Hush Now, Don’t Explain, by Dennis Must: An Orphan in ’40s Rural America Seeks her Fortune

hush_nowHush Now, Don’t Explain ($14.95, 300 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-201-6) is a work of literary fiction by Dennis Must. A white orphan and two mixed race friends set out from Ohio on a trip to New Orleans, in search of their roots and their destinies.

“Steeped in the strains of postwar jazz and the lonely sound of train whistles in the night, this is a gritty, evocative novel of identity, race, and a particularly American kind of yearning.”

—The Library Journal

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Hush Now, Don’t Explain is an extraordinary book. Jazz devotee Dennis Must creates an incredibly rich, original, sensual world that reads like a combination of Walt Whitman, jazz improvisation, and the wail of locomotives in the night. The coming of age story of a young woman named Honor, an orphan searching for her roots, and a biracial, fatherless boy named Billy trying to find his tune, Hush Now, Don’t Explain fuses the themes of identity, parentage, sexuality, race, and longing into a haunting refrain that lingers on, long after the last page is turned.”

—Paulette Alden, author of The Answer to Your Question, Feeding the Eagles, and Crossing the Moon.

Hush Now, Don’t Explain is a compelling novel about the quest of an unlikely trio, Honor, Augustus and Billy, and the longing for identity that shapes their lives. Set in late 1940’s America this book sings with jazz as it examines gender stereotypes, race, ambition, and violence. Dennis Must writes with lyrical intensity. He has crafted an evocative, resonate tale in rich, vivid detail. Hush Now, Don’t Explain is a beautifully written book.”

Suzanne Frischkorn,author of Girl on a Bridge and Lit Windowpane

“Dennis Must’s Hush Now, Don’t Explain—a lyrical, impassioned, Biblically-inflected road novel dealing with the adventures of three outcast runaways—goes Barry Gifford’s Wild At Heart one better. Charged with true American grittiness, pathos, and glory, and at times veering dangerously close to total despair, Must’s masterpiece lights up the dark sky of contemporary literature like a Fourth of July fireworks display.”

Andrew Wilson, author of The Luzhang Bridges, Across the Bridge of Straw & Fog, and Osai’s Razor.

“Hush Now, Don’t Explain is a gorgeous novel told in a gentle voice and bearing witness to the true art possible from the pure American language. I have not read such a fine novel—controlled and wild at the same time—in a long while.”  Read more ….

—Jack Remick, poet and author of several books, including Gabriela and The Widow

Honor, an orphan, finds her way to the Victorian boarding house where she thinks her mother might have birthed her. World War II has just ended, which alerted many Americans to the world beyond, but Honor and Billy’s lives are limited to the dead-end town of DeForest Junction, Ohio, and its nearby notcherie, where exotic wemen sell their bodies to the rail men. Alongside her mixed-race “cousin” Billy, Honor grows to womanhood, cared for by Miss Alsada and enchanted by the colorful stories of the shanty store owner, Mr. Augustus Willard, who claims to have traveled far and wide.

One day, an itinerant blues musician shows up at the boardinghouse, electrifying Billy with his skill at the upright piano. He departs just as quickly, leaving behind hints that he might be Billy’s father. Soon after Buster Stanley’s departure, men in white hoods burn a cross in the field behind the boardinghouse and torch a number of shacks occupied by black families. Honor and Billy decide to leave DeForest Junction—a feat they accomplish with the help of Mr. Willard, whose shanty store was burned. With Honor disguised as a boy for safety’s sake, the three friends ride the rails southward, their ultimate destination: New Orleans. Billy is on the trail of Buster Stanley, but Honor is on an intense quest for Honor. How will she escape that fate of those wemen, waiting for a man to fill up the void in her life?

Says Must, “Honor’s story is inspired by my own. As a young boy I spent summers in a boarding house at a railroad junction on the outskirts of town in Ohio. It was run by a distant aunt who had three daughters similar in age to me. The ‘cousins’ and I, seldom interacting with any adults, passed care-free days, fishing for sunnies, smoking, and inventing stories often inspired by the forlorn cry of locomotives transporting passengers to places we could only imagine. Then, from our attic bed one August midnight we witnessed fiery crosses illuminate a field across the road as angry figures in white sheets and conical hats gathered in a circle. It was the night our childhood perished.”

Dennis Must is the author of two short story collections: Oh, Don’t Ask Why, Red Hen Press (2007), and Banjo Grease, Creative Arts Book Company, Berkeley, CA (2000). His first novel, The World’s Smallest Bible, was published by Red Hen Press in March of 2014. His plays have been performed Off Off Broadway, and his fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary reviews. Dennis and his wife Aviva live in Massachusetts. Click here to visit him online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Just then we heard a salvo of drumbeats and high-pitched coronets from outside. We followed Mr. Willard out the door and saw what looked like a parade. But nobody was standing on the side of DeForest Road watching, except us. The procession appeared to originate up at the Pillar of Fire Tabernacle’s steps. Sunday mornings from our porch, Billy and I watched all white folk arrive mostly by cars to worship.

“Used never to be no tambourine and speakin’ in tongues church around here except the black folks’ Baptist church out on the highway,” Billy said.

Women in crisp white cotton dresses with purple sashes toted ecclesiastical banners at its head. A brass band, kids our age attired in white pants and dress shirts and wearing purple berets, marched stiffly behind. Soot-pocked men wearing red bandanas and snare drums strapped to their chests closed the formation.

The solemn music oddly foreshadowed the automobiles of revelers that would shortly come barreling down DeForest Road toward the tracks.

“What they playing?” I asked.

“A hymn, ‘Nearer My God to Thee’,” Mr. Willard responded as he stepped back into the shadow of his doorway.

As the fair-skinned procession moved closer, I could see that the women color guard all wore lace-ups with heels like Miss Alsada’s. They lifted their legs high in time to the muffled drumbeat. Their heels popped on the macadam like paper caps.

“Look,” Billy said. He pointed to one of the drummers. “Oscar Jakes in his Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.” He, like every other member, kept his eyes unwaveringly focused on the road ahead. Each wore a serious mien. “Some of our neighbors alongside him,” Billy whispered. “They work in the roundhouse.”

Still, not one person came out on a porch or waited by the side of the road.

When the column got within several feet of Mr. Willard’s store, the music ceased. Only then did we see the lone bass drum on a set of wheels. A heavyset man in a white and red velvet sash commenced a solemn, steady beat.

Boom … Boom … Boom … Boom ….

A port-wine stain on his right temple pulsed with each strike.

None of the procession moved. Visibly night began to eclipse the dusk. Heavy shadows swelled across DeForest Road as the ecclesiastical cloths seemed to glow phosphorescent.

Ominously the color guard pivoted their staffs toward Mr. Willard’s shanty … then held them fast until the band struck up the hymn once again. The satin flags bordered in gold fringe bore no lettering.

One of the women blew a silver whistle, and the parade resumed marching toward the tracks.

Mr. Willard was nearly hidden inside the inky pocket of his shanty store.

Billy and I didn’t know what to make of what we had just witnessed. I turned to our old friend for an answer.

“See that drum man?”

We nodded.

“He steal your heart when his no longer beats. Beware.”

At the crossing the white ecclesiastical silks pitched moonlike toward the house of joy.

Mr. Willard pulled the Dr. Pepper sign over the doorway. “Time to close,” he said.

“Outsiders,” Miss Alsada let loose across the supper table when Billy described what we’d seen. “A big storm’s brewing, rising up from the south,” she warned. “They serenaded the call house ladies, too.”

Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb, a Novel by Ian Woollen: Preppies, Hippies, and Spies in Cold War America

uncle_antonUncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb ($18.95, 406 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-231-3), a work of literary fiction by Ian Woollen, takes place in the latter half of the 20th century, when Cold War paranoia led just about every American family of means to build a bomb shelter in the backyard.

Mary weds Ward Jr., heir to the well-to-do Wangerts of Indianapolis, and together they raise three sons. As they negotiate a rocky path through the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, they take turns spinning a nighttime yarn inspired by the idea: what if Anton Chekhov wrote a story about the atomic bomb?

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“As I expected, this is a delightful novel, with an eccentric but heartwarming cast of characters you cannot help but like …. The characters are warm and compelling, funny and easy to relate to as they struggle with finding their places in family and in the world at large, and Woollen tells their stories with wisdom, compassion and insight …. Recommended for readers who love Americana, humor, quirky ensembles, and an engaging family saga.”  Read more ….

—Books, Personally

“A thoroughly readable narrative …. What makes Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb work is the way it balances the family’s normalcy and the heightened circumstances. That includes the three sons’ diverging paths as each finds a partner, sees his relationship with their parents change, and becomes a generational archetype while remaining a memorable character. This is a unique work, and one that remains interesting all the way through the reveal of its Chekhovian secrets.”

