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Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Reviews: End of Normal, Nanny Returns, Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn

It's time for the Frisco Kids' book club! Here's what I've been reading of late.

The End of Normal by Stephanie Madoff Mack
Of course we know what happens in this book about the Madoff clan, from the viewpoint of Bernie Madoff's son and his wife. So it won't be ruining the story by telling you that Stephanie's husband, Mark Madoff killed himself in the wake of his father's scandal. What a ballsy book to intimately share your life during a time of tragedy, giving honest (and negative) opinions about your husband's family. Stephanie says she wrote the book to tell their side of the story, to clear Mark's name and for her children, so they'll ultimately understand when they're older. It's a warts-and-all book, author included. One can't help but sympathize with what she's going through. She makes a convincing case that her husband Mark and his brother knew nothing of the illegal acts of their father. And the living hell they went through after, trying to fight off paparazzi, lawsuits and nasty articles while struggling to keep their marriage healthy. Add into it family complications - Ruth Madoff failing to take her sons' sides and other family members with their own interests. Mark took it all personally and it finally pushed him over the edge. What is it like to lose your husband to suicide while still facing these other demons? You'll find out in this book which was well written. I wish Stephanie all the best moving forward in her life.

Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
I loved read the Nanny Diaries, so when I saw this book at the book store, I had to get it. What fun! Nanny is married and back in the U.S. after some stints with her husband overseas for his work. They come back, buy a dumpy fixer-upper, and she reconnects with a pseudo-friend from her prep school days, and gets a consulting gig working for a private school. All is good, right? Wrong. Still tormented about how she left her charge Grayer all those years ago, she gets a second chance when he shows up on her rotting doorstep asking questions. He's now in high school, and has a 7 year old brother Stilton (like the cheese) in need of assistance.

The story weaves her horrific experience consulting for a $50,000/year private school where the kids are atrocious and the parents are even worse, her delicate reentry with job undefined in the X's family, and her relationship with her old prep school friend, who is in the same social circle as the Xs, albeit a younger generation. It's a witty social commentary, though we can't really relate to anyone but Nanny and the school teachers, because they're the only ones grounded in reality. The rest are caricatures (albeit fun to laugh at) of what you think of when you think of ridiculous rich society members. It's all good fun, and wraps up nicely.

I just finished reading Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn by Jamie Maslin. I love a good arm chair travel book that takes me into the heart of where I'll probably never go. Iran is that place, and Maslin was a good tour guide. It's not that I wouldn't go to Iran, but it's not at the top of my list alone, or even with kids. I traveled alone in Egypt for a week, and as a female, let alone a Westerner, it was an interesting experience. Maslin is a male Brit, and it was good to hear about the others travelers he met along the way, including one adventurous Aussie female. I appreciated most the adventures he had meeting locals, who were so hospitable they would invite him to stay in their homes without even having a conversation with him first. Being a foreigner in Iran has its advantages. Maslin over and over again, showed the hospitality of the people living there, as he was treated to tea, meals, coffee, housing, and tour guides from locals who were excited to speak English with him and show him around. Some of my favorite parts were hearing what Iranians want to know from foreigners, and about their odd obsession for singer Chris de Burgh. So telling that when I went to add the link to the singer's fan website (I don't think it's an official site), the lyrics are available in English and Persian. It's great to see how learning the simple phrase "You are beautiful" in Farsi can lead to such pleasure on the part of the recipients, how a cheeseburger can be a love gift, and how whiskey is sold in cans. I learned a bit about Iranian politics as well, and how the locals see their government and its religious leaders versus how we expect they see it (summary - they go along with the religious and social conservatism because to do otherwise is dangerous, but at least the ones that this author met are not big fans of the Iranian government). I'd recommend the book and am now looking forward to reading his other book Socialist Dreams and Beauty Queens: a Couchsurfer's Memoir of Venezuela (I haven't been there either).

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