What I've Read:
City of Oranges: an Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa – Adam LeBor. I actually read about two thirds of this a few months ago during Spring Break, then put it down until this week, so my memory of the first parts may not be perfect. But, this is basically a somewhat informal history of relations between Jewish and Arab residents of the city of Jaffa, and the city itself, from the last part of the Ottoman era into the twenty-first century when the book was published (I think in 2007, but I don't have it with me, so consider that an estimate). The author used a combination of letters, memoirs written in that time, public records, and interviews with current residents and members of (mostly Palestinian) families that came from Jaffa in that period and now live elsewhere.
This impressed me in part because it struck me as really evenly handed, in a way that's difficult to do dealing with subjects that cause a lot of conflict; LeBor talks willingly about the difficulties of Palestinian refugee families after 1948, and of Jewish refugees struggling to come to Palestine under British rule; about both the difficult emotional experiences of Palestinians who were able to come back to Jaffa and see their houses owned by other people or the Israeli state, and the experiences of Israelis moving into houses in Jaffa after themselves experiencing great loss elsewhere. It was interesting to see also the way the book exposes the lie that Jews and Arabs had always been enemies while still being willing to discuss pogroms and riots in British era Palestine, and confiscations and military police action against Arabs, etc, in Israel.
So, all in all I think this is a very good book, although as usual I don't agree with all of LeBor's conclusions.
CW: Following review involves discussion of infanticide and euthanasia.
Always Coming Home – Ursula Le Guin. This is what Le Guin describes as “archaeology of the future,” a very world building focused work set in northern California an unspecified hundreds or thousands of years in the future, among the matrilineal and matrilocal farming society of the Kesh.
I don't know what to say about this one. Much of it is fantastically kind, a novel set in everyday life in a way that's rare, and valuing the work and life of all of its people in a way that I have almost never seen before in fantasy; where the business of food, and weaving, and production of pottery and all kinds of things is more valuable than war; where people who want to engage in war and power games are socially disruptive and ultimately defeated without violence. It also is not anywhere as Luddite as much post apocalyptic literature is; the Kesh are not industrial, but they have small scale electricity based off of solar power, they have access to something similar to but not entirely like the internet, they have a lot of modern medicine.
I think it's that kindness that made the part where Le Guin felt the need to explain that the Kesh practice infanticide against infants with certain disabilities and euthanasia consensually* feel so cruel. It wasn't relevant to the narrative portions, it was just there, apparently because she felt it was something the reader needed to know. And combined with the moralistic slant I had already felt was irritating – the Kesh consider people of our time sick, and the idea of becoming like us horrifying; the Kesh have no concept for “accidentally” poisoning the earth and thus assume we must have done it because of that sickness; the Kesh solve things by discussion, not via hierarchy and violence (as opposed to the Condors or Dayao, another society in the book); she explicitly at one point floats the idea of the Kesh being Utopian – it came off to me as someone who I had liked and been impressed by kindly, gently explaining that the ideal society is one in which we don't go “too far” in allowing all disabled people to live, only the sufficiently useful ones.
So, I don't know what to say here. I loved most of the rest of the novel, I was prepared to recommend it entirely wholeheartedly as an example of fantastic worldbuilding and a vision of the future striking in its kindness and plausibility up until that point, despite its occasional annoying drifts into moralism and somewhat simplistic portrayal of the Dayao, who are the opposite of the Kesh in everything and irritatingly lacking in true nuance, for all she drops in a few suggestions that they aren't entirely miserable. But that page felt like being slapped in the face, like going to my inbox excited to receive a message and finding a message calling me the R word and telling me to kill myself. I don't know that I can recommend it, because of that.
*I thought about putting “consensual” in quotation marks, but decided it was better to have a note explaining why I consider even consensual euthanasia horrifying. The thing about euthanasia is that enabled, it carries the implications that disabled lives are worth less than others; other suicidal people receive attempts at help, no matter how destructive, while we are killed. And the existence of supposedly consensual euthanasia always carries murder with it; how free is a choice for medical care when medical care costs money? When medical care imposes difficulties on those around you? When you are perhaps isolated, only having contact with family members who resent you and having to care for you? And when it's considered acceptable to end a disabled life under some circumstances, how much easier is it to cover up murder of disabled lives by faking consent? These aren't hypothetical questions; you can already easily find news stories about people whose insurance covered euthanasia but not cancer treatment in Washington, and the nonconsensual murders of mentally ill patients in Belgium under the cover of “euthanasia.”
In the specific case of Kesh, it is explicit that shunning and social shame applied to people considered to have acted inappropriately is sufficient to drive some people to suicide, and that people are mostly dependent on their families for care when they aren't able to care for themselves, both of which only make the general problems worse.
What I'm Reading Now
Theoretically still Ninefox Gambit, but I haven't picked it up again since my last entry.
The Goblin and the Jinni – Helene Wecker. I love this so far – the atmosphere and the magic and the setting in New York City of the period, but also the way almost all of the characters are essentially well meaning, the wholeness of the communities Chava and Ahmad are adopted into. Will write more when I've read more.
Comment Note: I don't have the energy to defend my views on euthanasia right now. If you want to ask me questions about it, go ahead, but if you feel the need to defend legal euthanasia, you can do it on your own time in your own blog. I will delete any comments in violation of this policy and block their writers.