—Jeff Fleischer, ForeWord Magazine

Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb is a book to be read somewhat slowly (or read it twice). Woollen includes a lot of small details, little musings, quick humorous bites that add so much but require careful reading.” Read more ….

–Catherine Ramsdell, Pop Matters

Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb is smart, mildly ironic, and self-consciously funny. The plot sails along at a clipper’s pace.  And there’s a lot to chomp on from our temporal distance: topics ranging from family dynamics, gender roles, government reach, to sexuality.”  Read more ….

MXDWELL.com

Click here to read an interview with Ian Woollen

“In the grand tradition of Hoosier authors Theodore Dreiser and Booth Tarkington, Ian Woollen’s Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb weaves its compelling narrative in personal, romantic, and historical threads from The Cold War to the present day, linking housewives and counter-spies, disgruntled fathers and rebellious sons, creating an indelible American tapestry.”

—Dan Wakefield, author of Going all the Way and New York in the Fifties

“An absorbing, touching, wise, often funny novel. Woollen is a master at writing about families, people’s vulnerabilities, and about mortality itself.”

—James Alexander Thom, author of Follow the River and St. Patrick’s Battalion.

“Famously, Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby concludes that his was a story of the ‘West.’ Ian Woollen, in his grand generational novel Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb, writes another classic ‘Western’ now with reversed polarity. This is a Chekhovian book as well—vivid, epiphanic, rich with secrets intimates keep from each other and then reveal in stunning dramatic fashions. There is a gun too, high caliber, and it goes off. Boy, does it go off with a teeth-rattling BOOM.”

—Michael Martone, author of Michael Martone and Four for a Quarter

“Here again with great verve and admirable nerve is the wily Ian Woollen with a wild and curious saga, told as Vonnegut might have, with the strange shadow of a weapon over the carnival of years. Disco, acid fog, prep school, white gloves, and my favorite sentence: ‘How do you think Anthony would feel to know that his father is the Devil’s Spymaster?’ ”

—Ron Carlson, author of Five Skies and Return to Oakpine

Spring, 1951. The Cold War. Two fresh college graduates renew a childhood acquaintance on a long train ride home to Indianapolis. Embers ignite. Mary Grace Stark is about to embark on her first State Department posting in Moscow. Ward Wangert III reluctantly returns to his family business, after turning down a job offer from He Who Remains Classified, a powerful friend at the C.I.A. A few months later, while supervising a bomb shelter project, Ward receives an emergency summons from Moscow. He travels behind the Iron Curtain to rescue Mary from a diplomatic debacle. The couple decides to wed, even though Mary won’t say who fathered her unborn child.

Ward and Mary produce two more sons and struggle to maintain their standing in the deteriorating rust-belt city of Indianapolis. Their family saga, which spans the latter half of the American Century, is a tragicomic mix of upper-crust romance, sibling warfare, boarding school drama, and C.I.A. skullduggery.

Says Woollen, “In 1989 I was driving home from work, turned on the radio and heard the news of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hit by an inexplicably large wave of emotion, I pulled over. Suddenly it was visible—the insidious Cold War TENSION that pervaded American life for so long that it blurred into normalcy. I began to think about a novel that would capture the charged interweave of big-stage influences with a local, day-to-day family drama.”

Ian Woollen was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. Shipped off to boarding school at age fourteen, he eventually graduated from Yale University and Christian Theological Seminary. A checkered job history includes house painter, furniture stripper, script reader, psychotherapist. His first novel, Stakeout on Millennium Drive, won the 2006 Best Book of Indiana Fiction Award. His short fiction has surfaced in a variety of journals, including The Massachusetts Review, Juked, decomP, The Smokelong Quarterly, and The Mid-American Review, from which he received a Sherwood Anderson Prize. Click here to find Ian online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

As live-ins with a night-terror baby that even old Meemo couldn’t soothe, Mary felt compelled to participate as much as she could in the household maintenance. Tuesday was silver-polishing day. Wednesday was dusting. Thursday meant the crystal and windows. The main house dated from 1870. Everything was elaborately wallpapered. The wing additions came later. All of it with a baffling internal symmetry, due to separate stairwells, entrances, sleeping quarters, and facilities for the servants. Mary occasionally found herself lost in the wrong stairwell or hallway.

“Miss Mary, you could leave a trail of breadcrumbs,” Meemo suggested.

Meemo instructed Mary on baking K-bars and negotiating other domestic idiosyncrasies, such as how to execute the imperceptibly small faucet turns to adjust water temperature in the claw-foot bathtubs, and which of the thick, swollen doors required shoulder-shoves to open. Mary could not bring herself to tinkle the little porcelain bell on the dinner table to summon Meemo for the next course, despite Constance’s assurances that this was how it was done.

Meemo was the only servant in residence now. She oversaw a small day staff. They were kept busy preparing for the next big Wangert Public Relations party, or cleaning up from the last one.

The house, which loomed above the street from a small rise at the front of a double lot, was surrounded by meticulously trimmed yew hedges. A pea gravel path from the side screen porch meandered to the new bomb shelter, located among the walnut trees along the back alley. At first glance, the bomb shelter appeared to be a square, flagstone patio, carved out of the walnut grove. Flush to the ground at the south edge of the patio, a steel covering, somewhat like an old-fashioned cellar door, opened upward to reveal a marble stairwell. As Ward predicted, the bomb shelter served primarily as a wine cellar. One design flaw was the failure to anticipate the effect of walnuts falling from great heights onto the steel door, creating noise not unlike an artillery barrage.

Constance and Ward Sr. patriotically championed the new bomb shelter. Their parties commenced with guests strolling back into the walnut grove for cocktails and guided tours of the four richly appointed subterranean rooms.

Mary convinced Constance to implement some updating of other Wangert party traditions. They no longer separated the men and women after dinner. Young Ward Jr., white towel on his shoulder, personally indulged his bartending interest, shaking martinis and mixing drinks to order. Another innovation, thanks to Mary, was targeting invitations to select members of certain industries, such as real-estate and construction, rather than a random crop of prominent citizens.

However, Constance held to the traditional format of name card place settings and equal pairings of male and female dinner partners. Mary’s first attempt to invite Rusalka Jones failed because her husband was out of town and Constance did not have a bachelor gentleman available to seat with her.

The Devil Takes Half, by Leta Serafim: Sudden Violence Rouses a Sleepy Greek Island

devilThe Devil Takes Half ($14.95, 256 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-965-7), is the first book in the Greek Islands Mystery series, by new author Leta Serafim. A police officer with domestic problems and no experience with homicide sets out to find the killer of a beautiful archeologist.

(Starred Review–Featured as a Best Summer Debut) “Serafim’s dense prose is perfect for lovers of literary and scholarly mysteries. Her plotting is methodical and traditional, with subtle nods to Sherlock Holmes, Greek mythology, and historical events.”

—Library Journal, July 1, 2014

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“[An] impressive debut …. Serafim has a good eye for people and places, and sheds light on the centuries of violent passion that have created an oppressive atmosphere hanging over the sunny Greek landscape.”

—Publishers Weekly, June 23, 2014

“The Greeks have a word for it, and in this fast-paced, delightful mystery, that word is murder …. The real buried treasure is pure pleasure in Serafim’s debut novel.”

—Mary Daheim, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Alpine and Bed & Breakfast mystery series

“The Greek setting gives this book not only an exotic locale but also characters that have a different way of looking at life and often, motives that wouldn’t exist if this happened in…Cleveland. Take a literary visit to Greece. You won’t regret it!”  Read more ….

—Jodi Webb

At an archeological dig on the idyllic Greek Island of Chios, a severed hand is found lying in a blood-filled trench. Could it belong to Eleni Argentis, a beautiful archeologist who is also the wealthy daughter of a local ship owner? She and her young assistant, Petros, are both missing.

The chief officer of the local police force, Yiannis Patronas, suspects that Eleni and Petros happened upon something of real value. However, his search turns up nothing but handfuls of broken clay, and then, another body—that of Petros, whose throat has been brutally cut. Body parts belonging to Eleni are left behind on a remote beach, confirming her demise. Then an old priest with a fondness for TV detective shows is attacked and left for dead. The dig site is located near the monastery where he was the only resident.

Patronas interviews Petros’ longsuffering grandmother, his flighty mother and her money-grubbing boyfriend, as well as Eleni’s greedy stepmother and her charming son. He also confronts two archeologists, one British and one American …. If Eleni’s find is, as they insist, worthless, what are these men doing on Chios? Although Patronas has little experience with homicide, he is determined to conquer the evil that threatens this formerly peaceful island.

