Thursday Reviews: One World edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jhumpa Lahiri; Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s by

One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories

Edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jhumpa Lahiri

I had to buy this one for academic purposes, but I read the whole book anyway. None of these stories are traditional Western stories. All of them are unusual, most with a literary bent.

One that stood out to me on first reading was “Ishwari’s Children,” set in Bengladesh. Of all the stories, this one was pure noir, the tale of one boy’s kindly grandfather whom the reader sees as having more in common with Tony Soprano than Grandpa.

“The Albino,” set in Nigeria, was unsettling. An albino musician finds his guitar stolen and is thwarted at every turn to get rent one for an important gig. It’s odd to the American mind because we have Edgar Winter here, an albino, using his condition as a gimmick for his music. In “The Albino,” the musician is called every name in the book: demon, cursed, European. People hate him for his lack of melanin.

My favorite story, though, was “Fireweed,” about a Liberian immigrant, Joel, working as a carpenter in California. When he takes a job for a whiny, self-centered suburban wife named Tiffany, her mewling to her husband about a paint color called fireweed triggers horrific memories of civil war, the slaughter of his family, and the abuse of his sister at the hands of soldiers. By the end of the story, you just want to slap the bitch. Well, most people would want to slap her anyway, but she gives us added motivation when she proves oblivious to the turmoil her shrill complaints about paint color cause Joel.

This is not my normal cuppa joe, but I did enjoy reading most of these stories. One or two did not make any sense. Others had a meaning probably not intended by the author, but just as valid anyway.

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s

Charles A. Cerami

One of the reasons we’re so angsty over Obamacare and think the Tea Party adherents in Congress are a bunch of grandstanding morons is the same reason we don’t want to know what’s in our hot dogs: No one likes watching sausage making. And no one really likes watching legislation wind its way through the bowels of Congress. To make matters worse, this stuff now happens in an era of CSPAN and 24-hour news.

Not so back in the 1790’s, when America was still learning how to drive this new government it put together. On the one hand, we had Alexander Hamilton, the financial genius who figured out how to solidify the tottering American economy. On the other, we had Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who wanted very badly to put the nation’s capital on the Potomac. Both these things could happen if both sides signed off on the other’s plan. Trouble is Hamilton did not get along with Jefferson and Madison. In the middle of all this, George Washington, already walking a tightrope as the nation’s first chief executive, was aging prematurely having to listen to all three of them argue.

Leave it to Jefferson to find a solution. The francophile Secretary of State hosted what was probably the most influential dinner in American history. It had only two guests, Hamilton and Madison. And there they hatched a plan to allow the federal government to pay off the Revolutionary War debt still hanging over the states while placing the permanent capital of these United States in the shadow of Mt. Vernon.

Cerani only spends a chapter on the actual dinner, speculating from Jefferson’s notes on the event. Were Jefferson alive today, he would probably spend time with his personal chef, James Hemings (Yes, his former slave and brother of Jefferson’s mistress) on the Food Network while Hamilton would be a regular on CNN. Madison would probably be a college professor somewhere, being the most intellectual of the three. But Cerani’s account of the lead-up and aftermath of this historic dinner is marred by his over-reliance on Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton and constant suggestions that Washington was a bit foggy in the head by the time he took the oath of office. It’s an interesting book, but not a great one.