There is still time to get lost in a good book; Here are some headlines University of Kentucky professors are reading

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By Lindsey Piercy
University of Kentucky

Before you know it, summer is coming to an end. But there is still time to get lost in a good book.

We asked the University of Kentucky community to recommend books they think would make good additions to anyone’s summer reading list.

In the descriptions below, faculty members at the College of Arts and Sciences share the books they can’t let go. Drawing on the worlds of history and fiction, their choices explore topical themes while providing intriguing information.

“A time for gifts” by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Recommended by Phil Harling, Chairman of the History Department of the College of Arts and Sciences.

I am a huge fan of travel literature, and read a lot of it when the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for me to travel. It turned out to be a real balm for the soul. By far my favorite travel book is “A Time of Gifts”. Fermor was a fascinating person. Someone once described him as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”. Among many other feats, Fermor fought with the Greek resistance in World War II and was instrumental in the kidnapping of a German general. He wrote “A Time of Gifts” in his middle age in the 1970s. But he describes his first big adventure, when he decided, in 1933, at the age of 18, to hitchhike on a fishing boat to cross the Channel to the Hook of Holland and walk to Istanbul. And that’s what he did, spelled only by a few horseback rides or as a passenger hitchhiking in someone else’s car. It’s a book that’s guaranteed to put you in a good mood and add a kick to your walk. It captures the indelible exuberance of youthful adventure. Fermor lashes out scratch after scratch, but his steadfast and fierce optimism always gets him through. And it gives us indelible word images of German breweries, Hungarian plains and Danube castles. Plus, you’ll meet a host of characters along the way, conjuring up a world that wasn’t largely erased until a decade later by the ravages of war. It is a book of zest, zest and good humor. And another delight is that Fermor is only halfway through his epic journey in “A Time of Gifts”. If you like him, even half as much as I do, you won’t waste time turning to his sequel, “Between the Woods and the Water”, which takes him from a bridge over the Danube to Istanbul.

George Sanchez’s “Boyle Heights”

Recommended by Eladio B. Bobadilla, Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Sanchez, the pioneering historian of the Mexican-American experience, tells the story of Boyle Heights, an iconic neighborhood in Los Angeles. Known for its multicultural and working-class character, and as a site of perpetual struggle and resistance, Boyle Heights history is significant not only to Los Angeles, but to the entire country as well. The neighborhood’s rich history offers important lessons for an increasingly diverse United States. Boyle Heights has seen Black, Brown, Asian and Jewish residents not only coexist as neighbors, but also thrive as a vibrant community – supporting each other through change and upheaval. Rather than letting differences divide them, they made diversity their strength and together organized multiracial coalitions, persevered and preserved hope in the face of monumental challenges and, perhaps more importantly, remembered of their past with determination. The Boyle Heights story, Sanchez convincingly argues, may well reveal an example that will serve as a roadmap for a better national future.

“The Engaged” by Viet Than Nguyen

Recommended by Kathi Kern, professor of history in the Department of History and the Department of Gender and Women Studies at the College of Arts and Sciences

I was totally absorbed by Viet Than Nguyen’s latest novel, “The Committed”. The author, a professor at the University of Southern California, was on the UK campus in 2017 to give the Gaines Center’s Bale-Boone talk, which included a reading and discussion of his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel , “The Sympathizer”. Both books are fascinating as they explore the politics and ideologies of colonization, war and the Diaspora from the perspective of a writer whose family left Vietnam in 1975 as war refugees while Nguyen was only 4 years old. In “The Committed”, we find the narrator of the first novel, a man “with two minds and two faces”, fresh out of a traumatic stay in a re-education camp. He landed in Paris in 1981, but not the romantic “City of Light”, but what the author nicknamed “Paris on the immigrant side”, a city populated by diasporic peoples from the former French Empire, including Algerian gangsters and drug traffickers. Vietnamese. Cambodian dealers and prostitutes. The novel is both a crime thriller set in this underground Paris and a deeply philosophical, political and even poetic exploration of the impact and consequences of colonization. The narrator, disillusioned by the failure of the revolution, struggles with the question: can violence liberate? Is violence the only answer? Can nonviolence be as powerful a political weapon as violence? The novel is elegantly written, often funny and always deep in the questions it raises.

Leonardo Padura’s “The Man Who Loved Dogs”

Recommended by Karen Petrone, Director of the Humanities and Social Sciences Cooperative and Professor in the History Department of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

I very much appreciate a book that I received as a gift from my wonderful colleague in Mexican history, Francie Chassen-Lopez. It should come as no surprise that historians love to read historical novels! “The Man Who Loved Dogs,” by Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura, was first published in Spain in 2009, and then in English translation in 2014. The novel takes place in many places: the Soviet Union, the ‘Spain, France, Mexico and Cuba. Two of the main characters are real historical figures: Leon Trotsky, the exiled Soviet leader and rival of Stalin whom Stalin had assassinated in 1940, and Ramon Mercader, Trotsky’s assassin. The third character is fictional: Cuban writer Iván Cárdenas Maturell, whose career was destroyed when he wrote a story deemed counter-revolutionary by the Cuban government, and who meets Mercader in his secret exile in Cuba. This beautifully written novel, based on extensive historical research, imagines the inner life and moral struggles of each of these three men in a complex and compelling way – it’s very gripping.

“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Recommended by Michelle Sizemore, Associate Professor in the Department of English at the College of Arts and Sciences

Lovers when they were young, Ifemelu and Obinze have been separated by continents and decades. When one of them decides to return to Nigeria, their thoughts begin to drift towards each other and the experiences that have separated them. Ifemelu had become a professional celebrity in the United States, while Obinze led a precarious and undocumented life in the United Kingdom. “Americanah” is a penetrating exploration of race, class, white privilege, liberalism, and love. Ten years later, this novel resonates in an America that confronts and circumvents the cogs of racism and white supremacy. Adichie’s exquisite writing and storytelling is compelling – drawing readers to every page. It’s a book that makes you put everything else aside.

Kate Moore’s “The Woman They Couldn’t Silence”

Recommended by Renee Campbell, Clinical Assistant Professor in the African American and African Studies Program at the College of Arts and Sciences

This book was recommended to me because I am researching the abuse of my grandmother who was institutionalized and died in 1940 as a result of professional negligence at Lakeland Lunatic Asylum, now Central State Hospital. . “The Woman They Couldn’t Silence” focuses on mental health and how she was used as a weapon against women. The book is based on historical research, memoirs, letters and court transcripts. Reading this helped me imagine the experiences that many women went through during this time. I now realize, to a greater extent, how difficult it must have been for my grandmother.


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