Says Leta, “I have visited over 22 of these islands and spent the equivalent of a decade among the people who inhabit them. Of all the qualities I have come to know, I most cherish the Greek sense of humor, that bittersweet viewpoint, both pungent and cynical, that is so uniquely theirs. In my view, the Greeks are always laughing at the unexpected, whatever adversity is thrown their way, passing along a bit of truth about human behavior as they go. Sages, every last one of them.”

Leta Serafim graduated from George Washington University in D.C. with a degree in political science and Russian studies. While in college, Leta worked at the Washington Post, writing obituaries and doing research for the national desk, and later joining the staff of the Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau. Following her marriage to a Greek national, Philip Serafim, Leta moved to Athens. When she moved back to the U.S. seven years later, she wrote for local papers and the Boston Globe. After her mother began to lose her sight from glaucoma, she began designing and launching multiple media campaigns to increase public awareness of this disease. Leta spends at least one month every year in Greece and has visited over 25 islands. The Devil Takes Half is her first novel and the first book in the Greek Islands Mystery series. Coffeetown Press will also be publishing her work of historical fiction, To Look on Death No More.  Click here to find Leta online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

 Uninvited, the priest had followed him and now stood at the edge of the trench, looming over him, his black cassock billowing in the wind. “Chief Officer, with your permission, I’d like to assist you in your investigation.”

“Sorry, Father. You know that’s impossible.” Patronas was measuring the depth of the blood. He wasn’t sure what had happened, if the blood was even human, and he wanted to sort it out before his men arrived, before the day got any hotter. “This is police work and the police and the church, they’re at cross purposes. They don’t mix.”

“Hear me out. I can be of service. I’m familiar with the excavation. No one knows it better than I do. I am also familiar with crime detection. I am a fervent devotee of the mystery novel and of all manner of American detective shows. I know about trace evidence and DNA.”

Patronas waved him away. “You are a man of faith, Father. You’ve no business in a homicide investigation.”

“Faith and homicide are not incompatible. The Bible is full of homicides.”

“Be that as it may, I have no need of your services.”

Patronas entered his measurements in the spiral notebook he’d brought with him next to the date and time. He didn’t know what had transpired here, but he suspected it was a double homicide. He had never seen so much blood. Perhaps the priest was right and he should look to the forensic specialists on television to guide him. Write things down the way they did. As to what those policemen did with it after they wrote it down, he had no clue. As he’d told the priest, he’d never investigated a crime like this before. Assault and battery, sure. Violence against one’s spouse any number of times. But murder, never. As a cop, he was an amateur at best and he knew it.

“I can’t stop thinking about her,” the priest said. “Dead out here someplace.”

“What makes you so sure she’s dead?” There had been no doubt in the old man’s voice, only sadness.

“No one’s seen her. After I called you last night, I checked with Marina and Vassilis, people who were here yesterday. Eleni always said good-bye before she left, and yesterday she didn’t. Petros either.”

“Who was up here yesterday?”

“A lot of people: Petros’ mother and her boyfriend. Manoulis, I think his name was. Eleni’s stepmother, Marina Papoulis and Vassilis Korres, Jonathan Alcott, the American you met. Another archeologist was here, too, but earlier in the day. An Englishman.”

“Do you remember his name?”

“McLean.”

“Anyone else?”

“Not that I know of.”

“You were here the whole time?”

“No, I got a haircut in the morning, did some errands in town. But Marina Papoulis was here, getting lunch ready in the kitchen. She’ll know if anyone came by while I was away.”

“Did she go down to the dig site that day?”

“No. To my knowledge, Marina has never visited the excavation.”

Not a long list. He’d start on it as soon as he finished here. “It seems she was concentrating on this end.” Patronas pointed to a break in the whitened matter, the broad indentation where the shards had been emptied out.

“Eleni kept a log. She told me you have to make a very precise drawing of the site with the elevations and afterwards number each fragment and pinpoint where it was found before you remove it.”

Patronas climbed out of the trench. He’d leave the rest to his men. He’d been in charge of the police force on the island of Chios for over twenty years, and the novelty of violent crime had long since worn off. He’d collected his share of teeth from barroom floors, driven the combatants to the hospital to be stitched up. The sight of blood no longer stirred him. It just made him tired.

What We Take With Us, Poems by Susan Dworski Nusbaum

what_we_takeWhat We Take With Us ($11.95, 152 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-233-7), by Susan Dworski Nusbaum, is a collection of 63 poems written over the past 15 years of the poet’s life.

“In What We Take With Us, Susan Nusbaum maps our way home, always unflinchingly aware of those problems never solved, the justice never found, and the way loss too often just begets more loss. And yet she never forgets the grace of our ‘glittering strand of flame-bright days,’ our time spent contemplating the ordinary and extraordinary, tending gardens or a dying husband in need, listening to music or searching for lions in Botswana. These are wonderful poems that demonstrate a love of craft, especially in their command of syntax and the free verse line, and quietly declare a deeply lived, highly self-aware life. Over and over, the poems draw us into the mystery of blessing and destruction that the paradoxically sufficient and insufficient world offers.”

—Robert Cording, author of Walking with Ruskin

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“If poetry is an act of preservation, Susan Dworski Nusbaum’s What We Take With Us is exhibit A in its documentation of an American woman’s life that is fully lived in its spectrum of passions, from reaching back to its immigrant ancestry—filled with bittersweet and wistful old world resonances—to its external and internal travels, to its courageous and passionate poems of mature love, heartbreak, and transformations. What we take with us, in turns out, is orchestral in its multi-vocal tones and tropes. Nusbaum’s voice, in the tradition of Alicia Ostriker and Marge Piercy, is expansive and skillful, preserving her sacred people and places, yet compassionate in its empathic reach into often-ignored others. A voice this large is rare indeed. But what I take most with me in my reading of this extraordinary collection is the way in which it embodies a life that is wholly mature and completely realized or, in the posture of her grandson Matthew’s fourth grade photo: ‘ready to take it all on.’ ”

—Philip Terman, author of The Torah Garden

“I respond so much to the moving and finely crafted poems of Susan Dworski Nusbaum’s remarkable debut collection, What We Take With Us—poems that ‘overflow the silence[s]’ of a richly lived and keenly perceived life. Whether she is imagining two husbands meeting in heaven, the tremors of Haiti—the ripple effects remind us of our own “power failure[s]”—or the sadness of unused things, Nusbaum displays a diamond-cutter’s wit and an empathetic intelligence. Yet no matter her subject, Nusbaum’s work is always about singing ‘the sublime music/Mother herself might have performed if she hadn’t interrupted/her singing career/to do the ironing.’ If, in the end, ‘Love triumphs,’ it is ‘through the ecstasy of [her] music’ in ‘memory’s filtered light.’ Of course, the poet herself summons us best when she says: ‘Now I serve it to you, my love./Eat.’ At a feast as generous and nourishing as this, why wouldn’t we?”

—Rick Hilles, author of Map of the Lost World

Through the prisms of love and loss, memory, individual narratives, and the natural world, this collection of poems celebrates the bounty of life—ordinary human experience as an act of discovery. Our daily encounters with the world, universal and particular, are what breathe life into us—what we take with us and ultimately leave behind. The poems examine the common landmarks of our lives, “the careful threads that hold us together,” joy and suffering, passions and disappointments, the search for identity, complexities of nature, growth and decline, the paradoxes of reality. Meaningful gifts abound in the small and often astonishing details which serve to define the human condition.

Born in Rochester, NY, Susan Dworski Nusbaum received her BA from Smith College and her law degree from the University of Buffalo Law School. She lives in Buffalo, N.Y., where she has worked as a teacher, arts administrator, and most recently as a criminal prosecutor. She has been a frequent participant in the Chautauqua Institution Writers’ Festival and Chautauqua Writers’ Center poetry workshops, and has served on the Board of the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Connecticut Review, Poetry East, Nimrod International Journal, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Chautauqua, Harpur Palate, Wisconsin Review, The Sow’s Ear, Earth’s Daughters, Artvoice, and The Buffalo News. Her manuscript, What We Take With Us was a finalist in the 2014 Brittingham/Pollack Prize Competition, University of Wisconsin Press. Click here to find Susan online.

Keep reading for two excerpts:

Things so tucked away I can’t reclaim them,

folded into the creases of my brain,

not lost but abandoned, useless as desire

 

for romance, for foolish extravagance,

useless as sweet nostalgia for the

luminous coral roses of Katmandu.

