Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2016: A Novel of America and the World - by Marjory Maxwell Donn

I found this work while I was sorting my late father's things. It was inscribed by the author, with thanks for the help my father had provided. His name also appeared on the acknowledgments page which indicated that he and the author had been members of the same writer's group. All of this, in addition to the fact that the author's (middle) name is the same as the name of the library in which I work caused me to immediately move this to the top of my reading list.

This book was published in 2008, so the future Donn envisioned was not far away, even when she wrote it. Although some of what is written is grim, it is not a dystopian novel, and ends on a hopeful note, even as we see that there is still plenty of work still to be done (with regards to climate change, Middle-East Peace, a safe and sustainable food supply, and political corruption). The story follows an international cast of characters from Greece, to South Africa, to Israel, and to the United States. Each is confronting both political and personal crises and their lives intersect in a number of ways. There are twelve chapters, each covering one month of the year, and each with its own Discussion Guide so that book groups can read and discuss the book in smaller chunks.

There are several places where the libraries play a role in this work. One young Palestinian, Ahmad, uses his university library to get away from the noise of his overpopulated home. He also briefly considers using the university library as a safe place to hide from some of his denizens who have attacked him and chased him into Israeli territory. His subsequent arrest prevents him from following through on the plan, however.

Ahmad is not the only character who finds himself in prison. Ahmad is released thanks to the help of his American-Jewish friend Monty Greenberg. Monty then finds himself in the federal penitentiary for airing some opinions in his monthly business column that are unpopular with the government. He finds solace in keeping a journal, and also visiting the prison library where he researches Eastern philosophies.

Esther Perlman, wife of Rabbi Avrim, is a minor character in the book. We don't know much about her outside of her family life, except for the very important fact that she is a librarian. It is evident that this is meaningful work both for her, and her husband. When Avrim loses his job and needs to look for a new congregation. He accepts "the offer of a congregation in Haifa, a big enough city that Esther was sure she could find a library job."

I usually don't read discussion guides, but I made an exception in this case, and was delighted to see that the author gives props to librarians under her "General Suggestions" heading
We [Donn had a partner for writing the discussion guide] have provided Web addresses for more information on the issues raised, and, in some cases, have listed books as well. Discussion leaders who do not have personal computers can look up information on the Web at their local library. Librarians have the training to help people find information, whether through books or on the Web.
Additional Bonus!
While this was not the first book I read written by a fellow Unitarian Universalist (UU) (see my post for Walden), I do believe it may be the first with a UU character. While there are many characters in the book, the action is centralized around one: Martha Greenberg (wife of Monty) who we learn at the end is neither Jewish, nor Christian, nor Muslim, but rather "...something like Unitary Universe?" Indeed, the Greenbergs are UUs who gives thanks before meals in much the same way my family does by thinking
about all the people who worked so that we could have this great dinner...especially the farm workers who planted the potatoes and then dug them out of the ground, the truck drivers who carried them and the people in our stores who sold them to us.

So happy to have had a chance to read this.

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