Word Has It Column Graphic

Bathsheba Demuth has written "an Environmental History ot the Bering Strait " in Floating Coast. She starts with the story of the whales, much abused till the environmentalists came along, since we used them for their oil and blubber and baleen. Sometimes whales were so smart that they noticed the boats and swam away from them or even dived to escape. It was many decades before people decided that whales were animals like us that needed consideration and protection. Then, petroleum came along for oil and plastic came along for baleen and helped save whales.

The author deals with politics also, Russia had trouble getting the Beringians to work. The ground was cold, of course, and hard as iron. The notorious Gulags started because nobody wanted to work. Prisoners were forced to work. Alcohol caused trouble. Illness wiped out some nattive peoples: syphilis, measles, smallpox. Hunger made some people think whales had gone north, but of course they had killed them. Corporations took over. Stalin said, "Work is a matter of honor. a matter of glory, a matter of valor and heroism." Walruses were worrisome, too. The animals brought commerce but the people failed at civilization. The Russians patrolled and fined but didn't protect foxes and walruses, Even today, not everyone believes in saving whales.

•••

Donna Leon has written another winner with Uniform Justice. "Uniform" is almosr a tease because the characters are students in a military academy. Brunetti, the author's signature policeman, has a difficult challenge because none of the boys want to talk and no one has a clue as to what really happened. Brunetti uses all the help possible from the staff at the Academy and at the police department As usual his brilliant wife helps with thoughtful suggestions. The careless locals decided the death was a suicide but Brunetti couldn't agree; the boy ws the same age as his son, and there was no reason for the boy to kill himself. Brunetti interviews everyone possible and solves the mystery.

•••

The Young Adult choice for this month is The Good Braider by Terry Farish, a collection of poems in amazingly free verse! Viola is a young girl waiting with her family to escape Sudan, which is so bad that a wandering soldier rapes her. She takes quinine to prevent pregnancy, apparently successfully. She and her mother and brother are finally on the list to leave for Cairo, where they again have to wait for months to get on the list for transport. They are taken to Portland but the little boy dies while waiting. In Portland she has a good life, has a pleasant school and a job in the same market as her mother. But her cruel mother punishes her for befriending a boy by scorching her hand. Neighbors explain that parents don't do that in America, and Viola eventually recovers. But does her mother?

Read the rest.