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Beyond the Book Articles
Places, Cultures & Identities

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Martha's Vineyard (12/14)
E. Lockhart's We Were Liars takes place on fictional Beechwood Island. It is just east of Martha's Vineyard, and is reminiscent of it.

Martha's Vineyard is located just seven miles off of the coast of Cape Cod. It is triangular shaped, and is about nine miles wide and 26 miles long at its farthest points - with over 120 miles of ...
Saint Malo (12/14)
History of Saint Malo

The siege and subsequent burning of Saint Malo during World War II is intrinsically bound to the island's history. Saint Malo is a scenic and historic port city nestled in the crook of Brittany's arm on the North coast of France. According to 'St-Malo an independent travel guide,' Saint Malo was founded in the 1st...
Why Quebec Speaks French (12/14)
We did not write a featured review or beyond the book article of The Long Way Home so here is an earlier 'Beyond the Book' written for Bury Your Dead. We also have a delightful article all about ducks for How The Light Gets In (#9).

Why Quebec Speaks French
The province of Quebec is Canada's second most populous province, after ...
The Solomon Islands (11/14)
The little-known Solomon Islands are a particularly unusual frame of reference for a work of contemporary fiction. By contrasting New England and Oceania, The Bird Skinner sheds light on a fairly obscure culture.



The Solomon Islands is an archipelago of about 900 islands located in Melanesia, a subregion of Oceania in the western ...
The St. Petersburg of Shteyngart's Memories (10/14)
St. Petersburg is known for its gorgeous architecture and rich history. A few of these sights, outlined below, are described in Little Failure.

The Smolny Convent
In his memoir, Gary Shteyngart recalls coming upon a coffee-table book at a bookstore in New York City, St. Petersburg: Architecture of the Tsars, with the 'baroque blue ...
The Isle of Lewis (09/14)
If you look at a map of the United Kingdom, you'll find Scotland at the top and, to the west, a cluster of islands which are known as the Hebrides (pronounced heb-ree-dees). The islands are split into two groups - the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides. The islands in the Inner Hebrides lie close to the Scottish mainland, so close that...
The Aleutian Islands: First Settlers (08/14)
As Glorious Misadventures shows, the vast amount of money to be made in the Aleutian Islands and western Alaska drew many adventurers and speculators, including the primary subject of the book, Nikolai Rezanov. The Aleut Region is a string of over 70 volcanic islands stretching more than 1,000 miles across the very northern part of the ...
Haiti's History of Lawlessness (07/14)
Since its independence in 1804, Haiti has struggled with lawlessness, due in large part to being a former slave nation that, after it won its independence, was left with the massive challenge of creating a stable and autonomous society while being actively isolated by the dominant trading nations of France, Britain and the USA.

Before...
The Republic of West Florida (07/14)
The Blood of Heaven is set primarily in West Florida during the early years of the 19th century. At the time, West Florida occupied part of what is now referred to as the Florida Panhandle, as well as sections of what are now Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama along the Gulf Coast. It was bordered by the Mississippi River to the west, and...
Marshalsea Prison (06/14)
A fragment of a wall is all that is left of Marshalsea Prison.

But Charles Dickens has made sure that its memory lives on. His father was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison in 1824. He owed forty pounds to a local baker (about 3000 pounds today). Charles scurried around the city trying to collect money on his father's behalf but it was ...
Micronesia (05/14)
In The People of The Trees, Perina and Tallent journey to the fictional Micronesian states of U'ivu and Ivu'ivu. While these particular islands are fictitious, the region of Micronesia, literally 'small island' in Greek is composed of thousands of small islands in the western Pacific Ocean, north of Australia.

From 1947, most of ...

West African Religions: Voodoo & Juju (05/14)
June 13, 2013 headline in The Daily Mail: 'Six arrested over voodoo prostitution ring in Nigeria after gang branded women with irons then forced them to sell sex.'

It appears that Antonio Hill's novel The Summer of Dead Toys could not be more timely in its depiction of sex traffickers in Spain preying on young Nigerian girls. ...
Buzzard's Bay (05/14)
Elizabeth Graver's novel is set on a (fictional) point jutting out into Buzzards Bay, which borders Massachusetts and is tucked in between the southwest coast of Cape Cod, Plymouth and Bristol Counties on the mainland. New Bedford, which was the world's leading whaling port in the nineteenth century, is the most major city on the bay.

