Three Books: New Russia, Old Mexico, and Imaginary, Rural Virginia (56 cents)

In my usual way, I recently read three random books (while everyone else was reading the books everyone else is reading).  Just to say what they were:

Alan Gurganus’ “Local Souls”, containing three novelettes taking place in a small town in Virginia.  The 15 year old impregnated by the respected older teacher, who is sent away to have the baby.  Seventeen years pass, she is now married with two young children, when her now 17 year old son (whom she has not seen since the day of his birth) knocks on her door and strikes up a (rather unusual) relationship with her.  A married woman, estranged from her husband, sees her teenage daughter go off to Africa for a summer of community service, and receives the dreaded phone call that she has drowned.  Plans for the funeral go forward, and then something surprising happens.  The respected town doctor grows older, and older, and older, until he isn’t even a shadow of his former self.  How does the town react?  Three interesting and evocative stories – worth reading, but perhaps not worth chasing down.  Published by Liveright Publishing.

Sascha Goluboff’s “New Russia”, set in the Central Synagogue of Moscow in the mid-1990s, after a large section of the Ashkenazic Jewish population of Russia left the city and country (with a significant segment of those remaining being elderly, impoverished or disabled), being replaced by Jews from Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia.  The Muscovite Jews were bred in the Communist USSR, while the newcomers were young, energetic and very business oriented.  Their customs were quite different; these different customs included different ways to conduct religious services, particularly different ways to read from the Torah.  Antagonisms arose at the synagogue, mostly quite petty,  But all reported by Goluboff, who attended weekday services for a year or so – something quite amazing not only because Goluboff is American, but because she is female.  A fascinating window on a unique part of Moscow Jewish life.  Published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Edith Couturier’s “The Silver King”, the story of Pedro Romero de Terreros, the Count of Regla, the wealthiest man in 18th century Mexico.  Spanish born, he became the biggest landowner and biggest silver miner in the country.  Couturier (by the way, a friend) did extensive research not only to tell the story of Romero, but to paint a picture of colonial Mexico – a complicated place which is so different from the way the British colonies to the north operated.  Published by the University of New Mexico.

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