on the Mayflower with the first group of English pilgrims and served as Plymouth's head of ...
Remembering the Victims of the Vardø Witch Trials
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 Bombing of the Café de Paris
Erik Larson's The Splendid and The Vile recalls how the Café de Paris, a London nightclub, was bombed shortly before Winston Churchill's daughter, Mary, arrived there for a planned night of dancing.

The incident, which killed at least 34 people and wounded many others, was part of the Blitz, a prolonged bombing effort carried ...
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
In My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, a much-older teacher begins his seduction of 15-year-old Vanessa Wye with poetry. One of the works he uses to draw her in is the 1962 Vladimir Nabokov novel Pale Fire. Specifically, a section of verse describes how a fictional poet, John Shade, met his wife on an outing to New Wye Falls. ...
Caribbean Immigration to the United States
In Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin, one of the main characters is a Caribbean immigrant working as a taxi driver in New York City. While the island depicted in the novel is fictional, people hailing from the Caribbean make up a large portion of the immigrant population in the U.S.

The individual islands in the Caribbean are all distinct in...
Smart Homes and the Internet of Things
In Gish Jen's The Resisters, people live in AutoHouses, internet-linked homes that are capable of performing certain automated tasks for their inhabitants, such as cleaning up dropped objects and regulating temperature, but that are also used for government surveillance. While the homes in Jen's novel operate at a much more advanced level...
Kotzebue, Alaska
Caroline Van Hemert's memoir, The Sun is a Compass, chronicles a 4000-mile journey that concludes in northwest Alaska in the city of Kotzebue.

Kotzebue is located on a three-mile-long sand spit at the end of the Baldwin Peninsula, where the Noatak, Kobuk and Selawik rivers converge. Although it was named after Otto von Kotzebue (1787-...
Why Young Adults Are Choosing the Suicide Option
Two decades before I was born, a cousin of mine entered seminary and killed himself within the week. No one in the family discussed it. He was dead. No need to talk about why. But death by suicide has undergone a radical cultural shift. It is no longer absurdly kept secret.

In Sally Rooney's Normal People, Connell fantasizes about ...
Controversial 20th Century Female Photographers
Lillian Preston, the photographer at the heart of Feast Your Eyes, is fictional, but there are a number of controversial 20th century female photographers on whom she could be based, including Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Irina Ionesco (b.1930) and Sally Mann (b.1951).

Born Diane Nemerov, 18-year-old Diane Arbus received her first camera ...
Patriarchy in the Mennonite Community
Miriam Toews' novel Women Talking is inspired by events that took place in Manitoba Colony, a Mennonite community in eastern Bolivia with a population of about 2,000. From 2005-2009, hundreds of girls and women were drugged and raped during the night, which religious leadership claimed was the work of God or the devil, punishing them for ...
Locked Room Mysteries
In Eight Perfect Murders, bookseller Malcolm Kershaw is contacted by the FBI regarding his list of favorite mystery novels with seemingly unsolvable murders. The oldest book on Malcolm's list is The Red House Mystery, written in 1922 by A.A. Milne (of Winnie-the-Pooh fame). Milne's book is a locked room mystery, also known as an ...
Predictions and Paradoxes: Famous Technology Theories
Marc-Uwe Kling's novel Qualityland, which is set in a European country in the near future, incorporates plot points based around human interactions with machines. Throughout the book, references are made to economic, technological and robotics theories that were developed in the 19th and 20th centuries as scientists began to speculate ...
Why Hindu Gods Have Multiple Arms
While investigating a series of missing children taken from an unnamed Indian slum, Jai and his friends Pari and Faiz, the central protagonists in Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, come across many pictures and iconography depicting Hindu gods. Here are some brief insights into the mythology surrounding a handful of these deities.

...
Borodinsky Bread

Early on in Savage Feast, Boris Fishman, beginning to recount his family's exodus from the Soviet Union, states that there were 800 kinds of bread in the U.S.S.R. It's true. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor in 1985, there is domashanya, a basic household roll; stolichniye, the bread of Moscow, and orlovsky, which ...