...
The Maasai People (04/14)
One of the reasons Richard Crompton's Hour of the Red God is so appealing is that he delivers different, fresh characters who have a strong sense of (and often struggle with) their cultural identity. The star of the book, Detective Mollel, was born into and raised within the Maasai tribe, one of Africa's semi-nomadic, cattle-herding ...
Afghanistan: Parsing the Players (04/14)
Westerners often hear news reports of groups known as the Mujahideen, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda. It can be easy to confuse or merge them in one's thinking, but they are of course separate organizations with differing histories, goals and characteristics.

The Mujahideen
The Mujahideen (singular mujahid) comes from the word jihad, which...
Somali Immigration to Lewiston, Maine (04/14)
Years ago, when we were vacationing in Maine, we drove through the city of Portland and I spotted a lady holding a child by the hand. She was dressed in an extremely colorful hijaab and that riot of color really stood out in my mind – I was reminded of that flash of color after I put down The Burgess Boys.

The civil war that ...
The Church Universal and Triumphant (04/14)
The inspiration for The Shelter Cycle came from the author, Peter Rock's experiences with the Church Universal and Triumphant, a religious sect he came into contact with while working on a sheep and cattle ranch near Yellowstone Park in the early 1990s.

The Church Universal and Triumphant is a religious organization founded in 1975 ...
New York City in the 1970s (04/14)
Though The Interestings spans several decades, most of the novel takes place in and around New York City in the 1970s. This decade was a low point for the city, which had been in a gradual economic decline during the 1960s with rolling blackouts, subway strikes, sanitation strikes, and riots (most notably the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots, ...
A Short History of Iceland (04/14)
The Republic of Iceland, the setting for Hannah Kent's debut novel Burial Rites, has a deep and intriguing history.

  • Located west of Scandinavia and just south of the Arctic Circle, the first confirmed settlement of Iceland was in the 9th and 10th centuries by Norsemen from Scandinavia and Scotland. Though questions remain about the ...
A Taste of Northern Germany (03/14)
Katharina Hagena has set The Taste of Apple Seeds in a rural corner of northwest Germany, in the fictional farming village of Bootshaven. Geographical clues in the novel place Bootshaven in the state of Lower Saxony, in the North German plain region south of Hamburg and north of Bremen. It's a terrain not unlike the low-lying plains ...
The City of Kielce (03/14)
Much of The Lullaby of Polish Girls is set in the Polish city of Kielce (pronounced Kyell-tsay). The author, Dagmara Dominczyk, is a native of the city and she paints a beautiful picture of Kielce, not just of its tourist attractions but of small draws favored by locals like the Relaks cafe where 'families and tourists flooded the place ...
The Comanches (02/14)
One of the main characters in The Son is kidnapped by Comanches and lives as a member of the Kotsoteka tribe.

The word Comanche is thought to be a Spanish corruption of Kohmahts, the Ute term for enemy (the Ute and the Comanche conducted a sporadic 50 year war against each other during the middle of the 18th century). Those referred to...
Small-Town Wonders (02/14)
In All That Is, just after World War II, one of Bowman's good friends is so captivated by the village of Piermont, New York that he buys a house close to the water and watches the Hudson river flow by from his home. The town, in New York's Rockland County, is picturesquely framed by the Hudson river on one side and the Tallman Mountain ...
Kimberly, South Africa and its Diamond Industry (02/14)
The discovery of diamonds in Kimberley changed the course of South African history. Prior to this find, South Africa was a colonial outpost that was sparsely populated by Europeans and native tribes.

The Dutch East India Company established a colony at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 with the purpose of resupplying Company ships. ...
Cold Antarctica, a Tourism Hot Spot (12/13)
Where'd You Go Bernadette has much talk about Antarctica, the coldest, windiest, driest desert continent on earth. Located around the South Pole, Antarctica covers an area of 5.1 million square miles (larger than the US, as well as the continents of Europe or Australia) and has a thick ice cap that has built over millions of years.

