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Books in brief


Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 102 pages ($16.99)

How can one express the enormity of the evil or describe the immensity of loss, in the millions lost in the Holocaust? The gifted poet of "Worlds Afire" offers a haunting, heartbreaking chorus of voices from the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where Jewish intellectuals and artists of Prague served as a propaganda tool for the Nazis on a way station to the gas chamber. Spare, evocative, vivid, the poems are based on historical events and fact although most characters are fictional or composites of actual characters. We hear the voices of evicted Terezin villager Hilda Bartos, then a kommandant and sergeant conversing about allowing the Jews to play music to pacify them. There is David Epstein, nursing thoughts of revenge; Tomasz Kassewitz, about his last game of chess in the park with a lifelong friend; a boy known as "the professor" who keeps a notebook hidden in his shoe; Trude Reimer, enjoying a few hours of freedom performing the role of a cat in "Brundibar"; Aaron Nantova, a suicide; SS Lt. Theodor Lang, on preparations to "beautify the camp" for a Red Cross inspection, converting buildings to social clubs or a library and the carting off of 17,000 sick or elderly Jews. The poem "Ruth Posner/14161" chillingly conjures up an actual census, a cold November day when thousands of Jews were forced to stand in a meadow for a full day with no food, drink, or toilet. Heartbreak is piled upon heartbreak. In "Josefine Rabsky," a child documents the terrible fates that befell her little friends: "My friends are lost ... I am lost." "Valtr Eisinger/11956," an eloquent farewell to a wife, is a found poem taken from Eisinger's letters. The illustrations are all by the inmates and were found after the war ended.

-- Jean Westmoore


Black Orchid Blues by Persia Walker; Akashic Book, 270 pages ($15.95)

Life in New York City's Harlem during the 1920s was a heady time. The Harlem Renaissance was in full force, showcasing the talents of a plethora of black artists, writers and musicians. Gay bars flourished. The affluent Strivers' Row was a vibrant neighborhood for upper middle class African Americans.

Persia Walker returns to this lush atmosphere in her third novel. "Black Orchid Blues" works as a study of class and race, plus the debilitating effects of grief, the question of identity, and the far-reaching impact of family secrets.

Society writer Lani Price is attending the popular Cinnamon Club to hear diva Queenie Lovetree, Harlem's latest singing sensation. Queenie, who is billed as the "Black Orchid," has been packing the club nightly and has garnered quite a following from the mostly white audience. But the secret that everyone knows is the beautiful, Queenie is a man in drag.

Queenie recently came to Harlem and curiosity grows about his past. Lani wants to write a good feature for her Harlem newspaper, Queenie is kidnapped but in the middle of the interview and two bystanders are killed. The kidnapper's first communication isn't a ransom but a gruesome package that arrives at Lani's doorstep. The society writer quickly kicks into crime reporter mode. "... my writing about highbrow Harlem meant writing about highbrow crime."

Lani turns sleuth as she covers the story, tries to look into Queenie's background and discover what led to the kidnapping. "Nice-looking people aren't always nice," a source tells Lani.

Walker has a crystal clear eye for what motivates people as she explores disparity and desperation. Lani makes an excellent detective and reporter who is both fearless and perceptive. Lani's growing affection for her editor is affected by the grief she still feels for her deceased husband three years after his death.

A special facet of this tale is Walker's precise recreation of 1920s Harlem -- as strong in "Black Orchid Blues" as it was in her excellent debut "Harlem Redux."

-- McClatchy Newspapers


How to Live, Work, and Play in the City by Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti; Faber and Faber (175 pages, $13)

Sheila Heti wanted to write about her friend Misha Glouberman. The Canadian performance artists had collaborated on a few projects; not only did she find that he was a "force of reason in any situation," she felt the "world should have a book about everything he knows."

The result is this glorious collection of essays, all in Glouberman's words, shaped by Heti. They are about living in the city, making friends in the city, compromising in the city, and having fun just about anywhere.

There's something deeply hip and also endearing about Glouberman's observations. For example, it's OK not to make eye contact in the city, he believes, because a city is "a place where you can be alone in public, and where you have that right." Or, "(i)t's a real shock to discover that making friends doesn't take care of itself in adulthood. ... It's useful to remember that friendship needs an activity associated with it," he says, or, if you are "an ambitious sort, you can try to create your own world around you, and maybe have a party at your house every two weeks."

-- Los Angeles Times

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