—From “The Sadness of Unused Things”

 

How thrilling the contest we loved as children,

taking in as much as the lungs could hold, gasping

and diving, eardrums pounding, overtaken by clouds

of silverfish swaying with the current, paddling fast

before the air ran out, to surface covered with salt

ready to plunge again into the dark water.

—From “The Length of a Breath”

Satori, Poems by Jack Remick

satoriJack Remick Portrait 4Satori ($11.95, 146 pages, 978-1-60381-196-5) is a collection of poems by Jack Remick, who also writes novels, essays, and short stories. Until now, Coffeetown readers have known him mostly for his novels: Gabriela and The Widow (finalist for ForeWord Magazine’s 2013 Book of the Year Award and the Montaigne Medal) and his California Quartet Series: The Deification, Valley Boy, The Book of Changes, and the Trio of Lost Souls (coming in 2015).

“Stand in the wind of Remick’s poetry, and it will blow your mind…. Satori is the work of a poet’s life. Under the quilt, the work stings and singes and suckles. Remick bends our minds and plies us with stories told in vivid detail. Remick plucks us out of simple-minded verse and drops us into complexity, intensity, our emotions left clinging to the sure spine of his storytelling.”

—Paula C. Lowe, author of Moo

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“Evocative of the Bay Area in the sixties and the Beats, Jack Remick’s poems are consistently on target from the personal onto a sundry of subjects. Beautifully written, simple and direct, eloquent and expansive. A fine complement to all his many novels, particularly The California Quartet.”

—Larry Crist, author of Undertow Overtures

“Jack Remick’s poems are exotic, erotic, visionary, hot, erudite, primal, and intense. Read Satori slowly. Sip the book as you would sip a fine wine. Read the poems again. They move from Okie peach orchard to bohemian San Francisco, from elegy to eros to satori (enlightenment). I commend to you this transcendent volume of poems.”

—Priscilla Long, author of The Writer’s Portable Mentor and the poetry collection, Crossing Over

Satori is a perfect one-word haiku that both defines and, in its simplicity, belies what lies within. These poems, which show a young man awakening, coming of age in the beat era and maturing, are told through highly-crafted language and relentless energy, rhythm and imagery that leave one ‘breathless’ from the first beat. Helen Remick’s quilt, on the cover, is a subtle and stunning visual complement.”

—M. Anne Sweet, author of the poetry collection, Nailed to the Sky

Jack Remick is a writer and teacher. As a young man, he worked as a tunnel rat, a bus driver, a house painter, a social worker, a retail clerk, and waited tables at the UC Berkeley Men’s Faculty Club where he rubbed shoulders with Nobel Laureates, scoundrels of all stripes, and international students from a dozen countries who taught him about cultural relativism. Remick learned to write poetry from J.S. Moodey in Centerville, California, and from Thom Gunn at UC Berkeley. When he was young and idealistic, he dropped out of Cal-Berkeley and spent time chasing rainbows in South America. When that didn’t work out, he repatriated, got degrees from Berkeley, San Francisco State University and UC Davis where he specialized in romance linguistics and French literature. At Davis, while studying with Jarvis Bastian, a psychologist, Remick discovered Claude Lévi-Strauss, psycholinguistics, and C.S. Peirce—discoveries that changed his life, his writing, and his mind. Remick reads and writes French and Spanish. For a short time, he was the only Spanish speaking social worker in Fresno County. Now that he is older and wiser, he has given up travel in favor of the sedentary life of a writing guru to hordes of writers in Seattle. He enjoys that very much and is very proud of the writers who practice the discipline. Remick taught fiction and screenwriting in University of Washington Certificate programs. He served for several years on the editorial board of Pig Iron magazine as fantasy editor, contributing editor and assistant editor.

Click here to find Jack online.

From “In Memory of Mauritz Cornelius Escher—1972”

Twenty-three years into his death-stream

this man still aches his bones

down to the asphalt city

curled like a lizard writhing in rain

he still feeds me his mind heat

his voice says—

build a world of black and white,

of mind-rage and metal

go into that night for the stones

to your fallen dreams

go dig jewels of pain from the word-mine

bone rack boy

you find the other side of black

in the yellow slit at the edge of time.

At my back I hear the click of insects,

the clatter of jaws in the hard white shell.

So You Think You’re Crazy, by Frank Machovec: Comfort for an Anxious World

think_crazyIn So You Think You’re Crazy: Reassurance About Everyday Hang-Ups (5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-168-2, $13.95, 218 pp.), psychologist Frank Machovec, PhD, defines the true meaning of “crazy” and suggests methods of coping with anxiety and stress in the 21st century.

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“As a seasoned licensed therapist, I found this book to be a great summary of major theories of psychology and psychotherapy as well the new DSM V, the diagnostic guide for mental health professionals. I especially enjoyed the self-help/wellness section at the end. Readers will learn how to discern what is within the realm of ‘normal’ and what behaviors, thought patterns, or emotional reactions need further evaluation by qualified mental health professionals. A must-have book.”

—Paul E. Crouch, LCSW, BCD

“This book will appeal to anyone who might be considering an assessment for psychotherapy, as it may help them understand and resolve their issues sooner. Dr. Machovec presents his information using philosophical and historical contexts to better ground the reader in the concepts being discussed. A compact and thorough pre-therapy manual.”

—Stuart C. Tentoni, PhD, Former Director of Counseling and Training, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

In these hectic, 21st-century times, many worry if they have stepped over the line and acquired a mental disorder. Are you really crazy, or is what troubles you simply a normal variant of universal human behavior? What behavioral traits must you learn to live with? Which can you change? What can your dreams tell you about your behavior?

In his basic, down-to-earth primer, board-certified psychologist Dr. Frank Machovec describes mental disorders according to the latest diagnostic manual, past and current therapy techniques, and simple diagnostic tests to help you explore your thoughts and feelings. Even if you believe you are not that normal, this book can suggest ways for you to feel better about yourself and guide you in your search for professional help.

Says Dr. Machovec, “The most frequent question I was asked in thirty years as a psychologist was, in essence: ‘Am I really okay?’ This book will help answer that question. I hope readers will feel as if I’m talking to them personally. The main message of the book is that it’s normal to feel a little crazy from time to time—to worry about whether you’re normal and how normal you really are.”

Frank Machovec, PhD, is a retired licensed clinical psychologist who worked in mental hospitals, clinics, and private practice for 30 years. In addition to pre- and post-PhD internships, he is board certified in medical psychotherapy and clinical hypnosis and was a certified forensic examiner, testifying as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases. He has written 50 books and 27 journal articles. Dr. Machovec teaches college-level psychology as an adjunct professor as well as continuing education classes. For more information, go to fmachovec.com.

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How “significant” are your behaviors? Have you ever done anything that seemed normal at the time but now seems crazy? Most people have. It may have been something you did as a child or on a date in your teens. Maybe you did it on a dare or just thought it would be fun.

My normal might be your crazy, and vice versa. Ever skinny-dip? It’s illegal in most parts of the U.S., and some would think you were crazy for exposing yourself like that. Of course, it doesn’t have to be anything so obvious. If we looked in your refrigerator right now, would we find anything unusual? If you’re a woman, do you think it’s normal to have a closet full of shoes? If you’re a man, do you think women are just plain crazy to have so many?

Drawing the line. What we wear, say, and do usually conforms to the norm for our community and the time of day. If it doesn’t, people look at us as if we’re crazy. For example, a bikini looks great on the beach, but wearing one on the street or at work would be inappropriate. Eating with your hands is appropriate on the beach, but you would look crazy doing that in a posh restaurant. Black, white, and pastel shades are popular car colors, but a white car with zebra stripes would stand out. Singing is appropriate in the shower but not in the stacks of a public library. And while it’s okay to shout four-letter words if you stub your toe at home, people would stare at you if you did it in church or temple.

Adventuresome or crazy? Many people do potentially dangerous things that others think are crazy. They enjoy skydiving—jumping out of airplanes to parachute back to earth—or hang gliding—jumping off cliffs to fly via a kite-like wing and a few pounds of metal tubing. Spelunkers enjoy exploring underground caves, which are full of bats and bugs, muck, and bat poop (politely called guano). Mountain climbers train to climb to the top of high mountain peaks, despite bitter cold and a very real risk of frostbite, altitude sickness, or avalanche. Some water-skiers do it without skis, using their bare feet. In subzero winter, swimmers in Russia and Finland dig a hole in the ice and dive in. The czars swam in the river near their Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. They had a hole dug in the ice, just for their personal use.