...
Paul Auster's Brooklyn (11/13)
Paul Auster is well-known as a Brooklyn writer. In Winter Journal, he writes of first moving to Brooklyn in 1980 after enduring stints in suburbia and an overpriced rental in Manhattan: 'Why hadn't you thought of this in 1976? you wondered … but the fact was that Brooklyn had never ever crossed your mind back then, for New York was ...
Detroit's Memorable Murals (11/13)
Even as Detroit City might be having a rejuvenation of sorts by attracting increasing numbers of artists, it is worth looking back to the Great Depression when a Mexican mural artist, Diego Rivera, created the city's most iconic art: the set of murals known as Detroit Industry.

Back in the early '30s Edsel Ford (son of Henry Ford) was ...
The Royaumont Abbey, France's Treasure (10/13)
The Royaumont Abbey, where much of In Falling Snow is set, is located approximately 18 miles (30 kilometers) north of Paris in Val-d'Oise.

Dedicated in 1228 CE, the structure was commissioned by King Louis IX as a Cistercian abbey. The Cistercian order was established by a group of Benedictine monks in the Cîteaux Abbey around ...
The Ojibwe (10/13)
Known as the Chippewa; Ojibway; Ojibwa; and in their own words, the Anishinabe, (meaning 'original man' and alluding to a creation story); the Ojibwe are thought to have migrated from the northeast (perhaps from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, according to late nineteenth-century history). They then settled in Southern Canada as well...
American Names and Their Native American Origins (10/13)
When reading Sherman Alexie's stories it's hard to not think about the ways that Native American language has been adapted and used by white settlers and contemporary multicultural America. Many American place names originated in Native American languages, though spelling, pronunciation, and other linguistic qualities have been adjusted ...
Marksville, Louisiana (09/13)
In Venice, Italy, where it is believed he was from, he was Marco Litche, a trader. In America, he became Marc Eliche. In 1794, a broken wagon wheel stranded him 62 miles north of Lafayette. But the environment was nice, and so were the Avoyels, a small Native American tribe that lived there; also he was a trader, so there was business to...
New Jersey's Demographic Shifts (09/13)
Junot Díaz's characters have a strong link back to their home country, the Dominican Republic, as they make northern New Jersey (aka North Jersey) their new home. These Dominican-American communities have a strong presence in Díaz's writing, even if specific cities or neighborhoods are not always referred to by name. Due to the ...
Sikhism (08/13)
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion prevalent in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan where A Moment Comes takes place. One of the main characters in the book, Anupreet, is a Sikh.

Sikhism was founded in the 16th century by Guru Nanak. Nanak's family were Hindus, but he studied both Hinduism and Islam. This deep study, as well as ...
New Delhi, India (08/13)
India's national capital territory of Delhi, which includes the capital city of New Delhi, is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. It has over sixteen million people working in information technology, telecommunications, hotels, banking, media, and tourism, among other fields. It boasts globally renowned universities and ...
The Real Harry's (08/13)
BookBrowse's own Tamara Smith talks with Jo Knowles about her childhood experiences growing up in the restaurant business that inspired See You at Harry's.

Much of See You at Harry's centers around the family restaurant. Do you have experience with such a place?

Yes, my family owned a series of restaurants when I was a kid, ...
A Visit to Seville (07/13)
Located in the southern part of Spain, Seville is Andalusia's capital and its biggest city. The Guadalquivir River runs through the city, which is close to the Atlantic Ocean.



Iberians founded Seville, which was later the center of many conquests and settlements by the Romans, Vandals and Visigoths. The Moors conquered it in 712 AD...

Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) (07/13)
Chartered in 1962 under the John F. Kennedy administration, the Institute of American Indian Arts is still educating young Native American artists in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The school boasts numerous notable Native professors, faculty, staff, visiting artists, scholars and alumni, including Joy Harjo, Dan Namingha, Fritz Scholder...
Parisian Highlights (06/13)
Around 250-300 BCE, the capital of what is now known as France (or, more formally, The Republic of France) was established on the River Seine. It was inhabited by an Iron Age Gallic tribe, the Parisii. In 52 BCE, it became a Roman settlement, known as Lutetia Parisiorum, and by approximately 300 CE was known as civitas Parisiorum, the ...
A Novel Model for Mass Transit in Lagos, Nigeria (06/13)
Lagos' Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT) provides the backdrop to 'My Smelling Mouth Problem', one of the stories in Igoni Barrett's collection Love is Power, or Something Like That.