Family Separation During the Holocaust
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 ...
The Legendary Esalen Institute
In Rajeev Balasubramanyam's novel, Professor Chandra Follows his Bliss, about a man's golden years' journey to finding himself, Oxford Professor P. R. Chandrasekhar takes a course in self-awareness at California's legendary Esalen Institute. Tucked between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Esalen is gifted with the relaxing sounds of ...
Climate Change Podcasts
Part of the plot of Jenny Offill's Weather involves the protagonist, Lizzie, answering questions posed by listeners to her former academic mentor's disaster-preparedness podcast, Hell and High Water. As issues surrounding climate change increasingly propel public conversation, real-world counterparts to this fictional podcast abound. Here...
Lee Lozano's Dropout Piece
In Fake Like Me, author Barbara Bourland alludes to artist Lee Lozano (1930-1999) and her elusive, controversial final project called Dropout Piece. This piece of performance art was Lozano's act of withdrawing from the art world in order to be an outsider. She slipped into isolation through the end of her life, pushing the boundaries of ...
The American Roadside Motel
In Simone St. James' thriller The Sun Down Motel, a roadside motel in upstate New York serves as the location for a ghost story that takes place in alternating timelines occurring in the years 1982 and 2017. It's hardly surprising that the author would place a motel at the center of this spooky suspense novel, as motels have something of ...
American Complicity in Chinese Authoritarianism
Under President Bill Clinton, the United States agreed to allow the People's Republic of China into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The deal was finalized under President George W. Bush in December 2001. It was believed at the time that international trade would help depose one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world like ...
Iranian Cuisine
In Marjan Kamali's novel The Stationery Shop, Iranian food plays a central role, whether a simple melon smoothie drink, hot tea sweetened with rock sugar candy (nabat), or a more complicated feast for Persian New Year. Traditional cuisine from Iran, also known as Persia, is a mélange of many cultures partly due to a vibrant trading ...
The History of the Sunset Strip
Titular character Daisy Jones from Taylor Jenkins Reid's novel Daisy Jones & The Six comes of age in the 1970s, visiting rock clubs on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. This 1.6 mile stretch of music venues, nightclubs, restaurants and retail stores on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard has a long, fascinating history full of intrigue, and ...
Student Debt
In Sounds Like Titanic, author Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman recalls the extreme lengths she went to in order to fund her education, including selling her eggs and touring the country with a crooked classical music composer. The price of tuition for a 4-year private college in the United States was, on average, $34,740 for the 2017-2018 ...
Arab Americans at a Glance
The term 'Arab' designates those who share a specific cultural, linguistic and in some cases political heritage. According to the Arab American Institute (AAI), the Arab world is comprised of the 22 countries that make up the Arab League, an organization formed in 1945 to represent the interests of Arabs worldwide. The nations (Algeria, ...
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
In his memoir Children of the Land, author Marcelo Hernandez Castillo recounts applying for and receiving DACA. This is a temporary immigration status that alleviates some of his worst fears about being deported as an undocumented college student.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a program administered by the United ...
Female Viking Warriors
In Andrew David MacDonald's novel When We Were Vikings, the heroine becomes inspired to take charge of her life when presented with a magazine article about physical evidence of a female Viking warrior. The article refers to an archeological dig from the late 19th century in Birka, Sweden that unearthed the 10th century grave of a ...
Black Women's Bravery During the Civil War
Historian Shelby Foote called the Civil War, 'the crossroads of our being.' It defined humanity and the principles that govern American morality. With freedom as the one virtue worth fighting for, it is no wonder that women of color chose to walk the tightrope of danger and secrecy and participate in the war. Cathy Williams – a real...
Habitat for Humanity
In Maria Padian's How to Build a Heart, the narrator and her family are offered the opportunity to own a brand-new home thanks to Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller while they were living on a communal farm in Americus, Georgia. They understood that decent housing is probably a ...
From Herodotus to Vietnam: A Brief History of PTSD and Combat
Post-traumatic stress disorder was first officially recognized in 1980 in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) by the American Psychiatric Association.

However, the history of conflict-related PTSD is long and varied and can be traced back to the ancient world. One of the first-known...
The Shape-Shifting Monsters of African Lore
Stories of shapeshifters have permeated literature and art from the beginning of civilization. Therianthropy, or the changing of a human into an animal, is perhaps the most commonly known trope of the shapeshifting genre, with illustrations of such changes dating back all the way to 13,000 BC.

In his novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, ...
A Brief History of Cienfuegos, Cuba
The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala is set in a run-down neighborhood known as Punta Gotica in the real Cuban city of Cienfuegos, where an architecturally unique cathedral is planned for the Church of the Holy Sacrament. This may be all the more significant considering that Cienfuegos is known for its own particular brand of architecture ...
The Power of Polaroid Photography
Once upon a time, long before digital photography became commonplace, the only way to instantly see the results after taking a photo was by using a Polaroid instant camera. In Lost Children Archive, the narrator gives her stepson a Polaroid camera for his tenth birthday. He takes photos during their trip, and a series of Polaroid images ...
Nonviolent Activism
In Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan, high school juniors Chelsea and Jasmine learn that 'art is never just art,' so they decide to 'use art to make a statement, to create change.' The girls experiment with multiple forms of activism, sometimes with guidance, and even misguidance, from teachers, mentors, community leaders, ...
History of the First Lady
Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard describes the budding romance between future President Abraham Lincoln and the woman who would become his wife and First Lady, Mary Todd.

Although the role of the President of the United States is described in depth in the US Constitution, the 'job' of First Lady is one that has evolved over the ...
Women's Suffrage in Early 20th Century America
Serena Burdick's The Girls with No Names is set amidst a quiet yet fierce swell of social unrest that builds as we move towards the book's climax. Though the official inception of the US suffrage movement is typically traced back to a women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, it reached a fever pitch in the early ...
Changes to Female Education Pioneered by Women in 19th Century America
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, ...
Mythical Healers
The central characters in Follow Me To Ground are two human-like beings with mystical powers to heal all illnesses and even resurrect the dead. It seems we have forever been fascinated by the magic of healing and the ability to cheat our own mortality. Ancient mythologies from across the globe featured powerful healers that humans turned ...
Young Adult Dystopian Novels
In Tehlor Kay Mejia's debut novel We Set the Dark on Fire, men marry two wives – one Primera, who is logical and controlled, and one Segunda, who is beautiful and passionate. However, when Dani, a young Primera, joins the resistance as a spy, she becomes determined to invert the whole system. Dystopian novels, while often set in ...
Auschwitz-Birkenau Today
The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp (the setting of Jack Fairweather's riveting history The Volunteer) was liberated by the Soviet Army on January 27, 1945. In 1946, Poland's Ministry of Culture and Art recognized the need to preserve the site of so much horror for memorial and educational purposes, and set to work on a museum. ...
The Five Confucian Virtues
In Yangsze Choo's The Night Tiger, the two main characters, Ji and Ren, are named for two of the five virtues that make up the ethical system of Confucianism. Confucianism is a spiritual/philosophical tradition born out of the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius (who is believed to have lived circa 551-479 BCE), and it has been ...
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