Some of these adventuresome people work hard to break records. Mountain climbers train to break records in height and speed. The land speed record for a car is 407.4 miles per hour in a jet-powered car. There are records even in skateboarding: 80.8 miles per hour, 242 miles in 24 hours, one jump that measured 79 feet long and 23.5 feet high. Those who are so dedicated to break a record often make that their life goal, and that seems crazy to others. Did Michelangelo’s mother say, “Find something better to do than make such a mess with paints”? Did Shakespeare’s mother tell him, “Enough with the writing; go get a real job”?

How to Survive Being Alive, a Classic Guide to Coping with Stress

how_surviveHow to Survive Being Alive (5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-160-6, $13.95, 212 pp.), by Elton Welke and Donald L. Dudley, M.D., a groundbreaking guide to coping with stress, permanently changed the dialog between doctor and patient. After its first release in 1977, many more doctors began to consider their patients’ physical and mental states, rather than simply treating symptoms. This edition includes new material and an introduction by George Ojemann, M.D.

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“Lucid Wisdom for learning how to achieve and enjoy a healthy life.” —Ray H. Rosenman, M.D., author of Type A Behavior and Your Heart

“Having devoted all my life to this complex topic, I realize how difficult it is to select what really is of practical use in daily life in a light and amusing style …. Despite the many books that attempted to do the same (including my own), I am convinced that this volume is among the best.” (1977) —Hans Selye, M.D, Ph.D., D.Sc., author of Stress Without Distress

In 1977, the theory that stress, positive as well as negative, could lead to accidents or illnesses was far outside the mainstream. How could a pleasurable and exciting event such as a promotion, a marriage, a financial windfall, a vacation, or even Christmas be a bad thing? In their book, How to Survive Being Alive, authors Elton Welke and the late Dr. Donald L. Dudley put in plain language what many doctors had always suspected—that the body responds to life’s highs and lows by lowering its defenses. Dudley and Welke’s introduction of life-change scales to laymen clearly identified the possible consequences of experiencing too many changes all at once or making drastic revisions in life-style. They included the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, first created by psycho-physiologists Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe, which provided a practical means of measuring the stress-related consequences that certain events and milestones can precipitate.

Says co-author Elton Welke, “Although we anticipated skepticism, many doctors and nurses told us that they were relieved to see what they had observed personally finally corroborated in print.”

Donald L. Dudley, MD served on the University of Washington medical school’s faculty for 32 years as Clinical Professor of Neurological Surgery. He was also Chief of Behavioral Medicine at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and President and Medical Director of the Washington Institute of Neurosciences. Dr. Dudley authored more than 100 books, monographs, and professional papers. He died in 2000.

Elton Welke has served as both Senior and Executive editor for Sunset Magazine, Travel Editor of Better Homes and Gardens, and Managing Editor of Apartment Life Magazine. He has contributed to and edited many magazines and newspapers and authored and edited books for publishers nationwide. From 1990 to 1998 he was Publisher of Microsoft Press.

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When a saber-toothed tiger was stalking, retreat was appropriate behavior. When ambushed by another tribe, attack was often the only appropriate response. But in other circumstances—a cold, stormy night for example, or perhaps a situation in which the woods were overrun with enemies unaware of your hiding place—a sort of biological shutdown was the appropriate behavior. Primitive man often had to cope with cold. His body’s response was to constrict peripheral blood vessels and capillaries to conserve heat. His basal metabolism slowed down and his body went into a quasi-somnolent state. In these kinds of circumstances our great-great ancestor sort of hibernated. This was a stress response, just as adaptive to survival as dashing away from danger or bashing an attacker’s head in with a club. Withdrawal was the behavior appropriate to surviving a stormy night. Indeed, after his amazing run from the Blackfoot Indians, John Colter had to survive that night hidden in a driftwood pile, naked, with bone-chilling water gurgling by just inches below him. Hidden in a log pile, with enemies all around, reduced breathing, minimal heartbeat, inactivity, and just enough heat production to keep from dying of hypothermia was the best course for ancient ancestor and for John Colter.

To be sure, a withdrawal response to either a saber-tooth tiger or an attacking Neanderthal would have proven disastrous one million years ago, just as running about naked in freezing weather would have been lethal. Thus we evolved, with a mix of psychological and physiological stress reactions designed to help us survive different kinds of threats.

Unfortunately we’ve only been “modern men” for a few brief years in contrast to our species’ tenure on this globe, and we’ve been industrialized, cultured, and “civilized” men for but a flyspeck in time compared to our natural history.

John Colter’s stress responses were appropriate to escaping Indians, yet a similar chain of responses when meeting with the vice-president in charge of finance is not in your best interest. There you are, in your business suit, necktie, polished shoes … with a pounding pulse, shortness of breath, increased blood pressure, and muscles twitching and itching for accelerated physical activity. For all that, you are expected to appear rational, calm, in charge of yourself.

“I believe I can explain this, Mr. Blackfoot. You see we’ve been anticipating a jump in costs during the year ahead, so we wanted to prepare this year ….”

The Last of the Blacksmiths, by Claire Gebben: a Nineteenth Century German Immigrant Pursues the American Dream

blacksmithsIn The Last Of The Blacksmiths (ISBN: 978-1-60381-182-8, $16.95, 352 pp; February 15, 2014), Claire Gebben brings to life the moving story of Michael Harm, a nineteenth century blacksmith from the Bavarian Rhinelands who dares to follow his dreams of freedom and prosperity and travels from Germany to Cleveland, OH, to pursue an artisan way of life.

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Like many generations before her, author Claire Gebben had kept in contact with her German side of her family via letter writing. A few years ago, she received a fantastic surprise when her family in Freinsheim, Germany discovered old letters in their attic–letters written in 1841 announcing a family member’s safe arrival in Cleveland, OH. Who wrote these letters? Claire embarked on a quest to find out more, and in the process she became fascinated with the German immigrant experience.

5 Stars: “An intimately detailed story in which readers viscerally feel what it was like to be alive during the late 1800s.  Rich in details, readers explore the thoughts of the German-born people living during America’s western migration, early industrial era, and its pre- through post-civil war times…. Gebben writes from the heart.”  Read more ….

–Sarah Roberts, San Francisco Book Review

“Many of us have an ancestor with an interesting story. Some also set about to write that story for publication, and most fail to realize that the story is not enough: a full context is what produces verisimilitude and brings the characters to life–in fact or fiction. Claire Gebben has mastered both the story and the context in this work. While acknowledging in her introductory ‘Dear Reader’ note [n.p.] that her work is based on fact, supported by letters and other documents, she states ‘it is one hundred percent historical fiction.’ She freely used her considerable skills as an author and researcher to write of the experiences of Michael Harm, her blacksmith ancestor. He is so clearly a product of his times and society that the novel has the ring of historical authenticity…. This is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of historical fiction…. Kudos to Claire Gebben for making genealogy and fiction work so well together!”

—Eleanor L. Turk, Yearbook of German American Studies, Spring 2015

“The writing quality is superb, the historical and geographic detail utterly convincing, the characters well-drawn, and the dialogue persuasive … Claire Gebben has extraordinary promise. Her prose is quite brilliant; I fully lived within her world.”

—William Dietrich, Pulitzer-Prize winning author

“Claire Gebben writes with clear, concise prose. The historical material enhances her story…. Her characters are well-developed with both virtues and foibles. This is a more or less true story that has been pieced together from a transatlantic correspondence over the generations.”  Read more ….

—Historical Novel Society

“… Into [actual historical events], Gebben has deftly woven fictional details, made-up characters, and a sense of ‘living history,’ all based on her in-depth research of the time period and places in the story ….
For a fascinating glimpse into what many nineteenth-century immigrants may have faced, and into the life of a nineteenth-century blacksmith and carriage builder, you’ll want to read this book.”
—Jennifer Singleton, The Carriage Journal, March 2014

“Readers will enjoy this story of one man’s immigration to America and how he adjusted to life in the new land.”

—Clara Harsh, The Palatine Immigrant magazine

“A thoughtful and often poignant look at the struggles of immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, and which are very likely familiar to immigrants today. Kudos to Ms. Gebben for allowing her imagination to take flight and delivering a heartfelt story that is both enlightening and entertaining.” Read more ….

—Charlotte Morganti, Morganti Write Blog

Claire Gebben delivers an unforgettable narrator, an intimate glimpse of the immigrant experience, and an ultimately uplifting story.”

—Ana Maria Spagna, author of Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus

“Meticulously researched and lovingly written. Claire Gebben’s new novel is both intimate and epic, following one immigrant’s journey to America but representative of the journeys of millions.”

—Lawrence Coates, author of The Garden of the World

Michael Harm is a farmer’s son in the Bavarian Rhineland who dreams of excitement and freedom. Every day Michael toils beside his brother in the vineyards wishing he could be a blacksmith, a singer, or an adventurer.