In the past decade, the population of Nigeria has grown from around 100 million to about 180 million. If this growth continues, Nigeria will be home to ...
West Virginia Coal Mining (06/13)
In West Virginia, coal mining has a long and complex history.

The first reported discovery of coal occurred in 1742, more than a century before West Virginia became a state. The fossil fuel resource, present in all but two of West Virginia's 55 counties, began to thrive as a commercial industry in the late 19th century, when the ...
New York Locales in Tell the Wolves I'm Home (06/13)
The characters in Tell the Wolves I'm Home visit numerous locations in New York City and Westchester County, New York, and the accuracy of Rifka Brunt's descriptions adds a rich flavor to the story. If you're the type of person who likes to travel to literary-inspired destinations, you might consider these three stops:

  • The ...

Welcome to Norvelt, PA (05/13)
'Our dear little Norvelt was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, who knew common people like us wanted equality...'

The town of Norvelt, Pennsylvania, one of 99 subsistence homestead communities created during the Depression for unemployed workers, is a character in Jack Gantos's Dead End in Norvelt. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,...
A Brief History of Ghana (05/13)
The modern country of Ghana is named after the kings of a medieval civilization in West Africa, the Wagadugu Empire. Later absorbed into the Mali Empire, they were a significant power in trans-Saharan trade, with their capital city on the southern edge of the desert being a major port-of-call for traders and political movers and shakers. ...
A History of Sanibel Island (04/13)
In Kathy Hepinstall's Civil War-era novel, Blue Asylum, Iris Dunleavy is sent to live in the Sanibel Asylum for Lunatics on Sanibel Island, Florida for the 'act of defying [her] husband.' Though the area is now considered a mecca for lovers of sea shells (SanibelHistory.org estimates that the resident population of about 6000 swells by ...
Tulsa, the "Oil Capital of the World" (04/13)
In A Map of Tulsa, the protagonist Jim Praley, can't ignore the city's relationship with oil. His girlfriend, Adrienne Booker, is born into a wealthy oil family and Jim remembers 'an issue of National Geographic my dad kept, from the '78 oil crisis. Tulsa was on the cover, an aerial photograph of the refineries, lit up like...
A Short History of Chechnya (03/13)
It is during her reporting in Chechnya, during the separatist wars that ravaged the country, that journalist and author Masha Gessen got deeply involved in the larger political context of both the war and Russian President Vladimir Putin's handling of it.

Chechnya lies to the south of the Russian Republic and is bound by ...
The Afrikaans Language (03/13)
Afrikaans words or expressions are peppered throughout André Brink's novel, Philida. Brink started his career writing in Afrikaans, his native language, but switched to writing in English interspersed with Afrikaans which he uses to help maintain the authenticity of his characters. Many of the words can be puzzled out from the ...
Changing Bedouin Life as Exemplified by the Al-Maria Family (02/13)
Bedouin life has been slowly changing from a traditional nomadic existence to a more settled permanent one. Al-Maria's family effectively illustrates this transition.

Al-Maria adjusts to her Bedouin family's ancient way of life precisely at the same time that its members must adjust to modernity. The family had been experiencing what ...
How the Introduction of Oil and Capitalism Affected Saudi Arabian Culture (02/13)
In In the Kingdom of Men, Gin McPhee finds herself plopped inside an ARAMCO (Arabian American Oil Company) compound in the 1960s, an oasis that is neither wholly American nor Arabic but is somehow an incongruous mashup within a country still grappling with the culture shock wrought by 20th century capitalism. But what did that culture ...
The Abenaki People (02/13)
One of the main characters in Kieran Shield's The Truth of All Things, Perceval Grey, is of Abenaki descent, a key point in the novel. The Abenaki (ah-buh-nah-kee) tribe is one of the many distinct tribes that make up the larger Algonquian (al-GON-kee-un) Nation of North America. (It is important to note that the Algonquian Nation, should...
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