The Common Good
November 2008

Building Bridges

by Molly Marsh | November 2008

Books that traverse the terrain of war and peace, faith and family, and continents and cultures.

Song for Night, by Chris Abani

A 15-year-old boy named My Luck, a human mine detector in an unnamed West African war, wakes up to find he’s been separated from his platoon. He can’t speak—like his comrades, his vocal cords have been cut so that if a mine explodes, they won’t be heard screaming—but his journey through the physical and emotional wreckage of war, which include his own deadly actions, is eloquent and heartbreaking. “[E]ven with the knowledge that there are some sins too big for even God to forgive,” he thinks, “every night my sky is still full of stars; a wonderful song for night.” (Akashic Books, 2007)

The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai

The action moves between northeast India—where a retired judge, his orphaned granddaughter, and their England-loving neighbors live near the borders of Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan—and New York, where a cook’s son lives the terrifying life of an immigrant. All of Desai’s characters struggle in deep and painful, yet often funny, ways with the forces of colonialism, globalization, and modernity. (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006)

Beijing Coma, by Ma Jian

Dai Wei had been a molecular biology student at Beijing University when he was shot in the head during the Tiananmen Square massacre. Now he is in a coma, and though his body is lifeless, his mind ranges freely over the events of June 1989, the complex figures of the student movement, and the fading prospects for democratic reform in an increasingly oppressive China. (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008)

Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Everything Good Will Come, by Sefi Atta

Nigerian writer Adichie tells the story of Biafra’s struggle for independence in the late ’60s through the lives of five characters, primarily a 13-year-old houseboy named Ugwu. Their stories reveal the prejudices of race, class, and ethnicity and the impact of war and violence on everyone, no matter their status. (Knopf, 2006). Every­thing Good Will Come, by fellow Nigerian writer Sefi Atta, takes place one year after the Biafran war and follows the relationship of two girls in Lagos—one privileged, the other not. (Interlink Books, 2005)

Under the Feet of Jesus, by Helena María Viramontes

Thirteen-year-old Estrella and her family are migrant farmworkers, following the growing cycle of California fields in their run-down station wagon. The family grows to enfold Alejo, with whom Estrella falls in love. When he is sprayed by a cropduster and becomes seriously ill, they care for him with ever-dwindling resources. (Dutton, 1995)

The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu

Ethiopian immigrant Sepha Stephanos owns a dingy convenience store in a blighted neighborhood in Washington, D.C., trying—with his two fellow African immigrants—to eke out a meaningful life in their new and seemingly uncaring country. Mengestu conveys the painful isolation Sepha experiences and the challenges of living between the worlds of his former home and his new life in a place that can’t fully accept him because it doesn’t fully see him. (Riverhead Books, 2007)

Lost City Radio, by Daniel Alarcón

Norma is the host of a weekly radio show that tries to reunite families separated by a civil war in an unnamed South American city. When 11-year-old Victor shows up at the studio, sent by his village with the names of their missing and disappeared, the two form a relationship that uncovers the web of connections between those who were thought to be lost and those who have been found, as well as surprising information about her husband, Rey, who disappeared in the jungle a decade earlier. The book was a finalist for the 2008 Dayton Literary Peace Prize, which recognizes authors who promote peace in their work. (HarperCollins, 2007)

Molly Marsh is an associate editor of Sojourners.

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