One day the Harm family receives a letter from America offering a blacksmithing apprenticeship in a relative’s Cleveland, OH wagon-making shop to the eldest son. Michael begs to take his brother’s place, and at age fifteen, leaves his family behind for America. On a storm-tossed Atlantic crossing, he meets Charles Rauch, the son of a Cleveland wagon-maker, his future rival in carriage-making and love.

Michael arrives in an America he can barely comprehend, confronting riots in New York, anti-immigrant bigotry in Cleveland, and his uncle, a cruel blacksmith master. Michael struggles through his indenture, inspired by rags-to-riches stories such as that of presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln. He receives his freedom dues just as war threatens to destroy the country he now calls home.

It is not the Civil War, but Cleveland’s post-war Gilded Age, that forces Michael to face his greatest challenge—an accelerating machine age destined to wipe out his livelihood forever. Populated by characters both historical and invented, The Last of the Blacksmiths is a tale of the disruption and dispersal of an immigrant family, the twilight of the artisan crafts, and the efforts of each generation to shape its destiny. A consummate storyteller, Claire Gebben demonstrates a brilliant ability to imagine and recreate the past with historical vigor and beauty.

Claire Gebben was born and raised on the southeast side of Cleveland. After earning her BA in Psychology from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, she eventually settled with her husband in Seattle. She’s worked as a newspaper columnist, newsletter editor, and ghostwriter, all the while raising a family and pursuing her first love of writing. In 2011, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island, WA. Her writing has appeared in Shark Reef, The Speculative Edge, Soundings Review, The Fine Line, and ColumbiaKIDSe-zine. The Last Of The Blacksmiths is her first novel. Click here to find Claire online.

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Finally, I came upon the corner building with the word Bayard and knew I was still on the right path. I remembered the same letters from the map. Canal Street would be just ahead. Down Bayard Street I heard cheering. It sounded as if a carnival was taking place. Or perhaps a parade? Eager for a first taste of the exotic customs in this great country, I went a few steps toward the noise.

But I did not find what I expected. Up ahead, in the middle of the street, two men fought with their fists, a ring of people gleefully urging them on. As I stood trying to make sense of it, I noticed the word Mott on the street corner building up ahead. How could that be? I had passed Mott a few streets back. Alarmed, I pushed through the throngs to the next street—Mulberry—and my stomach flip-flopped in dismay.

As I tried to reason it out, the mood of the mob shifted, the cheers turning to hisses and snarls. People began running for cover, calling out with hoarse shouts, diving into doorways and behind barrels. Others appeared in the windows of the buildings, shaking their fists at something farther up the street. Silhouettes of men appeared on the rooftops, sticks or clubs—or rifles—in their hands. Alarm turning to terror, I retreated the way I had come.

But I didn’t get far. Objects began to rain from the sky—rocks, furniture, buckets of slop. Near me, a brick thunked a man on his shoulder. He cried out, spun in a circle to see what had hit him, then collapsed. Afraid to go on, I pressed back against a building. Before me, a farmer and his wagon had become trapped by the crowd. His horse was growing agitated, rearing back and snorting in distress. In the back of the farmer’s wagon were two enormous hogs.

The farmer stood and shouted to clear the way, but no one paid him any mind. Then a group of young men noticed him, and one tried to climb up on the seat. The farmer pushed the ruffian off, but two others clambered up from behind, lifting the man up under his arms and dumping him over the side. The horse whinnied and bucked. Hands reached up to unfasten its harness. Horse and wagon separated, the mob heaved the wagon over on its side. As the wagon tipped, the hogs spilled to the ground with great squeals, struggled to their feet and barreled off, knocking several people down in the crowd.

Around the overturned cart, men and women were piling barrels and crates to form a makeshift barrier. The horse continued to rear and buck, its eyes white with terror. A gunshot rang out. The horse dropped to its forelegs with a groan, then lay full out on the ground.

The gunshot woke me from my stupor and I ran, arms over my head, praying to God no brick would drop from the sky to end my life. As I fled from the melee, a few ruffians jostled past me, their arms loaded with bricks and stones. I could not believe anyone would run into that riot. Did freedom drive men mad?

I reached the street with the iron rails, but the street sign said Bowery. What happened to Chatham Street? Frightened out of my wits, I dashed blindly ahead, weaving and dodging the other pedestrians, not slowing until my breath came in huffs and a stitch dug into my side.

Coming to myself, I halted at last at a wide intersection with a fountain in the center. This was a fashionable district unlike anything Franz had described, the paving stones swept clean, the couples and families dressed in fine new clothes, carrying baskets and parasols.

I realized the worst had come to pass. I was lost, and had no idea of my way back.

Sirocco, by Danielle A. Dahl: Life in the Twilight of French Algeria

siroccoSirocco: A French Girl Comes of Age in War-Torn Algeria (274 pp, $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-60381-194-1), is a memoir by Danielle A. Dahl about her adventures growing up under threat of terrorism.

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Sirocco is the riveting account of the author’s youth during the Algerian War for Independence (1954-1962), and it is the first English-language novel from the Pied-Noir community. Dahl paints a loving and nostalgic image of Algeria but does not spare the reader from the confusion, chaos, and violence of war. The beauty of the text comes from the gradual shift in perspective from child to young adult as Nana begins to understand the complexity of the conflict in Constantine. Her cohesive story is smattered with French and Pied-Noir expressions, authentic scenes, and vivid descriptions of the characters in her life. She transports us to a traumatic period that has long been silenced in France and that has only begun to be uncovered in the last decade.”

—Amy L. Hubbell, Lecturer in French, The University of Queensland

“With brilliant storytelling, we are drawn into the world of a French-Algerian family during the civil war. Lush language and skillful rendering of this world create a story you won’t be able to put down. Dahl’s memoir Sirocco teaches us about another culture and the history of a time and a place—and most of all, you will meet a family you will never forget.”

—Linda Joy Myers, author of Power of Memoir and Don’t Call Me Mother

“Mesmerizing. Poignant. Bittersweet. Richly evocative writing that places you deep in the world of war-torn Algeria. A stunning debut author to watch.”

—Mary Buckham, USA Today bestselling author

On All Saints Day, 1954, the Algerian War of Independence from France begins, forever changing the lives of ten-year-old Nanna, her family, and a million-and-a-half French settlers.

As Arab rebels carry out terrorist acts against civilians, hatred and bloodshed permeate the fabric of European and Muslim lives. A safe bus ride to town means keeping an eye out for stray shopping baskets containing hidden bombs. A day trip to the beach requires the protection of a military convoy.

But life goes on, and Nanna’s loving mother, mischievous but good-natured siblings, and kind grandfathers provide plenty of adventure and humor. Nanna worships her Papa, who provides for his family and keeps them safe, but, growing up, she begins to understand that he is also a braggart with unyielding views of right and wrong, who believes that attending a supervised party with boys will compromise a girl’s virtue. Nanna defies him and falls in love, thus setting the stage for an ongoing clash of wills.

As Nanna watches her beloved country torn apart by terrorism, she grieves for the French targeted by the fellagha and for the Arabs they slaughter because they are seen as pro-French. Ultimately, Nanna watches in anguish as the French generals, betrayed by De Gaulle, make a last stand for a French Algeria before laying down their arms.

In the end Nanna’s family, like all the other French settlers, must choose between the suitcase and the grave.

Says the author, “Five years ago, I began to write down funny stories from the years my family lived in the North African country of Algeria. Childhood reminiscences, which, in time, unleashed a flow of memories shared, I know, by each and every one of the French colonials who also survived these times—a Pandora’s Box bursting with the brutal events of the war of independence, occasionally brimming with bitterness, but also overflowing with unconditional love for a sensuous land and its unassuming people. An upbringing such as mine is a lesson in emotional survival. Such is the human spirit that it yearns to find a new ‘normal,’ even amid constant danger.”

Danielle A. Dahl hails from a family of fourth generation French settlers in Algeria. Born and raised in Constantine, she came of age during the Algerian War of Independence. A week before Algeria celebrated self-rule and just before Danielle turned eighteen, she and her family fled their home and took refuge in France. Eight years later, she moved to the United States, where she studied commercial art. She and her husband Walter lived in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and Illinois before retiring to South Carolina. Danielle has placed in several writing contests and published two creative nonfiction stories in the Petigru Review Literary Journal. Click here to find Danielle on the Web.

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During the summer of my thirteenth year, life went on—same as the previous one and the one before—leading us to search for entertainment whenever and wherever we could.

