The Recorder – Book Bag: ‘The Human Zoo’ by Sabina Murray; “Hector Fox and the Giant Quest” by Astrid Sheckels

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Hector Fox and the giant quest

From Astrid Sheckels;
Islandport press

When it comes to children’s books, you can hardly go wrong with anthropomorphic animals. Combine that with some shiny illustrations of forests and fields, add adventure, and you have a potential winner.

“Hector Fox and the Giant Quest” by the greenfield artist and children’s book author Astrid Sheckels ticks all of these boxes. Targeted at children ages 3 to 7, the story follows Hector Fox and his friends – a marten, chipmunk, rabbit, and skunk – as they read an engaging fairy tale and then decide to go on an outing of their own to make place known as the Forbidden Swamp. Rumor has it that there might be a giant there.

The friends set off from Hector’s cozy home in a hollow tree and enter a dark forest that looks a bit scary until they meet their great friend Rufus Bear, who joins the expedition. But what exactly can they expect in the Forbidden Swamp?

Sheckels’ watercolors bring the story to life with a style that the artist describes as “a mixture of classic realism and whims”. She has illustrated three previous books for Hector and the Giant Quest publisher, Islandport Press of Yarmouth, Maine. The publisher also plans to bring out three more Sheckels titles that Hector and friends will show.

Join the author at these events: Saturday, September 25, Book Launch / Signing Event at the World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield, 2pm to 4pm; October 16, reading at the Greenfield Public Library Farmer’s Market, 8:30 am to 12:00 pm; October 23, book signing at Salmon Falls Gallery, 1 Ashfield St. Shelburne Falls, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The human zoo

By Sabina Murray;
Grove Atlantic Press

Sabina Murray’s previous novel, the New York Times Notable Book “Valiant Gentlemen,” was an ambitious and rich historical novel about Roger Casement and Herbert Ward, former African explorers from England of late 19th and early 20th Irish nationalism.

In her latest book, The Human Zoo, Murray, who teaches in the MFA program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, examines another aspect of history, this time in the Philippines, where centuries of Spanish and American colonialism are multiethnic Population and now a brutal dictatorship form the backdrop for a story that takes place in modern Manila.

The book is a mixture of a political thriller, a meditation on history and colonialism and an often ironic observation of modern Filipino society and a portrayal of a woman’s search for identity. In credit to Murray, who is herself of mixed Filipino-American ancestry and raised in Australia, the Philippines, and the United States, she is able to pull these different threads together.

“The Human Zoo” is told by Christina “Ting” Klein, a Filipino-American – “Fil-Am” for short – who left her husband, an American, in New York to pay her 90-year-old an unannounced visit. old aunt Rosa in Manila. A successful writer and journalist in her late 40s, Ting is open ended in her marriage and life; She’s not sure if she wants to do “other than the fact that I wanted out of New York”.

There is a lot going on in “The Human Zoo”, which seems appropriate for a country which, as Ting notes, consists of more than 7,000 islands and 182 different languages, in which Islamic terrorism flares up in the south of the country and the violence and corruption of Gumboc’s regime threatens to blow everything up.

And even as she outlines this comprehensive portrait of a world that few American readers are likely to know much about, Murray, a PEN / Faulkner winner, leaves readers guessing where exactly the novel is headed. One reviewer wrote: “The human zoo unfolds like the best of stories – one compelling detail follows another until a whole world of revelations and painful truths emerges.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at [email protected]

Back in Manila, Ting finds a warm welcome from her aunt and other extended family members who are part of an old aristocracy, some of them Spanish and some of them Filipino. For Ting, who grew up in both the United States and Manila, this greeting felt like a balm: “During my years in the Philippines, I felt American, but back in the United States I felt like an alien. Later my husband introduced me as an American, my whiteness assumed. “

Ting has a new book project in mind, from which the title of Murray’s novel comes. Ting wants to examine the grotesque practice in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when American entrepreneurs shipped indigenous tribesmen from the Philippines to the United States and displayed them as exotic creatures at Carnival and World’s Fair.

But the new book is proving to be slow, in part because of the distractions caused by the regime of current Philippine President Procopio “Copo” Gumboc, a strong man (and a deputy to the country’s truly authoritarian president, Rodrigo Duterte.). ), who campaigns for the extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and drug users.

As she renews old friendships with the likes of Incoy, a gay college professor and socialist, and Chet, an ex-boyfriend who has become a business tycoon, Ting finds herself somewhat helpless, her sense of distance reflecting her intermediate status as neither against completely Filipino or American. There’s also an almost physical feeling of numbness from the oppressive dampness, frequent downpours, and constant traffic collapse in Manila, where a half-hour drive can easily turn into a two-hour crawl.

“An incessant stream of jeepneys with their singing horns rushed and unpredictably stopped on the road,” says Ting. “When the traffic brought the whole parade to a standstill, pedestrians made their way in and out, filling every vacant space… A few trees fought their way up between the buildings, waving their pinnate leaves as if to fan against the heavy air . ”

Murray also offers some hilarious but caustic descriptions of the extremes of wealth in the Philippines, where the super-rich, including some members of their families, know no boundaries in a country where millions live in dire poverty: “My cousin Jim had … one started [home] Construction project somewhere between Versailles and the pyramids. “

And the now married Chet, who urges Ting to have an affair with him, lives in “a palace full of freons and money. You could already feel the coldness of the polished marble floor at the sight. “

The idyll of Ting becomes more complicated, however. She was asked to show Laird, another Fil-Am and the fiancé of one of her cousins, around while visiting Manila, but suddenly Laird is missing. Then a Filipino woman she is close to is found murdered, probably by the police. And what is Chet’s connection to the regime? Why does he refuse to talk to her about his business?

Chet’s wife, CG, also calls out to Ting because of her apparent distance from the worries of ordinary Filipinos: “You just wander around as if nothing matters …. You are like a black hole Everything is fine and then you pass and everything is destroyed. “


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