A Trio of October Reads

By Leslie Zemeckis   |   October 5, 2021

When I first met Santa Barbara transplant Susan Orlean of The New York Times bestselling The Library Book, she had two friendly dogs in tow and was clearly “animalish.” It is no surprise her new book On Animals is a series of essays about our connection (and sometimes disconnect) with animals. With her wry wit and in-depth observations Orlean, who has owned a variety of animals, including turkeys and cattle, writes a range of entertaining stories from Keiko, the killer whale, to a young girl’s love of her carrier pigeons to mules in Afghanistan, and Orlean’s very own tribulations with high maintenance chickens. The book is a delight, reaffirming we are all connected.

Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr has a magnificent, complex, deeply emotional new book, Cloud Cuckoo Land. The book follows a group of characters through six centuries: teens on the cusp of adulthood trying to make sense of the perilous world around them, including Konstance, who lives in a spaceship and has never set foot on earth; Anna, an orphan in Constantinople during the 1400s; and Omar and his loyal oxen. Five hundred years later, Zeno is 80 and rehearsing a play about Aethon, who longs to become a bird and live in a utopian paradise in the sky. Cuckoo Land is about longing for a different place, a better world, weaving Aethon’s story with rich, compelling characters, reminding us that no matter the century, we all sometimes don’t see paradise in front of us. Doerr explained he was motived by the challenges facing kids today, with climate instability, pandemics, and disinformation. “I wanted this novel to reflect those anxieties, but also offer meaningful hope, so I tried to create a tapestry of times and places that reflect our interconnectedness – with other species, with each other, with the ones who lived before us, and the ones who will be here after we’re gone.” And boy does he.

A spine-shivering read comes from Jai Chakrabarti’s A Play for the End of the World. In an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto, nine-year-old Jaryk performs Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s Dak Ghar (“The Post Office”). The play, about a young boy with an incurable disease, was chosen by the principal of the orphanage to prepare the children for the horrors that are to come. It is now 1972 and Jaryk has immigrated to American where he falls in love with Lucy. When his best friend, Misha, a fellow survivor dies in India while rehearsing Dak Ghar, Jaryk makes the pilgrimage to bring Misha’s ashes back. Struggling with decades-long survivor’s guilt, he finds his purpose, re-staging Dak Ghar for another community embroiled in political unrest, though at what cost to his relationship with Lucy? This is another story about the importance of art and how it can be used instead of weapons to change the world.


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