Weekdays, Maman worked downtown, leaving my sisters and me in charge of the house chores. Each day, before preparing lunch, Zizou and I washed and dried the previous evening’s dishes and cleaned the floor. We found it faster to throw buckets of water laced with chlorine across the tiles and sweep it to the perron—the front door landing—and down the stairs. Once the floors dried, we closed the shutters and, in the penumbra, waged war on the perennial flies that, I could swear, spawned out of thin air.

We sprayed Fly-Tox throughout the house to eradicate invading insects. Later, heedless of the insecticide’s acrid smell, we counted the flies lying on top of the bright kitchen table oilcloth.

One day, Zizou observed, “There are more today than yesterday.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but the day before we had a real hecatomb.”

“What is that … etacome?”

“He-ca-tomb—means something like: lots and lots of dead bodies.”

“Even for flies?”

“Why not?”

The flies lay flat on their backs, slender legs knitted in frozen ultimate prayers. Bodies so weightless, the slightest puff of air blown through pursed lips propelled them aloft like black snow flurries battered by crosswinds.

Most interesting were the few still left alive. Frenetic legs batting the air, frenzied wings buzzing against the gay oilcloth, they struggled in tight circles to right themselves. I thought of old men with lumbago striving to get up from their benches, reaching for canes that weren’t there.

To help an insect turn its world right side up, I delicately picked it up by a single iridescent wing. Sadly, it refused to assist in its rescue. It batted its legs and free wing until the one I held detached from its body and remained stuck between my fingernails. The fly fell on its back again, traced taut circles using the lone remaining wing as a pivot point, and simply died.

I’m not sure why I felt guilty about killing the flies. After all, I’d seen them drink from sick eyes and runny noses, frolic among dead things, explore animal and human dung then alight on my marmalade. And there were so many of them—zillions. They drove me nuts.

Just the same, I felt sad that they had to die.

“Feeling sorry for dead flies?” Zizou was incredulous.

“It’s not about dead flies. It’s about killing them.”

“Yeah. People are dying horribly every day and you worry about killing flies ….” Her eyes glistened with tears. “What’s wrong with you?”

At supper that night, Riri asked, “Papa, Nanna says she feels sorry for dead flies. Like it’s wrong to kill them or something. Is it true?”

Papa studied me as if I were a fly drowning in his wine or, even worse, an unknown species from outer space. He shook his head. “What books have you been reading?”

“Just … books ….”

“Books on Ahimsa?”

My face must have shown my puzzlement.

“That’s the Hindu practice of non-violence and respect for life. Its original tenet is, do not injure, do not hurt.”

Non …. I haven’t read about that.”

Zizou asked, “What does that have to do with killing flies?”

Papa explained, “Hindus believe that all beings, and that includes plants and animals, are imbued with divinity. Because of that, all manifestations of life must be respected.”

“I never read about that, Pa.”

“Where, then, did you get that crazy notion of feeling sorry for dead flies?”

“I don’t know, Pa. It’s just that when things or people die, it makes me very sad.”

Papa lit a cigarette, appraising me. As he inhaled, the set of his features and the expression in his green eyes seemed to say, “I understand how you feel, ma fille.” Instead, words sharp as bee stings shot through the exhaled smoke, “You better keep a straight head on your shoulders, asshole, or you’ll never make it in this world—”

At that moment Pépé Honninger entered the kitchen, unshaven, smelling of fish and sea salt. Papa’s focus shifted from me to him. “What’s wrong with you, Pierre? Are you looking for the fellagha to cut your throat?”

As long as I could remember, Pépé had always fished with his friend, Oscar, spending days on end at solitary beaches in Philippeville or Bône. Les Événements hadn’t changed his rituals, which infuriated Pa and worried Ma.

Pépé’s shoulders rolled in frustration. “I like to fish. I will not allow these murderers of women and children to control the way I lead my life.”

I was so proud of him, I wanted to throw my arms around his neck and kiss him. But it was not our family’s habit to hug and we only kissed our adults to say hello, good-bye, good morning and good night. Never to show affection. In addition, no matter how thrilling Pépé’s heroic statement, kissing him on impulse would have led Papa to conclude that I preferred Pépé over him. That I was betraying him.

I often thought Pépé must be tired of sharing his house with our shmala—the crowding, the noise, and the ongoing antagonism between himself and Pa. I could see how fishing would be a good excuse to get away. Before Les Événements, I too looked forward to escaping to summer camp. To getting away from the crowds.

Maman turned from her cooking, lid in hand. “Papa, Riri is right. You might be killed or, worse, abducted. Then you tell the fellagha you won’t allow them to slice you into bloody pieces.” She banged the lid onto the pot. “And one of these days, you’ll catch pneumonia”—she shook her head—“sleeping on damp sand!”

Undaunted by Maman’s reproaches, Pépé kept up his jaunts to the beach with Oscar. Once in a while, to placate my mother, he fished closer to the house, at la Rivière des Chiens. Since the start of the événements, fewer people hung around isolated spots and the Dogs’ River’s population of grenouilles and anguilles—frogs and eels—had exploded.

The very sight of anguilles made my taste buds salivate like a dog’s when it ogles a marrow bone. Pépé hung the slippery eels by the gills, slit the black moiré skin from head to tail, and peeled it off inside out—like a glove—to reveal the firm, pink flesh. Once gutted, the eels were sliced into chunks, rolled into flour, and browned in olive oil till nearly cooked. After throwing in fresh parsley, minced garlic, and a cup of wine vinegar, Pépé covered the pan for the meat to simmer then served it with mashed potatoes or fried polenta. Miam, miam! There never was enough of it.

Beyond the Two Rivers, by Aida Kouyoumjian: a Story of a Lost Iraq

beyond_2riversBeyond the Two Rivers: The Continuing Story of Mannig the Heroine of Between the Two Rivers Following the Armenian Genocide (246 pp, $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-60381-151-4),  is the sequel to Between the Two Rivers: A Story of the Armenian Genocide, the account of the real-life saga of Ms. Kouyoumjian’s mother Mannig, who as a young girl was one of a small minority of Armenians who survived the massacre and deportation from the Ottoman Empire during and after World War I. Historians estimate that 1.5 to 2 million Armenians perished.

“A memoir so memorable it will haunt you forever. This is one book that will enlighten readers about a country so many know so little about.”

—Fran Lewis, Just Reviews

** Click the cover image to order online **

** Or order it in Kindle, Nook, or other eBook formats on Smashwords **

Critics had high praise for Between the Two Rivers:

“From the first page of Between the Two Rivers, your attention will be captured,” writes Carol Hoyer, PhD, for Reader Views. “Readers won’t be able to put the book down. You will hiss at the villains and cheer for the underdogs.”

In ForeWord Reviews, Elissa Mugianis writes, “With this writing, Kouyoumjian joins authors Thea Halo and Peter Balakian, whose finely penned accounts of family members’ survival of the Ottoman atrocities are essential reads for the understanding of these genocides.”

“An absorbing account that confirms the adage, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ ” says Mary Terzian, author of The Immigrants’ Daughter.

Between the Two Rivers won first place (Washington State) in the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW) At-Large Communications Contest in the nonfiction: history category.

Between the Two Rivers was a true Cinderella of Mesopotamia story. Young Mannig rose from starving Armenian orphan to the teenage bride of a wealthy philanthropist. Beyond the Two Rivers begins in Baghdad amid the political turmoil of 1958 and flashes back to where the first book left off in 1922, when Mannig travels to the desert castle of her in-laws. As a young mother, Mannig moves from one isolated farming village outpost to another while her engineer husband makes the desert bloom. Mannig, Mardiros, and their three children eventually settle in Baghdad, where the tumult of World War II has soured relations between the various tribes who have shared these lands peacefully for centuries.

Whether hobnobbing with royalty or escaping from angry Bedouin, Mannig retains her resilience and joie de vivre. This is an Iraq that no longer exists, except in our memories and imaginations.

Says the author, “Ever since Between the Two Rivers was published, I’ve been asked about a sequel. Did the Cinderella of Mesopotamia get to enjoy a Happily Ever After? Well, the answer is complicated, as you will see. She certainly had a wonderful husband, who also became a loving father to his children. But those were turbulent years, and what began as a luxurious idyll in the castle of her husband’s family soon turned into an itinerant existence far from her friends, her in-laws and her sister. During my childhood, my father’s engineering work took us from one remote outpost to the next, and eventually we had to flee for our lives. Mannig’s life was full of adventure, and it was certainly happier than most. It had its moments of fear and tragedy, but she was tough; anyone who survived what she did as a child had to be. I think many will find it fascinating to relive those years with her, in an Iraq that struggled to find its place in the twentieth century, fell into the hands of a dictator, and now continues to reel as violence breaks out in surrounding countries. What’s going on in Syria these days is so reminiscent of what has been happening in the Middle East since the beginning of human history—in Babylon, which is only a few miles from where I was born.”

Aida Kouyoumjian was born in Felloujah and raised and educated in Baghdad, Iraq. In 1952 she came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington on a Fulbright Scholarship. Aida married an American and eventually settled on Mercer Island. Click here to find Aida online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Mannig never learned how the friendly association between the Kouyoumdjians and the Royal Family of Iraq began. From conversations in the drawing rooms she assumed that the two brothers, Kerop Agha Kouyoumdjian and Hagop Agha Kouyoumdjian—the father-in-law she never met—earned their reputations from their philanthropy toward the Ottoman Empire. The Agha brothers retained their aristocratic status by contributing to the welfare of their ancestral land even after it formed a country all its own—Iraq.

Mannig’s curiosity was piqued when the family received the courier from the royal palace bearing the king’s regrets that he could not attend the forthcoming reception for the wedding of Mardiros and Mannig. She never doubted the existence of the relationship between the royal family and the Kouyoumdjians. Some family members recalled joining the royal hunt for mountain lions; others bragged about riding race horses on royal grounds. Any doubts she might have had were removed by the visits paid by King Faisal and his brother, Ali at the qasr in Felloujeh.

As was their custom to escape the summer heat, the Kouyoumdjians had moved to their Felloujeh qasr on the west bank of the Euphrates River, forty-five miles west of Baghdad. Like their permanent home, this one was designed to house the families of the five brothers in separate compartments. They would gather together at suppertime and chat afterward on the balcony, often past midnight. The taupe ceramic-tiled balcony jutted out of the drawing room and cantilevered over the riverbank. They relished the cool breeze off the river’s bend along their peninsular property.

The balcony was Mannig’s favorite location, not only because it was the perfect setting for a cool evening but because she, as the most recent bride, was no longer the focus of the family’s attention. Everyone had so much to talk about. Their summer place offered a lot of space and many opportunities during the days for the fourteen children to expend their excess energy. The adults seemed to relive their youths when their offspring spoke of swinging from trees, riding horses or donkeys, swimming in the river and playing the sort of games children invent for themselves. Their juvenile dramatizations of how the cook slaughtered a lamb for dinner or strangled chickens for Sunday’s supper were far more entertaining than finding a turkey egg in the chicken coop. Armen liked to brag about how he almost trapped a jackal. “We chased that wowie to the edge of the farm,” Haig would add, completing his cousin’s story. Mannig, only sixteen then seventeen years old, loved listening to tales of the children’s shenanigans, wishing she could be with her nieces and nephews rather than her in-laws.

All this, however, did not stop the children from suffering the occasional reproofs from their parents, especially if Managuile Hanum shouted from her room, “Send for Mardiros to deal with these delinquents.” The children feared him, but Mannig could not imagine her husband even stepping on a cockroach.

Knowing her place, Mannig refrained from entertaining ideas of childish adventures. She hoped to familiarize herself with the caprices and idiosyncrasies of the adults of her family.

One day, the supper bell—an empty three-inch cannon shell—was gonged several hours before the actual meal. The adults dashed out of their compartments and headed downstairs, Mannig in tow.

Once inside the drawing room, they found that instead of the eldest brother Khosrof, Mardiros had issued the unusual summons. He motioned to Mannig to sit on the divan closest to him while he remained standing in front of a silk Sajadah—Persian carpet—hanging on the wall.

“We have been given several days’ notice that the King is about to visit,” he began with no preliminaries.

Soprano and baritone oohs and ahs echoed about the room, which was as exuberant as the adults allowed themselves to get.

“King Faisal, His Royal Highness,” Mardiros said with self-assurance, “is returning to Baghdad from Damascus. He will need a short rest when he drives through Felloujeh.”

Managuile Hanum called attention to herself by clicking her prayer beads. Speaking in Turkish, she said, “I assume you’ve arranged for him to rest in the qasr.”

“Of course,” they responded unanimously, making Mannig question her own understanding of her in-laws’ position. She had assumed the departure from Baghdad society and the decorum required there would give her respite from learning the rules. Suddenly Felloujeh was becoming the site of a royal visit.

“Furthermore,” Mardiros said, waiting for them to quiet down, “His Majesty’s brother, Prince Ali, will come from Baghdad to meet the King here.”

Prince Ali, still with no kingdom of his own to rule, was anxious to learn from Faisal about his own future duties. Faisal, crowned king of Iraq since 1922, had been meeting in Damascus, Syria and Amman, Transjordan—now Jordan—with the British and the French emissaries to determine which territories ought to be ruled by whom. He and his two brothers from Saudi Arabia had assisted the Allies against the Axis during WWI, and each claimed the right to rule the territories lost by the Ottoman Empire. Ali had traveled to Baghdad, counting on Faisal’s influence with the European leaders.

Mardiros raised his arm for attention. “Most major arrangements are done, but there is one problem. The Governor of Felloujeh feels offended that the King should take his rest at the qasr of “those Armenians,” as he called us, instead of the Government House. So I invited him to pay us a visit to see for himself if his Government House could offer better accommodations for his Royal Highness.”

“Good diplomacy,” the men in the room affirmed Mardiros’ handling of a sensitive situation.

“But when is he coming?” The women needed to know if they had enough time to prepare for an outsider.

“Considering the lateness of the day, we agreed he should come sometime tomorrow.”

“There’s much to be done.” Khosrof stood and grabbed his redingote from the coat tree. “This is a first. We have entertained many dignitaries, but never two kings at once—even if I’m stretching the truth about Ali. I’m sure his kingdom will be Transjordan.”

The family scattered and plunged into a thousand and one tasks and arrangements. The gentlemen of the qasr saw to it that every detail of protocol was taken care of. They assigned Siranoush, Dikran’s wife who hailed from Moscow and a girls’ finishing school, to practice how and where on the King’s route to the drawing room they should curtsy.

“Felloujeh cannot offer proper cakes,” Diggin Hermine said. She was Toros’ wife and revered for her culinary expertise. “I’ll order the cakes and the gateaux from Baghdad.” She saw to it that Mahmoud the chauffeur would deliver them on the exact day so they would be as fresh as if made locally.

The biggest problem was that none of the servants in the qasr was of sufficient standing to serve the coffee and the tea which, according to local custom, were served already poured in the cups and set in saucers on a large round tray.

“How about Farid Abbosh?” Diggin Sara, Khosrof’s wife suggested. Farid, an acquaintance living in Felloujeh, had spoken of previous experiences serving dignitaries.

Farid consented to do the honors and the Kouyoumdjian ladies began training him the proper way. He was told that under no circumstances should he turn his back on the King and that, after serving the coffee, he should withdraw backwards. Farid, being a man of considerable girth, found it difficult to get his bearings when walking backward. Even Mannig couldn’t control her mirth at his “test runs.”

When the Governor visited the qasr, he saw the extent and quality of the preparations and realized that in no way could he have matched them.

“It will be my honor,” he confided to Mardiros, “to direct His Royal Highness to your qasr.”

On the day of the visit everybody woke up early. The ruckus the children made while being washed and then dressed in their Sunday best filled the courtyard.

“You better stay clean,” Mannig heard one mother after another warn her child, “or else Uncle Mardiros will see that you never sit on your buttocks without pain.”

Mannig gave her husband a puzzled look, but not for long. “I’ve become …” Mardiros explained, brushing the velvet collar of his redingote. “No, they’ve made me the disciplinarian of these children. Ever since I spanked one of my nephews, the reputation stuck with the rest, making the mothers quite content to associate my name freely with the threat of the rod.”

“I noticed Diggin Hermine pressing Toros’ morning suit,” Mannig said. “Should I do the same to yours?”

“It’s not necessary,” Mardiros said. “But perhaps you ought to attend to your own clothing.”

“Oh, I will,” Mannig said, showing him her yellow silk dress, dotted with pearls. Maggie, Khosrof’s seventeen-year-old daughter from his late wife, had chosen it for her at Orozdi Bek, the Swiss department store in Baghdad.

“That’s a perfect outfit for tea,” he said, face brightening and eyes shining.

“Maggie said this was the most fashionable style these days,” Mannig said.

“Maggie has good taste,” Mardiros said. Then, walking out of their compartment, he leaned on the banister and called the men-servants, who dashed to the courtyard, looking up. “Collect all the Persian carpets in the qasr,” he instructed. “Dust each one and examine their condition. Then lay them end-to-end from the roadway all the way to the drawing room. Do you understand? His Majesty’s feet should not touch the bare ground.”